Cringe & Controversy with Brian Broome

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Show Notes

Brian Broome, author of the debut memoir Punch Me Up to the Gods, discusses growing up in rural Ohio, how he was discovered by a literary agent at a storytelling event, how he navigates writing about family, how he approaches structure and revision, and the story in his memoir that made Laura cringe the hardest (that’s a compliment). Broome also answers questions from Page Count listeners surrounding challenges faced by working-class writers and the recent Goodreads review bombing controversy.

Brian Broome is the author of Punch Me Up to the Gods (Mariner Books, 2021), which won the 2021 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction, Publisher Triangle’s Randy Shilts Award for Nonfiction, and the 2022 Lambda Literary Award in Gay Memoir/Biography. He is K. Leroy Irvis Fellow and instructor in the Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh. Broome has been a finalist in The Moth storytelling competition and won the grand prize in Carnegie Mellon University’s Martin Luther King Writing Awards. He also won a VANN Award from the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation for journalism in 2019. Broome lives in Pittsburgh.

In this episode:



Brian Broome (00:00):
I kind of was discovered, I guess...I don't know, like a Hollywood starlet.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:06):
Welcome to Page Count, presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. This podcast celebrates authors, illustrators, librarians, book sellers, literary advocates and readers in and from the state of Ohio. I'm your host Laura Maylene Walter, the Ohio Center for the Book fellow and author of the novel BODY OF STARS. Today we're joined by Brian Broome, the author of the memoir PUNCH ME UP TO THE GODS, a New York Times Editors Pick and the winner of the 2021 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction. We're going to talk about Brian's memoir, his writing process, and how he got his start as a writer. We'll also answer a few questions from Page Count listeners. Brian, welcome to the podcast! Thanks so much for being here today.

Brian Broome (00:52):
Oh, thank you so much for having, it's my pleasure.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:54):
Well I usually start my interviews by asking my guest about their Ohio connection, but because your memoir centers in part on your youth and growing up in Warren, Ohio and in rural Ohio, I think the answer to that question is probably really wrapped up in your work. And if I may, I would like to read the opening few lines of your essay GRAVEL, which addresses this.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:16):
"There have been moments of solitude and silence when I have literally taken my right hand, placed it over my left shoulder and patted myself on the back for surviving small town Ohio. And if you are a black person from small town Ohio, you deserve it too."

Laura Maylene Walter (01:32):
So let's just get right into it. Tell us about your memoir and how Ohio plays a part in it.

Brian Broome (01:38):
Well, you know, it's really interesting, like when I was growing up there, it was, you know, white people-ville. I mean in the sense that we didn't learn anything about African American contributions to culture and to American life. I mean, we were just sort of taught as black people and white people were taught like white people are the center of everything. This is particularly like in the seventies and eighties, you know, it was a rough time. Like you felt like you disappeared and like there was a lot of racism, you know. I am never surprised when the state of Ohio goes red every four years, you know, and people are like, oh my God, I thought it was more progressive. It's not. And it's very strange because, you know, now I live in Pennsylvania, which kind of goes blue every four years and they're so close together.

Brian Broome (02:30):
But when I was growing up there, it was rough. We went to a school that was predominantly white and I realized, you know, in hindsight, like there was definitely and still is, you know, a caste system going on back then that was probably much stronger than it is now. So I learned to watch television and I learned to like dream of these like far away like cities and you know, where that turned out to be false too. But like I dreamed of getting out of rural Ohio because I just thought that it was better somewhere else. It had to be better somewhere else. But interestingly enough, if you look at the, I think it's the Tribune Chronicle from where I grew up in the Warren Tribune Chronicle, they're just about to break ground on an African American history museum for Braceville, Ohio, which is where I spent my youth. Which is amazing, you know. My aunt is actually a big part of it and I didn't know that there was so much history and so many intrepid people and so many characters, you know, from right where I grew up in Ohio, you know. So I look back on it now and I realize that there were some things that I didn't know, but at the same time I wouldn't...I don't know that I would want to go back there because you know, my hometown still has some problems.

Laura Maylene Walter (03:56):
Yes, yes. Well, as you just, you touched on a few of the really the big themes of the essay collection, which is I think largely it's exploration of masculinity, especially for black men and boys, but also more generally race and class and fathers and sons and addiction...all of these big issues that are told so compellingly in such rich narratives. But can you tell us, if we could back up a bit about your writing journey, how you got to the point where you were able to write this memoir. Can you tell us how you evolved as a writer to get to this point?

