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.

Bestselling Welsh Author Ken Follett, whose latest novel, The Evening and the Morning (Viking), is a prequel to his popular book The Pillars of the Earth.

In our interview, Ken Follett mentioned that during the dark ages, the Anglo Saxons ignored the Romans’ brick houses and built wooden huts right next door. “It was a backward time." Also, and not the biggest news story of the month, but I just learned that Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin wanted to build a castle in his Santa Fe historic district backyard, and the city has emphatically said that he may not. The project would have exceeded height limit zoning regulations and, though this wasn’t probably stated in the city’s findings, was just been too weird. Anyway, this week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about a construction controversy. Frame it, as they say, as you like. But have fun. See where it 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

Episode from the archives with author and librarian Josh Hanagarne [The World's Strongest Librarian, Avery], as well as a short book chat with Bear Pond Books co-owner Claire Benedict. 

This week's Write the Book Prompt is to write about a tool or machine that is being used in a way other than was originally intended. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

American Novelist Bobbie Ann Mason, whose new novel is Dear Ann (Harper). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Bobbie Ann Mason, who exchanges prompts with her “flash-fiction co-writer buddy Meg Pokrass.” They send each other lists of interesting words with a challenge to use at least some of them in a story. 

One of their lists was: leaky, clawfoot, waddle, bonk, ribs, peace, rapier, feather pillow, steam, sherry, geraniums, skimp, booth, rabbit’s foot, diner, vitality, jet-lag, quivery, Lady Astor, punchline, kettle, bitter coffee, flub.

Bobbie wrote a flash fiction called Corn-Dog based on one of Meg’s lists, using most of these words: corn-dog, frozen, carnival, necks, Animal Planet, parcel, shorts, crisp, weed, note, thrill, stucco, cravings, wispy, unmarried, fat, laryngitis.

This week, Bobbie Ann Mason suggests that you open up a few novels from your shelf. Flip through the books and find interesting words. List a dozen or two. Then pick a word and start a story. Where does it lead you? To another word on the list? Then what? She admits that this exercise can lead into the absurd, but it’s great fun, and you might discover where you are going.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

David Goodwillie, whose new novel is Kings County (Avid Reader Press).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by David Goodwillie. Have a character go for a walk in a city, along a country lane, or in really any place. How would that character see the world? Have the person see it in a different way than you, the author, would. David points out that all too often, we try to give characters our own traits, rather than wholly letting them be their own people. If you’re having trouble building a character, this exercise in setting and perspective can really help. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

Vermont Author Stephen P. Kiernan, whose latest novel is Universe of Two (William Morrow). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by Stephen P. Kiernan. Conjure a very specific setting - not just location, but time of day, weather, and other factors that leave no doubt in any reader’s mind where that place is and what it is like.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

Tiffany McDaniel, whose new novel Betty (Knopf) is based on the life of her mother. 

In my interview with Tiffany, we talked about bringing deeper meaning to detail. In Tiffany’s case, she brings deeper meaning to the corn and corn silk, that show up throughout the book. Corn is in the characters' lives as food and as a crop. But also, corn is a part of Betty’s father’s Cherokee-inspired story about Betty and her sisters. As such, corn comes to represent more than it initially seems as the story unfolds. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to bring deeper meaning into a detail that has already appeared in your work. Don’t force anything, but work with a detail that is already in the work and might mean something more. Use it to enrich what you’re trying to bring to the page.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

Diane Cook, author of The New Wilderness (Harper), which has been long listed for the Booker Prize. 

