Archive for the 'Nonfiction' Category

Vermont organic gardener and writer Ron Krupp, whose books are The Woodchuck's Guide to Gardening and Lifting The Yoke: Local Solutions to America's Farm and Food Crisis.

Today's Write The Book Prompt is to write about your eating habits or those of someone you know. You can journal about how those habits have changed for the better or worse, how education has played a role, whether organic and/or locally-grown foods are an important part of this person's diet, and why or why not.

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

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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!

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Vermont author Castle Freeman, Jr., whose latest book is Round Mountain: New and Collected Stories, published by Concord ePress and coming out soon in print from Concord Free Press.

Today's Write The Book Prompt is a visual exercise. I'm posting three photos here; choose one that inspires you, and write. I hope you have fun with it. Good luck, and please listen next week for another prompt.

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

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Timothy D. Wilson, the Sherrell J Aston Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia and author of Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change, published by Little, Brown.

Today's Write The Book Prompt was offered by my guest, Timothy D. Wilson, who suggests that writers listen to people talking on their cell phones. People will say the most bizarre, intimate things in front of others often, when they're on the phone. Take something they're saying, and just imagine what the larger story is. Use that as a prompt to tell that person's story or some other story. Dr. Wilson and his daughter collect sentences they overhear in this way - obviously it's a one-sided conversation and the context is hard to discern, which makes this a fun exercise.

Another possibility for a prompt this week is to try the Pennebaker writing exercise that Timothy Wilson explains in his book. Full directions about trying the exercise can be found at James W. Pennebaker's website at The University of Texas, Austin.

Good luck with these exercises 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).

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Interview from the archives with author, essayist and NPR contributor, Tim Brookes, discussing his book Guitar: An American Life.

Prompt: This week’s Write The Book Prompt was inspired by the interview you heard today with author Tim Brookes. During our conversation, Tim said that often, when people feel stuck, they have put up a fence around the thing they should be writing. Even if this mysterious fenced subject isn’t what you’ve been trying to confront, perhaps it’s time to have a look at it. What’s on your mind? What have you been avoiding? Are you procrastinating in order to keep from tackling something real or difficult? Give this some thought and see if you can identify something that’s been wanting to be written about – something you’ve fenced off for whatever reason. Then take a journal and free write about this subject for twenty or thirty minutes. Ignore form. Ignore genre. Don’t worry about whether or not this is the subject you’ve been feeling stuck on. Write about the things that are there with you, right now, and see if this doesn’t help you move forward in some larger way. Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.

Music Credits: 1) "Dreaming 1" - John Fink; 2) Tim Brookes on guitar playing "End of a Holiday," by Simon Nichol.

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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).

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Ecologist and educator Amy Seidl, author of Early Spring: An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World and Finding Higher Ground: Adaptation in the Age of Warming.

Today's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Amy Seidl. First, read over this passage from her book, Finding Higher Ground:

"Peer into the natural world, one close at hand. Perhaps it is a city park whose paths are lined with oak or maple trees planted in the nineteenth century. Or maybe you are fortunate enough to walk in a remnant prairie with freshwater kettle ponds and migratory ducks, or an old-growth forest with trees whose gigantic trunks and canopies house thousands of species. Maybe you are walking in your own backyard, traversing an enclosed space that you've filled with daylilies, climbing roses, and garden beds filled with vegetables. All these places-the ones intended as sanctuary or refuge, the ones cultivated by gardeners, the wild places with no cultivators or patrons-all are experiencing the agitation of change."

Having read that passage, follow Amy's advice. Gaze out at the natural world-whichever one you find inspiring or, as Amy says, close at hand-and consider what you see and the adaptive realities that exist there. Now write about what you noticed, and your reactions to these observations. Were you surprised, awed, worried, impressed? Describe the changing world as you witness it, and the adaptation represented in what you've seen, and then describe how it moves you.

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

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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).

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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.

