Norman Einstein’s Part 6: with Brian Blickenstaff

If you haven’t heard by now, the Norman Einstein’s Sports & Rocket Science Monthly was an online sports publication that produced twenty-one issues in total.

Earlier this month, Norman Einstein’s creator Cian O’Day launched The Normanthology Kickstarter campaign to collect the best of the issues in one print volume.

So far I’ve chatted with Cian O’Day, Fredorrarci, Jason Clinkscales and Graydon Gordian and Stephanie Lim about their involvement with the project.

Today, it’s Brian Blickenstaff, writer and geographer. Brian’s done work for ESPN, Slate, The Classical and much more.

You can find all of this Norman Einstein’s contributions here. I highly recommend 48 Seconds: Curtis Johnson Jr Fights For A Dream and Wind & Wonder: the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race.

Q: Tell me about you found out about Norman Einstein’s?

I started a soccer blog called Touch and Tactics but didn’t really keep up with it for more than nine months.

At that point I was only getting around five readers per post and the whole thing depressed me.

I wanted a bigger audience.

I was also writing occasional pieces for Run Of Play, which was basically the king of all soccer blogs at the time. 

I liked the exposure it was giving me but wanted to write about things other than soccer.

I looked at what some of the other contributors on the site were doing and discovered that Fredorrarci wrote for Norman Einstein’s. I thought the site was really cool and sent Cian O’Day an email asking if he needed contributors.

He seemed really excited to have me contribute.

It was a great feeling.

Q: How was your experience with Einstein’s and in what way did it influence you as a writer?

The only time I’ve ever felt like a member of a community of writers was when Norman Einstein’s was up and running.

Cian and the rest of the contributors would send these giant e-mails back and forth, pitching ideas and asking for feedback.

I find freelancing to be somewhat lonely, and it was great being part of something bigger.

I hope to find something similar one day.

Also, getting to know these people at such an early stage in my career was huge.

I still find e-mails from some of the other writers in my inbox once in a while. And I keep up with Patrick Truby, Cian, Fredorrarci, Eric Nusbaum and Graydon Gordian;  exchanging congratulations and things like that when one of us has a good story published, or just a random question.

Some of the guys have even given me heads up on possible gigs. Knowing people in the business is important — even if it’s just through e-mail — and I’m glad to know all of these guys.

I think they’re all going places.

Related, I still use 48 Seconds and Wind & Wonder as clips when I pitch stories.

Q: Any lessons learned?

More than anything, I realized what kind of writing I wanted to do. I’ve wanted to write for a living since I was a kid. It sounds funny, but I didn’t know what I wanted to write about for a long time.

I dabbled in short fiction and blogging, but after writing 48 Seconds and Wind & Wonder, I realized I wanted to write magazine features. That’s still my goal. So that was an important realization for me.

When I think back on the writing I did for Einstein’s, the thing I remember most was how fearless I was when I wrote those stories, thanks to Cian’s guidance. At the time I was brand new to this whole internet writing scene, so while there are occasional imperfections in the pieces, they also have a kind of raw momentum to them that I think Cian really helped bring out in my work. Today I sometimes wonder if I worry too much about not making mistakes (which doesn’t work, by the way). When you get too worried about mistakes you stop seeing the big picture. So for me, my work at Einstein’s is a reminder about being uninhibited and trusting people.

Q: All of the hard work must’ve been satisfying to some degree.

It gave me great satisfaction to have the latitude to write exactly the story I wanted to write and know that Cian was totally on board with the direction I wanted to go. I think I really understood the kinds of stories he wanted in Norman Einstein’s. He seemed to feel the same way, and he gave me a lot of rope.

Another satisfying moment came after writing 48 Seconds. I got a lot of positive feedback. It was a “wow, maybe I really can write for a living” moment.

I’m still not writing for a living full-time, but hopefully one day soon.

I’ve never had strangers respond to my work like that before.

It was a great feeling.

Q: Take me behind the scenes for 48 Seconds, one of mine and Cian’s favorite pieces from the publication.

In the piece, I mention my little brother.

For about four years, I was a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Every week or two during those for years, I’d hang out with my little brother for a couple of hours. We went to a lot of sporting events and things like that.

In 2010, my little brother had just started boxing at Hub City Boxing. He wanted me to see him practice, and I went and sat in the gym one afternoon to watched him, but really I watched Mr. Johnson train his son and Felix.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the training they were doing in the ring. The footwork was so precise. I had no idea. Before they had started the training session, I learned their professional debuts were coming up and I knew right then I had a story.

So I watched them practice and then did some interviews and realized Hattiesburg had a history as something of a boxing town, at least relative to the rest of south Mississippi.

The fight was kind of pitched as a return to Hattiesburg’s boxing roots.

In my story I wanted to try to capture the history as well as the feeling that this little professional fight was a big deal for the community — especially the African American community, which my brother and all the fighters were members of.

I wrote about half the story from the passenger seat of my Corolla as my wife and I took turns driving south from Wisconsin, where we had vacationed that summer.

I wanted to capture the rawness of low-level professional fighting and so I tried to keep my sentences short.

Originally, I wrote a really lame ending that captured exactly zero of the emotion and energy in the room at the end of the fights.

Irene, my wife, read it and told me I had to come up with something more because the ending sucked.

I went and sat on my bed and decided to just write about my little brother’s excitement and my realization that it wasn’t just him that was excited and dreamy afterward, but the whole community.

Q: Lastly, if you had to pitch Norman Einstein’s to someone.

I’d say it’s an alternative, sports-based monthly full of good, young writers.

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  1. stevenlebron posted this

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