As I mentioned early in today’s show, when I interviewed Diane Cook, her infant son could be heard in the early part of the hour. Then he went to be with his dad and his voice was no longer heard on the recording. But it got me thinking: children fill our world, but are sometimes absent from our settings. Why is that? Do they make too much noise? Would the chaos keep your scene from working smoothly? (Kind of like life?) The world is full of children, yet it sometimes seems like I see way more dogs than children in the books I read. So this week’s Write the Book Prompt is to put a baby, toddler, or child in a scene. This doesn’t necessarily mean introducing a new character. But maybe your narrator is at a coffee shop. Is there a cherubic baby in a car seat by his mom’s side at another table? Is a young child acting up? Is a teenager sitting with a friend, in ardent conversation? Keep children in mind as you build your poetic and fictional worlds.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

"Choreopoet" Monica Prince, as interviewed by guest host, Kim MacQueen. Among other works, they discuss Monica's choreopoem How to Exterminate the Black Woman. (PANK Books)

This week’s Write the Book Prompts were suggested by Kim’s guest, Monica Prince. She says the first was inspired by Fear No Lit in Lancaster, Pennsylvania:

  • Set a timer for 2 minutes. Write the word “WATER” at the top of your page. For the next two minutes, write down everything you can think of related to this word. (Don’t stop writing! If you get stuck, doodle or write the alphabet until you think of more to write.)
  • Once the timer goes off, reread your list. Circle the idea that most surprised you.
  • Set another timer for 10 minutes. Write a poem in response to/related to/about the idea you circled. Keep writing until the timer goes off.

Monica's second prompt is a poetry writing exercise, inspired by emojis:

Write a poem translating the emojis below. Feel free to go from left to right, right to left, up to down, down to up, diagonal, or at random. Make sure you include all the emojis. (I suggest crossing them off as you use them.) You must use every emoji at least once.

Tips: Instead of using traditional definitions of these emojis, think about what else they could represent. Don’t be afraid to only tangentially use some of them, while with others you might use for deeper meanings.

Description of emojis from left to right, top to bottom:

Row 1: Smiley face with sunglasses; sheep’s face; box of popcorn; swimmer

Row 2: World map; Chinese lantern; paint brush; fleur-de-lis (stylized lily)

Row 3: Green chick; baby bottle; golden key; silver crow

Row 4: Mind blown smiley face; dove; chocolate glazed donut with sprinkles; fireworks

Row 5: Theatre masks; hourglass; pills; rainbow flag

Row 6: Speaking bubble; flower bouquet; swiss cheese; racquet and ball

Row 7: Mosque; smiley face with mouth zipped shut; waxing/waning moon; crystal ball

emojiprompt.jpg

 

 

 

For an example of what this might look like, see this link to Carina Finn and Stephanie Berger's emoji poem published on Poetry Foundation. 

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

English author Lucie Britsch, whose debut novel is Sad Janet (Riverhead Books).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was mentioned by my guest, Lucie Britsch, during our conversation. It’s always good to take a step back and remember why you are writing something. Take a day off, take a week even. When you come back, you’ll likely rediscover the energy that was part of why you began, the enthusiasm around what you’d set out to do. The break, and that rediscovery of intention, will help you move forward with 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

An interview from the archives with the author Alex Grecian, who writes a fictional series about the Scotland Yard's Murder Squad, as well as stand-alones, like his 2018 The Saint of Wolves and Butchers (Putnam). 

 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to wear a mask, for the sake of your community and your loved ones. And write about the joy of this horror show ending thanks to the united efforts of responsible citizens, which all of us are, deep deep down inside. Says me. Sorry, I got political. But who can even believe this level of mild, patriotic self-sacrifice has become political? 

 

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

Fiona McCrae, Director and Publisher of the Minneapolis-based literary publisher, Graywolf Press

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Fiona McCrae. Consider the Black Lives Matter movement and the murder of George Floyd, and write. Maybe write from the perspective of someone with different or more extreme opinions than your own. Or write from two distinct perspectives. Or perhaps write from the point of view of someone who has one opinion, but is somehow personally affected by the movement in a way that amplifies, changes, or even negates that opinion. In responding to this current moment in history, consider your goal to be one of inspiring meaningful dialogue. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

Vermont Author Ann Dávila Cardinal, whose latest supernatural YA thriller  is Category Five (Tor Teen). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Ann Dávila Cardinal. She says that it’s not a prompt, exactly, but an exercise in encouragement:

Get three smallish pieces of paper. 

