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Novel Ideas

Contemporary Authors Share the Creative Process

Barbara Shoup

Publication Year: 2013

Novel Ideas provides a substantial introduction to the elements of fiction followed by in-depth interviews with successful novelists who speak with candor and insight into the complex process by which a novel is made. This edition includes new and updated interviews as well as writing exercises to enhance its use in the writing classroom.

Dorothy Allison recalls "deliciously self-indulgent" days of writing in her bathrobe, wrapped in misery and exultation; Peter Cameron explains how he made the move from short fiction to the novel with the aid of a music composer's notebook to track the movement of his characters. Writers as different as Ha Jin, Jill McCorkle, Richard Ford, and Michael Chabon describe their unique approaches to their work while consistently affirming the necessity of committing to the hard effort of it while also remaining open to surprise.

Aspiring novelists will find hands-on strategies for beginning, working through, and revising a novel; accomplished novelists will discover new ways to solve the problems they face in process; and serious readers of contemporary fiction will enjoy a glimpse into the way novels are made.

Includes interviews with:

  • Dorothy Allison
  • Larry Brown
  • Peter Cameron
  • Michael Chabon
  • Michael Cunningham
  • Robb Forman Dew
  • Richard Ford
  • Ha Jin
  • Patricia Henley
  • Charles Johnson
  • Wally Lamb
  • Valerie Martin
  • Jill McCorkle
  • Sena Jeter Naslund
  • Lewis Nordan
  • Sheri Reynolds
  • S. J. Rozan
  • Jane Smiley
  • Lee Smith
  • Theodore Weesner

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Title Page

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pp. 2-5

Contents

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pp. 6-7

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Preface to the Second Edition

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pp. vii-viii

REREADING THE AUTHOR INTERVIEWS as we revised and updated this new edition of Novel Ideas, we kept getting sidetracked, jotting down bits of practical advice and inspiration that seemed to apply to our own novelsin- progress. The interviews are, without doubt, the most useful part of this book — both for the insights they bring to the writing process and for the way they make you feel that you want to get to work on your novel right ...

Writing a Novel

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Introduction

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pp. 3-6

THE GENESIS OF A NOVEL is a strange and wonderful thing. It can begin as early as one’s childhood, in images or overheard conversations never quite understood. Toni Morrison’s novel Sula began this way. All her life, she had carried with her the memory of a woman whose eyes were never completely open, whose brown skin had a lovely, dusky matte. There was something purple about her, Morrison said. Maybe she wore purple or ...

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The Book in the Mind

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pp. 7-14

“ALL WRITING IS AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF THE IMAGINATION,” Susan Fromberg Schaeffer says. “Part of what goes on in writing is [an] interweaving of yourself and the subject.” Thus, every novel you write will be autobiographical, because it will grow out of your own experience of the world. There are many ways fiction may be autobiographical: ...

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The Elements of Fiction

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pp. 15-47

OCCASIONALLY, AN INEXPERIENCED WRITER writes a brilliant first novel through some combination of instinct and dumb luck. Maybe he comes from a family of yarn spinners, with memories of family gatherings where one of his elders held the rest of the family in thrall, and one of these remembered stories becomes his first novel. Perhaps he was a child who lived in books. ...

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Seeing It Through

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pp. 48-55

DESCRIBING THE PARTICULAR CHALLENGES of writing a novel, Patricia Henley says, “My life as a short story writer went like this: I would write a draft in maybe a week or ten days, let it sit maybe for a week or ten days, revise it for a couple of weeks. In a month or six weeks, I would have a story. Maybe I would go back to it in another month or so, but I could have a sense of completion and take some time off. ...

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Revision

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pp. 56-70

THERE IS NOTHING BETTER than the feeling you get when you write the last words of a novel. “Finished,” you think — “at last!” Maybe the book really is finished; more than likely, it’s not. In any case, avoid the impulse to start looking for a publisher immediately. Set the manuscript aside for awhile, concentrate on other things, and come back to it when you’re ...

