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Novel Ideas: Contemporary Authors

Denman, Margaret Love
Shoup, Barbara (Editor)
Denman, Margaret-Love (Editor)

Alpha Books
Published:March 23, 2001

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After introductory chapters on the elements of fiction, the process of revision, and endurance writing come interviews with 23 contemporary novelists. These interviews, some of which originally appeared in a journal called Other Voices, address the differences between writing short stories and novels, the various ways in which a novel evolves, the internal and external obstacles for the novelist, and often--as in Valerie Martin on Mary Reilly and Sena Jeter Naslund on Ahab's Wife--the writing of a specific fictional work.

Throughout the book are discussions about how novels are born ("Somebody starts talking in my head," says Dorothy Allison) and how the real world feeds the fictional one. For many authors, the relationship between what happens in life and what happens on the page is a spiritual one. "I have a somewhat mystical belief that if you have a novel in mind," says Lee Smith, "everything you see and read and hear somehow contributes to it, if you're paying attention." "I've got my radar up," says Wally Lamb, "and I'm walking around in life looking for stuff that resonates, vibrates." Others are more predatory: "You go around like a vulture," says Patricia Henley, "stealing these things."

Though many of the authors interviewed here claim not to know at first whether they are embarking on a novel or a short story, Michael Chabon sees a strong distinction. "A short story is a commando operation." he says. "You have to get in quickly, set your charges, and get out, leaving the reader to be caught up in the blast." Not so the novel, which he likens to a full-out war, "always begun in the highest enthusiasm, with full confidence of right, and of the certainty of it all being over by Christmas. Two years later you're in the trenches and the mud, with defeat a real possibility, doubting everything, in particular the wisdom of the commanding general." --Jane Steinberg

From Library Journal
Shoup (Faithful Women) and Denman, the program director of creative writing at the University of New Hampshire, interviewed 23 well-known contemporary authors about the process of crafting fiction to produce this inspirational guide. A brief introductory section takes the reader through the rudiments of writing, most specifically plot and character development and the importance of revision. This information, especially on the rudiments of writing, has been done better elsewhere (Strunk and White's Elements of Style comes to mind). The interviews, however, are well-crafted pieces that show how well Shoup and Denman did their homework. Speaking with Tony Hillerman, Alice McDermott, Jane Smiley, Michael Chabon, and others, the authors draw out very personal responses not only about specific approaches to the creative process but also about how characters evolve and how novels come together. The authors share the motivation, exhilaration, fear, and frustration that transform ideas into words and words into stories. While not a high-priority purchase, this would be a good addition to writing workshop reading lists. Readers of popular fiction might also enjoy this work, as major writers offer insights into their modus operandi. Denise Sticha, Murrysville Community Lib., PA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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