Brian Broome (04:33):
Well, I mean, when I tell this story, like people, you know, I've told it a few times, it's absolutely true. Like I never really started out wanting to be a writer like at all. It was something that I did when I was young and and was told, you know, in working class families and particularly, you know, lower middle class working families, you're told like, you need to get a job and you need to get a dependable job and you need to do it right away. And so writing just never entered my mind as like a job. It was just something that you do when you're not working. And so I ended up in rehab about eleven years ago and I needed to be there, like absolutely. And there's not a whole lot to do in rehab, you know, you go to these group counseling sessions and like, and you talk and talk and talk endlessly.

Brian Broome (05:24):
So during the downtime I was just writing in my room and my roommate snored really loudly. So I was up half the night like writing and the stories that I was writing in rehab kind of wound up being the stories that ended up in the book. And when I got out, I had all these like stories and there there weren't a whole lot of them. They were just like, I was asking myself like, how did I end up here? You know, what are the sort of stories that led to me being like addicted to drugs and alcohol? And those were the stories that I wrote in rehab. And when I got out I was very afraid of relapse. So I didn't do a whole lot. I stayed in my house a lot. And one day my friend Deesha Philyaw, if you want to look her up, she's an amazing author.

Laura Maylene Walter (06:14):
Yes, I'll link to her collection. Yes.

Brian Broome (06:17):
Absolutely. She was in charge of putting together people to do this reading at a local bar called The Brillo Box. And she asked me if I'd do it and I said no. And then she asked me again and I said no. And then she asked me again and I said no. And finally she was like, you're doing it. And so I did a little reading and it was the piece that if you read the book about me trying to play basketball.

Laura Maylene Walter (06:41):
Oh that's one of my favorites. Oh, I cringed so hard for you.

Brian Broome (06:45):
Yeah, I know <laugh>. Thank you. I appreciate you cringing so hard for me. That was the idea. I read that piece on stage and after I got off stage, a woman approached me and she said, hi, my name is Danielle and like I'm an agent and I didn't know what an agent was, you know. I didn't know what she intended to do for me or with me. And she was like, here's my card, you know, call me. And I think it was like a month later that I actually did call her because I didn't know what it was. So I called her and she asked me what I was writing and I said, well, I have these things that I was writing I think in rehab. And so I showed them to her and she said, this is a memoir. And then, you know, other things happened like to pull it together into a more readable project. She and I worked on it together. That's how it happened. Like, you know, one day she called me and she said somebody wants to publish it. And I was like, are you crazy? Like are...That's insane. I kind of was discovered I guess, I don't know, like a Hollywood starlet. I don't know.

Laura Maylene Walter (07:50):
I love that story so much because I mean, I don't know, maybe that happens more often in other places, but I feel like I don't hear about that often about an agent, like a scout being in the audience of a live performance and then.

Brian Broome (08:03):
I know!

Laura Maylene Walter (08:04):
And then introducing herself.

Brian Broome (08:06):

Laura Maylene Walter (08:06):
And setting you on this path. I mean it's, you know how rough the publishing industry can be and it's so fantastic.

Brian Broome (08:13):

Laura Maylene Walter (08:13):
Clearly your agent can spot the voice when she hears it. Yeah.

Brian Broome (08:19):
Yeah. I learned a lot during that time. Like I just learned so much about how books get made, how books don't get made, like about being subject to editing.

Laura Maylene Walter (08:29):
Is there one thing that maybe surprised you that you'd like to share about that whole process?

Brian Broome (08:34):
What surprised me first, this is going to sound so dumb. Was that like you don't just write a book and then give it to somebody and they publish it. There's a huge process. I knew I kind of knew what editing was, but I had only really ever been in workshops for writing where people like sort of suggest things and you know, and you can take it or leave it. But like I was working with my editor Rakia and she was very, very good first of all. But second of all, I was very surprised to hear things like, this doesn't work, this thing that you're doing does not work at all. Like take it out. And of course as a writer we're also sensitive. I was like upset and sometimes angry that she was like actually doing her job. That was like the first thing that surprised me. I didn't know that they don't give you a whole butt load of money upfront. Like there are stages to putting a book into the world. I didn't know that, once the book is done, like a lot of other people get involved and it feels like somebody's taking away your baby. It feels like somebody, like it's now in the hands of like all these other people and you don't know these other people. And like there were just a lot of surprises. And also I was surprised by how long it freaking takes.

