Write The Book: Conversations on Craft

A writing podcast for writers and curious readers, featuring interviews with authors, poets, agents and editors. Twice chosen as one of Writer’s Digest Magazine’s 101 Best Website for Writers. Vermont-grown.

An interview from the archives with Sue William Silverman about her memoir, The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo Saxon Jew (University of Nebraska).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about a fantasized, imagined or real relationship with a star. From Pat Boone to David Cassidy, Britney Spears to Timothee Chalamet, heart throbs have always energized teens. You could write from a fan’s perspective, a star’s, that of an agent, a producer, a chauffeur.

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Holiday Break!

We took a little break for the new year. See you in '22! 

A conversation from the archives with Vermont children’s author Elizabeth Bluemle, about her picture book, TAP TAP, BOOM BOOM (Candlewick Press).

My son and I once experienced a hurricane in Florida. Those of you who know storms might remember Charlie, in 2004. We stayed in a motel in Winter Park–a second-story room with an outside entry that looked out at the parking lot. The storm was fierce and loud. We lost electricity and the room went dark, but outside the winds were furious and sounded like the world would end. The eye arrived, and with it an eerie silence. Hotel guests all stepped out of our rooms and stood leaning on the metal railings, looking down at the parking lot, talking, eventually feeling a kind of rapport that comes with facing the unknown. When the winds picked up again, we all went back inside our darkened rooms, feeling like we knew the neighbors who surrounded us, if just a little bit. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about a weather incident bringing people together, as they do in the subway in Elizabeth Bluemle’s book, Tap Tap, Boom Boom. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Interview from the archives with award-winning author Joshua Ferris on his novel, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (Little Brown and Company).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about a visit to the dentist. Your scene, story or poem might involve the patient’s perspective, that of the dentist, the hygienist. Maybe you write about the waiting room, a moment in the parking lot, or the dreaded chair itself.

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont Author Joy Cohen, whose debut novel is 37 (Guernica Editions). 

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest Joy Cohen during our conversation. She suggests making two lists: the first, a list of 10 characters. They can be actual people in your life, such as your mom or dad, your best friend, the pharmacist, the mail carrier, people that you know really well or don't know at all. They could include fictional characters from movies or books. Just make a list of ten. Then make a list of ten activities such as going for a bike ride, attending a funeral, eating breakfast... anything active. Then put the papers away. A few days later, before you read the two lists, randomly pick out two numbers. Maybe three and seven. For your exercise, you'll take character number three and put that person in situation number seven, and then write about that. Joy finds the people in her classes enjoy this prompt and come up with great scenes and scenarios. 

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Poet A.E. Hines, whose debut collection is Any Dumb Animal (Main Street Rag).

A new prompt for the week comes from A.E. Hines, and touches on something we discussed during the interview you just heard: Write a poem that explores duality, by comparing and contrasting two topics that are generally considered opposites. For example:  Where is the light in the darkness?  Or, pick one or multiple things that are considered hard, and describe them as soft. Describe a moment of gratitude in the midst of grief.  Or love that led to great loss.  Again, it doesn’t matter where you start, just pick a pair of opposing ideas, and brainstorm a list of comparisons. Then arrange them into a poem and see where this experiment takes you.

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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A new interview with Swiss Author Peter Stamm, whose latest story collection is It's Getting Dark (Other Press).

Peter Stamm generously suggested a  Write the Book Prompt for today’s show. Go to the cemetery and see what the stones tell you about the people who are buried there. You’ll learn from the stones themselves, but also from their names and dates, from details occasionally listed on the stones, from any flowers left at the graveside. You’ll be surprised by how much you might learn about those who went before us.

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Wendy Sanford, author, editor, and a founding member of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. Her debut memoir is These Walls Between Us: A Memoir of Friendship Across Race and Class (SheWrites Press). 

