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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.

 lost_wax.jpeg

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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