The Interviews

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Dorothy Allison

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pp. 73-88

Dorothy Allison is the author of two novels, a collection of stories, a collection of essays, and a memoir. Born in Greenville, South Carolina, she received a BA from Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College) and an MA from New School for Social Research. The poverty, incest, and abuse that Allison experienced as a child figure heavily in her first novel, Bastard out of Carolina, which was nominated for the National Book Award. ...

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Larry Brown

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pp. 89-102

Larry Brown was the author of six novels and two collections of short stories. Born and raised in Oxford, Mississippi, he served in the U.S. Marines in the early 1970s. Upon his return, he worked as a firefighter and taught himself how to write fiction. In 1987, his soon-to-be editor, Shannon Ravenel, was reading Mississippi Quarterly, looking for stories to include in New Stories from the South, and came upon Brown’s second published ...

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Peter Cameron

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pp. 103-114

Peter Cameron is the author of five novels and three collections of short stories. He was born in Pompton Plains, New Jersey, and grew up there and in London, England. A graduate of Hamilton College in New York State, he sold his first short story to the New Yorker in 1983, and published ten more stories in that magazine during the next few years. Beginning in 1990, Cameron stopped writing short fiction and turned his attention toward novels. ...

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Michael Chabon

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pp. 115-126

Michael Chabon is the author of six novels, two collections of short stories, a novella, and a collection of essays. Born in Washington, D.C., he received a BA from the University of Pittsburgh and an MFA from the University of California, Irvine. His first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, was submitted for review in a workshop led by MacDonald Harris, who liked it so much that he sent it to his agent, Mary Evans. Evans surprised Chabon with an ...

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Michael Cunningham

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pp. 127-142

Michael Cunningham is the author of five novels and one work of nonfiction. He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and grew up in La Cañada, California. Cunningham received his BA in English Literature from Stanford University and his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa. His novel The Hours won the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award. Other honors include a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim ...

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Robb Forman Dew

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pp. 143-160

Robb Forman Dew is the author of five novels and a memoir. The granddaughter of poet John Crowe Ransom and goddaughter of Robert Penn Warren, she came to the literary life early, spending her childhood summers with her grandparents in Gambier, Ohio. Her first novel won the American Book Award. Dew has taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. She lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with her ...

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Richard Ford

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pp. 161-174

Richard Ford is the author of six novels and three collections of short stories. Born in Jackson, Mississippi, he received his BA from Michigan State University. After a brief stint as a law student, Ford enrolled in the MFA program at the University of California, Irvine, where he studied with such writers as E. L. Doctorow and Oakley Hall. His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, a literature award from the Mississippi Academy of Arts ...

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Ha Jin

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pp. 175-182

Ha Jin is the author of five novels, three collections of short fiction, and three collections of poetry. Born in Lianoning, China, he joined the People’s Liberation Army in 1969 during the Cultural Revolution. In 1981 he graduated from Heilongjiang University with a BA in English studies, and three years later obtained his MA in Anglo-American literature at Shandong University. Ha Jin was on scholarship at Brandeis University ...

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Patricia Henley

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pp. 183-191

Patricia Henley is the author of two novels and four short story collections. She grew up in southern Indiana, but she left the Midwest in 1964 and did not return until she came home to teach at Purdue University in 1987. A graduate of the Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University, her first novel, Hummingbird House, was nominated for the National Book Award, the New Yorker Fiction Prize, and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. ...

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Charles Johnson

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pp. 192-200

Charles Johnson is the author of five novels and two collections of short stories. Born in Evanston, Illinois, he received his BA and MA from Southern Illinois University and did postgraduate work at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. In addition to writing fiction, Johnson writes screenplays, reviews, essays, and critical articles. His honors include the National Book Award and the Washington State Governor’s Award for Literature; his ...

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Wally Lamb

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pp. 201-217

Wally Lamb is the author of two novels and the editor of two books of stories written by women in prison. Born and raised in Norwich, Connecticut, he holds BA and MA degrees in teaching from the University of Connecticut and an MFA in writing from Vermont College. He was the director of the Writing Center at the Norwich Free Academy, Norwich, Connecticut, from 1989 to 1998, and is currently an associate professor of Creative Writing at ...

