“Vital Signs,” an essay written by Natalie Kusz in Survival Stories: Memoirs of Crisis, edited by none other than this year’s nonfiction editor, Kathryn Rhett, is a beautifully complex and profound piece that will stir even the hardest of hearts. And we writers, well, we can learn something from Natalie. If we read like a writer, observing how she arranges her sentences, how she transitions seamlessly from past to present, how she speaks candidly about her and other’s pain, and how she views her previous trauma through the eyes of her now grown up self we can more fully appreciate the many nuanced aspects of her journey.
In fact, this story is a process of discovery, significantly rendered by the conscious decision of the author on what to leave in, what to leave out, what details enhance (sometimes working subtly in the background), and what detracts (nicely left out). In the end, we discover how Natalie’s childhood tragedy altered her in ways both small and large. What a great example to follow.
No, I am not telling you to plagiarize. Instead, I am telling you to employ similar writing strategies to lead the reader through your journey.
Haven’t read “Vital Signs” yet? No worries. You can still buy the book.
I want you to know I considered whether to reveal what happened to Natalie. But that would take away from your joy of discovery, your ability to see the layered effect of a seasoned writer pulling you further and further into the story until you understand that you are in the hands of a master storyteller.
Though not all the essays in Survival Stories: Memoirs of Crisis are those that can be shared with young teens, “Vital Signs” is one that I feel should be. It’s character building. I read it to my daughter (skimming over the horrific details of the injury itself, of course), and she loved the nurse’s wisdom, the childhood games in the hospital, the one-eyed fish and more.
Again, stories can teach us. It’s why I love nonfiction so much. But enough of that.
What do you want to tell us about your life?
Where do you want to take the reader?
What details and aspects enhance? What can be left out? Remember there’s wisdom in the positive use of negative spaces.
Before you submit you may want to pick up a copy of Survival Stories: Memoirs of Crisis to appreciate it’s many revelations of humanity. Each essay is a triumph for the writer—though we wish they did not suffer, we can still learn from their grief. And for those of us who have suffered loss and/or pain in some way, we can find comfort in the fact that suffering is not a fully solitary venture, others have gone through it. And they endured. So shall we.
It is my pleasure to work alongside Kathryn Rhett, herself a strong woman who has her own story of survival. It was she who so beautifully arranged these great author’s stories. I can’t wait to see how she enhances our $1000 NF Book Prize winner’s work through her skillful editing.