Laura Maylene Walter (09:46):
Yeah. Like at least 18 months usually. Yeah.

Brian Broome (09:49):
Yeah, I mean I was like, can't we just put a book out? And then like when it was time to put the book out, I was like, oh, can I take this back? I don't want to do this anymore.

Laura Maylene Walter (09:57):
<laugh> That's how I was on the, I think it was the second pass of proofs, you know, and I, I've worked as an editor in the past and it's not that I didn't know about the process, but when my novel came out I remember just thinking, this is so, it's so time consuming. All the copyedits, and the proofs, and all the stages, and all the meetings and you're right. All the different people that get involved.

Brian Broome (10:16):

Laura Maylene Walter (10:16):
It is a really complicated process.

Brian Broome (10:19):

Laura Maylene Walter (10:19):
Since you mentioned the basketball essay, do you want to just briefly kind of share the premise of that with our listeners so they can get a taste of the essay that led to your discovery?

Brian Broome (10:28):
Absolutely. Like, because I was just out of rehab and I didn't wanna relapse, I would go do these like open mic nights at different places and I had a lot of energy. And so I also have to say that I acted this story out as I was on stage. But the story is about me being absolutely head over heels for this European, handsome man who was really into black dudes who were athletic. And I am not athletic. But in order to keep his interest, I told him that I was athletic and he particularly liked basketball players. He liked Michael Jordan and he liked Ewing and like all these, you know, he was really turned on by that...This sort of fetish of the athletic black man. And so I told him for weeks that I was such a black man. And then one day he showed up, we were going to go to lunch or do something and he showed up with a basketball and I tried to put him off and be like, oh, you know, not right now, but he was like, hey, there's a basketball court just up the street, you know, I want to see you strut your stuff.

Brian Broome (11:34):
And then yeah, I mean you have to read it to uh...

Laura Maylene Walter (11:38):
Yes listeners, you have to read this <laugh>. I mean I have already admitted I cringe so hard. And now I'm thinking cause it's so vividly described, but now I'm imagining you on stage acting it out and I don't know if I could even handle it. I don't know.

Brian Broome (11:51):
Oh my god.

Laura Maylene Walter (11:52):
Trying to picture it. But I also loved about that essay...I marked a line.

Laura Maylene Walter (11:57):
"I didn't quite know where to place my feet or my hands. I tried to watch the other boys when they did it with seemingly no effort. I tried to mimic them even when they missed the basket, it still looked elegant."

Laura Maylene Walter (12:08):
And I love that because it speaks to I think, other larger themes in, in the memoir about not feeling like you belong or you know, feeling so separate and apart from other boys and how they're behaving and their expectations. So I really love that. I thought that was great.

Brian Broome (12:22):
Thank you. I mean they did make it seem like effortless and it was a lot of effort on my part just to sort of like act the part of being a boy. You know, it was very, very tiring to say the least.

Laura Maylene Walter (12:34):
For listeners who have not yet read the book, there are definitely a lot of heavy things and dark moments, but a lot of humor too. And I would love to talk about the structure, which I think is twofold. So first you have the sections broken down by lines of "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks, but also the structure alternates between present day scenes of being on a bus, witnessing a very young boy and his father interacting on the bus and then longer essays that take us back to your youth. Can you talk about that structure a bit? How you came to it and how all those pieces managed to come together?

Brian Broome (13:14):
My students often ask about this too and like, I have to say this and then people might fight with me. But I think it really is a ADHD like...I have it, I took medication for it for a while but I felt really weird on the medication so I stopped taking it. And when I am not on that medication I cannot stick with one storyline for very long. I'm like, what if I go back in time? What if I go back and forth and switch back and forth between scenes and like hope the reader like understands like, and work really hard to make sure that the reader can understand that I'm not confusing anybody, you know? But the structure came about just because I wanted to do so many things at once. I wanted to incorporate the Gwendolyn Brooks poem. I wanted to incorporate, like my ride on the bus.

Brian Broome (14:02):
There were other things that I wanted to incorporate that my editor was just like, please stop incorporating things. Like you have to stop because it's getting like too muddy. Thank God for her. Don't get me wrong, I truly admire authors who can like start a story and tell a really great story up until the end. I don't know that I will ever be able to do that. But that kind of structure, even for my own personal reading is really entertaining. Like I'm reading the ARC of a friend of mine right now and he also doesn't like stick with, you know, the same sort of story. Like he tells different stories within a story and he goes back and forth in time and that's the kind of reading I find gratifying. So therefore I think I kind of write like that as well.

