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Archive for the 'Writing Craft' Category

Vermont author Brett Ann Stanciu, author of Hidden View (Green Writers Press).

Brett Ann Stanciu suggested a famous John Gardner exercise for this week's Write the Book Prompt. Here's a link to a site that lists many. (Brett's favorite is #4d). 

Here's her own version of that exercise:

Describe a building as seen by an elderly woman whose sister has recently been killed by a random and unexplained act of gun violence. Do not mention the sister, death, or the old woman doing the seeing. Then describe that exact building at the same time as seen by a young woman in love for the first time. Do not mention love, the loved one, or the young woman.

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 former South Burlington High School students).
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Julie Barton, author of the new memoir Dog Medicine (Think Piece). 


This week’s Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Julie Barton, and is based on “Wild Writing” work she has done with San Francisco writing coach Laurie Wagner (who leads online workshops as well as well as bay area classes). Julie says that “wild writing” is a phenomenal writing practice. Here’s the basic assignment: write by hand. Read any one of the following poems (follow the links to read them), and then write for 15 minutes, allowing your read of that poem to inspire you. Write as fast as possible, and even as poorly as possible, without thinking. By letting your subconscious lead the way, you’ll be more likely to access work you might otherwise never have gotten to.These are the poems that Julie recommends:

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 former South Burlington High School students).
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Award-winning children's author Kate Messner. Since our interview, she has published many new books, including a few in her new Ranger In Time series (Scholastic), about a time-traveling golden retriever. 


This week’s Write the Book Prompt is inspired by my interview with Kate Messner, who started to write Over and Under the Snow after her class’s snowshoeing field trip. Write a poem, story, or scene that has to do with a winter sport.

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 former South Burlington High School students).
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Two interviews this week. First, Lorin Stein, Editor of The Paris Review. Their new collection is called The Unprofessionals: New American Writing from The Paris Review, published by Penguin. My second interview is with Vanessa Blakeslee, author of the novel, Juventud, published by Curbside Splendor.


This week’s  Write The Book Prompt was inspired by my conversation with Lorin Stein, during which we discussed the repeated word, “there,” in the story “The Dark and Winding Road,” by Ottessa Moshfegh, in The Unprofessionals: New American Writing from The Paris Review. Often, writers are told to steer clear of repeating words in close succession in their prose, and yet this story absolutely benefits from the author’s intentional repetition. To my mind, it’s intention that makes the difference. Words that are repeated by accident are unlikely to do much other than bump the reader out of the prose. But words that are chosen and placed carefully in succession to highlight something a writer wants to draw attention to--these can be useful and beautiful. Former WTB guest Priscilla Long writes in her book, The Writer’s Portable Mentor: “Good writers delight in repeating good words.” She later adds, “If you have trained yourself not to repeat, learning to do the opposite takes practice and it takes developing your ear.” The word “there” in Ottessa Moshfegh’s story becomes a good word--the right word--by the author’s intention. She uses it to highlight the importance of the setting, which lies at the end of a dark and winding road, but I think also to highlight the otherness--the “there”--of the narrator’s present state of mind. This week’s prompt, then, is to use word repetition in a way that will accentuate something intentionally. Practice reading the result out loud, to be sure the music is just right. 
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 former South Burlington High School students).
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Kate Harding, author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture – and What We Can Do About It, published by Da Capo Lifelong Books.


This week’s Write the Book Prompt was inspired by this week’s interview, specifically about Kate Harding’s and my discussion of the media. Write a scene in which a politician or member of the media makes a statement or argument that is stranger than fiction. It can be ridiculous or outlandish -- surely our culture has seen an actual example that’s just as shocking. Then re-write the scene in another manner, but without changing that character’s point of view. A politician who might find a smoother way to convey his or her offensive message. A journalist who might offer two points of view and then an opinion. Study what changed between the two scenes, and keep that change -- the strong, inartful message versus the subtle or shrewd or slick message -- in mind as you work on your own characters going forward.

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 former South Burlington High School students).

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Vermont author Coleen Kearon, whose debut novel is Feminist on Fire (Fomite Press).


This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Coleen Kearon. Open a favorite book to a random page. Write down the opening three words of any sentence. Close the book, and use those three words as a starting point for your own work. 

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 former South Burlington High School students).



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National Book Critics Circle Award winner and author of “the most accomplished book of essays anyone has written or published so far in the twenty-first century” (Salon), Eula Biss, whose book On Immunity: An Inoculation has come out in paperback (Graywolf Press). 

I have a new Write The Book Prompt for you, an exercise suggested by my guest, Eula Biss, who learned it long ago at an AWP panel. She doesn’t recall whose idea it was, and so can not credit the person, though she’d like to, because she uses it both as a writer and as a teacher:

Write a scene or moment from a “bright spot” in your memory. It isn’t necessary to understand why you’re writing about it; you don’t have to know why it’s important or why you remember it, but write from this bright spot: this moment that rises quickly and easily to the surface. Then read over what you’ve written--a paragraph or a page, whatever you have written. Then, without looking it over again, write it again using a different tense. Eula has noticed that different verb tenses will draw out different material. Often she will compose in the present tense, because it draws out richer detail, and then--if it makes the most sense--revise into another tense, like the past, later. 

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 former South Burlington High School students).

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Vermont author Stephen P. Kiernan whose new novel is The Hummingbird, published by William Morrow.

So let’s say we wanted to put some pressure on that paragraph, above. What if we were to rewrite it, putting some pressure on the language, making it leaner, and getting that last word, “widow,” onto the previous line? I’m going to have a go.

There! I took it from 13 lines to 10, and did remove that widow, which was, ironically, the word “widow.” Now you try it with your own prose. 

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


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Interview from the archives with New York Times Bestselling Author Mary McGarry Morris. We discussed her 2011 novel, Light from a Distant Star.


This week's Write the Book Prompt is to write about candlelight or firelight. Describe it in a new way, without using words you've read before about the appearance and movement of fire. 

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 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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