Episode 62—Penny Lane is Her Real Name

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables from Penny Lane (@lennypane):

“You can beg, borrow, and steal, cut corners and set your expectations are low, or say, ‘Fuck that! My time is important and I’m going to pay myself.'”

“I wanted the movie to be a con the way Brinkley conned people.”

“You just have to muddle through.”

“Being a director, your only job is to understand the big-picture goals of the film.”

Penny Lane is a documentary filmmaker whose films include Nuts!Our Nixon, and The Voyagers. The latter got her a nod from Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings

The Voyagers is a gorgeous movie and a love letter of sorts to her then-fiance. Popova writes:

The Voyagers is a beautiful short film by video artist and filmmaker Penny Lane, made of remixed public domain footage — a living testament to the creative capacity of remix culture — using the story of the legendary interstellar journey and the Golden Record to tell a bigger, beautiful story about love and the gift of chance. Lane takes the Golden Record, “a Valentine dedicated to the tiny chance that in some distant time and place we might make contact,” and translates it into a Valentine to her own “fellow traveler,” all the while paying profound homage to [Carl] Sagan’s spirit and legacy.

In this episode we talk about that, but also her longer films Nuts! and Our Nixon, and also about raising the bar of her own ambitions and finding ways to make her work more visible. Anybody who may be hiding in obscurity will find this episode inspiring. 

Documentaries Mentioned

Exit Through the Gift Shop
Grizzly Man
The Gleaners and I

If you can, leave a kind review over on iTunes. Thanks for listening!

Episode 61—Susan Orlean on Writing for an Audience and the Entrepreneurial Nature of a Writing Career

Susan Orlean for Grub Street / New York Magazine

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Susan Orlean (@susanorlean)

“What can I do with the tools I was given as opposed to the tools I was expecting?”

“If a story is just exactly what I expected it would be, I don’t think of that as all that interesting.”

“Entrepreneur, I had the instincts of an entrepreneur.”

“OK, this is how you do it…you make a connection, you think of stories that would work for a bigger audience.”

“In very practical terms, if you’re gonna be a person doing longform journalism, you will be running a small business.”

“Look at it as a business you’re running, but you also happen to be the raw material the business is producing.”

“Each story starts from zero. It never stops being exciting.”

Hello, CNF-buddies, it’s The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction—journalists, essayists, memoirists, radio producers, and documentary film makers—and how you can use their tools of mastery and apply it to your own work.

That’s right, you are in for a treat. Well, let’s face it, you’ve always been in for a treat, but this week you’re in for an Easter basket and Halloween sack all rolled into one verifiably true candy locker.

New York Times bestselling author of Rin Tin Tin, The Orchid Thief, (which was made into the movie Adaptation), Saturday Night, My Kind of Place, The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup, and the children’s book Lazy Little Loafers. She’s a staff writer for The New Yorker (full archive here) and she came by the podcast to share her wisdom and experiences from a career writing deeply reported features. You can find Susan online @susanorlean on Twitter and visit her website Susan Orlean dot com.

What are some takeaways? Susan talks about always having an audience in mind, having supreme focus, and needing to see yourself as a business person if you plan on doing this type of work and that it’s actually freeing, not stifling, in order to do the kind of work that excites you and feeds your ambitions.

Before we get to that, I ask that you please subscribe to the podcast, share it with a friend, and leave a rating or, ideally, a nice review on iTunes, like this one from Meredith May. She said, “Real conversations among professional writers about the essence of craft. A behind the scenes look at the way stories come together, from inception to publication, that doesn’t shy away from the truth about the difficulties and triumphs of making a living from words. One of the hardest concepts for my podcasting students to grasp is how differentiate between a story and a topic—this podcast helps them find that X-factor that makes a story sing.”

Wow. Shoutout to that five-star review. If you leave one, I might just read it on the air! It’s time for the show, episode 61 with Susan Orlean!

Episode 60—The Godfather of Creative Nonfiction: Lee Gutkind

Lee Gutkind, Brendan O'Meara
Lee Gutkind, founder of the journal Creative Nonfiction and author/editor of nearly 50 books, stopped by the podcast.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Lee Gutkind (@LeeGutkind):

“I love the work. It’s my passion. Aside from raising my son, it’s the most satisfying thing I do.

“In many ways the biggest challenge to figure out if you’re gonna be a writer of nonfiction is to figure out what stories you can tell that no one else has told before.”

“You have to select people who want to be written about.”

“The change is everything. The change is the story.”

