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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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Vermont author James Tabor, Author of Blind Descent, discusses cave exploration, writing, and  Curtis' "Eighth Wonder of the World" Barbecue in Putney, Vermont.

This week’s Write The Book prompt is to write about an adventure you've had as an adult.

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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David Jauss, award-winning author of Glossolalia: New and Selected Stories, published by Press 53.

Today’s Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, David Jauss. It’s an exercise he has used in his introductory writing classes, because this helps people realize they have a creative ability that they otherwise might not know that they have. He starts by offering students a situation to work from:

A man is standing at a bus stop. The bus is due in about five minutes. He’s alone. Then a woman shows up. She turns out to be his ex-wife. They haven’t seen each other in several years.

David says that if he just were to leave it at that, people would immediately start inventing their own stories, and playing things out. What he asks is that students write dialogue only. He wants five exchanges between the two characters. Each side of an exchange can be more than one sentence, but only five exchanges, and no descriptions, no setting - only dialogue. First the man says something, then the woman. Then the man, and the woman. Five times total. (David jokes that, as this is fiction, you should give the man the last word.)

Another layer to the prompt is this: do not plan out what the characters will say to one another. David’s students have to wait until he shares a word with them, for each half of each exchange. He chooses a book at random, opens to any page, points his finger to the page, and says the word he finds there. For example, he might hit the word “funnel.” So the man’s half of the first exchange must include the word funnel. When the woman responds, she will need to use the second word that David finds when he opens to another random page and tells his students the word he finds there. So you’ll find ten words, one at a time as you go, to incorporate into these five exchanges.

As you write using today’s prompt, either enlist the help of a partner, who can find random words for you to use in your five exchanges, or open a book of your own and choose as you go, finding words on your own. But don’t plan the five exchanges ahead of time.

Once you have the five exchanges, THEN ask yourself what your characters look like, and what are the details of the setting that you held back from writing initially. David says that people find really interesting ways to put these words in the dialogue, whereas if they had known the words ahead of time, they’d naturally start to plan it all out. Also, as you write the dialogue, you will likely find out about the surroundings, and the details of what your characters look like and such, without realizing you’ve done it, and without “planning it.” I’m guessing, too, that you’d have never used a word such as “funnel” in your dialogue, which means that what you come up with might well be more interesting and take you to a different place than you would have expected.

Good luck with these exercises 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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Interviews highlighting three local groups that are making the Burlington area writing community much richer: The Burlington Writers' Workshop (Peter Biello), The Renegade Writers' Collective (Angela Palm and Jessica Hendry Nelson), and The Writers' Barn (Lin Stone and Daniel Lusk).

Today I have two Write The Book Prompts. The first is to write about two interactions between lifelong friends: the first time they meet, and the last time they meet. Limit each scene to a page, but try to intimate a whole friendship into those two pages, letting us know who these people are, how they eventually influence each other, how important they become in each other's lives.

Today's second prompt was suggested by my guest, the poet Daniel Lusk. It's a prompt he used recently in the poetry group at the Writers Barn: Write a poem with a red dress in it.
Good luck with these exercises 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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2013 Interview with the writer Abby Frucht, whose collection of stories, The Bell at the End of a Rope, is new from Narrative Library.

Today's Write The Book Prompt was mentioned by my guest, Abby Frucht, during our interview. You may recall that when we spoke, she said that she will ask new students to read the opening line or lines of a story, and then to use those lines to "project the objects, events, circumstances, characters, techniques, perspectives ... structural inclinations, anything that will take place over the course of the story." So today's prompt is to do this. Read the opening lines of a story - not one of your own, of course - and make a list of these story elements for which you might see the opening lines laying the groundwork. Then put down your list of gleaned ideas, read the full story, and see how the piece of fiction emerges from those early sentences. Don't look at this as a test of your ability to predict the story, but to understand how that author uses the early sentences to lead the reader into the story. In our interview, Abby said that the first lines have both the responsibility and the privilege of that introduction -- they lay down the clues about how the rest of the story might be drawn.

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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Short story writer and novelist Moira Crone, whose latest book is The Not Yet, published by University of New Orleans Press and one of seven on the ballot for the Philip K. Dick Award - Best Paperback Original Science Fiction Novel of the Year (winner to be announced in late March 2013).

Click here to see artwork inspired by The Not Yet.

Today I have several Write The Book Prompts to offer, suggested by my guest, Moira Crone.

Conventional Fiction Prompts:

After he stopped her from jumping ...

I remember ...

I will never forget ...

Speculative Fiction Prompts:

Since there was no more religion, he decided to ...

Once the sky had smashed into smithereens, she ...

She read his arm to see where he was headed ...

