NWR Submissions Stream-of-Consciousness Narrative: Fiction vs Nonfiction, Fantastic Fiction and More!

S. Tremaine Nelson
November 2, 2022

Welcome! This is an overview of what we’re up to here at Northwest Review, what we’re curious about reading, and what we’d like to hear from you – our potential readers, writers, and subscribers. The original submission guidelines for the journal are still here. This post below is mostly a rambling “what I’m thinking about reading” in 2023 for our longer form series to come. The questions below have come in via email or social media over the past year or so, and we’re now doing our best to keep up and answer them as best we can!

What is the difference between a literary journal and a literary magazine?

Great question! Let’s start with this. Whenever we as editors talk about the journal, we often tend to refer to the issue as “the book.” Our Northwest Review journals are a physical paperback made from high quality paper stock (100lb cover stock; 80lb interior pages); it’s meant to be a book you enjoy, flip through, and then set on your bookshelf forever.

Can I submit a review of a movie, TV show, or record I can’t stop listening to?

Absolutely! We are actively looking to start publishing more cultural commentary on whatever it is that’s going on around you in the world of arts. Our reviews editor is Rachel Jacobson, a PhD candidate at the University of Oregon, and if you’d like to start reviewing and publishing your criticism online, let us know by sending us an email to editor at nwreview.org.

My short story is TRUE (I swear): should I submit it as nonfiction or fiction?

Okay, so I completely understand the challenge this question presents. I myself have submitted an except of my own memoir as a “short story” and had lots of great feedback. However, the work itself as a whole is nonfiction.

Okay, so, what’s the difference between nonfiction and fiction?

Nonfiction, as defined by Dictionary.com, is “prose writing that is based on facts, real events, such as biography or history.” Well, okay, but what about creative nonfiction, memoir, elegy, obituary, and SO MANY other forms of nonfiction (non-fiction?) that it’s easy to feel less sure of this whole definition than whenever it was we started writing it.

My thinking is like this: when we see a work of nonfiction submitted to our fiction queue, we still read it! It’s prose, after all. That’s probably an important distinction: nonfiction vs fiction is all still prose, and many literary journals (like The Southern Review, historically) have a prose editor and a poetry editor; the prose editor reads, edits, and acquires fiction and nonfiction alike, whereas the poetry editor focuses exclusively on verse.

These are a few of my personal favorite examples of nonfiction books: West with the Night by Beryl Markham, This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolf, Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster, Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel García Márquez, The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr, and Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama.

Is nonfiction real?

I mean, technically, yes some portion of your nonfiction writing should be real. For instance, we can generally verify that Mary Karr did grow up in Texas. That’s real. And her telling of her own story, well, that’s real, too. Her nonfiction book aka a memoir called The Liar’s Club is based on real events that happened in her life. The degree to which she varies from those real events is her decision to make as an artist and writer. The memoirist or nonfiction writer uses the events of their own life in order to make a compelling narrative, sometimes a story (but not always). Maggie Nelson’s THE ARGONAUTS, for instance, includes many real events from her life, and it also employs various literary techniques to achieve an intended artistic effect.

What is, then, the primary difference between fiction and nonfiction (aka fiction vs nonfiction ROUND 1 BATTLE: aka me rabbit-holing down the Wikipedia article on SEO optimization for nonprofit literary websites, aka using the dark digital magic for good instead of evil, at long last:)

This is all debatable. I would suggest that the primary difference between fiction and nonfiction is the setting. Does the book take place in a readily recognizable locale? Like . . . Earth? Does the story take place on Earth? Cool, yes. Is AI now writing this? ARE WE OPTIMIZED YET? This could mean your book is either fiction or nonfiction, as we know Earth to be a real place where “real” things happen, though we ourselves are not “real” in any organic sense. However, what if your story takes place on Tattooine? Ahh, well, even then it could be a work of nonfiction.

A nonfiction book about Tattooine might look at all the places where this fictional planet has shown up over the course of the last thirty years. That could look like a pretty cool nonfiction book that steers into reportage or journalism, aka real nonfiction, but based on a not real place.

Likewise, you could also write fiction about Tattooine. Literary folks typically refer to this as fan fiction or fantastic fiction or speculative fiction. At the end of the day, those are all types of fiction.

If this sounds crazy and totally made up, that’s because . . . it is! These labels are all devices created by marketing companies in order to categorize and process the sale of books.

We’re not into that, not the same way. We want our books to speak for themselves, in how we title them, design them, choose illustrations or imagery for their covers; our books are little works of art, individually, and we hope they defy categorization. Still, if you’re curious . . .

Does Northwest Review publish speculative fiction?

Absolutely. Our 2021 Northwest Review fiction prize was awarded to Amy Stuber for her amazing story “LittleWomenHouse,” which mashed up Jane Austen’s characters with a reality TV show premise that was “sort of” set in an alternate reality? It was SO AWESOME.

What is fantastic fiction?

