Archive for the 'Writing' Category

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Cynthia Newberry Martin, whose debut novel is Tidal Flats (Bonhomie Press).

This week I’m going to suggest two Write the Book Prompts, both of which were part of my interview with Cynthia.

  • First, think of black and white passions for your characters and write in that direction. See if you uncover something new and interesting that might stay black and white, or might become more layered and complex. See where it takes you.
  • The second prompt was suggested during the interview by Cynthia, who loves sentences. Turn to a random page in a piece that you are working on and study the sentences you find on that page. Where are the boring ones? What can you get rid of? Do away with anything unnecessary. So many first-draft sentences are boring or unnecessary. After that, try to make the remaining sentences more interesting. In the aftermath of our interview, she added yet another layer to this exercise. As you try to make the remaining sentences more interesting, consider looking Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus. One example from Cynthia: Instead of “Pearl Harbor was bombed,” or something banal, Hazzard writes, “One hot day Caro looked up Pearl Harbor in the atlas.” This brings the information to the reader by way of character. Try, likewise, to bring information through your own characters, making more interesting and relevant sentences.

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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Lisa Moore Ramée, whose debut middle grade novel is A Good Kind of Trouble (Balzer + Bray).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Lisa Moore Ramée, and was inspired by an exercise that was assigned in the workshop she attended led by Renée Watson. Take your two main characters and put them in direct opposition. Have them fight or argue about something that they really care about. You may or may not end up using the scene, but it will probably help clarify who your characters are and what they want.

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 Benjamin Percy, whose new story collection is Suicide Woods (Graywolf).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider the blueprint exercise that Benjamin Percy mentioned assigning to his students so that they might better understand structure. Choose a favorite story and read it many times, enough that you know it inside and out. Then read it again, taking notes. Try to identify the beats of the story: the way, for example, that setting might relay theme, or dialogue might inform character weakness. After you make meticulous notes on your discoveries, write a story that tries to follow this same blueprint but bears no resemblance to the original. Perhaps then write an explanation about what you did, so that you can return to it and continue to study and understand the outcome as you write more stories. Most importantly: write more stories.

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 Abby Frucht, whose new collection of prose poems is Maids (Matter Press)

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was inspired by my conversation with Abby Frucht. In her own book, Maids, Abby followed one poem in which, as a child, she snuggles with her mom at the end, with a poem titled “Spoons,” which does not relate directly to the concept of snuggling or "spooning." And yet, because of the relevant placement of the works in the collection, they somehow do. Abby talked about an exercise that she gives her students, encouraging them to look at the beginnings and endings of different pieces they’ve written, and see how they might choose to order a collection. This week, if you are the author of poems, stories, or essays, have a look at your pieces and consider how they might best fit together into a collection. Watch beginnings and endings for ideas, words, expressions, or intentions that somehow speak to each other. Think about how they might work in transition, from one to the other.

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 Jon Clinch, whose new novel is Marley (Atria).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider the quote from Jon Clinch’s favorite folk musician, the banjo player John Hartford: “Style is based on limitations.” Consider how this idea might apply to your own work, and let it help you decide: what are your strengths and what are your limitations? Are these in fact helping you reign in the scope of your project, or should they? In other words, would it be helpful to focus on your strengths, as you’ve recognized them, and let go of certain goals that are perhaps overambitious, given your limitations? 

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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Writer, editor, and publisher Dave Eggers, whose new book is The Captain and the Glory: An Entertainment (Knopf).

Here's a prompt to go along with my interview with Dave Eggers: write a satirical paragraph about a story in the news. This will require doing deep research to find something in our current events that you find outrageous, disgusting, or bizarre. I have faith that you can.  Good luck with it. 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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A new interview with the author Douglas Glover about his  collection of essays on literary form, The Erotics of Restraint (Biblioasis). 

When Douglas Glover and I spoke, he mentioned that, as he was developing his craft, he would make lists of conflicted situations in a notebook. Then, when he wanted to begin a new project, he'd read through his notebook to find a promising conflicted situation with which to start. He doesn't know what the plot will be as he begins, but he does still always know the conflict. This week, make a list of conflicts from which you might draw an interesting situation to use in your writing.

