Episode 66—Brin-Jonathan Butler on the Risk of Chess, Obsession with Obsessives, and the Blessing of Struggle

Brin-Jonathan Butler, Brendan O'Meara
Brin-Jonathan Butler sporting Cuban refugee Yasiel Puig’s No. 66.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables from Brin-Jonathan Butler (@brinicio):

“It was completely surreal, like being in the games room of the Titanic after it struck the iceberg. Nobody gave a shit.”

“Obsession has always fascinated me, whether it’s more a dance with your virtues or your demons.”

“Maybe you have to con your ways into finishing a lot of things in life.”

“My worst ideas happen when I’m sitting at the computer. I need to go for a walk, have a cigarette, or play with my cat.”

Hey, hey, it’s The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with the world’s best artists—leaders in narrative journalism, essay, memoir, radio, and documentary film—and tease our their stories, tips, and tricks and how you can apply those tools to your own work. I’m your host @BrendanOMeara, Brendan O’Meara in real life. Continue reading “Episode 66—Brin-Jonathan Butler on the Risk of Chess, Obsession with Obsessives, and the Blessing of Struggle”

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 64—Matt Tullis on “Running with Ghosts,” Aging Out of Jealousy, and Bringing a Reporter’s Mind to Memoir

matt tullis, brendan o'meara
Matt Tullis’ new book is “Running with Ghosts: A Memoir of Surviving Childhood Cancer.”

By Brendan O’Meara (@BrendanOMeara)

Tweetables by Matt Tullis (@matttullis):

“To be a great writer, you just have LOVE writing. You have to be passionate about it, so you’re going to do it a lot.”

“When I write a story, I want it to get as big an audience as possible.”

“I don’t have any problem whatsoever with being a shameless self promoter. I know a lot of writers who don’t like to do that.”

“I think some people who are super competitive can also get jealous of people who are more successful.”

“I love it when people who I like and respect and like to read, I love it when their stuff gets big.”

“If you hang around long enough, you’re gonna understand what the story is.”

“I feel good justifying my own survival by telling the stories of those who didn’t survive.”

It’s The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with the world’s best artists—journalists, documentary filmmakers, essayists, memoirists, and radio producers—about creating works of nonfiction.

Have we got a good one for you today. Episode 64 with journalist Matt Tullis (@matttullis) on Twitter. His first book, Running With Ghosts: A Memoir of Surviving Childhood Cancer published by The Sager Group, tells the story of how Matt got slammed with a form of leukemia at age fifteen, and subsequently what he did what that survival as many of his friends, who had previously been in remission, started passing away as the cancer came back. A couple of Matt’s caretakers, people who spent hours, and weeks, and months ensuring his survival, also died of cancer leaving Matt to wonder why he was spared.

There were several times in this book that burned your host’s eyes, not gonna lie, but Matt honors his life and his friends by turning his reporter’s eye inward, and outward, telling the story of his life and his friends.

Matt is a professor at Fairfield Univeristy and host of Gangrey the Podcast. His work has appeared in SB Nation Longform among many other places.

You’re gonna dig this episode as we talk about what it takes to be a great writer, letting events unfold in the face of preconceived expectations, competition, jealousy, and self promotion.

Stories by Matt

The Ghosts I Run With

Feet of Clay, Heart of Iron

Books Mentioned

Fractals
The Things They Carried
Pulphead

 

Writers Mentioned

Tom Junod
Chris Jones
Kelley Benham French
Wright Thompson
John Jeremiah Sullivan
Paul Auster
William Bradley
Glenn Stout
Tim O’Brien

Episode 63—Bronwynn Dean Talks Marijuana, Gonzo Journalism, and the Power of Performance

Bronwynn Dean’s work-in-progress is titled “Potted,” and she explores the world of marijuana.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Bronwynn Dean (@bronwynnhdean):

“Pretty much anyone I interact with is fair game for ending up in a story.”

“Okay, here’s how to get in the facts, but also make it really funny.”

“Having that permission for adventure, I never lost that.”

“You have to see the value in the end product enough to make yourself suffer.”

This episode is brought to you by Hippocamp 2017, a conference for creative nonfiction writers. It takes place in lovely Lancaster, PA, and runs from September 8 through September 10. Spots are still available for the third annual conference, so if you want to check out speakers like Tobias Wolfe and Dinty W. Moore, you better sign up! Hippocamp: Create. Share. Live.

Bronwynn Dean stopped by the podcast to talk about the power of performance and her work-in-progress about the world of marijuana. It’s titled Potted

Her work has appeared in Pitkin Review and Soundings Review. She cites Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe as major influences and I think you’ll dig how she was able to be the only one of about forty writers to land an agent. What went right? What was wrong about the other 39? Good stuff.

Okay, friends, you know the drill: Please leave a nice review over at iTunes and sign up for my monthly newsletter where I give out my book recommendations. It’s short, to the point, no spam. 

Share this with a friend and sit back and enjoy Bronwynn Dean. 

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 59—Jessica Lahey Reads “I’ve Taught Monsters”

Jessica Lahey returns to the podcast to read her essay.

By Brendan O’Meara

Hello, friends, fellow CNFers, it’s The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction and the actionable insights they share to help you with your work.

Today I welcome back Jessica Lahey (@jesslaheyof Episode 51 fame, author of the NYT bestseller The Gift of Failure and, most recently, the author of the essay “I’ve Taught Monsters,” which appeared in Issue 63 of the literary magazine Creative Nonfiction.

