Episode 85—Jamie Zvirzdin on Sincerity, Permission, and Hard Work

Jamie Zvirzdin was the runner up in Creative Nonfiction’s “Science and Religion” essay contest.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables from Jamie Zvirzdin (@jamiezvirzdin):

“To be sincere is to be powerful and creative nonfiction allows me to do that, to be sincere.”

“I don’t want to be content with what I know.”

“I don’t believe in ghosts, the afterlife, and I don’t believe in the muse. I believe in hard work.”

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

It’s The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak to the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction: leaders in the world of personal essay, memoir, narrative journalism, documentary film, and radio and try to tease out origins, habits, and craft so you can experiment with any cool nuggets you hear. Continue reading “Episode 85—Jamie Zvirzdin on Sincerity, Permission, and Hard Work”

Episode 84—Adam Valen Levinson: Young and Restless

Adam Valen Levinson is the author of The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Adam Valen Levinson (@a_v_levinson):

“I made a religion out of indecision.”

“I believe in soup: You stew everything together and then you get real complex flavors and the truth.”

“I’m driven by an emotional connection to what I’m doing.”

It’s the Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak to the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction, leaders in the world of narrative journalism, memoir, documentary film, radio, and essay and try tease out the origins and habits so that you can apply those tools of mastery to your own work. Continue reading “Episode 84—Adam Valen Levinson: Young and Restless”

Episode 83—Victoria Stopp on Battling Chronic Pain, Being Disorganized, and Writing in a Camper

Victoria Stopp can’t be…stopped…Sorry. She’s the author of “Hurting Like Hell, Living with Gusto.”

By Brendan O’Meara

“Going toward solitude and away from excuses has really helped me.” —Victoria Stopp

Hey there, CNFers, my CNF buddies, hope you’re having a CNFin’ great start to the new year. Jan 1 is just a day like any other, but we as a culture have assigned supreme import to that day.

If you’re coming here for the first time because your resolution is to listen more podcasts or you want to kickstart projects in the genre of creative nonfiction, then let me tell you the deal: This is The Creative Nonfiction Podcast—hello—the show where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction: leaders in the worlds of narrative journalism, documentary film, radio, essay, and memoir and try to tease out habits, routines, and origins so that you can use their tools of mastery in your own work. Continue reading “Episode 83—Victoria Stopp on Battling Chronic Pain, Being Disorganized, and Writing in a Camper”

Episode 82—The Language of the Gods

Sometimes I write stuff.

By Brendan O’Meara

Hey, there CNFers, Happy New Year! It’s 2018 and we’re gettin’ rollin’ here for the biggest, baddest year for The Creative Nonfiction Podcast. It’s got a new Twitter thingy

And what is The Creative Nonfiction Podcast? It’s the show where I speak to the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction: leaders in the worlds of narrative journalism, documentary film, radio, essay and memoir, and tease out the habits and routines so that you can apply their tools of mastery to your own work. Continue reading “Episode 82—The Language of the Gods”

Episode 75—Chris Arvidson on “The Love of Baseball,” Deadlines, Pacing, and Curiosity

Chris Arvidson, co-editor of “The Love of Baseball,” joins me on the podcast this week.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Chris Arvidson (www.chrisarvidson.com):

“I don’t need to hear another story about how you went to the baseball game with your dad.”

“We wanted to have that feeling of experience of how people experience baseball over a lifetime.”

“How do you set up your story and how do you make it move?”

“There’s so much great real stuff happening that it seemed dumb to make up anything.”

“You have to write every day and you have to ask every day.”

This week I welcome Chris Arvidson for Episode 75 of The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction, leaders in narrative journalism, radio, essay, memoir, and documentary film and try to tease out their stories, habits and routines so you can improve your own creative practice.

Chris co-edited along with Diana Nelson Jones The Love of Baseball: Essays by Lifelong Fans published by McFarland. It’s a beautiful book and we talk about its genesis, what makes for good baseball writing vs. horrible baseball writing, what’s the most important thing for Chris when developing a story, the organic nature of building a network, favorite books on writing, and much more.

