Archive for the 'writing retreats' Category

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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Interviews highlighting three local groups that are making the Burlington area writing community much richer: The Burlington Writers' Workshop (Peter Biello), The Renegade Writers' Collective (Angela Palm and Jessica Hendry Nelson), and The Writers' Barn (Lin Stone and Daniel Lusk).

Today I have two Write The Book Prompts. The first is to write about two interactions between lifelong friends: the first time they meet, and the last time they meet. Limit each scene to a page, but try to intimate a whole friendship into those two pages, letting us know who these people are, how they eventually influence each other, how important they become in each other's lives.

Today's second prompt was suggested by my guest, the poet Daniel Lusk. It's a prompt he used recently in the poetry group at the Writers Barn: Write a poem with a red dress in it.
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.

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2010 interview with novelist Ginnah Howard, whose new book, Doing Time Outside, comes out this month from Standing Stone Books.

Given that we're moving into August, and the nights are growing cooler - at least in Vermont - today's Write The Book Prompt is to write about the end of summer. 


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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An interview from the archives with  Scott Russell Sanders, author of twenty books of fiction and nonfiction, including A Conservationist Manifesto and Earth Works, his latest, published in 2012 by Indiana University Press. This show originally ran in two parts, but here is available as a single podcast lasting almost an hour and a half.

Today's Write The Book Prompt is inspired by a writing conference I went to at the end of last week and over the weekend: AWP 2013, which took place in Boston. AWP stands for Associated Writing Programs. In the time I've been going to the meeting, every couple years for the past ten years or so, attendance has exploded. This year they had some 11,000 writers show up. That's a lot of writers, and they need a LOT of space. So there's crowd control to think about, and which panels and workshops and readings are of most interest to you, social concerns, like What-again-is-the-name-of-that-guy-who's-walking-over-here-and-where-do-I-know-him-from? There will be dietary concerns, like do you have time to stand in that long line for a cup of coffee and a cookie, and if you do, will you not be able to get a seat in the How-I-got-my-book- reviewed-by-Oprah panel? There's the issue of having to sit for long periods of time on maybe not the most comfortable seats. But then there are the great things: seeing old friends, learning new things, returning home energized to write! So this week's prompt is to write a poem, a story, an essay or a personal narrative about some experience you've either had or can imagine having at a conference. It can be any kind of conference or meeting or reunion - whatever inspires you to write.

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

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An interview with Burlington Book Festival founder and organizer Rick Kisonak, in celebration of the 2012 festival, which will take place in a variety of downtown Burlington venues September 21-23. According to the website, "The Queen City’s 8th annual celebration of the written word will offer readings, signings, panels, workshops, demos, family activities, and special events featuring literary luminaries from around the world-and just around the corner. All events will be free of charge and open to the public." Check out this years offerings here. Rick Kisonak is a film and media critic who lives in South Burlington, Vermont. His reviews can be found in Vermont's independent weekly paper Seven Days, and on the website Rotten Tomatoes, among other places.

Today's Write The Book Prompt is to write about a writing workshop. Include a leader and several participants. Let a moment of tension turn into something unexpected, and allow at least one member of the group to surprise him- or herself by behaving uncharacteristically.

Good luck with this prompt and tune in next week for another.

Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band that existed briefly in 2008 and 2009, featuring several South Burlington High School students - now grads)

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2008 interview with Michael Collier, poet and director of the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, which runs from August 15th through the 24th in 2012.

Today's Write The Book prompt is to pull out something you worked on awhile ago, but set aside. Give it another try.

Good luck with this prompt, and tune in 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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Robin Hemley, author of the book Do Over! “in which a 48- year-old father of three returns to kindergarten, summer camp, the prom, and other embarrassments.” Robin will have two new books out in 2012: Reply All: Stories (Break Away Books), and A Field Guide for Immersion Writing: Memoir, Journalism, and Travel, (University of Georgia Press). You can find more information about these on Robin's website.