“The test of any great writer is keeping going and not letting however you see failure as a way of stopping you.”

“We are not writing for ourselves. We’re writing for the bigger world.”

Hey, hey, it’s The Creative Nonfiction Podcast! This is the show where I interview the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction: documentary film, personal essay, memoir, narrative journalism, killer profiles, and reportage and dive into the origin story, what makes them great, and how you can apply their strategies of mastery to your own work.

Today’s guest for Episode 60 (!) of The Creative Nonfiction Podcast is none other than the Godfather, Lee Gutkind.

His tagline on his website is Writer. Speaker. Innovator. He’s written or edited 49 books like Almost Human, The Best Seat in the House But You Have to Stand: The Game as Umpires See It, Truckin’ With Sam.

He also founded the lit journal/now magazine Creative Nonfiction, which is an incredible well of great writing. 

What are you gonna learn from this episode? Lee tells you that you need to figure out what stories and YOU can tell that no one else has done before. How to find the people who want their stories told, and how to perservere in the face of untold failure.

That’s a some good, good stuff.

Before we dive into the interview, I ask that you leave a review on iTunes or even just a rating. Reviews are icing on the cake, but the more ratings, the more cred, the more people we can reach. Also, I have an email newsletter that I send out once a month. It’ gives my reading list for the month and what you may have missed from the podcast.

Share this with a friend because I know you’re gonna dig it!

Episode 58—Get 1% Better with Joe Ferraro

Joe Ferraro, Brendan O'Meara
Joe Ferraro is the host of The 1% Better Podcast.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Joe Ferraro (@FerraroOnAir):

“We need to be shipping more than worrying about the details.”

“Nothing upsets me more than when someone says, ‘I’m too busy.'”

“You’ll hear young learners say, ‘How did you get so good at that?’ And the answer almost always is practice and reps.”

“I’m still trying to get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

“I’m a person who learns an unbelievable amount by talking things out.”

“Who are the people in your damn neighborhood?”

“The art and science of conversation and interviewing is intoxicating.”

Hey, it’s The Creative Nonfiction Podcast (please leave a review!) where I speak with the world’s best writers, freelancers, interviewers, authors, and documentary filmmakers about why and how they go about creating works of nonfiction and how YOU can apply what they do to your work.

Today’s guest is Joe Ferraro (@FerraroOnAir on Twitter), the fourth Joe I’ve had on the podcast (Joe DePaulo, Joe Drape, Joe Donahue, and now Joe Ferraro). Need a Josephine…anyway…

So who’s Joe Ferraro? He’s a teacher and a learner, but above all he’s a leader. He just started a podcast: The 1% Better Podcast. His tagline is Conversations designed to help you get 1% Better. It’s aimed at gradual, continual, rigorous—though not overwhelming—personal improvement.

“If we’re talking about hard work, it’s about squeezing out more of the day,” says Joe. “Nothing upsets me more than when someone says ‘I’m too busy.’”

Joe talks about his allergy for negative people, finding ways to challenge himself, and how after teaching for 20 years, he feels like his best years are still ahead of him. He’s the type of guy that inspires you to take action. He also talks about how he met his good pal Kevin Wilson, who you may recall from Episode 32.

Be sure to reach out to Joe on Twitter and subscribe to his podcast right away. Whether it’s listening to world class leader Ryan Hawk or how to make the best cold brew coffee, the art of thinking and redefining a restaurant, The 1% Better Podcast will open your eyes to where you can add value to you life and those around you.

Episode 57—Joe Donahue on the Art of the Interview

 

Joe Donahue, master interviewer, visited CNF HQ. Photo courtesy of The College of St. Rose’s blog.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Joe Donahue:

“It’s not about you. It’s about the guest. The fact is people are there to hear the guest.”

“My job really is to present a person and get to the bottom of them, if you will, and ask questions that hopefully people want answered.”

“There is a jazz mentality, a call and response.”

“The worst thing that can happen is when guests sit down and say, ‘Ask me anything.’ Because they haven’t prepared anything.”

“Once you realize that you have that going with that person and have a report, that call and response, it can be delightful.”

“I made a conscious effort 15 years ago that I wasn’t going to write questions or notes down. I was too concerned about being beholden to them.”

“There’s a little acting to this. Sometimes, even if you don’t, you have to pretend like you give a shit.”

By Brendan O’Meara

You need to understand something, friend. Joe Donahue (@JoeCDonahue on Twitter) has had such a strong influence on how I conduct and listen to interviews, I can’t even begin to explain.

