Episode 11—Carrie Hagen on Finding the Essence of Story

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Written by Brendan O’Meara

 

The subject at hand is Carrie Hagen, author of We is Got Him. She and I met at grad school where she began fleshing out the story for We is Got Him. It’s her first book, but you’d think it was her third or fourth. I’ll let her do the talking.

As always I’d love for you to sign up for email updates (they arrive on Tuesdays if they arrive at all). Also be sure to subscribe to the podcast that way you’ll get the latest episodes of The Creative Nonfiction Podcast beamed straight to your favorite audio device.

Thanks!

Episode 8—Maggie Messitt on Shi#y First Drafts and Making Documentaries on Paper

maggie messitt, the rainy season

Written by Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Maggie Messitt (@maggiemessitt):

“I really embrace the shitty first draft.” 

“I was always into true stories, almost at an obsessive level.” 

Maggie Messitt wrote a gem of a book in The Rainy Season: Three Lives in the New South Africa. 

We talk about a lot of stuff, certainly about process and the challenge of writing book-length narrative. Maggie is a writer, author, teacher, hiker, dog owner, reporter, super kayaker, all-round liver-of-life. 

Also I introduce a new segment called the Bookshelf for the Apocalypse. What’s this? Should the world be ravaged by global pandemic, zombies, meteor strike or nuclear winter, and you were allowed ten books to keep in your survival pack, what would they be?

Hmm….

Below you’ll find a list of books Maggie mentioned that you may want to check out. Thanks for listening and I ask that you please subscribe to the podcast and sign up for the email newsletter.

Thanks so much!

Maggie’s Bookshelf for the Apocalypse

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadimann

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, An American Childhood, A Writing Life, all by Annie Dillard

Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss

The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit

Open City by Teju Cole

Portrait with Keys by Ivan Vladislavic

A dictionary

What is Justice? by Robert C. Solomon and Mark C. Murphy

Episode 7—Richard Gilbert Bought a Farm

Richard Gilbert, author of “Shepherd: A Memoir,” stopped by the podcast in 2014.

Written by Brendan O’Meara

[Tweetables to come!]

Richard Gilbert is the author of Shepherd, a memoir about his days on an Ohio farm fulfilling a lifelong dream to become a farmer. He raised flocks of sheep, got hurt, dealt with ragweed allergies, the list goes on and on. It’s a wonderful book and I think after listening to Richard you’ll want to devour it and also follow his great blog, Draft No. 4, and follow him on Twitter @richardsgilbert.

The audio to the podcast kinda sucks. For that I’m sorry. There are some points where my Skype connection got real choppy. Other times the audio gets uneven. I’m sorry, but brighter days are coming. Subscribe to Hashtag #CNF on iTunes and sign up for the weekly emailer that updates you on the week’s posts. That’s it! Enjoy!

PIXAR’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

Written by Brendan O’Meara

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It’s no secret. Pixar, the heavyweight that brings us such awesome flicks as “Up”, “Ratatouille”, and “Wall-E”, has had its 22 Rules of Storytelling available online for a few years now. Some people blog about them, some people make imgurs, some people made a poster. I found this with Dug right in the middle.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-cGUHjtw0MI0/T9_v64FLpgI/AAAAAAAAC0w/qx5FZ2TMTY8/s1600/Pixar22.jpg
I found this little poster from this website, giving credit where credit is due: http://raydillonrandom.blogspot.com/2012/06/pixars-22-rules-of-storytelling.html

I printed out this little poster and taped it above my work space. It’s more applicable to fiction, certainly, because like Rule No. 19: Coincidences that get characters into trouble are great. Coincidences that get them out of it is cheating.

But they are ALL elements of story that are embedded in the consumer, whether they know it or not. People seek these rules on an intrinsic level. As a writer of nonfiction, you can tune your antennae to situations that follow these rules and then report the hell out of them. Sports, my backdrop of choice, often has the elements of conflict woven into it.

You can’t argue with Pixar. Is there a bad Pixar movie? Is there an unwatchable one? They are funny, sad (I think most of them have made me cry on some level. Thanks “Up”. Thanks “Toy Story 3”.), triumphant and just plain fun.

I’m always looking for other media to help my storytelling and movies inspire me. May they inspire you.

Hashtag #CNF Episode 4: Harrison Scott Key

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Written by Brendan O’Meara

I get to interview some pretty cool people doing this humble little podcast. In this latest episode, I speak with Harrison Scott Key about his award-winning essay The Wishbone. The Wishbone won Creative Nonfiction’s Southern Sin essay contest. It is a wildly funny essay about his father bending the rules to win a football game … a pee-wee football game … in which he recruit’s his 14-year-old son—Harrison—to suit up as the team’s integral 11th player.

In this interview we talk about comedy writing and where Key developed his comedic sensibility. Enjoy and share!

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast here.

Follow me on Twitter @BrendanOMeara and give me a ‘like’ over at Facebook. Looking to reach 1,000 true fans and there’s PLENTY of room available.

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Hashtag #CNF Episode 2—Author/Nonfiction Editor Tom McAllister

Written by Brendan O’Meara

If you thought Hashtag #CNF was just a one-and-done kind of podcast, you’ve got another thing coming. I’m at least giving this thing a shot at a sophomore slump. Suckers.

