Episode 70—Erica Westly on Softball and Structure

Erica Westly is the author of “Fastpitch: The Untold History of Softball and the Women Who Made the Game.”

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Erica Westly (@westlyer on Twitter):

“That sense of discovery when you come across a story you had no idea existed.”

“The book project was my last hope for getting to do the type of writing I wanted to do.”

“I’ve kind of learned to live with the self-loathing I think.”

“I try to picture myself telling the story to someone at the bus stop.”

It’s the Creative Nonfiction Podcast where I speak to the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction. Leaders in the world of narrative journalism, memoir, essay, radio, and documentary film share their tools and tricks with you so you can improve your own work.

Continue reading “Episode 70—Erica Westly on Softball and Structure”

Episode 68—Peter Brown Hoffmeister on Failure as Fuel, Staying Hungry, and Wolf Naps

Peter Brown Hoffmeister
Peter Brown Hoffmeister, author of the memoir The End of Boys, joins us for Episode 68 of The Creative Nonfiction Podcast.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Peter Brown Hoffmeister (@pbhoffmeister on Twitter):

“After you’re in it for a while and you actually become better, you realize how bad you are.”

“I think that’s how a writing career starts: You’re just a pathetic little freshman.”

“Being a career writer is all about staying hungry.”

“I guess there are people who write strong first drafts, but that’s not me.”

“If you’re competitive with other writers, it’s not going to be healthy.”

“I don’t feel great at the end of the day if I haven’t written or haven’t read.”

What’s up CNFers, hope you’re having a CNFin’ good week. Continue reading “Episode 68—Peter Brown Hoffmeister on Failure as Fuel, Staying Hungry, and Wolf Naps”

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 39—The Gentleman’s Guide to Arousal-Free Slow Dancing

By Brendan O’Meara

I tried something a little new. Not the reading of the essay part. I’ve done that before on the podcast. I added some serious production value to the reading of The Gentleman’s Guide for Arousal-Free Slow Dancing. 

I added some music in throughout the piece. I think it helps jazz it up without distracting too much. Let me know what you think because I’ll probably invite writers to read essays and try to do something similar each time. 

This essay appeared in Creative Nonfiction No. 62, an issue themed “Joy: Unexpected Brightness in the Darkest Times.”

I also interviewed Kim Kankiewicz and Angela Palm, both represented in this issue.

Thanks for listening!

Episode 38—Philip Gerard and The Art of Creative Research: Passions, Daydreaming, and Daring

Author Philip Gerard, one of the most interesting men in the world.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables:

“You’ve got to be daring. You’ve got to have that unshakable belief that ‘You know what? Somebody’s gonna publish a book someday. It might as well be me.'” —Philip Gerard

“I don’t really have hobbies. I have passions.” —Philip Gerard

“If I do this enough days in a row, probably I’m gonna get there.” —Philip Gerard

“I found that if I hang with them long enough, they would often tell me something interesting.” —Philip Gerard

“I began realizing there was a significant amount of work that wasn’t on the page, but if you did it, it would be on the page.” —Philip Gerard

“My problem is I’m interested in everything.” —Philip Gerard

“At a certain point the journey is over and you know it.” —Philip Gerard

That enough tweetable quotes for you? 

Philip Gerard, writer and teacher, joined me for 90 minutes of energizing talk about the craft. I had so much fun and left this conversation fired up to pursue a bunch of stories I’ve got stuffed in the drawer.

The Art of Creative Research (University of Chicago Press, 2016) is a deep dive into what it takes to write authentically across all genres. Bottom line: You need to do serious research. 

You need to walk the hills, feel the gun kick back on your shoulder, put on the latex gloves in the archival rooms, and swim in this stuff. 

So what are you waiting for? Get researching! Wait, wait, wait! Listen to this first, then go get your hands dirty.

Episode 35—Sybil Baker on Discovery and the Art of Being Different

Sybil Baker, author of “Immigration Essays”.

By Brendan O’Meara

“Different writers are different things to us at different times.” —Sybil Baker (@SybilBaker).

“I think most writers would agree that writing is an act of discovery. We’re asking questions and trying to discover something.”Sybil Baker

Sybil Baker, author of Immigration Essays (C&R Press, 2017) came by #CNF HQ to talk about her new book of essays dealing travel and displacement. And like Paul Lisicky (from Episode 27), she preaches the importance of preserving play in a piece of writing.

We recorded this back in October, so if you expect riffs on immigration courtesy of the Establishment, you’ll find this episode conveniently devoid of such banter. 

Sybil talks a lot about travel and how you don’t have to log miles to see things in different ways. 

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Google Play Music (badges are in the margins or below the post) and share it with a friend or two who may enjoy the conversation.

Thanks for listening!

Also, Sybil joined me to talk fiction on my side gig over at SpareMin, a micropodcast app that records phone calls. My show is The Book Show. Have a listen:

Thanks again for listening!