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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The TW Wood Gallery was the venue for a recent panel discussion with three former Write the Book guests about their work writing horror, mystery, and suspense. Miciah Bay Gault, Jennifer McMahon, and Susan Z. Ritz shared their thoughts about the craft of scary stories, and I had the honor of moderating their discussion. 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider a fear, an incident, and a mode of resolution. I’m going to offer ten of each of these for you to match up and work with as you like. (You'll see that incidents might also be resolutions in a few cases...)  See what comes - maybe something scary! Good luck with your work in the coming week and please tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion. 

FEAR

INCIDENT

RESOLUTION

Animals or insects

Aggression

Chemical Resolution

Darkness

Conversation

Conversation/Emotional Confrontation

Fire

Entrapment 

Hiding

Ghosts

Legal Action

Noise

Illness

Prolonged Strife or Conflict

Running Away

Madness

Solitude

Scientific Innovation

A Category of People: Men or Women or Children

Surprise

Silence

Responsibility

Temptation

Surrender

Thieves

Threat

Trickery

Weather

Trickery

Violence

 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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My guest this week: the author Ruta Sepetys, whose new historical novel is The Fountains of Silence (Philomel Books).

This week's Write the Book Prompt is to write about a disempowered person who takes at least a small risk to change his or her circumstance, or to improve the situation of someone else.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

 

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Vermont Author Emily Arnason Casey, whose debut essay collection is Made Holy

(Crux: The Georgia Series in Literary Nonfiction). 

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Emily Arnason Casey, during our live conversation. It's one she's used in a recent class: write about a place you can't return to. See if you can find an object in that landscape of memory that gives you some direction or shapes your understanding of that place.

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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Alice Lichtenstein, whose new Pulitzer-nominated novel is The Crime of Being (Upper Hand Press). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Alice Lichtenstein. She has found it fun to assign her students a prompt she calls “ekphrastic fiction.” Ekphrastic writing is written in response to a work of art. Alice recommends googling Edward Hopper, many of whose paintings are clearly narrative in nature, and letting his work inspire your writing. Often his works exhibit a single figure posed in such a way and lit in such a way that the figure naturally lends itself to story. So this week, engage in a free-written response to a Hopper painting. Explore the narrative--who is this, in the painting, what has just happened to him or her, what’s going to happen next? See where it takes you.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Guest Host Kim MacQueen interviews local author and teacher Cinse Bonino about her new book on creativity, One Key See, One Key Do (Onion River Press).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt comes from Cinse Bonino’s new book, One Key See, One Key Do, and it’s about noticing things we usually miss. Pick something at random to notice. You could choose to intentionally pay attention to all the doorknobs and handles you encounter today, or perhaps notice all the buttons on people’s clothing. Take the time to notice something you don’t usually focus on your attention on. For instance, you could notice if the people around you, not just the ones you know, are right-handed or left-handed. Notice all the slip-on shoes. Notice all the height difference in the couples and small groups of people you encounter. Notice the things people do when other people are speaking. 

Most of all, notice what you think and do as you attempt to see more. Figure out what you do intuitively that helps you to notice more. Make a note so you can do it on purpose in the future.

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

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Author Christine Coulson, whose new novel, Metropolitan Stories (Other Press), was inspired by her time working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

We have three Write the Book Prompts this week, all sparked by my conversation with Christine Coulson:

  • First, challenge yourself to write from the perspective of an inanimate object. Animate it. Think about how it might feel, if it could express thoughts about its current situation.
  • Next, rather than exchanging work on the page, try sharing your writing with a friend who acts as an editor for you, by reading aloud from your work and letting that person offer suggestions, after hearing it. This is how Christine Coulson and her editor at the Other Press, Judy Gurewich, worked on Metropolitan Stories.
  • Finally, imagine yourself in a famous museum or other historical building after hours. What would you do, and how would you feel?

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 Jane Alison, whose latest is Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative (Catapult). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Jane Alison, who led a workshop recently that was studying Grace Paley’s story “Distance.” A phrase in the story includes the words, “the picture in the muck under their skulls…” Jane loved this line. She says we all have such pictures “in the muck under our skulls” - those moments that have formed or deformed us, that haunt us. Maybe places we want to return to, or moments that will not leave us. So this week, think if there’s some moment or image from your recent or long-ago past, a deeply imbedded thing that can still glimmer before your eyes, or make you feel homesick, or has a mysterious potency to it. A moment that could become an important part of a story about your life, or perhaps part of a story that you would invent about someone like you. Write about it, and let its magnetism lead you as you work. See what comes out of the muck.

