Archive for the 'Books' Category

A conversation on blending the tangible and the ineffable in fiction, with two authors who do this beautifully. Steven Wingate's new novel is The Leave-Takers (Univ. of Nebraska Flyover Fiction Series). Maxim Loskutoff's debut novel is Ruthie Fear (Norton). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider how your work might benefit from an infusion of the ineffable. Your work might be strictly realistic, and yet even in life we encounter that which is hard to explain or express--that which inspires awe or fear. This might mean picking up on an unseen presence in a room, or perhaps conveying how it feels to lean over and drop a pebble into a canyon. Working to express something inexpressible simply has to be good for your writing.

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Matthew Salesses, author of Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping (Catapult).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Matthew Salesses. This comes from his book, Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping (Catapult), and is the tenth in his series of revision exercises. “Add a major source of outside complication to your story. That is, add something big that comes in and forces itself on the plot, something like a toxic spill or an earthquake or a war or a rabid dog or a serial killer or a rapture. Don’t make this a small insertion, but something that truly changes the story. You might think about what large outside force would connect thematically to the character arc. In other words, how can story arc and character arc inform each other and help each other to resonate? A toxic spill (and subsequent cover-up) might help a story in which a character is hiding a secret that would reveal him to be a dangerous person.”

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Author and journalist Andrea Williams, whose new middle-grade nonfiction book is Baseball's Leading Lady: Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues (Roaring Brook Press). 

In our conversation, Andrea Williams and I discussed a moment in history when Effa Manley spoke up at a meeting. Not only did she speak up, but she suggested that if the store she’d organized a boycott of didn’t start to employ African Americans, those potential employees would be forced to "work as prostitutes." It was a bold move, speaking in such a way at that time, and it worked.

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about a time that you took a chance to better a situation, putting yourself at risk for a good cause. This could be a situation that arose at work, or it could be about that time you convinced your Mom that your brother really had not been the one to break a vase by throwing a baseball in the house. Give yourself over to that memory and write.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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A conversation with two of YA's finest: Sharon G. Flake, whose new book is The Life I'm In, and Bill Konigsberg, whose latest novel is The Bridge (both are published by Scholastic). 

Both of my guests write about the pain, joy, discovery, and hope of the teenage years. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write a paragraph on each of those four subjects: pain, joy, discovery, hope, from the perspective of your own teenage self. Perhaps you are still a teenager. Or maybe you fit that description five years ago. Perhaps fifty. No matter the case, a young adult sensibility still lives in your memories and the person you became and are still becoming each day. Harness those feelings and memories, and write.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Columbia University Campbell Family Professor of Anthropology Claudio Lomnitz whose new memoir is Neustra América: My Family in the Vertigo of Translation (Other Press). 

My guest’s title, Nuestra America translates in English as Our America. In the case of Professor Lomnitz’s book, the title refers to his own family’s experience of America. But if you were to say them aloud, what might the words “Our America” mean to you? This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about that. Consider America, the continent or the country, as you interpret it, and whatever sense of ownership and community the word “Our” might bring to your own mind. In times of post-election fallout, particularly this year, it might be a good exercise for all of us. What is Our America, and who are “We?” Who is a member of Our America, from your viewpoint; what does that collective share in common, and what do you think about or hope for that group?

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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A conversation about setting with Susan Conley, author of Landslide, and Lauren Fox, author of Send For Me, both published by Knopf.

This week we have four Write the Book Prompts, thanks to the generosity of my guests. 

From Susan:

  • During the interview, Susan urges writers not to be fooled by "description for description's sake.” Instead of just being happy with beautiful sentences about place, take your setting to the next level with this activity: Go to a place that has the most heat for you in your mind, in your project. Think about that setting and "describe the heck out of it" in a free write for 2-4 minutes. Then in the second half of the prompt, bring a huge problem to that place. Susan suggests that two characters have a big fight in that setting. Suddenly you introduce complexity, which brings in place as conduit for trouble and emotion. Leap from pure description and the beautiful sentence to the catalyzing action. She says she speaks of this with humility, having come to fiction through poetry. She liked writing beautiful sentences. But now she realizes that, in fiction, action really is necessary. It's not enough to describe the ocean. You have to have, in her case, "a teenager imploding in a boat on the ocean."
  • Read "The Colonel," by Caroline Forché. A powerful poem, it begins, "What you have heard is true." Susan offers this line as a prompt for students and asks them to write without censorship for ten minutes. Something about that line often cracks open some big stuff for people. 

