Aspiring novelists, take note: your summer writing plans just got a boost. Barbara Shoup and Margaret-Love Denman, creative writing teachers at the Universities of Indiana and Mississippi respectively, present a fresh take on the “writing for writers” genre with the second edition of their book, Novel Ideas, released this spring.
What makes Novel Ideas unique is the emphasis it places on the process of writing itself. Sections explicating craft are kept to a minimum, making room for interviews with published writers about their own methods of writing a novel. Denman said, “There’s nothing out there that does what this book does. It’s not a how–to book. It’s about the process,” Shoup concurred. “A book like this gives you some insight into the long lesson of what it is to write a novel,” she added. “You need to learn to love the process and be fascinated by the process.”
From the nationally renowned (Michael Chabon, Ha Jin) to the less widely recognized (Larry Brown, Wally Lamb), Novel Ideas presents writers of many different styles and genres. Therein lies the book’s strength: the diversity of experience among the writers interviewed leaves something unique for every reader. “This book is good no matter what you want to write,” Shoup said. “It’s like you get to have a conversation with a lot of different people.”
Shoup and Denman also prepared extensively for their interviews: “We really did read everything [the authors had written],” she added. “When you really do read the body of somebody’s work, you see things they may not.” This adds another valuable element to Novel Ideas—readers can return to the book as they become familiar with the interviewed writers’ work to glean more understanding from the interviews.
A selection of writing exercises followings the interviews. What makes this segment of the book unique is the exercises’ genesis: they are all based on the authors’ interactions with the writers interviewed earlier in the book. From Michael Chabon’s directive, “Write a scene in which a famous person makes a cameo appearance,” to Michael Cunningham’s suggestion, “Let one of your characters write his/her autobiography [and] see what he/she tells you,” the exercises are as singular and varied as the interviews themselves.
Shoup and Denman begin their introduction with a quote from the famous African American short story writer Toni Cade Bambara: “The short story is a piece of work. The novel is a way of life.” Novel Ideas offers a new perspective on that lifestyle, revealing through the interviews the joys, pains, difficulties, and lessons of novel writing.