Episode 91—Mary Pilon’s Freelance Rumspringa and the Best Advice She Got from David Carr

Mary Pilon says, “Anybody who goes into journalism for fame or fortune or awards right off the bat I write off as an idiot.”

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Mary Pilon (@marypilon):

“Anybody who goes into journalism for fame or fortune or awards right off the bat I write off as an idiot.”

“The pipeline has changed.”

“I think it took two years to be comfortable with freelancing.”

Okay, so what’s the meaning of this? Mary Pilon again? For one I could listen to 52 episodes of Mary, but when we recorded I spliced the interview in two parts to shorten it and I’m glad I did at this point because my guest this week cancelled. What’s the lesson kids? Get interviews in the can. When I can it’s brilliant. Can’t always happen. Continue reading “Episode 91—Mary Pilon’s Freelance Rumspringa and the Best Advice She Got from David Carr”

Episode 90—Mary Pilon Brings You “The Kevin Show”

Mary Pilon returns to the podcast to talk about her latest book “The Kevin Show.” Photo credit to Julie Goldstone Koch

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Mary Pilon (@marypilon):

“I can’t think about writing a big project. It’s too overwhelming for me but I can think about a thousand words a day and then this magical thing happens which is you end up with 90,000 words.” 

“I think you have to have the basics down as a writer before you can even think about playing with how to tell it. I would say I spend 80 percent of my time on this one reporting and another the other 20 writing.” 

The Creative Nonfiction Podcast (subscribe) is the show where I speak to the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction: leaders in narrative journalism, essay, memoir, radio, and documentary film to tease out origins, habits, routines, key influences, mentors, self-doubt, so you can say, ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool. I’m not alone. I’m not a loser.’ And apply those tools of mastery to your own work. Continue reading “Episode 90—Mary Pilon Brings You “The Kevin Show””

Episode 88—Rachel Corbett says, “Stop Trying So Hard”

Rachel Corbett
Rachel Corbett knows a thing or two about Rilke, so she came by The Creative Nonfiction Podcast.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables from Rachel Corbett (@RachelNCorbett):

“There is some advantage to saying nothing and letting people go on forever.”

“It’s usually when you stop trying so hard that you something happens.”

“You have to go away for a few days and then come back and look at it fresh and see what’s magical about the information.”

Hey, there CNF-buddys, I’m comin’ at you live from my shiny new digs. New house up in Eugene and I’ve got a nice little office I can call my own. There’s no foam on the walls yet, so please pardon the audio, but we’re making strides to be the best.

Part of that is me shutting the front door and getting the hell out of the way. I still haven’t quite figured out a way to completely edit myself out of these interviews. But I’m working on it.

Don’t worry…

Rachel Corbett joins me this week for Episode 88 of The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with the best artists about creating works of nonfiction, leaders in the world of narrative journalism (like Bronwen Dickey here and here), essay, memoir, radio, and documentary film where I try and tease out origins, habits, routines, mentors, key influences, so you can apply some of their tools of mastery to your own work.

Rachel is a freelance journalist whose work appears in a few rags you might have heard of: The New Yorker, the New York Times, etc. She’s also the author of You Must Change Your Life, The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin

Rachel hits on some key points about:

  • Carving out your own niche
  • How things come easier when you stop trying so hard
  • Listening vs. talking
  • Getting away from the work so you can come back refreshed
  • And the power of being dumb and defeated (some of us were born this way)

So…you dig the show? I ask that you leave an honest rating (10 seconds) or a review (<60 seconds).

A review = an editorial consult/coach sesh of up to 2,000 words 


An @CNFPod transcript of you choice.

Merely show me evidence (a screenshot) of your review, and I’ll respond.

Also considering signing up for my monthly reading recommendation newsletter. Once a month. No spam. Can’t beat it. 

Podcast Twitter and Podcast Facebook!

Writers Mentioned

Annie Proulx
Cormac McCarthy
William Gass
Geoff Dyer

Episode 79—From Potholes in Parking Lots to the Jungles of Borneo with Sy Montgomery

Sy Montgomery, author of the bestselling “The Soul of an Octopus,” is one of the most adventurous and pleasant people you will hear on this show.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Sy Montgomery (@SyTheAuthor): 

“I have never picked the safe option and I have never regretted choosing what I’ve chosen ever.”

“I don’t always believe in myself. I can’t just believe in myself because I’m not that great. But I do believe in my project.”

Hey there, CNFers, hope you’re having a CNFin’ good week.

My, oh, my, where do we start? Maybe if you’re new to the podcast I should let you know what it’s about. This is the show where I speak to the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction: leaders in narrative journalism (like Susan Orlean), personal essay (like Matthew Mercier), memoir (like Pulitzer Prize-winner Madeleine Blais), radio (Joe Donahue), and documentary film like (Jeff Krulik and Penny Lane). Continue reading “Episode 79—From Potholes in Parking Lots to the Jungles of Borneo with Sy Montgomery”

Episode 78—Louisa Thomas on Problematic Writers, Mercenary Work, and Picking Up the Phone

Louisa Thomas is the author of two books and a recent honoree of the Best American Sports Writing.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables from Louisa Thomas (@louisahthomas)

“For me, I’m thinking about the writing from the very first second I get an assignment. I’m thinking about tone, and texture, and influences.”

