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The Secret Miracle



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Meet The Contributors

Meet Our Experts on the Art of the Novel

Every month at 826 Valencia, we gather a panel of published authors before an audience of aspiring writers. For three hours we grill the authors on brass tacks. How, exactly, do they do what they do? How does a vague idea become a completed manuscript? How do they get started? How do they finish? How do they do everything in between, and how do they cope once it's done?

It's a great forum with one major flaw: we can only fit fifty or so people in the building for each seminar. We wanted to bring the experience to everyone else, and that's what we've tried to do in The Secret Miracle. We've gathered answers from several dozen of our favorite authors about the details of novel writing, from the most personal and esoteric to the most practical. All will be revealed: how to start and where to start; how to get to know your characters, and how to figure out who should tell the story; how to end and where to end; and why it all matters.

CHRIS ABANI
Chris Abani's prose includes Song for Night (Akashic, 2007), The Virgin of Flames (Penguin, 2007), Becoming Abigail (Akashic, 2006), GraceLand (FSG, 2004), and Masters of the Board (Delta, 1985). His poetry collections are Hands Washing Water (Copper Canyon, 2006), Dog Woman (Red Hen, 2004), Daphne's Lot (Red Hen, 2003), and Kalakuta Republic (Saqi, 2001). He is a professor at the University of California, Riverside, and the recipient of the PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award, the Prince Claus Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a California Book Award, a Hurston/ Wright Legacy Award, a PEN Beyond the Margins Award, the PEN Hemingway Book Prize, and a Guggenheim Award.

CHRIS ADRIAN
Chris Adrian is the author of the novels Gob's Grief and The Children's Hospital, and most recently the short-story collection A Better Angel. His short fiction has appeared in the Paris Review, Zoetrope, McSweeney's, and the New Yorker. He recently completed a pediatric residency at the University of California, San Francisco, and is now a student at the Harvard Divinity School.

ALAA AL ASWANY
Alaa Al Aswany is the author of many novels, including The Yacoubian Building, which was a bestseller all over the Arab world, translated into nine languages, and made into a feature film. He writes a monthly opposition newspaper column in Egypt, and his literary criticism regularly appears in El Araby El Nassery. His most recent novel, Chicago, was published by HarperCollins in 2008. He lives in Cairo.

RABIH ALAMEDDINE
Rabih Alameddine is the author of several novels and short stories, including Koolaids: The Art of War, The Perv and I, and The Divine: A Novel in First Chapters. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and divides his time between San Francisco and Beirut. His most recent novel, The Hakawati, was published in 2008.

PAUL AUSTER
Paul Auster is the author of fourteen novels, including The New York Trilogy, Leviathan, Moon Palace, and Man in the Dark. His many awards include the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature and the Prix Médicis Étranger. He lives in Brooklyn.

TASH AW
Tash Aw is the author of The Harmony Silk Factory, which won the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Novel. His work has been translated into twenty languages. His most recent novel, Map of the Invisible World, was published in 2009.

MARIO BELLATIN
Mario Bellatin is the author of Flowers, which won the Xavier Villaurrutia Prize in 2002. His work has been translated into German, French, and English. His other books include Shiki Nagaoka: A Nose of Fiction, Pinocchio Tales, Hero Dogs, Lessons for a Dead Hare, and Beauty Salon. He lives in Mexico City.

MICHAEL CHABON
Michael Chabon is the author of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Wonder Boys, and, most recently, Maps and Legends, a collection of essays. His best- selling novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay was awarded the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. He lives in Berkeley, California.

SUSAN CHOI
Susan Choi is the author of three novels, The Foreign Student, which won the 1999 Asian American Literary Award; American Woman, which was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize; and A Person of Interest, which was a finalist for the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and sons.

T COOPER
T Cooper is the author of the novels Some of the Parts and Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes, a Los Angeles Times bestseller also chosen as a Best Book of 2006 by the Believer and the Austin Chronicle. Cooper is co- editor of the anthology A Fictional History of The United States with Huge Chunks Missing, and has written for various publications, including the New Yorker, the New York Times, Out, and the Believer. Cooper lives in New York.

