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Write The Book

The Vermont podcast and radio show about writing. For writers and curious readers, featuring interviews with authors, poets, agents, editors, and illustrators. One of Writer’s Digest Magazine’s 101 Best Website for Writers in 2016 and 2017.

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Catherine Cusset, author of Life of David Hockney (Other Press). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Catherine Cusset. When we remember something that we've shared with another person - a story or incident - very often, two very different stories might emerge from the two perspectives. Memory is not reliable, and so different people will remember events differently. With this in mind, write the same event or story from the perspectives of two people who experience it. These can be two lovers, two siblings, a parent and child, two friends; whatever you choose. Consider how each experiences a moment in time - and the sensory details each notices (what they see, hear, smell, etc) - then write two versions of the same story.

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

 

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Author Steven Wingate, whose new novel is Of Fathers and Fire (Univ. of Nebraska Press - Flyover Fiction). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Steven Wingate. He calls it “The Endless Sentence,” and it is designed as both a loosening up exercise and a means of exploration. It requires only a timer and your favorite writing implement (analog or digital). You simply set your timer for five minutes and start writing, and everything is allowed except one single punctuation mark: the period. Steven explains that writers rely on periods instinctively to separate thoughts from each other. If our thoughts feel like they’re getting too uncontrolled or scraggly, we end one sentence and start another. But if you take that tool away from yourself, you’re forced to keep flying through your thoughts with less control than you’re used to. Steven argues that this is a good thing because it means freedom—which is essential, especially early on in a project when you’re looking for a narrator’s (or character’s) voice. When you remove the period, you slip beneath your own radar and do things that surprise yourself. This can lead you to a new understanding of characters and settings, or maybe even to self-standing flash pieces with intriguing musical or formal features (e.g., lists or recurring verbal motifs). Try this especially when you’re feeling stuck or when a writing day hasn’t gone according to plan.

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont Poet Michelle Demers, whose new collection is Green Mountain Zen (Blue Light Press). 

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Michelle Demers, who has a large staple of writing books from which she pulls exercises for herself and her classes. The exercise, titled "The Word Hoard," appears in The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing, by David Morley. Morley writes, “You should try to do this exercise every day, not only to keep your writing mind limber, but also to create a hoard of original and unusual phrases from which you can draw when you are writing. ‘Word hoard’ is a ‘kenning’ (a Norse poetic device ...), meaning ‘a supply of words’, such as a book, or vocabulary itself.”

Go to a shelf of books of fiction or poetry. Take one book at random. Close your eyes while opening that book and place your finger somewhere in it. Your finger will have landed on a word or words. Write the word down, as well as the three words preceding it and the three words following it in the text. You now have a seven-word phrase. Write this phrase in your notebook and, once you have written it, keep writing for five minutes. There are only two rules to this game: you must not stop writing; and you must not think. Try to write as fast as you can. You are not producing a work of art. After five minutes, you should have covered quite a lot of pages. Now read what you have written. Read it forwards, then read through it, word for word, backwards. Underline one phrase that strikes you as possessing any one of the following qualities: it has energy; it surprises you; it has never been written before in your language. The phrase must make a kind of sense; it must possess its own inner sense at the very least. That is, it must not be completely opaque in meaning. It might be a whole sentence, or it might be the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next. Now, write a short story or poem in which this phrase occurs without it seeming in any way out of place. You might wish to place the phrase into the mouth of a speaker in the poem or story, for example.

A I M : When we strive to be original, we tend to get tongue-tied, for we have been long taught that originality is no longer possible.  ... this ‘free-writing’ exercise is effective for warming up for writing, but it is also effective at creating unusual phrases, ones that possess a surprising amount of personal linguistic energy. You are trying to capture ideas and sentences that you would not ordinarily come up with consciously.

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

 

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Award-winning author of books for young readers, Laurie Halse Anderson. Her latest is a memoir in verse, Shout (Viking). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Laurie Halse Anderson. If you were to write about a secret you’d never shared, what would you write?

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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Author, Journalist and Critic Juliet Wittman, whose new novel is Stocker's Kitchen (Beck & Branch). 

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Juliet Wittman. In developing a new character, try writing a series of simple sentences about the person, to find out more about his or her life and nature. For example:

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As you work, you may find the sentences becoming more complex and interesting, revealing important information about the character and possibly about his or her situation, guiding you toward your story.

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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Mitchell S. Jackson, Award-Winning Author of Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family (Scribner). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Mitchell S. Jackson. Write your own answer to the question, what is the toughest thing you have survived? Write it in the second person; Mitchell says this might make you think about the experience in a different way.

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

 

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Veteran Literary Agent and Entrepreneur Jeff Herman, author of Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents (New World Library). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was inspired by my conversation with Jeff Herman. Write a query letter. Jeff says the query letter is really a sales pitch. Keep that in mind as you work. Tell the agent you’re addressing about why you are reaching out, especially if you’re a fan of work they’ve sold. Let them know why you respect them, and that you hope your work will appeal to them. The letter should be short (1 ½ pages or fewer) readable, direct, and personalized. Jeff writes on his website, “Say what you have, why it’s hot, why you’re a good prospect, and what’s available for review upon request.” His website offers a lot of other advice for writing the query letter, which has a certain format you should read about before getting started. Even if your creative work isn't ready to submit, writing the query letter can take some time to get just right, and it's worth practicing ahead of time. 

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont authors Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, whose new novel is Once & Future (jimmy patterson). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guests this week, Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta. When they received notes from their editor about a section of Once & Future that, for one reason or another, needed a little work - perhaps not enough was happening in a scene - they would sit down and brainstorm what they came to call “the ten worst things that could happen to your character.” The first thing was always, "the character dies." Even if this was not the answer, Cori and Amy Rose say that you have to include ridiculous things as well as possibilities. The ridiculous things loosen up the other things that might actually lead to a solution.

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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British author Diane Setterfield, whose new novel is Once Upon a River (Emily Bestler Books). 

Write the Book Prompt (I posted two interviews this week): write about what's been hidden in the toe of your neighbor's shoe.

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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Live, in-studio interview with Vermont author and UVM faculty member Emily Bernard, with her new book, Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine (Knopf).

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Emily Bernard. Here it is, in her words:  

I tell my creative writing students that the best villains are born in ambivalence. A good rule of thumb is to let the reader love a villain first, before you condemn them. If a character is wholly loathsome, we readers might ask why you are asking us to spend so much time with them, or why you allowed them inside in the first place? For this writing prompt, choose someone who treated you unkindly from your past or your present and write about them, focusing on the one thing—a skill, quirk, personality trait, etc.-- that makes them lovable.

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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