poloroid camera by a stack of books

It was sophomore year of high school, Ms. Hager’s American literature class, when I learned one of my favorite words: semisubnebulous.

It was used in a short story, but I can’t remember which one. Probably something by Faulkner. Maybe Chopin. What I do remember is a footnote at the bottom of the page provided the definition.  

It means walking around in dreamlike state. Half asleep. Half awake. It’s basically sleepwalking, but it sounds so much cooler than that.

Or at least that’s what it means to me. Because to this day, I have yet to see it defined anywhere else. It’s a ghost of a word, but I love it just the same.

There are plenty of non-ghost words that start with semi. Semiannual. Semicolon. Semisweet. Semitruck. Semicircle . . . But semifiction isn’t one of them. There’s just no such thing.

That’s because writing is not some two-lane road paved thick in black asphalt with reflective yellow lines that clearly divide the fact from the fantasy. Or if it is, we’re weaving in and out of our lanes like drunk drivers fleeing the scene of a bar fight.

The truth is even our most imagined tales are steeped far too long in boiling kettles of reality and history. And our most honest stories are fuzzied by slanted perspectives, by blurry Polaroids thumbtacked along the walls of our minds.  

It’s unavoidable. And poor James Frey had to learn the hard way. But to this girl, there’s no difference between a million little truths and a million little lies.

It’s all in what we remember. In how we remember. In how we write what we remember.

It’s the emotions that seep out of our pores. It’s the words we make up during our high school English classes. It’s the scenes we try to capture–in fiction and in memoir–each one rooted in fading recollections, sepia-toned facts, and yes, even semisubnebulous memories.

So go on. Write your heart out, storytellers. Let all the semitruths spill from your veins.

The world will probably only believe half of them anyway.

Photo credit: ForgottenCharm on Etsy


20 thoughts on “semifiction

  1. So true. So much of nonfiction is made up of opinions and agendas. And, I like to think, so much of fiction is made up of realities, autobiographical and universal too.


  2. I love this, especially the last two sentences! I guess semi-fiction would be things that are “based on a true story” but with more than a little bit of hyperbole and added flair? Haha. Great post!


  3. So true! Those last lines were wonderful. And I agree 100%, writing fiction comes from some truth and reality, and it matters how you remember what you remember. Beautiful post, I loved it :-)


  4. I don’t know if you intended it, but you’re kind of channeling Gabriel Garcia Marquez here. He said, “What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” It’s as if you took that idea and ran with it. Very cool, especially in this particular week where we’re thinking of his passing. I think of fiction as a two-way street, actually, where reality informs the story, which in turn reflects on reality. If that makes sense. :) In any case, great piece. I really enjoyed it.


    1. I had not read that particular quote, but I very much agree with him (and you). That’s really cool; thank you for sharing it with me. Sounds like I may just have to check out Living to Tell the Tale.


use your words here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s