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 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.

SpareMin Book Show: Tortured Artist? Writer Caroline Comerford Ain’t Buyin’ It

By Brendan O’Meara

So, a good chunk of you know that I host The Creative Nonfiction Podcast (subscribe, review) where I interview the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction, like Joe Drape talking about writing an 80,000-word book in six weeks.

But I also have a side-gig where I interview any writer for the app SpareMin. It’s a micropodcast, if you will, and my latest episode is with my friend Caroline Comerford. 

Because these episodes tend to be really short (by design), I want to add the transcript below. For those hungry for Creative Nonfiction Podcast transcripts, yeah, I think I’ll bite the bullet and do those too. But for now, you’ll just have to deal with these!

Thanks for listening! Oh, and download the app. It’s free

BO: I’ve got Caroline Comerford joining me on the line joining me for The Book Show. She’s a writer and teacher based out of Eugene, Oregon. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Caroline, this is really fun.

CC: Well, thank you for giving me the opportunity to think about some of these things.

BO: Yeah, it’s always nice to find out a writer’s origin story and what influenced them, so what are some influential books that sort of turned you on to language and made you want to become a writer?

CC: Oh, I’m going to have think about this one. Influential books from an early age…I was always a big reader, a quiet kid like so many of us. I read a lot when I was really young, sort of standard Secret Garden, Little Princess, Anna Green Gable stuff. And I don’t know that I really had a sense that I wanted to be a writer until I reached adolescence and started writing more regularly for myself.

I think one memory I have between the summer between eighth grade and high school I remember spending a lot of time in our over-heated attic reading random books that I had found on my parents’ bookshelf. My stepmother’s books in particular. I remember reading My Antonia in one or two sittings up there in a really hot summer knowing there were pieces of it that I couldn’t really understand. But also knowing that it made me feel something that I couldn’t have felt any other way. I still carry that memory with me. It’s still the same feeling that I get when I read a book where it’s able to bypass my analytical mind. That was a very important book to me growing up and still is.

BO: Was it the story itself, the way Willa Cather used language, what did that unlock for  you?

CC: I think it has everything to do with language. The story is beautiful, but the story comes through the language. The idea that language, I think it maybe makes sense to say that when I started writing I started out as a poet, and wrote mostly poetry throughout my college years. That language could unlock things in me thematically, emotionally, even when I didn’t fully understand all of the words on the page all of the time. The way that she weaves words together in that book creates a net of emotional experience and longing, nostalgia, that is so moving and it was through that book that I most deeply experienced the transfer of someone else’s longing and memory to my own experience through language.

BO: In sort of training, if you will, as a poet, and you experienced more with essay and prose, some of the stuff that I’ve read from you, how did poetry help inform your prose-style of writing?

CC: That’s a good question, one I’m not sure I have a great answer to. My work as a poet was very much in my formative years and I don’t think that I, I know I didn’t seriously consider being a poet while I was writing poetry. I needed to be writing, the mentors and people I loved who I found in college were poets and were really generous to me and taught me a lot about sound and especially about how to edit, really, and that actually way that I know that poetry still informs my work. I’m always thinking about what I can cut out, and what sticks. Between the time I stopped writing poetry, which was the end of college, the time I started writing fiction maybe four years later, most of the writing I did, none of the writing I did was directed toward an audience. My relationship to writing, I felt like I needed it to make meaning out of my own experience, and that internal motivation to write was why I was attracted to poetry too. It’s a form that allows for a lot of reflection, a lot of looking at the self, that was something I was trying to figure out then. That carries through to my work a little bit now though I try to be a little more outward looking. A good chunk of four or five years between the time I stopped writing poetry and started taking fiction workshops and went to get my MFA in fiction.

BO: When you’re getting ready to process a thought and put it into writing, how do you approach the warmup, or the writer’s calisthenics, as I like to call it, what’s your routine as you try to work through something and put it onto the page? How does that process manifest itself for you?

CC: I have what I think is a terrible habit to have to sit down and, well, the first part of the habit isn’t so bad. I generally, especially at this point, you are catching me at this second fallow point in my writing in my adult life. It hasn’t even been that long. It’s probably been six months. I’m currently eight months pregnant and I’m teaching full time and I have an almost two-year-old at home and so there is just not enough time for a lot of regular writing.

