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Archive for the 'Structure' Category

J. Robert Lennon, whose second story collection, See You in Paradise, is just out from Graywolf Press.

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest J. Robert Lennon, who is a teacher as well as being a writer, and who is working on a collection of writing prompts and exercises. He created this exercise after reading the book A Void, translated from the original French La Disparition (literally, "The Disappearance"), a 300-page novel, written in 1969 by Georges Perec, entirely without using the letter e (except for the author's name). The 1994 translation by Gilbert Adair likewise does not contain the letter e. As J. Robert Lennon pointed out to me, “there goes the past tense and every pronoun.” His exercise is this: write a one-page story about a funeral without using the letter “e.” You can’t use cemetery or grave or funeral or death or tears or dead or die. He finds that students will come up against a word they can’t use, then another and another, and the sentence becomes so terrible, they have to back up and do an end runner on the problem. Which is a great thing to do in any case. He says it often ends up being the best prose they’ve written all semester because they have to work so hard to write every single sentence.  
Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.
Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) "Virginia" - Starry Mountain Sweetheart Band (of which my guest, J. Robert Lennon, is a band member!) 
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Shelagh interviews Tim Brookes about his latest, First Time Author, and Tim interviews Shelagh about her debut novel, Shape of the Sky. RETN captures the interview for television and radio. Much fun had by all. 

Today’s Write The Book Prompt is to write about a person who meets a goal. Someone who achieves something she has always wanted to achieve. It can be a sales goal, a personal best, a long-avoided task. Is she pleased? Does it look like it was supposed to? Is he happy afterwards, or does it immediately fail to meet his expectations? What does he do next? What does she?  

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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National Book Award Finalist Joshua Ferris, whose new novel is To Rise Again At A Decent Hour, published by Little Brown.

This week's Write The Book Prompt  concerns titles, because I think To Rise Again At A Decent Hour is a fantastic title. I’d love to do an entire show about finding good titles. They are the first words most of us ever see about a book, and they can prompt a potential reader to investigate further, or just walk on by. This week, spend a little time thinking about how you might like to title a piece you’re working on. Initially, just spend time with the piece, without making comparisons about other titles that are out there in the world. Then do a study: scan titles at a library or bookstore. Pick up a collection of stories or poems (preferably an anthology, or a Best American collection, so that you’re studying the names of various writers’ works). Take notes about which selections you might want to read, based on title alone. Look for patterns in your own tastes, and in what you see getting published. Are you more drawn to titles that include a character’s name, or a place, or a hint of the plot? Do you prefer titles that are quirky, like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time or Me Talk Pretty One Day? Or do you gravitate to more straightforward titles: The Goldfinch, The Bird Artist. Look once more at the piece you’re working on and think about how you might title it. Hopefully you’ll have some new ideas.

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 College of Fine Arts President Thomas Christopher Greene, whose new novel, The Headmaster's Wife, comes out from Thomas Dunne Books on February 25th, 2014.

This week’s  Write The Book Prompt was inspired by the interview you heard today. Write a scene from the perspective of a narrator who does not understand what is happening, but write it so that the reader does 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 Vermont band featuring several South Burlington High School students. 
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Award-winning Vermont poet Daniel Lusk, whose latest book is Kin, published by Wind Ridge Books of Vermont.

This week I have two Write The Book Prompts, both offered by my guest, Daniel Lusk. The first is prompted by what’s been happening all around us: 

After the ice storm, what do you wish might happen when the sun comes out?

And another, especially apt for the New Year: 

Make a list of questions to which you do not know the answer. Maybe the list is your poem. Maybe one of the questions will warrant further unraveling or provocative guesses in response.

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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Bestselling British author Diane Setterfield, whose latest book is Bellman & Black, published by Atria/Emily Bestler Books. Her first novel, The Thirteenth Tale, sold over 3 million copies in 38 countries.

Today’s Write The Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Diane Setterfield. When Diane is writing and is confused about which way to go or is stuck: she puts out of her mind that she’s writing a novel and imagines, what if I was just on the phone with my mother and telling her about this? How would I tell her? She just writes it down as if she’s telling it to her mom. This doesn’t necessarily result in something finished, but it almost always gets her through that difficulty of not knowing and from that, provides a jumping off point for what she does need to do. This works particularly well, she says, when she knows the content that needs to go in, but is struggling to figure out HOW to present it. Writing can be like staging a play, according to Diane. You might know what the props are and where the actors are standing, but what is the lighting? What do you, the writer, want highlighted in the scene? For example, what do you want foregrounded, and what is just visible in the darkness?

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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Stephen Elliott, author and founding editor of the online literary magazine, The Rumpus. We discuss, among other things, his books Happy Baby and The Adderall Diaries: A Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and Murder.

Today’s Write The Book Prompt is to write about a miscommunication that causes offense: an unanswered phone call, a backhanded compliment, an accidental Facebook “unfriending,” etc. Be sure that the error was unintended, and that it results in tension between two or more people.

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 Author Kathryn Davis, whose new novel is Duplex, published by Graywolf Press.

Today’s Write The Book Prompt was inspired by my conversation with Kathryn Davis about her new book, Duplex. Write about a situation or place that, somehow, has multiple dimensions.

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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2010 interview with Vermont playwright Dana Yeaton about his play, My Ohio, and writing for the theater.

This week's Write The Book Prompt is to take a scene of dialogue between two or more characters and re-write it for the theater. Block it out, consider if the lines of dialogue that exist might need to be re-tweaked to make sense on stage. Think about your characters' movements; will they be different in a theatrical version?

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

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