From Lauren:

  • Write a short scene, and then rewrite the same scene in a different setting. As Lauren mentions during our interview, playing with setting—inventing, changing, renaming, re-placing (literally)—can present opportunities that open up our work in new ways. 
  • She also suggests an exercise that both she and her husband have shared with students; he's an English professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Inspired by The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard (Library of America), the prompt is to write a series of sentences, all of which begin with "I remember." Lauren says that beginning with these two words tends to almost magically unlock memories and ideas. 

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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An interview from 2013 with Vermont Author Kathryn Davis. We discussed her novel Duplex (Graywolf Press).

How are you sleeping? Recently I realized that I know many people who, like me, were not sleeping particularly well in 2020, and some who still are not. We could discuss this at length, but instead, let’s write about it. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about sleep. Deep, happy sleep, fitful sleep, dreams, interrupted half-dreams, involuntary dozing in (Zoom) meetings, naps, medications, sleep walking, waking unexpectedly to something you can’t quite name. So much to work with, because sleep is universally vital.

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont author Ryan Scagnelli, whose debut is Where Is My Mind?: A Book About Depression. Based on Ryan’s own journey with depression, the novel came out in December through Amazon.

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Ryan Scagnelli. What would the world look like if men simply stepped aside, elevating women? Consider the ramifications: political, cultural, creative - whatever comes to mind - and write!

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

 

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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A conversation on plotting the so-called (one of our discussion points) literary novel. Margot Livesey's new novel is A Boy in the Field (Harper) and Jill McCorkle's latest is Hieroglyphics (Algonquin). 

This week we have four Write the Book Prompts, thanks to the generosity of my guests. You’ve heard Jill’s prompts. The two exercises she suggested for writers who aren’t sure what comes next for their plot was so great, I’m using them here as well. Jill’s teacher Max Steele originally suggested these first two exercises to her:

  • First, write a 1000-word sentence. In one sitting, spend the time to write out that four-page, double-spaced sentence. This will “clean out the attic,” as Jill puts it.
  • Another exercise is to complete the sentence “I wish.” Later, and hopefully without actively thinking of how these sentences might link or thematically relate, write out an early memory. After you’ve written about these two ideas, see if your wish and memory connect. 
  • Margot suggests writing a scene that begins with the question, “Where were you last night?”
  • A second prompt Margot likes to share with her students is to take a scene that you’ve already written, and rewrite it from the point of view of another character. This doesn’t mean that you should change from first person to third person, but from, say, Milicent to Larry. 

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Author Ally Condie, whose novel, Matched, has been re-released by Penguin in honor of the book’s tenth anniversary. After its release in 2011, Matched was followed by the series sequels, Crossed and Reached.

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Ally Condie, who advises taking your character (or yourself) on a walk into a wood. Ally says she is very loosely defining “wood”—a wood can be any grove or stand of trees. "This can be a desert bristlecone forest, a forest in the Amazon, a cold white Vermont forest, the pines up the canyon near where I live in Utah."

  • Somewhere in this wood is a clearing.
  • There is a bench.
  • There is either fire, or water, or light, depending on what you or your character need most in this particular wood.
  • Someone is waiting for you.
  • Who is it?
  • Sit down and talk to them.
  • They will give you one thing.
  • What is it?
  • Will you take it with you?

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Local author, artist and pet lover Dawna Pederzani, whose new book is The Bread Fairy (AuthorHouse).