1) On the first one, write down your short term writing goals, say for the next week. Even day by day. It can be to write 1,000 words, or finish a chapter of revision, or journal everyday for a week. 

2) On the second, write down your goal for the year. Send out a certain number of submissions, finish a full draft, pull together a poetry chapbook. Whatever that looks like for you.

3) And finally, on the third, write down your long term writing goals. To be a published writer, to teach writing, to publish a book a year or every other year, to build a writing life. 

Put the first one somewhere you will see it every day. When the week is over, look at it, and access how you did. Adjust your goals for next week accordingly. The second one, put it away somewhere nearby, but not in immediate sight. Somewhere you will find it over the next year and be reminded, a jewelry box, in a book you look at a couple of times a year, in the tool box. For the third one, Ann recommends doing what Dr. Tererai Trent suggests in her book The Awakened Woman, and "plant your dreams." Either in a garden or a pot you then use for a plant, or even a park. Visit the place you planted your dreams as often as you need to, but trust that you are creating "intentional rootedness." If this is too "woo woo" for you, says Ann, don't worry about planting it, write down your three levels of goals and work towards them. Period. The point is, build that writing life your way.

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

Author and NY Times "Dark Matters" Columnist Danielle Trussoni, whose new novel is The Ancestor (William Morrow).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Danielle Trussoni, who also suggested it in a recent workshop. In a discussion of dialogue and character, Danielle suggested that her students have one of their characters, perhaps an elusive character who's hard to pin down, write an autobiographical letter of introduction to the student, to the author. Danielle says this can be a helpful way to find the voice of the character and learn more about who that person is.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

UVM Professor Emeritus Robert Manning and Artist Martha Manning, authors of several books on long distance walking, including the subject of our 2013 conversation, Walking Distance: Extraordinary Hikes for Ordinary People (OSU Press).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about a famous walk. This could mean Steven Newman’s famous solo walk around the world, or it could mean your own child’s first steps. Good luck with your work in the coming week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

dh.jpg

American Poet, Essayist and Translator J. Chester Johnson, whose new memoir is Damaged Heritage: The Elaine Race Massacre and A Story of Reconciliation (Pegasus).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider your own family’s leanings when it comes to filiopietism, that veneration, often excessive, of ancestors or tradition. Does this exist in your own circle of relatives? Do people excuse behaviors because it’s just how the family has always been? Do you have beliefs based largely on what you were raised to think but have never questioned? Are there, even,  certain artifacts hidden away in your home that you keep simply because they belonged to a great grandfather or grandmother? If so, think about why you keep them, why you believe what you believe, why you cling to what you cling to, what you might shed of your family’s past if you could (or what you would not), and then write about it.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

Gift.jpeg

 

Evan Fallenberg, author of The Parting Gift, which came out last week in paperback (Other Press). 

In a review of The Parting Gift, the Jerusalem Post called the book “Intoxicating…Fallenberg is a fearless writer; particularly on the vulnerability and rawness of desire. His crisp taut sentences compel us to keep reading.” This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about vulnerability, either in your own life or in that of a character. Perhaps this has to do with exposure, the telling of secret. Perhaps it’s about actual physical danger. What is at stake? As you work, keep in mind the appreciation of Evan’s crisp taut sentences. Play around with concision in your own writing as you work to convey vulnerability. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

Gutman.png

 

American academic and political advisor, Stanley "Huck" Gutman, who writes a newsletter about poetry which is distributed by email and through the UVM listserv, "Poetry."

See below for links to pages featuring some of the works that Huck and I discuss during the interview. 

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Huck Gutman, who writes:

The surprising subject of many, many poems of the past two hundred years has been the need to pay attention to what is right in front of us, of what is so ‘ordinary’ that we look at it, through it, but don’t see it.  In some sense, our lived reality is invisible to us; in our habitual movement through our lives, we don’t pay attention to what is actually there in front of us and around us.

