Episode 80—The Wild Life of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas co-authored “Tamed and Untamed” with Sy Montgomery.

By Brendan O’Meara

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas says:

“I don’t think I followed a very traditional pathway and just did what I felt like doing.”

“11 o’clock in the morning is an optimistic time.”

“I love to work. I love being completely absorbed in something else.”

It’s the Creative Nonfiction Podcast where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction. Leaders in the worlds of narrative journalism, personal essay, memoir, radio, and documentary film come here to talk about their origins, inspirations, and work habits so that you can apply their tools of mastery to your own work. Continue reading “Episode 80—The Wild Life of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas”

Episode 79—From Potholes in Parking Lots to the Jungles of Borneo with Sy Montgomery

Sy Montgomery, author of the bestselling “The Soul of an Octopus,” is one of the most adventurous and pleasant people you will hear on this show.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Sy Montgomery (@SyTheAuthor): 

“I have never picked the safe option and I have never regretted choosing what I’ve chosen ever.”

“I don’t always believe in myself. I can’t just believe in myself because I’m not that great. But I do believe in my project.”

Hey there, CNFers, hope you’re having a CNFin’ good week.

My, oh, my, where do we start? Maybe if you’re new to the podcast I should let you know what it’s about. This is the show where I speak to the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction: leaders in narrative journalism (like Susan Orlean), personal essay (like Matthew Mercier), memoir (like Pulitzer Prize-winner Madeleine Blais), radio (Joe Donahue), and documentary film like (Jeff Krulik and Penny Lane). Continue reading “Episode 79—From Potholes in Parking Lots to the Jungles of Borneo with Sy Montgomery”

Episode 78—Louisa Thomas on Problematic Writers, Mercenary Work, and Picking Up the Phone

Louisa Thomas is the author of two books and a recent honoree of the Best American Sports Writing.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables from Louisa Thomas (@louisahthomas)

“For me, I’m thinking about the writing from the very first second I get an assignment. I’m thinking about tone, and texture, and influences.”

“Sometimes you just have to write things. You do the best you can. You turn it in and you turn the page.”

“A lot of reporters can’t wait to pick up the phone. I will do everything to avoid picking up the phone.”

“I still get off on a great sentence. It’s as simple as that.”

Louisa Thomas joins me this week. She recently made the big book for The Best American Sports Writing for her piece Serena Williams, Andy Murray, and a Political Wimbledon.

In this episode we talk about

  • Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams.
  • Working with Prolematic Writers and How Not to be One
  • Mercenary Writing
  • And what she learned working with New Yorker editor David Remnick
  • How she organizes her titanic feats of research and much more

People are taking advantage of my free hour of editorial work and coaching, about a $50 value. Want in? All you have to do is leave an honest review on iTunes and have it postmarked by the end of December. Send me a screenshot of your review and you’ll be on your way. Reviews validate the podcast and increase its visibility so we can reach more CNFin’ people. I’m not even asking for a 5-star review, merely an honest one because that comes from a more authentic place.

All right, enough of my stupid face, time to hear from Louisa Thomas, thanks for listening.

I also have a monthly newsletter where I send out my book recommendations and what you might have missed from the podcast. Head over to brendanomeara.com to subscribe. There you’ll also find show notes to all the episodes of the podcast. Once a month. No spam. Can’t beat it.

Books by Louisa

Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family—a Test of Will and Faith in World War I
Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams

Episode 77—Blaire Briody says Good Reporting is Good Writing

blaire briody
Blaire Briody, winner of Proximity Magazine’s 2017 Narrative Journalism contest, jumped on the podcast this week.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Blaire Briody (@blairebriody on Twitter):

“Those stories that can’t seem to get away from you. You keep thinking about them. I always try to pursue these when that’s the case.”

“I think one criticism book editors will give magazine journalists is that their book proposal sounds like a magazine article. With the North Dakota book, I wanted more of those through lines.”

“I love the reporting process even though it’s a lot of hard work. Getting into great conversations with people, that’s what it domes down to, coming home from an interview and feeling really excited about the material.”

“For me, the first draft is pretty awful. It’s like pulling teeth every single day getting it down.”

“I think I’ve seen that talent is only a small part of the equation especially with journalism because good reporting is good writing.”

“The ordinary can always become extraordinary if you give them enough time. Everyone can be a fascinating character if you peel back enough layers.”