During our interview, Dawna mentioned that the first writing she recalls taking on was the sermon for her grandfather’s funeral. She was twelve. This intrigued me. Writing offers the opportunity to really spell out how we feel about a person and to get the words just right. Dawna finds that her sentiments generally spill onto the page exactly how she intends right from the first draft, which is unusual, I think. For me, the ideas are the first to spill. A kernel of something right may build and take on life and energy as I continue, and then as I revise. A funeral sermon might be an opportunity to delve into emotion and offer tribute in a way that few other writing projects could. So this week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write a funeral sermon. Interpret that as you like. You could eulogize someone you lost years ago but have not yet fully said goodbye to. You could write your own funeral sermon, or one for a fictional character you’re trying to get a better feel for: a protagonist, perhaps (or maybe a villain...) Though as Dawna points out, few people are fully heroes. We all have shades of gray in the good and the bad that we show our community, especially during times of duress. 

Good luck with your writing in the coming week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Author and educator Martin Puchner, whose new book is The Language of Thieves: My Family's Obsession with a Secret Code the Nazis Tried to Eliminate (Norton).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Martin Puchner. Take one piece of research, a photograph, a document, an object and contemplate not only what it says, but how it got into your hands. How many people handled it before you? What kinds of institutions, and the people working for them, preserved them? How did these objects come into being and how did they survive? Hopefully, in asking these questions, you’ll discover the biographies of these objects. They will become full interlocutor and not just props.

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

I also spoke with Martin Puchner in 2018. You can listen to that conversation here. 

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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Author Lewis Buzbee, interviewed in 2013 at the request of a listener. (Thanks, Shannon!) We discuss his middle-grade novel Bridge of Time (Squarefish) and his nonfiction book, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, (Graywolf Press).

Lewis Buzbee’s book The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop celebrates the unique experience of exploring a bookstore—getting lost seeking your  perfect next read. And yet, due to the pandemic, many of us are unable to shop in bookstores at this time. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about your favorite bookstore or library, recalling what you most love or miss about the experience of being there, and what you will do when you can again browse its shelves.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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An interview from the archives with the author Roxana Robinson. We discussed her novel Sparta (Sarah Crichton Books). She has since published Dawson’s Fall, a novel based on the lives of her great-grandparents. 

The election is over, and Joe Biden has won. In considering how emotional this election was for our country, it occurs to me that drawing on our personal reactions to the 2020 election - now, while they are fresh - might be a good way to approach writing emotional scenes in our work. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about how you are feeling. You can write about political beliefs, patriotism, exhaustion, energy, patience, joy, disappointment, hope. Whatever you feel, write it down. Perhaps you already know how to apply these feelings to something you are working on. Perhaps it will take some time to process it all and see if it might fit into your work. Either way, good luck with your writing this week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Dr. Debra Horwitz, veterinarian and co-editor of Decoding Your Cat: The Ultimate Experts Explain Common Cat Behaviors and Reveal How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones(HMH).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is a piece of advice that my guest, Dr. Debra Horwitz, generously suggested. People do their best thinking at different times. Dr. Horwitz says she sometimes comes up with her best ideas when she’s driving, or has just woken up in the night or in the morning, or is otherwise unavailable. So she recommends having sticky notes in the car, on the bedside table, and all those places where you might get a great idea and want to jot a note despite not having a computer at hand. If you like dictating notes instead, be sure you have a dictation app on your phone, or a recorder that you can carry and have at hand.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont writer, artist and anthropologist, Dana Walrath, who has contributed to the graphic medicine book, Menopause: A Comic Treatment (PSU Press). You can check out the book trailer here. 

Dana Walrath generously offered us a Write the Book Prompt for today’s show, which is related to the advice she offered for writers. Precede your writing session by spending some time drawing, even simply drawing the evocative and inspiring spiral, which is a great way to tap into your subconscious but also establishes a ritual that announces to your creative self that it is time to write. 

I have to say, I got all excited as I wrote this prompt out and put down the word inspiring right before the word spiral. But then I looked them up and there is no etymological link; the association must be coincidental. However!!! …  that doesn’t mean we can’t link the words for ourselves as we work. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Wildlife Journalist and Vermont Author Laurel Neme, whose new children's book is The Elephant's New Shoe: A True Rescue Story (Orchard Books). 

