Episode 50—Ted Conover’s Deep Dive into Immersion

Author Ted Conover. Photo by Jay Leibold

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Ted Conover:

How could I write a thesis and get out of the library?

What if I’d been a little more cautious? I probably would’ve missed out and I can’t tell you what I’d be doing today. I hate to think about it.

Experience that doubles as research is really cool.

You have to see that team spirit as a tool for learning about people.

When you take notes, you’re writing to yourself. These are notes to the person who’s going to write about this.

If the experience is the raw  material, do I have enough to create a finished product?

For the 50th episode of The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, we had to go big and that’s what we did.

Ted Conover (@tedconover on Twitter), author of so many books (Rolling Nowhere, Coyotes, Newjack) including his latest Immersion: A Writer’s Guide to Going Deep, joined me to talk about why he wrote the book and how he has employed those tactics for the past 40 years.

“The research you do is determinative, right?” Conover says. “It defines what you’re going to be able to write in many ways.”

Thanks for listening. Please share, subscribe, and leave a review on iTunes.

Episode 49—Dinty W. Moore on the Gift of Feedback, Reading Like a Mechanic, and Patience

Dinty W. Moore, author of “The Story Cure.”

Tweetables by Dinty Moore:

“I don’t spend a lot of time lingering over breakfast.”

“The people I know who fail as writers … lack patience, stubbornness.”

“The story’s got to move on.”

“I don’t think, ‘Oh, God, I hate myself. I’m a horrible writer.’ I think, ‘You know what? I can actually fix this.'”

By Brendan O’Meara

Dinty Moore (@brevitymag) runs the creative writing program at Ohio University. He founded Brevity Magazine, an online magazine dedicated to short (<750 words) nonfiction. He’s written a dozen books.

“I don’t spend a lot of time lingering over breakfast,” he says on The Creative Nonfiction Podcast. [Subscribe on the Apple Podcast app or Google Play Music! And leave a review in iTunes. One generous soul has left a 5-star review! Join him/her!]

Dinty’s latest book, The Story Cure: A Book Doctor’s Pain-Free Guide to Finishing Your Novel or Memoir (Ten Speed Press), will help diagnose—and cure!—common ailments in your project, whether you’re far along in a book (as I am) or you’re just getting starting.

Check this: When dealing with early drafts (and Dinty writes as many as 40), he says, “I don’t think, ‘Oh, God, I hate myself. I’m a horrible person.’ I think, ‘You know what? I can actually fix this.'”

Great advice for patience and kindness to you and your work.

Please leave a review on iTunes, subscribe to the podcast, and share with a friend.

Thanks for listening!

I also mention Mary-Heather Noble and Kim Kankiewicz as it applies to a part of conversation on patience. Check them out if you haven’t already!

Episode 48—Roy Peter Clark Redux

By Brendan O’Meara

This week on The Creative Nonfiction Podcast decided to revisit my episode with Roy Peter Clark (@RoyPeterClark on Twitter), this time condensing that two-hour interview and pulling out the best moments.

In it we hear Roy talk about how he learned to swim in the language, the moment he learned the true meaning of literacy, and when research can become crippling.

I’m experimenting with the form and making it more like a mini one-source profile. Let me know what you think. I think it makes for a better overall listen. Ping me on Twitter @BrendanOMeara with thoughts, or to say hi.

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on the Apple podcast app and on Google Play Music. Leave a rating if you’re feeling extra kind. Those help.

Thanks for listening!

Episode 47—Shawna Kenney on ‘Zines, Advice, and Finding Your Tribe

Shawna Kenney, punk rock to the bone.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Shawna Kenney:

“The punk scene became a pre-Internet web of people for me to connect with.”

“Like any reader, I liked that [words] could take me away.”

“I’m much better on the page than I am verbally.”

“I always wanted to be Hunter S. Thompson without the drugs.”

“It’s not like I pitch an outlet and sit there waiting hopefully.”

“There’s no one right way to do your art.”

Shawna Kenney, author, writer, teacher, coach, editor, joins me on The Creative Nonfiction Podcast to talk about her origin story as a teenage fanzine founder, punk rock, and her delightful short essay “Never Call Yourself a Writer, and Other Rules for Writing,” a brilliant piece of satire.

She grew up in a conservative family in small-town Maryland, so the nearby punk scene in Washington D.C. held tremendous appeal. “I always wanted to be Hunter S. Thompson without the drugs,” Shawna tells me.

Her work has such an edge that I was surprised that she didn’t have that edge in conversation. “I’m much better on the page than I am verbally,” she says, which isn’t true at all. She’s great on the page, and she’s a great conversationalist.

Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, the New York Times, Vice, and Playboy, just to name a few. Be sure to follow Shawna on Twitter @ShawnaJKenney and go to her website to read more about her and her work.

Thanks for listening!