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 Author Gary Kowalski, about his 2012 book Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet (New World Library).

This week's Write the Book Prompt is to write about an unexpected interaction with an animal to which (to whom?) you have no personal ties.

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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New interview with Author, Poet, and former Vermont Poet Laureate Sydney Lea, whose new poetry collection is titled Here (Four Way Books). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write a villanelle. Syd Lea and I discussed his poem, “Old Lessons,” during our conversation, and he then explained what the poem’s form consists of. But here’s a recap, thanks to the Poetry Foundation (where you can also find examples): "The villanelle is a French verse form consisting of five three-line stanzas and a final quatrain, with the first and third lines of the first stanza repeating alternately in the following stanzas. These two refrain lines form the final couplet in the quatrain."

This week, write a villanelle! See what happens as you allow yourself this very specific form to contain the ideas that come.

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

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A new interview with Carol Anshaw, author most recently of Right After the Weather (Atria). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Carol Anshaw. As we discussed during our conversation, Right After the Weather does concern violence, and it includes scenes of violence. Carol suggests tackling this in the coming week; attempt to write a violent scene. Have you ever done this before? What do you find hard about it? What comes easily? How do you approach the material? Do you have to turn away, or do you find the process a natural extension of your other writing? 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

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Sandra A. Miller, author of Trove: A Woman's Search for Truth and Buried Treasure (Brown Paper Press). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Sandra A. Miller. Read the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “What If You Slept?” And then use the lines as your prompt for this week:

What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
You dreamed
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in your hand
Ah, what then?

In other words: what if we pulled our dreams into the world and made them a reality? What would you want to bring into the world--your physical reality--from your dreams? When Sandra shared this with a group of writers recently, the results were rich, and the experience of the participants, emotional.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

*“What if you slept...” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Public Domain.

 

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Interview from 2013 with Australian Author Poppy Gee. We discussed her novel, Bay of Fires (Reagan Arthur; Back Bay Books subsequently published the paperback.)

This week's Write the Book Prompt is to consider Poppy Gee’s character, Sarah, whose reckless behavior has cost her so much. Write about someone’s reckless behavior. Depending on who your character is, reckless might look very mild or outrageous. How does it affect the person’s experience and life? What might come next as a result?

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 Miciah Bay Gault, whose debut novel is Goodnight Stranger (Park Row Books).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to try your hand at the exercise that brought Miciah to find the first line of Goodnight Stranger, a trick that was suggested to her by former WTB guest Juliana Baggott: Try summing up your novel in the first sentence, and see what happens.

When she was the editor of the journal Hunger Mountain, Miciah set the authors of one issue this task, which comes from a famous Ray Bradbury exercise for generating ideas: "jot lists, without thinking too hard, of the things that represent the writer’s deepest interests, preoccupations, desires, fears, obsessions." This original exercise can be found in Bradbury's essay "Run Fast, Stand Still, Or, The Thing at the Top of the Stairs, or, New Ghosts from Old Minds" in his book Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity. So that can be a second Prompt this week. 

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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Archive Interview with Moira Crone. We discussed her 2012 novel, The Not Yet (Univ of New Orleans Press).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to begin with one of the following phrases, and write from where it leaves off:

  • After he dove into the water…
  • Through the haze and beyond the line of tractors, he saw…
  • When she found the watch in her sister’s top dresser drawer…

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 Kathryn Davis, whose new novel is The Silk Road (Graywolf Press). 

As she mentioned during our interview, one goal that Kathryn Davis had in writing The Silk Road was moving fluidly through time. She said, “The way you experience living is often like you’re sitting in this kitchen but there’s some part of you that is somewhere else, and … it’s also temporally dislodged. We’re not as organized as beings as we like to think we are.” This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider this statement, and to consider time and space, and your ideas about them. How are time and space organized in your consciousness? Do you feel they are independent of one another, are they interchangeable? Do you see the flow of time as unidirectional, do the past and future exist, or do they become conceptual given the notion of the now--the present moment? Maybe you’ve never thought much about these ideas. But sit with them and consider what might change in your work if you were to attempt a revision that embraced some of these new ideas. I don’t mean you should turn that historical novel into science fiction. But might the tense change to offer a more interesting presentation? Maybe your consideration of this subject will open up a new path to the structure you've struggled to find.