Laurel was kind enough to suggest a Write the Book Prompt for us, based on an exercise that she learned by taking an intensive picture book workshop by Anastasia Suen. Keep a daily journal and creative record--writing for a set amount of time each day that you assign for yourself--but keep it on your computer and in a single file. This way, if months from now you remember writing about something you can’t quite recall, you can search that file for a theme or keyword in order to find it. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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An interview with two Vermont Authors: Chris Tebbetts (1st Case, Little Brown) and Margot Harrison (The Glare, Little Brown).  

This week we have two Write the Book Prompts, thanks to the generosity of my guests. Margot suggests that if you have a character-- perhaps an antagonist or a supporting character you’re not doing justice to because you don’t understand what is motivating them--do some free writing from the point of view of that character and have them explain themselves: give their backstory and explain why they are doing what they are doing in the story and what feelings are driving them. 

Chris suggests a warm up exercise: people balk at this, but end up enjoying it. Write a passage using only words of four letters or less. The artful writing that you can come up with under that duress can be very satisfying. 

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Bestselling Welsh Author Ken Follett, whose latest novel, The Evening and the Morning (Viking), is a prequel to his popular book The Pillars of the Earth.

In our interview, Ken Follett mentioned that during the dark ages, the Anglo Saxons ignored the Romans’ brick houses and built wooden huts right next door. “It was a backward time." Also, and not the biggest news story of the month, but I just learned that Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin wanted to build a castle in his Santa Fe historic district backyard, and the city has emphatically said that he may not. The project would have exceeded height limit zoning regulations and, though this wasn’t probably stated in the city’s findings, was just plain too weird. Anyway, this week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about a construction controversy. Frame it, as they say, as you like. But have fun. See where it takes you. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Episode from the archives with author and librarian Josh Hanagarne [The World's Strongest Librarian, Avery], as well as a short book chat with Bear Pond Books co-owner Claire Benedict. 

This week's Write the Book Prompt is to write about a tool or machine that is being used in a way other than was originally intended. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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American Novelist Bobbie Ann Mason, whose new novel is Dear Ann (Harper). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Bobbie Ann Mason, who exchanges prompts with her “flash-fiction co-writer buddy Meg Pokrass.” They send each other lists of interesting words with a challenge to use at least some of them in a story. 

One of their lists was: leaky, clawfoot, waddle, bonk, ribs, peace, rapier, feather pillow, steam, sherry, geraniums, skimp, booth, rabbit’s foot, diner, vitality, jet-lag, quivery, Lady Astor, punchline, kettle, bitter coffee, flub.

Bobbie wrote a flash fiction called Corn-Dog based on one of Meg’s lists, using most of these words: corn-dog, frozen, carnival, necks, Animal Planet, parcel, shorts, crisp, weed, note, thrill, stucco, cravings, wispy, unmarried, fat, laryngitis.

This week, Bobbie Ann Mason suggests that you open up a few novels from your shelf. Flip through the books and find interesting words. List a dozen or two. Then pick a word and start a story. Where does it lead you? To another word on the list? Then what? She admits that this exercise can lead into the absurd, but it’s great fun, and you might discover where you are going.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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David Goodwillie, whose new novel is Kings County (Avid Reader Press).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by David Goodwillie. Have a character go for a walk in a city, along a country lane, or in really any place. How would that character see the world? Have the person see it in a different way than you, the author, would. David points out that all too often, we try to give characters our own traits, rather than wholly letting them be their own people. If you’re having trouble building a character, this exercise in setting and perspective can really help. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Tiffany McDaniel, whose new novel Betty (Knopf) is based on the life of her mother. 

In my interview with Tiffany, we talked about bringing deeper meaning to detail. In Tiffany’s case, she brings deeper meaning to the corn and corn silk, that show up throughout the book. Corn is in the characters' lives as food and as a crop. But also, corn is a part of Betty’s father’s Cherokee-inspired story about Betty and her sisters. As such, corn comes to represent more than it initially seems as the story unfolds. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to bring deeper meaning into a detail that has already appeared in your work. Don’t force anything, but work with a detail that is already in the work and might mean something more. Use it to enrich what you’re trying to bring to the page.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Diane Cook, author of The New Wilderness (Harper), which has been long listed for the Booker Prize. 

