Archive for the 'Fiction' Category

An interview with Pulitzer-Prize winning author Jennifer Egan about her new novel The Candy House (Scribner).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Jennifer Egan—an exercise she assigns her students that she says has been helpful. Imagine yourself in a physical place, such as a room that you know well from an earlier point of your life. Describe what is to your left. What’s to the right? Is there a drawer open? What's inside the drawer? Move through the space mentally, looking in every direction, looking out the window and under the rugs. The second part of the prompt is to write about who comes into the space and what they do or say. Because physical spaces lead to people,  and quickly. Jennifer says the real wonder of this is to see how much detail we retain. And it’s also a way of defying the fragmentation of memory. If we imagine ourselves in a space, how much we can recall about tiny particulars of that place? And then who comes in, and what are they moved to do there?

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 2019 Quill Prose Prize winner, Carlos Allende,  about his novel, Coffee, Shopping, Murder, Love (Red Hen Press). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest Carlos Allende. Create a character that does something reprehensible or immoral. The person can be anyone: from a child who broke the rules to a serial killer. Make that character sympathetic by making their pain salient and undeserved, so that the reader feels compassion for him or her. 

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 bestselling author Meg Wolitzer, about her novel for young adults, Belzhar (Dutton Books for Young Readers). One of her latest projects is hosting Selected Shorts at New York's Symphony Space, hosted by Public Radio International.

Seedlings, soil, compost, fertilizer. It’s gardening season. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about a garden. Perhaps a small mystery: a missing plant, a wrong fruit, an illegally felled tree. If a mystery doesn’t inspire you, maybe write a poem or a scene that takes place in a secret or famous garden. Or a former garden, paved over and turned into a parking lot. 

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 Jennifer McMahon, whose new novel is The Children on the Hill (Simon & Schuster). 

Jennifer's recent reads include:

The Fervor, by Alma Katsu

My Heart Is a Chainsaw, by Stephen Graham Jones

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Jennifer McMahon, who sent me this note:

At its heart, The Children on the Hill is an exploration of monsters and monstrousness. So my writing prompt is to create your own monster!

What type of monster is it? Does it have a name? What does it look like? What does it sound like? Where does your monster live? Who can see it? What does your monster eat? What special abilities does it have? Can it run fast? Is it super strong? Can it hibernate for years? What does your monster want most? What’s stopping your monster from getting it? What is your monster most afraid of?

Now, write two scenes, the first from the point of view of a person (maybe a character you’ve already been working with) coming across your monster. Where do they meet? Is your monster a danger to this character? How does your character feel about this creature?

Write the same scene from the monster’s point of view. What is the monster thinking and feeling? Is your monster afraid of the person, or is it longing for connection? Or is it just really, really hungry?

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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Melanie Finn, winner of the Vermont Book Award in Fiction 2021, and author of The Hare (Two Dollar Radio). 

Melanie's favorite recent reads include:

Empireland, by Sathnam Sanghera
On The Black Hill, by Bruce Chatwin
Orlando, by Virginia Woolf
 

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Melanie Finn, who recommends starting "outside the box" when it comes to building character. For her protagonist Rosie, the sense of smell is a strong guide; she's really aware of how things smell. When you consider your own characters, think about all their senses: color and sound, but also how a character  might feel the sensation of silk or wet grass. Melanie says that sometimes we get caught up with the obvious—what is seen or heard—and forget to convey the world through all the senses.

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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Kurt Johnson and his daughter, Ellie Johnson, who have collaborated on a new novel titled The Barrens: A Novel of Love and Death in the Canadian Arctic (Arcade). 

This week I have two Write the Book Prompts to offer, thanks to the generosity of my guests. Kurt Johnson suggests writing a paragraph the beginning and end of which you know ahead of time. Allow the middle to be more stream of consciousness. Ellie suggests writing an adventure. This could be a story, or a scene, or the beginnings of something longer. Pick an area of the world where a character is camping, and write about what goes wrong. 