This week, either play with time and space in your work, reconsider how you tend to ground your stories, novels, and poems in each, or double down on what you already thought and the way you have worked in the past. If there is such a thing.

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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Guest host Kim MacQueen interviews writer and psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb, author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed (Mariner Books). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to try writing something in the second person. You can take a piece you’re actively working on, employing another POV narration, and simply use this as the opportunity for an exercise. Or attempt a new story, essay, or poem in the second person. Electric Literature has a pretty good piece about writing from this unusual point of view, and I’m going to include a link to that in this week’s prompt, should you like to read it before giving this a go. One caveat: I disagree with the author they quote as disliking Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City,  a novel famously written in the second person. I found that short novel to be a real gem, and very much enjoyed the narrative point of view that McInerney employed. SO - give this a try. You may dislike the results. You may rush back to your cozy first- or third-person close with renewed relish. If so, that’s all for the best! But maybe the second person will crack open something you couldn’t see as you worked before. I hope so. Here’s the article link:

https://electricliterature.com/how-to-write-a-second-person-story/ 

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 Musician Tony Whedon, whose essay collection Drunk In the Woods (Green Writers Press) was recently nominated for the Vermont Book Award.

I announced this week's "official" Write the Book Prompt after the broadcast's first interview, with Megan Price, but here's another: find a recording of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" (which Tony mentions in one of the poems read in this interview). Here's one. Play it. Turn it up, play it again. Don't like jazz? Don't be ridiculous. Turn it up and play it again! Sit down and write. See what happens. 

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion! (Now play it again!!!) 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

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Vermont author Megan Price, who will soon publish another in her wildly popular Vermont Wild series (Pine Marten Press).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write a story, poem, or essay that concerns wildlife or nature, and maybe has a funny aspect to it.

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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2013 interview with Award-Winning Scottish Crime Novelist Denise Mina. We discussed her then-new novel, Gods & Beasts (Hachette). Her latest, just out this spring, is Conviction (Mulholland). 

This week's Write the Book Prompt has to do with the history of our broadcast date: July 29. On that date in 1981, Prince Charles married Lady Diana. Their wedding, even more than those of their sons, was the international event of the century. Around 3,500 guests were in attendance at the St. Paul's Cathedral in London, while another 750 million watched the wedding on televisions around the world. Write a scene from the point of view of one of those spectators. Choose a quiet gathering of friends, a rowdy party, the royal family, an expat family. Where are they? What time is it as they watch the event? How do they feel about the royals, the spectacle, the media attention? How do their own marriages or courtships feel, next to what they’re witnessing? And, if you like, feel free to write a better future for Diana. 

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 Susan Z. Ritz, whose debut novel is A Dream to Die For (SheWrites Press).

In our live in-studio conversation, Susan generously shared the following, which is now this week's Write the Book Prompt: 

Pick up a box of buttons or bows or pieces of jewelry and choose two that are somehow different from each other. Think about the people who might wear or use these things. Write a scene where they meet somewhere - perhaps a café or park - and hold a conversation that begins: "Where were you last night?" Susan says her students have found this exercise to be a great avenue into scene, dialogue, and character. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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An interview from the archives with Vermont Author Eric Zencey, who passed away on July 1st after a battle with cancer. Eric's books included Virgin Forest: Meditations on History, Ecology, and Culture (University of Georgia Press); Greening Vermont: The Search for a Sustainable State, coauthored with Elizabeth Courtney (Vermont Natural Resources Council/Thistle Hill); and The Other Road to Serfdom and the Path to Sustainable Democracy (University Press of New England). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider the following quote from Eric Zencey’s book, The Other Road to Serfdom and the Path to Sustainable Democracy, and then write about whatever might occur to you, having read it:

 

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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 Chris Tebbetts, whose latest novel is Me, Myself, & Him (Delacorte Press). 

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Chris Tebbetts. He, in turn, first heard about this one through the writer Matt de la Peña, who suggests writing letters to yourself from your characters, explaining what you’re getting right or wrong about them. 

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 T. Coraghessan Boyle, whose latest novel is Outside Looking In (Ecco). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, TC Boyle. Sometimes he finds his stories through newspaper clips. But because news stories are journalism, he says, we don’t know the why or how of them, just the what. With students, he’ll suggest finding a one-paragraph story in the newspaper and trying to inhabit it to find out why and how. He jokes, Man Bites Off Own Nose, Swallows It, Winds Up in the Hospital. What’s that about? Write about it. He also suggests, as ever, reading the work of great writers. This helps us see ways into ideas that we may have had on our own. 