ANN CUMMINS
Ann Cummins is the author of a short-story collection, Red Ant House, and a novel, Yellowcake. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, McSweeney's, Quarterly West, and the Sonora Review. She is the recipient of a Lannan Fellowship and teaches at Northern Arizona University.

EDWIDGE DANTICAT
Edwidge Danticat is the author of three novels, including Breath, Eyes, Memory, as well as a National Book Award–nominated collection of stories, Krik? Krak! Her second novel, The Farming of the Bones, won the 1999 American Book Award, and her most recent book, Brother, I'm Dying, a memoir, won the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction.

RODDY DOYLE
Roddy Doyle is the author of many novels, including The Commitments and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, winner of the 1993 Booker Prize. His short fiction is regularly published in the New Yorker.

JENNIFER EGAN
Jennifer Egan is the author of The Invisible Circus, Emerald City and Other Stories, Look at Me, nominated for the National Book Award in 2001, and most recently the bestselling The Keep. Also a journalist, she writes frequently for the New York Times Magazine. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and sons.

JOSH EMMONS
Josh Emmons is the author of two novels, The Loss of Leon Meed and, most recently, Prescription for a Superior Existence. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, the poet Katie Ford.

ANNE ENRIGHT
Anne Enright is the author of four novels, including The Gathering, which won the 2007 Man Booker Prize. Her writing has appeared in many magazines, including the New Yorker, the Paris Review, Granta, and the London Review of Books. She won Davy Byrne's Irish Writing Award in 2004 and a Royal Society of Authors Encore Prize.

AURA ESTRADA
Aura Estrada (1977—2007) was born in Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico, and raised in Mexico City. She received her BA and MA from the UNAM and was studying for a PhD in Latin American literature at Columbia University and, simultaneously, for her MFA in creative writing at Hunter College. She published fiction and nonfiction in a number of Latin American and American journals and magazines, including Etiqueta Negra, Letras Libres, Gatopardo, Wordswithoutborders, Book Forum, and the Boston Review. Her husband, novelist Francisco Goldman, and friends have founded the Aura Estrada Prize (www.auraestradaprize.org) in her memory.

RODRIGO FRESÁN
Rodrigo Fresán is a celebrated novelist and journalist living in Barcelona. He is the author of many novels, including Historia Argentina, The Velocity of Things, Esperanto, and most recently, Kensington Gardens, published in the United States in 2006.

NELL FREUDENBERGER
Nell Freudenberger is the author of Lucky Girls, winner of the PEN/ Malamud award. Her novel, The Dissident, was a New York Times Notable Book, and she was the recipient of a 2005 Whiting Writers' Award. In 2007 she was named one of Granta's Best Young American Novelists. She lives in New York.

RIVKA GALCHEN
Rivka Galchen's first novel, Atmospheric Disturbances, received numerous accolades and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. Her short stories and essays have appeared in the Believer, the New Yorker, Scientific American, Zoetrope, and the New York Times.

CRISTINA GARCIA
Cristina Garcia is the author of four novels, including the bestselling Dreaming in Cuban, a finalist for the 1992 National Book Award. Her most recent novel, A Handbook to Luck, won the 2008 Northern California Book Award. She currently lives in Los Angeles, California.

GLEN DAVID GOLD
Glen David Gold is the author of the novels Carter Beats the Devil and Sunnyside. He has written comic books for Dark Horse and DC and his short stories, essays, memoir, and journalism have appeared in Playboy, McSweeney's, Tin House, and the New York Times Magazine. He lives in San Francisco.

FRANCISCO GOLDMAN
Francisco Goldman is the author of three novels, including The Long Night of White Chickens, which won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction in 1993. His second novel, The Ordinary Seaman, was a finalist for the 1997 PEN/Faulkner Award and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His most recent book of nonfiction, The Art of Political Murder, was published in 2007.

ALLEGRA GOODMAN
Allegra Goodman is the author of the novels Intuition, a New York Times bestseller, Paradise Park, and Kaaterskill Falls, a National Book Award finalist, two collections of short stories, The Family Markowitz and Total Immersion, and The Other Side of the Island, her first book for younger readers. Her fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, Commentary, Ploughshares, Prize Stories: the O. Henry Awards, and Best American Short Stories. She lives with her family in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

ANDREW SEAN GREER
Andrew Sean Greer is the author of three novels, including The Confessions of Max Tivoli, which was named a Best Book of 2004 by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Chicago Tribune. His stories have appeared in Esquire, the Paris Review, and the New Yorker. He is the recipient of a California Book Award Gold Medal in Fiction and a New York Public Library Young Lions Award. He lives in San Francisco.