So as a writing prompt, I would suggest writing about something right in front of you that you don’t normally ‘see.’  For many, this is an object; for some, like Wordsworth, it is a person who seems ordinary but who has that amazing spark that is the emblem of life. 

 Among the life of ordinary things is where our existence takes place.  A poem can recognize that in the ‘ordinary’ are the things that make our world our world.  Write about such a thing.  (If you want to see what this looks like, lots of William Carlos Williams poems do this; so do a lot of poems by Elizabeth Bishop; so do the remarkable ‘Odes’ to common things that Pablo Neruda wrote in the later years of his life…) (For ‘ordinary’ people, there is Wordsworth; there is always that superlative writer – though not a poet – Anton Chekov. )

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

Works Discussed:

Paul Celan, "Once" 

T.S. Eliot, "The Waste Land"

Zbigniew Herbert, "Five Men"

Tim O'Brien, "The Things They Carried"

Stevie Smith, "Not Waving But Drowning"

Wallace Stevens, "Sunday Morning"

Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself 47 "

C.K. Williams, "Jew On Bridge"

William Carlos Williams:

"Calypso II"

"This is Just to Say"

"Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"

William Wordsworth, Extracts from the Prelude: [Ascent of Snowdon]

Paul Zimmer, "A Romance for the Wild Turkey"

 

henna.jpg 

Debut Author Alka Joshi, whose novel The Henna Artist (MIRA) has been chosen by Reese Witherspoon as the next Hello Sunshine book selection.

Alka Joshi generously offered us a Write the Book Prompt for today’s show. Think about a real person you know, and reinvent their life. What if their life had taken a very different turn? What if they’d done something completely different? What if they had married someone different, or lived in a different place, or escaped a certain set of circumstances, what would have happened, and who would they have been? 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

man.jpg

International bestselling mystery and crime writer Jeffrey Deaver, whose new novel is The Goodbye Man (Putnam).

Jeffrey Deaver mentioned during our interview that, when the time comes to finish his research and begin putting words on the page, he likes to write in the dark. This week, as a Write the Book Prompt, try writing in the dark. See if the words come more easily to you this way, as they do for him. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

spark.jpg

Vermont Psychologist Bruce Chalmer whose new book is Reigniting the Spark: Why Stable Relationships Lose Intimacy, and How to Get It Back (TCK Publishing). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Dr. Bruce Chalmer. In writing about relationships, consider the scary moments as being, perhaps, the most useful to write about. Not necessarily moments when you and your partner are disagreeing, but perhaps moments when you are delighted by something and you aren’t sure if your partner is delighted, and the not- knowing is scary. Consider moments where you are looking at the possibility of intimacy. Dr. Chalmer advises, “That’s the stuff 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

afterlife.jpg

Vermont Author Julia Alvarez on her new novel, Afterlife (Algonquin). 

This week I have two Write the Book Prompts to offer, both generously suggested by my guest, Julia Alvarez. First, a prompt she learned about when she was researching titles for her book. In considering the title Afterlife, she researched, as authors do, to be sure her book’s title was original and unique. As she did this work, she found out about another book titled Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, by the neuroscientist David Eagleman. The book offers forty short, imaginative narratives on the theme of God and the afterlife. Julia says the pieces are sometimes funny, sometimes not, but they are all clever and inspiring. She suggests a writing prompt in which we write such a piece: a 2-3 page vignette that imagines what happens when we leave this life.