To quote Ren from Ren and Stimpy, “Hark! Hark!” I’ve got a fun one for you today, and every day, so long as you click play.

Let’s face it, it had to be since author and Barrelhouse nonfiction editor Tom McAllister joined me to talk about Bring the Noise: The Best Pop Culture Essays from Barrelhouse Magazine.

McAllister is the author of Bury Me in My Jersey: A Memoir of My Father, Football, and Philly. He is also a professor of creative writing at Temple University and, most recently, is the editor of Bring the Noise. As McAllister riffs in his hilarious introduction, BTN is a treatise “on the the stupid things we love”. Yes, there’s the stupid things we love, but BTN shows how beautiful these stupid things are when in the hands of seventeen artful storytellers whose personal stories elevate popular culture to the adult table.

In it you’ll find professional wrestling, roller derby, Barry Bonds, stalking Aaron Grenier, and the “never-ending reality of The Hills” and, in true Barrelhouse style, the Patrick Swayze question.

I allowed myself one book purchase at AWP Boston. This was it. Best $15 I spent all weekend.
I allowed myself one book purchase at AWP Boston. This was it. Best $15 I spent all weekend.

Hashtag CNF Episode 1: Author Susan Kushner Resnick

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Written by Brendan O’Meara

I can’t tell you how excited I am to start this new venture called Hashtag CNF, a podcast about reading and writing with authors in the genre of creative nonfiction. Batting lead off is author Susan Kushner Resnick. We talked about her latest book, You Saved Me Too.

An iTunes subscription link will be available soon. In the meantime, you can subscribe to my blog here to get email updates of my latest entries and interviews. For now, enjoy the great insights Susan shared about her wonderful book.

Click on the image to buy the book:

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Manuscript Impossible: Taking Control of You and Your Work

Written by Brendan O’Meara

A show I can’t get enough of is Restaurant Impossible on the Food Network. Chef Robert Irvine visits dilapidated restaurants in need of a facelift. He. Gets. Brutal with the owners and staff. He has two days and $10,000 to give them a second chance. It’s Extreme Home Makeover for restaurants.

Many of the restaurants have dingy carpets. Smells hit you in the face. Staff is unfriendly and unknowledgeable. Trash, clutter, and waste fester in kitchens. It’s a look inside the cluttered minds of these restaurant owners.

Robert blitzes in. He’s like Gordon Ramsey and Simon Cowell with Mr. Olympia biceps.

Here’s the show’s flow chart:

1. Establish how futile the restaurant is
2. Charts a course to save the restaurant, though can’t see how it’s possible
3. Atomic bombs the menu
3a: Brings in design team to make the restaurant over on tight budget
4. Work
5. Address underlying issues/Raise the stakes with staff and owners
6. Marketing new food to Chamber of Commerce
7. Re-open “new” restaurant. Tears flow (Yes, I get misty here. So does Robert: the drill sergeant becomes Pooh Bear)
8. Robert coaches the kitchen, iron out kinks on the fly
9. Epilogue: did the restaurant make the changes stick? Most do, some fail and fall back into the same habits that brought out the failure in the first place.

As I watch, I get motivated. Robert’s passion is undeniable for food and restaurants and he finds it insulting when others don’t take their craft seriously. It made me think: Am I doing what I can to uphold the craft of writing?

I too get insulted by people who do say they “would like to write a book some day,” as if all it takes is a little time and nothing else, just something they can squeeze in between lattes and knee surgery.

My manuscripts feel like the dingy restaurants, with complacent sentences hanging there because they can. Just because this sentence is written, doesn’t mean it’s great; just because it’s readable, doesn’t make it acceptable.

Whatever the manuscript and whatever the length, you can put yours through the ringer too: Manuscript Impossible. But you have to get brutal. It’s not enough to murder your darlings, you have to draw and quarter your darlings, put them on pikes outside bridges to deter invaders. Gruesome? Well, do you want to get on the right path or not? Good.

1. You’ve got a manuscript. Great! Also: B.F.D. Big fuckin’ deal.
2. It’s bad. You know this. But what must happen?
3. What scenes (in nonfiction, are there scenes? Do the Yellow Test) must go? Enhance?
4. Start trimming. It’s probably too long. This piece was 646 words. It’s now 601.
5. Evaluate work habits. Trash clutter as clutter leads to procrastination.
6. Allot time for social networking and promotion. Connect with readers and writers in your genre on Facebook and Twitter. Set a kitchen timer for one hour every morning and tend to this garden (visit and comment on related blogs. This feels like a waste of time, but it’s an investment. Bloggers = reviewers. We ain’t getting’ into the New York Times Book Review)
7. Wow. Look at that slim manuscript! It looks pretty good. You never knew it was in you!
8.But it can be slimmer. Every. Word. Show. Let’s not waste anyone’s time.
9. Epilogue: TBD

I’ve used this quote before. I think it helps in all areas of life, not just in writing:

One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity.

—Bruce Lee

 

Now let me know what you’re up to in the comments.