Episode 21—Bronwen Dickey on the Tao of Henry Rollins, Binaural Beats, and Her Three Rules for Any Writer

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By Brendan O’Meara

“There are all kinds of people who can easily out-write me, but there are very few who can outwork me.”—Bronwen Dickey.

“Henry Rollins said ‘Music is made by the people music saved,’ and I think stories are written by the people stories saved in the same way. And stories saved me from loneliness and boredom.”—Bronwen Dickey

It’s been a long time between episodes, but here’s a good one with author/journalist Bronwen Dickey.

We talk about her new book Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon, which will hit book shelves on May 8. The book isn’t what you think it’s about, and we dive into that and many, many other things.

Enjoy!

Books Mentioned

The Brothers Karamazov
Riverside Shakespeare
Slouching Toward Bethlehem
The Collected Essays of Annie Dillard
Dispatches
Breath
The Fire Next Time
The Undertaking

Winnah, winnah, lobstah dinnah!

By Brendan O’Meara

Years of being a bridesmaid in several awards categories (two second place Keystone Awards and an honorable mention for the Eclipse Award for feature writing in horse racing) I finally brought home a blue ribbon, or a gold medal Keystone Press Award in the business/consumer category.

Listen.

Awards are largely capital B capital S, but they put fuel in the tank. It means, on some level, that respected peers value your work. For story people like myself, we need the occasional jolt of peer approval.

Oh…here’s the story about a 170-year-old dairy farm in Tioga County, PA. And you thought I only wrote about the sports and the ball games and the pretty little horses.

A new calling?

By Brendan O’Meara

I’ve been bad. Haven’t shared anything here. I don’t think anything I’m saying falls on any ears, but that’s a “me” problem for not being interesting enough, not offering enough value.

That’s merely the truth. I’m not complaining. I’ll keep working.

Speaking of the work

During my lunch break at work (9 p.m.) and grinded out 20 minutes of narrative, two hand-written pages with my No. 2 pencil and yellow notepad.

Those 20 minutes felt so fun. I sat outside in the parking lot against two big planters under the stars, a full moon way the fuck up there.

That’s what I’m finding I love so much about fiction. It’s so fun to play around with these characters and have them say whatever I want them to, trip over roots, get the wind knocked out of them, do nasty things, do wonderful things.

Maybe I’ve found a new calling.

I’ve been knocking my head against the nonfiction wall for over 10 years and nothing has come together. At least with fiction there isn’t quite the degree of reporting needed. There’s some, but nothing like the fact-based stuff.

I’ll probably do the occasional magazine piece or essay if the mood strikes, but at some point you have to come to the realization that you’re not that good and maybe you never were.

Day 8: Before and After

By Brendan O’Meara

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This is why I use a pencil.

Over time they become dull, they shrink, they show signs of the work being done. The Before and After picture says it all.

Set the timer for 30 minutes, put the phone on airplane, and get to work. Beats looking at a screen.

xoxo

Brendan, BrendanBook, InstaBrendan, Britter

PS—New podcast should be coming soon. It’s been challenging lining up guests. Some have been difficult to reach. Others the timing has been off. It’s coming. Thanks for listening. There’s 20 episodes to learn from!

PPS—Share with a friend. Share with your networks. Only if you think it helps.

Day 7: The Screen

Hey, Friends,

I’m always very motivated like right before I go to bed.

Yet when I wake up, the idea of turning on the screen is abhorrent and I want nothing to do with it. It’s blinding. It takes two minutes to boot up. I could be sleeping. The dogs kept me up all night scratching and licking God knows what.

I’m also motivated around mid-morning, but by then I’m usually tied up with the Day Job and say I’ll do it tomorrow. This is lizard-brain stuff, the stuff of resistance.

I do the work in the morning, with a pencil and a yellow notepad, but sometimes in my journal (on a lunch break, while I’m waiting to pick up Mrs. Bread Winner from the train). Paper is easy on the eyes and when the pencil goes from sharp to dull you know you’ve done the work.

xoxo

Brendan, BrendanBook, InstaBrendan, Britter

PS—New podcast should be coming soon. It’s been challenging lining up guests. Some have been difficult to reach. Others the timing has been off. It’s coming. Thanks for listening. There’s 20 episodes to learn from!

PPS—Share with a friend. Share with your networks. Only if you think it helps.

Day 6: So what happened to Day’s 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5?

By Brendan O’Meara

I’m reading Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by the amazing, incomparable Seth Godin.

I plan on riffing on several points of this book, for what it’s worth, but not at this time.

I’m in a big section on the giving of gifts and how artists, those with the truest of authentic intents, give w/o reciprocity. That’s the only way, IMO, to give any gift.

Point being my plan is to share more of the behind the scenes of my work. Mostly short entries that are my little gifts to other artists, writers, people with Day Jobs who worry they can’t do the work of artistic pursuit.

John Steinbeck, who needs no introduction (pardon the snark), wrote Working Days, a journal of his writing The Grapes of Wrath. Working Days is, at its core, a blog.

If he were alive and writing today, Steinbeck would likely have a blog and share his worries and insecurities out in the open as a gift to us. And we’d love him all the more for it. And we’ll still buy and share his art.

