10-Minute Writer's Workshop

Credit Sara Plourde

A peek into how great writers conjure and craft their work. From creative rituals to guilty distractions, writers reveal what it really takes to get pen to paper.

Hosted by Virginia Prescott, host of NHPR's Word of Mouth. Produced by Sara Plourde & Taylor Quimby.

Conventional, linear narratives are not really Jennifer Egan’s thing. She's a shape-shifter of fiction – jumping through time, space, voices and forms. She's written a graphic novel, a short story composed of tweets, and, in the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit From The Goon Squad, a kind of novel-as-concept album. Jennifer Egan takes on historical fiction in her newest novel, Manhattan Beach. We called her at her home in Brooklyn to ask about her process and how she begins her unpredictable novels.

Nina Subin

Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink, co-creators of the phenomenally popular Welcome to Nightvale podcast, the “Nightvale Presents” series of podcasts, and New York Times bestselling co-authors of the new novel, It Devours, their second book set in the fictional world of Nightvale. We caught up with them at the 2017 Boston Book Festival.

Episode Music by Disparition

NHPR File

Dan Brown just completed "Origin," another Robert Langdon thriller, but he says the fictional Harvard professor is unlikely to appear in his next novel.

The best-selling author spoke about his latest book and his favorite main character in an interview with the 10-Minute Writer's Workshop.

Before a recent Writers on a New England Stage at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, host Virginia Prescott asked Brown, "Can you imagine writing a book without him?"

The blockbuster 2003 thriller The Da Vinci Code launched Dan Brown into the best-selling stratosphere. More than 200 million copies of his books have sold worldwide since. Three of his novels have been made into films starring Tom Hanks as fictional Harvard professor Robert Langdon. Brown is a disciplined writer, rising at 4 a.m. to a breakfast smoothie and "bulletproof" coffee, writing every day, and throwing himself into his research.

For many writers, hitting their stride means finding their voice. Success for Sarah Hurwitz is in creating a voice for others. Sarah was candidate Hillary Clinton’s chief speechwriter during the 2006 Presidential primary, and was quickly snatched up by the Obama campaign team. She landed in the White House, soon being named First Lady Michelle Obama’s head speechwriter.

Virginia Macgregor, author most recently of Wishbones, has a knack for capturing the voices of children and young adults and projecting her novels through their lenses, giving us young narrators with accurate levels of experience and naivety - and a perspective not often found in adult literature. Our conversation with her centered around that: how she conjures the voices of young people, insures they are three-dimensional, and navigates those voices around complicated adult situations.

Episode music by Broke for Free

Atul Gawande is a surgeon, professor at Harvard Medical School, and writes about medicine and ethics for the New Yorker. He’s author of several best-selling books, most recently, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. The book questions the human cost of miraculous medicine, and urges a shift from the prevailing thought that human decline and death are signs of failures to instead think about how to make old age and the experience of dying better. Despite the grave topic, Gawande views it as a book about living.

Sara Plourde

Celeste Ng came out of the gate strong. Her first novel, Everything I Never Told You, was a New York Times bestseller and Amazon's #1 Best Book of 2014. Her latest, Little Fires Everywhere, continues her exploration of family dynamics and the effect of being included or excluded from belonging. She has said in the past that her stories begin with images, so we began by asking her where those images come from.

Episode Music by Cheetara

Louise Penny was well into her forties when she published Still Life, the first in what has become the wildly popular Armand Gamache mystery series. The novels are set in Québec, where Gamache is Chief Inspector of the provincial police force. They are meticulously plotted, part police procedurals, part exploration of human nature - and the precarious balance between good and evil. Louise Penny is now out with the thirteenth in the series, Glass Houses.

Episode Music by Dana Boulé.

Howard Axelrod was a junior at Harvard when an accident left him blind in one eye. The loss left him feeling shattered and isolated, eventually leading to a two-year stint living in the solitude of the Vermont woods. His memoir from that time is called The Point of Vanishing, named one of the best books of 2015 by Slate, The Chicago Tribune, and others. 

