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Archive for the 'Writing Craft' Category

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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Daniel James Brown, whose award-winning and New York Times Bestselling Book, The Boys in the Boat, has been adapted for young readers.


This week’s Write The Book Prompt involves considering history as you seek ideas for your work. Browse an antique store for artifacts of a period that interests you. As you look around, keep your mind open to the characters who might have once held this book, had dinner at this table, stitched this tablecloth. Choose two or three objects from a certain period in time, and incorporate them into a story, poem, or essay. Try not to know ahead of time what aspect of 1923 or 1968 you plan to focus on. Instead, let the objects that you find surprise you with the stories they tell and the characters they suggest.

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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Author Susan McCarty, whose collection, Anatomies (Aforementioned Productions), debuted at #6 on the Small Press Distribution fiction bestseller list. 

This week’s  Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Susan McCarty, whose inspiration for the story "Anatomies" came from the autobiography, Berlin Childhood around 1900 by Walter Benjamin. In it, Benjamin maps his life onto the places and spaces of his youth in Berlin. For instance, he writes about the hallway where the family telephone--which he describes as "an outcast," and "my twin brother"--was hung. He writes about the Tiergarten, a park in Berlin where he first experienced romantic love. Susan suggests that, as a prompt this week, you think about your own places and spaces and map some memories onto them, however small or insignificant-seeming the place, space, memory, or emotion. Limit yourself to 600 words for each memory/place. The point here is to make an active setting for your story, and to notice the way in which setting and plot intertwine to make each other. Susan also shared a link to Dorothy Allison’s wonderful essay, “Place,” in which, she talks about how place is not a backdrop for action, but an integral part of it. For further inspiration, Susan recommends checking out the great website Mapping Salt Lake City, curated by the poet and essayist Paisley Rekdal. 

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

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Interview from the archives with Evan Fallenberg, writer, translator and director of fiction for the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv. Author of the novels Light Fell and When We Danced on Water


This week's Write the Book prompt is to observe people in a public place - a restaurant, an airport, a library, a coffee shop - and make a list of people's gestures that you can later use in your work. Authentic, original gestures will enliven your work, so that your characters don't spend every scene fiddling with that same pair of reading glasses. 

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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Author and Goddard College Professor Laurie Foos, whose novel The Blue Girl came out in July from Coffee House Press


This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously offered to Gary Lee Miller by his guest, Laurie Foos. It’s based on Gabriel Garcia Marquez's story, "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings." Several pages into the story, there are several lines that are suggestive of whole stories (beyond that of the man with enormous wings). Write a story based on one of the following: a woman (or man) who since childhood has been counting his/her heartbeats and has run out of numbers; a man /women who can't sleep because the noise of the stars disturbs him/her; a sleepwalker who gets up at night to undo the things he/she has done while awake.

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

Music credits: "I Could Write a Book," by the Boston-based band, Possum.

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Writer and musician Tommy Wallach, whose debut YA novel, We All Looked Up, came out in March from Simon & Schuster.

This week’s  Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Tommy Wallach, who says that, although a lot of prompts focus on description and sentence-level writing, he feels that the hardest part about writing is actually story. Tommy suggests sitting down and, in half an hour, writing out three-act structure plot with no description or dialogue. 

The three-act structure has to do with creating the beginning, middle, and end of your story. Aristotle wrote of exposition, rising action, and resolution. In cinematic terms, the three acts are setup, confrontation and resolution. Here’s a website that discusses three-act structure, in case you’d like to read up on it. It’s something I found on the Indiana University website, and it has a shark.

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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