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

Tweetables:

“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

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 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)

 

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!

Episode 27—Paul Lisicky on Writing in Unlikely Places, Simultaneous Projects, and Preserving Play

Written by Brendan O’Meara

Photo by Star Black
Photo by Star Black

“If you put too much focus on one thing you can kill it.”Paul Lisicky.

“What would it be like to be an amateur again?” —Paul Lisicky

When I get away from doing the podcast I forget how fun and uplifting the experience can be. Here, for Episode 27 (!), we have Paul Lisicky (@Paul_Lisicky), author of The Narrow Door (Graywolf Press, 2016).

Paul talked a lot about his own process and how that has changed over the years. He also talked about some of the best advice he can give an aspiring writer: cultivating fandom.

Why don’t you just listen to him?

Go ahead and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. If you think you know someone who would benefit from this interview, share it with them. Also, subscribe to my monthly newsletter. You can preview it here to see what it’s about. Dig it? Then put in your info along the right sidebar.

Thanks!

People Mentioned

Greg Hanlon
Bronwen Dickey
Maggie Messitt
Thomas Pynchon
Jane Bowles
John Hawkes
Flannery O’Connor
Joy Williams
Elizabeth Bishop

Other Books by Paul Lisicky

Unbuilt Projects
The Burning House
Famous Builder
Lawnboy

 

Episode 22—Jeff Krulik on “Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” “Led Zeppelin Played Here,” and His Kinship with Oddities

Written by Brendan O’Meara

This is a special episode of #CNF, the podcast where I speak with writers, authors, reporters and now filmmakers, in the genre of creative nonfiction.

Yes, Episode 22 features Jeff Krulik, a documentary filmmaker [link for those who can’t see the embed player below] who has the parking-lot genre nailed. He made Heavy Metal Parking Lot (see above) among other wonderful documentaries.

I worked with Jeff on an exciting project called Kentucky Confidential, headed up by John Scheinman (Episode 9 of the #CNF Podcast, go listen). You’ll find Jeff’s videos as well as my Bourbon Underworld stories.

In this episode, Jeff talks about the origins of HMPL as well as his latest movie Led Zeppelin Played here. We talk about freelancing and the financial realities of the biz, as well as his kinship with Maryland and oddities, those people on the fringe.

Here are some selected links from the episode to further educate yourself on all things Krulik. Follow him on Twitter @jeffkrulik and visit his website jeffkrulik.com.

Here’s the Deadspin article that has become the definitive history of HMPL.

One last call to action: Please subscribe to my newsletter. I try and send out a monthly dispatch of five cool things I’ve read, heard, or consumed.

And subscribe to the podcast. It’s a wing of my “brand,” and getting people on board will only help me churn out bigger and better work.

Thanks!

Love,

Brendan

A new calling?

By Brendan O’Meara

I’ve been bad. Haven’t shared anything here. I don’t think anything I’m saying falls on any ears, but that’s a “me” problem for not being interesting enough, not offering enough value.

That’s merely the truth. I’m not complaining. I’ll keep working.

Speaking of the work

During my lunch break at work (9 p.m.) and grinded out 20 minutes of narrative, two hand-written pages with my No. 2 pencil and yellow notepad.

Those 20 minutes felt so fun. I sat outside in the parking lot against two big planters under the stars, a full moon way the fuck up there.

That’s what I’m finding I love so much about fiction. It’s so fun to play around with these characters and have them say whatever I want them to, trip over roots, get the wind knocked out of them, do nasty things, do wonderful things.

Maybe I’ve found a new calling.

I’ve been knocking my head against the nonfiction wall for over 10 years and nothing has come together. At least with fiction there isn’t quite the degree of reporting needed. There’s some, but nothing like the fact-based stuff.

I’ll probably do the occasional magazine piece or essay if the mood strikes, but at some point you have to come to the realization that you’re not that good and maybe you never were.

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