The second prompt Julia suggests is to write a six-word story or bio. Hemingway famously penned this one: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. Julia was once asked to contribute to a book titled NOT QUITE WHAT I WAS PLANNING: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure, edited by Smith Magazine. As Julia points out, it can be hard to do! If you like, you can narrow it down to what your life is like in this particular year. Either way, here is a six-word prompt for you, from Julia Alvarez:  Write your story in six words. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

knock.jpeg

A conversation with the author Rufi Thorpe, whose new novel is The Knockout Queen (Knopf).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Rufi Thorpe, who finds that it can be helpful to have one of your characters suddenly become “really psychic” about another character. If you are writing from a single point of view, but you’d like to get into someone else’s head, you can actually move around quite a bit in terms of summarizing and telling. For example, your POV character might say, “I knew she was thinking about the dance and the boy she’d never gotten to dance with.” And then segway into the story of the dance, allowing yourself access into the other character’s mind, thanks to the clairvoyance, or at least gut feelings, of your narrator. So this week’s prompt is to take a character (either a new character or one that you've already been writing something about), put them in a scene with somebody else, and have them start rendering their perception of the scene and the other person's consciousness at the same time. Play around with letting them be psychic.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

bluebird.jpg

Vermont Poet James Crews, whose new collection is Bluebird (Green Writers Press).

As a Write the Book Prompt for this interview, let's consider Ted Kooser's advice for James Crews, mentioned during our conversation: Open a poem like a handshake.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

This is one of several shorter interviews Shelagh is conducting with Vermont authors whose new books have had their tours upended by Corona.  

preach.jpg

A conversation with Vermont author Ginny Sassaman, whose new book is Preaching Happiness: Creating a Just and Joyful World (Rootstock).

For a Write the Book Prompt, write about what has made you happy in the past week.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

This is one of several shorter interviews Shelagh is conducting with Vermont authors whose new books have had their tours upended by Corona.  

deep.jpg

An interview with Alma Katsu, whose latest is The Deep (Putnam).

For this episode's Write the Book Prompt, I'd like to reiterate Alma Katsu's advice about research. Narrow your focus before delving in too deeply. Keep it manageable, for you and your readers.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

wink.jpg 

Rob Harrell, cartoonist and author - most recently - of Wink, a novel for middle graders (Dial).

Rob Harrell generously offered a Write the Book Prompt for today’s show. He created this one for kids. Come up with an unlikely super hero, and come up with their origin story, their powers, and what their costume looks like. Try to make it an unlikely super hero, like a BatPig. 

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please tune in each week for more prompts and great conversations about books and writing.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

aphrodite.jpeg

An interview with Laurette Folk, author of the new novel The End of Aphrodite (Bordighera).

Here, you can find The Compassion Anthology, the journal that Laurette edits.

During our interview, Laurette Folk mentioned working after meditation as a way to engage her creativity. Specifically, after having a particularly vivid dream, she plays Tibetan bowl audio and meditates, in an effort to recapture the dream. Laurette says the bowl vibration is said to change how our consciousness works, drawing people into a deeper state. After that, she goes to her workspace and writes. This is the Writing Prompt that she suggests.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

desert.jpg

 

An interview with the author Phyllis Barber, whose new novel is The Desert Between Us (University of Nevada Press).

Phyllis Barber kindly suggested a Write the Book Prompt for us. Go to your writing desk first thing in the morning, when your mind is fresh and not bogged down with tasks and duties. Doing this, writing first thing, from the lip of your mind - writing fast and not editing yourself - can be so useful. Set down whatever idea comes without worrying if you’ll be able to use it. Just have fun. Let your morning brain liberate your creativity.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

 cutting.jpeg

Sixth Generation Vermonter Bill Torrey, whose new memoir is Cutting Remarks: 40 Years in the Forest (Onion River Press). 

Prompt: Write about a recent walk in the woods. What was the weather like? What did you see and hear? How did your boots sound walking over the ground? Were there any animals about? Did the trees make sounds above you? Was there water running nearby? If you haven't been lately, perhaps go into the woods now. And then write. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

This is one of several shorter interviews Shelagh is conducting with Vermont authors whose new books have had their tours upended by Corona.  Stay tuned: there will be more! 

 

 

 Lightning.png

Vermont Poet Scudder Parker, whose new collection of poems is Safe as Lightning (Rootstock Press).