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Valerie Martin

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pp. 218-230

Valerie Martin is the author of eight novels, three short story collections, and one work of nonfiction. She was born in Sedalia, Missouri, and grew up in New Orleans, where she attended public grammar school, a Catholic high school, and the University of New Orleans, from which she received a BA in English. She received an MFA in Creative Writing from Amherst College. Martin worked as a waitress, a welfare worker, a clerk in a children’s bookstore, and a high school teacher ...

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Jill McCorkle

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pp. 231-243

Jill McCorkle is the author of five novels and three collections of short stories. She received her BA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina, earning highest honors. As an MFA student at Hollins College, she won the Andrew James Purdy Prize for Fiction. She was only twenty-six years old when she made publishing history in 1984, having her first two novels published simultaneously by Algonquin Books of Chapel ...

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Sena Jeter Naslund

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pp. 244-256

Sena Jeter Naslund is the author of four novels and three short story collections. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, she received a BA in English from Birmingham Southern College and an MA and PhD from the University of Iowa. She is the recipient of the Lawrence Prize in Fiction, the Harper Lee Award, the Southeastern Library Fiction Award, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kentucky Arts Council, and the ...

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Lewis Nordan

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pp. 257-264

Lewis Nordan is the author of three novels, four short story collections, and a memoir. Born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1939, he grew up in Itta Bena, a small town in the Mississippi Delta. He earned a BA from Millsaps College, an MA from Mississippi State University, and a PhD in Shakespearean Studies from Auburn University. Before taking a job teaching creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh, Nordan worked as a fireworks salesman, ...

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Sheri Reynolds

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pp. 265-275

Sheri Reynolds is the author of four novels. Born in South Carolina, she received a BA degree from Davidson College and an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Her first two novels remaindered, her third rejected, she was living on credit cards when she learned that The Rapture of Canaan had been selected for Oprah’s Book Club. She is an assistant professor of English at Old Dominion University. She lives ...

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S. J. Rozan

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pp. 276-289

S. J. Rozan is the author of eight novels in the Bill Smith/Lydia Chin series, two stand-alone novels, and the editor of an anthology of short fiction. A former architect in a practice that focuses on police stations, firehouses, and zoos, she is a former Mystery Writers of America National Board member, a current Sisters in Crime National Board member, and ex-president of the Private Eye Writers of America. She speaks and lectures widely and for years ...

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Jane Smiley

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pp. 290-297

Jane Smiley is the author of ten novels, two volumes of novellas and stories, and three works of nonfiction. Born in Los Angeles, she grew up in St. Louis in a family where gossip and storytelling were the favorite pastimes. She was educated at Vassar College and at the University of Iowa, where she received her PhD. Her honors include the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Heartland Award, the Friends of American ...

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Lee Smith

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pp. 298-305

Lee Smith is the author of twelve novels, a novella, and two collections of stories. Born in the coal-mining region of southwest Virginia, she has sought to honor her Appalachian heritage in many of her books. Other books have more contemporary settings, chronicling the “New South”; often, her female characters struggle with identity issues, caught between the old ways and the new. Honors include the Academy Award in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest ...

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Theodore Weesner

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pp. 306-315

Theodore Weesner is the author of six novels and one short story collection. Born in Flint, Michigan, he left high school at sixteen and enlisted in the U.S. Army. Later, he graduated from Michigan State University and the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop. His work has been published in England, and in translation in Germany, Japan, Romania, and elsewhere, and he has received National Endowment for the Arts, Guggenheim, ...

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Writing exercises

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pp. 317-334

The following exercises are directly based on each writer’s personal observations about the writing process and specific strategies he or she described for working through a novel. They may be used in a variety of ways, depending on where you are in the process of writing your own book. Browsing is your best bet here. You probably ...


E-ISBN-13: 9780820346281
E-ISBN-10: 0820346284

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Second Edition