Brevity Podcast #3 Rick Moody and Athena Dixon

December 12, 2016 § 1 Comment

vintage-bakelite-radio-green_small2jpg2It’s time once again for the Brevity Podcast! Listen right from this post, or click over to iTunes, Soundcloud or Stitcher. If you’re subscribed, we’ll show up in your podcast app queue. And wherever you listen or download us, please take a moment to leave a brief review–it helps us show up in searches and recommendations.

Episode #3 features an interview with Rick Moody on form, function, life coaching and how to handle the part of depression that makes one want to walk in front of a bus, without losing access to one’s creative spirit. We also speak with Athena Dixon, editor-in-chief and founder of Linden Avenue Lit, about where and how to find new voices of color, and the evolution of her writing from R&B fan fic to establishing a strong new literary magazine.

Show notes and links to people, places and things we’ve discussed are below. Next month, we’ll be talking with Ander Monson, editor-in-chief of Diagram, and Brian Doyle, author of Mink River.

Our episode sponsor is the recorded webinar, Developmental Editing for Fiction and Memoir – useful for authors and editors, and available at Editors Canada (note that the price is in CDN$).

Show Notes: Episode #3 People, Books and Places

Born and raised in NE Ohio, Athena Dixon has been writing for as long as she can remember. From her first short stories to her very first poem, My Dad is Grand, language has been an immeasurable influence on her life. Through her early days sharing her work in online poetry forums, to her days as an open mic poet, Athena has honed her voice into a carefully considered balance of everyday life, childhood memories, and exquisite wordplay. Athena is founder and editor-in-chief of Linden Avenue Literary Journal, a monthly online publication of poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. She is also a poetry reviewer for Fifth Wednesday Journal. She writes, edits, and resides in Philadelphia.

Linden Avenue Literary

Citrine Magazine

Blavity

The Rising Phoenix Review

Major Jackson

Athena’s favorite poem, Euphoria by Major Jackson

Athena’s favorite Another Bad Creation song, Jealous Girl. (The band looks like they’re about 9 years old!)

Rick Moody was born in New York City. He attended Brown and Columbia universities. He has won awards including the Addison Metcalf Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the NAMI/ Ken Book Award, and the PEN Martha Albrand Prize for Excellence in Memoir. His short fiction and journalism have been featured in such work as Best American Stories 2001, Best American Essays 2004, and other anthologies. He has released multiple novels including The Ice Storm and Hotels of North America and the memoir The Black Veil, works of short fiction, music albums, and co-founded the Young Lions Book Award. He has taught at the State University of New York at Purchase, the Bennington College Writing Seminars, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife, daughter, and brand new baby son. Write him with your challenges at Rick Moody, Life Coach.
Metonymy: the substitution of the name of an attribute or adjunct for that of the thing meant, for example suit for business executive, or the track for horse racing.

Crossroads: the story of Robert Johnson and the Devil, on Radiolab

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Allison K Williams is a writer and editor based in Dubai, and the host of the Brevity Podcast.

Great (Audio) Moments in Storytelling

December 8, 2016 § 6 Comments

Dive in, then get to the background

Dive in, then get to the background

Hark! The Brevity Podcast sings once again on Monday, with Rick Moody and Athena Dixon gracing our airwaves. To tide you over, here are some of our favorite podcasts–some with amazing storytelling, others with sharp tips on story structure. Download a few for your car time or your dinner prep, and we look forward to sharing our own Episode 3!

 

Story Structure: The ‘e’

Transom has long been an excellent source for both radio-makers and storytellers in other mediums. Their podcast How Sound talks about positioning the narrator, asking good questions–even how to approach difficult interview subjects. This episode addresses a story structure often used in magazine articles and personal essays. It looks like a lowercase ‘e’ and solves the problem of how to get the reader involved right away when you still need backstory. The How Sound team breaks down a specific radio story, stopping and starting to point out the structural elements. Only about 20 minutes long, and a must-listen for anyone struggling with where or when to start an essay.

The Mystery Show: Belt Buckle

Starlee Kine hosts this charming, low-key show in which each episode, she solves a mystery that can’t be figured out on the internet. This is the best of last season’s six episodes, and it is beautiful and heartbreaking and pure delight. Listen when you need some feel-good catharsis that’s still plenty meaningful, and notice how she wraps a whole story around a single, quirky object.