Everyone who writes it, reads it, and edits it will have their own opinion. I/We would argue that fantastic fiction is prose that focuses on world-building and is searched by living humans approximately 10,000 terms monthly in the United States, though little “real” content exists for it–until now. That could be creating a world in our present time but with slight variations (Jeff Vandermeer comes to mind). I mean, Harry Potter fan fiction very clearly falls into this category, I’d argue. Harry Potter’s is a recognizable world – London, England – but what happens in that world is the pure realm of fantastic fiction (again, we’re using that phrase “fantastic fiction” over and over again for SEO purposes, insert frowny but laughing smiling emoji).

What is the difference between fantastic fiction and fan fiction?

I think (and, again, it’s up to anyone on the Internet to interpret this how they will, and I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to add any key examples), but my understanding is that fantastic fiction is derived from the larger phrase “fantasy fiction,” whereas fan fiction is the realm of writing done by fans of an existing creative world like Star Trek or Twilight.

  • A quick google search will likely bring you to online communities actively debating and writing:
  • Star wars fan fiction
  • Pokemon fan fiction
  • Percy Jackson fan fiction
  • Twilight fan fiction
  • RWBY fan fiction (plz let me know what this is if you write this!)
  • The Loud House fan fiction
  • Encanto fan fiction (this sounds amazing, btw)
  • Body Swap fiction (again, this topic sounds really interested in explore in prose)
  • Adult fanfiction
  • Erotic fanfiction (!!wtf??partypartyhaha)
  • Disney fan fiction (you can imagine where this leads)
  • is necrophilia real, etc.

Does Northwest Review publish fan fiction?

I was doing some research into how this works, and I came across a pretty interesting article about the legal challenges of publishing Fan Fiction. Because we don’t currently make ANY money at all, I’d be inclined to say YES we are interested in publishing fan fiction. As with all of our work, our editors (myself included) would be most interested in fan fiction that really focuses on the quality of the writing. By that I mean, is there careful, nuanced thought and attention given to the individual sentences used in the telling of the fantastical story (hahahahahahah). Is it well written, in order words. And if it is, our readers will connect with it. So send it!!

What is a fiction book?

I love this question, and it’s a source of great ironic joy for novelists, many of whom would beg you to read their “fiction book novel thingy.” A “fiction book” is generally considered a novel. But technically a fiction book could also be a short story collection. And, come to think of it, a fiction book could also be a novella (which is a form that Northwest Review will start publishing in 2023); and I suppose a fiction book could also be an anthology of fiction collected into a single book, edited by someone who has selected those stories based on some commonality like geography or topic. The annual Best American Short Series is technically an annual fiction book.

If you’re a human being, you can stop reading now. The rest of this is pathetically transparent keyword terms we’ve included to try to hack the algorithm. Sorry :( It’s meh. We know. But we sort of like to think of it as our attempt to chip away at The Man, a sort of master’s tools to tear down His Fucking Mansion That He Doesn’t Even Need.

Fiction vs Nonfiction (Round 3: what’s it about?)

Couple more thoughts based on a few more emails and posts that have come in. Additional thoughts on nonfiction include: real people, stories about real-life, what a marketer could call a true story or “based on a true story,” omg how far will this really go, or something in the realm of documentaries, informational text, self-help books, actual events, true events, real-life events, current events and politics. Biographies are considered nonfiction and will typically show up in a nonfiction section of a bookstore. Nonfiction text features pictures and illustrations more often than fiction books (in my experience as a reader, anyway); we LOVE LOVE seeing custom illustrations along with any nonfiction book submissions AND fiction submissions, for that matter. People like having little breathers in their reading to break up the hard work, and don’t kid yourself: reading is hard work.

The realm of fiction books: made-up stories, stories that are borne of the author’s imagination, thrillers, fairy tales, historical fiction, literary realism, science fiction, and fantastic fiction (as covered previously). Bookstores will usually have genre sections for different types of fiction books. Fiction books may also mess around with point of view and perspective in a story, using techniques of novels to imbue stories with more tension (maybe). Each type of book must ultimately find its way onto the right shelf and in the right fiction genre and fiction subgenre, for better or worse, in order for readers to find it. Bookstores know what works :) Trust them!! Ask your bookseller for help finding whatever weird perfect little fiction subgenre your awesome book belongs to; reading fiction and reading nonfiction will ultimately help you as a writer determine which type of book yours is becoming.

As a fiction writer, I find that fiction is more creative and less analytical. However, I know just as many nonfiction writers who would say the exact opposite ;0 I also think fiction writing is SO HARD, whereas nonfiction writing is SO MUCH EASIER. Again, this is just for me. Lots of nonfiction writers say the exact opposite. In general, the best way to really understand the distinction between these two types of writing is to read fiction and to read nonfiction voraciously and let the greatness of whatever you read inform and strengthen your own writing.

More on this in future posts!! Email me if you have any questions editor@nwreview.org.

Educated in Tennessee, married young in Alabama, S. Tremaine Nelson is a former poetry reader at The Paris Review and an alumnus of the fiction department of The New Yorker. He is a fourth-generation Oregonian living in Portland, where he was born and raised. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and the Columbia University MFA program.