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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Maya Rodale, best-selling and award-winning author of funny feminist historical fiction and romance. Her latest novel is Mad Girls of New York (Berkley).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Maya Rodale, who said it was inspired by our conversation. Take this scenario and write it forward: 

She was in a rush to get downtown–the sooner the better and definitely before it was too late. But when she turned onto Broadway, what she saw shocked her. She would not be getting downtown any time soon …

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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Michelle Huneven's latest is Search, a funny novel about a congregational search committee, told as a memoir with recipes (Penguin).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt comes from Michelle Huneven’s book, Search. It’s one that the search committee is offered when they begin working with the consultant named Helen:

IMAGINE YOUR LIFE AS A MOVIE THAT YOU’VE STEPPED OUT OF TO BE HERE TODAY. WHAT’S THE TITLE? THE SETTING? THE PLOT?  

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 - complete with the old music! - with Robert Boswell, award-winning author of seven novels, including Tumbledown (Graywolf Press).

Robert Boswell published a book on craft in 2008, The Half-Known World. In this book, he details how important it is for writers to give themselves over to what he calls the "half-known world" of fiction, where surprise and meaning converge. Consider this in terms of an exercise: this week's Write the Book Prompt is to think about surprise converging with meaning.

An example of my own: a driver stops at a quick mart due to a mundane but necessary need: coffee, perhaps, or a bathroom break. Who might she meet or run into there? How does this affect her day, or the trip she's embarking on? Did she want to be seen? Has this person affected her life in the past? How will this encounter affect the story?

Consider this week how surprise might come up against meaning in your own work, offering an opportunity to change the narrative in a valuable way. 

Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.

Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students, now alums). 

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Mark Wish and Elizabeth Coffey, editors of a new anthology: Coolest American Stories 2022 (Coolest Stories Press). This year marked the inaugural publication of the book, which will come out each January. 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is actually a publishing prompt (because we all know how hard it is to send out work once we've written it). Polish up your coolest, most twisty-turny story, make a list of 15 publications you think might make a good match for that story, and send it to three at a time until someone acknowledges your cool with an acceptance. After which, being a good person, you will let the others know you’ve found a home for your cool story. OR submit it to Coolest American Short Stories 2023; hey, you never know!

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 the author Karen Joy Fowler, whose new historical novel is Booth, which concerns the family behind one of the most infamous figures in American history: John Wilkes Booth. The book came out last week from Putnam.

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Karen Joy Fowler, who suggests picking one of the great emotions:  fury, joy, envy, terror.  Write a scene from your childhood in which you experienced that emotion, maybe, but not necessarily, for the first time.  If you are in the midst of a fictional project, write the scene for one of your characters instead.

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 archive interview (from my Radiator broadcast days!) from the archives with New Hampshire author Toby Ball, author of three crime novels published by Overlook Press: The Vaults, about which we spoke in 2010,  Scorch City, which he wrote in 2011, and Invisible Streets the third in the series and the subject of this conversation.

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider the following list of sentences and phrases, pick two, and put them in a story, scene, poem, or simple paragraph. Here they are:

* If she was going to argue all night…

* Keeping in mind the Pomeranian on the kitchen floor…

* Why not (a) Manhattan? 

* His itching feet called to be released.

* Staring at the melting ice statue, he spoke very slowly. 

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


Music Credit:
John Fink

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Paula Martinac, author of seven novels. Since we spoke in 2017 about  The Ada Decades (Bywater Books), she has published three others. Her latest is Dear Miss Cushman (Bywater Books).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider the next food item you see - fruit, meat, vegetable, fast food, food on the street, in a gourmet store, at a cafeteria, on your kitchen shelf - and write about someone who is thinking about, relishing, or not relishing that food. 

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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Vermont author and exceptional literary citizen Nancy Means Wright passed away on January 19 at the age of 95. This week I aired an interview with Nancy from the early days of the show. Many thanks to Seven Days for granting me permission to read their obituary for Nancy on air (with the stipulation that I read it in its entirety). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write a short or maybe even longer fictional piece featuring an historical figure, much as Nancy Means Wright featured Mary Wollstonecraft in two mystery novels.

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 Rachel Urquhart about her novel The Visionist (Little Brown).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to invent a group that has diminished from a large, powerful organization or community to something smaller, with minimal influence. What does this group look like? What happened to change their situation? What characters come to mind when you consider this scenario, and how might each of them react to their change in size and scope?

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 Caitlin Hamilton Summie, whose new novel is Geographies of the Heart (Fomite). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Caitlin Hamilton Summie. Consider the following prompt:

“I didn’t want to steal it, but I did.”

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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

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

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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

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

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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

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

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

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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

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

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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

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

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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

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

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Award-winning author 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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