The sound quality of today's archive rebroadcast was not great. Not sure what happened, but a bit buzzy. So here I'm posting the old podcast as it originally ran in 2009, in hopes of providing better sound quality. The were minor differences in the intro and closing, most notably a new prompt, which I'm offering below. Thanks for your patience.

Today's Write The Book Prompt is to organize your own Do Over. Maybe it doesn't make a lot of sense for you to redo the prom, or to re-enroll in kindergarten. But perhaps you had another experience in recent weeks or months that you wish you could do over. Go back to the store where a counter person was rude and you left feeling upset. Or make plans to see a friend to whom YOU were perhaps rude, or were not your best self in some way, and you left feeling embarrassed or frustrated or uniquely human. Revisit your old school, if it's nearby, track down one of your former teachers. Maybe you gave a reading at a local open mike venue and it went poorly; try it again. See how it goes to re-approach an imperfect experience with new enthusiasm and perspective. And then write about the two events, and what you might have taken away from this exercise.

Good luck with it, and please listen next week for another!

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Interview From the Archives with Vermont Author of Memoir, Fiction and Nonfiction, Christopher Noel, whose most recent books include Impossible Visits: The Inside Story of Interactions with Sasquatch at Habituation Sites, and A Frail House: Stories.

Today's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Chris Noel in 2009, when I first interviewed him. It's a great prompt, and fitting for Halloween, so I'm repeating it now.

During the interview, Chris mentioned that writers should meditate on the monsters that move us, those mysterious creatures that fascinated and perhaps repelled us when we were small. Contemplate the monster that lived under your bed, inside your closet, or outside your window, and then free write. This is a great way to enlighten or SHOW yourself what interests and motivates you. It may well also show you something you'd forgotten or hadn't even realized about yourself.

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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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.

Today's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Evan Fallenberg, who says this is a good exercise for writing minor characters. When we create character, we traditionally access four methods of (direct) presentation: action, appearance, speech and thought. Take a character you know very well: yourself. Come up with one idea each, or four ideas total, that might best describe you, considering those four methods of presentation. Each one idea has to be the most perfect representation of you as a minor character, helping a reader understand the essence of who you are. How can I describe my appearance with one single idea? What action is a truly representative action of how I might behave? With speech, consider those verbal tics that we all have, and pick a perfect example. For thought, write down that thing you would think but would never dare to say. Then take the exercise a step further. Take these four ideas, and craft them into a single paragraph, introducing a character who may only be in your story for a single paragraph.

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

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Ecologist and educator Amy Seidl, author of Early Spring: An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World and Finding Higher Ground: Adaptation in the Age of Warming.

Today's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Amy Seidl. First, read over this passage from her book, Finding Higher Ground:

"Peer into the natural world, one close at hand. Perhaps it is a city park whose paths are lined with oak or maple trees planted in the nineteenth century. Or maybe you are fortunate enough to walk in a remnant prairie with freshwater kettle ponds and migratory ducks, or an old-growth forest with trees whose gigantic trunks and canopies house thousands of species. Maybe you are walking in your own backyard, traversing an enclosed space that you've filled with daylilies, climbing roses, and garden beds filled with vegetables. All these places-the ones intended as sanctuary or refuge, the ones cultivated by gardeners, the wild places with no cultivators or patrons-all are experiencing the agitation of change."

Having read that passage, follow Amy's advice. Gaze out at the natural world-whichever one you find inspiring or, as Amy says, close at hand-and consider what you see and the adaptive realities that exist there. Now write about what you noticed, and your reactions to these observations. Were you surprised, awed, worried, impressed? Describe the changing world as you witness it, and the adaptation represented in what you've seen, and then describe how it moves you.

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

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Vermont Poet Jody Gladding, author of Rooms and Their Airs, published by Milkweed Editions.

This week's Write The Book Prompt is inspired by Jody Gladding's poetry and her focus on the natural world. Go for a walk in an outdoor place of your choosing. It can be in your back yard, in the woods, on Church Street, in the parking lot at your local mall. Wherever you'd like. Bring along a notebook and record sounds, smells, sights. Be sure to record some detail of nature that you find in whichever environment you choose. And also record at least one detail that reflects man's influence on the surroundings you've chosen. Set your notes aside, but continue to consider what you saw and perhaps experienced on your walk. A day or two later, write a poem about your walk and try to include the details you noted.

