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The Creative Nonfiction Podcast with Brendan O'Meara
Conversations with the world's best artists about creating works of nonfiction.
Category: Literature
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December 15, 2017 07:17 AM PST

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of several books including "Tamed and Untamed," says, "I don't think I followed a very traditional pathway. I did what I felt like doing."

What shenanigans are we up to here? It’s the Creative Nonfiction Podcast where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction. Leaders in the worlds of narrative journalism, personal essay, memoir, radio, and documentary film come here to talk about their origins, inspirations, and work habits so that you can apply their tools of mastery to your own work.

For episode 80, I had the privilege of speaking to Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, who co-authored “Tamed and Untamed” with Sy Montgomery (of episode 79 fame).

Elizabeth’s career is wide, vast, and prolific as you’ll soon hear.

We talk about:

Lessons she learned from reading Hemingway
The Power of Ignorance
Walking off with wolves
How circumstances organize the work
And the clear feeling of the early hours

While we continue to party on here in the intro I cordially ask you for HONEST reviews over on the iTunes. It’s what drives visibility and credibility to CNFers like yourself. Send me a screenshot of your review and I will give you a free hour of my time to edit a piece of your work. You give you get. T’is the season. Make sure that review is time stamped in December 2017 and you’re golden.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the podcast. Thanks for listening.

December 08, 2017 09:36 AM PST

"I have never picked the safe option and I have never regretted choosing what I've chosen ever," says Sy Montgomery.

Hey there, CNFers, hope you're having a CNFin' good week.

My, oh, my, where do we start? Maybe if you're new to the podcast I should let you know what it's about. This is the show where I speak to the world's best artists about creating works of nonfiction: leaders in narrative journalism (like Susan Orlean), personal essay (like Matthew Mercier), memoir (like Pulitzer Prize-winner Madeleine Blais), radio (Joe Donahue), and documentary film like (Jeff Krulik and Penny Lane).

As of now it's mainly writers, but I'm scurrying like heck to get more filmmakers and radio producers on the show. 

It's my job to tease out origins, habits, routines, and points of craft so that you can apply those tools of mastery to your own work. I also hope that in having these conversations you might also not feel as lonely or alone in your artistic pursuits. You'll notice every single guest has the same set of anxieties you have and they manage to get the work done. I deal with my own self-hatred and lack of worth from the moment my alarm goes off at 4 a.m. so there you have it.

Today's guest is Sy Montgomery and you probably know her from her gargantuan bestseller The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the World of Consciousness. It was a National Book Award Finalist and just one of the literally dozens of books Sy has written about animals. 

In this episode we talk about:

Sy getting her start as a business writer in Buffalo, NY

Belief in projects even when you don't believe in yourself

Being open to your expectations of a story changing as you go

And much, much more

Frankly, I came away from this conversation feeling good, just good, and the people who make you feel that way are the people you want to surround yourself with. I know I ended that sentence with a preposition, but whatever. 

Before I send you off into the Animal Kingdom with Sy, here's that part where I ask you to leave an honest review on the iTunes. Any review posted from now through the end of 2017 gets an hour-long editorial consult from me, which is a $50 value if you like putting dollars and cents on things. Simply send me a screenshot of your review and I'll reach out. My pile of editorial is growing thanks to you. Reviews are the currency we play with to reach more people and empower them to do the kind of work they find most inspiring.

December 02, 2017 07:29 AM PST

"For me, I'm thinking about the writing from the very first second I get an assignment," says Louisa Thomas, who made the 2017 volume for Best American Sports Writing. "I'm thinking about tone, and texture, and influences."

I’m here to showcase the world’s best artists and how they create work of nonfiction so you can use their tools of master to improve your own work.

Louisa Thomas joins me this week. She’s @louisahthomas on Twitter. She recently made the big book for The Best American Sports Writing for her piece Serena Williams, Andy Murray, and a Political Wimbledon.

In this episode we talk about:

Her biography Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams.
Working with Problematic Writers and How Not to be One

Mercenary Writing

And what she learned working with New Yorker editor David Remnick

How she organizes her titanic feats of research and much more

People are taking advantage of my free hour of editorial work and coaching, about a $50 value. Want in? All you have to do is leave an honest review on iTunes and have it postmarked by the end of December. Send me a screenshot of your review and you’ll be on your way. Reviews validate the podcast and increase its visibility so we can reach more CNFin’ people. I’m not even asking for a 5-star review, merely an honest one because that comes from a more authentic place.