As I mentioned early in today’s show, when I interviewed Diane Cook, her infant son could be heard in the early part of the hour. Then he went to be with his dad and his voice was no longer heard on the recording. But it got me thinking: children fill our world, but are sometimes absent from our settings. Why is that? Do they make too much noise? Would the chaos keep your scene from working smoothly? (Kind of like life?) The world is full of children, yet it sometimes seems like I see way more dogs than children in the books I read. So this week’s Write the Book Prompt is to put a baby, toddler, or child in a scene. This doesn’t necessarily mean introducing a new character. But maybe your narrator is at a coffee shop. Is there a cherubic baby in a car seat by his mom’s side at another table? Is a young child acting up? Is a teenager sitting with a friend, in ardent conversation? Keep children in mind as you build your poetic and fictional worlds.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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English author Lucie Britsch, whose debut novel is Sad Janet (Riverhead Books).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was mentioned by my guest, Lucie Britsch, during our conversation. It’s always good to take a step back and remember why you are writing something. Take a day off, take a week even. When you come back, you’ll likely rediscover the energy that was part of why you began, the enthusiasm around what you’d set out to do. The break, and that rediscovery of intention, will help you move forward with your work. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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An interview from the archives with the author Alex Grecian, who writes a fictional series about the Scotland Yard's Murder Squad, as well as stand-alones, like his 2018 The Saint of Wolves and Butchers (Putnam). 

 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to wear a mask, for the sake of your community and your loved ones. And write about the joy of this horror show ending thanks to the united efforts of responsible citizens, which all of us are, deep deep down inside. Says me. Sorry, I got political. But who can even believe this level of mild, patriotic self-sacrifice has become political? 

 

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Fiona McCrae, Director and Publisher of the Minneapolis-based literary publisher, Graywolf Press

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Fiona McCrae. Consider the Black Lives Matter movement and the murder of George Floyd, and write. Maybe write from the perspective of someone with different or more extreme opinions than your own. Or write from two distinct perspectives. Or perhaps write from the point of view of someone who has one opinion, but is somehow personally affected by the movement in a way that amplifies, changes, or even negates that opinion. In responding to this current moment in history, consider your goal to be one of inspiring meaningful dialogue. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont Author Ann Dávila Cardinal, whose latest supernatural YA thriller  is Category Five (Tor Teen). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Ann Dávila Cardinal. She says that it’s not a prompt, exactly, but an exercise in encouragement:

Get three smallish pieces of paper. 

1) On the first one, write down your short term writing goals, say for the next week. Even day by day. It can be to write 1,000 words, or finish a chapter of revision, or journal everyday for a week. 

2) On the second, write down your goal for the year. Send out a certain number of submissions, finish a full draft, pull together a poetry chapbook. Whatever that looks like for you.

3) And finally, on the third, write down your long term writing goals. To be a published writer, to teach writing, to publish a book a year or every other year, to build a writing life. 

Put the first one somewhere you will see it every day. When the week is over, look at it, and access how you did. Adjust your goals for next week accordingly. The second one, put it away somewhere nearby, but not in immediate sight. Somewhere you will find it over the next year and be reminded, a jewelry box, in a book you look at a couple of times a year, in the tool box. For the third one, Ann recommends doing what Dr. Tererai Trent suggests in her book The Awakened Woman, and "plant your dreams." Either in a garden or a pot you then use for a plant, or even a park. Visit the place you planted your dreams as often as you need to, but trust that you are creating "intentional rootedness." If this is too "woo woo" for you, says Ann, don't worry about planting it, write down your three levels of goals and work towards them. Period. The point is, build that writing life your way.