For episode 77, I welcome Blaire Briody, that’s @blairebriody on Twitter. She is a freelance journalist who has written for The New York Times, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Fast Company, Glamour, among others. Her first nonfiction book, The New Wild West: Black Gold, Fracking, and Life in a North Dakota Boomtown. The book was the 2016 finalist for the Lukas Work-in-Progress Award from Columbia Journalism School and Harvard University, and she received the Richard J. Margolis Award for social justice journalism in 2014. 

Blaire won Proximity Magazine’s second annual narrative journalism prize for her piece “It Takes a Boom,” which chronicles Cindy Marchello, the lone woman in the vast fracking sites in North Dakota.

Ted Conover, author of several books and immersion journalist of the highest order, judged the contest, you can also hear him back on Ep. 50 of The Creative Nonfictoin Podcast, and here’s what he had to say about Blaire’s gold-medal piece:

This vivid portrait of a woman trying to work oil fields during the fracking boom rings totally true—we seldom meet people like Cindy Marchello in narrative journalism, but I don’t doubt for a second they’re here. I love the frankness and the matter-of-factness. Both Blaire Briody and her subject won my heart, and admiration.

Nice…

Speaking of being thankful, reviews and ratings have been flowing in and I want to extend a big, big thanks to those who are doing that and taking advantage of my editing offer as a result. What’s this? In exchange for an HONEST—it doesn’t have to be a good one, just an honest one—review on iTunes, I’m offering an hour of my time to work with you on a piece of writing. All you have to do is leave your review and when it posts, email me a screenshot of it. As long it’s postmarked any time between Nov. 2017 and the end of Dec. 2017, the offer stands. Reviews are the new currency and your help will go a long way toward building the community this podcast sets out to make, to empower others to pick up the pen or the camera or the microphone and do work that scratches that creative itch.

Okay…now what?

The first half of this interview had to be completely cut out.

Why? There were some nasty internet gremlins wreaking all kinds of havoc with our connection. It sounded like an old, old Apple computer chugging in the background with some heavy thumps thrown in, maybe an aquarium’s aerator. I mean, it was weird, but more than that it was extremely distracting, so instead of putting you through that, fair listener, I’m going to sum up that first part of the interview in a few hundred words, then we’ll get to the second half that I recorded through a different connection and that sounds just fine.

People Mentioned

Ted Conover
Susan Orlean
Rebecca Skloot
Joseph Mitchell

Books Mentioned

The Orchid Thief
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Up in the Old Hotel

Podcasts Mentioned

This American Life
Radio Lab

Episode 76—Erica Berry on Binge Writing, Writing as Learning, and Werewolves

Erica Berry wrote “Beasts Among Us” for the 13th issue of True Story

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Erica Berry (@ericajberry on Twitter):

“Joan Didion said ‘Writers are always selling people out’ and I have chafed against that because I don’t feel like I want to be.”

“I’m a pretty binge-y writer.”

“The essay lets you learn as you’re writing.”

In a week where Creative Nonfiction reached its Kickstarter goal to support its monthly offshoot True Story, what better than to have the latest True Story author on the show? Continue reading “Episode 76—Erica Berry on Binge Writing, Writing as Learning, and Werewolves”

Episode 75—Chris Arvidson on “The Love of Baseball,” Deadlines, Pacing, and Curiosity

Chris Arvidson, co-editor of “The Love of Baseball,” joins me on the podcast this week.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Chris Arvidson (www.chrisarvidson.com):

“I don’t need to hear another story about how you went to the baseball game with your dad.”

“We wanted to have that feeling of experience of how people experience baseball over a lifetime.”

“How do you set up your story and how do you make it move?”

“There’s so much great real stuff happening that it seemed dumb to make up anything.”

“You have to write every day and you have to ask every day.”

This week I welcome Chris Arvidson for Episode 75 of The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction, leaders in narrative journalism, radio, essay, memoir, and documentary film and try to tease out their stories, habits and routines so you can improve your own creative practice.

Chris co-edited along with Diana Nelson Jones The Love of Baseball: Essays by Lifelong Fans published by McFarland. It’s a beautiful book and we talk about its genesis, what makes for good baseball writing vs. horrible baseball writing, what’s the most important thing for Chris when developing a story, the organic nature of building a network, favorite books on writing, and much more.