All right, enough of my stupid face, time to hear from Louisa Thomas, thanks for listening.

November 24, 2017 08:27 AM PST

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.

November 17, 2017 06:03 AM PST

“Joan Didion said ‘Writers are always selling people out’ and I have chafed against that because I don’t feel like I want to be," says Episode 76 guest Erica Berry.

In a week where Creative Nonfiction reached its Kickstarter goal to support its monthly offshoot True Story, what better than to have the latest True Story author on the show?

I’m your host Brendan O’Meara, and this is the Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with leaders in narrative journalism, essay, memoir, radio, and documentary film and try to extract the stories, habits, and routines, so that you can apply their tools of mastery to your own work.

For Episode 76, I welcome Erica Berry. She’s an essayist, journalist, and eavesdropper. She’s a liberal arts fellow and MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at the University of Minnesota. She spent nine months at the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School in rural Sicily co-producing a documentary about endangered culinary traditions. Now she’s working on a book of essays about fear and that’s what brought her here today.

Not fear of the podcast. This is a safe place after all, but the fear she courted in Beasts Among Us, her True Story story, about the myth of the werewolf. It’s a chilling tale that feeds off of local lore and Erica’s own visit to the town where people swear they saw the man-wolf. And to start off the podcast, I have a treat, but first a little housekeeping.

I’m still offering a free hour of editing/coaching for a piece of you writing. All you have to do is leave an honest review—notice I didn’t even say a nice review—of the podcast on iTunes, take a screenshot that also shows the date of your review, and email that to me. Anything postmarked from November 2017 to the end of 2017 is eligible. It’s my way of saying thank you. One friendly Canadian has already redeemed the gift and I hope dozens, if not more, of you will as well.

So Erica was gracious enough to read from the first section of her story Beasts Among Us, so we’re going to ease into that. As a warning, the hairs on your arms might just stand up.

November 10, 2017 07:07 AM PST

Chris Arvidson says, "There’s so much great real stuff happening that it seemed dumb to make up anything."

What’s going on, CNFers? Before we get started I want to tease something. I have something I’d like to offer you loyal listeners and the thing is I could say it now, but I think I’m going to hold off until the very end of the show.

Is that mean? That’s kinda mean isn’t it? Sorry about that…no I’m not…

This week I welcome Chris Arvidson for Episode 75 of The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction, leaders in narrative journalism, radio, essay, memoir, and documentary film and try to tease out their stories, habits and routines so you can improve your own creative practice.

Chris co-edited along with Diana Nelson Jones The Love of Baseball: Essays by Lifelong Fans published by McFarland. It’s a beautiful book and we talk about its genesis, what makes for good baseball writing vs. horrible baseball writing, what’s the most important thing for Chris when developing a story, the organic nature of building a network, favorite books on writing, and much more.

Chris also edited the anthologies Reflections on the New River and Mountain Memoirs. You can find more about her and her work at chrisarvidson.com.

You feel good? You read to go? Let’s get to episode 75 with Chris Arvidson.

Dig the show? Leave a nice review on iTunes. Thanks, CNFers!

November 03, 2017 09:03 AM PDT

Welcome back to another episode of The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction to try and tease out the origins, habits, and routines so that you can apply their skills of mastery to your own work: narrative journalists, New York Times bestselling authors, award-winning filmmakers and, yes, even a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Today’s guest is an extra special one: Madeleine Blais, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing while at the Miami Herald for her story Zepp’s Last Stand. I took her memoir class back in 2003 at UMass Amherst and we always managed to stay in touch over the years. She’s a friend and a treasured mentor to me, so I’m delighted to speak with her about her career and her latest book To the New Owners: A Martha’s Vineyard Memoir.

Maddy is also the author of Uphill Walkers: Portrait of a Family, In These Girls Hope is a Muscle, which was named one of Sports Illustrated’s 100 best sports books of the 20th century, The Heart is an Instrument: Portraits in Journalism. And her piece that would eventually become the book for In These Girls, is the lead piece in “The Stories We Tell,” an anthology showcasing the best women journalists.

We talk about her early career and a pivotal moment that pointed her toward feature writing vs. hard news, how she likes to cut against the grain when vetting stories, judging for the Pulitzer Prize, and many of the influential books that helped form her self-guided apprenticeship.

Why wait any longer? Here’s the brilliant Madeleine Blais.