DANIEL HANDLER
Daniel Handler is the author of the novels The Basic Eight, Watch Your Mouth, and Adverbs, and far too many books as Lemony Snicket. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and child.

YAEL HEDAYA
Yael Hedaya is the author of House broken, a collection of novellas, as well as two novels: Accidents and Die Sache mit dem Glück. She lives in Tel Aviv.

ALEKSANDAR HEMON
Aleksandar Hemon's work has appeared in the New Yorker, Esquire, Granta, and the Paris Review. He is the author of The Question of Bruno, a short-story collection, and the novels Nowhere Man and The Lazarus Project, a 2008 National Book Award Finalist. He was awarded a MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant in 2004.

A. M. HOMES
A. M. Homes is the author of the novels The End of Alice, Music for Torching, and Jack, as well as two collections of stories. Her work has appeared in Vanity Fair, McSweeney's, and the New Yorker. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Her bestselling memoir The Mistress's Daughter was published in 2007.

SHELLEY JACKSON
Shelley Jackson is the author of the story collection The Melancholy of Anatomy, the novel Half Life, and hypertexts including Patchwork Girl. The recipient of a Howard Foundation grant, a Pushcart Prize, and the 2006 James Tiptree Jr. Award, she has also written and illustrated several children's books, including The Old Woman and the Wave; Sophia, The Alchemist's Dog; and the forthcoming Mimi's Dada Catifesto. Her work has appeared in Conjunctions, McSweeney's, the Paris Review, and Cabinet Magazine. In 2004 she launched her project SKIN, a story published in tattoos on 2,095 volunteers. She lives in Brooklyn.

TAYARI JONES
Tayari Jones is the author of Leaving Atlanta, winner of the Hurston/ Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction. Her 2005 novel, The Untelling, was awarded the Lillian C. Smith Award for New Voices. Jones teaches in the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark University.

STEPHEN KING
Stephen King is one of the United States' best-known writers. He is the author of more than forty novels, including Carrie, The Shining, Hearts in Atlantis, and Dreamcatcher. In 2003, he was honored with a National Book Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. He lives in Bangor, Maine.

LAILA LALAMI
Laila Lalami is a novelist and essayist. Her debut collection of stories, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, was published in 2005 and has since been translated into six languages. Her first novel, Secret Son, was published in 2009. The recipient of a British Council Fellowship and a Fulbright Fellowship, she lives in Los Angeles and is a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside.

JONATHAN LETHEM
Jonathan Lethem is the author of Motherless Brooklyn, named Novel of the Year by Esquire and winner of the 1999 National Book Critics Circle Award. He is also the author of The Fortress of Solitude, a New York Times bestseller, and most recently, You Don't Love Me Yet, a novel published in 2007. His writing has appeared in the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Harper's, and McSweeney's. He lives in Brooklyn.

YIYUN LI
Yiyun Li's first book, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, among other prizes, and the title story was made into a film by acclaimed director Wayne Wang. Li was selected as one of Granta's 21 Best Young American Novelists in 2007, and her first novel, The Vagrants, was published in 2009. She lives in Oakland, California.

ADAM MANSBACH
Adam Mansbach's most recent novel, The End of the Jews, won the California Book Award Gold Medal in Fiction. His previous novel, Angry Black White Boy, was a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2005, and is taught at more than sixty schools. A recipient of the Ford Foundation's Future Aesthetics Artist Regrant, Mansbach is the New Voices Professor of Fiction at Rutgers University.

DINAW MENGESTU
Dinaw Mengestu is the author of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, which was selected as a 2007 New York Times Notable Book. He is the recipient of a 2006 fellowship in fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts. He lives in Paris, France.

CLAIRE MESSUD
Claire Messud's novels include The Last Life, When the World Was Steady, and The Emperor's Children, a New York Times Best Book of 2006. She has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Radcliffe fellowship, and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives with her family in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

SUSAN MINOT
Susan Minot is the author of four novels, including Monkeys, winner of the Prix Fémina in 1988. She wrote the screenplay for Bernardo Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty and has been awarded the O. Henry Prize and the Pushcart Prize for her short fiction. Her most recent novel, Rapture, was published in 2002.