I get one day a week right now to sit down and write. I need an hour or so just to process my life [laughs]. I sit down and write stream of conscious. I’m thinking about this; these should be my priorities right now; these should not be my priorities right now; I have to get all that stuff out of the way before I can begin to think about what I should be working on. Then the terrible habit I was talking about tends to be, I tend to think too hard about what I’m going to write next or what needs to have with a particular piece before I’ve given it a chance to really form. I’ll have a tendency to really try to start the more analytical revision process before I’ve given myself enough time to think down and tell the truth about what’s happening with my characters and to write scenes. 

BO: Yeah.

CC: And to stick with scenes. It’s really hard, especially when I don’t have a lot of space in my life to sink down and stick with what’s going on in the moment with somebody and not let my analytical mind represent some sort of feeling. That’s a challenge for me. I think that’s truly an authentic part of my process. I do need to sit down and think a little bit. I’m always frustrated with how long I spend with that. 

BO: Do you find that, at least in this time of your life, you have that one day to do your writing, do you feel liberated by that or pressured by that, because it would seem like this is your game day and if it doesn’t get done this day it’s not going to get done for another week. Is there a sense of pressure or do you think ‘This is my day and I can just binge it out. Let’s rock.’?

CC: Right now because the time is so little and the time is, I recognize that I need that time for personal processing writing and having quiet moments to myself that is, if I really expect much from myself, that’s frustrating. When my son was born a year ago and I found that my time was much more precious and I found that that time was liberating. It was much easier to be productive and a lot of the anxiety about what I was producing or where it was going or how I was saying something, really disappeared for me because I knew I needed to get or I had a clear goal. That was easier because I was writing for four hours every other day really regularly. Now being away from the page for an entire week doesn’t really work for me. I accepted that until this second child is born and established in the world I will have to have less time. I will also be teaching far less next year so I’m hoping that my time will come back around and have a similar experience where having less time will make me get more done and allows me to cut through more quickly that earlier stages in my life.

BO: One more question Caroline, before I let you get out of here, there’s often this stigma that the writer is this tortured artist, which I tend not to buy. I think writing should be fun in some instances, and if it’s not fun then it’s not going to be fun for the reader. I suspect that that’s maybe true with you. Where in the process of writing do you get your joy in being able to sit down and write short stories or essays or even fragments of novels. Where are you most joyful in the process of generating work?

CC: When I let myself be present in scene and in characters. There is joy in the process, or maybe it’s not joy, there’s certainly pleasure in the process of revising and making plans for what your piece is going to be. Going back and revising and fixing things and perfecting things. I definitely get a contentment from that. The joy comes from getting in a really good first draft and the feeling that comes from actually doing that. The feeling of it on the other end isn’t always so great. The feeling of getting it down is definitely joyful and really important.

BO: It’s important to recognize the accomplishment that is having written that first draft. It takes a lot of energy and focus to get to that point alone. Granted you’re just starting, but you have to take that moment to appreciate how far you’ve come, now you this piece of marble to keep on honing and carving and shaving down. 

CC: I will say about the tortured artists thing. I absolutely agree with you, I think the less tortured my life becomes the better my writing is … without a doubt.

Episode 47—Shawna Kenney on ‘Zines, Advice, and Finding Your Tribe

Shawna Kenney, punk rock to the bone.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Shawna Kenney:

“The punk scene became a pre-Internet web of people for me to connect with.”

“Like any reader, I liked that [words] could take me away.”

“I’m much better on the page than I am verbally.”

“I always wanted to be Hunter S. Thompson without the drugs.”

“It’s not like I pitch an outlet and sit there waiting hopefully.”

“There’s no one right way to do your art.”

Shawna Kenney, author, writer, teacher, coach, editor, joins me on The Creative Nonfiction Podcast to talk about her origin story as a teenage fanzine founder, punk rock, and her delightful short essay “Never Call Yourself a Writer, and Other Rules for Writing,” a brilliant piece of satire.

She grew up in a conservative family in small-town Maryland, so the nearby punk scene in Washington D.C. held tremendous appeal. “I always wanted to be Hunter S. Thompson without the drugs,” Shawna tells me.