Laura Maylene Walter (14:41):
Yeah, same. I agree. Well and speaking of trying new things and innovative either structures or patterns in a book, you have a really interesting break in form or point of view with a part of the book that is written in the voice of your mother. Would you like to talk about that a bit? How you came to that decision and what you felt it added to your story?

Brian Broome (15:04):
How I came to the decision was like, I was just so sick of me. I was so sick of writing about like me, I was so tired of me, me, me, you know? It's a memoir. And then I thought, well who in the world knows you better than your mother? She knows things about you that you don't even know. She's seen every moment. And so I tricked her. I did tell her that I wanted to interview her but I didn't tell her what for. And we went into, I think it was like over a holiday, like a Thanksgiving or a Christmas. And we were at my aunt's house and I took my mom into my aunt's bedroom and we closed the door and I had like a microphone and a little recording pack and I was really very shocked because my mother is a very private person and when I asked her about certain things and told her that she didn't have to talk about them, she was very open to it.

Brian Broome (15:56):
Like I think, I think our parents just hit a certain age and they're like, I don't care anymore. Like you can just know the whole damn thing. So my mother told me her story, which I didn't know. I did not know all of it. I did not know she was an umbrella girl at a department store. I mean we don't even really have department stores like that anymore. And it's weird to think of your mother as being 19. And so I learned a lot about her sitting there listening to her story really for the first time. And I learned a lot about myself in that interview as well. I was very scared that I wouldn't get it right because my mother is, she's not an overly emotional person. So she just was telling me facts. She never told me how she felt about her situation.

Brian Broome (16:37):
And so what I did was I took the recording and I listened to her facts and I tried to sort of imbue that with, you know, how would I feel if I were basically a teenage girl and I was forced to marry some dude that I really didn't know. I would feel lonely, I would feel trapped. And fortunately for me, when my mother did read the book, she told me that I got it just right. And so that was another great moment that came from that. There are also not great moments that came from me writing this memoir. There are some family members who aren't happy with me right now. So when you do write a memoir you kind of have to know if you tell the truth or your truth. There are plenty of people who are not going to like it.

Laura Maylene Walter (17:23):
Yeah. And your truth is the right way of putting it too. Do you have any other advice or perspective to offer up and coming memoirists who are grappling with some of these issues with their family?

Brian Broome (17:36):
You're not always right. There's one thing in the book that I got wrong and my mother told me about it. I used to really hate the place where I grew up. I hated the house that we lived in. It wasn't a great house, it was like a sort of a shack. I mean it was clear that the people who lived inside of it didn't have any money. So I always hated it because I would see like, you know, all these TV families that always seemed to have money and I didn't know what was wrong with us. And so I described the house as junkie and falling down and I also said in the book that there was always junk in the backyard, like auto parts and lawnmower parts and things like that. And that it was horrible. It was this horrible junkyard landscape. And my mother read that and she was like, that is not correct.

Brian Broome (18:20):
She was like, if you think back, my mother had gone to great panes to plant like these beautiful flowers in the backyard. Right? And when she said that it immediately I was like, oh my god, you're right. But because I hated it so much because I hated that house so much in my mind, all I could see was a junkyard when in fact there were tulips and daisies and like all these great flowers that my mother...and a grape arbor. We used to go out back and there was like grapes, you know, at a certain point. So it was like this Eden in the backyard that my mother went out of her way to create. But because I hated it so much, it colored everything and in place of the flowers I put junk. So you have to realize like while it's your truth, your truth isn't always, you know, unassailable as well.

Laura Maylene Walter (19:10):
Yeah, memory is really twisted and not always correct. And I'm sure that was painful for your mother to read in some ways. And on the other hand, you were writing truthfully to your memory at the time as much as you could.

Brian Broome (19:22):

Laura Maylene Walter (19:22):
So it's, yeah, it's tough. And I, I'll tell listeners that my copy of your book is signed not only by you but also by your mother because this was...

Brian Broome (19:30):
It is!

Laura Maylene Walter (19:30):
At your...when you came out to Akron with the Neo MFA program where I was teaching and she was there and signed books. Can you talk a bit about that? What do you think that might have meant to her and has she done this before or was this a unique experience?

