To Boldly Go Where No Writer Has Gone Before: Would We Lie to You?

We look better than these people. Plus, we have more girls.

Would We Lie to You?: News from the Non-Fiction Career Lab

by Ethan Gilsdorf

Non-fiction: the final frontier.

These are the voyages of the starship Grub Street NFCL. Its one-year mission: to explore strange new non-fictional worlds, to seek out new stories and new publishing opportunities, to boldly go where no writer has gone before.

Welcome to the first posting from "Would We Lie to You?: News from the Non-Fiction Career Lab", the blog of the Non-Fiction Career Lab: Your First Book and Beyond. (Or, you mighty say, we're a sub-blog of our mighty overlord, the Grub Street Daily.) Here in the Lab, since June, ten students and two teachers have been pushing the boundaries and vagaries of what it means to write non-fiction. And we have some pretty cool outfits (see above).

Our goal is for our students to both write a book of narrative non-fiction and build a career as a part-time or full-time non-fiction writer. We'd be tickled pink (or any color, really) if a few of our students got their books published, or at least attracted the serious attention of an agent or an editor. In the meantime, they have been busy honing their ideas, knocking out chapters, building platforms (yes, we hate to use that word, but there it is) and getting their names out there as experts in whatever field or battlefield they can claim for their own.

Here's what our fabulous (and attractive) students are writing about:

>Becoming a truck-pulling, kick-ass strong woman and the changing nature of "fit" women
>Navigating the jungle, and a budding relationship, on a medical brigade in the Amazon
>Coming to terms with a childhood spent in an orphanage
>How fixing adult behavior and stress can help fix "at risk" kids
>Examining the new role libraries play in American society
>Where did we go wrong when U.S. manufacturing abandoned industrial towns?
>How teams can make great decisions and forge innovation (and how bad decisions are made)
>Understanding the past (and one parents' Holocaust story) via a "museum of the self"
>A journey to become a chaplain in the hospital system
>How an obsessive search for the roots of saffron uncovers an unknown history of cuisine, trade and art

Much like the Novel Incubator program (now in its second year) and the just-launched Launch Lab program, we're expecting projects to morph, transmogrify, transfigure, transmute, mutate and in some cases revolutionize. Pagan Kennedy (my co-facilitator and co-host) and I have been alternately taking on the "good cop" / "bad cop" roles, as we lead (and perhaps at times mislead) the students and their projects through this maze called the muse and marketplace.

Along the way, we're all learning that this is a hard work. You have to let go of good ideas or angles to make room for great (and marketable) ones. And we have definitely discovered that non-fiction can be stranger than fiction.

But don't take my word for it. From here on out, every other week in "Would We Lie to You?", you'll be hearing a dispatch from one of our students (or, occasionally, an instructor), as we all tackle the salient and tricksy issues of this craft called "narrative non-fiction."

And it IS a craft -- an activity involving skill. But it's also a craft -- as in, a boat or a vessel. Or, in our case, a starship, which in the immortal words of William Shattner (and Styx), is boldly going where no writer has gone before. So come aboard our starship, headed for the skies, and help us sing, "Come sail away, come sail away."

We hope you'll sail with us and stay tuned.

Ethan Gilsdorf is the author of the award-winning book "Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms," his travel memoir investigation into fantasy and gaming subcultures. The poet, teacher, critic and journalist has worked as a freelance correspondent, guidebook writer, and film, book and restaurant reviewer. Based in Somerville, Massachusetts, he publishes travel, arts, and pop culture stories regularly in the New York Times, Boston Globe, and Christian Science Monitor, and has been published in dozens of other magazines, newspapers, websites and guidebooks worldwide, including,, Playboy, National Geographic Traveler, Psychology Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, the Washington Post and Fodor's travel guides. He is a book and film critic for the Boston Globe, film columnist for Art New England, his blog "Geek Pride" is seen regularly on, and his blog "Hip Points" appears on He also contributes to blogs at's "Geek Dad";'s Globetrotting;; and Read more at or Twitter @ethanfreak.

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