Archive for the 'Family' Category

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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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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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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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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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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Author Abby Frucht, whose new collection of prose poems is Maids (Matter Press)

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was inspired by my conversation with Abby Frucht. In her own book, Maids, Abby followed one poem in which, as a child, she snuggles with her mom at the end, with a poem titled “Spoons,” which does not relate directly to the concept of snuggling or "spooning." And yet, because of the relevant placement of the works in the collection, they somehow do. Abby talked about an exercise that she gives her students, encouraging them to look at the beginnings and endings of different pieces they’ve written, and see how they might choose to order a collection. This week, if you are the author of poems, stories, or essays, have a look at your pieces and consider how they might best fit together into a collection. Watch beginnings and endings for ideas, words, expressions, or intentions that somehow speak to each other. Think about how they might work in transition, from one to the other.

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 Emily Arnason Casey, whose debut essay collection is Made Holy

(Crux: The Georgia Series in Literary Nonfiction). 

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Emily Arnason Casey, during our live conversation. It's one she's used in a recent class: write about a place you can't return to. See if you can find an object in that landscape of memory that gives you some direction or shapes your understanding of that place.

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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Sandra A. Miller, author of Trove: A Woman's Search for Truth and Buried Treasure (Brown Paper Press). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Sandra A. Miller. Read the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “What If You Slept?” And then use the lines as your prompt for this week:

What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
You dreamed
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in your hand
Ah, what then?

In other words: what if we pulled our dreams into the world and made them a reality? What would you want to bring into the world--your physical reality--from your dreams? When Sandra shared this with a group of writers recently, the results were rich, and the experience of the participants, emotional.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

*“What if you slept...” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Public Domain.

 

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Author Heidi Diehl, whose debut is Lifelines (HMH). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Heidi Diehl. Think about an event or a time that has been important in your character’s life but does not appear in the pages of your story. Write two versions of what happened. One should be 3-5 sentences, and one should be a full-fledged scene, spanning a couple of pages. If the outcome sparks something that feels important to include, than you should of course use it. But, as Heidi reminds us, even if you don’t use that particular scene in your story or novel, it can be useful as an exercise. Exploring our characters’ histories can give us a sense of who they are and help us bring them more vividly 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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Author Rachel Howard, whose debut novel is The Risk of Us (HMH). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest Rachel Howard, and I can’t wait to try it. She says that it’s a somewhat arbitrary structure she came up with when she was teaching undergraduate creative writing at Warren Wilson College:

Write a lyric essay about one of the three great forces of life: sex, death, or love.  The essay should never name whether it is about sex, death, or love, or use the word. The essay will consist of the following sections:

* A pure description of a significant place from your past.  This could be a room, a street corner, the back of a car. Use as many concrete sensory  details as possible.  Ten sentences maximum.

* A character sketch of someone from your life.  Six sentences max.

* One short description of a song.  You may quote lyrics, but not use the words "sex," "death," or "love."  Three sentences max.

* One scene with dialogue.  Any length.

* One semi-obscure scientific fact that does not seem obviously connected to the rest of the essay (but which, metaphorically, is).  Four sentences max.

Rachel concedes that it’s an unusual exercise, but give it a try, and you may well be surprised at the experience. And after the exercise generates the rough draft, you can move sections around, and start breaking the rules to fit the emerging organic form.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

N.B. A quote about trauma that I read during my interview with Rachel came from the book Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control: A Love-Based Approach to Helping Attachment-Challenged Children With Severe Behaviors by Heather T. Forbes and B. Bryan Post.

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Author Steven Wingate, whose new novel is Of Fathers and Fire (Univ. of Nebraska Press - Flyover Fiction). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Steven Wingate. He calls it “The Endless Sentence,” and it is designed as both a loosening up exercise and a means of exploration. It requires only a timer and your favorite writing implement (analog or digital). You simply set your timer for five minutes and start writing, and everything is allowed except one single punctuation mark: the period. Steven explains that writers rely on periods instinctively to separate thoughts from each other. If our thoughts feel like they’re getting too uncontrolled or scraggly, we end one sentence and start another. But if you take that tool away from yourself, you’re forced to keep flying through your thoughts with less control than you’re used to. Steven argues that this is a good thing because it means freedom—which is essential, especially early on in a project when you’re looking for a narrator’s (or character’s) voice. When you remove the period, you slip beneath your own radar and do things that surprise yourself. This can lead you to a new understanding of characters and settings, or maybe even to self-standing flash pieces with intriguing musical or formal features (e.g., lists or recurring verbal motifs). Try this especially when you’re feeling stuck or when a writing day hasn’t gone according to plan.