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 Writer Kenneth M. Cadow, author of Alfie Runs Away published by Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, a division of MacMillan.

This week's Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Kenneth Cadow, though he wanted to be sure I credit the true creator of the exercise, Emily Silver, who is an English Teacher at Thetford Academy. Ken and Emily co-teach from time to time. On one occasion, when the class was studying The Catcher in the Rye, Emily Silver gave the class the following exercise: write about your pet peeve, using your stream of consciousness to really go off on the subject. See where it takes you. Ken said that this exercise really got the students writing. His own pet peeve is vending machines.

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

Alfie Runs Away read with permission.

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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Interview with Richard Russo, Novelist, Pulitzer Prize Winner and Author of That Old Cape Magic.

This week's Write The Book Prompt is inspired by the subject matter of Richard Russo's novel, That Old Cape Magic. Write about a childhood vacation. This can be a recollected vacation from when you were a child, or an imagined vacation seen through the eyes of a fictional child. As you write, focus on details of place.

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

Excerpt of That Old Cape Magic read with permission from Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

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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Ann Hood, author of fiction, essays and memoir, most recently of the novel The Red Thread, published by W.W. Norton and Co.

This week we have two Write The Book Prompts, both suggested by Ann Hood. The first is to write your autobiography in 500 words. And the second is to find a copy of Sandra Cisnero's very short story, "My Name," which was part of her book, The House On Mango Street. Read that, and then write the story of your own name. Or, if you're working on a piece of fiction, write the story of your character's name.  Ann says that these exercises have proven very useful in classes that she's taught and that they really help details of character to emerge. Due to copyright laws, I can't reproduce Sandra Cisneros' lovely vignette, My Name, on my podcast site. But if you google it, you'll probably find a copy floating out there in the world. Or, hey! Buy it! Writers supporting writers: always a good idea.

Good luck with these exercises and please listen next week for another.

Excerpt from Ann Hood's novel The Read Thread read with permission.

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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Ginnah Howard, author of Night Navigation, joins Shelagh Shapiro on Write The Book.

This week's Write The Book prompt was inspired by the work of my guest, Ginnah Howard, who mentioned a few times during our talk how important rhythm is to her in her own work and in the books she admires. In order to get a better sense of the rhythm of her prose, she often reads her work out loud. Your prompt this week, then, is to read aloud. Really listen to what you've written. You may find it differs from what you thought it would sound like. Listen for simple mistakes, for repeated words that you didn't intend to place so close together. As you read, pause in appropriate places for the punctuation you've used. Pay attention to the length of your sentences. Does their length reflect the intended mood of the fictional moment? Listen for the following elements, and decide if they are serving your work, or distracting from it: rhyme, fragments, alliteration, and repetitive sentence structure. In this last case, watch in particular for the repeated use of a subject, verb, object structure that may lull readers or distract them, making them lose their way. For example, which sounds better?

Mary had a little lamb. Mary's lamb had white fleece. Mary's lamb followed her everywhere. Mary's lamb really got on her nerves after a while. He wanted to follow her to school. She had to stop him.

Or

Mary had a lamb. Fleecy and white, it was a sweet little animal, and very devoted. While Mary loved how the lamb followed her from room to room, she had to keep him from actually coming to school with her.

Finally, you might find it helpful to have someone else read your work aloud to you. If this is too embarrassing, you might look to see if your word processing program has a "speak text" feature. Speak text allows you to highlight sections of work and have the computer read them back. Despite the somewhat robotic voices that some computers have, you might hear something you'd missed, just by virtue of being read to.

In fact, using sound editing software, you can actually record your entire book and put it on your mp3 player, which is pretty cool.  You can email me (writethebook@gmail.com) if you want to know how to do this.

