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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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by Brendan O'M...
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January 26, 2018 08:40 AM PST

“To be sincere is to be powerful and creative nonfiction allows me to do that, to be sincere," says Jamie Zvirzdin.

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

It’s The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak to the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction: leaders in the world of personal essay, memoir, narrative journalism, documentary film, and radio and try to tease out origins, habits, and craft so you can experiment with any cool nuggets you hear.

Today’s guest was the runner up in Creative Nonfiction’s “Science and Religion” contest from Issue 65. It’s Jamie Zvirzdin and her essay “Shuddering Before the Beautiful”: Trains of Thought Across the Mormon Cosmos details Jamie’s conflict with the Mormon church and her ultimate break from it, but doing it in a very empathetic way. There’s no vindictiveness in the story. She just lays it all out there. So we dig into that a bit.

In this episode you’ll also learn:
Her Fragment Heaven and Graveyard Hell
How she’s really analog when it comes to scheduling
Her addiction to learning
And lots of influential books and writers

I think Tom Petty said, “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus!” So here’s my conversation with the great Jamie Zvirzdin.

January 19, 2018 08:21 AM PST

Hey there CNF buddies, hope you’re havin’ a CNFin’ great week. What fuels you? What gets your engine revved up? What makes you redlined? For me it’s an interview and, dare I say, a riff…

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

For Episode 84, I welcome Adam Valen Levinson. Adam’s a smart guy, a real smart guy, and he’s written the wonderful book “The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah: Fear and Love in the Modern Middle East.”

Flip the book over and here’s a blurb from Buzz Bissinger, “Adam Valen Levinson is too young to have written a book this good: eloquent, analytical, funny, sad.”

Still not impressed? Peter Theroux said, “A fabulously written primer on the darkest countries in the world—or not so dark, as Valen Levinson shows with his toolkit of sharp sociology and brilliant humor.”

Well, I feel inadequate. Here’s a little more about Adam from his dust jacket bio: He is a journalist and travel writer whose work focuses on human stories in conflict areas. His work has appeared in numbers outlets, including VICE, the Paris Review, Al Jazeera, and Haaretz. He is an affiliate of the Middle East Institute in Washington DC and a Fellow at the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University, studying humor as a key to cultural understanding.

Damn. I make donuts and talk to people.

Okay, so here’s that part where I ask you that if you dig the show, consider subscribing and sharing it with a fellow CNFer. Leave an honest rating on iTunes, which takes a few seconds, or leave a rating and a review and in exchange, I’ll coach up a piece of your work, up to 2,000 words. That’s the deal. That’s like a $100 value once I’m all done because I read things three times and mark things up like it’s my job.

January 12, 2018 09:10 AM PST

"Going toward solitude and away from excuses has really helped me," says Victoria Stopp.

Hey there, CNFers, my CNF buddies, hope you’re having a CNFin’ great start to the new year. Jan 1 is just a day like any other, but we as a culture have assigned supreme import to that day.

If you’re coming here for the first time because your resolution is to listen more podcasts or you want to kickstart projects in the genre of creative nonfiction, then let me tell you the deal: This is The Creative Nonfiction Podcast—hello—the show where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction: leaders in the worlds of narrative journalism, documentary film, radio, essay, and memoir and try to tease out habits, routines, and origins so that you can use their tools of mastery in your own work.

I’m Brendan O’Meara.

For Episode 83 of the podcast, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Victoria Stopp. You can find her on Twitter @victoriastopp or at her website victoriastopp.com. Her book Hurting Like Hell, Living with Gusto: My Battle with Chronic Pain, published by McFarland, tells the story of how she became mired in chronic pain after a traumatic neck injury. The book goes into great detail about her journey and how low and powerless it made her feel. Spoiler alert: she’s here to talk about it.

In this episode we also talk about being super disorganized, finding solitude, how writing keeps pulling Victoria back even after she tried giving it up.

Dig the show? Share this with a friend and consider subscribing. I ask that you leave an honest rating or a review on iTunes. Ratings take five seconds; reviews about a minute. 2018 is all about growth and having ratings and reviews helps with visibility.

Did you know that I have a monthly newsletter? It’s true. I send it out on the first of the month and it contains my book recommendations for the month as well as what you might have missed from the world of the podcast. Once a month. No Spam. Can’t beat it.

Also consider leaving an honest review over on iTunes. You’re already doing a lot by listening, but if you can spare a minute or two I’d deeply appreciate it.

You can follow me on Twitter @BrendanOMeara and the podcast now has its own Twitter account @CNFPod. It also has a Facebook page, so if you want the full immersive Creative Nonfiction Podcast experience, be sure to Like or Follow all the channels.

January 05, 2018 03:46 AM PST

Hey, there CNFers, Happy New Year. It’s 2018 and we’re gettin’ rollin’ here for the biggest, baddest year for The Creative Nonfiction Podcast.

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

I’m Brendan O’Meara.

And to kick off the New Year, I’m actually not interviewing anyone because I’ve been traveling around creation at significant personal cost to see family and friends on the East Coast. So Episode 82 is me reading “The Language of the Gods,” my essay for Chris Arvidson’s and Diana Nelson Jones’ collection of baseball essays in “The Love of Baseball: Essays by Lifelong Fans.”

The essay does have some footnotes, something I used to love, but am starting to have mixed feelings about, so when the footnotes appear, you’ll hear me say FOOTNOTE and I’ll read it followed by END FOOTNOTE. They’re not too disruptive.

This is gonna be a big year, so if you dig the show, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, share it with a friend, and leave an honest review on iTunes. I’m extending my offer to edit a piece of your work up to 2,000 words and an hour of my time just for leaving a candid review. Just send me a screenshot of the review when it posts and I’ll reach out.

December 22, 2017 06:13 AM PST

"Research is this vehicle that allows you to follow your interests however long you want to follow it," says Rachel Wilkinson.

For Episode 80 of The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with the world's best artists about creating works of nonfiction, I spoke with Rachel Wilkinson, a writer and research based out of Pittsburgh, PA. 

Her essay, "Search History," won Best Essay for Creative Nonfiction Magazine's Science and Religion contest for Issue 65. It's Google as religious experience, how the very act of asking questions is very faith-based, and, if we're getting grim and dystopian, how this technology, which is getting increasingly sentient, might supplant us some day. #spitoutthebone (Metallica reference for all y'all.)

In our conversation we talk a lot how she crafted this essay and how it hangs on a big idea rather than sheer character drive, David Foster Wallace, The War of Art, the fun of research, embracing failure, and trusting—yes, trusting—self-doubt. 

Self-doubt is my spirit animal. 

Hey, are you digging the show? I'd love it if you subscribed to the show, shared it with a fellow CNFer. Leave an honest review on iTunes and I'll give you an editorial consult on the house. Just send me a screenshot of your review and I'll reach out.

Thanks for listening!

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."


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.

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