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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Debut author Sara Collins, whose new novel is The Confessions of Frannie Langton (Harper).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Sara Collins. 

An older woman is angry  that a pair of teenagers keeps collecting rocks and shells from the beach on which she lives. Write a scene in which she confronts them for the first time. She never tells them why it distresses her so much nor do the teenagers tell her why it's so important to them to collect the shells, though the reader comes to understand. Write the scene first from the perspective of the old woman and then one of the teenagers.  

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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Author Heidi Diehl, whose debut is Lifelines (HMH). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Heidi Diehl. Think about an event or a time that has been important in your character’s life but does not appear in the pages of your story. Write two versions of what happened. One should be 3-5 sentences, and one should be a full-fledged scene, spanning a couple of pages. If the outcome sparks something that feels important to include, than you should of course use it. But, as Heidi reminds us, even if you don’t use that particular scene in your story or novel, it can be useful as an exercise. Exploring our characters’ histories can give us a sense of who they are and help us bring them more vividly to the page.  

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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New York Times bestselling author and National Book Award Finalist Ali Benjamin, whose new novel for young readers is The Next Great Paulie Fink (LBYR).

Write the Book Prompt: In her new novel, The Next Great Paulie Fink, Ali Benjamin includes short interviews between her narrator and some of the other characters to provide clues about who Paulie Fink was and where he might have gone. Consider writing an interview between two or more of your own characters, to find out what they are thinking, how they talk to each other, or possibly something important that happened to them which you might not have worked out yet. You may or may not be able to use the interview in your work, and yet it could very well be helpful! 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

My apologies for the shifting sound quality on this one. We had problems on our end with the station's internet connection - something that is being addressed in the studio. Ali, thank you for your patience! 

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Bestselling Author Jane Green, whose latest is the friends we keep (Berkley).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to think back on a relationship that once meant something to you, but is no longer a part of your life. Whatever happened to that friend, cousin, teacher, neighbor? What might you have expected? Imagine a life for that person and write about it.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Kurt Kirchmeier, author of the novel The Absence of Sparrows (Little Brown for Young Readers).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Kurt Kirchmeier. Write a scene or a short story from the perspective of someone whose life is profoundly changed by an intimate encounter with nature. And to make it more personal, write it in first person.

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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Guest host Kim MacQueen interviews Karol Jackowski,

author of Sister Karol's Book of Spells, Blessings & Folk Magic (Weiser Books). 

This week's Write the Book Prompt is to try your hand at writing a spell. Some of the spells in Sister Karol's book include Spell To Become a Peacemaker, Get Well Spell, Good Luck Spell, Anxiety Gone Spell, Thanksgiving Spells and Blessings. If you were to write a spell, what would it be for? Think about how you would go about it. Think about what would be important as a message for that theme. Make it something interesting, but also fun, and see what you come up with. 

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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New York Times–bestselling author Meg Wolitzer, whose novel The Female Persuasion (Riverhead Books) is now in paperback. 

For a new Write the Book Prompt, write a scene in which two characters meet for the first time. The main character has long idolized the other from a distance. In the scene, have that other person let down your main character in some way. 

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

* Audio excerpted courtesy Penguin Random House Audio from THE FEMALE PERSUASION by Meg Wolitzer, narrated by Rebecca Lowman.

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Author Rachel Howard, whose debut novel is The Risk of Us (HMH). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest Rachel Howard, and I can’t wait to try it. She says that it’s a somewhat arbitrary structure she came up with when she was teaching undergraduate creative writing at Warren Wilson College:

Write a lyric essay about one of the three great forces of life: sex, death, or love.  The essay should never name whether it is about sex, death, or love, or use the word. The essay will consist of the following sections:

* A pure description of a significant place from your past.  This could be a room, a street corner, the back of a car. Use as many concrete sensory  details as possible.  Ten sentences maximum.

* A character sketch of someone from your life.  Six sentences max.

* One short description of a song.  You may quote lyrics, but not use the words "sex," "death," or "love."  Three sentences max.

* One scene with dialogue.  Any length.

* One semi-obscure scientific fact that does not seem obviously connected to the rest of the essay (but which, metaphorically, is).  Four sentences max.

