Hashtag #CNF Episode 12—Sarah Einstein on writing an other-person-centric memoir, Jane Eyre, and Count Chocula

Sarah Einstein, author of "Mot: A Memoir"

Sarah Einstein, author of “Mot: A Memoir”

Written by Brendan O’Meara

“I never imagined that I would write this book. I never imagined actually that I could write any book. The idea of book-length work terrified me.” —Sarah Einstein

“I believe you have to give memory time to mellow and age and become a narrative.” —Sarah Einstein

Man, it takes me a long time to get out new episodes, but I hope it’s worth the wait (assuming, of course, you’ve been waiting…Humor me, would you?). I upgraded to a pro account so that means I have a financial incentive to pump out more episodes!

I also forget how long it takes to edit and throw together show notes. Hey, it’s a fun hobby and like I’ve said before, it’s an excuse for me to talk shop with writers I admire and maybe writers you’ve never heard of. You can say you knew them when they were on that little #CNF podcast. Like Carrie Hagen or Joe DePaulo.

Here I’ve got Sarah Einstein, author of Mot: A Memoir, a book that explores the friendship between Sarah and a homeless, mentally ill man named Mot (Tom backwards). He’s a brilliant, fascinating, resourceful man and an unlikely source of stability for Sarah during this period of her life.

In any case here’s the streaming player and notes from the show:

People mentioned:

Kevin Oderman
Dinty Moore
Sara Pritchard
Maggie Messitt

Books Mentioned:

Safekeeping and Three-Dog Life by Abigail Thomas
Two or Three Things I Know for Sure by Dorothy Allison
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
Jane Erye by Charlotte Bronte

Subscribe to the show and sign up for the weekly newsletter from this very website. What a world!

Looking Up

Written by Brendan O’Meara

As some of you may or may not know I started a menial day job as a landscaper to help fund what it is I do. Some people teach and my fear is that teaching would embitter me and entrench me not unlike the main character from Michael Chabon’s wonderful Wonder Boys.

Sure, it takes a thirteen-hour swath out of the middle of my day, but wouldn’t teaching? Sure, the dream is to be a full-time freelancer, but that will come with a little extra hustle in the spare hours around the day job.

The day job I do have has some perks (I’ve lost 20 pounds in two months). I also get to see rockin’ views of the Freedom Tower and some as simple as the bluest of blue skies.

More stuff coming, but he’s a short list of what I’ve been reading:

The Reappearing Act by Kate Fagan

Writing for Story by Jon Franklin

The Best American Sports Writing, 2014

Also, be sure to check out Hashtag #CNF. I’m hoping to line up my next guest soon. Hint: It may be someone mentioned above.

Keep thriving,.

Your buddy,

Carrie Hagen on Finding the Essence of Story

Screen shot 2015-06-18 at 8.32.54 PM

Written by Brendan O’Meara

It’s been a long time and there’s a reason for that.

I have since started a full-time job landscaping. I just completed my seventh week, so it’s no longer an entirely new thing. Many writers need to fund their writing habit, but most teach. I’m not sure I could teach and write, but that’s a topic for another time.

The subject at hand is Carrie Hagen, author of We is Got Him. She and I met at grad school where she began fleshing out the story for We is Got Him. It’s her first book, but you’d think it was her third or fourth. I’ll let her do the talking.

As always I’d love for you to sign up for email updates (they arrive on Tuesdays if they arrive at all). Also be sure to subscribe to the podcast that way you’ll get the latest episodes of Hashtag #CNF beamed straight to your favorite audio device.


Catch Up on These Three Latest Episodes

By Brendan O’Meara

There won’t be a new episode this week since my guest, author Carrie Hagen, couldn’t speak last week. No prob. She’s the author of We Is Got Him. If you like Erik Larson you’ll love Carrie’s book. We’ll get into that later.

This gives you plenty of time to catch up on what you may have missed.

Here’s Maggie Messitt, author The Rainy Season.

Here’s John Scheinman, winner of the 2015 Eclipse Award for Feature Writing

Here’s Joe DePaulo, a 2014 Best American Sports Writing notable selection.

I need to buy more storage through my podcast host Podomatic and I’m having a hard time pulling the trigger on that. Money is tight, but I think the interviews are fun and educational. It goes to show you how deep the talent pool is out there. As I said in the intro to the Joe DePaulo interview, this is my excuse to talk shop with people I admire and promote their work in some small way.

Anyway, enjoy those interviews, subscribe on iTunes and please sign up for the weekly email newsletter that feeds your inbox with the latest podcasts and other tasty morsels. No spam, just useful stuff. You can always unsubscribe. No hard feelings.

Thanks for reading and listening. We’ll talk later.

Joe DePaulo on Talese, Cramer, and What It Means to be Edited

Written by Brendan O’Meara

“There’s no downplaying that moment for me. There’s no humble bragging that. It’s a straight-up brag, a measure of pride for me.”—Joe DePaulo

“I can’t abandon it. For me, I don’t know what else I’d do.” —Joe DePaulo

Maybe my favorite part of my conversation with Joe happens toward the end where we briefly touch upon drafting one particular writer in a Fantasy League for Narrative Nonfiction. I should’ve expanded on this, but I figure it’s going to be a much longer segment in the future.