On Wendy Sanford’s website you can go to a page titled Meet Mary Norman: Leading the way for women in New Jersey corrections work 1968-1993. On that page are a series of events that shaped Mary Norman’s life and the people she worked with. These are interesting stories that highlight her contributions. For example, when she was punished for her belief in prisoner rehabilitation, she turned what was meant to be a demeaning demotion into a training program to teach pre-release inmates how to prepare for next steps, filling out work applications, dressing for interviews, things like that. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to go to that site and read about Mary Norman and her work. Then, if you are moved to do so, write a poem, story, or essay about whatever comes to mind. Maybe you could write about one of the prisoners who had to learn how to dress for an interview. Or you could write from the perspective of a racist guard who didn’t like Mary supervising his work, but came to like and respect the way she supported him. I hope that - like me - you will be inspired by what you learn. 

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Author and Journalist Jonah Lehrer, whose new book is Mystery: A Seduction, A Strategy, A Solution (Avid Reader Press).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Jonah Lehrer: Read a detective story and look for the false clues planted in the first five pages, or in Act I, depending on the work. In a Poe story or a Conan Doyle, there are so many missed leads, and you forget about them once you know the ending. But to create the surprise, a lot of work needs to be done. There are many mechanics involved in setting up that surprising twist. And studying the stories or novels of others can help us learn about those mechanics. Good luck with your work in the coming week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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A conversation from the archives with the author Anne Lamott about her book Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son (Riverhead), which concerns being a grandparent. I myself became a Nana (again) last week, and so I've uploaded this interview without re-recording the intro and outro. Please excuse this lapse. I'm busy helping out. 

This week's Write the Book Prompt is to write some memory of your own grandmother, grandfather, or perhaps another person who filled that role for you if you never knew your grandparents. I myself only knew one of the four, but I had a couple of great aunts who loved and fussed over me, and they were wonderful forces of good in my life.  Good luck with your work in the coming week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

 

Music credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Award-Winning Nigerian Author Uwem Akpan, whose debut novel is New York, My Village (Norton). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about a time that your own success or advancement was stymied by bureaucracy, as visitors to America can be stymied by the process of trying to get a visa. Was your experience further complicated by some kind of prejudice or racism? If not, how might that have changed things for you? Was your goal a matter of life and death, professional success, or merely convenience? Consider what it might be like to walk in someone else’s shoes, for better or for worse, in that same situation, and write. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont Author Michael Freed-Thall, whose debut novel is Horodno Burning (Rootstock).

Consider this Write the Book Prompt, inspired by my conversation with Michael: try using history as a frame from which to hang your characters in writing a story, poem, essay or longer piece. As you work, be sure you are accurately rendering the historical period, researching the industry, technology, customs, and events of the period. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont Author Melissa Perley, whose 2019 book The Violin Family (Rootstock) was recently named a winner in the Children’s Category of the 2021 Indie Reader Discovery Awards.

Here's a musical Write the Book Prompt: listen to a piece of music and try to describe it in your work. It's harder than it sounds! 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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A conversation from the archives with Vermont author and former president of Vermont College of Fine Arts, Thomas Christopher Greene, about his novel The Headmaster's Wife (Thomas Dunne). 

On Friday, at a football game in Burlington High School's stadium, community members were treated to a very special halftime show featuring many students and teachers appearing in drag. According to The Washington Post, and yes, this was covered by The Washington Post, the idea came from Andrew LeValley, an English teacher and alliance adviser at the school. He is quoted as saying, “I was just really hoping to give our students — who are both out and the students that were in the stands who are not out — a moment to shine and feel loved, and know that there is a place for them in public schools.” I loved reading this story, both the spirit behind the event and the support with which the performance was met. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about someone who wears clothing that is new to them and perhaps makes a statement about who they are or how they are feeling. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about dressing in drag, though that would be great. Also, though, a costume, a uniform, a borrowed outfit. What is the backstory? How does the person feel, dressed up in a new way? Do people notice? How do they react? Is there any consequence or change that comes about as a result?

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Award-winning author Donald Antrim, whose new memoir is One Friday in April: A Story of Suicide and Survival (Norton).

In presenting his viewpoint that suicide is a disease, Donald Antrim experiments early in the book with a presentation of labels and names for mental illness. As you heard in the interview, this list begins, “Depression, hysteria, melancholia, nervousness, neurosis…” and goes on for nearly two pages. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to use a list of words in an interesting way to make a point. Perhaps you are writing about the foliage season. Might it be interesting to present a running list of trees and bushes that offer brilliant color in the fall: maple, oak, elm, hackberry, white birch, larch, tamarack, hazelnut. What could you do to make such a list both interesting, as poetic sound, and evocative? How might you then transition back into your text to continue making your point?