Good luck with these exercises 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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Interview with National Book Award Finalist and Author of Fiction and Memoir, Joan Wickersham. Her latest book is The News From Spain, published by Knopf.

This week's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Joan Wickersham. When she teaches, she often encourages her students to read Tim O'Brien's extraordinary story, The Things They Carried, from the collection by the same name. After reading the story, which is, in fact, a long list in itself, make your own list. In fact, make a list of lists. What are some ideas for structuring a story in the form of a list? Here are a few ideas I've come up with: a grocery list, a packing list, a to-do list, a category on Craig's List! Come up with a few of your own. Then pick one of those ideas and see if you can write a story using that list form as a structural device, or just for inspiration.

Good luck with this prompt and tune in 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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Two interviews this week:

1) Award-winning Irish author Tana French, whose latest Dublin Murder Squad novel is Broken Harbor, published by Viking/Penguin.

2) Local writer Carrie Mackillop, recent winner of NPR's 3-Minute Fiction Contest and owner of the Old Brick Store in Charlotte, VT.

Today's Write The Book prompt was suggested by my guest, Carrie Mackillop. Write a story of 600 words in which a parent confesses something to a child. Carrie also offered an opening line, "Tess was drowning in inefficiency." You could use that in conjunction with her first prompt, or on its own as a first line, just as NPR's first line inspired Carrie to write Rainy Wedding.

Good luck with this prompt, and tune in 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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Award-winning Canadian author Douglas Glover, on his latest book: a collection of essays on writing, Attack of the Copula Spiders, published by Biblioasis.

Today's Write The Book Prompt is to write what Douglas Glover playfully calls "a but-construction." In his new book, ATTACK OF THE COPULA SPIDERS, he writes: "Imagine any simple declarative sentence, and add the word but to the end." The example Douglas offers is: "The barn was red, but..." Now keep writing. See what complexity you might be able to introduce to this sentence, or another of your own devising, simply by adding the word "but." As he explains in the book, "I wrote the word 'but' and then had to write something else; the blank space demands completeness. I had no idea what I might put in there before I wrote the words. The result is pure invention, discovery, and rather fun."

Good luck with this prompt and tune in 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 Vermont author Julia Alvarez, whose latest book is A WEDDING IN HAITI: THE STORY OF A FRIENDSHIP, published by Shannon Ravenel Books, an imprint of Algonquin.

The televised production of this interview can be found at RETN.org

Today I can offer two Write The Book Prompts, both of which were generously suggested by my guest, Julia Alvarez.The first is to write a list poem or prose passage. Julia loves making lists, and reading them. She wrote in an email, "sometimes, when I am grocery shopping, I'll find a discarded list on a shelf or on the floor, and I always pick it up and read it. Many are just a straight list of items to buy, but every once in a while, the list will include little notes or things to do. I'll start to imagine a story for the shopper who dropped the list!"

She offered a number of examples of good list poems and prose passages, including Triad, by 19th century poet Adelaide Crapsey:

These be three silent things:

the falling snow. . .the hour

before dawn. . .the mouth of one

just dead

Julia asks writers to remember that the items on the list need to be vivid and concrete, as sharp as little haikus, because as we read a list, we have to quickly picture each item before the next one comes on board. No brand names. None of those airbrushed abstract adjectives ("beautiful," "interesting") that are vague and generic" and don't nail down an image with a bright flash of recognition. She writes, "I love the surprises and juxtapositions that happen when you try to group, say, shapely things on a list." She sent a number of eighth graders' wonderful poems, from a workshop that she taught. Here they are:

Shapely Things

Waves on an ocean. . . long,

high rollercoasters, mouths

forming words. . . writing. . .

someone walking or running

with a limp. . .

clouds in the open sky. . . a mind

forming an idea.

Tammy, 8th grade

These things hardly have time:

lightning in a storm,

very nervous people,

the rush of embarrassment,

the years in a life and

a never-stopping clock.

These things hardly have time.

Scott, 8th grade

These things are extra hard:

writing a poem,

being original,

riding up a hill in 10th gear,

and taking wet socks off.

James, 8th grade

Slippery Things

Rocks the water of a creek runs over

Worms

and the slime of a swamp.

Catch a fish--that, too.

The words of a blabber mouth.

Sue, 8th grade

Another writing prompt came via a book her stepdaughter Berit gave to Julia one Christmas: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure, edited by Smith Magazine, which has a whole site devoted to posts of six-word memoirs.

So the second prompt would be: write your six-word memoir! Julia cautions that it can be really difficult to get an essence of who you are so briefly.

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

The commemorative event that Julia and I discussed during the interview, marking the 75th anniversary of the 1937 Haitian Massacre, takes place in October. More information about that event will be available at border of lights.org

More information about Piti's band, Rise Up, Brothers, will be available soon at cafealtagracia.com

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