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Vermont author Martha Oliver-Smith, whose memoir about her grandmother, Martha's Mandala, came out in November 2014 from Spuyten Duyvil.

This week’s  Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Martha Oliver-Smith, whose grandmother made many lists. Make a list – a practical one, such as a grocery list or a to-do list, or an unusual far-flung list, such as what you would like to do in your next life, or things you learned about some abstract concept (love or fear) - or someone. In Patty Oliver-Smith’s case, it was her grandmother and the many things she learned from her - in no particular order.

Things My Grandmother Gave To Me and Taught Me:

She read to me and taught me how to read.

That one should always try to be kind.

She taught me how to darn socks, a skill I have never needed, thank god, but I am glad to recognize what a darning egg is.

That one should always be respectful and gentle with animals because they know and feel things that we cannot.

To watch out for fairies sleeping under the flowers in the garden.

There are numinous places everywhere. 

She sang to me, songs and lullabies that I sang to my own children.

How to play solitaire, and I am addicted to it--as she was.

That the concerns and work of men carried more weight in the world than those of women. Though she never said this to me, it came from one of the voices in her mind, and I learned it; now I continue to un-learn it. 

She taught me how to make a good vinaigrette dressing, even though she hated to cook and only made salads and dried-up hamburgers or baked eggs on the cook's days off.

She tried to teach me to paint with watercolors, but I had no patience or talent for it.

She listened.

She taught me to study and listen to people. 

That people are both funny and sad--sometimes at the same time.

That organized religion is not all it pretends to be, and faith and belief are two different things.

She explained what a paradox is and showed me how to live it, in it, with it.

She never told me I couldn't do something because I was a girl.

She gave me her gold bracelet with the name "martha" sculpted into it. I wear it for both of us when I have to present myself to the world as a serious grown-up.

She gave me her mandala.

The list itself can become a poem as you revise its linear form for line breaks, patterns, images, sounds etc. If you are working in prose, one or every item on the list can escape from the linear column with individual items to become a meditation expanded and elaborated with images, stories or scenes. The list can become a lyric or braided essay, depending on how far and deep you want to take the memory, imagination and language. The list will add up, whether short or long to something important that’s on your mind or in your heart. i.e. Why do you want/need those things on the grocery list or in your next life? What necessity, what memories of moments or scenes led to those items on the list?

Good luck with this exercise, and listen next week for another.

Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students. 

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Vermont poet Angela Patten, author of the new collection, In Praise of Usefulnesspublished by Wind Ridge Books of Vermont.

This week’s Write The Book Prompt is the one that led Angela Patten to write the poem "Tabula Rasa." Her husband, Daniel Lusk, recommended it to her; write about about something that happened to you that you can not remember. This will probably mean something that happened when you were so small, you don’t have access to those memories. But I suppose it could mean something that happened when you were medicated, or ill, or asleep. Maybe even something that happened to you before you were born.
Good luck with this exercise, and listen next week for another.
Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students. 
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Veteran Boston Globe Reporter Stephen Kurkjian, author of Master Thieves, the story of the the largest art theft in history, published by PublicAffairs.

This week's Write the Book Prompt is to bring suspense to your (creative) nonfiction by writing certain pivotal moments in scene, rather than summarizing the historical facts. If you are able, include dialogue, eye contact, movement and sensory detail. This was an aspect of Master Thieves that I found engaging: that Stephen Kurkjian was able to inform readers about the events of the Gardner heist by bringing us into the moments that counted.
Good luck with this exercise, and listen next week for another.
Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students. 

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Interview from 2011 with Kristin Kimball, author of The Dirty Life, published by Scribner.