Love & Radio: Jack & Ellen

The sound quality is a little weird at the beginning, but stick it out. This is one of the craziest, most twisted, fascinating and bizarre true stories I’ve ever heard. Anything specific I can tell you would wreck it, but know that it’s about turning the tables on some not-very-nice people. Structurally, this story starts us thinking one thing, turns it into something else, and the takeaway is a different subtext entirely. A good one for when you’re struggling with a deep, layered story. Not safe for work or kids.

Reply All: Perfect Crime

What do you do when you love doing something everyone else hates? Actor Catherine Russell is the one-woman motivation behind the worst-reviewed still-running play in New York. She already knows the audience will walk out puzzled, annoyed, even hostile. So why keep doing it? For when you aren’t really sure if the world is ready for your work (it is).

Podquiz

This has zero to do with storytelling. But if you like quizzes and trivia, and you really, really need to get your brain into a neutral, reasonably positive place, this short weekly quiz is a great way to get the neurons firing. Skip the music played between the main quiz and the answers, it’s always terrible. Or revel in the hideousness. Your call. Then go write something, using the weirdest answer as a prompt.

Happy listening–and take a moment to subscribe to the Brevity Podcast, won’t you? If you’re already a happy listener, please leave us a review!

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Allison Williams hosts the Brevity Podcast.

ICYMI: Brevity Podcast Episode 2

November 17, 2016 § 1 Comment

andreUnderstandably, we’ve all been a little distracted. But if you’re ready for a break from fighting the good fight, please enjoy the Brevity Podcast’s second episode, featuring interviews with Suzanne Roberts and Andre Dubus III. Some highlights:

  • Suzanne reads her powerful piece from Brevity, The Essay Determines How It Will Begin, and talks about where writing is on her list of priorities (it’s not at the top! It’s not even second!).
  • Andre discusses making a safe home for his kids in a violent world, and reads a section of his memoir, Townie. He also shares his thoughts on the value of writing about hard family moments, and how writing goes hand in hand with dealing with the actual problem.
  • Political content: 0

Find us on iTunes

We’re also on Soundcloud

Stream/download through most podcast apps.

And whether it’s listening to us, or to your children, or writing something messy, or lying on your back and watching the clouds, take a little time today for your writer self.

Love,

Brevity

 

Brevity Podcast #2 Andre Dubus III and Suzanne Roberts

November 7, 2016 § 2 Comments

Bobby socks optimal for best listening experience

Bobby socks optimal for best listening experience

We’re back on the air! This month’s Brevity Podcast is now available right here and on Soundcloud, iTunes and Stitcher. If your fancy technical skills involve RSS feed wrangling, here’s our feed. And wherever you listen or download us, please take a moment to leave a brief review–it helps us show up in searches.

Episode #2 features an interview with Andre Dubus III on his memoir Townie, and the burning question of whether one must have an eventful life in order to write memoir. Suzanne Roberts talks about her retreat program Wordy Girls, and how she figured out that writing was not in fact her first priority.

Next month, we’ll be talking with Rick Moody, author of The Ice Storm and Hotels of North America, and Athena Dixon, editor-in-chief of Linden Avenue.

Who else would you love to hear? Let us know in the comments.

Show Notes: Episode #2 People, Books and Places

Suzanne Roberts’ books include the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award-winning Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail, and the poetry collections Plotting Temporality, Three Hours to Burn a Body: Poems on Travel, Nothing to You, and Shameless. Her work has been published in many literary journals, including Creative Nonfiction, ZYZZYVA, Fourth River and Gulf Stream, and widely anthologized. Suzanne was named “The Next Great Travel Writer” by National Geographic Traveler Magazine. She teaches at Lake Tahoe Community College and for the low-res MFA programs at Sierra Nevada College and Chatham College.

With Ann Marie Brown and Kim Wyatt, Suzanne offers classes, workshops and retreats for women writers through Wordy Girls.

Suzanne’s essay for Brevity, “The Essay Determines How It Will Begin

 

Andre Dubus III is the author of six books, including the New York Times’ bestsellers House of Sand and Fog, The Garden of Last Days, and his memoir, Townie. His most recent book, Dirty Love, published in the fall of 2013, was a New York Times “Notable Book” selection, a New York Times “Editors’ Choice”, a 2013 “Notable Fiction” choice from The Washington Post, and a Kirkus “Starred Best Book of 2013.”