Chris also edited the anthologies Reflections on the New River and Mountain Memoirs. You can find more about her and her work at chrisarvidson.com.

Books Mentioned

I, Who Did Not Die by Meredith May and others
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Writing Creative Nonfiction by Philip Gerard [podcast here]
Draft No. 4 by John McPhee
Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark [podcast here]

Episode 65—How to Start Your Own Conference with Hippocamp Founder Donna Talarico

Donna Talarico
Donna Talarico, founder of Hippocampus Magazine and Hippocamp, a conference for creative nonfiction writers, hopped on the pod. Photo credit to Michelle Johnsen.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables from Donna Talarico (@DonnaTalarico):

“I think what gets to the heart of the story is the ‘why?'”

“You have to treat your freelance business like a business.”

“I would encourage anybody that calls themselves a freelancer to try calling themselves an independent writer.”

“It’s about being organized and creating a solid foundation.”

“It was important for every-day writers to show their stuff.”

“You don’t change things just to change things.”

What’s this? Two episodes in one week? F–k, yeah!

Support for this podcast is brought to you by Hippocamp 2017, a conference for creative nonfiction writers. It’s this weekend, as in September 8th through the 10th.

Hippocamp enters its third year with its main keynote speaker being, ahem, Tobias Wolfe. Hippocamp debuted with Lee Gutkind, then had Mary Karr as an encore. Now Wolfe? Srsly?

So here’s the deal, good ol’ Hippocamp sponsored the Creative Nonfiction Podcast again, but I didn’t run that snazzy new ad because this week’s bonus episode is with Hippocampus Magazine and Hippocamp founder, Donna Talarico, @DonnaTalarico on Twitter, give her a follow… now…

Maybe I should mention that this is the podcast where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction, leaders from the world of journalism, essay, memoir, radio, and documentary film, and try to tease out their stories and tricks of the trade, so that you can apply those skills to your own work.

Donna brings such a great entrepreneurial sensibility to this episode so if you want to organize your independent nonfiction career, or start a magazine, or start a CONFERENCE, this is your episode, your time to let your freak flag fly.

I’m on my second cup of cold brew and I’m pretty fired up, so I’m just going to come out and ask that you kindly leave a review on iTunes, like this nice five-star gainer from HannahinLA, “Great interviews that provide useful nuggets and inspiration for writers and other creatives.”

If you leave one, maybe you, too, will get a similar shout out. The biggest endorsement the show can get is these reviews, but also sharing it amongst your friends who like to dabble in this kind of work.

Episode 41—Jennifer Niesslein, the Full Grown Person behind Full Grown People

Jennifer Niesslein
Jennifer Niesslein talks about what it means to be an editor.

By Brendan O’Meara


“I only write when I have something that I really need to figure out.”

“My job is to get the essay to its platonic ideal.”

“I took a personal crisis and made a publication out of it.”

“I wanted to make the magic happen.”

“So much of writing is rhythm.”

Jennifer Niesslein, formerly a co-editor and co-founder of Brain, Child, and currently editor and founder of Full Grown People, joined me on Episode 41 to talk about the art of editing.

Her essays have appeared in Creative Nonfiction, the Brevity blog, Virginia Quarterly, and The Nervous Breakdown.

She’s also the author of Practically Perfect in Every Way.

Why wait any longer? Here’s Jennifer Niesslein.

Episode 40—How to Be Like Mike (Copperman)

Mike Copperman
Essayist, memoirist, novelist, Michael Copperman

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables courtesy of Mike Copperman

“I think the emphasis on process is something you learn in sports. You need to pay more attention to how it is what you’re doing and not what the outcome necessarily is.” 

“To me I’ve got to have my heart in it and I have to have something to say or something at stake.”

“I’ve learned that I have to trust that impulse, which just means sticking with the process and how you would write.”

“What is true that I don’t want to admit both within myself and about the world I’m interacting in?”