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

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Author and NY Times "Dark Matters" Columnist Danielle Trussoni, whose new novel is The Ancestor (William Morrow).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Danielle Trussoni, who also suggested it in a recent workshop. In a discussion of dialogue and character, Danielle suggested that her students have one of their characters, perhaps an elusive character who's hard to pin down, write an autobiographical letter of introduction to the student, to the author. Danielle says this can be a helpful way to find the voice of the character and learn more about who that person is.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

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UVM Professor Emeritus Robert Manning and Artist Martha Manning, authors of several books on long distance walking, including the subject of our 2013 conversation, Walking Distance: Extraordinary Hikes for Ordinary People (OSU Press).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about a famous walk. This could mean Steven Newman’s famous solo walk around the world, or it could mean your own child’s first steps. Good luck with your work in the coming week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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American Poet, Essayist and Translator J. Chester Johnson, whose new memoir is Damaged Heritage: The Elaine Race Massacre and A Story of Reconciliation (Pegasus).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider your own family’s leanings when it comes to filiopietism, that veneration, often excessive, of ancestors or tradition. Does this exist in your own circle of relatives? Do people excuse behaviors because it’s just how the family has always been? Do you have beliefs based largely on what you were raised to think but have never questioned? Are there, even,  certain artifacts hidden away in your home that you keep simply because they belonged to a great grandfather or grandmother? If so, think about why you keep them, why you believe what you believe, why you cling to what you cling to, what you might shed of your family’s past if you could (or what you would not), and then write about it.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Evan Fallenberg, author of The Parting Gift, which came out last week in paperback (Other Press). 

In a review of The Parting Gift, the Jerusalem Post called the book “Intoxicating…Fallenberg is a fearless writer; particularly on the vulnerability and rawness of desire. His crisp taut sentences compel us to keep reading.” This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about vulnerability, either in your own life or in that of a character. Perhaps this has to do with exposure, the telling of secret. Perhaps it’s about actual physical danger. What is at stake? As you work, keep in mind the appreciation of Evan’s crisp taut sentences. Play around with concision in your own writing as you work to convey vulnerability. 

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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Debut Author Alka Joshi, whose novel The Henna Artist (MIRA) has been chosen by Reese Witherspoon as the next Hello Sunshine book selection.

Alka Joshi generously offered us a Write the Book Prompt for today’s show. Think about a real person you know, and reinvent their life. What if their life had taken a very different turn? What if they’d done something completely different? What if they had married someone different, or lived in a different place, or escaped a certain set of circumstances, what would have happened, and who would they have been? 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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International bestselling mystery and crime writer Jeffrey Deaver, whose new novel is The Goodbye Man (Putnam).

Jeffrey Deaver mentioned during our interview that, when the time comes to finish his research and begin putting words on the page, he likes to write in the dark. This week, as a Write the Book Prompt, try writing in the dark. See if the words come more easily to you this way, as they do for him. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont Psychologist Bruce Chalmer whose new book is Reigniting the Spark: Why Stable Relationships Lose Intimacy, and How to Get It Back (TCK Publishing). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Dr. Bruce Chalmer. In writing about relationships, consider the scary moments as being, perhaps, the most useful to write about. Not necessarily moments when you and your partner are disagreeing, but perhaps moments when you are delighted by something and you aren’t sure if your partner is delighted, and the not- knowing is scary. Consider moments where you are looking at the possibility of intimacy. Dr. Chalmer advises, “That’s the stuff to write about.” 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont Author Julia Alvarez on her new novel, Afterlife (Algonquin). 

This week I have two Write the Book Prompts to offer, both generously suggested by my guest, Julia Alvarez. First, a prompt she learned about when she was researching titles for her book. In considering the title Afterlife, she researched, as authors do, to be sure her book’s title was original and unique. As she did this work, she found out about another book titled Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, by the neuroscientist David Eagleman. The book offers forty short, imaginative narratives on the theme of God and the afterlife. Julia says the pieces are sometimes funny, sometimes not, but they are all clever and inspiring. She suggests a writing prompt in which we write such a piece: a 2-3 page vignette that imagines what happens when we leave this life.