Brian Broome (19:44):
She had done it one time before and she had a lot of fun with it. Like my very first book event, which was in Pittsburgh, my mother came and it was at a bookstore and I was like, come on up. I just kind of did it on the lark and, and she seemed to really enjoy it. And so Akron is again close to where my mother lives and and she came and she signed books again. You know, I think what it means to her...I'm not really sure I know what it means to me. I'm just like, everybody's like I want my mommy to be proud of me. And that's a really great feeling considering my mother has come a a long way in terms of like knowing that her son is gay and a lot of my like weird ideas, like you know about feminism and things like that. Like she actually is learning like, we had this really great conversation because when she says LGBTQ+, like she always mixes up the letters <laugh>.

Laura Maylene Walter (20:36):
That's endearing.

Brian Broome (20:37):
And so we had this really great conversation where we went through each of the letters to like sort of talk about what they mean. So now she says LGBTQ+. Rolls right off her tongue. So this is a really big deal I think for an old black woman who was raised in the church and was taught all those things that people get taught about who is going to hell. So yeah, to have her up there signing books with her like gay son is a really big deal.

Laura Maylene Walter (21:07):
And she was very charming and delightful. Definitely.

Brian Broome (21:09):
She is. That's where, that's where I get it.

Laura Maylene Walter (21:12):
That's where you get it. Yes.

Brian Broome (21:13):

Laura Maylene Walter (21:14):
So then on the other end of the spectrum we also have your father is a big focus of this memoir and you know, the book is so much about growing up in a place with all the pressures and the expectations in this culture where you're not supposed to be gay. You're supposed to be a man, remember you're a boy. And one line that shows where the title of the book comes from that is really striking.

Laura Maylene Walter (21:38):
"Any black boy who did not signify how manly he was at all times deserved to be punched back up to God and be remade, reshaped."

Laura Maylene Walter (21:47):
So that kind of pressure and that violence is a really big backbone of the book. Do you want to talk about that a bit or how your process for writing about your father, which I imagine was sometimes painful and how you feel you were able to convey that to match your vision for this book?

Brian Broome (22:04):
The thing about my father is that I didn't know him. And I think that's what happens with a lot of fathers because this thing that we do to men in our culture and other cultures like it is very strange. It's like you cannot be emotional, you cannot appear vulnerable, you cannot do anything other than work. That's your value. That sort of dawned on me after a while. My father thought his only value was to bring money into the house. It also conveniently works really well for capitalism too, when you have a nation full of men who think that their only value is in their work. My father, like writing about him was difficult because I, I think in the pages of the book you don't really get to know him. A lot of people have called him like the villain and he's really not. I mean he did horrible things, but in a lot of ways he did those horrible things because society, he didn't know any better.

Brian Broome (22:57):
He didn't know anything else. And when he lost his job, he spiraled into depression, although there was no name for that then particularly not for men. And he began I think on a self-destructive path. Like my father didn't want to live anymore, he didn't do it with drink or drugs or anything like that, he just withered away. And so writing about him from that place, you know, it made me less angry. This could have been a book that was about like, I hate him, I hate him, I hate him, but I don't hate him because I realized kind of, you know, what he went through. Also I found out after the book was published, my mother and I were having a conversation, this is something else that I didn't know. My father was horribly abused as a child by his father. Like his father would frequently... Imagine this. His father would frequently knock him unconscious with blows. And I know this sounds strange too, like he was really trying to be gentle with me with his beatings.

Laura Maylene Walter (23:57):
Yeah, he didn't knock you unconscious, so...

Brian Broome (23:58):
Exactly. Like, I mean that's a weird thing I think for people

Laura Maylene Walter (24:02):

Brian Broome (24:02):
Take abuse as abuse and that's true. But like,

Laura Maylene Walter (24:04):
But he was also maybe doing the best he could, which is...

Brian Broome (24:07):
He was doing the best he could because there was such a rage inside of him I think at all times. Particularly after he lost his job and after he started sort of like, you know, losing control over my mother. He was kind of typical man in a lot of ways in that he really didn't know how to express or say the things that he needed to say. And so therefore I think he died pretty lonely. He died without really any friends. And I think that is a sad case for a lot of American men or maybe just a lot of men in general. They don't really make connections and therefore their lives are somewhat empty. So writing about him from that place I think just gave me a little bit more sympathy for him as a character.