Andre has been a finalist for the National Book Award, and has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, The National Magazine Award for Fiction, two Pushcart Prizes, and is a 2012 recipient of an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature. His books are published in over twenty-five languages, and he teaches full-time at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Fontaine, a modern dancer, and their three children.

Writers in Paradise conference at Eckerd College

Edna O’Brien

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Nadine Gordimer’s My Son’s Story

Ron Carlson

Flannery O’Connor

Stewart O’Nan

John Irving

Anne Lamott

Richard Russo

Writing and Publishing a Memoir: What the Hell Have I Done?

Tobias Wolff

Tim O’Brien

 

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Allison K Williams hosts and produces the Brevity Podcast, and is the author of Get Published in Literary Magazines.

The Art of the Interview

October 13, 2016 § 5 Comments

Diahann Carroll during a 1953 radio interview with Leigh Kamman at the Palm Cafe in Harlem

Diahann Carroll during a 1953 radio interview with Leigh Kamman at the Palm Cafe in Harlem

The first episode of Brevity’s podcast came out this week, and it’s amazing how many people it took to put together what sounds like simply a recorded conversation. As well as the author and the host, there’s also a tape-logger, who transcribes significant quotes and summarizes the conversation in between as a guide for editing; and an audio editor who removes “um’s” and makes everyone sound smarter, as well as shaping the interview and making judgment calls on what tape to keep and what to let go.

That’s the hardest part–the judgment calls. Forty-five minutes with Thaddeus Gunn became 12, and 90 minutes with Dani Shapiro condensed to 45. Thoughtful, well-spoken guests are a blessing and a curse.

If you’re working in narrative non-fiction or journalism, or putting together an essay that includes someone’s personal story or a conversation, it can be hard to narrow down what you want to keep. And if you’re the writer talking about your book or your process, it’s hard to stay on track. But there are some easy ways to get what you need, as interviewer or interviewee.

If you’re the person of interest:

  • Use complete sentences. It’s much easier to edit tape, or quote you in an article, if you respond with a discrete unit.

Q: How did you get started writing?

A: My mom gave me a pencil when I was five.

vs

A: I started writing when I was five, after Mom gave me a pencil for Christmas.

The second answer can open an article; the first one needs context, and context burns up word count.

  • Have an idea of what you want to get out there, and practice in advance. That doesn’t mean “rehearse” or have a set speech, which can sound phony even coming from professional actors. But know what you care about, and while you’re in your car, or taking a walk, ask yourself imaginary questions and frame a few different ways to answer them. I was on TV often in my former profession of circus performer, and every single interviewer asked how I got started fire-eating. It was useful to have two or three clever, short, easy-to-edit answers.
  • Limit your subjects. Be in-depth and meaningful about a few things rather than glib with many. Unless you’re live, they’ll edit you down later.
  • Know that the interview is for you, too. It’s OK to say before you start, “I’m hoping to mention X at some point,” or “My last two interviews covered Y and I’d love to do something fresh with you–can we go in another direction?” The host/journalist wants you to be happy, because happy subjects give better interviews.

Even beginning interviewers can get good tape and good quotes:

  • Allow enough time. You need/hope for at least 30% more talking time than will be in the finished piece. Your likelihood of getting that time is inversely proportional to the fame of the person you’re talking to.
  • Small talk has value. It’s important to hear where your interviewee is mentally today, and listening to preliminary chat lets them know they’re being heard. They’re more likely to share things that matter if you’ve demonstrated that you value what they say.
  • Shut up. It’s an old trick, but asking a question, then waiting, allows the person to frame their thoughts. Leave space at the end of their answer, and they’ll often come up with something else important. It takes everyone time to ruminate. This is good for teaching, too–leave a longer gap than feels comfortable after asking a question. Be comfortable with silence. (Practice your ‘supportive attentiveness’ face and keep it on–even in a phone call, they can feel it.)
  • Ask the subject what they need. Before you start, “Is there anything you’re really hoping we’ll cover?” At the end, “Anything else you’d like to add?” Often, the best quotes and most compelling stories come when the interview is “over.”
  • Be fascinated. People can tell when you’re genuinely interested. And you’ll be less nervous if you’re thinking about them. Practice this by asking strangers (in safe locations) about their lives, and trying to make them feel heard. Practice your listening face and your interview technique at parties and meals. Be the person everyone want to talk to.
  • When editing an interview-based piece together, it’s better to focus on a smaller number of significant moments than to give an overview of the whole conversation. Chopping out a whole subject, or an entire set of questions, is much easier than trying to trim every section of the talk and get it all in. Leave everyone wanting more.

