Skip to main content
US Macmillan Tradebooks for Courses

The Secret Miracle

The Novelist's Handbook

Daniel Alarcon, Ed.

St. Martin's Griffin

The Secret Miracle Download image

ISBN10: 0805087141
ISBN13: 9780805087147

Trade Paperback

368 Pages



Request Desk Copy
Request Exam Copy


Sign up to receive information about new books, author events, and special offers.

Sign up now

Drawing back the curtain on the mysterious process of writing novels, The Secret Miracle brings together the world's best contemporary writers, the foremost practitioners of the craft to discuss how they write. Michael Chabon, Claire Messud, Jonathan Lethem, Amy Tan, Paul Auster, Roddy Doyle, Allegra Goodman, Aleksandar Hemon, Mario Vargas Llosa, Susan Minot, Rick Moody, Haruki Murakami, George Pelecanos, Gary Shteyngart, and others take students step by step through the alchemy of writing fiction, answering everything from nuts-and-bolts queries—"Do you outline?"—to perennial questions posed by writers and readers alike: "What makes a character compelling?"

From Stephen King's deadpan distinction between novels and short stories ("Novels are longer and have more s**t in them") to Colm Toibin's anti-romanticized take on his characters ("They are just words") to José Manuel Prieto's mature perspective on the anxieties of influence ("Influences are felt or weigh you down more when young"), The Secret Miracle presents an insightful, honest, humorous, and oft-surprising master class workshop on the art of writing fiction.


Praise for The Secret Miracle

"'This book is not a how-to,' writes Daniel Alarcon in his introduction. 'No such book exists because it cannot be written.' Instead, The Secret Miracle is a collection of 'round-table interviews' with 54 novelists, inspired by a similar, smaller event that takes place at 826 Valencia, a writers' center-forum-workshop in San Francisco. The writers answer questions about influences ('What do you look for in a novel?'), about how to get started ('How much do you know about the plot before you begin?'), character and scene ('How much do you draw from your own life when constructing a character?'), revision ('When/how do you show a draft to your trusted readers?') and much more. Some answers are one word; some writers wax eloquently. The book is an absolute end to loneliness for writers; it's also the best procrastination—if you can't sit down and write the thing, at least read something useful about the process."—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

"If you got together a bunch of engineers or teachers or cafeteria workers or cave dwellers and asked them about what they did and how and why, the result would be a fascinating book. Nobody does that, though, not since Studs Terkel died, so we must thank Daniel Alarcón, who edited The Secret Miracle, this collection of what writers say about what they do and how they do it and why. And what a collection of writers this is: 54 of them, including Michael Chabon, Edwidge Danticat, Jennifer Egan, Amy Tan, Mario Vargas Llosa. It is a wonder, then, that these busy contemporary novelists filled out the questionnaire Alarcón submitted to them. When do you sleep, we wonder."—Jane Juska, San Francisco Chronicle

"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 . . . 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, Bookpage

"Organized into a Q&A format, this book takes readers through the very idiosyncratic act of writing a novel. Over 50 contemporary novelists—including Stephen King, A.M. Holmes, Amy Tan, Roddy Doyle, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Haruki Murakami—reply to questions about their writing procedures. The questions are categorized and proceed from reading habits and influences through getting started; structure, plot, and character; to the actual writing and revision. The responses, as might be expected, vary significantly. When asked about outlining, Mehmet Murat Somer says he makes detailed plot outlines, while King and Susan Choi avoid them entirely. Concerning dialog, comments range from less is better to Choi's belief that 'good dialog bears little resemblance to how people actually talk' . . . This book will be valuable to beginning novelists or those contemplating writing someday. Reading it is almost like attending a writer's conference and will serve to motivate and challenge as well as to instruct."—Nancy R. Ives, Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt

The Secret Miracle


SUSAN MINOT: Transport. Enchantment. Guidance. Pleasure. Beauty. Novelty. Entertainment. Charm. Poetry....

About the author

Daniel Alarcon, Ed.

Daniel Alarcón is the author of Lost City Radio, which was named a 2007 Best Book by the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and others.

826 National is a network of youth tutoring, writing, and publishing centers located in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Seattle, and Boston.

Daniel Alarcon

Official Links