Episode 46—Editor Hattie Fletcher on Seeing Rhythms and the Power of Reading Slush

Hattie Fletcher
Hattie Fletcher, editor selfie

By Brendan O’Meara

Hattie Fletcher Tweetables:

“I spent a lot of time getting at what writers were trying to do with their stories and trying to make stories be the best form of that.”

“If you want to make a print object there’s an obligation to make a nice print object.”

“Editors, I guess, wield power. I don’t know anyone who loves saying ‘no.’ It’s not a personal thing.”

“The best part of my job—and it comes four times a year—is saying ‘yes’ to people.”

“Reading slush is such a great exercise for a writer.”

“I don’t think art that is deliberately mapped out is any less artful.”

Here we are for Episode 46 (!) of The #CNF Podcast with Creative Nonfiction’s managing editor Hattie Fletcher.

If you want to improve your writing and possibly improve your chances of being published in Creative Nonfictionthen this is your episode.

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Thanks for listening!

Truman Capote on Reading, Style, and Time Between Drafts

By Brendan O’Meara

Truman Capote, one of the master writers of his time and a tragic alcoholic, was loquacious as a speaker and a damn-good listen. Or, if you’re reading Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews edited by Malcolm Cowley, he’s a damn-good listen/read.

In the conversation he had with Pati Hall, Capote talks about his influences, his writing process, and whether style can—or can’t—be learned. For anyone who has read his work and one need look no farther than his opening passage from his nonfiction novel In Cold Blood, one sees the skillful use of language and imagery.

But can a writer learn style, or is it something somehow genetic?

Capote says

No, I don’t think that style is consciously arrived at, any more than one arrives at the color on one’s eyes. After all, your style is you. At the end the personality has to be humanly there. Personality is a debased word, I know, but it’s what I mean. The writer’s individual humanity, his word or gesture toward the world, has to appear almost like a character that makes contact with the reader.

Then how is a style or voice formed? For generations, writers have stolen the styles of their idols and over time—and with much repetition—forged what can be called uniquely their own voice. And how else does a writer come to that realization other than by reading and reading and reading.

Capote, when asked if read a great deal, said:

Too much. And anything, including labels and recipes and advertisements.

A writer need not look to the classics or great literature to find the language dancing. Sometimes a tweet, a Google ad, or the terse nature of technical writing can provide a certain sense of clarity that often gets lost when writers shoot for florid prose, and, it should be said, often miss.

When it came to writing drafts, Capote opted for a pencil, and always wrote in bed. As with any piece of writing, sometimes it needs … time.

After typing out a third draft using a type writer in the lap the way we may use a laptop Capote:

[P]uts the manuscript away for a while, a week, a month, sometimes longer. When I take it out again, I read it as coldly as possible, then read it aloud to a friend or two, and decide what changes I want to make and whether or not I want to publish it. I’ve thrown away rather a few short stories, an entire novel, and half of another. But if all goes well, I type the final version on white paper and that’s that.

This 1959 edition of Writers at Work features William Faulkner, Dorothy Parker, and Thornton Wilder, offering tremendous insights into the minds of writers. Partner any of these interviews with the many that The Paris Review has published online with modern authors of fiction and nonfiction.

I hope you share this essay with your friends and if you like this, be sure to subscribe to my creative nonfiction podcast, #CNF, on iTunes or Google Play Music, where I speak with artists about creating works of nonfiction.

 

Episode 45—Bronwen Dickey Returns to Talk about the Paperback Release of Pit Bull, Troll Culture, and How Perfectionism Kills

Bronwen Dickey, Brendan O'Meara
Bronwen Dickey, everybody!

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Bronwen Dickey (@BronwenDickey)

“To be able to see something you put so much time into have a life outside your head is amazing and to connect with readers…”

On trolls: “The way a culture corrects itself is when people refuse to be cowed by that bullshit.”

On when research is over: “As Susan Orlean says, ‘You meet yourself coming the other way.'”

“I’m very drawn to upending stereotypes or going into a community of people that the public may think it knows.”

“Getting into those conflicts is where stories happen.”

“Perfectionism will truly kill you.”

“Everything that I have ever written, I can’t read.”

“The world will absolutely keep spinning on its axis if I write a story that fucking blows.”

“Every project feels like you’re at the bottom of Everest.”

Bronwen Dickey, author of Pit Bull: Battle Over an American Icon, returns to The #CNF Podcast and we had a lot of fun talking about troll culture, how to know when the research is done, why she finds herself at the center of these polarizing conflicts, and how perfectionism kills.

Be sure to check out our earlier episode from 2016 where she was equally illuminating and charming

Please subscribe to the podcast wherever you get them (iTunes and Google Play Music badges are in the right margin) and my monthly reading list newsletter. If you dig the podcast, do me that solid. Thanks!