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Award-winning director and playwright Lisa Peterson, who has penned a translation of Hamlet for the Play on Shakespeare project, a series published by ACMRS Press.

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to choose a piece of your work and try to translate it for a different audience than it was originally intended. Change the language so that it might have made sense three hundred years ago. Or put it into words you could read to a child. Change it to appeal to someone from a different culture. If you are bilingual, translate it into another language.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Award-winning author Ruth Ozeki, whose latest novel is The Book of Form and Emptiness (Viking).

In our conversation, Ruth mentioned that she has to dig really deep to find her characters and fully understand them. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider a character you are working on; perhaps someone you don’t fully understand yet. Ask yourself these questions about this character: 

  • What does he or she want? (And from here on, I’m going with she, to make life easier…)
  • Has she had it before and lost it, or does she want something she has never had or achieved?
  • What will happen if she does not get what she wants? 
  • Will this affect anyone else? 
  • Does she care about affecting anyone else? 
  • Where does she come from? 
  • What situation or life does she come from?
  • What matters to her? 
  • Who or what is keeping her from getting what she wants? 
  • Does she know that this person or situation is to blame? 
  • How does she feel about this person or situation? 
  • What is she willing to do to change the situation? 
  • Does she see herself clearly / does she understand herself? 

Consider these and any other questions that might occur to you as you work on your character, take notes, and then try again to write from her perspective.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont Author and former WTB Co-Host Gary Miller, whose new nonfiction book for students and their teachers is There's No Way to Do It Wrong!: How to Get Young Learners to Take Risks, Tell Stories, Share Opinions, and Fall in Love with Writing

Gary generously offered us one of his many writing prompts to use for a Write the Book Prompt today. And that prompt is to begin with the sentence, “They told me, but of course I didn’t listen.” See where it takes you. Write for seven minutes. And there is no way to do it wrong!

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont Poet Ralph Culver, whose new collection is A Passable Man (Mad Hat Press).

In his poem, "Tableau," Ralph Culver writes about one person sharing a space with two other versions of himself, presumably over time (though this is never stated overtly). For a Write the Book Prompt, try experimenting with a similar moment that captures multiple expressions of one person - perhaps three ages, three states of mind, or three memories. Whatever strikes you as interesting.

Good luck with this, and please tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Interview with the poet Maggie Smith, whose new collection of poems, is Goldenrod (One Signal).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt, suggested by my guest, Maggie Smith, is based on the work of Joe Brainard, who wrote the book I Remember. The book is essentially prose poetry, and each line begins with the words “I remember.” Maggie says that the idea is that if you do that over a couple of pages in a big rush without editing yourself or self-censoring, or even trying, you may find yourself connecting ideas you might not have otherwise. She says to consider “first thought, best thought,” and then use the material to mine through for new poems and projects. This same book was recommended in an earlier prompt suggestion from Lauren Fox, so I’m betting it’s a great exercise to try! But to put another spin on it, since Lauren also mentioned this for a prompt and perhaps you’ve already tried it, I’ll additionally suggest that you try writing lines that begin with the words “I miss…” 

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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An interview from the archives with the author Jessica Hendry Nelson, who has a new book out - co-authored with fellow former Write the Book Guest Sean Prentiss: Advanced Creative Nonfiction: A Writer's Guide and Anthology, just out from Bloomsbury. During this interview, we talked about her memoir, If Only You People Could Follow Directions (Counterpoint).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is inspired by the title of my guest’s memoir, If Only You People Could Follow Directions. Write a list of simple directions concerning how to do something - how to change a tire, how to make pasta, how to tape a room before painting it - and then expand on that list, making it into an essay that has deeper meaning.

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont Author Nancy Hayes Kilgore, in a conversation about her new novel, Bitter Magic (Sunbury Press).