“I don’t give anybody a savior story because that wasn’t my story to tell.”

“It was my way of writing myself whole.”

Mike Copperman, author of Teacher: Two Years in the Mississippi Delta (University Press of Mississippi), joined me talk about his book, and how he became a writer. 

His work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Oxford American, Guernica and many, many others places. Be sure to check out his website for more

Beyond that, all I ask is that you share this episode with people you think will get something out of it and that you quickly rate the podcast. It’ll help me reach more people and get these gifted writers in front of more readers.

Thanks for listening!

Here is our SpareMin conversation with a transcription below. This transcription is NOT from The Creative Nonfiction Podcast.


BO: Thanks for coming on my humble little Book Show, a micropodcast with SpareMin, it’s great that we can have this little conversation about books and writing. Thanks for that.

MC: Pleasure to be here.

BO: Since you the memoir and you write a bunch of essays, you’re also deeply into fiction, I wonder what type of writer do you identify most with? Do you see yourself more as a fiction writer or nonfiction?

MC: It’s really interesting. I think that…I was trained as a fiction writer and meaning I have an MFA in fiction and I grew up reading more fiction than I did essay or nonfiction. I continue to write fiction. At the same time, I actually wouldn’t separate the two genres so much. With the nonfiction it’s not so dissimilar with the craft of fiction. 

For one is not really training for the other. I think of myself as a writer I guess is what I would say. I think if you look at the balance of my publications you would find that I’m more prolific and successful creative nonfiction writer than I am a fiction writer. But I think that’s about outcomes when I release things into the world. I don’t find the process to be so different. 

BO: Which one, given that you have a foot in both pools, which one do you find most difficult to get your head around?  Which one do you struggle with on a craft level if one is more challenging than another?

MC: Honestly I find both to be difficult in dissimilar ways, I appreciate the limitations of what has happened within nonfiction which means that there are so many less choices that you have to make, right? You’re working from a very concrete set of, let’s see, of facts and experiences and things that are out there in the world and where one might have to do research and find information in the creative form, I find that when I approach something naturally and intuitively with those limitations and with the considerable gift of memory what has honed what has happened to its sensory essence for me. I’m usually able if I’m writing personal essay or creative nonfiction to feel my way towards the things relatively naturally. The difficult part is giving up what is actually at stake there in the material that I didn’t want to admit or realize. And having to reckon or grapple with it.

In fiction I tend to find the difficulties I have in fiction are in allowing what is there to emerge organically because I usually have to have something personally at stake in the material that impels me to go into it. And then in allowing the events that are there to get at something that is true which did not not necessarily happen, right? In other words that I need to make the meaning that’s there and feel my way toward it when it’s relatively invented. So, you know, I think that’s an interesting difference it tends to be. But I guess what I have difficulty with is the invention to get to the meaning within fiction and the inhabiting of the pain/loss or perhaps meaning on a personal level when it’s nonfiction.

BO: How do you work through that in your fiction where you’re trying to reach that truth that is somehow grounded in personal experience, but you’re also using imagination as well. Do you sit there and muscle through it at your desk or do you write from a roughly sketched outline? How do you approach that?

MC: I tend to find these things mostly wholesale. More by an image or by something I can see happening or by voice. Most of my fiction is relatively voice driven. That imaginative act tends to be more of an intuitive one. I’m into something and I write it. I have the most difficulty when I actually have to go into other thigns that are not necessarily …. and so I struggle the most when I’m trying to figure out what’s happening or impose my ideas on it. so muscling through is usually the worst thing. I usually end up abandoning the thing I try to muscle through.

BO: When I was talking with the memoirist and novelist Tom McAllister, he was talking about that in terms of writing his fiction. He has to find the voice of whatever story he’s writing first and when he find that it’s downhill from there. He came to the voice relatively early in that writing process [of The Young Widower’s Handbook], it was so easy once he found that voice. Is that where you spend a lot of your time finding the point of view and the sort of tone and voice of the story and from there it’s like running downhill?