Laura Maylene Walter (24:52):
Yeah, absolutely. I'm thinking now of a scene closer to the end of the book and I won't say too much so I, we can let the listeners go out and read it themselves. But in this scene you're in a bar with a friend and there's of course alcohol, there's drugs going on and you're talking about how you don't want to go home to see your ailing father. And as your reasons keep kind of spewing out like word vomit, stream of consciousness, just listening off all the horrible things and all the reasons why you don't. And the more these things are being listed in dialogue, in this breathless dialogue, the more my sympathy grew for him, you know?

Brian Broome (25:26):

Laura Maylene Walter (25:26):
Because it's complicated, it's horrible but it's also really complex and I think that's what your memoir captures so beautifully.

Brian Broome (25:32):
Thank you. Yeah, it is, it's very complicated. People ask me sometimes like, what do you think your father would think of you now? And I'm like, I really honestly don't know. There's so much about him that I just don't know. My mother had to tell me he was abused. I don't know what he liked. I don't know what he didn't like. The only thing I really knew about him is that he was miserable all the time. Except for fish. He liked aquariums. That's it. That's all I have to go on. And his funeral was not well attended, you know, unfortunately. My mother who had been long gone from his life I think was pretty much the only person there. And that's a sad, that's a sad way to go I think.

Laura Maylene Walter (26:15):
Okay. One more question about the book before we move on to a few quick listener questions.

Brian Broome (26:20):

Laura Maylene Walter (26:21):
Another part of the book I really enjoyed was Bee, which is about a spelling bee you competed in in school. And in this moment of sort of imagining what could be possible if you win the spelling bee. There's some great moments where you're thinking, "I could become a teacher myself wherever they hire black man teachers. I will treat all my students the same. I won't accuse them of cheating and lying. I won't yell at them all day the way [this teacher] does. I would be a good teacher." That really struck me because I know you have done some teaching now and so I'm curious if you can share maybe your teaching philosophy just in general or in particular for students of color or what you would hope to help impart on up and coming writers.

Brian Broome (27:06):
I hope in my students I'm like, write what you want but also try to experiment a little bit. You know, Toni Morrison said to her students like, don't write about your little self. Like nobody cares. Like try to imagine somebody else's viewpoint. One of my writing prompts I give is like, okay, so think about some horrible thing someone did to you. What is it? You know, some slight or some lie they told or something like that. Nothing traumatic. Just think about somebody who pissed you off, right. Now, write the story but write it from their perspective. You are now a character in their story, so write that. So I try to like move the perspective a little bit. A lot of times when we sit down and write about ourselves it becomes this litany of complaint. And I don't think that that's interesting for the reader to hear about how great you are and how horrible everybody else is because you know, you're fucked up too.

Brian Broome (28:00):
I think that when you admit that on the page, that's a great thing that also frees you up a little bit. So as far as my students go, I'm like, tell me everything. Tell me as much as you're comfortable telling me. We're not going do the five paragraph essay. Like keep going, keep going and use as many curse words as you want and call people horrible names but have it have a purpose. And you know, when you're dealing with first time, particularly first year college students, like it's such a breath of fresh air for them. And also keep in mind that the reader is the most important thing in this equation. You have to keep that in mind.

Laura Maylene Walter (28:32):
That's really good advice. Listeners, again, the memoir is PUNCH ME UP TO THE GODS by Brian Broom. Please go out and read this book, preferably get it from an independent bookstore or a library. Do you have a particular bookstore maybe in Pittsburgh that you recommend?

Brian Broome (28:49):
White Whale!

Laura Maylene Walter (28:49):
Great, great <laugh> and I'll provide a link too.

Brian Broome (28:52):
Yes, the White Whale bookstore, it's amazing. And I go in there all the time and if you're in there you might run into me because they have a really lovely cafe as well now. And I love the owners and they sell good books.

Laura Maylene Walter (29:03):
Well and Pittsburgh is not far at all over the border from Ohio. So listeners head out that way. Pittsburgh is great. Anyway, so enjoy a Pittsburgh trip.

Brian Broome (29:10):
It is.

Laura Maylene Walter (29:12):
Okay, we have some listener questions and thank you so much for agreeing to answer them. The first one is a big question. It comes from Brandon North in Dayton, and I'll shorten it just a little, but Brandon asks, "The majority of the country is working class and an even greater majority of the minorities in the country are working class. The cost to have time to write, to hire readers and editors and contest submission fees can quickly add up. And there isn't much help that caters to working class writers outside of these limited first come first serve fee waivers for submissions." So he asks, "What can we do to get more publishing opportunities and financial support explicitly for working class writers all to improve the diversity of who is writing out there." So again, I know this is a huge question. We are not going to solve all of society's problems right now, but maybe generally you can talk about your thoughts on writers who don't come from means and who are trying to make it in this field that traditionally has benefited those who are privileged.

