‘Charlatan’ author speaks to Oswego

Pope Brock 2

Non-fiction writer Pope Brock visited Oswego State on Nov. 30 to talk to students about non-fiction writing and the research required to write a good novel.

Brock began his career as a writer mostly for the thrill of having something to do.

"I got started in writing because I loved the idea of getting out of the house," Brock said. "I got to go places I wouldn’t normally go and got to talk to people I would never talk to."

Brock attended Harvard University, where he received is bachelor’s degree in journalism. He went on to graduate school at New York University.

In his career, Brock has written two novels and had writings featured in Rolling Stone, Esquire and GQ. Brock spent part of the lecture reading a short story he had published in the London Sunday Times about a man who would write letters to inmates at the London prison who had committed crimes against children. The man portrayed himself as a different persona for each inmate he sent letters to, pretending to be friends and getting them to admit to the crimes that they had previously denied committing.

Brock’s first book, "Indiana Gothic," deals with the murder of his great-grandfather, Ham Dillon, in 1908 by his brother-in-law, Link Hale. Brock was unaware of the story throughout his life until details began leaking slowly. He traveled back to Indiana from his home in New York to do research on his great-grandfather’s death and assemble a powerful novel that garnered high praise.

"Charlatan," Brock’s second book, centered around the true story of self-proclaimed doctor John Brinkley, who got rich off of implanting goat testicles into infertile men. While some praised his techniques as being "revolutionary," many of Brinkley’s patients succumbed to serious illness or death. Brinkley served as a polarizing figure, but it was professional quack-buster Morris Fishbein that managed to expose Brinkley as a charlatan.

As a non-fiction writer, Brock admits that the limitations attached to the genre can be challenging, but also rewarding. It took roughly two-and-a-half weeks for Brock to conduct research on Brinkley after stumbling upon his name on the "Museum of Hoaxes" Web site. While some despise the research process, Brock thoroughly enjoys the bookwork.

"The greatest thrill for me is doing the research," Brock said.

Brock’s beginnings as a writer dates back to when it was popular to read articles that were published in a magazine. Today, Brock believes that "storytelling in magazines is a dying art." While there are always going to be the die-hard readers who love reading stories in magazines, the majority of the population no longer turns to magazines to read short stories.

"The Internet had led to the demise of storytelling," Brock said. "With the Internet, a story gets pieced together from a variety of different Web sites and it is not the author’s own story."

Brock is currently working on his third book, which deals with the future of the moon. Brock says he has heard that many different countries have their own plans for inhabiting the moon. Some suggestions include establishing colonies, using the moon for mining purposes, setting up hotels and building sports arenas. Brock says that this book is causing him the most trouble to write compared to his other books.

At the conclusion of his lecture, Brock stressed the importance of non-fiction writing. Brock said that more readers are turning to non-fiction books as a means to learn about what’s happening in the world.