Archive for the 'Memoir' Category

Award-winning Vermont author Julia Alvarez, whose latest book is A WEDDING IN HAITI: THE STORY OF A FRIENDSHIP, published by Shannon Ravenel Books, an imprint of Algonquin.

The televised production of this interview can be found at RETN.org

Today I can offer two Write The Book Prompts, both of which were generously suggested by my guest, Julia Alvarez.The first is to write a list poem or prose passage. Julia loves making lists, and reading them. She wrote in an email, "sometimes, when I am grocery shopping, I'll find a discarded list on a shelf or on the floor, and I always pick it up and read it. Many are just a straight list of items to buy, but every once in a while, the list will include little notes or things to do. I'll start to imagine a story for the shopper who dropped the list!"

She offered a number of examples of good list poems and prose passages, including Triad, by 19th century poet Adelaide Crapsey:

These be three silent things:

the falling snow. . .the hour

before dawn. . .the mouth of one

just dead

Julia asks writers to remember that the items on the list need to be vivid and concrete, as sharp as little haikus, because as we read a list, we have to quickly picture each item before the next one comes on board. No brand names. None of those airbrushed abstract adjectives ("beautiful," "interesting") that are vague and generic" and don't nail down an image with a bright flash of recognition. She writes, "I love the surprises and juxtapositions that happen when you try to group, say, shapely things on a list." She sent a number of eighth graders' wonderful poems, from a workshop that she taught. Here they are:

Shapely Things

Waves on an ocean. . . long,

high rollercoasters, mouths

forming words. . . writing. . .

someone walking or running

with a limp. . .

clouds in the open sky. . . a mind

forming an idea.

Tammy, 8th grade

These things hardly have time:

lightning in a storm,

very nervous people,

the rush of embarrassment,

the years in a life and

a never-stopping clock.

These things hardly have time.

Scott, 8th grade

These things are extra hard:

writing a poem,

being original,

riding up a hill in 10th gear,

and taking wet socks off.

James, 8th grade

Slippery Things

Rocks the water of a creek runs over

Worms

and the slime of a swamp.

Catch a fish--that, too.

The words of a blabber mouth.

Sue, 8th grade

Another writing prompt came via a book her stepdaughter Berit gave to Julia one Christmas: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure, edited by Smith Magazine, which has a whole site devoted to posts of six-word memoirs.

So the second prompt would be: write your six-word memoir! Julia cautions that it can be really difficult to get an essence of who you are so briefly.

Good luck with these prompts, and please listen next week for another!

The commemorative event that Julia and I discussed during the interview, marking the 75th anniversary of the 1937 Haitian Massacre, takes place in October. More information about that event will be available at border of lights.org

More information about Piti's band, Rise Up, Brothers, will be available soon at cafealtagracia.com

Read Full Post »

Vermont writer Martin Magoun, author of the poetry collection Shattered and a memoir in essays, Russian Roulette: Depression, Suicide, Medication (DRUGS), published by Wharf Rat Books.

This week's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest Martin Magoun. "Describe the girl with the far away eyes."

Good luck with this prompt, and please tune in 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).

Read Full Post »

Vermont writer Tovar Cerulli, author of The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian's Hunt for Sustenance, published by Pegasus Books.

This week's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Tovar Cerulli. Recall an experience with an animal, wild or domestic, from your childhood or teen years. Write the scene as you recall it, describing what occurred. Read your own description and consider: Are there additional layers of thought or feeling that are relevant? Do you want to work any of these into the scene? (Optional second round: Recall a more recent experience with an animal and write and consider that scene. What similarities or differences between the two scenes do you notice?)

Good luck with this prompt, 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).

Read Full Post »

Robin Hemley, author of the book Do Over! “in which a 48- year-old father of three returns to kindergarten, summer camp, the prom, and other embarrassments.” Robin will have two new books out in 2012: Reply All: Stories (Break Away Books), and A Field Guide for Immersion Writing: Memoir, Journalism, and Travel, (University of Georgia Press). You can find more information about these on Robin's website.

The sound quality of today's archive rebroadcast was not great. Not sure what happened, but a bit buzzy. So here I'm posting the old podcast as it originally ran in 2009, in hopes of providing better sound quality. The were minor differences in the intro and closing, most notably a new prompt, which I'm offering below. Thanks for your patience.