Write the Book Prompt: Consider Scudder Parker’s advice about not being intimidated to write poetry. He says to turn to the singer songwriters you love and read their lyrics. Realize you’ve been experiencing poetry all your life, in the words of hymns, arias, folk songs, and pop music. All of that is poetry set to music. Poetry tries to create music. Don’t be intimidated by trying to write poetry. You’ve been feeling the mystery of it and the rhythm of it all your life. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

This is one of several shorter interviews Shelagh is conducting with Vermont authors whose new books have had their tours upended by Corona. Stay tuned: there will be more! 

 hermit.jpg

Robert S. Foster, whose new historical work is The Granville Hermit (Onion River)

Write the Book Prompt: Have you ever known of a hermit? When you were a child, were there stories about reclusive people in your town? Or maybe you were related to someone who preferred a life of isolation and solitude. If so, write about that person this week. If not, consider what that life might be like. How would you get food? How would you manage problems, health care, simple loneliness? When you had to interact, how difficult might that be for you? Use the answers to these questions as inspiration, and write.

Good luck with your work, and please keep tuning in for more prompts and suggestions.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

This is one of several shorter interviews Shelagh is conducting with Vermont authors whose new books have had their tours upended by Corona. Stay tuned: there will be more! And if you'd like to order Butch's book through his local-to-Granville bookstore, that would be Sandy's Books & Bakery in Rochester. 

 

moving.jpg

Local entrepreneur Janice Shade's new book is Moving Mountains: The Power of Main Street Americans to Change Our Economy (Onion River Press). 

Write the Book Prompt: Can you imagine "economic justice for all?" What would that look like? How would it different from our present system? Can you think of a few small, symbolic images that might represent achieving that vision? Does it bring to mind a person or group from your past? If so, maybe write about them today. Let the expression, taken from Janice Shade's book description, inspire you. Think hard about economic justice for all, and write. 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

This is one of several shorter interviews Shelagh is conducting with Vermont authors whose new books have had their tours upended by Corona. Stay tuned: there will be more! And if you'd like to order Janice's book through her local bookstore, that would be Phoenix Books.  

light.jpeg

An interview with Sharon Cameron, author most recently of The Light in Hidden Places (Scholastic Books).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Sharon Cameron, who finds the availability of online oral histories fascinating and invaluable as she works. She suggested, as an exercise, finding oral histories--immigrant stories, personal experiences from wars, and interviews--on youtube or in university collections, among other places. Listen and, if you’re lucky, watch these oral histories and create a story out of what you learn. Overlay your own creativity atop these stories. She warns that this is simply a good exercise, and it’s important to choose the right stories to tell, if you plan to take them public. Use this exercise to stretch your writing muscle. Good luck with your work in the coming week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

minnow.jpg

Vermont Poet Judith Chalmer, whose new collection of poems is Minnow (Kelsay Press). 

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Judith Chalmer. Start observing using your hand. This can be a very rich approach to writing, Judith says, because what comes to hand can be physical and what comes to hand can be metaphysical. The hand itself is a landscape that can be a wonderful subject. But apart from that, the exercise offers a way of starting close in and moving out, with observation as the starting point. Good luck with your work in the coming week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

Like many authors with recent book publications in the age of the Corona Virus, Judith Chalmer found herself in the predicament of having a book, but no launch or physical book tour. In order to help these authors find their audience, Write the Book is offering a series of mini-interviews with Vermont authors whose launches have been cancelled. Check back for more of these short-but-deep conversations on craft. And if you want to investigate her book through Judith's local bookseller, that would be Bear Pond Books in Montpelier. 

 

keep.jpg

Vermont Author Kerrin McCadden, whose new chapbook is Keep This to Yourself (Button Poetry). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Kerrin McCadden. 