Episode 44—Philip Gerard on the ‘Thrill’ Creative Research

 

Author Philip Gerard

By Brendan O’Meara

So in a new segment for the podcast, potentially at least, I’m experimenting with little audio essays about various titles I’ve read and the wisdom gleaned from those pages.

It could be from a podcast guest’s book, or maybe not, but the point is to insert some sonic joy into your ears in well under ten minutes.

It can’t hurt to try, right?

Which brings me to Philip Gerard’s The Art of Creative Research: A Field Guide for Writers. The book pulses with curious energy and equips the writer with the tools to cull and curate information. Like a field guide for a series of hikes, this magnificent title leads you through the vast wealth of information and stories out there for the picking.

Just feel the love and joy coming from the pages when Gerard writes:

I love getting in my car in the predawn darkness, watching the dashboard glow blue and silver and red as I turn the ignition, feel the neighborhood still all around me.

They’re all asleep, my neighbors, and I’m awake and stealing away on an adventure.

It gets at the pure fun of the process. Writing need not be a torturous or perilous pursuit. Because inside all those delightful artifacts lie something buried, something to be unearthed.

He writes:

If I am good enough to make it happen.

And I love it that sometimes I am good enough to make it happen.

I love the moment when someone tells me something he or she never intended to say, the look of wonder and discovery in their eyes, the smiling tears of memory, the clutch in the throat that carries all the story you’ll ever need to hear. The pang of good-bye, leaving a stranger who has just confided his most precious secret, hoping you will honor it—I don’t love that, I never get used to that. Yet afterward, how I do cherish the memory of.

The Art of Creative Research stems from what all writers have—whether they know it or not—and that’s curiosity. Gerard writes:

At the highway rest stops, I can’t help but wonder where everyone else has come from and where they are bound: the chic couple in the red convertible sports car, the rowdy family with all the wild kids pouring out of the camper, the pensive loner hurrying back from the restroom with his hands jammed tight in his windbreaker pockets. I want to get in all their cars with them and go someplace else, anywhere but here, and find out why: Why are they going? What’s waiting at the end of the road?

What dissolves away are the illusions of making it big as a writer, the questions of money and fame, and what is left in the stockpot is a love of narrative, story, making something grounded and reaped from the time you spent buried in research.

He writes:

It’s a lot of work, and it takes some gumption, but it sure is a thrill.

For more about Philip’s book and his process, be sure to listen to Episode 38 of the #CNF Podcast and be sure to pick up his book at your library or at your local bookseller.

Please subscribe to the podcast, my monthly reading list newsletter, and leave a kind review. Thanks so much for listening.

Episode 43—Mary Heather Noble on Emotional Charge, Emotional Distance, and Not Discarding Work

Mary Heather Noble’s “Eulogy for an Owl” won Creative Nonfiction’s Editor’s Prize. Photo by H. Romero

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Mary Heather Noble

“I think it really gets at the heart of whatever people perceive themselves to be, as part of a natural system or not.”

“The emotional charge came to light for me. Before [Eulogy for an Owl] was a creative nonfiction, research-based thing that didn’t have any pow to it, didn’t have a story behind it, it was just a fascination for me.”

“It needs to rise like bread, first, before you can take it any further, or let it cool before you frost it.”

“I know not to throw away writing.”

“Writing is a little bit more like quilt making where you keep these other parts and less materializing from thin air.”

“I’m one of those writers who has spurts and dry spells.”

“Other different art forms can inform our writing.”

“I tend to look at my pieces like a box of puppies that need to find homes.”

Great day and a sad day.

Great that I get to share this episode with Mary Heather Noble (@MH_Noble on Twitter). Sad because I had to delete Episodes 1 through 8 from the #CNF archive for storage reasons.

That will likely be the case from now on. Every new episode will kick out the oldest one. 

If people want older episodes, I’m working on transcripts (ugh) and possibly putting old episodes on CDs. I admire those folks and podcasts with the budgets to keep all their work up indefinitely, but with no ad revenue or subscription service, I can’t keep pace. It already costs me quite a bit as is.

That said…

I welcome Mary Heather Noble, an environmental writer who won Creative Nonfiction’s editor’s prize in Issue 61’s “Learning from Nature” edition. Her essay “Eulogy for an Owl” is a magnificent piece of writing and particularly profound for me it talks about moving out west and the latent guilt of leaving bitter family behind.

Just so you know, the misses and I are totally down with the move, but we receive(d) our fair share of guilt trips, which is particularly maddening, but that’s neither here nor there. We’re here to talk about Mary Heather’s work and her approach.

Housekeeping: Share this episode with someone you think will get value from it, subscribe, leave a 5-star review in your directory of choice. Makes me feel good and will help the podcast reach more people.

Let’s dive in. Here’s Mary Heather Noble.

Also mentioned is Kim Kankiewicz’ episode.