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Originally from Vermont, Award-Winning Author and Journalist Christian Parenti, whose latest book is Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence.

This week's Write the Book Prompt was inspired by my interview with Christian Parenti. Write a nonfiction article or essay - or even just a paragraph - on a subject about which you're passionate. This subject might be climate change, women's rights, the work of a nonprofit whose mission you admire, your local school budget, an examination of various diets and their effects on health... whatever matters to you. Try to include in the piece adequate historical perspective to help readers understand the background,  an explanation of any confluence of events that might have relevance to your subject, and - as Christian Parenti said - always be sure to keep in mind the larger issues or core ideas behind the details of your story. Don't forget to read and do your research, if you hope to put this out into the world.

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

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Kristin Kimball, NY Farmer and Author of The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love.

This week's Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Kristin Kimball. Write about your grandmother by describing her home. If you don't have a living memory of your grandmother, pick somebody else from your childhood who was very important to you, and describe that person by describing their home.

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

Many thanks to the South Burlington Community Library for hosting this interview in front of an audience of their patrons!

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

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Deborah Fennell, President of the League of Vermont Writers.

This week's Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Deborah Fennell. The prompt COMBINES HER LOVES OF POETRY, PROSE, PHYSICAL EDUCATION AND WRITING. Go for a walk or a hike. As you're walking, say some words to yourself - whatever comes into your brain. Deb Fennell learned in a poetry workshop with Julia Shipley that we tend to walk in iambic pentameter. So this exercise tends to naturally bring out words in a memorable way. Be observant. When you get back inside, sit down and write at least 100 words, or for 10 minutes, whatever comes first. Don't worry about whether you're writing poetry or prose, just try to capture some of the words that came to you on your walk. Deb Fennell tries to always remember the first 8 words she'd been thinking about on her hike. If you can remember those, everything else begins to flow, helping you remember what you saw and thought about on your walk. Deb has done this in the city, and out in the woods on a trail. Because of the nature of our "iambic pentametric" strides, it's a productive way to access words in a creative 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)

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Vermont writer Laban Carrick Hill, author of over thirty books, including the historical picture book, Dave the Potter, and co-director of the Writers Project of Ghana, a nonprofit based in the Ghana and the US.

This week's Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Laban Carrick Hill. He describes it as an exercise about transgression. Try to write a children's picture book from the POV of a young boy whose brother was tortured and murdered during Rendition at Guantanamo. Laban explains that this might be the least likely book that would ever be written, which is what makes a good prompt. Vermont writer Laban Carrick Hill, author of over thirty books, including the historical picture book, DAVE THE POTTER, and co-director of the Writers Project of Ghana, a nonprofit based in the Ghana and the US.

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Marilyn Graman, New York psychotherapist and co-principal of Life Works, an organization "committed to supporting people in having lives that are healthy, fulfilled and satisfied." Life Works books include The Female Power Within, There is No Prince, and How To Be Cherished.

During our interview, Marilyn mentioned a recent article about her work in the web-zine New York City Woman. You can find that article by clicking here.

This week's Write The Book Prompt was inspired by the conversation you heard today with Marilyn Graman. The prompt is based on an exercise from How To Be Cherished, by Marilyn Graman and Maureen Walsh with Hillary Welles. If you write memoir or autobiographical poetry, create a "Care and Feeding Manual" about yourself. If you write fiction or biography, create one for one or more of your characters. In the book, a Care and Feeding Manual is described as "a fun and helpful way for your man to know you better." In the case of this week's prompt, creating such a manual can be a way to get better acquainted with the subject of your work, be that you yourself, or a character.

Below are several of the points that might be included in a "Care & Feeding" manual for your subject. These are all based on the work of Marilyn Graman and Maureen Walsh, from their book, How To Be Cherished (although I've edited the list to make it a bit more character-relevant, a bit less relationship-relevant). Many thanks to Marilyn Graman for permission to base this prompt on the Care & Feeding exercise in the book.

