Archive for the 'Writing' 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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Author Jori Lewis, whose debut nonfiction book is Slaves for Peanuts (The New Press).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Jori Lewis. If you’re working on something and it’s not moving along well, try changing the perspective. And in doing this, keep in mind  the way one focuses a camera: focus in, pull out.

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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An interview from the archives with Jacqueline Woodson, about her National Book Award winning memoir-in-verse, Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books).

Have you ever tried to write a story in verse? Not necessarily a long story. Maybe an anecdote you would share with a friend about something that happened to you on a random Monday afternoon. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider a story from your life, and write about it in verse. If it will help, set yourself some rules before you begin. If you don’t like rhymes, don’t worry about rhymes. You can make your verse fit some syllabic intention, you can create a pantoum, in which the last line is often the same as the first, or an abecedarian, which spells out the alphabet, word by word or line by line. There are many ways to write verse, and the poet is in charge.

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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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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A conversation from the archives with the author Vikram Chandra about his nonfiction book, Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty (Graywolf Press). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to include a few (let's say three) of the following items together in a story, scene, poem, or essay: 

  • a dock fender for a boat
  •  the bow of a violin
  • a leaky pen
  • a basketball hoop
  • an Apple II Computer

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 local author and Queen City Ghostwalk Guide Thea Lewis about her book Haunted Inns and Ghostly Getaways of Vermont, published by The History Press.

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to imagine a creepy scenario that has always frightened you. Maybe it has to do with going down into a basement, or up into an attic. Maybe it centers on a certain person who leaves you feeling unsettled. Are you afraid of water, of heights, of open spaces? Focus on one of your most haunting fears and consider how you might turn it around. If the idea of being up high frightens you, maybe write about a person who delights in great heights: a gymnast, or Phillipe Petit, who famously walked a tightrope strung between the twin towers in 1974. If you’re afraid of water, imagine being a long-distance swimmer. Write about this person’s attitude, and then midway into the piece, let your own phobia slip in and change what they are feeling or experiencing. What happens?

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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Vermont Author and Documentarian Jim Carrier, whose book Charity: The Heroic and Heartbreaking Story of Charity Hospital in Hurricane Katrina came out as an audiobook in 2021.

This week's Write the Book Prompt was inspired by my interview with Jim Carrier, whose book Charity tells the story of one hospital in one storm, through the closer detailed narratives of individuals who were caught up in the tragedy. Consider these famous catastrophic moments in history, and either research or imagine a single human story from the incident to write about. Write a scene, a story, a poem, or just a paragraph. 

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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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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Two shorter interviews from the archives: Jojo Moyes, about her book One Plus One (Penguin); and Heath Hardage Lee, about Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause (Potomac Books). 

Today’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider this sentence, and either start with it, or let it inform your work: “She’d only been a crossing guard for two days.”

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 Sue William Silverman about her memoir, The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo Saxon Jew (University of Nebraska).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about a fantasized, imagined or real relationship with a star. From Pat Boone to David Cassidy, Britney Spears to Timothee Chalamet, heart throbs have always energized teens. You could write from a fan’s perspective, a star’s, that of an agent, a producer, a chauffeur.

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 children’s author Elizabeth Bluemle, about her picture book, TAP TAP, BOOM BOOM (Candlewick Press).

My son and I once experienced a hurricane in Florida. Those of you who know storms might remember Charlie, in 2004. We stayed in a motel in Winter Park–a second-story room with an outside entry that looked out at the parking lot. The storm was fierce and loud. We lost electricity and the room went dark, but outside the winds were furious and sounded like the world would end. The eye arrived, and with it an eerie silence. Hotel guests all stepped out of our rooms and stood leaning on the metal railings, looking down at the parking lot, talking, eventually feeling a kind of rapport that comes with facing the unknown. When the winds picked up again, we all went back inside our darkened rooms, feeling like we knew the neighbors who surrounded us, if just a little bit. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about a weather incident bringing people together, as they do in the subway in Elizabeth Bluemle’s book, Tap Tap, Boom Boom. 

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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Poet A.E. Hines, whose debut collection is Any Dumb Animal (Main Street Rag).

A new prompt for the week comes from A.E. Hines, and touches on something we discussed during the interview you just heard: Write a poem that explores duality, by comparing and contrasting two topics that are generally considered opposites. For example:  Where is the light in the darkness?  Or, pick one or multiple things that are considered hard, and describe them as soft. Describe a moment of gratitude in the midst of grief.  Or love that led to great loss.  Again, it doesn’t matter where you start, just pick a pair of opposing ideas, and brainstorm a list of comparisons. Then arrange them into a poem and see where this experiment 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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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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Wendy Sanford, author, editor, and a founding member of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. Her debut memoir is These Walls Between Us: A Memoir of Friendship Across Race and Class (SheWrites Press). 