Today's Write The Book Prompt is to organize your own Do Over. Maybe it doesn't make a lot of sense for you to redo the prom, or to re-enroll in kindergarten. But perhaps you had another experience in recent weeks or months that you wish you could do over. Go back to the store where a counter person was rude and you left feeling upset. Or make plans to see a friend to whom YOU were perhaps rude, or were not your best self in some way, and you left feeling embarrassed or frustrated or uniquely human. Revisit your old school, if it's nearby, track down one of your former teachers. Maybe you gave a reading at a local open mike venue and it went poorly; try it again. See how it goes to re-approach an imperfect experience with new enthusiasm and perspective. And then write about the two events, and what you might have taken away from this exercise.

Good luck with it, and please listen next week for another!

Read Full Post »

Interview from the Archives with Award-Winning Vermont Writer Howard Frank Mosher, whose new book, The Great Northern Express, comes out  March 6, 2012.

Today's Write The Book Prompt celebrates a little-known holiday. According to the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association, which established the event in 1977, Today is National Handwriting Day, a day devoted to promoting the utilization of pens, pencils, and writing paper. January 23rd was chosen by the association because this is the birthday of John Hancock, the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence. So the prompt today is to write long hand. Write a poem, a page, or a chapter, or simply free write for a set amount of time - but do so by putting pen to paper. Let your hand experience the activity of writing, of sweeps and loops and spirals and lines.

Nathalie Goldberg, in her book, Writing Down The Bones, says that a different aspect of yourself comes out when you type. She also says that when she writes something emotional, she must write it "the first time directly with hand on paper." Handwriting, according to Goldberg, "is more connected to the movement of the heart." So this week, write something in your own handwriting.

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

Read Full Post »

Interview From the Archives with Vermont Author of Memoir, Fiction and Nonfiction, Christopher Noel, whose most recent books include Impossible Visits: The Inside Story of Interactions with Sasquatch at Habituation Sites, and A Frail House: Stories.

Today's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Chris Noel in 2009, when I first interviewed him. It's a great prompt, and fitting for Halloween, so I'm repeating it now.

During the interview, Chris mentioned that writers should meditate on the monsters that move us, those mysterious creatures that fascinated and perhaps repelled us when we were small. Contemplate the monster that lived under your bed, inside your closet, or outside your window, and then free write. This is a great way to enlighten or SHOW yourself what interests and motivates you. It may well also show you something you'd forgotten or hadn't even realized about yourself.

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).

Read Full Post »

Wendy Call, writer, editor, translator and teacher. Author of No Word for Welcome: The Mexican Village Faces the Global Economy.

This week's Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Wendy Call. It's a two-step writing exercise. First, think about a place that you really love. Describe this delicious place (using as few adjectives and adverbs as possible) to someone who's never been anywhere like it. Include how it looks, how it sounds, how it smells, as well as the quality of the air and light. Next, imagine that this place has, somehow, been destroyed. Now, rewrite your description, with that terrible knowledge.

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).

Read Full Post »

Priscilla Long,  award-winning poet, prose writer and teacher. Seattle-based author of The Writer's Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life.

For this week's Write the Book Prompt, I'll offer two exercises in writing voice from Priscilla Long's book on craft, The Writer's Portable Mentor. To practice capturing voices you know well: spend fifteen minutes writing a bitter complaint in your own most colloquial voice. A second exercise is to spend five minutes writing beyond this opening: "My father always used to say..."

Many thanks to Priscilla for allowing me to suggest these exercises to you! Good luck with them, and please listen next week for another.

Read Full Post »

Interview from the archives (July 2009) with Sue William Silverman, author of Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You; Love Sick: One Woman's Journey Through Sexual Addiction; and Fearless Confessions: A Guide to Writing Memoir.

Prompt: Today’s Write The Book Prompt comes from my guest, Sue William Silverman, who included it in her new book on craft, Fearless Confessions. Recall a photograph from childhood, or dig one out of an old album. Write a paragraph about it using the voice and sensibility of who you were when the photograph was taken. Then, write a paragraph about it through the voice and sensibility of who you are now. Next, write a third paragraph that combines the perspectives of the first two: a paragraph that speaks in both the Voice of Innocence and the Voice of Experience. 

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

Read Full Post »

Cathy Ostlere, Canadian Author of the memoir Lost and the recent YA novel in verse, Karma.

This week's Write The Book Prompt was inspired by the work of my guest Cathy Ostlere, whose new novel, Karma, is written in verse. Look through your creative writing file on the computer or in the bottom of your desk drawer and pull out an idea you've previously shelved, thinking it wouldn't amount to anything. Now look at it anew, and consider what might happen if you were to develop a certain character whose life or situation might be relevant to this idea by working in verse. You can try rhyming verse, or simply play with rhythms. See if something new comes out of that idea simply because you're playing with words in a different 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 South Burlington High School students)

Read Full Post »

Nonfiction Author Susan Kushner Resnick, whose latest book is Goodbye Wifes and Daughters, published by University of Nebraska Press.

