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Write The Book

Burlington VT radio show about writing. For writers and curious readers, featuring interviews with authors, poets, agents, editors, and illustrators. "Write The Book is a wonderful writing resource."

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Award-winning and best-selling author Jonathan Lethem with his new essay collection, More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers (Melville House).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by our guest, Jonathan Lethem. Writers are often encouraged to go out and eavesdrop in cafes and other places where people gather, in order to write down what they overhear and learn how dialogue works. Lethem suggests that we go out to watch people, but not so close that you can actually hear their conversations. Observe them talking to one another, and through interpreting gesture, expression, and attitude, write what you think they MAY be saying to each other.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

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New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff, whose latest novel is The Orphan's Tale (MIRA).

For today's Write the Book Prompt, Pam Jenoff kindly suggested that writers check out Nathalie Goldberg's "First Thoughts" freewriting exercise. I found a copy of the exercise online here, but investing in the original book,Writing Down the Bones, would be a good idea for any writer. It's a wonder, full of great ideas.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

 

 

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Author Robin Romm, who has edited the new essay collection Double Bind: Women on Ambition (Liveright). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by our guest, Robin Romm, who teaches at Warren Wilson’s low-residency MFA in Writing Program. One thing she says she loves to do as a writer is--at the end of a day--to write lists of very specific sensory things that she ran across that day. So perhaps a shirt, a clip of dialogue, a person’s face, in no particular order. Not feelings or facts, but colors, sounds, smells, dialogue. So the texture of the couch, or the way the cat looked lying in the sun, or something the mailman said as he waited for you to sign for a package. Having these lists leads to other things in interesting ways and gets you thinking like a writer. Robin says that these snippets will help to get rid of abstract worry and thought and help to focus on scene building.  The sensory and the concrete almost always lead you into more interesting material in a way that intellect almost never does.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Award-winning author Joseph Kertes, whose new novel is The Afterlife of Stars (Little Brown). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by our guest, Joseph Kertes, who has used it in his classes. He was once asked by a ten-year-old in his daughter’s class - where he led the after-school writing club - “How do you know if you’re a comic writer or a tragic writer?” He answered, "Well, I guess if you start writing and it’s funny, you’re a comic writer." Then he brought them this prompt, which resulted in both very sad and very funny writing outcomes.

My best friend in elementary school was born without a head. At recess, she ran like the wind.

So that’s our prompt for this week. Write in response to that sentence, and see if what you come up with is comic or tragic.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

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Award-Winning French Novelist Camille Laurens, author of who you think i am (Other Press). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt comes from Camille Laurens' book, who you think i am. At one point, the character Camille, who is a writing workshop leader, suggests an exercise called “Changing the Premise.” Here is how it’s described in the narrative:

Camille suggested we work on the theme "Changing the Premise.” The idea was to take our own experience as a starting point, a disappointing, unhappy or tragic experience …  to imagine a different version, a new development, a possible ending, to invent a narrative that would reorient the actual course of our lives.

This week, our prompt is to do this exercise. Rewrite a moment in your life that was disappointing in some way. Revise it, and see where it goes.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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British author Jane Corry, on her debut thriller, My Husband's Wife (Pamela Dorman Books). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Jane Corry. In fact, it was something she mentioned during the interview. Characters go through change in the progression of a narrative. To help you relate to the many ways in which a life can change, make a list of the larger events that have changed your life. Perhaps you’ll include births, deaths, and other lifecycle events. Did you ever experience an accident? A fire? An inheritance? Think about these larger events. Then make a list of the somewhat smaller things that have happened in the last month or even the last week. For example, if you missed a train, what did that change about your day? Did it impact some larger truth for you? What was the result? How might some similar events, small or large, change the lives of your characters?

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Award-winning Poet and Essayist Jim McGarrah, whose new poetry collection is The Truth About Mangoes (Lamar University Press).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Jim McGarrah. Having taught writing for many years, Jim has used this prompt in his classes and says it’s a useful exercise for beginning or seasoned writers. If you get stuck, take a sheet of paper and fold it longwise. On one side, write good. On the other, write bad. On the good side, brainstorm a list of traits that you’ve inherited, which you feel glad or grateful about. On the other side, the opposite—write about the traits that you feel are negative. Make the list as long as you want, but be sure you have 4-5 points on each side. Use the list to write a poem. Address a member of your family. You can begin with the words, “I blame you for… but I’m glad for…” This gives you a way to begin writing from the list. Look at Carolyn Forché’s poem “The Morning Baking." The poem, which is written in couplets, has to do with the poet and her grandma. Jim says this poem shows the conflict she feels about the traits she’s inherited. His students have had good luck working with this exercise.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Interview from the archives with Madeleine M. Kunin, Vermont's first woman governor, about her book The New Feminist Agenda: Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work, and Family (Chelsea Green).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about a prejudice you know yourself to have. Because, if we're honest, we probably all have them. I'll start. I avoid cars with a certain regional license plate, because I'm of the opinion that those drivers can not be trusted on the road. (No, I won't name the region.) Do you have a prejudice? How do you feel about it? Are you ashamed of it, proud of it? Do you work to get past it? 

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Interview from the archives with Paul Kindstedt, UVM Professor and Vermont Author of Cheese and Culture, A History of Cheese and Its Place in Western Civilization (Chelsea Green).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to find an interesting lens through which to tell a story. Today on the show, we’ve heard about the history of the world as seen through the development of cheese in various cultures. In mid-January, before joining WBTV, Write the Book featured an interview with Gregor Hens, whose new book Nicotine tells the story of his life seen through the lens of an addiction to cigarettes. What lens can you offer to tell a story in a particularly unique and engaging way?

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont author Jericho Parms, whose essay collection, Lost Wax, was published last fall by University of Georgia Press

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Jericho Parms. This prompt speaks to the process she sometimes used while writing the essays in Lost Wax. She calls it FINDING PROSE (OR POETRY) IN PAINTING:

  • Look at a painting (or sculpture, or image) and free write, in list or sentence form, everything you see. Be as specific and detailed as you can. No observation is too acute or obtuse. Think about color, texture, composition, form. Use your senses. Seek words to match the tone, the textures, the style.
  • Continuing your meditation, allow your thoughts and imagination to roam freely and beyond the canvas. Note any external images or memories that come to mind as you observe the artwork. Seek associations. What are you reminded of? When have you felt this before? What or who (when or where) do you find yourself thinking of/grappling with/curious about?

So that’s Jericho’s prompt for you this week. I’d add one other idea, which is to try your hand at a contour drawing of the painting you study, in much the same way that Jericho drew some of the works that inspired her in writing Lost Wax. The exercise would be to draw some representation of the piece in a single go, without ever raising your pencil. On the cover of Jericho's book, you can see the kind of outcome that such an exercise might inspire.

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Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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