He hosts The Roundtable and The Book Show for WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which broadcasts out of Albany, NY. Joe wanted to be in radio since he was, oh, four years old. That’s focus and that’s passion.

“My job really is to present a person and get to the bottom of them, so to speak,” Joe says, “and ask questions that hopefully people want answered.”

It’s how he asks questions and how thoughtful those questions are that make Joe every bit as strong an interviewer as Terry Gross, Trevor Noah, or anyone, really. 

In this episode you’ll learn how he structures his research, thinks through questions, what he learned from Larry King and Fred Rogers, and why he decided to forego lists of questions and note taking during an interview.

I hope you enjoy this latest episode and I hope you’ll do me a favor and leave a nice review wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening!

Episode 56—Sonja Livingston Serves Up ‘Ghostbread’

Sonja Livingston, author of the memoir “Ghostbread,” stopped by the podcast to read from her book and to talk about her work.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Sonja: 

“If I had tried to line together four or five of these [short chapters], it might feel cumulatively too dense or heavy.”

“That’s such a nice thing about writing, isn’t it? It’s exciting for me because I don’t know where the piece is going to go and beyond that I don’t know who it’s going to connect with if it will at all. Sometimes it doesn’t. But when it does, it’s sort of amazing.”

“I don’t really have a plan. I follow the leads of memory and curiosity and go with it.”

“They haven’t tried to kill me, but they haven’t thrown me a party either.”

“The thing that makes an essay work and seem like a miracle is the thing that makes it seem so painful as well.”

Sonja Livingston stopped by The Creative Nonfiction Podcast to talk about her award-winning memoir “Ghostbread.” She was also gracious enough to read from three short chapters. It’s about family and growing up in poverty.

“[My family] hasn’t tried to kill me, but they haven’t thrown me a party either,” Sonja says.

This episode is layered and a bit experimental. I hope it adds a little extra somethin’-somethin’ to the usual interview. If you dig it, let me know on Twitter @BrendanOMeara and I’ll invite others to try something similar.

Sonja talks a lot about her routine and how getting outside helps her write. Also she adds that writing personal essay can feel like a miracle, but can also be very painful. Maybe it’s that in order to write great art, there must be a little bit of blood on the page.

I’d love for you to leave a review of the podcast and to share with folks you think will enjoy it. That’s all I can ask for. Thanks for listening!

People Mentioned

Judith Kitchen
Enda O’Brien
Harriet Scott Chessman
Jerre Mangione
James Joyce
Flanner O’Connor
William Faulkner
Dinty W. Moore

Episode 55—Do Funny Things Always Happen to Nikki Schulak?

Nikki Schulak’s “Dentistry’s Problem Children” appeared in Creative Nonfictions latest issue themed “How We Teach.”

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Nikki Schulak:

“What writer at my age gets to have parents be dead? I don’t have to worry about what they think!”

“I can’t stop. I can’t not write stories.”

I suggest visiting Nikki Schulak’s website and then perusing her extensive archive of essays

In this episode we talk about how stories come to her, how she stays attuned to the world, naked bike rides, and the power of performing for an audience and the validation that ushers.

This is the last episode before my 37th birthday. Wanna give something to me? Leave a review on iTunes. You don’t even have to wrap it. The best part? It’s free and takes less than a minute. Can’t beat that right?

Thanks for listening!

Episode 54—Andre Dubus III on his Accidental Memoir, the Love of Revision, and Getting the F*ck Off Social Media

Andre Dubus III, author of Townie, says, “If you want tenacity, get the fuck off social media!”
Andre and me in 2011 at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Ctr, Vermont.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables from Andre Dubus III:

“If you want tenacity, get the fuck off social media!”

“I’ve been writing five-six days a week for 35 years without fail.”

“The truth is, if you want to write or create anything worth a damn, you better embrace failure or you’re not going to get to the good stuff.”

“It’s an act of generosity to give the reader less.”

“Anything written to please the author is worthless.”

“The central thing about writing I find most joyous is that it’s an act of discovery.”

“[Richard Russo] said, ‘If it were me, I’d ask, am I trying to hurt anyone with this book? Am I trying to settle scores?'”

Andre Dubus III, author the memoir Townie and the novels House of Sand and Fog and Dirty Love, stopped by the podcast to talk about memoir, the essay, and writing in general.

“The truth is, if you want to write or create anything worth a damn, you better embrace failure or you’re not going to get to the good stuff. You gotta learn to love how hard it is,” he says.