The second prompt Julia suggests is to write a six-word story or bio. Hemingway famously penned this one: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. Julia was once asked to contribute to a book titled NOT QUITE WHAT I WAS PLANNING: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure, edited by Smith Magazine. As Julia points out, it can be hard to do! If you like, you can narrow it down to what your life is like in this particular year. Either way, here is a six-word prompt for you, from Julia Alvarez:  Write your story in six words. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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A conversation with the author Rufi Thorpe, whose new novel is The Knockout Queen (Knopf).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Rufi Thorpe, who finds that it can be helpful to have one of your characters suddenly become “really psychic” about another character. If you are writing from a single point of view, but you’d like to get into someone else’s head, you can actually move around quite a bit in terms of summarizing and telling. For example, your POV character might say, “I knew she was thinking about the dance and the boy she’d never gotten to dance with.” And then segway into the story of the dance, allowing yourself access into the other character’s mind, thanks to the clairvoyance, or at least gut feelings, of your narrator. So this week’s prompt is to take a character (either a new character or one that you've already been writing something about), put them in a scene with somebody else, and have them start rendering their perception of the scene and the other person's consciousness at the same time. Play around with letting them be psychic.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont Poet James Crews, whose new collection is Bluebird (Green Writers Press).

As a Write the Book Prompt for this interview, let's consider Ted Kooser's advice for James Crews, mentioned during our conversation: Open a poem like a handshake.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

This is one of several shorter interviews Shelagh is conducting with Vermont authors whose new books have had their tours upended by Corona.  

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A conversation with Vermont author Ginny Sassaman, whose new book is Preaching Happiness: Creating a Just and Joyful World (Rootstock).

For a Write the Book Prompt, write about what has made you happy in the past week.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

This is one of several shorter interviews Shelagh is conducting with Vermont authors whose new books have had their tours upended by Corona.  

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An interview with Alma Katsu, whose latest is The Deep (Putnam).

For this episode's Write the Book Prompt, I'd like to reiterate Alma Katsu's advice about research. Narrow your focus before delving in too deeply. Keep it manageable, for you and your readers.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Rob Harrell, cartoonist and author - most recently - of Wink, a novel for middle graders (Dial).

Rob Harrell generously offered a Write the Book Prompt for today’s show. He created this one for kids. Come up with an unlikely super hero, and come up with their origin story, their powers, and what their costume looks like. Try to make it an unlikely super hero, like a BatPig. 

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please tune in each week for more prompts and great conversations about books and writing.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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An interview with Laurette Folk, author of the new novel The End of Aphrodite (Bordighera).

Here, you can find The Compassion Anthology, the journal that Laurette edits.

During our interview, Laurette Folk mentioned working after meditation as a way to engage her creativity. Specifically, after having a particularly vivid dream, she plays Tibetan bowl audio and meditates, in an effort to recapture the dream. Laurette says the bowl vibration is said to change how our consciousness works, drawing people into a deeper state. After that, she goes to her workspace and writes. This is the Writing Prompt that she suggests.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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An interview with the author Phyllis Barber, whose new novel is The Desert Between Us (University of Nevada Press).

Phyllis Barber kindly suggested a Write the Book Prompt for us. Go to your writing desk first thing in the morning, when your mind is fresh and not bogged down with tasks and duties. Doing this, writing first thing, from the lip of your mind - writing fast and not editing yourself - can be so useful. Set down whatever idea comes without worrying if you’ll be able to use it. Just have fun. Let your morning brain liberate your creativity.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

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Sixth Generation Vermonter Bill Torrey, whose new memoir is Cutting Remarks: 40 Years in the Forest (Onion River Press). 

Prompt: Write about a recent walk in the woods. What was the weather like? What did you see and hear? How did your boots sound walking over the ground? Were there any animals about? Did the trees make sounds above you? Was there water running nearby? If you haven't been lately, perhaps go into the woods now. And then write. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

This is one of several shorter interviews Shelagh is conducting with Vermont authors whose new books have had their tours upended by Corona.  Stay tuned: there will be more! 

 

 

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Vermont Poet Scudder Parker, whose new collection of poems is Safe as Lightning (Rootstock Press).