“Sometimes you just have to write things. You do the best you can. You turn it in and you turn the page.”

“A lot of reporters can’t wait to pick up the phone. I will do everything to avoid picking up the phone.”

“I still get off on a great sentence. It’s as simple as that.”

Louisa Thomas joins me this week. She recently made the big book for The Best American Sports Writing for her piece Serena Williams, Andy Murray, and a Political Wimbledon.

In this episode we talk about

  • Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams.
  • Working with Prolematic Writers and How Not to be One
  • Mercenary Writing
  • And what she learned working with New Yorker editor David Remnick
  • How she organizes her titanic feats of research and much more

People are taking advantage of my free hour of editorial work and coaching, about a $50 value. Want in? All you have to do is leave an honest review on iTunes and have it postmarked by the end of December. Send me a screenshot of your review and you’ll be on your way. Reviews validate the podcast and increase its visibility so we can reach more CNFin’ people. I’m not even asking for a 5-star review, merely an honest one because that comes from a more authentic place.

All right, enough of my stupid face, time to hear from Louisa Thomas, thanks for listening.

I also have a monthly newsletter where I send out my book recommendations and what you might have missed from the podcast. Head over to brendanomeara.com to subscribe. There you’ll also find show notes to all the episodes of the podcast. Once a month. No spam. Can’t beat it.

Books by Louisa

Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family—a Test of Will and Faith in World War I
Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams

Episode 77—Blaire Briody says Good Reporting is Good Writing

blaire briody
Blaire Briody, winner of Proximity Magazine’s 2017 Narrative Journalism contest, jumped on the podcast this week.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Blaire Briody (@blairebriody on Twitter):

“Those stories that can’t seem to get away from you. You keep thinking about them. I always try to pursue these when that’s the case.”

“I think one criticism book editors will give magazine journalists is that their book proposal sounds like a magazine article. With the North Dakota book, I wanted more of those through lines.”

“I love the reporting process even though it’s a lot of hard work. Getting into great conversations with people, that’s what it domes down to, coming home from an interview and feeling really excited about the material.”

“For me, the first draft is pretty awful. It’s like pulling teeth every single day getting it down.”

“I think I’ve seen that talent is only a small part of the equation especially with journalism because good reporting is good writing.”

“The ordinary can always become extraordinary if you give them enough time. Everyone can be a fascinating character if you peel back enough layers.”

For episode 77, I welcome Blaire Briody, that’s @blairebriody on Twitter. She is a freelance journalist who has written for The New York Times, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Fast Company, Glamour, among others. Her first nonfiction book, The New Wild West: Black Gold, Fracking, and Life in a North Dakota Boomtown. The book was the 2016 finalist for the Lukas Work-in-Progress Award from Columbia Journalism School and Harvard University, and she received the Richard J. Margolis Award for social justice journalism in 2014. 

Blaire won Proximity Magazine’s second annual narrative journalism prize for her piece “It Takes a Boom,” which chronicles Cindy Marchello, the lone woman in the vast fracking sites in North Dakota.

Ted Conover, author of several books and immersion journalist of the highest order, judged the contest, you can also hear him back on Ep. 50 of The Creative Nonfictoin Podcast, and here’s what he had to say about Blaire’s gold-medal piece:

This vivid portrait of a woman trying to work oil fields during the fracking boom rings totally true—we seldom meet people like Cindy Marchello in narrative journalism, but I don’t doubt for a second they’re here. I love the frankness and the matter-of-factness. Both Blaire Briody and her subject won my heart, and admiration.


Speaking of being thankful, reviews and ratings have been flowing in and I want to extend a big, big thanks to those who are doing that and taking advantage of my editing offer as a result. What’s this? In exchange for an HONEST—it doesn’t have to be a good one, just an honest one—review on iTunes, I’m offering an hour of my time to work with you on a piece of writing. All you have to do is leave your review and when it posts, email me a screenshot of it. As long it’s postmarked any time between Nov. 2017 and the end of Dec. 2017, the offer stands. Reviews are the new currency and your help will go a long way toward building the community this podcast sets out to make, to empower others to pick up the pen or the camera or the microphone and do work that scratches that creative itch.

Okay…now what?

The first half of this interview had to be completely cut out.

Why? There were some nasty internet gremlins wreaking all kinds of havoc with our connection. It sounded like an old, old Apple computer chugging in the background with some heavy thumps thrown in, maybe an aquarium’s aerator. I mean, it was weird, but more than that it was extremely distracting, so instead of putting you through that, fair listener, I’m going to sum up that first part of the interview in a few hundred words, then we’ll get to the second half that I recorded through a different connection and that sounds just fine.