For this episode, Jess reads the essay in its entirety and she gives a knockout performance. I noodled around with music for a bit, but I couldn’t find the perfect tracks for it, so I just let it stand: Jess simply reading her wonderful essay.

Before we get to her reading I want to ask you something: What are you struggling with? Is there something in your work that’s giving you trouble or are you hitting road blocks? I want to know. Ping me on Twitter or email me. Maybe I can help.

Also, be sure to share this with a friend, leave a review on iTunes if you got any value out of this, and let me know if you dig these author readings.

Also, it’s Saratoga horse racing season and some of you might not even know that I write words too. My first book, Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year came out in 2011 courtesty of SUNY Press. It’s a timeless story about the track and the 2009 season. Want to support me and the podcast? Buy a book! It’s in paperback.

That’s it, here’s Episode 59 as Jessica Lahey returns to read from her essay “I’ve Taught Monsters.”

Episode 58—Get 1% Better with Joe Ferraro

Joe Ferraro, Brendan O'Meara
Joe Ferraro is the host of The 1% Better Podcast.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Joe Ferraro (@FerraroOnAir):

“We need to be shipping more than worrying about the details.”

“Nothing upsets me more than when someone says, ‘I’m too busy.'”

“You’ll hear young learners say, ‘How did you get so good at that?’ And the answer almost always is practice and reps.”

“I’m still trying to get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

“I’m a person who learns an unbelievable amount by talking things out.”

“Who are the people in your damn neighborhood?”

“The art and science of conversation and interviewing is intoxicating.”

Hey, it’s The Creative Nonfiction Podcast (please leave a review!) where I speak with the world’s best writers, freelancers, interviewers, authors, and documentary filmmakers about why and how they go about creating works of nonfiction and how YOU can apply what they do to your work.

Today’s guest is Joe Ferraro (@FerraroOnAir on Twitter), the fourth Joe I’ve had on the podcast (Joe DePaulo, Joe Drape, Joe Donahue, and now Joe Ferraro). Need a Josephine…anyway…

So who’s Joe Ferraro? He’s a teacher and a learner, but above all he’s a leader. He just started a podcast: The 1% Better Podcast. His tagline is Conversations designed to help you get 1% Better. It’s aimed at gradual, continual, rigorous—though not overwhelming—personal improvement.

“If we’re talking about hard work, it’s about squeezing out more of the day,” says Joe. “Nothing upsets me more than when someone says ‘I’m too busy.’”

Joe talks about his allergy for negative people, finding ways to challenge himself, and how after teaching for 20 years, he feels like his best years are still ahead of him. He’s the type of guy that inspires you to take action. He also talks about how he met his good pal Kevin Wilson, who you may recall from Episode 32.

Be sure to reach out to Joe on Twitter and subscribe to his podcast right away. Whether it’s listening to world class leader Ryan Hawk or how to make the best cold brew coffee, the art of thinking and redefining a restaurant, The 1% Better Podcast will open your eyes to where you can add value to you life and those around you.

Episode 56—Sonja Livingston Serves Up ‘Ghostbread’

Sonja Livingston, author of the memoir “Ghostbread,” stopped by the podcast to read from her book and to talk about her work.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Sonja: 

“If I had tried to line together four or five of these [short chapters], it might feel cumulatively too dense or heavy.”

“That’s such a nice thing about writing, isn’t it? It’s exciting for me because I don’t know where the piece is going to go and beyond that I don’t know who it’s going to connect with if it will at all. Sometimes it doesn’t. But when it does, it’s sort of amazing.”

“I don’t really have a plan. I follow the leads of memory and curiosity and go with it.”

“They haven’t tried to kill me, but they haven’t thrown me a party either.”

“The thing that makes an essay work and seem like a miracle is the thing that makes it seem so painful as well.”

Sonja Livingston stopped by The Creative Nonfiction Podcast to talk about her award-winning memoir “Ghostbread.” She was also gracious enough to read from three short chapters. It’s about family and growing up in poverty.

“[My family] hasn’t tried to kill me, but they haven’t thrown me a party either,” Sonja says.

This episode is layered and a bit experimental. I hope it adds a little extra somethin’-somethin’ to the usual interview. If you dig it, let me know on Twitter @BrendanOMeara and I’ll invite others to try something similar.

Sonja talks a lot about her routine and how getting outside helps her write. Also she adds that writing personal essay can feel like a miracle, but can also be very painful. Maybe it’s that in order to write great art, there must be a little bit of blood on the page.

I’d love for you to leave a review of the podcast and to share with folks you think will enjoy it. That’s all I can ask for. Thanks for listening!

People Mentioned

Judith Kitchen
Enda O’Brien
Harriet Scott Chessman
Jerre Mangione
James Joyce
Flanner O’Connor
William Faulkner
Dinty W. Moore

Episode 55—Do Funny Things Always Happen to Nikki Schulak?

Nikki Schulak’s “Dentistry’s Problem Children” appeared in Creative Nonfictions latest issue themed “How We Teach.”

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Nikki Schulak:

“What writer at my age gets to have parents be dead? I don’t have to worry about what they think!”

“I can’t stop. I can’t not write stories.”

I suggest visiting Nikki Schulak’s website and then perusing her extensive archive of essays

In this episode we talk about how stories come to her, how she stays attuned to the world, naked bike rides, and the power of performing for an audience and the validation that ushers.

This is the last episode before my 37th birthday. Wanna give something to me? Leave a review on iTunes. You don’t even have to wrap it. The best part? It’s free and takes less than a minute. Can’t beat that right?

Thanks for listening!

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.