On Wendy Sanford’s website you can go to a page titled Meet Mary Norman: Leading the way for women in New Jersey corrections work 1968-1993. On that page are a series of events that shaped Mary Norman’s life and the people she worked with. These are interesting stories that highlight her contributions. For example, when she was punished for her belief in prisoner rehabilitation, she turned what was meant to be a demeaning demotion into a training program to teach pre-release inmates how to prepare for next steps, filling out work applications, dressing for interviews, things like that. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to go to that site and read about Mary Norman and her work. Then, if you are moved to do so, write a poem, story, or essay about whatever comes to mind. Maybe you could write about one of the prisoners who had to learn how to dress for an interview. Or you could write from the perspective of a racist guard who didn’t like Mary supervising his work, but came to like and respect the way she supported him. I hope that - like me - you will be inspired by what you learn. 

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 Journalist Jonah Lehrer, whose new book is Mystery: A Seduction, A Strategy, A Solution (Avid Reader Press).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Jonah Lehrer: Read a detective story and look for the false clues planted in the first five pages, or in Act I, depending on the work. In a Poe story or a Conan Doyle, there are so many missed leads, and you forget about them once you know the ending. But to create the surprise, a lot of work needs to be done. There are many mechanics involved in setting up that surprising twist. And studying the stories or novels of others can help us learn about those mechanics. 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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Vermont Author Melissa Perley, whose 2019 book The Violin Family (Rootstock) was recently named a winner in the Children’s Category of the 2021 Indie Reader Discovery Awards.

Here's a musical Write the Book Prompt: listen to a piece of music and try to describe it in your work. It's harder than it sounds! 

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 Donald Antrim, whose new memoir is One Friday in April: A Story of Suicide and Survival (Norton).

In presenting his viewpoint that suicide is a disease, Donald Antrim experiments early in the book with a presentation of labels and names for mental illness. As you heard in the interview, this list begins, “Depression, hysteria, melancholia, nervousness, neurosis…” and goes on for nearly two pages. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to use a list of words in an interesting way to make a point. Perhaps you are writing about the foliage season. Might it be interesting to present a running list of trees and bushes that offer brilliant color in the fall: maple, oak, elm, hackberry, white birch, larch, tamarack, hazelnut. What could you do to make such a list both interesting, as poetic sound, and evocative? How might you then transition back into your text to continue making your point?

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 director and playwright Lisa Peterson, who has penned a translation of Hamlet for the Play on Shakespeare project, a series published by ACMRS Press.

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to choose a piece of your work and try to translate it for a different audience than it was originally intended. Change the language so that it might have made sense three hundred years ago. Or put it into words you could read to a child. Change it to appeal to someone from a different culture. If you are bilingual, translate it into another language.

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 and former WTB Co-Host Gary Miller, whose new nonfiction book for students and their teachers is There's No Way to Do It Wrong!: How to Get Young Learners to Take Risks, Tell Stories, Share Opinions, and Fall in Love with Writing

Gary generously offered us one of his many writing prompts to use for a Write the Book Prompt today. And that prompt is to begin with the sentence, “They told me, but of course I didn’t listen.” See where it takes you. Write for seven minutes. And there is no way to do it wrong!

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Ralph Culver - 9/20/21

Vermont Poet Ralph Culver, whose new collection is A Passable Man (Mad Hat Press).

In his poem, "Tableau," Ralph Culver writes about one person sharing a space with two other versions of himself, presumably over time (though this is never stated overtly). For a Write the Book Prompt, try experimenting with a similar moment that captures multiple expressions of one person - perhaps three ages, three states of mind, or three memories. Whatever strikes you as interesting.

Good luck with this, and please tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Maggie Smith - 9/13/21

Interview with the poet Maggie Smith, whose new collection of poems, is Goldenrod (One Signal).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt, suggested by my guest, Maggie Smith, is based on the work of Joe Brainard, who wrote the book I Remember. The book is essentially prose poetry, and each line begins with the words “I remember.” Maggie says that the idea is that if you do that over a couple of pages in a big rush without editing yourself or self-censoring, or even trying, you may find yourself connecting ideas you might not have otherwise. She says to consider “first thought, best thought,” and then use the material to mine through for new poems and projects. This same book was recommended in an earlier prompt suggestion from Lauren Fox, so I’m betting it’s a great exercise to try! But to put another spin on it, since Lauren also mentioned this for a prompt and perhaps you’ve already tried it, I’ll additionally suggest that you try writing lines that begin with the words “I miss…” 

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 Jessica Hendry Nelson, who has a new book out - co-authored with fellow former Write the Book Guest Sean Prentiss: Advanced Creative Nonfiction: A Writer's Guide and Anthology, just out from Bloomsbury. During this interview, we talked about her memoir, If Only You People Could Follow Directions (Counterpoint).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is inspired by the title of my guest’s memoir, If Only You People Could Follow Directions. Write a list of simple directions concerning how to do something - how to change a tire, how to make pasta, how to tape a room before painting it - and then expand on that list, making it into an essay that has deeper meaning.