RICK MOODY
Rick Moody is the author of several novels, including The Ice Storm, which was made into a feature film, and The Diviners. His 2002 memoir, The Black Veil, won the PEN/Marta Albrand Award. His work appears widely, including in the New Yorker, Esquire, Harper's, and the New York Times. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

HARUKI MURAKAMI
Haruki Murakami is the author of many novels, including A Wild Sheep Chase, Norwegian Wood, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, and After Dark. He is one of Japan's most celebrated authors, and his work has been translated into more than thirty-five languages.

GEORGE PELECANOS
George Pelecanos is the author of numerous novels, including most recently, The Way Home, The Turnaround, and The Night Gardener. His 2003 novel, Hell to Pay, received a Los Angeles Times Book Award. The Big Blowdown won the International Crime Novel of the Year Award in France, Germany, and Japan. Pelecanos's nonfiction has appeared the New York Times, the Washington Post, GQ, and Mojo, and he received an Emmy nomination for his work on the HBO crime drama series The Wire.

JOSÉ MANUEL PRIETO
José Manuel Prieto is a novelist, essayist, and translator of Russian literature into Spanish. His novels include Rex, Lividia (Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian Empire), and Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia, and he is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship. He lives in New York City.

SANTIAGO RONCAGLIOLO
Santiago Roncagliolo's first novel, Pudor, was made into a feature film. His second, the political thriller Red April, received the prestigious Alfaguara Novel Prize, and was translated into English by Edith Grossman. His books have been translated into thirteen languages. He writes regularly for El País, one of Spain's most prominent newspapers.

AKHIL SHARMA
Akhil Sharma is the author of the award-winning novel An Obedient Father. His stories have appeared in magazines such as the New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly. He currently lives with his wife in New York City.

ADANIA SHIBLI
Adania Shibli has twice been awarded the Young Writer's Award of Palestine by the A. M. Qattan Foundation. She is the author of the novels Touching and We Are All Equally Far from Love. Some of her short texts appeared in the United States in the Iowa Review and World Literature Today.

GARY SHTEYNGART
Gary Shteyngart is the author of two novels, The Russian Debutante's Handbook and Absurdistan, a New York Times Best Book of the Year in 2006. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, Granta, Travel +Leisure, and the New York Times.

CURTIS SITTENFELD
Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of three novels, including Prep, which was named as one of the ten best books of 2005 by the New York Times. She has written for the New York Times and the Washington Post, and her most recent novel, American Wife, was published in 2008.

MEHMET MURAT SOMER
Mehmet Murat Somer is one of Turkey's bestselling novelists. He is the author of the Hop-Çiki-Yaya series of gay noir detective novels, which include The Prophet Murderers and The Kiss Murder.

SAŠA STANIŠIC
Saša Stanišic is the author of How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, which was short-listed for the German Book Award and is being translated into thirty languages. Stanišic lives in Germany.

AMY TAN
Amy Tan's first novel, The Joy Luck Club, was a finalist for the 1989 National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award and is a selection of the NEA's Big Read program. Her work has been translated into thirty-five languages. She has also written a memoir, essays, short stories, a screenplay, and a libretto.

COLM TÓIBÍN
Colm Tóibín is the author of novels such as The South, Heather Blazing, and The Blackwater Lightship, as well as a collection of stories. His novel The Master, a portrait of Henry James, won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, was named the Los Angeles Times Novel of the Year, and was listed by the New York Times as one of the ten most notable books of 2004. He lives in Ireland.

MARIO VARGAS LLOSA
Mario Vargas Llosa is one of the most acclaimed writers in the Spanish language, and was awarded the Cervantes Prize in 1994. He is the author of dozens of books of fiction, journalism, and criticism, including novels such as The Time of the Hero, The Green House, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, The War of the End of the World, and The Feast of the Goat.

ALEJANDRO ZAMBRA
Alejandro Zambra is the author of the novels Bonsai (2006) and The Private Life of Trees (2007). He lives in Santiago de Chile. His work has been translated into five languages.