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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)

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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).

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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.

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Nancy Marie Brown, author of the new nonfiction book The Abacus and The Cross, which Kirkus Reviews has called "an engrossing account of the Dark Ages and one of its Popes, both far less dark than popular histories teach" and "a lively, eye-opening portrait of a sophisticated Europe whose intellectual leaders showed genuine interest in learning."

This week's Write The Book Prompt is inspired by the interview you heard today with Nancy Marie Brown, whose book, The Abacus and The Cross, challenges common notions about life and understanding in the Dark Ages. In your work this week, try to include one thing that challenges a myth or popular conception. It can be historic, cultural, medical ...

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).

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Donald and Lillian Stokes, authors of The Stokes Field Guide to The Birds of North America.

This week's Write The Book Prompt is inspired by the interview you heard today with Donald and Lillian Stokes. Settle yourself in a comfortable spot where you can spot birds. Either go outside, if it's a lovely day, or sit in a window where you can see birds coming and going. Choose a bird and write as full a description of it as you possibly can. Here's an example from the Stokes' Guide. The Rock Sandpiper is a medium-sized, fairly rotund, short-legged sandpiper with a strongly tapered fine pointed bill that droops slightly at tip. After you record as much detail about the bird's shape, coloring and movements as you can, take that description and use it to fill out details about a character in your work. Mr. Piper was a rotund man of medium height whose short legs made him walk with an amusing little hop. He had a strong nose that drooped at the tip, as if pointing out that he had no chin at all.

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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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)

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    Mark Pendergrast, Local Nonfiction Author of Inside the Outbreaks: The Elite Medical Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service.

    This week's Write The Book Prompt has to do with detail. Gustave Flaubert was so concerned with getting every detail right that he often spent days struggling to arrive at exactly the right word. In her book, Mystery and Manners, Flannery O'Connor wrote, "Fiction operates through the senses, and I think one reason that people find it so difficult to write stories is that they forget how much time and patience is required to convince through the senses. No reader who doesn't actually experience, who isn't made to feel, the story is going to believe anything the fiction writer merely tells him. The first and most obvious characteristic of fiction is that it deals with reality through what can be seen, heard, smelt, tasted, and touched."          This week, stop struggling to come up with details in your work, and just look around. Go to any corner of your house or garage or barn or place of work, and take in the details that are there. Touch that square of decorative carpet, and put into words what it feels like. Smell that candle, and write down what-if any-scent it has, and what you associate with that smell. Remember when you got that camera for your birthday, and how you were disappointed, because you'd wanted another brand? Look at that photograph of your cousin. What is he wearing? Why does he dress that way? Is his collar poking out from his jacket on one side? Is his shirt wrinkled and un-tucked? Or is he meticulous, beyond physical criticism? And if so, what does that say about him? How does that characterization fit with your experiences of being around him? This week's prompt is about re-educating yourself in the art of noticing details, so that you might more easily access them as you work.

    A COPY OF THIS PROMPT WILL BE INCLUDED in the description to this week's Podcast. Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.

    Excerpt from Mark Pendergrast's Inside The Outbreaks read with permission.

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

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    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)

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    Thea Lewis, Vermont author of Haunted Burlington: Spirits of Vermont’s Queen City, and founder of the Queen City Ghost Walk.

    Prompt: This week’s Write The Book Prompt was inspired by the interview you heard today with Thea Lewis. Write from the perspective of a ghost. How would it be if everyone who could see you were afraid of you? Would you haunt a place or a person? Would you be helpful or frightening? Who do you suppose you were you in life, and what happened to bring you to this point?

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

    Readings by Thea Lewis, from Haunted Burlington: Spirits of Vermont’s Queen City (Charleston: Haunted America, The History Press, 2009). Copyright © 2009 by Thea Lewis. Recorded with permission from The History Press.