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 with the author Joseph Kertes about his novel, The Afterlife of Stars (Little Brown). 

This week's Write the Book Prompt is to write about a mis-delivered Valentine. 

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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American Novelist and Poet Rosellen Brown, whose latest is The Lake on Fire (Sarabande). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Rosellen Brown: "Use questions and answers." She has found this an intriguing way to write. She offers the Mark Strand poem “Elegy For My Father” as an example. In the poem, Strand poses a question to his father, is given an inadequate or dishonest answer, and so asks the question again, to receive a more honest answer. He does this several times with many different questions. Rosellen herself used a questionnaire to format a story in her collection Street Games, offering both standard questions like name, address, but also crazy questions, like “Have you ever wished to die at the height of the sex act?” She has found it very fruitful with students.

[Also, during our conversation, Rosellen mentioned the site S for Sentence. Seems like another great resource to check out!]

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 Sarah Ward, whose new novel is Aesop Lake (Green Writers Press). 

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Sarah Ward. In her writing, Sarah tries to fully depict villains as well as the “good guys,” whose stories always do tend to be fully explored. In the Harry Potter series, for example, what do we really know about Malfoy? Why is he—a wealthy, privileged boy with two devoted parents—such a jerk? Write the backstory of a villain. What drives him to be a bully or a sadist? What makes her so dark, so villainous? What are your villains frightened of? What do they want?

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 Katharine Dion, whose debut novel is The Dependents, published by Little Brown.

This week’s Write the Book Prompt comes from my interview with Katharine Dion. Something that has been useful for her, and is related to the kind of stories she is interested in telling, is to look around at situations that have on first glance nothing interesting going on: a situation or setup that might at first even seem boring. Then reverse that proposition in your mind. Assume the opposite: that something fascinating is going on in the situation, or between the people you’re observing. This will give you the chance to look again at something you initially chose to dismiss. We dismiss things for all sorts of reasons, Katharine points out. Either we are fearful of what we see, or we’re made uncomfortable by it. But looking again at what we might initially dismiss can offer unexpectedly rich material.  

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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Kim MacQueen's interview with author Lisa Romeo, whose debut essay collection is  Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love after Loss (University of Nevada Press).

For a Write the Book Prompt, consider Lisa Romeo's advice to not let in the inner critic! Just write. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

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Author Veera Hiranandani, whose new young adult novel is  The Night Diary, published by Dial Books.

This week’s Write the Book Prompt, which was suggested by my guest, Veera Hiranandani, concerns point of view. Veera says that people aren’t always aware of why they are using the point of view they’ve chosen. She likes to suggest to her students that they switch both point of view and tense, as an exercise, just to see how different their work might feel. So if you’re writing a piece in the third person past tense (“she went to the restaurant,”) try changing it to the first person present tense (“I go the the restaurant”) or first person past tense (“I went to the restaurant”), just to see how that feels to you. It can offer a new way of looking at your writing that can be really interesting, even if you don’t ultimately decide to use 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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American novelist and short story writer Yang Huang. Her new novel in stories is My Old Faithful, winner of the Juniper Prize for Fiction (University of Massachusetts Press).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Yang Huang. Alter the rhythm of your writing to jog your creative mind. First, work on a problematic scene by focusing closely on the language, painstakingly going over every word choice, until you make it work or realize this needs to be cut.

After a short break, return to the desk and write as fast as you can, hardly reading what you wrote. Silence the inner critic for the time being, and set your mind free. Write for an hour, until you slow down, or you want to read over the passage.

Sleep on it. Edit the passage next day and throw away any material you cannot use. Analyze the movement in your narrative. What have you discovered about the story and characters?

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

Music by Aaron Shapiro

 

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An interview from the archives - and from a previous radio station - with Mary R. Morgan, author of Beginning With the End, A Memoir of Twin Loss and Healing.

This week's Write The Book Prompt is to write about a person who is lost. Interpret the word "lost" in whatever way might help you as you work.

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

Music credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

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Award-Winning Swiss Author Peter Stamm, whose new novel is To the Back of Beyond (Other Press). 