People Mentioned

Ted Conover
Susan Orlean
Rebecca Skloot
Joseph Mitchell

Books Mentioned

The Orchid Thief
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Up in the Old Hotel

Podcasts Mentioned

This American Life
Radio Lab

Episode 73—Patsy Sims on Book Research as Mini-education, Not Giving Up, and “The Stories We Tell”

Patsy Sims
Patsy Sims reporting at a KKK rally for her 1978 book “The Klan.”

By Brendan O’Meara

“The novel I always wanted to write didn’t have to be fiction.”

“What they gave women was pitiful.”

“Sure, you have everything on the tape recorder, but that’s the beauty of it and it’s up to me to be selective.”

“Transcribing is another point of getting this in your head.”

“I guess the lesson there is perseverance. Not giving up.”

Hey, CNFers, it’s The Creative Nonfiction Podcast the show where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction. I try and tease out the origins and tactics from leaders in narrative journalism (like Susan Orlean), personal essay (like Elizabeth Rush), memoir (like Andre Dubus III), radio (like Joe Donahue), and documentary film (like Penny Lane), so you can apply their tools of mastery to your own work. Continue reading “Episode 73—Patsy Sims on Book Research as Mini-education, Not Giving Up, and “The Stories We Tell””

Episode 66—Brin-Jonathan Butler on the Risk of Chess, Obsession with Obsessives, and the Blessing of Struggle

Brin-Jonathan Butler, Brendan O'Meara
Brin-Jonathan Butler sporting Cuban refugee Yasiel Puig’s No. 66.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables from Brin-Jonathan Butler (@brinicio):

“It was completely surreal, like being in the games room of the Titanic after it struck the iceberg. Nobody gave a shit.”

“Obsession has always fascinated me, whether it’s more a dance with your virtues or your demons.”

“Maybe you have to con your ways into finishing a lot of things in life.”

“My worst ideas happen when I’m sitting at the computer. I need to go for a walk, have a cigarette, or play with my cat.”

Hey, hey, it’s The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with the world’s best artists—leaders in narrative journalism, essay, memoir, radio, and documentary film—and tease our their stories, tips, and tricks and how you can apply those tools to your own work. I’m your host @BrendanOMeara, Brendan O’Meara in real life. Continue reading “Episode 66—Brin-Jonathan Butler on the Risk of Chess, Obsession with Obsessives, and the Blessing of Struggle”

Episode 64—Matt Tullis on “Running with Ghosts,” Aging Out of Jealousy, and Bringing a Reporter’s Mind to Memoir

matt tullis, brendan o'meara
Matt Tullis’ new book is “Running with Ghosts: A Memoir of Surviving Childhood Cancer.”

By Brendan O’Meara (@BrendanOMeara)

Tweetables by Matt Tullis (@matttullis):

“To be a great writer, you just have LOVE writing. You have to be passionate about it, so you’re going to do it a lot.”

“When I write a story, I want it to get as big an audience as possible.”

“I don’t have any problem whatsoever with being a shameless self promoter. I know a lot of writers who don’t like to do that.”

“I think some people who are super competitive can also get jealous of people who are more successful.”

“I love it when people who I like and respect and like to read, I love it when their stuff gets big.”

“If you hang around long enough, you’re gonna understand what the story is.”

“I feel good justifying my own survival by telling the stories of those who didn’t survive.”

It’s The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with the world’s best artists—journalists, documentary filmmakers, essayists, memoirists, and radio producers—about creating works of nonfiction.

Have we got a good one for you today. Episode 64 with journalist Matt Tullis (@matttullis) on Twitter. His first book, Running With Ghosts: A Memoir of Surviving Childhood Cancer published by The Sager Group, tells the story of how Matt got slammed with a form of leukemia at age fifteen, and subsequently what he did what that survival as many of his friends, who had previously been in remission, started passing away as the cancer came back. A couple of Matt’s caretakers, people who spent hours, and weeks, and months ensuring his survival, also died of cancer leaving Matt to wonder why he was spared.

There were several times in this book that burned your host’s eyes, not gonna lie, but Matt honors his life and his friends by turning his reporter’s eye inward, and outward, telling the story of his life and his friends.

Matt is a professor at Fairfield Univeristy and host of Gangrey the Podcast. His work has appeared in SB Nation Longform among many other places.

You’re gonna dig this episode as we talk about what it takes to be a great writer, letting events unfold in the face of preconceived expectations, competition, jealousy, and self promotion.

Stories by Matt

The Ghosts I Run With

Feet of Clay, Heart of Iron

Books Mentioned

The Things They Carried


Writers Mentioned

Tom Junod
Chris Jones
Kelley Benham French
Wright Thompson
John Jeremiah Sullivan
Paul Auster
William Bradley
Glenn Stout
Tim O’Brien

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!