Her work has such an edge that I was surprised that she didn’t have that edge in conversation. “I’m much better on the page than I am verbally,” she says, which isn’t true at all. She’s great on the page, and she’s a great conversationalist.

Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, the New York Times, Vice, and Playboy, just to name a few. Be sure to follow Shawna on Twitter @ShawnaJKenney and go to her website to read more about her and her work.

Thanks for listening!

Episode 46—Editor Hattie Fletcher on Seeing Rhythms and the Power of Reading Slush

Hattie Fletcher
Hattie Fletcher, editor selfie

By Brendan O’Meara

Hattie Fletcher Tweetables:

“I spent a lot of time getting at what writers were trying to do with their stories and trying to make stories be the best form of that.”

“If you want to make a print object there’s an obligation to make a nice print object.”

“Editors, I guess, wield power. I don’t know anyone who loves saying ‘no.’ It’s not a personal thing.”

“The best part of my job—and it comes four times a year—is saying ‘yes’ to people.”

“Reading slush is such a great exercise for a writer.”

“I don’t think art that is deliberately mapped out is any less artful.”

Here we are for Episode 46 (!) of The #CNF Podcast with Creative Nonfiction’s managing editor Hattie Fletcher.

If you want to improve your writing and possibly improve your chances of being published in Creative Nonfictionthen this is your episode.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

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Thanks for listening!

Episode 21—Bronwen Dickey on the Tao of Henry Rollins, Binaural Beats, and Her Three Rules for Any Writer

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By Brendan O’Meara

“There are all kinds of people who can easily out-write me, but there are very few who can outwork me.”—Bronwen Dickey.

“Henry Rollins said ‘Music is made by the people music saved,’ and I think stories are written by the people stories saved in the same way. And stories saved me from loneliness and boredom.”—Bronwen Dickey

It’s been a long time between episodes, but here’s a good one with author/journalist Bronwen Dickey.

We talk about her new book Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon, which will hit book shelves on May 8. The book isn’t what you think it’s about, and we dive into that and many, many other things.

Enjoy!

Books Mentioned

The Brothers Karamazov
Riverside Shakespeare
Slouching Toward Bethlehem
The Collected Essays of Annie Dillard
Dispatches
Breath
The Fire Next Time
The Undertaking

Episode 20—Glenn Stout on his new book “The Selling of the Babe,” Dealing with Dead People, and the Transcendent Nature of Hitting Home Runs

Screen shot 2015-06-18 at 8.32.54 PM“You have to be out in the world and engaged in the world.” —Glenn Stout

“The truth always tells a better story.”—Glenn Stout

By Brendan O’Meara

First off, I’m like WAY behind in blog posts. I have to draw up one for Mary Pilon and Brian Mockenhaupt, but I’ll start with the latest episode and work backwards.

Enter Glenn Stout. [Hear our first interview…here]

His latest book The Selling of the Babe: The Deal That Changed Baseball and Created a Legend (St. Martin’s Press) comes out this week.

I speak to Glenn about dealing with dead people and how he approached a topic that, on its surface, felt saturated.

“You look at what seem to be time-worn topics and almost without fail you find something and you tell a better story, a newer story, a truer story,” says Glenn.

The first 30-35 minutes of the episode deal with the Babe, but the latter part riffs on random stuff.

Writers and Books Mentioned

Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Antonin Artaud, No More Masterpieces
Rainer Maria Rilke
James Wright
The Poetics of the New American Poetry
Langston Hughes
Michale Graff
Jeremy Collins
Eva Holland

A final call to action!

Please subscribe to the monthly newsletter if you like to have articles, quotes, and podcasts shipped to your email, curated by yours truly. Also subscribe to the podcast and share it with friends. Thanks!

#CNF Episode No. 17—Brin-Jonathan Butler on Bullfighting, How Surprise is His Biggest Weapon, and Access as a Drug

Brin-Jonathan Butler, Brendan O'Meara

Written by Brendan O’Meara

“Surprise is one of the biggest weapons you have as a journalist to affect people emotionally.” — Brin-Jonathan Butler

“The juice for me with journalism is not money or recognition. My ego is tied into access.” — Brin-Jonathan Butler

IMG_4707

Two pics? Whaaaaaaat? His photos rival Eva Holland’s irreverent, dare I say, get-the-fuck-out-of-my-face pic from Episode 15.

