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A blog post about creative writing by a University of Wisconsin-Stout faculty member has been featured on the website of one of the premier literary magazines in the country.
The essay "Bridging the Gap" by Professor Brian Fitch appeared July 9 on the North American Review blog site. The magazine, the oldest of its kind in the U.S., was founded in 1915 in Boston.
Fitch, who teaches in the English and philosophy department, wrote about the importance of doing hands-on research while writing fiction in order to build a more factual and compelling story.
The essay grew out of an experience Fitch had while working on a novel that takes place during the Korean War. Despite doing considerable research about the war "something was missing. I had lots of facts and figures but little emotional connection," he wrote in the blog.
Fitch decided to visit Fort Snelling, in Minneapolis, where a fort director showed him an M46 Patton tank, which was used in the war and was in the process of being restored. Fitch went inside the tank.
Suddenly, the conflict from 60 years ago seemed more real.
"Five men inhabited a tiny space while war raged outside. I wondered how they could even turn around," Fitch wrote. "In short, I was changed profoundly from a person doing research to a human being closer to sensing the terrors of war."
In the cramped quarters, Fitch bumped his head. He panicked and climbed out.
"Without thinking I slid off the turret and down a fender, the way I'd seen Marines do in film clips, and nearly shattered my knees," he wrote.
The experience helped Fitch connect in a much deeper sense with the subject of his novel. It provided him with a powerful example of how to bridge the gap "between factual and fictional to carry on a historical truth."
Hands-on learning is the norm at UW-Stout, Wisconsin's Polytechnic University, but Fitch said the concept can be difficult to convey in the creative writing classes he teaches.
"Hands-on research allows a writer to be more perceptive to the connections that surround us," he wrote. "As I climbed down into the tank, I began to understand hands-on research."
The July blog post was based on a book chapter published in the 2011 summer fiction issue of North American Review. The chapter was nominated for Pushcart Prize.
Fitch has since finished the novel and is searching for a publisher.
The blog post can be found here.
Fitch was invited by the magazine to write the essay.
"This is quite an honor given the prestige of North American Review," said Jerry Kapus, chair of the English and philosophy department at UW-Stout.