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

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    Anne Trooper-Holbrooke, Coleen Kearon, Benjamin Malcolm, and Susan Ritz: four writers working to develop their craft.

    This week’s Write The Book prompt was inspired by a comment made by one of my guests. Coleen Kearon mentioned her efforts to introduce more plot, more active scenes into her prose, and to pay attention to the amount of introspection she includes. She described this effort as a move toward plot and away from too much exposition. You may have the same problem. Or perhaps, yours is the opposite problem. If you're a poet, this might not seem like a useful exercise, but the bottom line is balance. Read over your work with an eye to what you use too much of, and how you might rectify that by introducing balance. First, identify the qualities you want to balance. Action and introspection, for example. Or dialogue and exposition. Character interaction and scene setting. Take markers and highlight the parts of your work that fit one versus the other quality that you're trying to balance. Don't judge yourself as you go, but just objectively highlight the differences. And then study your work with this new colorful enhancement and work to right the disproportion.

    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.

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    James Tabor, Author of Blind Descent, discusses cave exploration, writing, and  Curtis' "Eighth Wonder of the World" Barbecue in Putney, Vermont.

    This week’s Write The Book prompt was inspired by the work of my guest, James M. Tabor. Next time you're considering getting up from your desk and walking away from your writing-against your better judgment-imagine yourself in a cave, two miles below the surface of the earth. Close your eyes, and consider what it might be like to have only the lights that you brought along, only the equipment that you carry on your back. Imagine yourself suspended over water, carefully making your way along the wall of a cave that has a 200-foot vertical drop. This is the sensation that can result in "The Rapture," the kind of panic attack that quickly becomes dangerous for cave explorers. Control your breathing, control your urges to flee. You can't just walk away. You have to finish what you started. Now open your eyes, feel grateful that you're no deeper than the last paragraph that stumped you, and keep writing.

    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.

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    Interview with Gary Clark, Writing Program Director at the Vermont Studio Center.

    This week's Write The Book Prompt is inspired by the Vermont Studio Center and writing retreats in general. Even if you can't get to a retreat at present, perhaps you can offer yourself a mini-retreat. Begin by looking at your writing space. Really study it. Is it a place you look forward to going to, sitting down and working in? If not, what might you be able to do to create a more comfortable, enjoyable atmosphere? Maybe you need to put in a bookshelf full of the kinds of books you might like to reach for when you need inspiration. Maybe you should consider new décor, a poster, a small colorful rug, a comfortable chair where you can sit and read over what you've written on a given day. Or maybe you need to do the opposite: simplify. Is the space too full of knick knacks, books, papers, pens? Do you need to clean it out, reduce the clutter? Figure out what you need to make yourself look forward to being in your writing space. Then, on a certain day, plan ahead. Make yourself lunch, put it in a picnic basket, and leave it outside your office door. Turn off your phones, ask your family to leave you in peace for one day. Create your own personal retreat. And then go to your space, sit down, and write.

    Good luck with your feng shui and please listen next week for another exercise.

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

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    Interview with local author Tim Brookes about his new book, Thirty Percent Chance of Enlightenment.

    Prompt: This week, instead of a Write The Book Prompt, I offer what I'm calling an "anti-prompt." When I asked my guest, Tim Brookes, if he had a prompt to suggest, he answered with a very firm "no." Tim does not use prompts, and as a teacher, he does not assign them. When I asked him if I might offer his opinion this week, instead of a prompt, he wrote me the following email. Perhaps you'll find it useful.

    I guess I'm anti-prompt for the same three reasons why I'm against that rhetoric/debate exercise where the teacher says, "Which side are you on when it comes to this issue? Okay, in that case, argue the opposite side."

    One, I want my writers to discover what they have to say by paying attention to their own inner landscape, their own issues, passions, dark corners.

    Two, that's not the way it works in real life.

    Three, it takes a writer absolutely at the top of his/her game to be able to pull that off well.