This week we have two Write the Book Prompts, both generously suggested by my guest, Peter Stamm, who has used them in classes he’s taught. The first is to look at another person’s random receipt and see what it suggests that could become a story or a poem. What was purchased, and where? What was the cost? The date? The cashier’s name? Was it an expensive item? Was it on sale? Let the details collect for you and write. The other prompt is to find inspiration in a graveyard, looking at gravestones. Usually these only suggest a name, the dates of a life, but sometimes also family members, a cause of death, a war, a favorite quotation. See what these suggest to you about this person, and if a character might begin to present him or herself to you as you study the grave.

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 Bill Schubart, whose new novel is Lila & Theron (Charles Michael Publishing).

This week's Write the Book Prompt is to consider the following lines from Bill Schubart's essay "On Exigency," and to write from that point of inspiration: 

“There is an intrinsic self-reliance in those who see life’s exigencies as challenges to be overcome. Development in the person who feels victimized and overlooked by life becomes stunted since he is always looking outside himself for someone or something to blame.”

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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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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Interview from the archives with Andrew Goldstein, author of The Bookie's Son, published by 617 Books.

Andrew Goldstein's book was inspired by events in his own life. This week's Write the Book Prompt is to notice how you react in situations with family, friends, co-workers. Where you might normally become upset or frustrated in a certain situation, try instead to focus on how you might reinterpret the moment for a poem or a scene in a book of prose. How would you convey your own emotions, but also, how would you get across the experience of being with these people? Could you write it so that someone who's never been around your cousin Adelaide might understand JUST how manipulative she is? Or how kind? Or how deeply in denial? Pay attention to yourself in the moment, and try instead to focus on how you might reinterpret that interaction for the page. Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

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 author Cardy Raper, whose new book is An American Harvest: How One Family Moved from Dirt-Poor Farming to a Better Life in the Early 1900s, published by Green Writers Press.

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to find an old letter, journal entry, or recording from either your own life or at the library or in an archive. Find a historical document that speaks to you in some way, and write about its significance. Either write a fictional piece, a poem, or nonfiction, letting your starting point be this documented communication.

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

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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Anna Quindlen American author, journalist, and opinion columnist whose New York Times column, Public and Private, won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1992. Her new novel is Miller's Valley (Random House).


This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Anna Quindlen, who finds a certain approach to her work invaluable. At the end of any given writing day, she never stops her work at the end of a chapter, or a paragraph or a sentence. She stops in the middle. She finds getting started in the morning really challenging, because of course, as she says, “writing is so terrifying and difficult.” But if she looks at the screen and there is a half-written sentence, she can almost always manage to finish the rest of that sentence, which will frequently lead her into the next one. If she had to start a new chapter from scratch first thing, she says, she could be paralyzed for days. Stopping in mid-sentence has been a boon as far as getting started in the morning, which is her most vulnerable moment.

Good luck with this prompt, and please 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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Stewart O'Nan has a new one coming out later this month: City of Secrets: A Novel. In this interview from 2012, I spoke with him about his book The Odds: A Love Story

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to make a list of ten signs of spring in your area, and then use that list as a starting point for your writing.

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

Music credits1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students).

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Novelist Sharon Guskin, whose debut novel, The Forgetting Time (Flatiron Books), has been named book of the week by People Magazine, and listed by the BBC as one of ten books to read this month.


This week’s Write the Book Prompt was kindly suggested by my guest, Sharon Guskin. It’s a four-part prompt that has to do with discovering your enthusiasm:
  • First, as quickly as you can and without thinking about it ahead of time, list five areas that you feel are the neglected dark corners of your world--the areas that aren’t discussed enough or need more air.
  • Then, circle the one that seems the most alive to you, right now.
  • Imagine a voice within that world.
  • Finally, again without thinking, write from that voice for twenty minutes.

Good luck with this exercise and please 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 author Brett Ann Stanciu, author of Hidden View (Green Writers Press).

Brett Ann Stanciu suggested a famous John Gardner exercise for this week's Write the Book Prompt. Here's a link to a site that lists many. (Brett's favorite is #4d). 

Here's her own version of that exercise:

Describe a building as seen by an elderly woman whose sister has recently been killed by a random and unexplained act of gun violence. Do not mention the sister, death, or the old woman doing the seeing. Then describe that exact building at the same time as seen by a young woman in love for the first time. Do not mention love, the loved one, or the young woman.

