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 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!

Episode 52—How to Write an 80,000-word Book in 42 Days with NYT Bestselling Author Joe Drape

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables from Joe Drape:

“We were seeing greatness. We were part of history.”

“I may not write well, but I write fast. I’m OK with that.”

“You have to figure out who you are and what works for you.”

“It’s all driven by reporting. You gotta know your stuff.”

“Sometimes 1,500 words goes to 3,000 or 6,000. Sometimes 1,500 becomes 300 and you shut your computer and go to a movie.”

“You gotta be able to eat rejection morning, noon, and night. All they can say is no.”

“This business is all about listening.”

I’m not sure where to begin if I’m being perfectly honest. Joe Drape (@joedrape on Twitter) is a New York Times sports writer and the New York Times bestselling author of Our Boys and American Pharoah: The Untold Story of the Triple Crown Winner’s Legendary Rise.

He wrote the 80,000-word manuscript in six weeks without a book leave. 

How are you feeling about your productivity?

“When you say, ‘Ok, I’ve got six weeks to write 80,000 words,’ it freaks you out,” says Joe. “Sometimes 1,500 words goes to 3,000 or 6,000. Sometimes 1,500 becomes 300 and you shut your computer and go to a movie.”

I love it, baby.

Joe is the author of these six books:

American Pharoah
Black Maestro
Our Boys
The Race for the Triple Crown
In the Hornets Nest
To the Swift

In this episode he talks about how to write a book under tight deadline pressure, the power of reporting, and the power of listening. 

Thanks for listening! And if you have a moment, please leave a review on iTunes. Nine (and counting) five-star reviews! Thanks so much! 

Episode 51—Jessica Lahey on Hidden Monsters, The Gift of Failure, and Keeping Your Butt in the Chair

Jessica Lahey in the classroom.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Jessica Lahey (@JessLahey on Twitter):

“Give me everything that was wrong with it and have me learn.”

“I’ve realized that long walks and gardening are a part of my process.”

“Almost always the editor is right.”

“Our tagline is, ‘Keep your butt in the chair and your head in the game.'”

“The work of being a writer means you get words on the page.”

Jessica Lahey, author of the essay “I’ve Taught Monsters,” which recently appeared in Issue 63 of Creative Nonfiction and the NYT best seller The Gift of Failure, came by the show to talk about teaching and getting the work done.

“The work of being a writer means you get words on the page,” Lahey says. “It’s as simple as that. I means you read, you write, and get words on the page.”

We talk about her approach to teaching and language, and also how Stephen King’s On Writing influenced her style. We also talk about what it means to work hard as a writer, a very nebulous term. What does hard work look like?

Dig the show? Give the podcast a nice review. You won’t be alone. Several people have done it, so join them!

Thanks for listening!