As we mentioned during our interview, one character who Nancy Hayes Kilgore describes in Bitter Magic is the devil himself. He appears to Isobel Gowdie in a spot where a tree had stood only moments before. She depicts him as a blonde man wearing green, but during their encounter he changes. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write a character based on a famous non-human entity: a leprechaun, a fairy, a centaur, a cherub, a poltergeist, a ghost. Consider what you feel to be accurate about how this entity has been depicted historically, and how you might change that depiction. Will you use this character in your work without naming who or what it’s based on, or will you leave that to readers to identify?

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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An interview from the archives with consultant and teacher Carolyn Conger, PhD, about her book Through the Dark Forest: Transforming Your Life in the Face of Death (Plume). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was inspired by the book, Through the Dark Forest: Transforming Your Life in the Face of Death. No matter where you are in life - age-wise, health-wise, or otherwise - this week consider what you’ve left unfinished so far in your life, and what you would like to do about it. Maybe also keep in mind how you have navigated the pandemic, and whether the past year and a half have made you feel more vulnerable. Write about all the things that come up as you invite these thoughts and feelings.

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Poet, editor, scholar, and musician Tony Trigilio, whose new collection is Proof Something Happened, winner of the 2020 Marsh Hawk Poetry Prize.

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Tony Trigilio. This prompt is adapted from John Daido Loori's The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life. Sit with an object/memory/experience until it begins to reveal itself to you -- its details, contours, emotions, and so on. Be open to the possibility that you might need to sit for a long time. As you get more comfortable with the object's familiar contours, the odd, strange, subtle, mysterious, and absurd (and equally-as-real) aspects of this object of your mind will reveal themselves. Express these in a poem - any form, shape, structure, tone, or pitch. You are writing about "what else" the object is, and likely also writing about "what it is not." Like a painter working with negative space, this approach can help you discover the fullest sense of your subject matter.

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Best-selling author Caroline Leavitt, whose novel With or Without You just came out in paperback (Algonquin Books). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Caroline Leavitt. Write a page about two people who are in love without mentioning passion, desire, kids or any other words associated with love.

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Interview from the archives with poet and prose writer Barbara Henning, regarding her book A Swift Passage (Quale Press).

I have family visiting this week - lots of loved ones filling our two guest rooms, and sleeping on the floor in the finished basement, and in one case staying in the dining room. It’s a lot of fun, and a bit of a clown car. Today’s Write the Book Prompt is to imagine a house full of visitors. What might look like in your case? Where will everyone sleep? How do they all get along? What do you feed them? Do any old rivalries resurface? Old flames? Does anything happen to create a moment of excitement or adventure? How would you establish the characteristics of each person to turn these visitors into interesting characters in a work of prose or poetry?

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Bestselling author Christina Baker Kline, whose novel The Exiles, came out in paperback this month from Custom House

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Christina Baker Kline, who suggests writing the details of your morning, making sure to include all five senses in the first paragraph.

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Local author, yoga practitioner, and teacher Kyle Ferguson, whose new book (with co-author Anthony Grudin) is Beyond Hot Yoga: On Patterns, Practice and Movement (North Atlantic Books). 

Kyle's reading during our interview is excepted from Beyond Hot Yoga: On Patterns, Practice, and Movement by Kyle Ferguson and Anthony Grudin, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2021 by Kyle Ferguson and Anthony Grudin. Used by permission of publisher.

One concept discussed in the book is that of “flipping” an established practice—turning it on its head, you might say—to explore the power of opposition. Can we do this as a writing exercise? What is a pattern for which you regularly reach? Do you always write in the morning and find it’s not flowing lately? Maybe write after lunch instead, or last thing at night; maybe write in a notebook rather than on the laptop. Craft-wise, do you start every scene mid-dialogue? Do you use the same tired gestures for your main character? How might you flip these patterns to explore the power of opposition? Perhaps you could begin a scene at the end of an important action, and find a way other than dialogue to present what has happened. Perhaps Matilda avoids her reflection for once. Perhaps she reaches for her younger sister’s hand and not that cigarette. Or would she never do that? Why not? If it’s not consistent with her character, what other than a cigarette will satisfy (or at least live comfortably on the page alongside) her tension and unhappiness? Will she nervously play with a necklace? Will she stalk from room to room, always as if she has a mission, though never actually having a mission? Perhaps this in itself can underscore that lack of purpose you’re going for, and her feelings of inadequacy.