This week's Write the Book Prompt has to do with the podcast I'll be airing tomorrow, about the book Master Thieves, by Stephen Kurkjian. Master Thieves concerns the Gardner Museum heist, which happened twenty-five years ago this month. (Stephen Kurkjian's publisher has embargoed all interviews until 3/11, and so I will air the podcast on that date.) Write about a theft. From bubblegum slipped into a small pocket, to a painting removed while an alarm goes off, theft can make for interesting fiction. Who commits the crime and why? Who is the victim--an elderly woman missing her purse, or a huge corporation missing their computer files? Is the thief conflicted? What does he or she stand to gain?
Good luck with this exercise, and listen next week for another.
Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students. 


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Interview from the archives with Pulitzer Prize Winning Author Geraldine Brooks, about her 2011 novel, Caleb's Crossing.

This week's Write the Book prompt concerns inclusion and exclusion. Write about a character who wants to fit in, but does not. Or write about a person who is popular, but wants to step outside of his or her usual role in some (intimidating) way: a cheerleader who wants to be on the football team, a prom queen who decides to come out, a class clown who becomes withdrawn. Play around with what makes us fit in, what makes us comfortable in a group, how we behave to accommodate others' expectations.
Good luck with this exercise, and listen next week for another.
Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students. 
Listen Now:


Vermont author and publishing consultant Kim MacQueen, whose novel People Who Hate America came out in the fall of 2014.  

Today's Write the Book Prompt is to write about a familiar setting, but place it in a different time period. If you write about that place in the past, do some research. Try to find pictures or interviews that shed light on what the area was like. Also, use your imagination. The fact that you know the place means that you can bring something to it from experience that might add warmth to the snapshot, the wiki entry. Perhaps in a photograph, you learn that a simple boathouse existed on the shore of your favorite bay. You already know what the water sounds like there, how the breezes feel and what direction they tend to take. Describe the old boathouse using your photo, describe the place using experience and emotional connection. Of coure, if you launch your setting into the future, you can take a lot more license. But still, try to stay honest to what you feel might change and what might stay the same. 

Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.  

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Archive interview with Vermont writer Laban Carrick Hill, author of over thirty books, including the historical picture book, Dave the Potter, and co-director of the Writers Project of Ghana, a nonprofit based in the Ghana and the US. In 2014, Laban Carrick Hill published the award winning When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop.

Today's Write the Book Prompt is to write about a person with some regimen that is challenged: a vegetarian who can only find a hamburger in the small town he is visiting; a Jewish mourner who is unable to find a synagogue in which to pray (or a minyan for a prayer service); a reserved mother who can't find a private place to nurse her hungry baby. 
Good luck with this exercise, and listen next week for another.
Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students. 
Listen Now:


Interview from the archives with Marilyn Graman, New York psychotherapist and co-principal of Life Works, an organization "committed to supporting people in having lives that are healthy, fulfilled and satisfied." Life Works books include The Female Power WithinThere is No Prince, and How To Be Cherished.


This week's Write the Book Prompt is to write about a character recalling a past relationship. Is your character missing an old love, relieved to be free of that person? Does your character consider looking someone up on Facebook? Is she a stalker? Is he being stalked? Take the story wherever it wants to go.
Good luck with this exercise, and listen next week for another.
Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students. 
Listen Now:


An interview from 2011 with bestselling novelist Heidi Durrow, Author of The Girl Who Fell From The Sky.

This week's Write the Book Prompt is to imagine yourself on a rooftop. Look around; where are you? What city? What country? What do you see in the distance? Nearer by? Right up close, at your feet? What is the surface of the roof? Is it hard to stand? How will you get down? Is there a door, a fire escape, another sort of ladder? What can you smell on the air? Are you exhilarated, frightened, lightheaded? Who is with you and how do you feel about that person?
Good luck with this exercise, and listen next week for another!
Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several South Burlington High School students.
Listen Now:


Literary Agent Emily Forland, of the Brandt Hochman Agency in New York. 

This week’s  Write The Book Prompt is to imagine what life might be like for an agent or an editor -- perhaps one with whom you’ve had interactions -- and write a scene from that person’s perspective. Write with empathy as you imagine that person’s job and circumstance.
Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.  
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