  • Choose 12 words you like the sound of (mostly 1-2 syllable words). Include a place name, a weather element, a geological feature, some verbs, and a garment in your list.
  • Set a timer for 7 minutes. 
  • Begin writing. Do not stop. Do not cross out anything you write. Use at least 10 out of 12 of the words on the list. You may modify word forms to fit the sentences as they emerge. If you had the word “belt” you could use “belted,” for instance.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

deceptive_cadence_ebook-cover_opt.jpg

Just in time for Saint Patrick's Day! A conversation with the very Irish (American) Kathryn Guare, author of Deceptive Cadence, the first of the Conor McBride series of international suspense novels. 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to think about where you’d most like to be quarantined, and write about what would meet your expectations as you spent time in that place, and what might defy them.

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

 

followers.jpg

An interview with Megan Angelo, author of the debut novel Followers (Graydon House). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Megan Angelo. She thought of it in response to a feeling of regret around the lack of spontaneity in her life at a certain point. It has, in time, become a helpful writing tool for her. Go somewhere today, like the pharmacy or the DMV or a diner that does not play loud music. Do not look at your phone the entire time. And either see what kind of conversation you might get into with someone else who isn’t buried in a phone, or eavesdrop on a conversation. If you absolutely have to take notes because the conversation gets away from you, you may. But don’t use your phone for anything else than note taking while you conduct the exercise. Megan says that this has paid off enormous dividends whenever she has done it. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

Assembly.jpg

An interview from 2013 with the author Anne Lamott, who that year co-authored (with her son, Sam) Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son (Riverhead).

This week's Write the Book Prompt is to consider: How would you spend your birthday if, as Anne was during our conversation, you were on a book tour? Write about it. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

 

TheRegrets.jpg

Author Amy Bonnaffons, whose debut novel is The Regrets (Little Brown).

This week's Write the Book Prompt is to head over to the site Amy Bonnaffons co-founded, 7x7.la, and browse for inspiration. Offering "interdisciplinary collaboration, each 7×7 invites one visual artist and one writer to engage in a two-week creative conversation." Lots to enjoy, and surely lots of inspiration for new work there as well. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

 opposite.jpg

Interview from the archives with the poet Barbara Buckman Strasko, who has a new collection coming out soon from Word Poetry BooksThe Opposite of LightningIn this interview, we discuss an earlier collection, Graffiti in Braille (Wordtech). 

In our conversation, Barbara and I discussed the ways that both graffiti and braille are forms of expression that circumvent some impediment. In the case of graffiti, that impediment might be a lack of authorization. In the case of braille, blindness. Other examples I can think of include a message in a bottle, skywriting, closed captions on a screen. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to create a new form of expression that circumvents some deterrent, and write about it. Or write using it!

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

missing.jpg

A conversation with the author Kathleen Donohoe, whose latest is Ghosts of the Missing (Mariner), a novel that follows the mysterious disappearance of a twelve-year-old girl during a town parade.

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Kathleen Donohoe. Open a favorite poetry collection to a random page, write the first line of the poem you see there, and let that be the starting point for your writing session. Kathleen finds that, even if that first line can't stay ultimately, this can be an excellent way into new work. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

tears.jpg

 

Canadian Journalist Jessica McDiarmid, author of Highway of Tears: A True Story of Racism, Indifference, and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (Atria).

This week's Write the Book Prompt is to write a poem, a story, an essay, or a reflection about a person who has disappeared. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

happy.jpg

 

An interview from the archives with the author Ann Patchett about her essay collection, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage (Harper Perennial). 

Recent impeachment coverage has me remembering that, when I was nine years old, Richard Nixon’s impeachment hearings were on the television every afternoon, pre-empting my cartoons. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about a child’s perspective on some contemporary political moment.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

tidal.jpeg

 

Cynthia Newberry Martin, whose debut novel is Tidal Flats (Bonhomie Press).

This week I’m going to suggest two Write the Book Prompts, both of which were part of my interview with Cynthia.

