Shepherd: Lambing, Farming, Fatherhood

Written by Brendan O’Meara (email sign up form ==========>)

Shepherd, A Memoir, by Richard Gilbert, Michigan State University Press, 318 pages, $24.95

Part of what made reading Shepherd so enjoyable was knowing some of the story behind the story. Day 1 of a book’s conception is never—repeat, never—what the book will look like when it births. At that point you cut the cord and watch the book gasp for air. Give it a whack on the bum. Continue reading “Shepherd: Lambing, Farming, Fatherhood”

Fictional Dabblings

Written by Brendan O’Meara (email sign up ============>)

hemingway, fiction, brendan o'meara

I have a ton of respect for the short story. I have a ton of respect for the (well done) long form magazine piece. Why? It’s all about word economy and pacing. The real estate to get the story told can’t be too expansive. I’ve been reading the short stories of Karen Russell, George Saunders, Ernest Hemingway. There’s something so underrated about the short story.

Unless you are Russell, Saunders or Alice Munro, short stories just don’t sell. As a collection anyway. Another drawback could be that as soon as you feel invested in a character the story is over and it’s onto the next one where the reader must start all over again and get to know new characters. It so one-night-standish, but that’s also the beauty. The reader gets to know to new characters, new flings and no walk of shame.

So, I’ve been dabbling. There’s a sports short fiction contest put on by Winning Writers. Last year’s story, Fight Night, was the annual winner. It’s a nice little story about a good doctor in debt to his patient. In 2013 I entered their essay contest and submitted an essay version of The Last Championship and lost. I felt defeated, but what are you going to do? So this year I decided to write a short story about a former Major League baseball player who moves to a small town and is courted by all the slow-pitch softball teams in the area. The story is The Ringer, and it’s an allegory for modern sports negotiations. Here’s the opening:

I was a middling baseball player. I was aware of my middlingness and thus saved my money while I was in the pros. I never made much, but it was above average and for a short time you might even say I was wealthy. I mean, I once test-drove a Maserati. My best season saw me play 93 games, bat .271 with 14 RBIs and one home run (an inside the park homerun when the center fielder, the great Ken Griffey, Jr. tried to make one of his typically outstanding plays. Show off.) After my career was effectively over I took a year or two to do nothing more than be a bullpen catcher. I made something like $40,000 a year to watch professional baseball players do their thing, warm up a relief pitcher late in the game, and otherwise reflect on how good I had it.

There came a time to give that up. I had my money, yes, but I had no education so I was basically unhireable. I wanted to do something and I didn’t really care what that something actually was. I lived an extraordinary life for a time and now it was time to blend in as best I could. I’d be the red to somebody’s blue and make purple.

I could walk into any hardware store, diner, or supermarket and not draw the slightest bit of attention. That was the hope.

I loved playing ball and there were twilight leagues I could join, but that didn’t seem fair. Plus seeing middle-aged men in baseball uniforms stretched like bat-wing membranes over their midsections was depressing or, at least, it depressed me. Strangely, what seemed more age appropriate, like mom jeans, was playing slow-pitch softball.

It was fun. I’ve got a few other short stories in the hopper and I’m going to try and land those at magazines and journals.

There’s so much allure to the NOVEL that the short story gets pushed aside. If nothing else the short story is good exercise. There are plenty of novels that are written that could have been saved had they just been a short story. Same goes for a LOT of nonfiction books. A 10,000-word magazine piece or Kindle Single would read so much better than a 70,000-word book.

What do you think?

Today is the First Day of the Rest of the Blog!

Written by Brendan O’Meara (email sign up form ====>)

I read the great Show Your Work by Austin Kleon on my Kindle on Wednesday. It’s a short book, but I highlighted a huge number of passages (I’ll share more as I go, but I’ll practically copy and paste the whole book here if I copy them all now). The premise of the book is that by sharing your work, giving away insights, and process for free, it actually helps build your army. It’s simply a look behind the curtain.

It makes a lot of sense. People have been doing this for years now. By being consistent and giving away personality and access into the work, it’s a positive feedback loop that feeds the artist as well as the consumer. Kleon writes:

Instead of wasting their time “networking,” they’re taking advantage of the network. By generously sharing their ideas and their knowledge, they often gain an audience that they can then leverage when they need it—for fellowship, feedback, or patronage.

I’ve tried just about everything to build a following (and failed). The one thing I haven’t done is share a little every day. That’s my goal for a month, to share a little every day. I’ll scale back after that (maybe). I’ll use it as a warmup for my day’s work. I’ll share some of the mechanics behind what I’m working on. But, like Kleon writes:

Become a documentarian of what you do. Start a work journal: Write your thoughts down in a notebook, or speak them into an audio recorder. Keep a scrapbook. Take a lot of photographs of your work at different stages in your process. Shoot video of you working. This isn’t about making art, it’s about simply keeping track of what’s going on around you. Take advantage of all the cheap, easy tools at your disposal—these days, most of us carry a fully functional multimedia studio around in our smartphones.

That’s the dilly. I’m working on a ton of junk, but I hope that junk turns into something great, something worth buying, something worth re-reading. So, like the Chips Ahoy! cookie, “Today! Is the first day of the rest of my ….”

Feeling the Heat: What It Feels Like to Have a Fire Burn Over You

Written by Brendan O’Meara (Hey, Folks, subscribe to the blog via email over there =======>)

Now, I’ve never personally experienced this and hopefully I never will. But my good friend in letters Brian Mockenhaupt (listen to Hashtag CNF for more of Brian) wrote a piece for The Atlantic about Lathan Johnson, a fire fighter, about what it feels like to have a fire burn over him and live to talk about it.

“You’re not always going to be able to outsmart a fire,” Johnson said. “I thought for sure I’d never have to use a fire shelter, and then I find myself shaking out one, pretty thankful that I had it.”

Brian is an incredible reporter with the writing skills to turn that reporting in compelling narratives. Brian was anthologized in Mark Sager’s Next Wave: America’s New Generation of Literary Journalists.

Go check it out and definitely check out Brian’s latest in The Atlantic.

Also get post fed straight to your email. Check out the form on the right rail. Much appreciated. Sometimes I give away free stuff!