This episode is so packed with great, actionable, and inspiring material from a “made” writer, meaning he built himself into the writer he wanted to be. If you think you don’t have time to write, just wait until you hear him talk about how he found the time to write his breakout novel House of Sand and Fog. Talk about rigor.

Please review the podcast iTunes and pass this along to a friend you think will get something out of it. If your friend is a writer, I know s/he will get something out of this episode.

Thanks for listening!

Episode 53—Jessica Abel and the Power of Creative Focus

Photo by Laurène DuCrocq

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Jessica Abel (@jccabel)

“If you don’t believe it’s something I learned, and if I learned it you can learn it, then you don’t take control, and if you don’t take control you have to live with this stuff.”

“Almost any idea you have could turn into a good idea if you invest in it enough and find what’s at the heart of it.”

“I like to say the Dark Forest is a good sign.”

“The thing that’s going to give you the best chance of having an awesome Tuesday is Monday.”

Jessica Abel is a cartoonist, a teacher, a writer, and a podcaster and her latest book, Growing Gills: How to Find Creative Focus When You’re Drowning in Your Daily Life, is her latest project.

I came across her kick-ass, 200-page, black-and-white graphic book Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio and reached out to her. 

So in this episode we talk a lot about what makes for great radio/podcasting, how to obtain creative focus, the power of reviewing your projects and processes, and much, much more.

If you dig the show, share it with a friend and leave a review in Apple Podcasts or wherever you found this. The five-star ratings keep coming in and I’d love to have more that way I can reach more people just like you, people who dig what the best artists are doing in the genre of creative nonfiction. 

Thanks for listening!

SpareMin Book Show: Tortured Artist? Writer Caroline Comerford Ain’t Buyin’ It

By Brendan O’Meara

So, a good chunk of you know that I host The Creative Nonfiction Podcast (subscribe, review) where I interview the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction, like Joe Drape talking about writing an 80,000-word book in six weeks.

But I also have a side-gig where I interview any writer for the app SpareMin. It’s a micropodcast, if you will, and my latest episode is with my friend Caroline Comerford. 

Because these episodes tend to be really short (by design), I want to add the transcript below. For those hungry for Creative Nonfiction Podcast transcripts, yeah, I think I’ll bite the bullet and do those too. But for now, you’ll just have to deal with these!

Thanks for listening! Oh, and download the app. It’s free

BO: I’ve got Caroline Comerford joining me on the line joining me for The Book Show. She’s a writer and teacher based out of Eugene, Oregon. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Caroline, this is really fun.

CC: Well, thank you for giving me the opportunity to think about some of these things.

BO: Yeah, it’s always nice to find out a writer’s origin story and what influenced them, so what are some influential books that sort of turned you on to language and made you want to become a writer?

CC: Oh, I’m going to have think about this one. Influential books from an early age…I was always a big reader, a quiet kid like so many of us. I read a lot when I was really young, sort of standard Secret Garden, Little Princess, Anna Green Gable stuff. And I don’t know that I really had a sense that I wanted to be a writer until I reached adolescence and started writing more regularly for myself.

I think one memory I have between the summer between eighth grade and high school I remember spending a lot of time in our over-heated attic reading random books that I had found on my parents’ bookshelf. My stepmother’s books in particular. I remember reading My Antonia in one or two sittings up there in a really hot summer knowing there were pieces of it that I couldn’t really understand. But also knowing that it made me feel something that I couldn’t have felt any other way. I still carry that memory with me. It’s still the same feeling that I get when I read a book where it’s able to bypass my analytical mind. That was a very important book to me growing up and still is.

BO: Was it the story itself, the way Willa Cather used language, what did that unlock for  you?

CC: I think it has everything to do with language. The story is beautiful, but the story comes through the language. The idea that language, I think it maybe makes sense to say that when I started writing I started out as a poet, and wrote mostly poetry throughout my college years. That language could unlock things in me thematically, emotionally, even when I didn’t fully understand all of the words on the page all of the time. The way that she weaves words together in that book creates a net of emotional experience and longing, nostalgia, that is so moving and it was through that book that I most deeply experienced the transfer of someone else’s longing and memory to my own experience through language.

BO: In sort of training, if you will, as a poet, and you experienced more with essay and prose, some of the stuff that I’ve read from you, how did poetry help inform your prose-style of writing?