It helped me tremendously to rely on another person’s taste about what elements of the interview most suited the podcast. And it was way less painful to have our crack audio editor Kathryn Rose do the trimming. By the time I listened to the first draft, she’d already made some global decisions, and there were only one or two places where I said, “I miss that, can we put it back in?” If you’ve got a writer buddy to help out, share your transcript and ask them what fascinates them.

Many of us enjoy the solo element of writing. But practice your interviewing, and your own interview content. There’s an essay out there if you listen for it.

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Allison Williams is the host of the Brevity Podcast.

The Brevity Podcast Episode #1: Dani Shapiro & Thaddeus Gunn

October 10, 2016 § 26 Comments

Enjoy our podcast on the go!

Enjoy The Brevity Podcast on the go!

We’re on the air! The brand-new Brevity Podcast is now available here and on Soundcloud. We hope you’ll enjoy our first episode, featuring interviews and readings from New York Times-bestselling author and noted memoirist Dani Shapiro, and Brevity author and Pushcart Prize nominee Thaddeus Gunn.

In upcoming (somewhat) monthly episodes, we’ll be speaking with Andre Dubus III, David Shields, Ander Monson, Rebecca Skloot, Roxane Gay and Cheryl Strayed, as well as more of our Brevity authors.

Soon, we’ll be invading the world of iTunes, Stitcher, iCatcher, and other podcast services, but for right now, we’re right here, and downloadable for listening on the go. If your fancy technical skills involve RSS feed wrangling, here’s our feed. If you’re on Soundcloud, please do follow us.

Let us know what you think—and we’d love to hear your suggestions for future guests!

Show Notes: Episode #1 People, Books and Places

Thaddeus Gunn lives in Seattle, Washington. His work has appeared in Brevity, Literary Orphans, and SmokeLong Quarterly. He has over twenty years of experience of writing for print, Web, and broadcast. He currently works for his own advertising and branding company, Goldyn Gunn, co-founded alongside Kevin Golden. Find him on Twitter @thaddeusgunn, and enjoy his Dear Gregory blog.

Thaddeus’s essay for Brevity, Slapstick

The Kenyon Writers Workshop

The writer of Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3 is Michael Arndt.

The Hemingway app (Hemingway Editor)

 

Dani Shapiro is the best-selling author of the memoirs Devotion, Slow Motion, and Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life. Her five novels include Black & White and Family History. Dani’s work has appeared in the New Yorker, Granta, Elle, Vogue, the New York Times Book Review, and the Los Angeles Times, and has been read on NPR’s This American Life. She has taught in the writing programs at Columbia, NYU, the New School, and Wesleyan University, and is cofounder of the Sirenland Writers Conference in Positano, Italy. Dani is a contributing editor for Condé Nast Traveler.

Atlantic Center for the Arts

Martha Graham’s letter to Agnes de Mille

Jane Kenyon

Sarah Manguso

Philip Roth’s Patrimony

Ann Patchett’s Truth & Beauty

Annie Dillard

Hedgebrook

Josh Hanagarne, The World’s Strongest Librarian

Sirenland Writer’s Conference

Dani Shapiro’s workshops at Kripalu

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Allison K Williams hosts and produces the Brevity Podcast, and is the author of Get Published in Literary Magazines.

Get It On The Radio: Taping and Telling

September 8, 2016 § 1 Comment

On Tuesday, I wrote about the process of pitching radio stories. What happens next? Much of that depends on who accepts your pitch (or whether your name comes out of the hat at The Moth). Here’s what some of those processes looked like for me.

moth_logo_cover2The Moth

The Moth StorySLAM is one of the most accessible ways to practice radio storytelling and potentially end up in a bigger show or on the air. Moth stories are told live without notes, and (loosely) on a particular theme, announced ahead of time. Just show up at a local storySLAM and add your name to the list. Ten storytellers are picked from a hat, and each one has five minutes to tell a true, first-person story. Audience teams score the storytellers (don’t worry, everyone is enthusiastically supported by the whole audience); the winner moves on to the invitation-only Grand Slam. Grand Slams are in bigger venues, and every storyteller has won a local slam.