Good luck with this exercise and please 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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Julie Barton, author of the new memoir Dog Medicine (Think Piece). 


This week’s Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Julie Barton, and is based on “Wild Writing” work she has done with San Francisco writing coach Laurie Wagner (who leads online workshops as well as well as bay area classes). Julie says that “wild writing” is a phenomenal writing practice. Here’s the basic assignment: write by hand. Read any one of the following poems (follow the links to read them), and then write for 15 minutes, allowing your read of that poem to inspire you. Write as fast as possible, and even as poorly as possible, without thinking. By letting your subconscious lead the way, you’ll be more likely to access work you might otherwise never have gotten to.These are the poems that Julie recommends:

Good luck with this exercise and please 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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National Book Critics Circle Award winner and author of “the most accomplished book of essays anyone has written or published so far in the twenty-first century” (Salon), Eula Biss, whose book On Immunity: An Inoculation has come out in paperback (Graywolf Press). 

I have a new Write The Book Prompt for you, an exercise suggested by my guest, Eula Biss, who learned it long ago at an AWP panel. She doesn’t recall whose idea it was, and so can not credit the person, though she’d like to, because she uses it both as a writer and as a teacher:

Write a scene or moment from a “bright spot” in your memory. It isn’t necessary to understand why you’re writing about it; you don’t have to know why it’s important or why you remember it, but write from this bright spot: this moment that rises quickly and easily to the surface. Then read over what you’ve written--a paragraph or a page, whatever you have written. Then, without looking it over again, write it again using a different tense. Eula has noticed that different verb tenses will draw out different material. Often she will compose in the present tense, because it draws out richer detail, and then--if it makes the most sense--revise into another tense, like the past, later. 

Good luck with this exercise and please 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 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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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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Award winning author and educator, Sharon M. Draper, whose latest YA novel is Stella by Starlight, published by Simon and Schuster. On the day of the interview, Sharon learned that Time Magazine had chosen her last book, out of my mind, as one of the 100 best children's books of all time. (She was in a pretty great mood, and we had a fun conversation.)

This week’s  Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Sharon M. Draper. You actually already heard her offer it; write every day, and write descriptions and scenes with specific detail. Look out the window. What does the sky look like, what do the trees look like? Not near a window? Write about something else near where you are: a person, a room, anything. Focus on descriptions and being specific in your descriptions. 

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

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Archive interview with Cathy Ostlere, Canadian Author of the memoir Lost and the recent YA novel in verse, Karma.

This week’s  Write The Book Prompt is to write about a friend you’ve known for a very long time, but imagine meeting that person now, instead of all those years ago. Would you have as much in common? Would you encounter each other in a very different way? What might happen?  

Good luck with this exercise and please 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, now alums). 

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Children's and YA author Jacqueline Woodson, whose new novel, Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books) is short-listed for this year's National Book Award. 

This week’s  Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Jacqueline Woodson. Choose an age between five and fifteen and write down everything you remember from that year of your life. Who were your friends? Where did you live? What clothes did you wear? What music was playing? What did you love; what did you hate? Write without lifting your pen until you can’t remember anything else, and then start making stuff up. 
Good luck with this exercise and please 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, now alums). 

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Interviews with Vermont author Chris Bohjalian, whose new book is Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands; and Sue William Silverman, whose new memoir is The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo Saxon Jew.

 
Today’s Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my second guest on today’s show, Sue William Silverman. (In our last interview, Sue and I discussed her book on craft: Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir, which has a lot of excellent exercises.) Sue says one interesting exercise can be to  get a photograph of yourself from another period in your life, such as when you were a kid, and write one paragraph that describes what you see in the photograph. Then write another paragraph about what was happening outside the frame of the photograph. For example, Sue looks at a lot of photographs of herself as a kid, in which she is smiling and looks really happy. Nobody would know she was "dying inside" at that time in her life. So she might write the first paragraph about the pretty young girl who is beaming from ear to ear. But then she might write a second paragraph about what's not taking place in the picture, which for Sue might be to write about growing up in this incestuous family—that maybe her father even took the photograph, so maybe he is forcing her to smile, to convey the idea that theirs was a happy family. Sue says this can be an interesting exercise in comparing and contrasting what else might be going on. You have a picture, great; but is it telling the truth? Or is there another truth that's happening outside the frame? 