Alice Fogel is Poet Laureate of New Hampshire, and the author of six collections of poetry, including Interval: Poems Based on Bach's Goldberg Variations. Her most recent work is A Doubtful House

Episode Music by Little Glass Men

Richard Phibbs

Michael Cunningham is best known as the author of The Hours, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction, which imagines a fateful day in the life of Virginia Woolf and its modern parallels.

But he's a man of many genres - he's also co-written a screenplay, walked readers through Provincetown, Mass with a travelogue, and turned fairy tales on their heads, as he does in his recent collection of short fiction, A Wild Swan and Other Tales.

Episode Music by Blue Dot Sessions
Ad Music by Uncanny Valleys

This episode, we speak to Roxane Gay, author, essayist, teacher, and all around-superwoman. The author of New York Times bestsellers Bad Feminist and Difficult Women, her latest, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, is a candid and personal account of life inside her body, of weight, trauma, and self-care. We spoke to Roxane by phone from her home.

Episode music by Blue Dot Sessions
Ad music by Uncanny Valleys

Author, outspoken vegetarian, social media abstainer and writing teacher Jonathan Safran Foer is author of three novels: Everything Is Illuminated, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and, most recently, Here I Am, which follows four generations of a Jewish family grappling with identity, connection and disaster. His nonfiction book about factory farming, Eating Animals, was also a New York Times best-seller.

Episode music by Broke For Free
Ad music by Uncanny Valleys

via ianrankin.com

Ian Rankin is best known for two characters: Inspector John Rebus, the protagonist of now 21 mystery novels, and the city of Edinburgh, whose dark corners come alive in Rankin’s hands. Rebus made his debut in the 1987 crime novel Knots & Crosses. In Rankin’s newest novel - Rather Be the Devil - a retired Rebus returns to a case that has haunted him for decades.

Episode music by Podington Bear
Ad music by Uncanny Valleys

© David J. Murray / ClearEyePhoto.com

Krista Tippett is probably best known as the host & creator of the public radio program On Being.  But she's also the author of three books that pull from her decades of interviews with a broad variety of thinkers and seekers, exploring the intersections between spirituality, science, and living. The most recent is called Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery & Art of Living.  We spoke to her backstage at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH before a Writers on a New England Stage event.

Music: Podington Bear - "Daydreamer"

Anita Shreve had a small, but devoted following as a literary author when her second novel, The Pilot's Wife was named an Oprah Book Club pick. The recognition propelled her into a New York Times bestselling novelist. Two days after her 18th novel, The Stars Are Fire, was released, she canceled her extensive book tour, later writing on her Facebook page that she would be undergoing chemotherapy.  

This most recent novel uses wildfires that raged through coastal Maine in 1947 as the backdrop for the story of one woman’s extraordinary resilience.

John Scalzi, the Hugo Award-winning author of science fiction both serious and less-so, is also an internet star from way, way back. He is former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, perhaps best known for his Old Man's War series, his blog “Whatever,” and his novel Redshirts, which is currently being developed for television. He joined us in the NHPR studios while on tour for The Collapsing Empire, the first novel of a new space-opera sequence set in an all-new universe.

Episode music by Franco Luzzi

Tana French is the Edgar Award-winning author of the Dublin Murder Squad series. The newest, called The Trespasser, is the sixth in the best-selling, habit-forming series. "It’s taken for granted that anybody who’s read one [Tana French novel] will very shortly have read them all,” wrote Laura Miller in the New Yorker.

Sara Plourde / NHPR

Ben Winters is a little incomprehensible. Not his output, which is consistently great, but his wild imagination and range. He's a teacher, a playwright, an Edgar and Phillip K. Dick Award-winning novelist, he's written children's books, an existential detective series and landed a New York Times bestseller with the Jane Austen-meets-the-kraken mash-up, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.

via lindywest.com

Lindy West, columnist for The Guardian, and author of How to be a Person and Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman. Lindy writes about feminism, social justice, body image, pop culture and, lately, politics.