    One: it takes a great deal of time and practice for a young writer even to be aware of what s/he has to say, let alone to have the confidence and the means to say it powerfully. To me that's a crucial, crucial goal. Writing to a prompt produces reactive writing--writing to please someone else, writing to respond to someone else--which actually takes the writer's focus away from what is most important to him/her. For the prompt to strike home and hit a subject of genuine urgency and importance to the writer is like throwing a dart across the street and trying to hit the bulls eye of a dartboard on the other side of the traffic. Giving prompts is a way to get writing from the student, but not a way of helping the student become a writer. It's a recipe for bullshit.

    Two:  In all the twenty years I was writing for NPR--the form that's closest to the kind of short personal essay/poem product that writing prompts are usually intended to provoke-I was only ever asked to respond to a specific subject twice. My best feature-story editor used to say to me, "What do you want to spend three months learning about?" It's true that a good many journalists are given assignments they have to go and cover, but they themselves would rarely claim that daily grind produced their best writing. The fact is, we writers write best about the things that matter to us. Sometimes we can bring that passion to a subject that was assigned to us, but more often that's not the case. If you want student writers to write like professional writers, have them talk to poets/novelists/essayists and ask them, "How do you reach your best writing?" and see what they say. And here's the real problem: none of those writers will say, "I sit down in a regularly scheduled English class at 10:10 every Tuesday and Friday and whatever's going on inside me or around me I always find something to say." Bollocks.

    Three: It is possible to write well from a prompt--and in a sense editorial writers do it all the time--but there's a reason why a newspaper's editorials are written by the most seasoned, experienced, widely-read writers on the staff. You need to have an astonishingly wide range of reference in order to have a chance of understanding the subject, let alone saying anything worthwhile; you need a deep sense of form and structure to be able to create a finished piece of given proportions in a limited time; and you need to be capable of interesting turns of phrase under pressure. Student writers try desperately to ape that kind of skill, but they also know that 85% of what they write is bullshit. I know: I've asked them. So I'd far rather have them attempt something that genuinely means something to them. Even the act of trying to access that genuine subject is worth more than facility at writing a poem on Spring at the drop of a hat.

    So what do I use instead of prompts?

    I usually just say, "Think back to an incident or a conversation (conversation is better, as it's much more specific) that you've had, or you've witnessed, from the past twelve months, one that you recall with some kind of strong emotion. Now write about that in as much detail as you can remember."

    So that's Tim's take on prompts. I offer his words as encouragement to anyone who doesn't tend to find them helpful or generative. For those of you who do like them, the prompt will be back next week. I may rename it, though... hmm.

    Good luck with your writing this week!

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    Interview with Vermont author Howard Frank Mosher.

    Prompt: This week’s Write The Book Prompt was inspired by the interview you heard today. Howard Frank Mosher mentioned during our talk that he had twice, in the course of writing his new book, Walking To Gatlinburg, asked his wife Phyllis to cast and read Nordic runes as a helpful form of inspiration. He did this partly because Phyllis was studying runes at the time, and partly because runes were the inspiration for the Kingdom Mountain pictographs that play a role in his new book. This week's Write The Book Prompt, then, is to cast runes. For help in understanding how to do this, try these websites (or Google "Nordic Runes," and see if you find other references):

    http://www.ehow.com/how_5830139_make-own-rune-set.html

    http://www.runemaker.com/casting.shtml

    Set yourself a question or problem that you'd like to resolve in your work, and let the runes offer suggestions. These could inspire a course of action for your character, for yourself, for the plot, or for the structure of the project. Keep your mind open and see what presents itself.

    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)

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    Interview with Gary Kowalski,  senior minister to the First Unitarian Universalist Society in Burlington and the author of several bestselling books, including Revolutionary Spirits: The Enlightened Faith of America's Founding Fathers.