I have no idea, in fact, what you're working on and what the patterns of your writing practice look like. But for this week's Write the Book Prompt, consider ways to flip that practice, re-pattern your habits, and freshen both the words on the page, and the stories they tell.

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Author Patrick Hicks, whose new novel is In the Shadow of Dora: A Novel of the Holocaust and the Apollo Program (Stephen F. Austin University Press ). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Patrick Hicks. In order to develop new characters and make them believable, it's crucial to know their likes and dislikes. Patrick spends quite a bit of time doing character sketches before he starts writing in order to know their backgrounds and personalities. For fun, he sends his characters to the grocery store to buy five items. What do they need? What do they buy? Don't think about this for very long -- just write it down. What they buy will tell you something about their personalities, their wants and desires, and their daily lives. How do they get to the grocery store? By bus? Car? What kind of car do they drive? Why that particular kind of car? Do they have bumper stickers? What's in the car? How are they dressed when they go shopping? What are they thinking about as they move through the aisles? What's on their mind? Although this exercise takes less than 10 minutes, Patrick finds that it illuminates aspects of his characters that are new to him. He likes following them around and observing them. It offers surprising details, and he can see them more clearly as individuals. He writes that his students also love this exercise. 

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Award-winning Irish Author Rachel Donohue, whose new novel is The Temple House Vanishing (Algonquin). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Rachel Donohue, who suggests writing a paragraph in which your character is in one mood at the beginning, and a different mood by the end. 

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Interview from the archives with Vermont Poet Daniel Lusk. This conversation took place at the time that his collection Kin was published (Maple Tree Editions).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt comes from a local writer and artist who lives in Bristol, Vermont: Lily Hinrichsen. Choose one of the works of art on her website, and write an ekphrastic poem. Ekphrastic comes from the Greek word for description. Here’s a definition from the Poetry Foundation:  an ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the “action” of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning.  So my suggestion is that you visit Lily’s website, take a look at the art there, and write! If you choose to share the outcome with me, I’ll share it with Lily, and she may post it on her website at the side of the work you chose to write about.  

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Author and award-winning poet Natasha Sajé, whose new book is Terroir: Love, Out of Place (Trinity University Press). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Natasha Sajé, who discussed the concept during our conversation, referring to “The Flash Forward” and “The Flash Back.” As long as your readers know the present moment of a scene, and that scene is clear to them, you can move around in time to inform the moment, making it richer and deeper. In Natasha’s book, she presents a dinner party in such a way that it becomes an elegy to friends she will later lose to AIDs. And so a dinner party scene gives way to a flash forward of what is coming - the AIDS epidemic, insight into its roots and politics, lives lost, a community devastated. That scene in turn brings us back to the happy dinner party, so that we finish by reading the “present” moment of the party scene. A mouse runs through the room, Natasha and another guest scream, and the scene ends almost comically, but still a strong sense of emotion and disquiet. This week, play around with flashing forward or back to enrich a moment in your work and see what emerges.

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Marcia Butler, author of Oslo, Maine (Central Avenue Publishing).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Marcia Butler, who suggests writing a 1200 word short/short story in the first person point of view. But do not use the pronouns “I” “Me” or “My” until at least halfway through, and preferably at the very end.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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An interview from the archives with Vermont Author Alec Hastings, whose 2013 debut novel was Otter St. Onge and the Bootleggers: A Tale of Adventure, published by The Public Press. This one first aired on The Radiator

This week's Write the Book Prompt is to write about a flight delay (which I'm presently experiencing...) 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Award winning British Author Rupert Thomson, whose latest novel is Barcelona Dreaming (Other Press). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was inspired by my conversation with Rupert Thomson, who mentions Christine Schutt as an author who values "sentence magicians," those writers who particularly focus on sentence-level writing and revision to the benefit of their prose. Rupert refers to the way one excellent sentence can flow into the next, and how the best of these transitions will create tension. He mentions Mary Gaitskill, Joy Williams, Denis Johnson, William Faulkner, and Flannery O'Connor as some of his own favorite "sentence magicians." This week, study your sentences. Are they doing all they can for your work?

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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An interview from the archives with British Author Diane Setterfield. We discuss her novel, Bellman & Black (Atria/Emily Bestler Books). 