MC: It really is, I write almost exclusively in first person so, typically for me what I have to do is find out who is speaking and how. Then the voice itself writes the story. I think that’s not typical. I spend a lot of time studying third-person craft. I love Flannery O’Connor, all of these writers that use the Munro, they use the great power of omniscience and moving in and out of point of view. I’m simply not that kind of writer for whatever reason first-person voice is what drives my fiction.

BO: What are some influential first-person books that you re-read as a North Star as you create your own work?

MC: I think I have to say that I do love Gatsby, I was going to say I love Fitzgerald, but I think his short stories are kind of trash. I find that in that particular book he pushes the narrative limits and does with first-person what we tend to think of the function of third person. That high retrospective mode that he engages in which is really closer to the devices that we say in essay where the past is weighted by the years that came between and we tend to look at that squarely. I really admire the use of that voice. We think of first person as being the character is the scratch on the lens so what you see gets you around the narrator to what the narrator doesn’t necessarily want to admit. Fitzgerald’s product is different in a similar way so perhaps seeing around the narrator more, I really admire some of Murakami’s really short sections that are in the first person. And I am a tremendous fan of Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go.” which does these things in the first person where you have this high retrospective mode and then we’re seeing the world, what’s there is being weighted by sensibility that takes into account what’s happened.

Similarly, there’s a book of stories by Willa Cather, it’s a compilation of short stories she wrote in a lifetime spent most writing novels, but she again has a similar mode where her first-person narrators are to some extent looking back and that they themselves may be unable to understand or were complicit in and time sort of clarifies what they’re getting at.

BO: Now when Teacher came out, and for people who are listening who may be wanting to write books or to publish and might not know what that’s like, what was the experience Teacher publishing and coming out and you holding your first book, hardcover in your hands for the first time, what was that experience like for you this being your first book?

MC: It was pretty magical. I got a galley in the mail. I got a galley in the mail and that was exciting, but is not a hardcover copy, right? When the book came out, fresh off the presses for the Mississippi Book Festival and I was flown out there to be on C-Span and do some stuff with the book and I hadn’t seen it yet. The fist copy of the book I saw as handed to me by one of the founders and directors of the Mississippi Book Festival and invited me over to his Antebellum house with his mother who had been a teacher who had read the book in one day when it came out the day before. The first book I held was one that had already been read for this man’s very, very kind educator mother. So I think it was perfect in a way. 

It’s an indescribable feeling and you quickly realize that just because a book has become an object, it doesn’t really change anything, you still have to hustle the book. You still have to go about your day. Most people are not all interested in the fact that your narrative art is an object in the world. 

But that first moment. I let myself enjoy it. The cover and weight of the book and the pages. This is a beautiful thing and I should take a moment to enjoy it and mark it up with my terrible handwriting.

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


“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 32—Kevin Wilson on the Comfort of the Uncomfortable, the Power of No Backup Plan, and the Five Minutes That Changed His Life Forever

Kevin Wilson
Kevin Wilson, one of the good guys.

By Brendan O’Meara

“I just went after it, man, what’s the worst thing that can happen? I strike out? I don’t get a hit?” —Kevin Wilson

“You can’t compare yourself to anyone else.” —Kevin Wilson

“I’m big on teaching the person first and the player second.” —Kevin Wilson

Kevin Wilson (@KWBaseball), president of Kevin Wilson Baseball, LLC and a former switch-hitting professional baseball player, wrote The #Goodbatting Book, a slim volume that is about way more than hitting.

That’s why he’s on the show. Plus, during my playing days, hitting was everything. I mean, everything. Don’t worry, we don’t nerd out on hitting, but rather the principles behind what makes his approach to teaching and coaching so effective. 

As always, give the podcast a subscribe and throw down your email if you want my monthly book recommendations. Thanks for listening!

Books Mentioned

Relentless by Tim Grover 
Give and Take by Adam Grant

People Mentioned

Joe Ferarro (@FerarroOnAir)