    Today's Write The Book Prompt is inspired by President's Day. As you look for writing ideas this week, consider one of the following quotes. Listen to these famous words by some of America's founding fathers, and then free write.

    He that goes a borrowing goes a sorrowing. ~ Benjamin Franklin

    If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace. ~ Thomas Paine

    Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe. ~ Thomas Jefferson

    Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism. ~ George Washington

    Philosophy is common sense with big words. ~ James Madison

    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.

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    Interview with author of fiction and nonfiction, Lawrence Sutin. His latest book is When To Go Into The Water: A Novel.

    Prompt: This week's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Lawrence Sutin. Describe your opposite. On paper, as an exercise, describe your personal opposite: whatever that means to you. Whether it means gender, age, psychology, physicality. Write in vivid detail a human being who, in your sense of things, is absolutely opposite to 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 South Burlington High School students)

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    Interview with poet and author of fiction and nonfiction, David Huddle. This interview from the archives was the first show aired on Write The Book, back in March 2008.

    Prompt: This week's Write The Book Prompt was inspired by my guest, David Huddle. In his essay, Issues Of Character, which appears in his book, The Writing Habit (published by The University Press of New England) he suggests six ways to bring a character to life in a story. They are: Information, Physical Appearance, Thoughts and Feelings, Actions, Sensory Experience, and Speech. He fills an entire essay with helpful explanations of what he means and examples of fine characterizations, but at the very least, the list itself may be of help to a writer who is stuck, trying to build a character. So, as you write this week, focus on your weakest character, and see if you might improve on his or her presentation on the page by studying the information, physical appearance, thoughts and feelings, actions, sensory experience, and speech that you, as the writer, have provided to the reader about this character.

    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)

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    Interview with Diane Imrie and Richard Jarmusz, co-authors of the new cookbook, Cooking Close To Home, and co-workers within Burlington, VT's Fletcher Allen Health Care Department of Nutrition Services.

    Prompt: This week's Write The Book Prompt was inspired by my guests, Diane Imrie and Richard Jarmusz. Their cookbook, Cooking Close To Home, has a focus on harvesting local foods. Richard says that, "Life is a harvest of good local foods." In keeping with this theme, today's prompt has to do, metaphorically, with harvesting that which we have, rather than looking far and wide to import experience into our writing. This week, write something from your own life experience. Even if your primary genre is fiction, pull something from your life, disguise it, and bring it into your work. Here are three ideas to get you started:

    1. Write about a favorite teacher. Focus on setting as you write about being in his or her classroom.
    2. Write about your first best friend. Include sounds and smells as you write about this friendship.
    3. Write about a terrible vacation experience. Complicate what you write by including the one good thing that happened on the trip.

      Good luck with these exercises 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)

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      Interview with Deborah S. Schapiro, editor of the Vermont publication Edible Green Mountains.

      Prompt: Deborah Schapiro actually recommended two Write The Book Prompts for listeners.

      1) Your first prompt this week has to do with recipes. Look at recipes and notice how they're written. You can look in cookbooks, magazines, your own index card file. Notice actual differences in recipes' structure and try to understand what the cooks who wrote them were focused on: ease of use, quick communication, tips for success? Did your grandmother guess at average quantities, or did she keep to very specific measurements? Does a certain famous chef suggest where you might find little-known ingredients? Does your favorite cookbook offer variations or keep to a set script? Some recipes are copied down as simple paragraphs, with ingredients embedded in the text. In others, ingredients are offered up front. Some are written in two columns, with ingredients on the left and instructions on the right. Edible Green Mountains delineates each step with a new paragraph indent, in hopes of keeping things simple.

      After you study a few recipes, write a scene or a poem that attempts to emulate something about a recipe you've found. Then write it again, using another style of recipe for inspiration. What differs in your final products? Which do you prefer and why?