This week's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest Susan Kushner Resnick, who occasionally assigns this exercise to her students. Describe a loved one's body part. For example, describe your brother's eyebrow. Or your best friend's teeth. This allows you to get very specific and paint a small, detailed picture about someone you know well.

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 South Burlington High School students).

Read Full Post »

Scientist and Memoir Writer Cardy Raper, Author of Love, Sex & Mushrooms: Part 2 of a 2-Part Interview With New Vermont Writers.

This week's Write The Book Prompt is inspired by National Libraries Week. The state slogan for this year's celebration is: "Vermont Libraries can take you anywhere." This week, find inspiration at a local library. Go sit in the reading room, people watch, chat with the librarian. Browse the shelves. Browse any fliers, posters or announcements in the lobby. Find out what online services your local library provides, and then browse those sites. Keep your mind open and your pen ready. Then write.

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

Read Full Post »

Interview with James Kochalka, Vermont's First Cartoonist Laureate.

This week, James Kochalka offered one Write the Book Prompt and I offered another:

James' prompt: Think back to an encounter you had with someone today and write a paragraph about it. My prompt: Draw a cartoon of yourself with a person that you know and a pet. James then suggested there might be a way to combine these prompts ... Cool.

Good luck with these prompt, and please listen next week for another.

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

Read Full Post »

Interview with Julie Metz, graphic designer and author of the memoir Perfection.

This week's Write the Book Prompt comes to us from a listener in Westford, Vermont. Mark Peloquin writes that he's had good luck with this prompt:

Describe your room as a child.  Describe why you felt safe there or perhaps, why you did not.  Describe what you would see when you looked out the window or through the key hole. Describe any things that were on the walls and why there were significant.

Good luck with this prompt, many thanks to Mark for sending it, and please listen next week for another.

Excerpt of Perfection read with permission from Hyperion Books.

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

Read Full Post »

Writer of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry Richard McCann, author of Mother of Sorrows.

This week's Write the Book Prompt comes to us from the writer Dorothy Allison, by way of my guest, Richard McCann. In teaching writing at American University, he will occasionally offer this prompt to his students. First, he has them read Dorothy Allison's essay, SURVIVAL IS THE LEAST OF MY DESIRES, which is included in her collection, SKIN. In the essay, she suggests that writers make use of the whole of their lives: honor your dead, your wounded and your lost, and acknowledge your crimes and your shames-what you did and did not do in this world. Richards suggests making a list: who are your dead, your wounded and your lost (literal and metaphorical), and what are the crimes and shames of what you did and did not do. He says those lists become good places from which to start writing.

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

Excerpt of Mother of Sorrows read with permission from Vintage, a division of Random House.

Read Full Post »

Local Short Story Writer, Public Radio Commentator and Businessman Bill Schubart. His latest collection is Fat People.

This week's Write the Book Prompt was included in the interview itself, but here it is again:

My guest, Bill Schubart, said during our talk, "I love stories. I grew up in a French Canadian family in Morrisville, VT, and everybody told stories all the time in French and English." He went on to say that we as a society are too distracted by technology, and we don't listen to each other as much as we used to. So ask your family members for their stories. Listen to their stories. Maybe even record them. You can then write about these stories, or you can just enjoy them. As Bill said, "...stories define us, in our communities [and] in our families."

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

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

Read Full Post »

Vermont Poet Pamela Harrison, author of the new collection, Out of Silence.

This week's Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Pamela Harrison.  In her creative writing classes, she will sometimes ask students to read and study Archibald McLeash's Poem "Eleven," which captures a particular time in the intellectual and emotional life of an eleven year old boy. He is asked by the adults in his life to "think, think, think!" But he's not ready to think. He's still living deep inside his body. He hasn't arrived at his intellectual capacities yet and hasn't awakened to his separate self. The poem, says Pamela, beautifully captures that time in the life of a child.

Your prompt this week is to find the poem "Eleven" and read it. Look at each line as it develops. Then find or remember a place in your own life that was your hideaway, your safe place as a child, where you were most alive inside your body and where you had a sense of wholeness; then write. It's amazing, says Pamela, what this exercise inspires in her students.