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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An interview from the archives with consultant and teacher Carolyn Conger, PhD, about her book Through the Dark Forest: Transforming Your Life in the Face of Death (Plume). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was inspired by the book, Through the Dark Forest: Transforming Your Life in the Face of Death. No matter where you are in life - age-wise, health-wise, or otherwise - this week consider what you’ve left unfinished so far in your life, and what you would like to do about it. Maybe also keep in mind how you have navigated the pandemic, and whether the past year and a half have made you feel more vulnerable. Write about all the things that come up as you invite these thoughts and feelings.

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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Tony Trigilio (8/16/21)

Poet, editor, scholar, and musician Tony Trigilio, whose new collection is Proof Something Happened, winner of the 2020 Marsh Hawk Poetry Prize.

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Tony Trigilio. This prompt is adapted from John Daido Loori's The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life. Sit with an object/memory/experience until it begins to reveal itself to you -- its details, contours, emotions, and so on. Be open to the possibility that you might need to sit for a long time. As you get more comfortable with the object's familiar contours, the odd, strange, subtle, mysterious, and absurd (and equally-as-real) aspects of this object of your mind will reveal themselves. Express these in a poem - any form, shape, structure, tone, or pitch. You are writing about "what else" the object is, and likely also writing about "what it is not." Like a painter working with negative space, this approach can help you discover the fullest sense of your subject matter.

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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Interview from the archives with poet and prose writer Barbara Henning, regarding her book A Swift Passage (Quale Press).

I have family visiting this week - lots of loved ones filling our two guest rooms, and sleeping on the floor in the finished basement, and in one case staying in the dining room. It’s a lot of fun, and a bit of a clown car. Today’s Write the Book Prompt is to imagine a house full of visitors. What might look like in your case? Where will everyone sleep? How do they all get along? What do you feed them? Do any old rivalries resurface? Old flames? Does anything happen to create a moment of excitement or adventure? How would you establish the characteristics of each person to turn these visitors into interesting characters in a work of prose or poetry?

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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Local author, yoga practitioner, and teacher Kyle Ferguson, whose new book (with co-author Anthony Grudin) is Beyond Hot Yoga: On Patterns, Practice and Movement (North Atlantic Books). 

Kyle's reading during our interview is excepted from Beyond Hot Yoga: On Patterns, Practice, and Movement by Kyle Ferguson and Anthony Grudin, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2021 by Kyle Ferguson and Anthony Grudin. Used by permission of publisher.

One concept discussed in the book is that of “flipping” an established practice—turning it on its head, you might say—to explore the power of opposition. Can we do this as a writing exercise? What is a pattern for which you regularly reach? Do you always write in the morning and find it’s not flowing lately? Maybe write after lunch instead, or last thing at night; maybe write in a notebook rather than on the laptop. Craft-wise, do you start every scene mid-dialogue? Do you use the same tired gestures for your main character? How might you flip these patterns to explore the power of opposition? Perhaps you could begin a scene at the end of an important action, and find a way other than dialogue to present what has happened. Perhaps Matilda avoids her reflection for once. Perhaps she reaches for her younger sister’s hand and not that cigarette. Or would she never do that? Why not? If it’s not consistent with her character, what other than a cigarette will satisfy (or at least live comfortably on the page alongside) her tension and unhappiness? Will she nervously play with a necklace? Will she stalk from room to room, always as if she has a mission, though never actually having a mission? Perhaps this in itself can underscore that lack of purpose you’re going for, and her feelings of inadequacy.

I have no idea, in fact, what you're working on and what the patterns of your writing practice look like. But for this week's Write the Book Prompt, consider ways to flip that practice, re-pattern your habits, and freshen both the words on the page, and the stories they tell.

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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Interview from the archives with Vermont Poet Daniel Lusk. This conversation took place at the time that his collection Kin was published (Maple Tree Editions).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt comes from a local writer and artist who lives in Bristol, Vermont: Lily Hinrichsen. Choose one of the works of art on her website, and write an ekphrastic poem. Ekphrastic comes from the Greek word for description. Here’s a definition from the Poetry Foundation:  an ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the “action” of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning.  So my suggestion is that you visit Lily’s website, take a look at the art there, and write! If you choose to share the outcome with me, I’ll share it with Lily, and she may post it on her website at the side of the work you chose to write about.  

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 award-winning poet Natasha Sajé, whose new book is Terroir: Love, Out of Place (Trinity University Press). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Natasha Sajé, who discussed the concept during our conversation, referring to “The Flash Forward” and “The Flash Back.” As long as your readers know the present moment of a scene, and that scene is clear to them, you can move around in time to inform the moment, making it richer and deeper. In Natasha’s book, she presents a dinner party in such a way that it becomes an elegy to friends she will later lose to AIDs. And so a dinner party scene gives way to a flash forward of what is coming - the AIDS epidemic, insight into its roots and politics, lives lost, a community devastated. That scene in turn brings us back to the happy dinner party, so that we finish by reading the “present” moment of the party scene. A mouse runs through the room, Natasha and another guest scream, and the scene ends almost comically, but still a strong sense of emotion and disquiet. This week, play around with flashing forward or back to enrich a moment in your work and see what emerges.

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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