She's a funny and original thinker, and brave. She's been a contributor on several memorable episodes of This American Life - one on "coming out" as fat, another about confronting an internet troll, one of hundreds who'd harassed her online.

Victoria Schwab... V.E. Schwab... V... the author's name depends on her audience, which, like the dark worlds she builds, is a well-thought out design.

Ms. Schwab, we'll say, burst onto the scene in 2011 with The Near Witch. A dozen books later, adult, young adult and middle grade readers have followed her into supernatural worlds, sinister scenarios and richly formed fantasy worlds.

Sara Plourde / NHPR

Ottessa Moshfegh says she writes to explore why people do weird things. The daughter of a Croatian mother and Iranian father, she was a serious piano student who knew she didn't want to be a pianist when she felt the call to write - and not just write, but be bold.

We spoke to her before her reading at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass.

Episode Music: Kevin MacLeod, "Trio for Piano, Violin and Viola"
Credit Music: Uncanny Valleys, "Curious or Disconcerting"

Sara Plourde / NHPR

Caitlin Moran is the best-selling author of How to Be a Woman, Moranthology, and columnist for the Times of London. She and her sister developed and write 'raised by wolves" --a British television series loosely based on their experience in a family of ten growing up in a tiny subsidized flat in the English midlands. She is also a mother of two, an unapologetic feminist, and really, really funny. Caitlin Moran is now out with Moranifesto, her second collection of columns and essays.

Johnathan Lethem is the best-selling author of Gun, with Occasional Music, Fortress of Solitude, and other novels, including the Naitonal Book Critics' Circle award-winning Motherless Brooklyn. He's know for reanimating and remixing genres - hard-boiled crime novels, post-apocalyptic science fiction, superhero comics and even technicolor westerns. His most recent novel is called A Gambler's Anatomy. It's about a high-stakes competitive backgammon player and con artist - a character who, like Lethem, was raised in the bohemian Brooklyn of the 1970s.

'In Maine, when we say something is "wicked good" – we really mean it.'

That's how LL Bean describes their Wicked Good Slippers, and how we describe Jeff Ryan, who for decades wrote Bean's catalog copy. We spoke to him about finding the story in everyday objects and the tricks of the trade when it comes to copy writing.

Jeff Ryan is also the author of Appalachian Odyssey, a memoir of hiking the Appalachian Trail, bit by bit, over 28 years.

Episode music: "Auld Lang Syne" by Podington Bear
Credit music: "Joy in the Restaurant" by David Szesztay

Irish author Emma Donoghue may be best known for Room,  her novel written in the voice of a young boy confined with his mother in a single room.  It was nominated for a Man Booker prize and made into an Oscar-winning film, for which she wrote the screenplay. Her most recent novel is The Wonder, about a "fasting girl" in 1850s Ireland.

Virginia Prescott

Tom Gauld -- a cartoonist, illustrator of comics and covers for the New Yorker and The Believer. His weekly cartoon about the arts for The Guardian newspaper is a wry, often deadpan favorite among writers. He is extremely prolific, author of more than a dozen books of comics, including You're Just Jealous of My Jetpack and most recently Mooncop.

Sara Plourde / NHPR

A National Book Award winner, Pulitzer-Prize nominee, Guggenheim fellow, and winner of a MacArthur "genius" grant, Colson Whitehead's new book, The Underground Railroad, was one of the most anticipated works of fiction this year.

Virginia caught up with him backstage at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, New Hampshire before a reading with novelist Ben Winters hosted of Gibson’s Bookstore.

David J. Murray, cleareyephoto.com

It’s our 30th episode, this time with the phenomenally successful Jodi Picoult.

Pages