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

Read Full Post »

Interview with Vermont Mathematician, Professor and Author Joseph Mazur.

This week's Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Joseph Mazur. I'm including it in his words, as sent to me in an email:

You know that nonfiction writing requires the writer to bring readers to places they haven't ever been and to tell them things they have not known. In one single sentence, that is the task of the nonfiction writer. But to keep readers reading, a book must be alive with human experience. That's the job of anecdotal entrances and anecdotal relief.

Anecdotes are there to first amuse, and therefore hook the reader, and then to give clues to what the book is about.

If you are writing nonfiction, try weaving in as much anecdotal material as possible. Take a look at some of Stephen Jay Gould's books for fine examples. Gould was the king of anecdotal entrances.

There are a few principles to favor when using a leading anecdote-Bring in something that the reader can identify with, a character, a place, an object, or a brief amusement. Watch out for making it too specific-specificity has an uncanny way of creeping into the lead to defeat the hook.

I introduce each of my own books with lead anecdotes-

I came to understand mathematics by way of a Russian novel. (The first sentence in a book about truth and logic in mathematics.)

My father was the first person to tell me about paradoxes of time. (The first sentence in a book about time and motion.)

When I was a child, my uncles would gather every Saturday at my grandparents' house to sit at a long dining room table telling jokes while accounting their week' s gambling wins and losses. (The first sentence in a book about the history and psychology of gambling.)

My own high school days were the near misfortune of my teenage years. (The first sentence in a book about learning math in an inner-city high school.)

What about anecdotal relief? In most cases, relief suggests a reprieve from something burdensome. And burdensome reading is never a welcome task. However, unless it is memoir or biography, nonfiction often involves the burden of strings of complicated information that tends to swell into what sometimes seems to be disconnected from thoughts of the real world. Even the best nonfiction writers need to think about anecdotal relief just as the most indefatigable readers need respite.

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

Read Full Post »

Jon Turner, Vermont Veteran, Poet, Paper Maker and Warrior Writers Member.

This week, instead of a Write the Book Prompt, I'm going to refer you to the Warrior Writers' blogspot. There, alongside regular blog entries, you'll find weekly writing prompts, poetry forms, and occasional shared work.

Please listen next week when the Prompt will return.

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

Read Full Post »

Sorche Fairbank, Literary Agent and Founder of Fairbank Literary in Hudson, NY.

This week's Write The Book Prompt is directed toward aspiring novelists. Your job this week is to write a synopsis of your book. Many literary agents will ask to see a synopsis with an initial query, or as a follow-up to a query that caught their attention. Here are a few things to consider as you approach the task.

* A synopsis is not a chapter outline. It's not necessarily even a chronological retelling of the book. Rather, a synopsis presents the book's plot and introduces the main characters in an appealing way that will interest an agent in reading the whole novel. It's a chance to show off your creativity, as well as your ability to condense and organize material.

* You may find that the agents you are querying have their own guidelines for appropriate synopsis length. But if they don't specify otherwise, try to make your book synopsis two-to-three double-spaced pages.

* Use the jacket covers of books you're familiar with as guidelines for how to approach writing a good synopsis. Jacket copy is written to sell books, and that's what you're trying to do as well. Here's an example. This is the jacket copy of a paperback reprinting of George Orwell's 1984: "The world of 1984 is one in which eternal warfare is the price of bleak prosperity, in which the Party keeps itself in power by complete control over man's actions and his thoughts. As the lovers Winston Smith and Julia learn when they try to evade the Thought Police, and then join the underground opposition, the Party can smash the last impulse of love, the last flicker of individuality."

* UNLIKE book jackets, your synopsis should fully describe the plot of your novel, including what happens at the end. To skip over the ending in hopes that the agent will want the full experience of reading your masterpiece is to take yourself out of the running. This is a sales pitch, and the agent will want to know how your book ends if she requests a synopsis as part of the query process.

    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 South Burlington High School students)

    Read Full Post »

    A Discussion Of Writers' Block with Angelique and Morella Devost, Hypnotherapists and Practitioners of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

    This week we have two Write The Book Prompts, suggested by my guests. Morella and Angelique Devost. The first is the prompt you heard Angelique mention in the interview, to write about a "Fraught Drive in a Car." And the second is to consider the idea that Morella mentioned, What would you do if you could not fail? And then write with that sense of possibility.

    Good luck with these exercises and please listen next week for another. And check out these articles, if you're interested in resources about the work that Morella and Angelique Devost do.

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

    Read Full Post »

    « Newer Episodes

    Play this podcast on Podbean App