Chris also edited the anthologies Reflections on the New River and Mountain Memoirs. You can find more about her and her work at chrisarvidson.com.

Books Mentioned

I, Who Did Not Die by Meredith May and others
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Writing Creative Nonfiction by Philip Gerard [podcast here]
Draft No. 4 by John McPhee
Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark [podcast here]

Episode 74—Madeleine Blais says Reality is Compelling Enough

Pulitzer Prize winner Madeleine Blais joined me on the podcast. Maddy is a dear friend and treasured mentor and it was so great to speak to her about her work and her new book “To the New Owners.”

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Madeleine Blais

“I always say mixed feelings equal material.”

“You’re only as great as your next story.”

“If you’re a feature writer or a person who does longform, you start to suspect a lot of depth in a lot of people.”

“I try to tell myself that nothing is ever wasted.”

“Reality was compelling enough.”

“I like the stories that make me feel like I’m going in the opposite direction of other people.”

Welcome back to another episode of The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction to try and tease out the origins, habits, and routines so that you can apply their skills of mastery to your own work: narrative journalists, New York Times bestselling authors, award-winning filmmakers and, yes, even a Pulitzer Prize winner. Continue reading “Episode 74—Madeleine Blais says Reality is Compelling Enough”

Episode 73—Patsy Sims on Book Research as Mini-education, Not Giving Up, and “The Stories We Tell”

Patsy Sims
Patsy Sims reporting at a KKK rally for her 1978 book “The Klan.”

By Brendan O’Meara

“The novel I always wanted to write didn’t have to be fiction.”

“What they gave women was pitiful.”

“Sure, you have everything on the tape recorder, but that’s the beauty of it and it’s up to me to be selective.”

“Transcribing is another point of getting this in your head.”

“I guess the lesson there is perseverance. Not giving up.”

Hey, CNFers, it’s The Creative Nonfiction Podcast the show where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction. I try and tease out the origins and tactics from leaders in narrative journalism (like Susan Orlean), personal essay (like Elizabeth Rush), memoir (like Andre Dubus III), radio (like Joe Donahue), and documentary film (like Penny Lane), so you can apply their tools of mastery to your own work. Continue reading “Episode 73—Patsy Sims on Book Research as Mini-education, Not Giving Up, and “The Stories We Tell””

Episode 72—Creative Nonfiction’s Hattie Fletcher Kickstarts Year 2 of ‘True Story’

By Brendan O’Meara

“[True Story] is a snack between the main meal.” —Hattie Fletcher

It’s The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction, leaders in the world of narrative journalism, documentary film, essay, memoir and radio and try to deconstruct how these masters go about the work so that you can improve your own.

This week I welcome back Hattie Fletcher, who is the managing editor for Creative Nonfiction Magazine. What prompted a second trip? Hattie, along with Lee Gutkind and the team over at Creative Nonfiction, started a $27,000 Kickstarter campaign to support the second year of True Story, their monthly offshoot to the quarterly magazine.

True Story is a 5,000-10,000-word stand-alone piece in chapbook or digital form. It’s pretty rad.

In this episode we talk about:

  • What makes the green-lit pieces pop
  • What the rejected pieces have in common
  • And also some of the goodies you can expect with a pledge.

I hope after listening to this you’ll head over to the Kickstarter campaign and pledge some hard-earned dough so they can keep doing the work they’re doing on True Story.

Full disclosure, I don’t get any kickbacks of any kind.

What a guy.

It would be nice if you shared the episode and even left a nice review over on iTunes to help validate the podcast so I can keep doing this thing. I’d hate for the business office to come down and slam the door shut on this enterprise. Keep the reviews coming so I can keep the doors open at CNFHQ.

Episode 71—Working Backward with Elizabeth Rush

Elizabeth Rush, Brendan O'Meara
Elizabeth Rush, whose essay “Something Like Vertigo” appeared in Creative Nonfiction Issue 64, joins me on the podcast this week.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Elizabeth Rush (@elizabetharush on Twitter):

“I’m just a mule. I just show up every day and climb very, very slowly up that mountain.”

“I know writing is about your writing, but it’s also about your networking.”

“My first draft is the Ugly Middle.”

“I feel like I turn to writers to help me solve problems that I’m having.”

Continue reading “Episode 71—Working Backward with Elizabeth Rush”