Episode 31—Jen Miller on Freelancing, Tenacity, Running, and Swinging Her “Where’s My Money Bat” (It’s a Thing)

Jen Miller
Jen Miller sits down and talks to me about her freelancing career and her memoir “Running: A Love Story”.

Written by Brendan O’Meara

“Good ideas still find homes.”Jen Miller

“When it gets too easy, I need to challenge myself and make it harder again.” —Jen Miller

What’s this? Three weeks in a row? It’s happening, folks, and thanks for hanging in while I get my feet back under me after the big, cross-country move.

What better way to follow up that sentence than by talking about Jen Miller (@ByJenAMiller), a runner who wrote the engaging, funny, and raw memoir Running: A Love Story (Seal Press, 2016). It’s about running, love, and control and we talk about that and much more.

We also chat about freelancing and some of the more granular details of the business that I think will benefit any freelancer, novice or expert.

Lots of good stuff here. Please go and subscribe to the podcast. Share it with a friend or two or three. I’m trying my hardest to keep it consistent and hopefully it can keep growing.

Thanks for listening!

#CNF Episode 13—Greg Hanlon on the Audacity of Voice and the Value of Struggle

Written by Brendan O’Meara

“Putting in the work is confidence building.” —Greg Hanlon

“You struggle and struggle until the end product comes close to your original expectation. It’s all about the struggle.” —Greg Hanlon

Greg Hanlon is a crime editor at People Magazine and also a freelance sports writer. His piece “Sins of the Preacher” was anthologized in the Best American Sports Writing 2015 edition. His “The Many Crimes of Mel Hall” was a notable selection. Continue reading “#CNF Episode 13—Greg Hanlon on the Audacity of Voice and the Value of Struggle”

When Backstory Feels ‘Deliberate’

Day 4: about 20% through the book. Will it be worth keeping? Should it be chucked? We’ll see. #writing

A photo posted by Brendan O’Meara (@brendanomeara) on

By Brendan O’Meara

In yet another bout of mapping vs. outlining (mapping is just reverse outlining. The terrain of the book is in place and you set out like Magellan and map the world. Very clever, I know.) I’m hitting the notecards pretty hard. See pic.

I’m at this point in the this book where I just backed up the dump truck and unloaded a chapter of backstory about my central character. Reading it feels laborious. I haven’t touched this manuscript in four years.

I’m thinking of gutting the entire backstory thus leaving my main guy a little mysterious, a little cloudy around the edges, like Gatsby. He is my Gatsby and I’m Nick, an unreliable insider-outsider who greatly admires his Gatsby.

I love seeing giant limbs of text come tumbling down. I prefer the chainsaw to the pruning sheers.

In Maureen Corrigan’s great book So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures, she meets with Scott Shepherd toward the end. Shepherd reads the entire novel once a day for the broadway production Gatz. He actually has the text memorized. That’s not hyperbole.

Corrigan speaks with Shepherd about Gatsby’s (the character) backstory. Shepherd says of the four-and-a-half-page section that fills in Gatsby’s early backstory:

The beginning of chapter six was sometimes tough. That’s when the audience [for Gatz] would just be back from the dinner break and the’d be logy with food. There’s something about that section that feels deliberate.

Max Perkins, the famous editor to Fitzgerald and others, pushed for Fitzgerald for more biography. Shepherd continues:

In my mind, I see Fitzgerald inventing more specifics in the backstory because Perkins told him to, while at the same time dealing with his strong impulse to leave most of the questions unanswered. The result is, to my ear, a slightly obligatory and vaguely evasive quality that’s artificial in comparison to the rest of the book.

Indeed.

In nonfiction (and all writing for that matter), there’s this tendency to fill backstory, backstory, backstory to round out the character. It’s how most reporters write a 1,000-word take out. It’s basically ALL backstory with some quotes. These past events are why you care about this story about me today.

When we’re dealing with narrative, every word is an oar that must row the boat forward. If you’re going to pause for backstory, that backstory needs to inform the foreground. If we’re going to tell you something that happened way back when, there needs to be some sort of payoff or at least a connection to the foreground.

In my mapping of this first book I wrote, I find this backstory chunk merely background with very little of real substance. Of the 5,000-8,000 words, I bet there’s a 1,000 words worth keeping to pepper throughout the rest of the story.

It feels, to echo the above statement, deliberate. Deliberate feels labored and, worst of all, boring.

Yes, we need to know where our characters came from to have a better understanding of why we care about where they’re going. But too much and we’re too anchored to the past and all forward momentum is lost.

Hey, folks, if you made this far, I’d love your email address. I send out a weekly newsletter with the week’s posts every Tuesday morning. Also, for your loyalty and permission, whenever I have freebies you’ll be the first to know. If I’m selling a book, I’ll make sure you get a discount somehow. You’ve given me your time. I give you story, and maybe a few extra dollars in your pocket. Thanks! 

Love, 

Brendan