There is nothing a writer craves more than to be told she is on the right path, that her creative processes and habits will inevitably produce a head-turning work of fiction—and nothing a writer needs more than to be denied that assurance and told firmly by one who knows to get back to work. The Secret Miracle, edited by Peruvian-American novelist Daniel Alarcón, does both.
In a Q&A format, many notable writers contribute valuable insights. The book’s strength is the range of writers included: literary icons Amy Tan and Mario Vargas Llosa; crime novelist George Pelecanos; household names Stephen King and Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket); prize-winning novelists Edwidge Danticat, Paul Auster, Jonathan Lethem and Roddy Doyle; and dozens more. The geographical spread is vast: writers live in Cairo, Mexico City, Barcelona, Tel Aviv, Paris and across the United States. Several are published in English in translation. The questions asked range just as far: What, and how, do you read? Is there a book you return to over and over? What do you learn from other art forms? Do you research? Outline? Plan a novel’s structure or let it happen? Identify with a character? Draw from your own life? Writers talk about their schedules, where they write and how they measure a successful day. When do you share a draft, how do you revise, what about false starts?
That breadth is also the book’s weakness. With so many writers on so many topics, some answers are too short to offer much help. Contradictions are inevitable, but delightful, and may fan the occasional flames between writers and readers of literary and genre fiction. Still, it isn’t only genre writers who value plot, or literary novelists who savor language. These people stand on common ground, though their walk and talk varies tremendously.
Proceeds from the book will benefit 826 National, a nonprofit network of tutoring and writing centers in eight cities, named for its original location, at 826 Valencia in San Francisco. In 2009, more than 4,000 volunteers worked with 18,000-plus students ages 6 to 18 on creative and expository writing; offered 266 workshops for students and teachers; provided after-school tutoring for 130 students a day; and produced more than 600 student publications. Each center also sponsors roundtable discussions with published writers.
Read a page of The Secret Miracle when you’re stuck or need a break from your own writing, or if you’re a reader, when you want a glimpse of the world behind the page. Dip in, then get back to work.
Leslie Budewitz’s short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchock Mystery Magazine, and The Whitefish Review.