      2) The second prompt suggested by Deborah also has two parts. First, consider a food memory. When Deborah was small, she would occasionally come home from school to find her mother in the kitchen making a Hungarian biscotti-like cookie. She recalls the warming scent of cinnamon, the crunch of cinnamon and sugar on top of the finished cookies. The glass of milk. All of these sensory memories evoke strong emotions for her as she thinks back.

      Once you've identified a food memory of your own, consider a food-related poem or scene that moved you in a work of literature. Blueberries, by Robert Frost. Proust's famous madeleines. Just about every chapter in Like Water For Chocolate. Why did the scene or poem affect you as it did? If you were to try and write a food scene or poem of your own, what might you have learned from this work of literature that would help you? Now try to write about your food memory.

      Good luck with these exercises 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)

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      Interview with Scott Russell Sanders, author of twenty books of fiction and nonfiction. His latest is  A Conservationist Manifesto, published by Indiana University Press.

      Prompt: Today's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Scott Russell Sanders, who is a writing teacher as well as a writer. Think about the classic elements as the Greeks imagined them: air, earth, fire and water. Say the words over and over in your mind. Settle on one of them. And then begin to think about what associations you have in your own life with that element. Water can be ice, moving water, a pond, something you drink, snow, mist, clouds. You could think about a place where you encountered water in some foundational way: where you learned to swim or a snowstorm you got caught in in your car once, or sledding down a hill as a child. Write a list - not a narrative - of these associations or memories: sledding, ice fishing, snowball fights. Pick one or two of these items from your list and then begin to write, begin to unpack it, see where it goes.

      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)

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      Interview with Scott Russell Sanders, author of twenty books of fiction and nonfiction. His latest is  A Conservationist Manifesto, published by Indiana University Press.

      Prompt: Today's Write The Book Prompt was inspired by the work of my guest, Scott Russell Sanders. The excerpt he read from his new book, A Conservationist Manifesto, is really intended for two audiences. Here's some of what he said as he introduced the pages he read during our interview:

      What I try to do ... is tell [the children of the future] what I have loved, what I have valued about the earth during my time alive ... and also what my hopes for them are... At the same time, ... I'm speaking of course to the contemporary reader ... and inviting the present reader to think about the effects of our lives on the prospects for future children.

      As you write in the coming week, consider your audience. Who will read your words and how would you like your work to impact those people? Do you want the reactions of your audience to affect the way you write, or would you rather just put words on paper, tell your story, convey your ideas? If you're writing an essay, as Scott Russell Sanders did in writing "For The Children," you may well want to think about your audience ahead of time. If you're writing a poem, reacting to the world around you in a personal way, you may be less inclined to worry about how your reader will react. In either case, this bears consideration. Who will read your work, how will they react, and is that important to the process of creation itself?

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

      Readings by Scott Russell Sanders, from A Conservationist Manifesto (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009). Copyright © 2009 by Scott Russell Sanders. Recorded with permission.

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

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      Interview with Christopher Noël , Vermont author of fiction and nonfiction, Sasquatch Investigator and owner of the Tall Rock Retreat in East Calais.

      Prompt: This week's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Christopher Noël . During the show, 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...

      Readings by Christopher Noël , from Impossible Visits. Copyright © 2009 by Christopher Noël. Recorded with permission.

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

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      Interview with Tanya Lee Stone, Vermont author of picture books, novels and nonfiction books for children, young readers and teens. Her latest is Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared To Dream.

      Prompt: This week's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Tanya Lee Stone. Write about an embarrassing moment, without revealing the actual event that caused the embarrassment.

      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)

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      Interview from the archives with Philip Graham, fiction and cnf writer and co-founder of the journal Ninth Letter. Prompt: This week's Write The Book Prompt is inspired by a passage from Philip Graham's new book, The Moon, Come to Earth, published by The University of Chicago Press. The following is the book's first paragraph, from the essay titled "I Don't Know Why I Love Lisbon."

