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Archive for the 'Research' Category

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From 2012, an interview from the archives with Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.

Today's Write The Book Prompt is to navigate to this link on Susan Cain's website and read a guest post by another former Write the Book author, Arnold Kozak (in which he quotes yet another former Write the Book guest, Timothy Wilson!) Read the post, and follow Arnie's suggested exercises. Focus on your breathing. When you are ready to return to your writing, consider the Pascal quote he includes in the post: "All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone." Reading this made me feel grateful to be a writer, grateful to know how to sit alone in a quiet room. Maybe you'll feel grateful, too. I hope so. And I hope this inspires in you a desire to write. 

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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Vermont author Mark Pendergrast, with whom I spoke in March 2012 about his book Japan's Tipping Point: Crucial Choices in the Post-Fukushima World.


This week's Write the Book Prompt is to write for half an hour, allowing your starting point to be, "Despite all that training, when we first heard the alarm, none of us knew what it was."

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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Critically acclaimed and bestselling author Julianna Baggott, whose new novel is Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders (Little Brown).

This week’s  Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Julianna Baggott, who encourages her students to use “visualization” to move forward in narrative. She suggests that her students close their eyes for each. They can take notes in between each. Here are a few examples she offered, from which you can work. Either now, if you’re all set up to do so, or later, listen to these with your eyes closed, and try to visualize what’s happening, but missing, from each prompt:

  • A Man walks out of a house* He’s dressed very strangely* He walks to a car* Opens the trunk, looks inside* reaches in*
  • A woman is running, scared – where* She runs out of breath, falls to her knees. She hears a * looks up and sees*
  • A man is sitting on a park bench. By his clothes, we assume he works as a _________ . A woman sits next to him and says something that makes no sense to us but means a lot to him, “ -------------“
  • A woman is standing in a flooded basement – things float and are soaked around her* -- she finds a footlocker, wades over to it – reaches inside to find * 
  • A boy in pajamas is outside* -- alone. He hears * but ignores it and keeps heading toward a *
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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Write the Book's 351st episode (!) introduces Shelagh's new co-host, Gary Lee Miller, in an interview with Vermont author Sean Prentiss about his new book, Finding Abbey: The Search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Desert Grave, published by University of New Mexico Press.


Sean Prentiss generously shared two Write the Book Prompts with Gary during their interview. The first is this: 

Find a piece of writing you love. Study it. What is the tone? What is the shape on the page? What is the title? How much dialogue is used? How are characters developed? What is the theme? Once you’ve studied the piece, then try to emulate it.  Write your own piece that mirrors or learns from the piece you love. Allow yourself to follow the original, but also to meander where you need. 

The second prompt for this week focuses on beginning and endings. If you have a draft of an essay, story or poem that you like but find yourself stuck with the beginning or ending, go ahead and add a second beginning or ending. Just tack it right on. Maybe start or end your piece with an overt idea, or start or end your piece with a scene that moves us to some new place or time. Or start with a powerful metaphoric image. This can be just the kind of writing play you need to get you where you want to go. 

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

Music credits: I Could Write a Book by the Boston-based band, Possum.


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Houston author Chris Cander, whose new novel is Whisper Hollow, published by The Other Press.


This week I’m offering you two  Write The Book Prompts, thanks to the generous suggestions of my guest, Chris Cander. She just participated in a literary showdown recently, at Brazos, her favorite local bookstore in Houston. The event was in honor of independent bookstore day. Four participating Houston-based novelists were given a prompt and had thirty minutes to create a story each. Chris is a fan of working under pressure, which she says helps a writer bypass self-censorship. The bookstore employees picked out a romance novel that had “Texas” in the title. They read the first page aloud, which was full of raw passion and prairie angst, as Chris puts it. The main character was fleeing a difficult and traumatic situation. So the challenge was to write a story that would expand upon that summarized trauma in detail. Chris says it was a great prompt with a rich, ripe setup. It was fun and funny, because there were no expectations. She says you could do anything with this. Pick a genre. If you write literary fiction, pick something pulpy; if you write mysteries, maybe pick a historical novel. Then spend 30 minutes turning a piece of it into something different. It can help to unblock you and it’s a lot of fun, particularly in a group.


Chris also has found this second prompt useful. Because confession had a large role to play in her book, Whisper Hollow, Chris offered herself the challenge of letting a character she was having trouble with write a confessional letter to see what that character would say, what information might emerge to help her push through.


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

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Best-selling sports writer Jeff Pearlman, whose latest book is Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s, which came out last fall from Gotham Books.


This week’s  Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Jeff Pearlman. Look around your room and choose something. For example, Jeff mentioned seeing a pineapple. Use the word for that object in your next sentence; it has to be a viable sentence. In his case, Jeff might then try to compare a basketball to the look and feel of a pineapple. Maybe the stickiness or the texture. He says it might not last, it might not make the final cut when it comes to finalizing the draft, but it often helps him to keep going when the work has slowed down. 

A second recommendation that Jeff makes is to listen to old-school hip hop while you write. He suggests choosing a jazz-infused kind of hip hop, like A Tribe Called Quest or Black Sheep. Jeff feels that the flow of really good hip hop is similar to the flow of writing. He says that some of his best work was written when he was listening to old-school hip hop.

So there you go: two writing ideas from Jeff Pearlman.

Good luck with them, and listen next week for another.

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

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Vermont 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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Veteran Boston Globe Reporter Stephen Kurkjian, author of Master Thieves, the story of the the largest art theft in history, published by PublicAffairs.

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

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

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

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

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Vermont poet and UVM Professor Stephen Cramer, whose new book is From the Hip: A Concise History of Hip Hop (in sonnets), published by Wind Ridge Books of Vermont. 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest Stephen Cramer. He likes to assign this to his students, because it presents the challenge of describing something ethereal, like music, that doesn’t have a form that you can touch or see. You have to turn to metaphor a lot, and to a description from the senses. Words like “velvety,” “sharp,” and “bright.” So this week’s prompt is to write about music and see if you can use synesthesia - one sense expressed in terms of another - to launch your piece into some new, unexpected place. Lynda Hull’s poem Hollywood Jazz has at least two instances of synesthesia, if you’d like to read one that Stephen recommends. 

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

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