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The Secret Miracle: The Novelist's…
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The Secret Miracle: The Novelist's Handbook

by Daniel Alarcón (Editor)

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Imagine a round table discussion with 54 well-known and fabulous writers: Aleksandar Hemon, Claire Messud, Rick Moody, Stephen King, Gary Shteyngart, Daniel Handler, Haruki Murakami, and so forth. A question is presented to the group about the process of writing a novel, and writers chime in with honest and thoughtful answers. This is The Secret Miracle.

What I found most appealing about this book was the variation in answers. From Writing 101, aspiring authors are told to do this or that--i.e. find a quite place, stick with a routine, keep a journal, etc. Many books on the subject repeat these tips, telling the reader the most conducive way to write. And when it doesn't work for the reader, the newbie author is to assume they are doing something wrong. The Secret Miracle destroys any hope that there is one method to write. "Absolutely," answers one writer, while the next replies to the same question, "No. Never. Wouldn't dream of it."

A little way into the book, I decided to keep a score sheet. I tallied answers I found to be good (1 point) and those which were right-on (2 points). It would be a way to discover my next favorite author, I hoped. The results: Aleksander Hemon scored the highest with 21, Jennifer Egan had 12 points, and Andrew Sean Greer, Tayari Jones, and Chris Abani tied with 5 each. Most authors scored at least one point, although a few did not. Murakami should have received a negative score for his highly evasive answers. Although entertaining, Murakami seemed to be dodging half the questions and giving snotty answers to the other half. My favorite, the Eeyore response, occurs when Murakami is asked if he has ever used a fictional character to draw a portrait of a real person (p. 183)? Murakami: "Sometimes I do. Nobody notices it anyway."

Well, at least I learned something from the other 53 novelist. ( )
  chrisblocker | Mar 30, 2013 |
Those who are looking for a prescriptive text will be disappointed. As the editor explains, "This book is not a how-to. No such book exists because it cannot be written."That's actually one of the reasons that I so enjoyed this collection. No sooner had one writer said "Of course I write with an outline -- a very detailed one, in fact -- and I can't imagine ever writing without one" than another said "Outline, schmoutline: I can't imagine anything more stifling creatively". It certainly emphasizes the precept that what works for one writer does not work for the next, that there is no "silver bullet" for crafting a novel. "They, like all of us, have good days, bad days, and days where it is more useful to sit quietly and read, to let the writing itself wait." If you're simply casually curious about the writing process, you might find this format and the variation in responses either boring or confusing, but if you are sincerely interested in the writing life, or if you have a particular interest in one of the authors included herein, it's a terrific resource. ( )
  buriedinprint | Sep 15, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805087141, Paperback)

The world’s best contemporary writers—from Michael Chabon and Claire Messud to Jonathan Lethem and Amy Tan—engage in a wide-ranging, insightful, and oft- surprising roundtable discussion on the art of writing fiction

Drawing back the curtain on the mysterious process of writing novels, The Secret Miracle brings together the foremost practitioners of the craft to discuss how they write. Paul Auster, Roddy Doyle, Allegra Goodman, Aleksandar Hemon, Mario Vargas Llosa, Susan Minot, Rick Moody, Haruki Murakami, George Pelecanos, Gary Shteyngart, and others take us step by step through the alchemy of writing fiction, answering everything from nuts-and-bolts queries—“Do you outline?”—to perennial questions posed by writers and readers alike: “What makes a character compelling?”

From Stephen King’s deadpan distinction between novels and short stories (“Novels are longer and have more s**t in them”) to Colm Toibin’s anti-romanticized take on his characters (“They are just words”) to José Manuel Prieto’s mature perspective on the anxieties of influence (“Influences are felt or weigh you down more when young”), every page contains insights found nowhere else.

With honesty, humor, and elegance, The Secret Miracle gives both aspiring writers and lovers of literature a master class in the art of writing.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:53:34 -0400)

The worlds best contemporary writersfrom Michael Chabon and Claire Messud to Jonathan Lethem and Amy Tanengage in a wide-ranging, insightful, and oft- surprising roundtable discussion on the art of writing fiction.

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