Rachel concedes that it’s an unusual exercise, but give it a try, and you may well be surprised at the experience. And after the exercise generates the rough draft, you can move sections around, and start breaking the rules to fit the emerging organic form.

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

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

N.B. A quote about trauma that I read during my interview with Rachel came from the book Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control: A Love-Based Approach to Helping Attachment-Challenged Children With Severe Behaviors by Heather T. Forbes and B. Bryan Post.

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Catherine Cusset, author of Life of David Hockney (Other Press). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Catherine Cusset. When we remember something that we've shared with another person - a story or incident - very often, two very different stories might emerge from the two perspectives. Memory is not reliable, and so different people will remember events differently. With this in mind, write the same event or story from the perspectives of two people who experience it. These can be two lovers, two siblings, a parent and child, two friends; whatever you choose. Consider how each experiences a moment in time - and the sensory details each notices (what they see, hear, smell, etc) - then write two versions of the same story.

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

 

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Author Steven Wingate, whose new novel is Of Fathers and Fire (Univ. of Nebraska Press - Flyover Fiction). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Steven Wingate. He calls it “The Endless Sentence,” and it is designed as both a loosening up exercise and a means of exploration. It requires only a timer and your favorite writing implement (analog or digital). You simply set your timer for five minutes and start writing, and everything is allowed except one single punctuation mark: the period. Steven explains that writers rely on periods instinctively to separate thoughts from each other. If our thoughts feel like they’re getting too uncontrolled or scraggly, we end one sentence and start another. But if you take that tool away from yourself, you’re forced to keep flying through your thoughts with less control than you’re used to. Steven argues that this is a good thing because it means freedom—which is essential, especially early on in a project when you’re looking for a narrator’s (or character’s) voice. When you remove the period, you slip beneath your own radar and do things that surprise yourself. This can lead you to a new understanding of characters and settings, or maybe even to self-standing flash pieces with intriguing musical or formal features (e.g., lists or recurring verbal motifs). Try this especially when you’re feeling stuck or when a writing day hasn’t gone according to plan.

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont Poet Michelle Demers, whose new collection is Green Mountain Zen (Blue Light Press). 

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Michelle Demers, who has a large staple of writing books from which she pulls exercises for herself and her classes. The exercise, titled "The Word Hoard," appears in The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing, by David Morley. Morley writes, “You should try to do this exercise every day, not only to keep your writing mind limber, but also to create a hoard of original and unusual phrases from which you can draw when you are writing. ‘Word hoard’ is a ‘kenning’ (a Norse poetic device ...), meaning ‘a supply of words’, such as a book, or vocabulary itself.”

Go to a shelf of books of fiction or poetry. Take one book at random. Close your eyes while opening that book and place your finger somewhere in it. Your finger will have landed on a word or words. Write the word down, as well as the three words preceding it and the three words following it in the text. You now have a seven-word phrase. Write this phrase in your notebook and, once you have written it, keep writing for five minutes. There are only two rules to this game: you must not stop writing; and you must not think. Try to write as fast as you can. You are not producing a work of art. After five minutes, you should have covered quite a lot of pages. Now read what you have written. Read it forwards, then read through it, word for word, backwards. Underline one phrase that strikes you as possessing any one of the following qualities: it has energy; it surprises you; it has never been written before in your language. The phrase must make a kind of sense; it must possess its own inner sense at the very least. That is, it must not be completely opaque in meaning. It might be a whole sentence, or it might be the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next. Now, write a short story or poem in which this phrase occurs without it seeming in any way out of place. You might wish to place the phrase into the mouth of a speaker in the poem or story, for example.

A I M : When we strive to be original, we tend to get tongue-tied, for we have been long taught that originality is no longer possible.  ... this ‘free-writing’ exercise is effective for warming up for writing, but it is also effective at creating unusual phrases, ones that possess a surprising amount of personal linguistic energy. You are trying to capture ideas and sentences that you would not ordinarily come up with consciously.

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

 

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Award-winning author of books for young readers, Laurie Halse Anderson. Her latest is a memoir in verse, Shout (Viking). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Laurie Halse Anderson. If you were to write about a secret you’d never shared, what would you write?

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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Author, Journalist and Critic Juliet Wittman, whose new novel is Stocker's Kitchen (Beck & Branch). 

