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!

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 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

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

Thank you, John Steinbeck

Jack is jealous of Charley.
Jack is jealous of Charley.

Hey, guys, came across a great quote from John Steinbeck. I find it delicious.

Speaking of delicious, I’m probably going to start a monthly newsletter called Brendan’s Delicious Reading List. It will be a compilation of books I’m currently reading and where you should buy them. Peruse your local bookshop, but if Amazon is the canoe you paddle, then by all means. The important thing is to find good work, do good work, and share good work so we artists can continue to afford to provide good work.

Enjoy the quote.

To Re-Read or Not to Re-Read, That is the Question.

Written by Brendan O’Meara (<==== Click my name to go to my lovely Facebook author page!)

A couple books I re-read a lot.
A few books I re-read a lot.

There are two camps: those who re-read books and those who don’t. I understand both sides. Take Chuck Klosterman, one of my favorite writers. He says:

I don’t often read books twice. There are too many I haven’t read once.

True. But that’s just it. There’s TOO many books out there in the first place. Even if you read 100 books a year (or more) and lived to be 80 years old, you’d still say on your death bed, “I never got around to Atlas Shrugged.

I re-read books for the same reason I re-watch movies. The first time is for the initial experience. The subsequent times are for breaking it down the way a football coach goes over the game tape. There’s so much to learn from revisiting a favorite work. Why not have more of a relationship with a book instead of one-night-standing with several more?

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Breaking from Research

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Written by Brendan O’Meara
Word Count: 347

Read Time: 2 minutes

I need to step away for a moment. Going from one form of writing to another, but eff it, I’m doing it. This is my life and who asked you anyway? I kid, I kid.

Well, what’s new? What can I share? What will make this post of any value to YOU. It is Valentine’s Day, so I could wish you a happy Valentine’s Day. So … Happy Valentine’s Day. Here’s a poem inside the wrapper of some pretty kick ass chocolate the wife gave me today:

Awww. We must be in love, or something.
Awww. We must be in love, or something.

Ever feel like you’re being watched?

Quoth the Raven???
Quoth the Raven???

Naturally, being totally skeeved out by my smallest dog, I went out for a few minutes to get a cup of coffee.

Grande Pike, splash of Half and Half, tablespoon of brown sugar, you nosy reader.
Grande Pike, splash of Half and Half, tablespoon of brown sugar, you nosy reader.

When I came back, I set up my camera rig. Yeah, it’s down and dirty, how I like it. Gonna start doing some cool video marketing that I hope to parlay into other ventures for authors.

Jealous? Little bit ...
Jealous? Little bit …

Oh, and this arrived today, which is always one of the high lights of my quarter.

IMG_1238
These hips don’t lie.

So I’ve been averaging three pages a day as I look to finish my baseball memoir. Been reading Danielle Trussoni’s Falling Through the Earth. The structure is similar to mine. A live thread and a discovery thread. Good stuff. Hers. Not mine. Maybe mine. Too early to tell.

I guess I have to get back to work here. Oh, one more thing. I’ll leave you with one of those annoyingly cute dog pictures.

Jack loves to be under covers and by a space heater. Don't feed him after midnight or get him wet. He turns into a gremlin.
Jack loves to be under covers and by a space heater. Don’t feed him after midnight or get him wet. He turns into a gremlin.

Why don’t you subscribe to my blog/website/future email newsletter? I want to fully nauseate you on as many platforms as possible.

And if you subscribe, I’ll include a free signed copy of Six Weeks in Saratoga—a $30 value after shipping—for you, oh loyal follower.

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The Purple Cow: On Being Remarkable in an Unremarkable Market

Written by Brendan O’Meara

As many of you know I’m big into marketing for writers. Authors need to be savvy at creating buzz around their work. Nobody else will.

Author Seth Godin is a marketing guru, and in the canon of his books, I’ve read “The Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable.” [Also reading “Meatball Sundae”, and I’ll have insights from that book as well.]

You’re driving down a nice country road in south Jersey and you look at all the pretty cows. Soon those pretty cows look homogenous, boring. Then you see a purple cow. Holy sh*T! Did you see that purple cow!? It stands out. It’s remarkable.

Sure, much of it revolves around businesses that provide a particular service or product, but many of the principles apply to writers. What’s key is NOT appealing to the masses. There is so much static and distraction: Internet, TV, iPad, iPhone, movies, kids, dogs, elections, the Tunguska Event. You name it. You need to get nichey with it.

Wait for it: here’s the question writers love to hear … Who’s your audience? Who’s going to buy your book? And once you figure that out, how will you stand out? How will you be remarkable?

There are four groups of people Godin describes and they fall into the typical bell-shaped curve. On the far left are the Innovators and Early Adopters (leaders looking to get a jump). The belly of the curve is the Early and Late Majority (followers). Laggards fill out the far right (slackers, people buying their first digital camera today.).

The key is to appeal to the far left: the innovators and early adopters. They are passionate consumers looking for the “in” thing. They like to be ahead of the masses so they can recommend cool products to their friends. These people somehow have the iPhone7, the one with the inter-planetary time warp. Essentially, these people are bloggers eager to review and share their insights. As writers in a tenuous publishing climate, we need to seek out these people. They will review your work and talk about it to their 500, 1,000, 2,000, 10,000 followers.

If you can reach several dozen bloggers and their collective readership is 100,000 people and 10% of those people buy your book, that’s 10,000 books. Not New York Times Best Seller stuff, but that’s a lot of books from a modest reach. What if you reached 1,000,000 people from 100 bloggers?

Of course you still need to write a great book. But let’s assume you already knew that. All of this is moot if your book isn’t fit to line bird cages.

What do a lot of [wannabe] writers do? Trust me, I’ve spoken to a lot. Many love this idea of holing up in a cabin and being the solitary writer. Steaming coffee. A fire. Snow in the mountains. This is unremarkable in terms of building a brand. Stephen King can do this. Suzanne Collins can do this. You can’t.

Sorry.

Things I do?

No. 1, and this might seem stupid, but I feel it’s gotten me this far, however far that is. I suit up. I always wear a suit when reporting and when I appear in public. I feel it’s how I got the access I got to the executive characters in Six Weeks. Especially as a sports writer, dressing nicely makes you remarkable, you stand out from the sheep. Plus it makes me feel good. First impressions, when you see a guy in a nicely tailored suit standing next to a guy in tattered khaki shorts, flip-flops, and a ball cap, who will garner a better first impression? Exactly.

No. 2 What I’m working on are videos and book trailers. Goofy mini-movies that sometimes touch upon writing and books. Sometimes they might just be a funny skit. What’s the point? Well, I don’t want to be “spammy” for one, but I also just want to entertain in a different form. If people are drawn to those videos, they’ll be more likely to sample my work. To quote Godin, “Don’t Be Boring,” and “Safe is Risky.”

Another idea that I’m going to employ? Giveaways. This isn’t completely novel, but I have a theory if you give away something, it will snowball into better publicity if the people signing up for the giveaway 1.) Like it. And 2.) Review it on Amazon and Goodreads and spread the news.

Again, Innovators and Early Adapters.

Which is why, if you’ve made it this far in this post, I will give away—for free!—a personalized copy of my book “Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year.” All you have to do is subscribe to my blog using the email form at the end of this post. Or you can click on that “Follow” tab in the lower right-hand corner. Once you’re confirmed, I’ll contact you for your address and see how you want your book signed and I’ll mail it away Media Rate (7-10 days delivery time).

Books go to the first 30 subscribers, so I’d love to hear from you in the comments and I’d love for you to subscribe.

Go! Be Remarkable!