Archive for February 2021

 
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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Columbia University Campbell Family Professor of Anthropology Claudio Lomnitz whose new memoir is Neustra América: My Family in the Vertigo of Translation (Other Press). 

My guest’s title, Nuestra America translates in English as Our America. In the case of Professor Lomnitz’s book, the title refers to his own family’s experience of America. But if you were to say them aloud, what might the words “Our America” mean to you? This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about that. Consider America, the continent or the country, as you interpret it, and whatever sense of ownership and community the word “Our” might bring to your own mind. In times of post-election fallout, particularly this year, it might be a good exercise for all of us. What is Our America, and who are “We?” Who is a member of Our America, from your viewpoint; what does that collective share in common, and what do you think about or hope for that group?

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 about setting with Susan Conley, author of Landslide, and Lauren Fox, author of Send For Me, both published by Knopf.

This week we have four Write the Book Prompts, thanks to the generosity of my guests. 

From Susan:

  • During the interview, Susan urges writers not to be fooled by "description for description's sake.” Instead of just being happy with beautiful sentences about place, take your setting to the next level with this activity: Go to a place that has the most heat for you in your mind, in your project. Think about that setting and "describe the heck out of it" in a free write for 2-4 minutes. Then in the second half of the prompt, bring a huge problem to that place. Susan suggests that two characters have a big fight in that setting. Suddenly you introduce complexity, which brings in place as conduit for trouble and emotion. Leap from pure description and the beautiful sentence to the catalyzing action. She says she speaks of this with humility, having come to fiction through poetry. She liked writing beautiful sentences. But now she realizes that, in fiction, action really is necessary. It's not enough to describe the ocean. You have to have, in her case, "a teenager imploding in a boat on the ocean."
  • Read "The Colonel," by Caroline Forché. A powerful poem, it begins, "What you have heard is true." Susan offers this line as a prompt for students and asks them to write without censorship for ten minutes. Something about that line often cracks open some big stuff for people. 

From Lauren:

  • Write a short scene, and then rewrite the same scene in a different setting. As Lauren mentions during our interview, playing with setting—inventing, changing, renaming, re-placing (literally)—can present opportunities that open up our work in new ways. 
  • She also suggests an exercise that both she and her husband have shared with students; he's an English professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Inspired by The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard (Library of America), the prompt is to write a series of sentences, all of which begin with "I remember." Lauren says that beginning with these two words tends to almost magically unlock memories and ideas. 

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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