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Juliet Wittman. In developing a new character, try writing a series of simple sentences about the person, to find out more about his or her life and nature. For example:

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As you work, you may find the sentences becoming more complex and interesting, revealing important information about the character and possibly about his or her situation, guiding you toward your story.

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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Mitchell S. Jackson, Award-Winning Author of Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family (Scribner). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Mitchell S. Jackson. Write your own answer to the question, what is the toughest thing you have survived? Write it in the second person; Mitchell says this might make you think about the experience in a different way.

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

 

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Veteran Literary Agent and Entrepreneur Jeff Herman, author of Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents (New World Library). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was inspired by my conversation with Jeff Herman. Write a query letter. Jeff says the query letter is really a sales pitch. Keep that in mind as you work. Tell the agent you’re addressing about why you are reaching out, especially if you’re a fan of work they’ve sold. Let them know why you respect them, and that you hope your work will appeal to them. The letter should be short (1 ½ pages or fewer) readable, direct, and personalized. Jeff writes on his website, “Say what you have, why it’s hot, why you’re a good prospect, and what’s available for review upon request.” His website offers a lot of other advice for writing the query letter, which has a certain format you should read about before getting started. Even if your creative work isn't ready to submit, writing the query letter can take some time to get just right, and it's worth practicing ahead of time. 

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont authors Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, whose new novel is Once & Future (jimmy patterson). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guests this week, Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta. When they received notes from their editor about a section of Once & Future that, for one reason or another, needed a little work - perhaps not enough was happening in a scene - they would sit down and brainstorm what they came to call “the ten worst things that could happen to your character.” The first thing was always, "the character dies." Even if this was not the answer, Cori and Amy Rose say that you have to include ridiculous things as well as possibilities. The ridiculous things loosen up the other things that might actually lead to a solution.

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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Live, in-studio interview with Vermont author and UVM faculty member Emily Bernard, with her new book, Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine (Knopf).

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Emily Bernard. Here it is, in her words:  

I tell my creative writing students that the best villains are born in ambivalence. A good rule of thumb is to let the reader love a villain first, before you condemn them. If a character is wholly loathsome, we readers might ask why you are asking us to spend so much time with them, or why you allowed them inside in the first place? For this writing prompt, choose someone who treated you unkindly from your past or your present and write about them, focusing on the one thing—a skill, quirk, personality trait, etc.-- that makes them lovable.

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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Journalist and author David Shields, whose new book is The Trouble With Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power (Mad Creek Books).

David Shields generously offered the following Write the Book Prompt this week: write a postcard that simultaneously evokes place and reveals something about the postcard writer that he or she is not aware of.

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

 

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Guest Host Kim MacQueen interviews Champlain Professional Writing Alum Ian Frisch, author of Magic Is Dead: My Journey Into the World’s Most Secretive Society of Magicians (Dey Street Books).

Ian Frisch kindly offered this Write the Book Prompt for listeners: get out of your own head, out of yourself, and be on the lookout for compelling characters in your own area. A well-known character, such as the local mayor, the owner of a store, your neighbor who has lived in town for sixty years. In seeking stories for his nonfiction and journalism, Ian likes to watch for the people who can carry a narrative. Go out and listen to people's stories -- characters who embody a greater sense of purpose outside of themselves, who are reflections of things that are going on in the world. As you hear people's stories, you will understand their relevance. Talk to people, listen to their stories, and then try to translate what you've heard onto the page. 

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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Author Christy Stillwell, whose recently released novel is The Wolf Tone, which won the Elixir Press Fiction Prize in 2017. 

This Week's Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Christy Stillwell. In reading Warlight, a novel by Michael Ondaatje, Christy noticed the way the author was able to use his knowledge of navigation to create haunting and vivid scenes around barges and river work near London. She set herself the task of developing some area about which she has interest and some knowledge, and learning more in order to be able to do what she felt Ondaatje had done: turn his knowledge into haunting, recurring scenes. In order to do this well, some research might be necessary. In Christy's case, the subject matter turned to haying: the growing, baling and cutting of hay. This has always fascinated her, though she doesn't do this work herself. But she enjoys watching the swathers cut the hay, and seeing the people and machines working in the fields. Christy says her interest might have been even simpler: trimming hedges or mowing the lawn. So - what subject interests you, something you know well enough that you could sit and write two-to-three pages about it, and then file those pages away to perhaps use someday when your work will benefit from a lyrical moment? 

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

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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