CC: That’s a good question, one I’m not sure I have a great answer to. My work as a poet was very much in my formative years and I don’t think that I, I know I didn’t seriously consider being a poet while I was writing poetry. I needed to be writing, the mentors and people I loved who I found in college were poets and were really generous to me and taught me a lot about sound and especially about how to edit, really, and that actually way that I know that poetry still informs my work. I’m always thinking about what I can cut out, and what sticks. Between the time I stopped writing poetry, which was the end of college, the time I started writing fiction maybe four years later, most of the writing I did, none of the writing I did was directed toward an audience. My relationship to writing, I felt like I needed it to make meaning out of my own experience, and that internal motivation to write was why I was attracted to poetry too. It’s a form that allows for a lot of reflection, a lot of looking at the self, that was something I was trying to figure out then. That carries through to my work a little bit now though I try to be a little more outward looking. A good chunk of four or five years between the time I stopped writing poetry and started taking fiction workshops and went to get my MFA in fiction.

BO: When you’re getting ready to process a thought and put it into writing, how do you approach the warmup, or the writer’s calisthenics, as I like to call it, what’s your routine as you try to work through something and put it onto the page? How does that process manifest itself for you?

CC: I have what I think is a terrible habit to have to sit down and, well, the first part of the habit isn’t so bad. I generally, especially at this point, you are catching me at this second fallow point in my writing in my adult life. It hasn’t even been that long. It’s probably been six months. I’m currently eight months pregnant and I’m teaching full time and I have an almost two-year-old at home and so there is just not enough time for a lot of regular writing.

I get one day a week right now to sit down and write. I need an hour or so just to process my life [laughs]. I sit down and write stream of conscious. I’m thinking about this; these should be my priorities right now; these should not be my priorities right now; I have to get all that stuff out of the way before I can begin to think about what I should be working on. Then the terrible habit I was talking about tends to be, I tend to think too hard about what I’m going to write next or what needs to have with a particular piece before I’ve given it a chance to really form. I’ll have a tendency to really try to start the more analytical revision process before I’ve given myself enough time to think down and tell the truth about what’s happening with my characters and to write scenes. 

BO: Yeah.

CC: And to stick with scenes. It’s really hard, especially when I don’t have a lot of space in my life to sink down and stick with what’s going on in the moment with somebody and not let my analytical mind represent some sort of feeling. That’s a challenge for me. I think that’s truly an authentic part of my process. I do need to sit down and think a little bit. I’m always frustrated with how long I spend with that. 

BO: Do you find that, at least in this time of your life, you have that one day to do your writing, do you feel liberated by that or pressured by that, because it would seem like this is your game day and if it doesn’t get done this day it’s not going to get done for another week. Is there a sense of pressure or do you think ‘This is my day and I can just binge it out. Let’s rock.’?

CC: Right now because the time is so little and the time is, I recognize that I need that time for personal processing writing and having quiet moments to myself that is, if I really expect much from myself, that’s frustrating. When my son was born a year ago and I found that my time was much more precious and I found that that time was liberating. It was much easier to be productive and a lot of the anxiety about what I was producing or where it was going or how I was saying something, really disappeared for me because I knew I needed to get or I had a clear goal. That was easier because I was writing for four hours every other day really regularly. Now being away from the page for an entire week doesn’t really work for me. I accepted that until this second child is born and established in the world I will have to have less time. I will also be teaching far less next year so I’m hoping that my time will come back around and have a similar experience where having less time will make me get more done and allows me to cut through more quickly that earlier stages in my life.

BO: One more question Caroline, before I let you get out of here, there’s often this stigma that the writer is this tortured artist, which I tend not to buy. I think writing should be fun in some instances, and if it’s not fun then it’s not going to be fun for the reader. I suspect that that’s maybe true with you. Where in the process of writing do you get your joy in being able to sit down and write short stories or essays or even fragments of novels. Where are you most joyful in the process of generating work?

CC: When I let myself be present in scene and in characters. There is joy in the process, or maybe it’s not joy, there’s certainly pleasure in the process of revising and making plans for what your piece is going to be. Going back and revising and fixing things and perfecting things. I definitely get a contentment from that. The joy comes from getting in a really good first draft and the feeling that comes from actually doing that. The feeling of it on the other end isn’t always so great. The feeling of getting it down is definitely joyful and really important.

BO: It’s important to recognize the accomplishment that is having written that first draft. It takes a lot of energy and focus to get to that point alone. Granted you’re just starting, but you have to take that moment to appreciate how far you’ve come, now you this piece of marble to keep on honing and carving and shaving down. 

CC: I will say about the tortured artists thing. I absolutely agree with you, I think the less tortured my life becomes the better my writing is … without a doubt.