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

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Interview with Matthew Aaron Goodman, author of the novel Hold Love Strong, published by Touchstone Fireside (Simon and Schuster April 2009).

This week's Write The Book prompt, a musical free write, was suggested by my guest, Matthew Aaron Goodman. Spend a little time picking a song or songs to which you think you could write. Put on the piece, and then write. Don't pick up your pen once it hits the page. Write whatever crosses your mind. Even if all you write is, "this is crazy I don't have any ideas," write that down. No scribbling or doodling. Put words on paper. Keep going for the length of the song or songs that you chose ahead of time.

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

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Interview with Gary Clark, Writing Program Director at the Vermont Studio Center.

This week's Write The Book Prompt is inspired by the Vermont Studio Center and writing retreats in general. Even if you can't get to a retreat at present, perhaps you can offer yourself a mini-retreat. Begin by looking at your writing space. Really study it. Is it a place you look forward to going to, sitting down and working in? If not, what might you be able to do to create a more comfortable, enjoyable atmosphere? Maybe you need to put in a bookshelf full of the kinds of books you might like to reach for when you need inspiration. Maybe you should consider new décor, a poster, a small colorful rug, a comfortable chair where you can sit and read over what you've written on a given day. Or maybe you need to do the opposite: simplify. Is the space too full of knick knacks, books, papers, pens? Do you need to clean it out, reduce the clutter? Figure out what you need to make yourself look forward to being in your writing space. Then, on a certain day, plan ahead. Make yourself lunch, put it in a picnic basket, and leave it outside your office door. Turn off your phones, ask your family to leave you in peace for one day. Create your own personal retreat. And then go to your space, sit down, and write.

Good luck with your feng shui and please listen next week for another exercise.

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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Interview with novelist Alice Lichtenstein, author of Lost, published by Scribner.

Write The Book Prompt: One of Alice Lichtenstein's initial inspirations for her new novel, Lost, emerged from a writing exercise. You heard in our interview that she was moved to write about Corey's experience after a friend suggested they write in response to the words: "Day of Fire." This week, consider a "Day Of" exercise. Not Day of Fire, necessarily, though if that brings something to the forefront for you, go with it. But consider the theme of medicine and health and come up with a "Day Of" idea. You might use "Day of Flu," "Day of Doctors," "Day of Needles," "Day of Blood." The specific label is up to you. Use medicine and health as the overarching inspiration, and come up with a "Day Of" idea that might inspire you to write.

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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Interview with Scott Russell Sanders, author of twenty books of fiction and nonfiction. His latest is  A Conservationist Manifesto, published by Indiana University Press.

Prompt: Today's Write The Book Prompt was inspired by the work of my guest, Scott Russell Sanders. The excerpt he read from his new book, A Conservationist Manifesto, is really intended for two audiences. Here's some of what he said as he introduced the pages he read during our interview:

What I try to do ... is tell [the children of the future] what I have loved, what I have valued about the earth during my time alive ... and also what my hopes for them are... At the same time, ... I'm speaking of course to the contemporary reader ... and inviting the present reader to think about the effects of our lives on the prospects for future children.

As you write in the coming week, consider your audience. Who will read your words and how would you like your work to impact those people? Do you want the reactions of your audience to affect the way you write, or would you rather just put words on paper, tell your story, convey your ideas? If you're writing an essay, as Scott Russell Sanders did in writing "For The Children," you may well want to think about your audience ahead of time. If you're writing a poem, reacting to the world around you in a personal way, you may be less inclined to worry about how your reader will react. In either case, this bears consideration. Who will read your work, how will they react, and is that important to the process of creation itself?

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

Readings by Scott Russell Sanders, from A Conservationist Manifesto (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009). Copyright © 2009 by Scott Russell Sanders. Recorded with permission.

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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Interview with Christopher Noël , Vermont author of fiction and nonfiction, Sasquatch Investigator and owner of the Tall Rock Retreat in East Calais.