  • First, think of black and white passions for your characters and write in that direction. See if you uncover something new and interesting that might stay black and white, or might become more layered and complex. See where it takes you.
  • The second prompt was suggested during the interview by Cynthia, who loves sentences. Turn to a random page in a piece that you are working on and study the sentences you find on that page. Where are the boring ones? What can you get rid of? Do away with anything unnecessary. So many first-draft sentences are boring or unnecessary. After that, try to make the remaining sentences more interesting. In the aftermath of our interview, she added yet another layer to this exercise. As you try to make the remaining sentences more interesting, consider looking Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus. One example from Cynthia: Instead of “Pearl Harbor was bombed,” or something banal, Hazzard writes, “One hot day Caro looked up Pearl Harbor in the atlas.” This brings the information to the reader by way of character. Try, likewise, to bring information through your own characters, making more interesting and relevant sentences.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 goodtrouble.jpeg

 

Lisa Moore Ramée, whose debut middle grade novel is A Good Kind of Trouble (Balzer + Bray).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Lisa Moore Ramée, and was inspired by an exercise that was assigned in the workshop she attended led by Renée Watson. Take your two main characters and put them in direct opposition. Have them fight or argue about something that they really care about. You may or may not end up using the scene, but it will probably help clarify who your characters are and what they want.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

woods.jpeg

Author Benjamin Percy, whose new story collection is Suicide Woods (Graywolf).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider the blueprint exercise that Benjamin Percy mentioned assigning to his students so that they might better understand structure. Choose a favorite story and read it many times, enough that you know it inside and out. Then read it again, taking notes. Try to identify the beats of the story: the way, for example, that setting might relay theme, or dialogue might inform character weakness. After you make meticulous notes on your discoveries, write a story that tries to follow this same blueprint but bears no resemblance to the original. Perhaps then write an explanation about what you did, so that you can return to it and continue to study and understand the outcome as you write more stories. Most importantly: write more stories.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

maids.jpeg

Author Abby Frucht, whose new collection of prose poems is Maids (Matter Press)

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was inspired by my conversation with Abby Frucht. In her own book, Maids, Abby followed one poem in which, as a child, she snuggles with her mom at the end, with a poem titled “Spoons,” which does not relate directly to the concept of snuggling or "spooning." And yet, because of the relevant placement of the works in the collection, they somehow do. Abby talked about an exercise that she gives her students, encouraging them to look at the beginnings and endings of different pieces they’ve written, and see how they might choose to order a collection. This week, if you are the author of poems, stories, or essays, have a look at your pieces and consider how they might best fit together into a collection. Watch beginnings and endings for ideas, words, expressions, or intentions that somehow speak to each other. Think about how they might work in transition, from one to the other.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

marley.jpeg

Vermont author Jon Clinch, whose new novel is Marley (Atria).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider the quote from Jon Clinch’s favorite folk musician, the banjo player John Hartford: “Style is based on limitations.” Consider how this idea might apply to your own work, and let it help you decide: what are your strengths and what are your limitations? Are these in fact helping you reign in the scope of your project, or should they? In other words, would it be helpful to focus on your strengths, as you’ve recognized them, and let go of certain goals that are perhaps overambitious, given your limitations? 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

captain.jpeg

Writer, editor, and publisher Dave Eggers, whose new book is The Captain and the Glory: An Entertainment (Knopf).

Here's a prompt to go along with my interview with Dave Eggers: write a satirical paragraph about a story in the news. This will require doing deep research to find something in our current events that you find outrageous, disgusting, or bizarre. I have faith that you can.  Good luck with it. 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 erotics.jpg

A new interview with the author Douglas Glover about his  collection of essays on literary form, The Erotics of Restraint (Biblioasis). 

When Douglas Glover and I spoke, he mentioned that, as he was developing his craft, he would make lists of conflicted situations in a notebook. Then, when he wanted to begin a new project, he'd read through his notebook to find a promising conflicted situation with which to start. He doesn't know what the plot will be as he begins, but he does still always know the conflict. This week, make a list of conflicts from which you might draw an interesting situation to use in your writing.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

Older Episodes »

Play this podcast on Podbean App