Episode 77—Blaire Briody says Good Reporting is Good Writing

blaire briody
Blaire Briody, winner of Proximity Magazine’s 2017 Narrative Journalism contest, jumped on the podcast this week.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Blaire Briody (@blairebriody on Twitter):

“Those stories that can’t seem to get away from you. You keep thinking about them. I always try to pursue these when that’s the case.”

“I think one criticism book editors will give magazine journalists is that their book proposal sounds like a magazine article. With the North Dakota book, I wanted more of those through lines.”

“I love the reporting process even though it’s a lot of hard work. Getting into great conversations with people, that’s what it domes down to, coming home from an interview and feeling really excited about the material.”

“For me, the first draft is pretty awful. It’s like pulling teeth every single day getting it down.”

“I think I’ve seen that talent is only a small part of the equation especially with journalism because good reporting is good writing.”

“The ordinary can always become extraordinary if you give them enough time. Everyone can be a fascinating character if you peel back enough layers.”

For episode 77, I welcome Blaire Briody, that’s @blairebriody on Twitter. She is a freelance journalist who has written for The New York Times, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Fast Company, Glamour, among others. Her first nonfiction book, The New Wild West: Black Gold, Fracking, and Life in a North Dakota Boomtown. The book was the 2016 finalist for the Lukas Work-in-Progress Award from Columbia Journalism School and Harvard University, and she received the Richard J. Margolis Award for social justice journalism in 2014. 

Blaire won Proximity Magazine’s second annual narrative journalism prize for her piece “It Takes a Boom,” which chronicles Cindy Marchello, the lone woman in the vast fracking sites in North Dakota.

Ted Conover, author of several books and immersion journalist of the highest order, judged the contest, you can also hear him back on Ep. 50 of The Creative Nonfictoin Podcast, and here’s what he had to say about Blaire’s gold-medal piece:

This vivid portrait of a woman trying to work oil fields during the fracking boom rings totally true—we seldom meet people like Cindy Marchello in narrative journalism, but I don’t doubt for a second they’re here. I love the frankness and the matter-of-factness. Both Blaire Briody and her subject won my heart, and admiration.

Nice…

Speaking of being thankful, reviews and ratings have been flowing in and I want to extend a big, big thanks to those who are doing that and taking advantage of my editing offer as a result. What’s this? In exchange for an HONEST—it doesn’t have to be a good one, just an honest one—review on iTunes, I’m offering an hour of my time to work with you on a piece of writing. All you have to do is leave your review and when it posts, email me a screenshot of it. As long it’s postmarked any time between Nov. 2017 and the end of Dec. 2017, the offer stands. Reviews are the new currency and your help will go a long way toward building the community this podcast sets out to make, to empower others to pick up the pen or the camera or the microphone and do work that scratches that creative itch.

Okay…now what?

The first half of this interview had to be completely cut out.

Why? There were some nasty internet gremlins wreaking all kinds of havoc with our connection. It sounded like an old, old Apple computer chugging in the background with some heavy thumps thrown in, maybe an aquarium’s aerator. I mean, it was weird, but more than that it was extremely distracting, so instead of putting you through that, fair listener, I’m going to sum up that first part of the interview in a few hundred words, then we’ll get to the second half that I recorded through a different connection and that sounds just fine.

People Mentioned

Ted Conover
Susan Orlean
Rebecca Skloot
Joseph Mitchell

Books Mentioned

The Orchid Thief
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Up in the Old Hotel

Podcasts Mentioned

This American Life
Radio Lab

Episode 61—Susan Orlean on Writing for an Audience and the Entrepreneurial Nature of a Writing Career

Susan Orlean for Grub Street / New York Magazine

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Susan Orlean (@susanorlean)

“What can I do with the tools I was given as opposed to the tools I was expecting?”

“If a story is just exactly what I expected it would be, I don’t think of that as all that interesting.”

“Entrepreneur, I had the instincts of an entrepreneur.”

“OK, this is how you do it…you make a connection, you think of stories that would work for a bigger audience.”

“In very practical terms, if you’re gonna be a person doing longform journalism, you will be running a small business.”

“Look at it as a business you’re running, but you also happen to be the raw material the business is producing.”

“Each story starts from zero. It never stops being exciting.”

Hello, CNF-buddies, it’s The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction—journalists, essayists, memoirists, radio producers, and documentary film makers—and how you can use their tools of mastery and apply it to your own work.

That’s right, you are in for a treat. Well, let’s face it, you’ve always been in for a treat, but this week you’re in for an Easter basket and Halloween sack all rolled into one verifiably true candy locker.

New York Times bestselling author of Rin Tin Tin, The Orchid Thief, (which was made into the movie Adaptation), Saturday Night, My Kind of Place, The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup, and the children’s book Lazy Little Loafers. She’s a staff writer for The New Yorker (full archive here) and she came by the podcast to share her wisdom and experiences from a career writing deeply reported features. You can find Susan online @susanorlean on Twitter and visit her website Susan Orlean dot com.

What are some takeaways? Susan talks about always having an audience in mind, having supreme focus, and needing to see yourself as a business person if you plan on doing this type of work and that it’s actually freeing, not stifling, in order to do the kind of work that excites you and feeds your ambitions.

Before we get to that, I ask that you please subscribe to the podcast, share it with a friend, and leave a rating or, ideally, a nice review on iTunes, like this one from Meredith May. She said, “Real conversations among professional writers about the essence of craft. A behind the scenes look at the way stories come together, from inception to publication, that doesn’t shy away from the truth about the difficulties and triumphs of making a living from words. One of the hardest concepts for my podcasting students to grasp is how differentiate between a story and a topic—this podcast helps them find that X-factor that makes a story sing.”

Wow. Shoutout to that five-star review. If you leave one, I might just read it on the air! It’s time for the show, episode 61 with Susan Orlean!

Episode 45—Bronwen Dickey Returns to Talk about the Paperback Release of Pit Bull, Troll Culture, and How Perfectionism Kills

Bronwen Dickey, Brendan O'Meara
Bronwen Dickey, everybody!

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Bronwen Dickey (@BronwenDickey)

“To be able to see something you put so much time into have a life outside your head is amazing and to connect with readers…”

On trolls: “The way a culture corrects itself is when people refuse to be cowed by that bullshit.”

On when research is over: “As Susan Orlean says, ‘You meet yourself coming the other way.'”

“I’m very drawn to upending stereotypes or going into a community of people that the public may think it knows.”

“Getting into those conflicts is where stories happen.”

“Perfectionism will truly kill you.”

“Everything that I have ever written, I can’t read.”

“The world will absolutely keep spinning on its axis if I write a story that fucking blows.”

“Every project feels like you’re at the bottom of Everest.”

Bronwen Dickey, author of Pit Bull: Battle Over an American Icon, returns to The #CNF Podcast and we had a lot of fun talking about troll culture, how to know when the research is done, why she finds herself at the center of these polarizing conflicts, and how perfectionism kills.

Be sure to check out our earlier episode from 2016 where she was equally illuminating and charming

Please subscribe to the podcast wherever you get them (iTunes and Google Play Music badges are in the right margin) and my monthly reading list newsletter. If you dig the podcast, do me that solid. Thanks!