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!

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!

SpareMin Book Show: Andrew Mueller

By Brendan O’Meara

It’s not The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, but it’s a micropod I do with a pretty slick app called SpareMin. 

Check it.


BO: I’ve got Andrew Mueller on the line. He’s a writer and teacher based out of Eugene, Oregon. I know Andy because he’s in a writing group I’ve been recently invited to, which has been a lot of fun to share craft, and stories, and feedback. It really helps everyone level up. And Andy recently shared a story that I want to dive into the process for it. So, Andy, how did you come to the story that you shared with us and what was the itch that that story was scratching when you started crafting it.

AM: You want me to talk about the specific story? Or just writing stories in general?

BO: Tell you what, let’s do just writing stories in general then maybe we can scratch the surface of the one you’ve been workshopping.

AM: I would say that the first idea for a story usually has to be something based on something that I know or something that I’ve heard. So either a really interesting person that I met or a a fascinating situation that I heard about or a feeling or a dilemma I know personally. And if it’s a fictional story, for the first draft, and take that a couple steps further, raise the stakes a little bit either by tweaking the characters, tweaking the setting, tweaking the situation a little bit and ratchet up the tension a little bit. And so, for instance, for this story, the original situation I had where this priest or pastor who’s confronted with this guy sending thinly veiled love poems to the entire church staff, that is something that I heard had happened back home in Chicago. I took that and I ran with it.

BO: You’ve got your antennae tuned to these things going on around you that you look to mold into stories. How do you go about documenting that? Do you carry a notebook with you? Or do you put a pin in it in your head and you run home and scribble out something so you don’t forget it. How do you approach that?

AM: Yeah, I’ve tried carrying around a notebook and writing down things regularly, that usually doesn’t work for me. I think the practice I’ve gotten into of writing, even if it’s just 30 minutes each day, that comes out. So if I’m, if something happens that day, something I’ve been thinking about, I have to have that 30 minutes of writing of ideas. It probably does end up being like a daily journal of interesting things that happened that day just because I’m forced to sit down and write it regularly.

BO: And what would you say your daily routine around your creative work is? How do you warm up that engine and ensure that you’re generating some degree or pages or words, however you measure success? How do you approach that each day?

AM: I have to usually plan it out. So I get my planner our and plan from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Usually later than that. I usually do it in the evening. Unless I plan those hours our, writing it down makes it set in stone for me, like it’s out of my hands and I can’t choose whether or not I want to do it because it’s written in the planner. As weird as that sounds.

BO: That’s really brilliant. I have my most productive days when I take the approach of the Ben Franklin daily planner. 

AM: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

BO: How he just kind he lays it out hour by hour. I think of it like a budget. Money, you want to assign every dollar bill a job in your budget whatever it is. I think of time that same way. I’m going to assign these hours to a certain job whatever that’s going to be and I find that even if it’s just 30 minutes. If you say that 30 minutes is writing time, or reading time, you can get surprisingly big chunk of volume done in that amount of time if you just do it with focus, like you said, put it in stone. It holds you accountable.

AM: Exactly, I think, too, it’s important to block out that time, especially the first part, getting into it can be so difficult. You take 15 or 20 minutes of writing little bits and stopping and struggling and wanting to quit. If you just sit there for long enough with the page in front of you, all of a sudden you’ll find yourself in the middle of writing something that’s interesting and you’re really into it. I think setting aside that time and actually writing it down and making yourself accountable is so important for me. That’s the trick that works.

BO: A lot of people complain that if they want to write, they don’t have enough time, and usually that means they haven’t prioritized enough time to do it. It doesn’t take much. You can still call yourself a writer if you’re doing 10 or 20 minutes every other day. But as long as you make it a point and …. since you teach at the U of O, right? 

AM: Right, right.

BO: You’ve got a lot of responsibility there, so how do you make that time to make sure you’re doing stuff that’s creatively fulfilling for you?

AM: It’s actually interesting. Teaching is one of those things, I don’t know if most other jobs are like this. I’ve only had teach jobs. Teaching is one of those things that will take as much time as you allow it. Even planning out time for that and saying, ‘Okay, I’m going to spend an hour on this lesson plan and no more.’ If it takes longer than that then I’m just going to have to have an incomplete lesson for the day. I have to get to my writing. I think especially for teachers and for people who are teaching it can seem like the writing is not as important and fall by the wayside because you have 60 students that are going to be sitting in a classroom waiting for you to teach them something the next day which is a more anxiety producing prospect than not having your pages for the day. It comes back to that planning and setting limits. I’m going to grade for two hours and however much grading gets done that’s it. If I told them it’d probably be done by this weekend, they’re not gonna get done because I have to keep my sanity and I have to live the rest of my life. Because if you don’t do that teaching will take all of your time.

BO: And what would you say, and this will be the last question before I let you get outta here for this Round 1, because I think it’d be fun to maybe once a month have you on and let’s check in and see how things are going.

AM: That’d be terrific. 

BO: Have recurring guests. This could be cool. As a writer, what’s your proudest moment as a writer to date?

AM: Ooo, proudest moment as a writer to date…huh..I would say…

BO: It could be a published thing. It could be a pat on the back from someone you truly admire who said, ‘Yeah, you’re in the club kid.’ It could be anything that your artistic delusions that we all have aren’t totally lunatic. Something validating, something that fed you in a good way.

AM: Okay, I don’t know if this directly related to my creative work, but when I was in undergrad, I was an English major and in my school they gave out a couple of awards at the end of the year, the top two graduating English majors as decided by the faculty. I won one of those awards at the end of the  year and that was incredibly validating not only because I knew it was stiff competition and related to my reading and my writing ability. But that the faculty had chosen it. The professors I had worked with had looked at all those names and chosen me out of all of them. I’d say that was in general validating for my language skills. That’s still something I think about today and feel really good about..

BO: Fantastic, well, Andy Mueller is a writer and teacher in Eugene, OR, and thank you so much for coming on the Book Show, Andy. This is what I hope to be the first of many conversations we have through the app here. Thank you for your time.

AM: It was good to be here.

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.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

Subscribe to the podcast on Google Play Music.

I’ve got a monthly newsletter with reading picks. Enter your email.

Thanks for listening!