Archive for the 'Fiction' Category

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 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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Jakob Guanzon (3/8/21)

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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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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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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An interview from 2013 with Vermont Author Kathryn Davis. We discussed her novel Duplex (Graywolf Press).

How are you sleeping? Recently I realized that I know many people who, like me, were not sleeping particularly well in 2020, and some who still are not. We could discuss this at length, but instead, let’s write about it. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about sleep. Deep, happy sleep, fitful sleep, dreams, interrupted half-dreams, involuntary dozing in (Zoom) meetings, naps, medications, sleep walking, waking unexpectedly to something you can’t quite name. So much to work with, because sleep is universally vital.

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 Ryan Scagnelli, whose debut is Where Is My Mind?: A Book About Depression. Based on Ryan’s own journey with depression, the novel came out in December through Amazon.

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Ryan Scagnelli. What would the world look like if men simply stepped aside, elevating women? Consider the ramifications: political, cultural, creative - whatever comes to mind - and 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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A conversation on plotting the so-called (one of our discussion points) literary novel. Margot Livesey's new novel is A Boy in the Field (Harper) and Jill McCorkle's latest is Hieroglyphics (Algonquin). 

This week we have four Write the Book Prompts, thanks to the generosity of my guests. You’ve heard Jill’s prompts. The two exercises she suggested for writers who aren’t sure what comes next for their plot was so great, I’m using them here as well. Jill’s teacher Max Steele originally suggested these first two exercises to her:

  • First, write a 1000-word sentence. In one sitting, spend the time to write out that four-page, double-spaced sentence. This will “clean out the attic,” as Jill puts it.
  • Another exercise is to complete the sentence “I wish.” Later, and hopefully without actively thinking of how these sentences might link or thematically relate, write out an early memory. After you’ve written about these two ideas, see if your wish and memory connect. 
  • Margot suggests writing a scene that begins with the question, “Where were you last night?”
  • A second prompt Margot likes to share with her students is to take a scene that you’ve already written, and rewrite it from the point of view of another character. This doesn’t mean that you should change from first person to third person, but from, say, Milicent to Larry. 

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 Ally Condie, whose novel, Matched, has been re-released by Penguin in honor of the book’s tenth anniversary. After its release in 2011, Matched was followed by the series sequels, Crossed and Reached.

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Ally Condie, who advises taking your character (or yourself) on a walk into a wood. Ally says she is very loosely defining “wood”—a wood can be any grove or stand of trees. "This can be a desert bristlecone forest, a forest in the Amazon, a cold white Vermont forest, the pines up the canyon near where I live in Utah."

  • Somewhere in this wood is a clearing.
  • There is a bench.
  • There is either fire, or water, or light, depending on what you or your character need most in this particular wood.
  • Someone is waiting for you.
  • Who is it?
  • Sit down and talk to them.
  • They will give you one thing.
  • What is it?
  • Will you take it with 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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Local author, artist and pet lover Dawna Pederzani, whose new book is The Bread Fairy (AuthorHouse).

During our interview, Dawna mentioned that the first writing she recalls taking on was the sermon for her grandfather’s funeral. She was twelve. This intrigued me. Writing offers the opportunity to really spell out how we feel about a person and to get the words just right. Dawna finds that her sentiments generally spill onto the page exactly how she intends right from the first draft, which is unusual, I think. For me, the ideas are the first to spill. A kernel of something right may build and take on life and energy as I continue, and then as I revise. A funeral sermon might be an opportunity to delve into emotion and offer tribute in a way that few other writing projects could. So this week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write a funeral sermon. Interpret that as you like. You could eulogize someone you lost years ago but have not yet fully said goodbye to. You could write your own funeral sermon, or one for a fictional character you’re trying to get a better feel for: a protagonist, perhaps (or maybe a villain...) Though as Dawna points out, few people are fully heroes. We all have shades of gray in the good and the bad that we show our community, especially during times of duress. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Author Lewis Buzbee, interviewed in 2013 at the request of a listener. (Thanks, Shannon!) We discuss his middle-grade novel Bridge of Time (Squarefish) and his nonfiction book, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, (Graywolf Press).

Lewis Buzbee’s book The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop celebrates the unique experience of exploring a bookstore—getting lost seeking your  perfect next read. And yet, due to the pandemic, many of us are unable to shop in bookstores at this time. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about your favorite bookstore or library, recalling what you most love or miss about the experience of being there, and what you will do when you can again browse its shelves.

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 co-founder of Joyland Magazine Emily Schultz, whose new novel is Little Threats (GP Putnam's Sons). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Emily Schultz, who used her character Kennedy’s writing exercises as a way into the novel. In prison, Kennedy takes a creative writing class in which she writes about the past and her feelings about all that has happened to her. Emily suggests writers try letting a character write something in this way. It can be a journal entry, or it can be directed to the reader. See what comes of it, even if you end up rewriting it later in the third person or putting it into a scene.

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 Roxana Robinson. We discussed her novel Sparta (Sarah Crichton Books). She has since published Dawson’s Fall, a novel based on the lives of her great-grandparents. 

The election is over, and Joe Biden has won. In considering how emotional this election was for our country, it occurs to me that drawing on our personal reactions to the 2020 election - now, while they are fresh - might be a good way to approach writing emotional scenes in our work. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about how you are feeling. You can write about political beliefs, patriotism, exhaustion, energy, patience, joy, disappointment, hope. Whatever you feel, write it down. Perhaps you already know how to apply these feelings to something you are working on. Perhaps it will take some time to process it all and see if it might fit into your work. Either way, good luck with your writing this week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Guest Host Kim MacQueen interviews Sameer Pandya, whose new novel is Members Only (Mariner Books). 

Sameer Pandya’s novel Members Only concerns Raj Bhatt’s enjoyment of and desire to fit in at his posh tennis club. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about a character feeling out of place. Whether this place is a school, work, a club or maybe an old group where fitting in never used to be a problem, what hurdles have to be overcome? Who or what presents the obstacles to feeling like a part of things, and how does your character cope - well, poorly? Do her goals change? Does he capitulate?

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 Tana French, whose new novel is The Searcher (Viking). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was inspired by my conversation with Tana French, who, as an actress, seems to have a leg up on many issues of craft as she writes. One habit she mentioned is her tendency to act out gesture. So this week, try that. Your character has to admit to something shameful, or is feeling aggressive, or is really excited. What will he do that both fits the situation and isn’t the same old gesture we’ve all read in dozens of books before? Act out the moment. Try to get yourself into the frame of mind of your character, and go through her motions. Does she pick at a loose thread? Does she chew the inside of her cheek? Does she absentmindedly doodle on her bedroom wall with a pencil? Don’t have her ash the cigarette unless that is literally the only move that fits her frame of mind in this particular scene. 

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 with two Vermont Authors: Chris Tebbetts (1st Case, Little Brown) and Margot Harrison (The Glare, Little Brown).  

This week we have two Write the Book Prompts, thanks to the generosity of my guests. Margot suggests that if you have a character-- perhaps an antagonist or a supporting character you’re not doing justice to because you don’t understand what is motivating them--do some free writing from the point of view of that character and have them explain themselves: give their backstory and explain why they are doing what they are doing in the story and what feelings are driving them. 

Chris suggests a warm up exercise: people balk at this, but end up enjoying it. Write a passage using only words of four letters or less. The artful writing that you can come up with under that duress can be very satisfying. 

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 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 plain 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

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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

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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

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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

 

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

 

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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. 

 

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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

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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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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