You’re on your own for the local slams, but it helps to practice your story over and over, especially the ending. A clean, powerful ending compensates for a multitude of rambling sins! It’s also important to be inside the time limit, because laughter and mid-story applause add time. Shoot for four minutes–that also gives you time to pause for moments of emotion or laughter. For the Grand Slams, one of the Moth’s producers in New York will work with you via phone or Skype. For example, I pitched “filling the bird feeder for my grandmother right before she died,” “scattering my own dad’s ashes at a major political funeral in India,” or “being a terrible prostitute” (believe it or not, they’re all funny). Producer Jenifer Hixon helped me find the most powerful thread, and listened to me over three phone calls while I figured out how to start the story, get to the good parts quickly, and end clean.

The Moth records all stories told at local and Grand Slams, and some are selected to be on the radio–not always the winning ones, so you have a chance no matter how you score. I also tape myself by setting my phone in an inconspicuous place, so I can listen after and hear how the story went and pick up audience reactions I didn’t notice through my own nervousness. Tape also helps me shape the story into a written essay, and I’ll submit that version to print venues.

 

loveme_promoLove Me and Definitely Not The Opera

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has some great story-driven podcasts. Definitely Not The Opera ran for 22 years; Love Me was an eight-episode season. I signed up for the DNTO “pitch list” at their website. Each week, an email went out with the next episode’s topic, and I submitted probably 35-40 pitches over two years and got picked up three times. Love Me sent one story call for their season, to people from the DNTO list among others, and I pitched three stories to them and sold one. For CBC shows, a Canadian setting or connection helps (I’m Canadian) but isn’t mandatory if you’ve got a great story.

Major-network podcasts often rent time at a recording studio or local public radio station near the storyteller. I taped in studios in South Africa and Florida before buying a good-quality microphone for my computer. Now I’m able to tape in any quiet location, as well as doing “tape sync”–recording another storyteller locally, while the network interviewer talks to them on Skype.

My biggest challenge was not sounding “rehearsed.” Performing live at the Moth, practicing and tightening my story had been an advantage, but both DNTO and Love Me needed a more conversational sound. In each case, I ended up telling my story once, then being interviewed by the producer. S/he asked questions and I responded with chunks of the story told off-the-cuff; then the producer edited the takes together to get the sound and style the program needed. For this type of show, it’s truly OK to have your pitch and a sense of the story rather than planning every moment out.

 

sj_itunessquare_wnyc_350Snap Judgment

One of my bucket-list venues, I got on the pitch list for Snap Judgment by sending an email. They also accept many pitches through the submission form on their website. My first try wasn’t so good–I got a call from a Snap producer in response to a pitch, she asked me to think more about transformation/change in the story, and I dropped the ball by not calling her back in time (life events happened).

But last week I got an email, “Hey, I heard you on Snap Judgment!” My first thought was there’d been some mistake, maybe it was the actor from Girls, but no–Snap Judgment picked up a story I’d told on Love Me. Surprise! Another credit without doing anything!

My hope now is that since their producers have heard me tell a story, perhaps they’ll accept a future pitch.

How does this work for you, Brevity reader and first-time radio storyteller?

  1. Go to a story slam (Moth or any other brand) near you. Listen to what the audience loves. Listen to what you love. Think about how you’d take your powerful personal story and deliver it to an adoring audience.
  2. Practice pitching. It’s OK if it takes fifty–or more–pitches before a producer bites. Keep focusing on how your material fits specific shows, and tailor your pitches to suit their style. There’s no blacklist of “uurgghh why does this person keep emailing us…” so keep trying. If one show doesn’t bite, reframe your story so it feels right for someone else and pitch again.
  3. You don’t need to own any recording equipment to get started. It’s been convenient for me to have a digital recorder and a mic, but if they want your story, they will figure out how to tape you. That’s their job. I went to Oman last week to tape-sync and the producer set it all up–all the storyteller had to do was lock his cats out of the room. If you do enough radio to start needing equipment, Transom has great product reviews and recommendations.

Even if you never sell a radio pitch, the process of thinking about your personal experiences from different angles can help you transform that material into essays. And doing radio is fun! Writing is so often a solitary pursuit, it’s a joy to talk with a producer, hear immediate feedback, and collaborate on the shape of a story.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the host of the upcoming Brevity Podcast.

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