Butler is one of the smartest people I’ve ever spoken with. There’s a level of thinking and depth you don’t often hear from someone who’s in their mid-30s. You expect it from, say, George Saunders, but listening to Butler speak was a treasure for me and I hope so for you.

Like Holland, Glenn Stout, and Charles Bethea, Butler never studied journalism, yet he’s one of the best at his craft. I sense a theme that some of the best at this craft aren’t journalists by trade, but people who have a keen sense for language, are widely read, and think long and hard about the work. They aim for impact, not a sound bite.

You should also listen to him on the Longform Podcast from back in 2014. Pairing that interview with mine will give you tremendous insight into Butler’s mind.

Here’s a bunch of links to Butler’s work:

Buffalo and Wide Right, Broken Hearts and No Illusions
Myths Made Flesh: Last Breaths in a Spanish Bullring
The Poison Oasis
The Kindle Singles Interview with Mike Tyson
Errol Morris: The Kindle Singles Interview
The Domino Diaries

Please subscribe to my email list. You get access to these exclusive interviews and other cool stuff ONLY when I publish something and ONLY once a week. Small cost for big info.

 

Episode No. 16: Charles Bethea on Late-Night Pitching, the Anxiety of Reporting, and the Magnitude of Breakfast

Charles Bethea
Charles Bethea, world traveler, great writer.

Written by Brendan O’Meara

“I was a poetry major in college which was of course of great concern to my parents.” —Charles Bethea

Here we are with the first episode of 2016, No. 16, sweet sixteen, Charles Bethea. This was a fun episode as we talk about Charle’s start in freelancing, his love of breakfast, and one of his favorite quotes of all time.

Like Eva Holland, Charles’ writing takes you places. He’s funny and his writing has a smooth feel to it. Suddenly you’re done with the piece and it felt like nothing, like gravity did all the work for you.

Aside from having his work published in The New Yorker (where he has a regular sports column on its website), the now-defunct Grantland, and Outside Magazine, he was also a producer on the short documentary Fair Chase, about persistence hunting. If you read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, you know that this is a theory about man’s early hunting by wearing down and overheating four-legged prey.

Anyway, point being Charles is a busy man with serious chops.

Here’s the link to the episode since folks with mobile devices still can’t stream it from the blog post (Podomatic is NOT on its game with this bout of customer service). Here’s the embed anyway.

Also here are links to a sampling of Charles’ work. You can find more at his website charlesbethea.com.

Selected Work

Fair Chase from Outside
Obama’s In-Box from The New Yorker
The Many Lives of Aubrey Lee Price from Atlanta Magazine
Star-Maker from The New Yorker
Will Shortz and the Ping-Pong Prodigy from The New Yorker

Books Mentioned

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Proud Highway by Hunter S. Thompson
No Man Knows My History by Fawn Brodie
Snowblind: A Brief Career in the Cocaine Trade by Robert Sabbag
Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell

Episode No. 15: Eva Holland on the Nature of her Hustle, Being Super Analog, and liking Faramir

Eva Holland

Written by Brendan O’Meara

“It’s been a long process at feeling at all stable.” —Eva Holland

“I don’t know how you keep going if you don’t think your work is good. you have to believe that you’re good.” —Eva Holland

Here were, yet again, with another episode of #CNF, this time with Eva Holland. Eva is a rising star and if you have a chance to buy stock in Holland, now’s the time.

Why read more of my guff when you can read hers? Here’s a list of some her work:

Unclimbable
Hellbent, But Not Broken
Why We Play
No Sleep Till Fairbanks

There’s a good primer.

Writers mentioned

Matt Power
Ian Frazier
David Grann

Books Mentioned

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
The Devil and Sherlock Holmes by David Grann
The Lost City of Z by David Grann
Gone to New York by Ian Frazier
The Big Year by Mark Obmascik
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Thanks for listening. If you get a chance, please subscribe to the podcast and subscribe to my website. No spam, just good, good stuff.