      The grilled sardines lying on my plate are much larger than the stunted little things packed in tins which go by the same name in the U.S., and their eye sockets stare up at the ceiling, where hanging light fixtures are shaped like gourds. The aroma of sardines led me here, the scent sharp at first as it hit the nose (perhaps too sharp), until the smoky complexities took over, akin-at least for me-to a bouquet of wine. I take another sip from my glass of vinho verde and peer up at the small square of the TV perched on a high shelf beside the restaurant's open door. The screen displays a smaller green rectangle of a soccer pitch, with the even smaller figures of the players racing back and forth.

      Consider the middle passage, about the aroma of sardines, their sharp scent and smoky complexity, and how the passage is enriched by the details of scent. In your work, have you remembered to include smells? This week, look at heightening the power of description by way of scent. From perfume to overcooked eggs, pine needles to paint thinner. Be sure to let the smells into your writing, to present a richer, fuller presentation of the world you're trying to convey. Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another... Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Do Lado De Cá Do Mar” - Mario Laginha

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      Interview with Vermont Writer Rowan Jacobsen

      Prompt: Today's Write The Book Prompt was inspired by the interview you heard with Rowan Jacobsen. In his book, The Living Shore, Rowan talks about children at play being "powerhouses of creativity." He refers to the science essayist Lewis Thomas, who suggests that earliest language was probably developed by children. In his book, The Fragile Species, Thomas writes, "...it probably began when the earliest settlements, or the earliest nomadic tribes, reached a sufficient density of population so that there were plenty of very young children in close contact with each other, a critical mass of children, playing together all day long."

      Today's prompt, then, is two-fold. First, try to let go of your adult sensibilities and get playful as you write. Because it is as children that we best access the possibilities of language. The second part of today's prompt is about oysters. Recall Jonathan Swift's words: "He was a bold man that first eat an oyster." Write about that person. What was his or her situation and state of mind, to be that bold?

      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)

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      Interview with Vermont Writer Doug Wilhelm

      Prompt: Today's Write The Book Prompt was inspired by the interview you heard with Doug Wilhelm. The crux of this prompt is find out what you don't know. And the advice is really twofold. First of all, decide if you need to do more research in order to move forward with your writing. What don't you know that a book or a person or the experience of immersing yourself in a situation might teach you? Do that research before continuing with your work. The second part of this advice is to ask yourself relevant questions that aren't being answered in your work, and then free write. These questions may be closer to the heart of your project than simple research. For example, if your main character is an arsonist, you might need to do research on how to set fires. But you'll also need to ask yourself, Why is my character setting these fires? What is motivating him? If you don't already know the answer, then put the question to yourself and spend some time free writing.

      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)

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      Interview with Vermont Psychologist and Author Arnold Kozak

      Prompt: Today's Write The Book Prompt was inspired by the interview you heard today with Arnold Kozak. The thirtieth metaphor for mindfulness in his book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants, begins this way: "In many Buddhist works, the mind and the self are often compared to a small pool of water. Thoughts can be seen as a breeze or wind blowing on the surface. These disturbances obscure what can be seen below the surface-the bottom of the pool, the ground of being-without changing it in any way. This ground is there, always there, no matter what is happening on the surface." Today's prompt turns that metaphor to writing. Consider the piece you're now working on. Maybe it's a novel, a memoir, a collection of stories or poetry. Perhaps it's a smaller entity: an essay or story or poem.  The work itself has an underlying essence, apart from the various images, snippets of dialogue, and actual scenes that exist within. As you write, try to keep a sense of this underlying essence within your work, your vision for it as a whole. Imagine that to be the bottom of the pool. Then, as you work, as you lose yourself in the wonderful creative act, feel free to create ripples along the top of the pool, to experiment and change and play with various elements within the work, all the while keeping clear in your own mind the bottom of the pool. Maintain some sort of focus, so that your work continues to embody that underlying vision, your writing's "ground of being" that is the bottom of the pool.

      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)

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