Good luck with this prompt and please 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, now alums). 

 

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Write the Book's 300th (!) episode features an interview with Philip Graham, author of two story collections, The Art of the Knock and Interior Design; a novel, How to Read an Unwritten Language; and The Moon, Come to Earth, an expanded version of his series of McSweeney's dispatches from Lisbon. He is also the co-author (with his wife, anthropologist Alma Gottlieb) of two memoirs of Africa, Parallel Worlds (winner of the Victor Turner Prize), and Braided Worlds. Dzanc Books will reprint The Art of the Knock, Interior Design, and How to Read an Unwritten Language as ebooks this summer.

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is inspired by the interview you heard today with the author Philip Graham. We spoke about the appearance of objects in written work. As Philip mentioned, his 1979 short story, “Light Bulbs,” chronicled how a couple coping with the “empty nest” grew to form relationships with the light bulbs in their home, almost as a substitute for their absent children. This week, as you work, consider the objects that show up in your work. In particular, pay attention to those objects that already exist there. Try to understand what they might be doing for your story, and how your appreciation of their existence might deepen what you’re writing.

Good luck with this prompt and please 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, now alums). 

 

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Interview from the archives with Richard McCann, author of Mother of Sorrows (Vintage 2006).

This week’s  Write The Book Prompt, in honor of father’s day, which was yesterday, is to write 500 words about a father and child. Use sensory detail and specifics to convey as much as you can about this relationship without using backstory to tell the reader all about their history, and without falling into sentimentality. 

 

Good luck with this prompt and please 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, now alums).

 

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Interview from the archives with Vermont Poet Pamela Harrison, author of the collections, Out of Silence and What To Make of It.

Given that Easter is this coming Sunday, and Passover begins tomorrow, this week's Write the Book Prompt is to write about a spring holiday memory or event. 

Good luck with this prompt and please 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.

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Vermont writer Jessica Hendry Nelson, author of the memoir If Only You People Could Follow Directions, and co-founder of the Renegade Writers' Collective.


This week’s  Write The Book Prompt was recommended by my guest, Jessica Hendry Nelson. “Write a letter of apology of which you don’t mean a word.”

Good luck with this exercise and please 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. 


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Irish-born Vermont writer of poetry and prose, Angela Patten. Her new book is High Tea at a Low Table, published by Wind Ridge Books of Vermont.

This week’s Write The Book Prompt was generously shared by my guest, Angela Patten. Write a non-fiction essay or short story that begins, "The moment seemed to go on forever..."

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

Music credits:  1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (which was a Vermont band in 2008, featuring several South Burlington High School students, now grads.)

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Best-selling nonfiction author, David Laskin, whose new book is The Family, published by Viking. David Laskin's USA Today article that he mentioned during our conversation, about the Pew Study on American Jews and religion, can be found here.

This week I have two Write The Book Prompts to offer, having to do with point of view in nonfiction. Both of these were generously suggested by my guest, David Laskin. First, describe a family crisis (death of a relative, decision to move or emigrate, wedding) from the points of view of two or three different family members. And second, write about an historic event from an intimate and specific point of view. This might be along the lines of "Where were you when JFK was assassinated?" or "What were your exact circumstances when the terrorist attacks took place on 9/11/01?" Weave together or juxtapose the personal and historic -- for example, details from daily life with memories of newscasts, tv images, and such.

Good luck with these exercises and please listen next week for another.

Music credits:  1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (which was a Vermont band in 2008, featuring several South Burlington High School students, now grads.)

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1) Vermont author Susan Katz Saitoh, whose book Encounter With Japan: An Adventure In Love chronicles her mother's trip to Japan, over 50 years ago, to meet her pen pal.

2) The second WTB Book Chat with Claire Benedict, of Bear Pond Books in Montpelier. Claire talks about The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt; Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves; A Tale For The Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki; My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante ; A.S.A Harrison's The Silent Wife; and Richard Russo's Elsewhere.

Today's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my first guest, Susan Katz Saitoh: Write a story that is true but sounds like it's not true, or a story that is not true but sounds like it is true. A Japanese mime and storyteller from Massachusetts gave that as an exercise during the only storytelling workshop Susan ever attended.

Good luck with this exercise and please 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.