Brian Broome (30:13):
Yeah, I mean that is a fantastic question for which I don't have a really great answer and I wish I did. Yeah, I really, really do because it's important. What he's asking is important and I don't want to seem like I'm like glossing over it or like I just don't want to answer it. I just don't have any answers. Like my experience was one where I did go out and seek out a lot of opportunities. I just kept saying yes when anybody would ask me to do anything before publication of the book. But I don't know, like I, if you go on Submittable it's like fifty bucks. Which is a lot of money to like submit a piece of writing and then you may not even win. And like, you know, I don't know, I don't have a great answer. I don't know how to self-publish. I don't know what that costs. I apologize to Brandon for having such a really weak answer, but somebody has to do something to give working class and, and you know, lower middle class writers an opportunity that doesn't involve going so deeply into their pockets.

Laura Maylene Walter (31:14):
Even if we don't have the answer for Brandon, because it is sort of impossible. If we could solve it, imagine how great that would be if we could just snap our fingers and fix it. It highlights a real problem. And he goes on to mention that middle and upper class perspectives are those most represented in our literature.

Brian Broome (31:30):

Laura Maylene Walter (31:30):
And yeah, that's a problem. I know Brandon already knows about Literary Cleveland, but depending writers on which community you live in, maybe try to seek out if you're lucky enough to be in a place like this where we have multiple nonprofits that do offer free opportunities, fellowships, scholarships, things like that to help nurture your writing. But I know not everywhere has something like that. So.

Brian Broome (31:53):

Laura Maylene Walter (31:53):
Stay involved with your community, maybe try to start something and work with other people, but no, it's a challenge. It's a real challenge.

Brian Broome (31:59):
My first published piece came from Submittable and it was free. There are things on there that are free.

Laura Maylene Walter (32:05):

Brian Broome (32:06):
And the more of those you compile, like the more somebody's going to see it. And that was my very first published thing and I took it to everybody. I showed everybody, like, it's an unfortunate thing that mirrors so many other things in our society about how the less money you have, the less your voice is heard. So I do wish I had a better answer, but I just don't.

Laura Maylene Walter (32:29):
You had mentioned contests on Submittable and for me over the years, my pet peeve has been the increase in submission fees for submissions. And I've worked as a literary journal editor, so I sort of get why. But when you're asking everyone to always pay three or four dollars for every story or packet of poems that or essay that you're submitting, it adds up really fast. And some journals will have like free periods where the first week of the month or whatever it's free, which of course puts a burden on people to track those and try to get in on the time.

Brian Broome (32:59):

Laura Maylene Walter (33:00):
So that's not perfect, but maybe it is just talking about it more, I don't know, being more vocal asking journals, why don't they have more free periods? Maybe that's a start. But yeah, it's, it's a big issue.

Brian Broome (33:11):
I never really had a whole lot of luck with literary journals. Like, I was spending money, like I did set aside money every month. Like, okay, this is the amount I'm spending on submissions and it was never enough. So I think I won one thing.

Laura Maylene Walter (33:27):
Yeah. The odds of either contest or regular submission, the odds of acceptance are so low that you'll be...

Brian Broome (33:33):

Laura Maylene Walter (33:33):
Blazing through a lot of money. So Brandon, we tried, if you have other ideas, Brandon, get back in touch with Page Count and we'll see what we can do. Okay. And our, our second and last question is from Liz in Lakewood who asks, "What's your favorite literary drama or scandal?" And I think the word "favorite" here is meant tongue in cheek. We don't approve of what's happening here, but the literary world is rife with scandals and drama and news stories. So is there anything of late that you found most notable that you'd like to chat about briefly?

Brian Broome (34:04):
I can't remember the name of the author, but you know, this sort of Goodreads bombing that happened recently with I think she was a fantasy writer?

Laura Maylene Walter (34:14):
In short, if I'm getting this correctly, it was an author with a book I believe about to come out. And the author went on Goodreads and gave one star reviews and terrible reviews to a lot of other authors in what I would call her debut group? Or the other authors having books come out at the same time. You know, just slamming those books on Goodreads to lower their rating. And it happened that a lot of the books she did that for were by authors of color. It's very ugly.