So…what’s the deal with Day 6? Day 6 of what?

Me, a nonfiction guy, am writing a novel. I’ve had several ideas over the years and the one I feel best about is one I’ve titled The Class of ’99. It’s a story about a high school class told on the eve of its first day of school freshman year all the way through senior year.

There will be many characters and I hope it will be the truest story told about the high school experience without devolving into movie cliche. Sort of like how the writers of Better Call Saul made a lawyer show w/o setting foot in a courtroom. I want to write a high school story that doesn’t rely on “the big party,” “the big game,” etc.

So far it’s hard.

Like way harder than nonfiction.

Nonfiction requires little imagination. The good news is that much of this story will be 65% autobiographical so I’ll merely dramatize and add extra conflict where necessary to the kernels I already know.

As you can imagine, it will, in essence, be four books in one, so it’s my job to make these kids/young adults worth spending all that time with. That’s the nature of any work of any length, but especially true of long work.

My goal is to synthesize a bit every day. That can be as little as one word or as many as 5,000. Add a little brick to the wall every day.

There’s momentum in the minuscule.

Oh, and one more thing. I’ve got an essay coming out in a cool journal called Chautauqua: Americana. Its Facebook page cited my “advice to young writers.” Check ‘er out.

Think a friend will gain anything from this? By all means share and spread the ideas.

Bryan Cranston on What It Takes to Make It in the Arts

By Brendan O’Meara

Many of you know the actor Bryan Cranston from his unforgettable portrayal of Walter White on Breaking Bad. 

I came across an interview he did and was struck by one particular passage. I’ve transcribed it for you. Please enjoy.

In order to have a successful career in the this business…whether you’re writing, acting, directing, or producing, or whatever the case may be…

There are components that are necessary for that to come about. One is talent. You really do [need it]. You have to work hard and get educated and learn your craft and learn your business. Aside from that is personal development, patience, and perseverance, but there’s also a component that is necessary that’s the wild card…And that’s luck.

You have to have a healthy dose of luck to become successful. That’s just the way it is. You can’t prepare for it, but you can be ready for it if does come to you.

Speaking of luck, Breaking Bad was one of the greatest beneficiaries of said luck. The show had a cult following through four seasons, teetered on the brink of cancellation, yet was a masterpiece before it got barrels of attention. Here’s how Breaking Bad got lucky:

Between Seasons 4 and Season 5 it went on Netflix at the beginning of the Binge Watching Boom. This show was hyper-serialized to begin with so it leant itself to the Binge. This allowed the show to simmer and then instantly boil.

The writers delivered on what was one of the most satisfying final seasons in the history of television, this in an era that puts far too much weight and pressure on finales. RIP Lost.

In any case, my point comes down to luck. Vince Gilligan, the executive producer and creator of Breaking Bad, never could have predicted this BWB. He and his team did great work and then luck ushered them into notoriety.

All of this also means that talented people can toil in obscurity forever because they never had Luck hold their hand.

Ultimately what Cranston gets at is this: Do good work and let that be its own reward.

Episode 20—Glenn Stout on his new book “The Selling of the Babe,” Dealing with Dead People, and the Transcendent Nature of Hitting Home Runs

Screen shot 2015-06-18 at 8.32.54 PM“You have to be out in the world and engaged in the world.” —Glenn Stout

“The truth always tells a better story.”—Glenn Stout

By Brendan O’Meara

First off, I’m like WAY behind in blog posts. I have to draw up one for Mary Pilon and Brian Mockenhaupt, but I’ll start with the latest episode and work backwards.

Enter Glenn Stout. [Hear our first interview…here]

His latest book The Selling of the Babe: The Deal That Changed Baseball and Created a Legend (St. Martin’s Press) comes out this week.

I speak to Glenn about dealing with dead people and how he approached a topic that, on its surface, felt saturated.

“You look at what seem to be time-worn topics and almost without fail you find something and you tell a better story, a newer story, a truer story,” says Glenn.

The first 30-35 minutes of the episode deal with the Babe, but the latter part riffs on random stuff.

Again, iOS doesn’t support these embeds, so here’s the link to the podcast page. Subscribing to the podcast makes this easier on you too!

Writers and Books Mentioned

Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Antonin Artaud, No More Masterpieces
Rainer Maria Rilke
James Wright
The Poetics of the New American Poetry
Langston Hughes
Michale Graff
Jeremy Collins
Eva Holland

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Freelancing is Salesmanship

Written by Brendan O’Meara

It goes without saying, or maybe it doesn’t, that all freelancing is is salesmanship.

A customer walks into a speciality running store. You don’t sell them what YOU feel like selling them because YOU find a certain product more interesting than another. You understand the customer’s need and sell accordingly.

When you think of it in those terms, suddenly the pitch or the query takes on a different tonality. If you’re not doing this already, now you’re thinking how to please the customer (editor).

What is it YOU can sell THEM that fulfills THEIR need?

Selling a story is no different than selling shoes. The story is the product. Does it fit their need? If not, you never close and you have no chance to do good work.