Diane Setterfield’s novel Bellman & Black begins with a child’s prank that has far-reaching consequences. Today’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about such a moment in the life of one of your characters--an act of thoughtlessness or cruelty that reverberates long past what he or she might have expected.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont poet and author Erika Nichols-Frazer, who has edited a new collection on themes of mental health, A Tether to This World: Stories and Poems About Recovery (Main Street Rag). We are joined later in the hour by the poet A. E. Hines, a contributor to the collection. 

This week we have two Write the Book Prompts, thanks to the generosity of my guests. The first was offered by Erika Nichols-Frazer, who credits it to the poet Chelsie Diane. Write a letter to yourself that starts with the phrase “I forgive you.” 

And Earl, who publishes as A.E. Hines, shares an exercise on practicing self exposure. Pick a moment from your past or a personal circumstance that stands out in your mind as embarrassing: one that makes you at least slightly uneasy when sharing it. Now write a short poem about that experience using either second or third person — as if you’re telling the story about someone else. It doesn’t have to be a big thing; it could be something you did, a mistake you made, or something that happened to you due to no fault of your own. The only requirement is that writing about it puts a twinge of angst in your belly.  When you’re done, change the POV back to first person, and see what happens. Did you learn anything new about that situation?

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Author David Laskin, in a conversation from 2013 about his book. The Family: A Journey Into the Heart of the Twentieth Century (Penguin).  In March 2021, he published a novel, What Sammy Knew (Penguin).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about someone who follows through on a bad idea, even though they know it will be a bad idea. 

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont Author Joseph Covais, whose debut novel is Quiet Room, the first in the "Psychotherapy With Ghosts" trilogy (New Line). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider an alternative to the conventional discovery of a ghost -- that blood curdling scream and dash out of the house with your arms in the air. If you spent the night in an old, unfamiliar home and found a ghost leaning over you in the middle of the night, could you  maintain your presence of mind and ask the spirit a question? What might you say? Write a short dialogue and see what comes.

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Author David Arnold, whose new novel is The Electric Kingdom (Viking Books for Young Readers).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, David Arnold. His first inspiration for The Electric Kingdom came to him as he was a new stay-at-home Dad, caring for his newborn son. It was the image of a boarded-up farmhouse in the middle of the woods. (I suggested that maybe his new-dad brain was trying to encourage him to rent a cabin as a writing retreat. He said no...) For him, the farmhouse allowed him to begin taking notes for The Electric Kingdom. He invites us to use that same image as a prompt this week.  A farmhouse, deep in the woods, boards over the windows. Where does this take you?

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Two interviews from the archives. Ralph Culver, author of Both Distances (Anabiosis), has a new book coming in the fall: A Passable Man (MadHat Press). And James Fallon is the author of The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain (Current). 

This week's Write the Book Prompt is again visual. Take a look at the photo,  below, and write! 

womenonswings.png

Image via https://unsplash.com/@bewakoofofficial

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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An interview from the archives with author, film maker, and founding editor of the online magazine The Rumpus, Stephen Elliott. Since our interview, Elliott has been in the news for filing a lawsuit in New York court against Moira Donegan, the creator of the Shitty Media Men spreadsheet.  I didn't know about the suit when I aired this week's show. I include relevant news links here in case you want to read more about the situation.

This week's Write the Book Prompt is visual. Have a look at the photo below, and write.

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Image by Balaji Srinivasan

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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An interview from the archives with Vermont Poet Neil Shepard. We spoke in 2013 about his collection, (T)ravel/Un(t)ravel (Mid List Press).

Have you ever felt like a displaced tourist? Ever get lost in Rome, trying to find your friends at the Trevi Fountain? Or even in your hotel, trying to find the bar, unable to recall how to ask directions? Did you ever try to do something as simple as try to feed a meter in Montreal, and have no clue in the world how to do it? This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about that moment, the feelings you had, the person who helped you, if anyone did, or the person who most certainly did not. Write about how you unraveled, and then (hopefully), reintegrated--raveled, as Neil Shepard puts it--back to a place of comfortable belonging. 

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Local Irish Poet Angela Patten from 2015. She has a new book since this conversation: The Oriole & the Ovenbird (Kelsay Books). 