Write the Book Prompt: Consider Scudder Parker’s advice about not being intimidated to write poetry. He says to turn to the singer songwriters you love and read their lyrics. Realize you’ve been experiencing poetry all your life, in the words of hymns, arias, folk songs, and pop music. All of that is poetry set to music. Poetry tries to create music. Don’t be intimidated by trying to write poetry. You’ve been feeling the mystery of it and the rhythm of it all your life. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

This is one of several shorter interviews Shelagh is conducting with Vermont authors whose new books have had their tours upended by Corona. Stay tuned: there will be more! 

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Robert S. Foster, whose new historical work is The Granville Hermit (Onion River)

Write the Book Prompt: Have you ever known of a hermit? When you were a child, were there stories about reclusive people in your town? Or maybe you were related to someone who preferred a life of isolation and solitude. If so, write about that person this week. If not, consider what that life might be like. How would you get food? How would you manage problems, health care, simple loneliness? When you had to interact, how difficult might that be for you? Use the answers to these questions as inspiration, and write.

Good luck with your work, and please keep tuning in for more prompts and suggestions.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

This is one of several shorter interviews Shelagh is conducting with Vermont authors whose new books have had their tours upended by Corona. Stay tuned: there will be more! And if you'd like to order Butch's book through his local-to-Granville bookstore, that would be Sandy's Books & Bakery in Rochester. 

 

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Local entrepreneur Janice Shade's new book is Moving Mountains: The Power of Main Street Americans to Change Our Economy (Onion River Press). 

Write the Book Prompt: Can you imagine "economic justice for all?" What would that look like? How would it different from our present system? Can you think of a few small, symbolic images that might represent achieving that vision? Does it bring to mind a person or group from your past? If so, maybe write about them today. Let the expression, taken from Janice Shade's book description, inspire you. Think hard about economic justice for all, and write. 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

This is one of several shorter interviews Shelagh is conducting with Vermont authors whose new books have had their tours upended by Corona. Stay tuned: there will be more! And if you'd like to order Janice's book through her local bookstore, that would be Phoenix Books.  

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An interview with Sharon Cameron, author most recently of The Light in Hidden Places (Scholastic Books).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Sharon Cameron, who finds the availability of online oral histories fascinating and invaluable as she works. She suggested, as an exercise, finding oral histories--immigrant stories, personal experiences from wars, and interviews--on youtube or in university collections, among other places. Listen and, if you’re lucky, watch these oral histories and create a story out of what you learn. Overlay your own creativity atop these stories. She warns that this is simply a good exercise, and it’s important to choose the right stories to tell, if you plan to take them public. Use this exercise to stretch your writing muscle. Good luck with your work in the coming week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont Poet Judith Chalmer, whose new collection of poems is Minnow (Kelsay Press). 

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Judith Chalmer. Start observing using your hand. This can be a very rich approach to writing, Judith says, because what comes to hand can be physical and what comes to hand can be metaphysical. The hand itself is a landscape that can be a wonderful subject. But apart from that, the exercise offers a way of starting close in and moving out, with observation as the starting point. Good luck with your work in the coming week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

Like many authors with recent book publications in the age of the Corona Virus, Judith Chalmer found herself in the predicament of having a book, but no launch or physical book tour. In order to help these authors find their audience, Write the Book is offering a series of mini-interviews with Vermont authors whose launches have been cancelled. Check back for more of these short-but-deep conversations on craft. And if you want to investigate her book through Judith's local bookseller, that would be Bear Pond Books in Montpelier. 

 

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Vermont Author Kerrin McCadden, whose new chapbook is Keep This to Yourself (Button Poetry). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Kerrin McCadden. 

  • Choose 12 words you like the sound of (mostly 1-2 syllable words). Include a place name, a weather element, a geological feature, some verbs, and a garment in your list.
  • Set a timer for 7 minutes. 
  • Begin writing. Do not stop. Do not cross out anything you write. Use at least 10 out of 12 of the words on the list. You may modify word forms to fit the sentences as they emerge. If you had the word “belt” you could use “belted,” for instance.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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