#CNF Episode No. 17—Brin-Jonathan Butler on Bullfighting, How Surprise is His Biggest Weapon, and Access as a Drug

Brin-Jonathan Butler, Brendan O'Meara

Written by Brendan O’Meara

“Surprise is one of the biggest weapons you have as a journalist to affect people emotionally.” — Brin-Jonathan Butler

“The juice for me with journalism is not money or recognition. My ego is tied into access.” — Brin-Jonathan Butler


Two pics? Whaaaaaaat? His photos rival Eva Holland’s irreverent, dare I say, get-the-fuck-out-of-my-face pic from Episode 15.

Butler is one of the smartest people I’ve ever spoken with. There’s a level of thinking and depth you don’t often hear from someone who’s in their mid-30s. You expect it from, say, George Saunders, but listening to Butler speak was a treasure for me and I hope so for you.

Like Holland, Glenn Stout, and Charles Bethea, Butler never studied journalism, yet he’s one of the best at his craft. I sense a theme that some of the best at this craft aren’t journalists by trade, but people who have a keen sense for language, are widely read, and think long and hard about the work. They aim for impact, not a sound bite.

You should also listen to him on the Longform Podcast from back in 2014. Pairing that interview with mine will give you tremendous insight into Butler’s mind.

Here’s a bunch of links to Butler’s work:

Buffalo and Wide Right, Broken Hearts and No Illusions
Myths Made Flesh: Last Breaths in a Spanish Bullring
The Poison Oasis
The Kindle Singles Interview with Mike Tyson
Errol Morris: The Kindle Singles Interview
The Domino Diaries

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Episode No. 16: Charles Bethea on Late-Night Pitching, the Anxiety of Reporting, and the Magnitude of Breakfast

Charles Bethea
Charles Bethea, world traveler, great writer.

Written by Brendan O’Meara

“I was a poetry major in college which was of course of great concern to my parents.” —Charles Bethea

Here we are with the first episode of 2016, No. 16, sweet sixteen, Charles Bethea. This was a fun episode as we talk about Charle’s start in freelancing, his love of breakfast, and one of his favorite quotes of all time.

Like Eva Holland, Charles’ writing takes you places. He’s funny and his writing has a smooth feel to it. Suddenly you’re done with the piece and it felt like nothing, like gravity did all the work for you.

Aside from having his work published in The New Yorker (where he has a regular sports column on its website), the now-defunct Grantland, and Outside Magazine, he was also a producer on the short documentary Fair Chase, about persistence hunting. If you read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, you know that this is a theory about man’s early hunting by wearing down and overheating four-legged prey.

Anyway, point being Charles is a busy man with serious chops.

Here’s the link to the episode since folks with mobile devices still can’t stream it from the blog post (Podomatic is NOT on its game with this bout of customer service). Here’s the embed anyway.

Also here are links to a sampling of Charles’ work. You can find more at his website charlesbethea.com.

Selected Work

Fair Chase from Outside
Obama’s In-Box from The New Yorker
The Many Lives of Aubrey Lee Price from Atlanta Magazine
Star-Maker from The New Yorker
Will Shortz and the Ping-Pong Prodigy from The New Yorker

Books Mentioned

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Proud Highway by Hunter S. Thompson
No Man Knows My History by Fawn Brodie
Snowblind: A Brief Career in the Cocaine Trade by Robert Sabbag
Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell

Don’t Be a Jerk: The Worst Blog Post I’ve Ever Written

Written by Brendan O’Meara

I should probably be doing work, but my train derailed and I figured and I’d better atone for my sins. I wrote a post here saying Charles Bethea’s profile in Outside Magazine had the worse opening paragraph I’ve ever read. It was hyperbolic and hurtful. The post was written by a bitter hand. Worst of all, I attacked a fellow writer, which is minor league baseball. I’ve had my work raked over the coals and it hurts. I was a rock-eating troll.

My wife sent me an image of a poster that says, “How to Feel Miserable as an Artist”. Almost every one hit home, especially the first one: Constantly Compare Yourself to Other Artists.  This is what prompted me to rail Bethea’s Outside piece, which I have since read and is well done. It was done purely out of insecurity. I also came across this: 20 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. Again, I was weak-minded.

What prompted this mea culpa was Bethea defending himself in the comments of that post as well as in an email to me where he said, “Have some balls and publish this comment on your site.” Go read it. It’s smart, funny, and well written, a total zinger. I also wrote a long reply with my tail between my legs.

I told him in an email that sometimes freelancing puts me in a dark, dark place. I’m alone for hours upon hours when I’m not shadowing a character. Even then, it’s likely a story that will barely pay for the gas it took me to get there. This makes me bitter. That’s a ‘me’ problem. And reading his opening graf to that story hit me at this intersection. It doesn’t make it right. It’s just what happened.

I wondered if the blog post would somehow reach him. These things have a way of flowing down the river of the Internet to the source of our angst. I feel slimy.

Still, as a result of my childish tantrum, we’ll likely have some civilized discourse about writing and magazine journalism. Remember when I spoke about luck? Maybe in this instance I made a friend out of a crummy thing I did. That’s luck. Undeserved, but luck no less.