WU contributor and agent Donald Maass is known for his keen understanding of story and the craft of writing. His previous books, including Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction, are favorites on savvy writer’s shelves, and for good reason: They’re full of gems that can help you conceive of a better story, heighten its many opportunities for tension, and ultimately write a better book. Writer’s Digest Books will be releasing Don’s latest effort, The Breakout Novelist, in just two days–on March 14th. I recently did a Take Five interview with Don to learn more. Enjoy!
Q: Tell us a little about your new book, The Breakout Novelist.
DM: It’s an all-in-one desk reference for working novelists. It has the best of my previous craft books put together in a cool ring binder format. It also includes all the character and story development tools from Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook and The Fire in Fiction. I’ve also rewritten and updated The Career Novelist, my 1996 book on what makes fiction careers successful.
Q: Why this book, why now?
DM: There’s a lot of how-to advice aimed at those learning the craft of fiction. But published novelists and advanced fiction writers need help too. What if you’re stuck somewhere in the middle of your manuscript? What if your fiction’s taking an ambitious new turn and you feel nervous? Suppose you’ve hit a sales plateau and don’t know how to rev up your stories? Or maybe you’re a reclusive type—must you really tour and tweet? It would be nice if there was a volume that could answer all your questions and give you every tool you need for development and repair. That’s what The Breakout Novelist is intended to be.
Q: Can you share an excerpt with us?
There’s a brand new chapter in The Breakout Novelist called “Passages”, about the predictable crises in novelists’ careers. It starts out like this:
As in adult life, the life of a novelist involves passages from one phase to another. Each passage may be initiated by a crisis, some outward event. These events are tests or challenges that shake a writer’s identity and that may derail their careers. In reality, though, the passage derives from an inward prompting: a restlessness or dissatisfaction that signifies a need to grow, to redefine oneself as a writer.
In my work as a literary agent, time after time I see novelists hit seven specific crisis points. This chapter describes them and has advice on how to cope.
Q: Your craft books for writers are some of the best in the business. What sort of feedback do you hear from writers and authors who’ve benefited from the books? What helps them the most?
DM: What I hear boils down to this: Your books make me dig deeper, push harder and do more with my stories. I like that. So many manuscripts—and published novels—achieve less than they could. There’s always more story ore to mine, more depth of character to explore.
Q: What’s next for you? Do you have plans for anything new after The Breakout Novelist?
DM: I’m discussing a new book with my publisher, Writers Digest Books. It’s about writing 21st Century fiction, the death of genre and the holy grail of book publishing: the literary/commercial novel. That’s beautifully written fiction that also sells big. Such stuff is rare because literary novelists and commercial storytellers largely live in separate worlds, yet each has something the other group lacks. This new book will reframe and make possible for each group those aspects of the art that they find hard to do. That’s the idea, anyway.
Thanks for chatting with me, Therese.
Thank you, Don. Readers, you can order The Breakout Novelist from Writer’s Digest or through other online sites, or visit your favorite brick-and-mortar retailer.
And did you know Don is now on Twitter? Write on.