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Archive for the 'Writing Craft' Category

A conversation with Douglas Glover, founder, publisher and editor of the online magazine Numéro Cinq

This week’s Write the Book Prompt, generously suggested by my guest Douglas Glover, is an "aphoristic mad lib." Doug began studying aphorisms early in his writing career, once he realized what they were and how they were used by certain writers he admired. This is from the Numéro Cinq website: “Generally speaking, aphorisms are terse, pointed sayings meant to provoke thought and argument. There are several basic types, but they often set up as definitions or clever balanced antitheses or even puns.” Doug recommends approaching the aphorism as a formal experiment. Decide which type appeals to you, and then sit down and write some. Don’t write just one; write many. Don’t spend too much time. Play with them, see what happens. Don’t think about what you mean ahead of time. The exercise is meant to be an act of discovery. After you’ve written some, play with putting them into thematic passages in your work. A few examples:

  • If you have a scene where a husband and wife are fighting, insert a love aphorism. “And what is love? An erotic accident prolonged to disaster." (Douglas Glover, "Bad News of the Heart") 
  • Have a scene where you want to compare and contrast two types of people? "There are two kinds of readers; the adventurers who glory in the breathtaking audacity and risk of a well-turned aphorism and the weenies who, lacking courage themselves, find it affront in others." (Douglas Glover sent this in an email “to a recalcitrant student.”) 
  • Here’s one that I wrote for a Numéro Cinq Aphorism Contest, back in the days when Numéro Cinq had more contests. “Truth prowls in mansions of wit.” 

So to start, just play around with these types:

1) The definition aphorism: 

_____ is _____.


2) The two (or three) kinds aphorism: 

There are two kinds of ______: the _______, and the ________.


Here's an article that Douglas Glover wrote about epigrams and aphorisms, in case you’d like to read more about this.

My previous interviews with Doug can be found here and here


Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.


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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UCLA Professor Emeritus Ralph Frerichs, author of Deadly River: Cholera and Cover-Up in Post-Earthquake Haiti (Cornell University Press). This nonfiction medical mystery explores how the greatest cholera epidemic in recent times arose in Haiti. The book follows French epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux, who conducted the investigation, and presents a case-study of how humanitarian organizations and their followers react when difficult truths become uncomfortable. 


This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to study a map, and write about what you see there, what you learn, what places you suddenly want to travel to.


Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.


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Vermont author Richard Hawley, whose new novel is The Three Lives of Jonathan Force (Fomite)

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Richard Hawley. He recommends that writers learn a bit about Jungian archetypes if they aren’t already familiarthose universal, mythic characters that exist within each of uswhich Jung said are not just stories or structures, but are alive. They work on you, Jung would say. So read about archetypes, such as the star-crossed lovers, the hero’s journey, the hero’s miraculous birth... Find one that appeals and sketch or write a naturalistic in-this-world narrative in which that archetype is expressed. Use the architecture of the archetype to write a naturalistic narrative.


Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.


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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Thomas Christopher Greene with his new novel, If I Forget You (Thomas Dunne Books).


This week's Write the Book Prompt is to write a love scene. Allow yourself to express emotion, and don't mistake sentiment for sentimentality.

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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Anjali Mitter Duva, author of the novel faint promise of rain (She Writes Press).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Anjali Mitter Duva. The prompt she suggests comes from the writer, Barbara O’Neal, who was inspired to come up with it after watching one-second-every-day videos. Set a timer for one minute, and write what is happening right now, wherever you are. Begin writing with the words, “In this moment…” Include as much detail as you can. This prompt helps to get you in the habit of observing and conveying detail.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

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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Gary Lee Miller interviews author Steven Axelrod about his newest Henry Kinnis mystery, Nantucket Grand (Poisoned Pen Press).


This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by Steven Axelrod, who says, "The best one I know is also the simplest and most useful." 1) Write 1,000 words or so - story or memoir - something that you care about that also has an emotional connection. 2) Cut it down to 750 words. 3) Then cut the 750 words down to 500. See what's left. If the essence remains, then you have succeeded, and at half the length. Steven reminds us of the E.B. White line, "Sorry this was so long. I didn't have time to make it shorter." 

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

Music credits: "I Could Write a Book," by Possum.

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Bestselling and award-winning novelist Jane Hamilton, whose new book is The Excellent Lombards (Grand Central).


This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider the advice of Willa Cather, whom Jane quoted during our interview. Here is the full text of the quote, which she was kind enough to share with me. It comes from Willa Cather’s On the Art of Fiction:


"Art, it seems to me, should simplify.  That, indeed, is very nearly the whole of the higher artistic process;  finding what conventions of form and what detail one can do without and yet preserve the spirit of the whole, so that all that one has suppressed and cut away is there to the reader’s consciousness as much as if it were in type on 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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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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In the second of two interviews on May 9th, John Preston, author of The Dig (Other Press, May 2016). 

This week's show aired on May 9th. On this day in 1429 - Joan of Arc defeated the besieging English at Orleans. On this day in 1502 - Christopher Columbus left Spain for his final trip to the Western Hemisphere. And on May 9, 1994 - Nelson Mandela was chosen to be South Africa's first black president. This week’s  Write The Book Prompt is to write about one of these historical events while trying to do what John Preston mentioned at the end of our interview: try to make it real -- give it an immediacy -- despite being distanced by history. “The way that people are wired emotionally doesn’t change,” said Preston in our interview. Breathe your characters to life as much as you can to allow the reader to metaphorically extend an arm and touch a character who has been gone for, in some cases, a very long time.

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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In the first of two interviews on May 9th, Dinitia Smith, author of The Honeymoon (Other Press, May 2016). 

This week's Write the Book Prompt follows Interview 399, Part 2! 

Good luck with it, 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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