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Archive for the 'Writing Craft' Category

Award-winning author Ann Patchett, named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time Magazine in 2012, whose latest book is This Is The Story of A Happy Marriage, published by Harper. Ann Patchett is co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee.

This week’s Write The Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Ann Patchett. Write something about one of your parents or grandparents, or an older person that you’ve known all your life, who is important to you. This person can be dead or alive. Write a scene that encapsulates his or her personality. Not an obituary, although it might be a sort of spiritual encapsulation of who this person is or was. But convey that without giving the facts of the person’s life.

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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Vermont author Alec Hastings, whose first novel is Otter St. Onge and the Bootleggers: A Tale of Adventure, published by The Public Press.

This week I have two Write The Book Prompts, generously suggested by my guest, Alec Hastings. In his classes, Alec offers his students prompts for their twice-a-week journal entries. He says, “I supplement the prompt with an anecdote that helps them see how even one word can be spun into many. For instance, before Thanksgiving, I gave table as a prompt. After letting my students give me blank stares for a moment or two, I launched into a description of my grandmother's kitchen, the cast iron cook stove with the hot water reservoir; the wood box; the bench with the lid that lifted and allowed boot storage beneath; the basketball-sized cookie jar shaped and painted like a ripe, red apple; the fresh baked bread and cookies that awaited us every day when my brothers and I returned home from school; the oaken, claw-foot table upon which meals were eaten and around which we gathered for conversation, dessert, and many a colorful tale; and not least of all, my grandmother, the heart of the kitchen and the source of the good smells, the good cheer, and the grandmotherly love that enfolded us all.” On the day that I spoke with Alec, he’d offered his students the prompt: Scary experience. So there you go, consider the word table, or consider scary experience, or both! And write.

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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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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Interview from the archives with Tim Brookes, author of eleven books, including Thirty Percent Chance of Enlightenment.


Today’s Write The Book Prompt is inspired by the Endangered Alphabets Project, founded by my guest, Tim Brookes. Think back to some aspect of your own life that was once important to you, or to an entire community, but disappeared or ended for some reason. This could be a tradition, a celebration, a place, a sports team, a family recipe, a song. It doesn’t have to be as important an issue as an entire language that’s going extinct, though if you have such an inspiration, go with it. Write about that aspect of your life that was vital to you, then write about how you lost it, and what that has meant for you, and if it exists anymore in any form for anyone else.
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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Interviews with Neuroscientist James Fallon, author of The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain, published by Current; and Vermont Poet Ralph Culver, whose chapbook, Both Distances, was published by Anabiosis Press.

Today I have two Write The Book Prompts for you, both of which were mentioned by my second guest, Ralph Culver, during our conversation. First, if your writing needs a jump start, go to a favorite book of poetry and spend some time reading that work. Often, Ralph finds that doing this will reanimate his desire to write. He also mentioned trying to write a short haiku-like poem, which may or may not follow all the rules of the haiku, but is likely to involve nature. So those are your prompts this week. Read a favorite poem or book of poems. And try to write a haiku. Don’t focus so specifically on the rules that you’re unable to write, but perhaps let the form inspire you.

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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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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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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2009 interview with Vermont Author Doug Wilhelm, whose latest novel, The Prince of Denial, came out this month. 

Today’s Write The Book Prompt is to write a story or poem in which someone runs out of gas.

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 Neil Shepard, whose latest book,(T)ravel/Un(t)ravel, was published by MidList Press.

This week I have four Write The Book Prompts to offer, thanks to Neil Shepard's generous suggestions. The first focuses on poetic identity.

1. Select at least six (6) items from the choices below and mix them into an Identity Poem that reveals who you are (or some disguise of you, or some totally fictional you). Add whatever other language you need to patch the disparate parts of the poem together. Here’s the list:

  • briefly describe a significant or recurring dream
  • what is your totemic animal, and why;
  • which element (earth, air, fire, water) are you, and why
  • borrow a phrase from a famous poem that fits your identity
  • use a guide book on flowers, trees, birds, or stars to discover a few natural objects that correspond to your identity
  • feed your full name into an anagram scrambler and select a few phrases that seem to describe you
  • what truths do you live by (be specific)
  • what lies do you live by (be specific)
  • if you could be anybody who has lived on this earth, who would it be
  • if you could be a fly on a wall, where would you like to land
  • if you could be a ghost, who would you like to haunt
  • what is your secret power and your secret weakness (other than kryptonite)

2. The second prompt that Neil Shepard suggested focuses on sentence rhythms: Write a prose paragraph or a poetic stanza whose sentences try to imitate the rhythm of one of the following activities:

  • a couple having sex
  • a truck driver riding a big-rig across the Great Plains
  • a machine operating in a factory
  • a religious sermon
  • a ping-pong match
  • a rollercoaster ride
  • a sky-dive
  • an interrogation scene (either at a police station or in a courtroom)

3. The third prompt is for dreamers: Write a poem based on a few of your dreams that still don’t make sense to you. Try to pluck out the most arresting images from those dreams. Then insert them in a poem about some “normal“ domestic activity such as shopping at the supermarket, swimming laps at the pool, studying for an exam, flossing your teeth, or cleaning your room. The cognitive dissonance between dream image and daily activity should create the surreality of the poem.

4. This last prompt is for writers bored with "the self": The poet Phillip Levine has said about the autobiographical impulse: “Why would we want to write about ourselves, if we can imagine and write about anybody else in history?”  For this exercise, adopt a historical figure – someone decidedly not you – who lived at least 100 years ago. Research the person, the historical period, the dramatic events central to the poem you will write, and then write the poem from this person’s perspective and voice. Remember to make the poem vivid and externalized – don’t create an abstract monologue that neglects references to the time, place, characters, and events of this historical period. (It helps to imagine a dramatic moment in time.)

So there you go, four prompts from Neil Shepard. 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.

Listen Now:


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