This was a fun one. We talked about writers who inspired Joe and the harsh financial realties of the freelance game. (You can hear Episode 9 guest John Scheinman shed insights into this as well.)

I’ve shortened by Bookshelf for the Apocalypse segment to five books. Good stuff here.

Joe’s BftA

The Complete Works of Shakespeare
Character Studies by Mark Singer
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
The Best American Sports Writing of the Century
Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life by Richard Ben Cramer
Billy Bathgate by E.L. Doctorow

Ricky Jay’s Magical Secrets by Mark Singer is a New Yorker profile Joe re-reads over and over again.
The Man Who Knew Too Much by Marie Brenner

Here’s Joe’s SB Nation Longform archive, which includes his profile on Mike Francesa, a story that earned Joe a notable selection in the 2014 volume of Best American Sports Writing.

So let’s get to it. Enjoy!

Hey, if you get a chance subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and throw down your email here at the website. I know that’s asking a lot, but it would mean a lot to me.

Also give a listen to some of the older episodes. If I don’t buy more storage, I’m going to have to delete them starting from the bottom, so be sure to download them soon.

Inside the Reporting Mind of John Scheinman

Written by Brendan O’Meara

“You know what? It’s like when you ask a girl on a date. How scary it can be. It’s terrifying sometimes.”—John Scheinman

“I was always a conversation person. I would literally say this, ‘I’m going to earn your trust and you will never be misquoted.’ They loved it!”—John Scheinman

Here we are again. Two weeks in a row! Not too shabby.

This week I interview my friend and colleague John Scheinman who won the Eclipse Award for feature writing for his piece about legendary Maryland horse trainer Dickie Small. The piece, titled Memories of a Master, is a long, sweeping profile that took John about three months to craft. Give it a read.

[Last week’s episode with Maggie Messitt]

We get into the use of voice recorders versus notebooks, something I find fascinating as different reporters use different methods for gathering information. We also talk about the anxiety that comes from having to interview people and I think that may be particularly helpful to others who feel the same way.

And, of course, there’s John’s Bookshelf for the Apocalypse, the books he’d keep in his survival pack that he could never part with should the world melt down around us. He is the second person to say this is a stupid question in two weeks. Does that mean I should give it up? Not yet. If next week’s guest says it’s stupid maybe I’ll consider.

John’s Bookshelf for the Apocalypse

The Book of Nightmares by Galway Kinnell
Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York by Luc Sante
Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell
The Honest Rainmaker: The Life and Times of Colonel John R. Stingo by A.J. Liebling
Life by Keith Richards
The Great Deep: The Sea and Its Thresholds by James Hamilton-Patterson
Blues People: Negro Music in White America by Leroi Jones
Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story by Nick Tosche

Thanks again for listening. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast and sign up for email updates. They come once a week ONLY IF I POST SOMETHING. Then you can fish around for what you may like in that email offering. Thanks!

I’m already running close to the end of my storage capacity on Podomatic. In order to upgrade, I need to pay for it. I’m asking that if you think the show is worth $1, give a $1, if you think it is worth more, donate more. As money comes in I can afford more storage, better equipment, and make a better product. Thank you so, so much!

Many thanks to new subscribers

Written by Brendan O’Meara

Philanderer’s Corner. #madmen

A photo posted by Brendan O’Meara (@brendanomeara) on

I want to thank all the new subscribers who submitted their emails. I hope you choose to stay aboard the bus, but it is your right to unsubscribe if you feel you’re getting no value or entertainment from anything I post.

I am officially out of hardcover copies of Six Weeks in Saratoga. The final two copies went fast. I’ve reached out to you already if you “won” a copy.

Thanks again and stay tuned for what I hope to be weekly releases of the Hashtag #CNF podcast, book reviews, and other links to my work and the work of others I admire.

Keep thriving!

Maggie Messitt and Telling True Stories

Written by Brendan O’Meara maggie messitt, the rainy season “I really embrace the shitty first draft.” — Maggie Messitt.

“I was always into true stories, almost at an obsessive level.” —Maggie Messitt

My guest for this re-re-birth of the Hashtag #CNF podcast is my friend Maggie Messitt. She has written a gem of a book in The Rainy Season: Three Lives in the New South Africa. 

We talk about a lot of stuff, certainly about process and the challenge of writing book-length narrative. Maggie is a writer, author, teacher, hiker, dog owner, reporter, super kayaker, all-round liver-of-life. Not the organ liver, but…ah, you get it.

Also I introduce a new segment called the Bookshelf for the Apocalypse. What’s this? Should the world be ravaged by global pandemic, zombies, meteor strike or nuclear winter, and you were allowed ten books to keep in your survival pack, what would they be?


Below you’ll find a list of books Maggie mentioned that you may want to check out. Thanks for listening and I ask that you please subscribe to the podcast and sign up for the email newsletter.

Thanks so much!

