Elizabeth Jaeger on Writing Creative Nonfiction: “I Let It All Out”

honeymoon by elizabeth jaeger capsule stories summer 220 edition

Elizabeth Jaeger has had essays, short stories, book reviews, and poetry published in various print and online journals, including Watchung Review, The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, Ovunque Siamo, Peacock Journal, Boston Accent, and Italian Americana. An excerpt from her novel in progress is forthcoming in Newtown Literary. Jaeger recently founded Maple Tiger Review, an online journal dedicated to publishing work written by teens and tweens. She is the book reviews editor at Ovunque Siamo. When Jaeger isn’t reading or writing, she enjoys going hiking and taking road trips with her son.

Her essay “Honeymoon” is published in Capsule Stories Summer 2020 Edition. In “Honeymoon,” Jaeger explores scenes from her honeymoon in Costa Rica, told in short snippets of significant moments, such as rappelling down waterfalls, driving over a rickety bridge, and visiting a volcano. She and her spouse learn how to communicate and move forward together through both the good and the harrowing experiences.

Capsule Stories: Why did you decide to structure “Honeymoon” as you did, in short snippets? 

Elizabeth Jaeger: The format I used is one I’ve called upon for other stories when my memory of a particular place or time is fragmented, or if the stories I want to recall don’t work as a traditional essay—one with a clear beginning, middle, and end. When I started writing this essay, I attempted a more traditional style, but it wasn’t working. I found the story dragged as I tried to carry the reader from one mini-episode to the next. Often in conversations, I’ll tell one or two of the memories shared here, and they seemed to work well as mini-essays.

Capsule Stories: What ideas or scenes did you cut or add from earlier drafts of this essay?

Elizabeth Jaeger: “Honeymoon” was born out of another essay, “Imperial Topaz,” which recounted my adventure (or perhaps misadventures is more appropriate) through Brazil with my spouse. It was a very long essay that initially included the scene of boxers on the hotel balcony in Costa Rica. When I started submitting it to various journals I got several rejections, but one rejection email offered a few comments. The editor said his major issue with the essay was the beginning, which he thought moved too slowly. Instead of dwelling on the rejection, I decided to work with the critique. This led me to cut the boxer scene from the essay. But once it was on the cutting room floor, I decided to revisit it. I then built the other vignettes around it, and I’m glad I did because it definitely works better as its own essay.

Capsule Stories: When writing creative nonfiction, how do you decide which details are private versus which you are comfortable sharing publicly? How does this affect your storytelling as you write?

Elizabeth Jaeger: Oh, I have no secrets. I once had a professor who told me, “If you’re afraid to bleed on the page, you have no business writing creative nonfiction.” I’m very good at bleeding and crying on the page. I let it all out. And I have come to find that oftentimes the best stories—for me—are the ones that expose things that others might regard as too personal. But I find the more open I am in my writing, the more others can connect to my essays. And the reason people read is because they are looking for that connection or because they want to see that they aren’t alone. However, I do try very hard to be respectful of other people’s feelings. When writing about someone else, if I’m worried they may not feel comfortable with what I’m writing I either send it to them for their input before attempting to publish it. Or I change their names.

The reason people read is because they are looking for that connection or because they want to see that they aren’t alone.

—Elizabeth Jaeger

Capsule Stories: Tell us about Maple Tiger Review! Why were you inspired to create a journal dedicated to publishing writing by tweens and teens?

Elizabeth Jaeger: My son has been badgering me to submit his poems to journals. He’s ten. I’ve also known a few other kids who write well for their ages and who have told me that when they grow up they want to write stories or poems and publish them. I thought, why should they wait. Adults love seeing their work in print; they enjoy sharing links that contain their stories. Kids should also be able to have an avenue for feeling pride in their work. If you know any tween or teen writers, please encourage them to submit to Maple Tiger.

Capsule Stories: What other writing projects are you working on at the moment?

Elizabeth Jaeger: Before the pandemic struck, I was working on a middle grade novel about a young boy with two moms who suffers from anxiety. A boy who gets so overwhelmed around others that he finds he has no voice.

But when the pandemic struck, my son wanted to collaborate on a writing project with me. I thought it might be fun to keep a journal of life during lockdown. I dubbed our blog the Pandemic Diaries (you can read it at jaegerwrites13.wordpress.com). It was supposed to be a fun mother and son project. But then my dad got sick from COVID-19 and what was once fun suddenly turned serious. The blog ended up detailing his stay in the ICU, his death, and our grieving. I am still updating the blog daily; I guess it is cathartic.

I haven’t really had the mental capacity to work on anything else. However, I have recently started to revisit and edit the entries—there was lots of bleeding and crying on those pages. The current plan is to rework them as a collection of essays and perhaps turn them into a book—a record of one family’s pandemic struggles, as well as a memorial to my father.

You can find out more about Elizabeth Jaeger’s work at jaegerwrites13.wordpress.com and follow her on Instagram at @jaegerwrites.

You can read Elizabeth Jaeger’s essay “Honeymoon” in Capsule Stories Summer 2020 Edition, now available in print and ebook everywhere books are sold.

Elizabeth Jaeger

2 thoughts on “Elizabeth Jaeger on Writing Creative Nonfiction: “I Let It All Out””

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