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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is First-Person Journalism?

First-person journalism covers everything from news features to magazine articles to memoirs and personal essays. It combines the passionate involvement of the first-person voice with the truthful substance of journalistic research. There are many nuances to this hybrid form of nonfiction—for instance, just how much should you expose about yourself? But in general, first-person journalists report on the world from a personal perspective and convey self-awareness about their own biases.

Q. Why should I take the Digital Truth Pledge?

Speaking out collectively against misinformation is the only way to change the onslaught and to develop more accurate digital publications. We’ve reached a cultural watershed: Digital misinformation has exponentially increased, and readers are wary of anything that feels like fake news. Yet they often aren’t convinced by the same old experts, especially if those experts are privileged white men over the age of forty.

When you take the Digital Truth Pledge, you make a public commitment to accurate information online. You’re standing against all fake news sites, trolls, inauthentic influencers, out-of-step traditional publishers, and social-media flamethrowers.

Once you take the pledge, I’ll provide plenty of ways for you to fight for digital truth in my monthly newsletter, True Writing.

Q. What’s the difference between first-person journalism and creative nonfiction?

The journalism part. There are many wonderful works of creative nonfiction—a blanket term that literary writers use for nonfiction pieces I prefer to call memoir or personal essays. The trouble comes in the “creative” part, especially when writers massage facts or change the chronological sequence of events to create a better narrative. 

As a journalist, I find changing or ignoring the facts to be unacceptable in anything labeled nonfiction. Taking license with the truth in literary nonfiction is also unnecessary. First-person journalism allows writers to combine solid research with personal stories. 

And yet, aspiring creative-nonfiction writers often don’t examine even the factual circumstances of their own lives. They haven’t been trained to ask hard questions of themselves or others. I’d never say all nonfiction writers need to sound like news reporters—but credible nonfiction stories, literary or not, rely on the journalism basics. 

Q. Why is Martha also writing a trilogy of novels?

I love big, fat social novels—and by “novel” I mean any long-form story that’s fiction. I don’t like the term “nonfiction novel.” It implies that journalism is boring—omniscient, impersonal, flatly expressed—as opposed to novels or other creative writing.

To put the lie to this false opposition, I point readers to Helen Garner’s This House of Grief: The Story of a Murder Trial (Text Publishing, 2014) and Suki Kim’s Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite (Random House, 2014), among many other book-length personal accounts of narrative journalism.

That said, the novels I like best—from Middlemarch to contemporary mysteries—are deeply engaged with the political and social realities of their time. In my case, I began work on my “endless novel” more than twenty years ago. It’s about Psychedelicks, a much-lauded socially responsible company in Menlo Park that sells candy in collectible boxes, each with its own Flying Delly character (see Cherry Chinchilla below).

The original draft of my novel has gone through many revisions, generating a cast of thousands—but I like a lot of that cast and their evolving stories. So, I’ve decided to break the project into three books that now form the trilogy Psychedelicks, Inc.

Each book is set in the fall of 2002. The series hurtles through an action-packed three months in which a new CEO who envisions himself as Steve Jobs takes over; the company’s three hippie founders are in revolt (at least one dies suspiciously); and crowds of protesters dressed as Flying Dellies gather at company headquarters.

The Psychedelicks novels take place after 9/11 but before Facebook and the rise of today’s tech glitterati. But the early 2000s foreshadow the current emphasis on brand marketing, Ted Talk platitudes, and other glosses of unethical business practices.

Cherry Chinchilla
Artist Credit: Olivia Morgan

Q. How can I subscribe to the first book in Martha’s trilogy?

I’ll have a subscription service in place soon. For now, please subscribe to this site and my newsletter, True Writing

Q. Will Martha offer writing courses on this site?

I hope so. I’m committed to providing high-quality, inexpensive, self-paced courses for writing instruction. When I do develop these courses, they’ll be on a subscription basis, offering a sequence of lessons writers can complete on their own time.

For now, you’ll find my general writing guidelines and other advice under Resources. You can also keep track of courses I teach through the Harvard University Extension School course catalog on by subscribing to my newsletter, True Writing.

Q. How do I subscribe to True Writing, Martha’s e-newsletter?

Right here! Go to Subscriptions. 

First-person journalism covers everything from news features to magazine articles to memoirs and personal essays. It combines the passionate involvement of the first-person voice with the truthful substance of journalistic research.

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