On this episode, host Matt Tullis talks with Carson Vaughan, the author of the “Zoo Nebraska: The Dismantling of an American Dream,” which focuses on a small-town zoo in Royal, Nebraska, and its eventual downfall.
Vaughan started reporting and writing this book as an undergraduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He then took the project to graduate school, where it was his master’s thesis in the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s MFA creative writing program. That’s the same program that Tullis graduated from in 2005.
“Zoo Nebraska” was published by Little A, an imprint of Amazon Publishing that focuses on literary fiction and nonfiction.
Vaughan is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about the Great Plains. He wrote “My Cousin, the Cowboy Poet” for the New Yorker. He’s also written for the New York Times, The Guardian, The Paris Review Daily, Outside, The Atlantic, Roads & Kingdoms, and Runner’s World, among others.
On this episode, Matt Tullis talked with Sarah Weinman, the author of “The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World,” which was published by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers in September.
The book is a gripping true-crime investigation into the 1948 abduction of Sally Horner and how it inspired Vladimir Nabokov’s classic novel, “Lolita.”
Weinman regularly writes pieces of true crime longform, having been published by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Republic, the Guardian, and Buzzfeed, among others. She also covers book publishing for Publishers Marketplace.
Weinman is the editor of the books “Troubled Daughters, Twisted Lives,” and of “Women Crime Writers: Eight suspense Novels of the 1940s and 50s.”
On this episode, Matt Tullis talks with Brendan O’Meara. O’Meara is the host of the Creative Nonfiction Podcast. On that show, he talks to writers, filmmakers, producers, and podcasters who he admires. They talk about the art and craft of telling true stories, unpacking their origin stories as well as tips and habits so that listeners can apply those tools in their own work.
Tullis was a guest on the Creative Nonfiction Podcast back in September of 2017, when O’Meara talked with him about his memoir, Running With Ghosts. Recently, O’Meara hosted Glenn Stout, who talked about his new book, The Pats: An Illustrated History of the New England Patriots, which was just released.
O’Meara is also a reporter and a writer. In 2016, he published the story “The Day That Never Comes” in the online magazine Proximity. That story, which we talk about in this episode, ultimately won Proximity’s Narrative Journalism prize for the year it was published. He is also the author of Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year.
Ben Montgomery is the author of “The Man Who Walked Backward: An American Dreamer’s Search For Meaning in the Great Depression.” The book was published by Little, Brown Spark in September, and tells the story of a man named Plennie Wingo, who in 1931, attempted to walk around the world, backward.
This is the third time Montgomery has been on the podcast. He was the guest on Episode 21, when he talked about his first book, “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail.” That book went on to become a New York Times Bestseller.
He was also one of five guests on Episode 45, which was focused on the work of the late Michael Brick, which was contained in the book, “Everyone Leaves Behind a Name.” The other guests on that show were Wright Thompson, Michael Kruse, Tony Rehagen, and Thomas Lake.
Montgomery created the website gangrey.com, which was the namesake for this podcast. For years, he was one of the top enterprise reporters at the Tampa Bay Times, where he wrote about everything from one of the last spectacle lynchings in Florida to why cops shoot at suspects.
He left the Tampa Bay Times in October 2017 to focus on writing “The Man Who Walked Backward.” Now, he finds himself teaching student journalists at the University of Montana as the T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Visiting Professor.
Montgomery’s latest book is his third. His second book was titled “The Leper Spy: The Story of an Unlikely Hero of World War II.”
He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Local Reporting in 2010 for his series of stories on the decades of abuse at a Florida reform school for boys. He won the Dart Award and Casey Medal for the same series.
Jeff Pearlman is the author of “Football For A Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL.” The book takes a deep dive into the United States Football League, which existed from 1983 to 1985. The league existed when Pearlman was a kid, and he was in love with it. The book is something that Pearlman has called a labor of love.
Pearlman interviewed 430 people for this book. Only two people with ties to the USFL that he reached out to refused to talk to him. One of those people was Donald Trump. Trump was the owner of the New Jersey Generals in 1984 and 85. Pearlman was doing the reporting for this book during the 2016 election season. One thing he started realizing was the Trump was making the same types of promises as a presidential candidate, as he did as a USFL owner. That includes the time he signed quarterback Doug Flutie to a huge contract, and then sent a letter to the other owners of the league, telling them all that they had to actually pay for Flutie themselves.
“Football For A Buck” is Pearlman’s eighth book. He’s written books about Walter Payton, the 1986 New York Mets, Brett Favre, and the Los Angeles Lakers Showtime years. He currently writes a weekly column for The Athletic, and is a former senior writer for Sports Illustrated. He’s also written for ESPN.com, Bleacher Report, and many others.
Pearlman is also the guest editor for this year’s edition of The Best American Sports Writing. The series editor of that annual anthology is Glenn Stout, who has twice been a guest on the podcast.
This episode is a rebroadcast of the interview Matt Tullis did with Luke Dittrich in September 2013. At the time, Esquire had just published his story “The Prophet,” a story about a neurosurgeon who claimed to have visited heaven in a best-selling book. Dittrich’s piece pretty much debunked those claims.
Dittrich also talks about his story about the Joplin, Missouri, tornado. The story — “Heavenly Father! I Love You! I Love Everyone,” was about 23 people who rode out the storm in a convenience store cooler. The store was destroyed, but the people within all survived. Dittrich ultimately won a National Magazine Award for the piece.
Since joining the podcast, Dittrich turned another piece that was discussed in this interview — “The Brain That Changed Everything” — into a book. “Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets” digs deep into that Esquire story and unveils the life of his grandfather, the doctor who treated Patient HM and performed lobotomies on untold numbers of people. The book is one of the best science-related books that I’ve read in a long time, and easily holds rank with “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot.
On this episode, the podcast replays the interview Matt Tullis did with John Woodrow Cox from October 2013. Cox was the 12th guest on the podcast, and, at the time, was a general assignment reporter in Pinellas County for the Tampa Bay Times. On this episode, he talked about the short, narrative stories he was writing for the Floridian Magazine. The series was called “Dispatches from next door.” They were short pieces – just 500 words – but painstakingly reported. He talked about two such pieces; one about a woman who is only able to find peace out on the ocean, and another about a senior citizen who is always on the look for a younger woman who will save him from loneliness.
Cox left the Times in 2014 and went to the Washington Post. He’s an enterprise reporter with a focus on narrative journalism there. This year, his series about the impact of gun violence on children in America was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing. He is currently working on a book that will expand on that coverage.
He’s also written about a flawed sexual assault investigation in the Marines and about a 10-year-old who has HIV.
Since joining the podcast, Cox has won several prestigious awards. He has won the Scripps Howard’s Ernie Pyle Award for Human Interest in Storytelling, the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma, Columbia Journalism School’s Meyer “Mike” Berger Award for human-interest reporting, and the Education Writers Association’s Hechinger Grand Prize for Distinguished Education Reporting. He’s also been named a finalist for the Michael Kelly Award and for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists. His stories have been recognized by Mayborn’s Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing contest and the Society for Features Journalism, among others.