Prompt: This week's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Christopher Noël . During the show, Chris mentioned that writers should meditate on the monsters that move us, those mysterious creatures that fascinated and perhaps repelled us when we were small. Contemplate the monster that lived under your bed, inside your closet, or outside your window, and then free write. This is a great way to enlighten or SHOW yourself what interests and motivates you. It may well also show you something you'd forgotten or hadn't even realized about yourself.

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

Readings by Christopher Noël , from Impossible Visits. Copyright © 2009 by Christopher Noël. Recorded with permission.

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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Interview with best-selling author Anita Diamant.

Prompt: Today’s Write The Book Prompt was inspired by my guest, Anita Diamant, whose fiction is often based on “found stories” and historical events. Navigate to the Library of Congress’ “Today In History Site”  ( http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/today/ ) Read about this day in history, keeping your mind open about how you could create a fictional character who might have participated in or witnessed the event of the day. Then write a scene featuring that character. Here’s an example:

On Sunday March 7, 1965, about six hundred people began a fifty-four mile march from Selma, Alabama to the state capitol in Montgomery. They were demonstrating for African American voting rights and to commemorate the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, shot three weeks earlier by a state trooper while trying to protect his mother at a civil rights demonstration. On the outskirts of Selma, after they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the marchers, in plain sight of photographers and journalists, were brutally assaulted by heavily armed state troopers and deputies.

Given this historical moment, would you choose to write a scene from the perspective of a bystander, a marcher, from Jackson’s mother, from the state trooper who shot Jimmie Lee Jackson? Perhaps from the viewpoint of a photographer? Use this moment in history as a starting point. Honor the sacrifices of  the past by re-imagining it in your fiction. 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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Interview with Charles Barasch, poet, linguistics instructor, crossword puzzle writer, and author of Dreams of the Presidents. Hosted by Shelagh C. Shapiro, Write The Book airs on WOMM-LP 105.9 FM “The Radiator,” in Burlington, Vermont, every Saturday morning at 9:00 a.m.

Prompt: Today’s Write The Book Prompt is inspired in part by the interview you heard today. Charlie Barasch said that when he has trouble writing, he sometimes sets his poetry aside and turns to music. His own instrument is the guitar, and he’ll spend time singing and playing songs in order to jumpstart his brain and motivate the words to flow once more.

Oliver Sacks, in the book Musicophilia, writes: "Given the obvious similarities between music and language, it is not surprising that there has been a running debate for more than two hundred years as to whether they evolved in tandem or independently—and if the latter, which came first." He also says: "We humans are a musical species no less than a linguistic one. This takes many forms. All of us (with very few exceptions) can perceive music, perceive tones, timbre, pitch, intervals, melodic contours, harmony, and (perhaps most elementally), rhythm."

Perhaps this explains why, when Charlie Barasch takes up his guitar, he’s able to break through the occasional obstacle of writer’s block and free up his creative capacity to write poems.

Here is your assignment for the week. If you’re stuck in you work or  unable to start writing, stand up out of you chair, close your eyes, and sing a song. Not all of us can play the guitar, but most people can pick up the nearest object, tap it with a pencil, and sing a favorite tune by Sinatra, the Clash, the Talking Heads, Van Morrison, Tommy Dorsey. If you’re so moved, dance around the room. Don’t feel silly. Do just exactly what you might enjoy, musically, all by yourself, without being told by an inner critic to stop. Play Once In Love With Amy on the piano. Hum Gershwin. Whistle Mozart. Or just clap your hands for a while, in a rhythm that is recognizable or somehow moving just to you. Then return to your work and see what might have changed since that moment when you turned to music for help. Write for at least half an hour and see if you’ve made progress. 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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Interview with writer, editor and writing school director Kathie Giorgio. Hosted by Shelagh C. Shapiro, Write The Book airs on WOMM-LP 105.9 FM “The Radiator,” in Burlington, Vermont, every Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m.

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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Interview with Michael Collier, poet and director of the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. Write The Book is a radio show for writers and curious readers. Hosted by Shelagh C. Shapiro, Write The Book airs on WOMM-LP 105.9 FM “The Radiator,” in Burlington, Vermont, every Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m.

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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