Book Talk: Author seeks the secret to writing a good novel

Tue May 18, 2010 11:36pm EDT
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By Belinda Goldsmith

CANBERRA (Reuters Life!) - Ever wanted to know the secret to writing a good novel? Peruvian-American novelist Daniel Alarcon set out to find the answer but ended up finding that the secret is that there really is no secret.

Alarcon, who has one novel and two books of stories to his name, interviewed 54 novelists, asking questions such as what do you look for in a novel, how much do you know about the plot before you start, and what makes characters compelling.

The result was "The Secret Miracle: The Novelist's Handbook," released this month, with insights from authors such as Roddy Doyle, Mario Vargas Llosa, Rick Moody, Haruki Murakami, and George Pelecanos, Gary Shteyngart, and Colm Toibin.

The answers varied from Stephen King's distinction between novels and short stories -- "Novels are longer and have more shit in them" -- to Toibin's take on his characters -- "They are just words."

Alarcon spoke to Reuters about the book and his writing:

Q: How did the book come about?

A: "I was asked to edit the book and I jumped at the chance to talk to all these amazing novelists. I wanted to make sure the list was very international. I am in the middle of writing my second novel (his first "Lost City Radio" came out in 2007) and you get these incredible responses from this diverse and talented group of writers. Writing a novel is a struggle and it is nice to get advice."

Q: What did you find most surprising in their replies?   Continued...