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

Maggie’s Bookshelf for the Apocalypse

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadimann

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, An American Childhood, A Writing Life, all by Annie Dillard

Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss

The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit

Open City by Teju Cole

Portrait with Keys by Ivan Vladislavic

A dictionary

What is Justice? by Robert C. Solomon and Mark C. Murphy

Make a List of Validations, Not Rejections

When suiting up, never forget to accessorize.

A photo posted by Brendan O’Meara (@brendanomeara) on

By Brendan O’Meara

I’m sure you’ve heard the famous Stephen King quote about his rejection slips. The one where he said he used to hang them up by a nail, but then he needed a spike. Let’s let him say it (h/t Alex Strike):

By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.

That’s a nice image of writing in the face rejection, but who needs to see all those rejection slips? Some people are motivated by them. It’s what athletes do. When someone like Tom Brady, a winner of four Super Bowls, was drafted 199th overall, he used that as motivation. That was like receiving 198 rejections over the course of a weekend.

[Hey, if you’ve made this far, please sign up for my email list. If I post on the blog, it goes out once a week. If you sign up, you’ll be on the frontline for goodies. Thanks!]

Sometimes, though, you see those rejections and you start to believe them. You start to see them as a way out. Maybe you’re deluding yourself in whatever art you choose. The rejections are like a virus that must be purged.

I used to keep rejections. I used to like to see them pile up, but then this began to poison my thinking. If they don’t offer anything constructive, which almost none of them do, I delete them. Instead, I keep a list of validations.

These are so powerful. These are Exhibit A in of You v. Delusions, that you should KEEP GOING.

Keep a file of praise from readers (the most important, because they, you know, buy your work),  mentors (almost as important) and family/friends (don’t let this be your only validation).

It’s not stroking your ego. It’s keeping your soul alive in the dark moments when you want to quit, when you’re looking for every ounce of permission to get out of the game, when you’re looking for one person to tell you to stop deluding yourself.

There’s a fine line between a life in the arts and the delusional. Validations are tangible reasons why you keep going and keep trying to push through.

When Backstory Feels ‘Deliberate’

Day 4: about 20% through the book. Will it be worth keeping? Should it be chucked? We’ll see. #writing

A photo posted by Brendan O’Meara (@brendanomeara) on

By Brendan O’Meara

In yet another bout of mapping vs. outlining (mapping is just reverse outlining. The terrain of the book is in place and you set out like Magellan and map the world. Very clever, I know.) I’m hitting the notecards pretty hard. See pic.

I’m at this point in the this book where I just backed up the dump truck and unloaded a chapter of backstory about my central character. Reading it feels laborious. I haven’t touched this manuscript in four years.

I’m thinking of gutting the entire backstory thus leaving my main guy a little mysterious, a little cloudy around the edges, like Gatsby. He is my Gatsby and I’m Nick, an unreliable insider-outsider who greatly admires his Gatsby.

I love seeing giant limbs of text come tumbling down. I prefer the chainsaw to the pruning sheers.

In Maureen Corrigan’s great book So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures, she meets with Scott Shepherd toward the end. Shepherd reads the entire novel once a day for the broadway production Gatz. He actually has the text memorized. That’s not hyperbole.

Corrigan speaks with Shepherd about Gatsby’s (the character) backstory. Shepherd says of the four-and-a-half-page section that fills in Gatsby’s early backstory:

The beginning of chapter six was sometimes tough. That’s when the audience [for Gatz] would just be back from the dinner break and the’d be logy with food. There’s something about that section that feels deliberate.

Max Perkins, the famous editor to Fitzgerald and others, pushed for Fitzgerald for more biography. Shepherd continues:

In my mind, I see Fitzgerald inventing more specifics in the backstory because Perkins told him to, while at the same time dealing with his strong impulse to leave most of the questions unanswered. The result is, to my ear, a slightly obligatory and vaguely evasive quality that’s artificial in comparison to the rest of the book.


In nonfiction (and all writing for that matter), there’s this tendency to fill backstory, backstory, backstory to round out the character. It’s how most reporters write a 1,000-word take out. It’s basically ALL backstory with some quotes. These past events are why you care about this story about me today.

When we’re dealing with narrative, every word is an oar that must row the boat forward. If you’re going to pause for backstory, that backstory needs to inform the foreground. If we’re going to tell you something that happened way back when, there needs to be some sort of payoff or at least a connection to the foreground.

In my mapping of this first book I wrote, I find this backstory chunk merely background with very little of real substance. Of the 5,000-8,000 words, I bet there’s a 1,000 words worth keeping to pepper throughout the rest of the story.

It feels, to echo the above statement, deliberate. Deliberate feels labored and, worst of all, boring.

Yes, we need to know where our characters came from to have a better understanding of why we care about where they’re going. But too much and we’re too anchored to the past and all forward momentum is lost.

Hey, folks, if you made this far, I’d love your email address. I send out a weekly newsletter with the week’s posts every Tuesday morning. Also, for your loyalty and permission, whenever I have freebies you’ll be the first to know. If I’m selling a book, I’ll make sure you get a discount somehow. You’ve given me your time. I give you story, and maybe a few extra dollars in your pocket. Thanks!