Like the show? Please leave a nice review on iTunes! Thanks for listening.

October 27, 2017 06:00 AM PDT

Patsy Sims says, "The novel I always wanted to write didn't have to be fiction."

No it didn't.

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.

Pasty Sims is the author of The Klan, Can I get an Amen!: Inside the Tents and Tabernacles of American Rivivalists, and, most recently, she's the editor of The Stories We Tell: True Tales by America's Greatest Women Journalists (The Sager Group, 2017). 

Patsy has been such a champion of creative nonfiction that it's easy to forget that she was one of the pioneers in the 60s and 70s. She was the Dumbledorian headmaster of Goucher College's Creative Nonfiction MFA program and few people—myself included—ever asked her about her origins and her writing. But that's sort of the myopic nature of MFA students. Again, myself included. This is my way of atoning.

That's neither here nor there.

In this episode we talk about:

Book projects as mini-educations.
Paying attention to people who aren't paid attention to
Building relationships
Persistence
Her fascinating approach to digesting notes and a lot, lot more

As you know, it's about this time I kindly ask for reviews as they are the currency that validates this enterprise. It takes less than 60 seconds and it helps out a ton. There are 19 ratings and reviews and none of them are from family members. Scouts honor.

Also, I have a pretty slick monthly newsletter where I share my monthly reading recommendations and what you might have missed from the world of the podcast. I'd love for you to join this growing list. Once a month. No spam. Can't beat it.

Dig the show? Share it with a fellow CNF-buddy. 

October 20, 2017 11:20 AM PDT

Hattie Fletcher says, "[True Story] is a snack in between the main meal."

The main meal being the quarterly magazine "Creative Nonfiction." You could say we have something in common.

It’s the Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction, leaders in the world of narrative journalism, documentary film, essay, memoir and radio and try to deconstruct how these masters go about the work so that you can improve your own.

This week I welcome back Hattie Fletcher, who is the managing editor for Creative Nonfiction magazine. What prompted a second trip? Hattie, along with Lee Gutkind and the team over at Creative Nonfiction, started a $27,000 Kickstarter campaign to support the second year of True Story, their monthly offshoot to the quarterly magazine.

True Story is a 5-10,000-word stand-alone piece in chapbook or digital form. It’s pretty rad.

In this episode we talk about what makes the green-lit pieces pop and what the rejected pieces have in common, and also some of the goodies you can expect with a pledge.

I hope after listening to this you’ll head over to the Kickstarter campaign and pledge some hard-earned dough so they can keep doing the work they’re doing on True Story.

Full disclosure, I don’t get any kickbacks of any kind. What a guy.

Though, it would be nice if you shared the episode and even left a nice review over on iTunes to help validate the podcast so I can keep doing this thing. I’d hate for the business office to come down and slam the door shut on this enterprise. Keep the reviews coming so I can keep the doors open at CNFHQ.

Links and show notes are available at brendanomeara.com.

October 13, 2017 08:14 AM PDT

Elizabeth Rush told me, “I’m just a mule. I just show up every day and climb very, very slowly up that mountain.”

What’s up, CNFers?! Hope you’re having a CNFin’ good week.

It’s the Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction: leaders from narrative journalism, memoir, essay, radio, and documentary film and try to tease out their stories, habits, and routines so that you can apply their tools of mastery in your own work.

This week I welcome Elizabeth Rush to the CNFHQ. Elizabeth’s latest essay “Something Like Vertigo” appeared in Issue 64 of Creative Nonfiction and I wanted to talk to her about it.

In this episode you’ll hear about:

Her working in pie shops
The importance of planning and deconstructing the end goal by working backward
Pitching
Poetry
Her “aha!” moment
And how telling true stories got her out of her own head
And of course before we get to that I want to say thanks. Thanks for listening. Thanks for leaving reviews.

Sometimes when I listen to other podcasts I get the impression that the hosts feel like it’s we the listener who is lucky to hear them. I want to flip that around and say what a privilege it is to make this podcast for you. It’s my great pleasure to bring this to you every week.

But for now, if you get any value from this, anything at all, please share it with a friend and leave a nice review on iTunes. They keep adding up and they mean greater visibility and greater reach. Let’s keep building them up and get to triple digits. It starts with you and it takes under a minute to leave a short one, a little longer if you put some elbow grease into it. Entirely up to you, friends.

Want show notes? Visit brendanomeara.com.

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