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Vermont Poet Laureate Sydney Lea, whose tenth collection of poems, I Was Thinking of Beauty, is now available from Four Way Books. Skyhorse Publishing has just published A North Country Life: Tales of Woodsmen, Waters and Wildlife. This interview is also available to watch, thanks to production by RETN, the Regional Educational Technology Network in Burlington, VT.


Today's Write The Book Prompt is to write a poem that involves a recollection of an old friend, and a reaction to the natural world.
Good luck with this exercise and please 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.

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Roxana Robinson, author of five novels and three collections of short stories. Her latest novel is Sparta, published June 4th by Sarah Crichton Books.

Today's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Roxana Robinson. The first exercise she always offers to her students is this: write one page, no more, and include two voices and a conflict: nothing but dialogue, and no description. She says what comes from this setup is always interesting. With only dialogue and conflict, the writer naturally supplies everything the reader needs to understand.

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

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

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Best-selling author of fiction, essays and memoir, Anne Lamott. We discussed Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son.

Following the interview with Anne Lamott, a partial rebroadcast from 2008, with the poet David Budbill.

As we continue to enjoy National Poetry Month, this week's Write The Book Prompt is another poetry exercise. It's inspired by the work of my first guest, Anne Lamott, whose book, Some Assembly Required, has to do with becoming a grandparent. So this week, write a poem about grandparents. Being a grandparent, having a grandparent, or whatever else this prompt might inspire for you.

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

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

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Mary R. Morgan, author of Beginning With the End, A Memoir of Twin Loss and Healing.

This week's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Mary R. Morgan. It might best help writers who are working with difficult personal material. Mary was able to begin her book, and handle all the emotions she had to work through to write about the loss of her twin, Michael, by holding a little spiritual ceremony at the beginning and at the end of each writing session. She made a small altar, and she held the work in a kind of sacred place which she could then make an ending to whenever she finished writing. This helped her to keep all of those emotions and difficult memories from overtaking her life. She says, "It was very beautiful. I found when I had to go back to that journey, I had to really reconnect with those feelings. And that was difficult, and so doing that in a spiritual context was very helpful. I asked for inspiration and protection and I voiced my gratitude for the ability ... to do this." Mary says that a lot of the inspiration for her ceremony came from the work she had already done in the natural world. She received a lot of spiritual comfort from this approach to her writing time. This week, and perhaps going forward, if you find it helpful, create a ritual that embraces your writing time. You don't need an altar, and you don't need to follow Mary's or anyone else's specific path, but try to find your own way to celebrate your work this week, marking it with a protective and inspirational ceremony.

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

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

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Vermont author and veterinarian Steven B. Metz, D.M.V., whose new memoir is Exotic Tails: A Veterinarian’s Journey, published by Wind Ridge Publishing in Shelburne, Vermont.

MetzPhoto.jpg

Steven B. Metz, with representations of his two favorite hobbies: the motorcycle, and Bach.

This week's Write The Book Prompt is to write about a person who inherits a cat, a ferret, a tiger, an elephant or a hedgehog. You can't call it the Life of Pi, though, as that's been done. (Twice, in fact, if you count the fact that Yann Martel freely admits that the inspiration for his Booker-prize-winning novel came from a story by Brazilian author, Moacyr Scliar, whose "Max and the Cats" features a teenage Jewish boy adrift in a boat with a panther after a shipwreck.)

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

We ran out of time for the Bookworm's Calendar this week, so here it is:

  • The Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center presents Alex Kershaw, Friday, December 7th, at 7, with his book, The Liberator.
  • And then on Saturday, December 8, at 7, James Gustave Speth will be at the Northshire with his book, America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy.
  • Archer Mayor will read from his latest Joe Gunther mystery, Paradise City, on Dec 8 at 11 at Bridgeside Books in Waterbury. Later that same day, at 3, he'll be at the Yankee Bookshop in Woodstock. And on Monday, Dec. 10 at 8, he'll be at the Latchis Theater in Brattleboro, where he'll be at the 2012 Vermont Arts Awards Gala, receiving a Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts.
  • The Dorothy Alling Memorial Library in Williston presents another pair of "Shape and Share Life Stories," Monday, December 10 & 17 from 12:30-2:30. Prompts trigger real life experience stories which are crafted into engaging narratives and shared with the group. Led by Recille Hamrell.

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

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