Brian Broome (34:44):
You know, I don't love this scandal, but certainly interesting in the sense that, I guess I just was naïve as to how badly people want it, you know what I mean? Like to go on and just trash other...I always assumed that the literary world was just sort of like really nice and people were nice to each other and like, you know, and read each other's books. And I mean certainly naïve, but that scandal was one that just reminded me like how ugly it can get when somebody is trying to succeed. And you know, there were certainly racist overtones to what she did and like, you know, a lot of people were very angry and then she brought in mental health and said it was a mental health crisis. So the story just kept getting deeper and deeper and like I was left with this like, oh my God, we're talking about books. Books are gentle, books are kind, books are good for us, you know. How did this get this nasty? So like you said, it's not a favorite. I don't enjoy it.

Laura Maylene Walter (35:36):
No, no.

Brian Broome (35:37):
Definitely interesting that stuff like this goes on.

Laura Maylene Walter (35:41):
And I think it highlights the other problem with Goodreads, which I don't know about you, but as an author, I can't even bear to go on there. But the fact that Goodreads allows people to review books that have not even been published or sometimes haven't even been written. There's no ARCs available. There's no way someone could have read this book. And yet it's getting one star reviews. And I... It's a problem.

Brian Broome (36:02):
I learned my Goodreads lesson very early on when my book came out. I was like, I'll go on Goodreads and see what the people are saying. And like the first thing I read was like somebody who was like, oh my God, it was horrible. It wasn't even really about the book. They were sort of attacking me personally.

Laura Maylene Walter (36:18):
Yeah. And especially with a memoir, that would be hard.

Brian Broome (36:21):
Oh yeah. I was like, Ooh, I'm just gonna close this browser right now and I'm never going to go on this again. And also what was really frustrating is that the writer didn't get what I was doing.

Laura Maylene Walter (36:32):
Of course not.

Brian Broome (36:33):
They were like, why is he breaking up these paragraphs with these lines in this poem? Like it doesn't make any sense. I'm so confused. And what I want to do is be like, you are dumb.

Laura Maylene Walter (36:42):
Wouldn't we all like to say that sometimes? <laugh>

Brian Broome (36:45):

Laura Maylene Walter (36:45):
It's frustrating.

Brian Broome (36:45):
Because you want to defend yourself. This is driving me into a dark mental health place.

Laura Maylene Walter (36:49):
It is true. Even when I went on it just a few times, like with one eye half shut when my novel came out and I found that even if I didn't read anything really bad, which of course I did, all writers get some really bad or misinformed reviews. But even when I wasn't seeing anything bad, even if it was a lot of good stuff, I realized I felt terrible the whole time. Like I approached it with dread. I felt bad about myself. I would close it and be at work or whatever and realize I just felt terrible. And I'd have to stop and consciously ask myself, why do I feel so bad right now? And it would be because I went on Goodreads. So that pretty much cured me of it. I just thought it is better without, it's not for writers. It's not for writers.

Brian Broome (37:32):
It's not at all like even the good ones, even though they say, oh, I like how he does this thing and he does, he does this thing. In your mind, you're like, okay, well maybe I should do more of that. And so you writing doesn't evolve. Like, you know, even when you do get good reviews on that site, you know, you read twenty good ones and then there's one person who's like, this writer stinks. What's the review that's going to stick in your mind?

Laura Maylene Walter (37:58):
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Brian Broome (37:59):
It doesn't do any good. And like this woman who wrote this book and then went to slam other authors, they were using that, that very exploitable thing about Goodreads that you know is an open hole.

Laura Maylene Walter (38:13):

Brian Broome (38:13):
People read a bad review, that's the one that sticks in their mind and they're not going to buy that book.

Laura Maylene Walter (38:19):
We should wrap up, we're about out of time, but listeners, after hearing that Goodreads story, be good literary citizens. Don't treat other writers poorly and be a great literary citizen by reading Brian's memoir. So go out and get it today. Brian, thank you so much for joining us, I really appreciate it.

Brian Broome (38:35):
Thank you, Laura. I appreciated being here.

Laura Maylene Walter (38:47):
Page Count is presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate, and leave a review for Page Count wherever you get your podcasts. Learn more online or find a transcript of this episode at Follow us on Instagram @ohiocenterforthebook, on Twitter @cplocfb, or find us on Facebook. If you'd like to get in touch, email and put "podcast" in the subject line. Finally, follow me on Instagram and Twitter @LauraMaylene. Thanks for listening, and we'll be back in two weeks for another chapter of Page Count.

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