Given that Angela Patten’s new poetry collection concerns birds and their meaning in our lives, today’s Write the Book Prompt is to observe the birds as they come back to our attention with the advent of spring, and write them into your work. 

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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A conversation on blending the tangible and the ineffable in fiction, with two authors who do this beautifully. Steven Wingate's new novel is The Leave-Takers (Univ. of Nebraska Flyover Fiction Series). Maxim Loskutoff's debut novel is Ruthie Fear (Norton). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider how your work might benefit from an infusion of the ineffable. Your work might be strictly realistic, and yet even in life we encounter that which is hard to explain or express--that which inspires awe or fear. This might mean picking up on an unseen presence in a room, or perhaps conveying how it feels to lean over and drop a pebble into a canyon. Working to express something inexpressible simply has to be good for your writing.

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Matthew Salesses, author of Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping (Catapult).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Matthew Salesses. This comes from his book, Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping (Catapult), and is the tenth in his series of revision exercises. “Add a major source of outside complication to your story. That is, add something big that comes in and forces itself on the plot, something like a toxic spill or an earthquake or a war or a rabid dog or a serial killer or a rapture. Don’t make this a small insertion, but something that truly changes the story. You might think about what large outside force would connect thematically to the character arc. In other words, how can story arc and character arc inform each other and help each other to resonate? A toxic spill (and subsequent cover-up) might help a story in which a character is hiding a secret that would reveal him to be a dangerous person.”

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Author Jakob Guanzon, whose new novel is Abundance (Graywolf Press). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by Jakob Guanzon: Think back to the last time you made a purchase for which you had to really budget, negotiate, discuss with a loved one, and so on. Before you begin drafting a scene, list out all the pros and cons that you'd weighed before reaching a decision—such as how the purchase stood to improve your life, what else you could have purchased with that money, what emotional/symbolic value it held in your view you, how its acquisition could change others' perception of you, etc.

Then write a scene that's centered on the decision making process—to buy or not to buy—while incorporating as many of your earlier considerations as possible. Jakob recommends doing so in the third-person to give yourself some abstract distance. The goal here is to experiment with ways of charging a sense of drama and urgency into the minutiae of financial decisions, "which generally aren't brimming over with the sexiest narrative material."

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Author and journalist Andrea Williams, whose new middle-grade nonfiction book is Baseball's Leading Lady: Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues (Roaring Brook Press). 

In our conversation, Andrea Williams and I discussed a moment in history when Effa Manley spoke up at a meeting. Not only did she speak up, but she suggested that if the store she’d organized a boycott of didn’t start to employ African Americans, those potential employees would be forced to "work as prostitutes." It was a bold move, speaking in such a way at that time, and it worked.

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about a time that you took a chance to better a situation, putting yourself at risk for a good cause. This could be a situation that arose at work, or it could be about that time you convinced your Mom that your brother really had not been the one to break a vase by throwing a baseball in the house. Give yourself over to that memory and write.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 
An interview from 2013 with Vermont Author Howard Norman. We discussed his memoir I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place (Mariner).
 
Howard Norman’s memoir I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place begins with a sentence about how, in the summer of ‘64, he used to sit on his basement steps, reading a book and trying to stay cool. It’s a wonderful way to open: that specific action and image, complete with an insinuation about the weather, and the different temperature downstairs. The scene does not disappoint, but goes on to offer more action and imagery from his fifteen-year-old memories. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to remember when you were fifteen, and write a sentence worthy of opening into a larger recollection--if not a memoir--from that time in your life. Be specific, imply some activity or impending action, and see if you can’t involve one or two of the senses in some way.
 

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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A conversation with two of YA's finest: Sharon G. Flake, whose new book is The Life I'm In, and Bill Konigsberg, whose latest novel is The Bridge (both are published by Scholastic). 

Both of my guests write about the pain, joy, discovery, and hope of the teenage years. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write a paragraph on each of those four subjects: pain, joy, discovery, hope, from the perspective of your own teenage self. Perhaps you are still a teenager. Or maybe you fit that description five years ago. Perhaps fifty. No matter the case, a young adult sensibility still lives in your memories and the person you became and are still becoming each day. Harness those feelings and memories, and write.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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