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Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life Paperback – February 3, 2004

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Editorial Reviews Review

In Sometimes the Magic Works, author Terry Brooks mixes advice on writing with stories from his personal experience in publishing. A seasoned fantasy writer with 19 books under his belt, including the New York Times bestseller The Sword of Shannara, Brooks began his second career in middle age when he gave up his law practice to pursue writing full time. His move was fueled by an obsession with writing, ("If I don't write, I become restless and ill-tempered"), inspiration from J.R.R. Tolkien, and constant encouragement from publisher Lester del Rey. Some of Brooks's advice is specific and useful, such as the chapter he dedicates to the importance of outlining. However, the lessons he tries to tell through his own adventures tend to be self-serving. Still, Brooks's experiences could be particularly interesting and valuable to fans of his fantasy novels--and aspiring authors of their own. --Lacey Fain --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"If you don't think there is magic in writing, you probably won't write anything magical," Brooks asserts in this succinct and warmhearted autobiographical meditation on the writing life. He views his success as a miracle and credits editor Lester del Rey ("What he had given me was the kind of education young writers can only dream about") for his discovery and Tolkien for the inspiration that drove him to choose fantasy adventure as his medium. Brooks, who practiced law before becoming a full-time author, stills finds himself amazed that his The Sword of Shannara "sold in record numbers and changed the face of publishing," becoming the first fiction title to land on the New York Times trade paperback bestseller list. He still marvels that del Rey chose his first novel to prove that post-Tolkien epic fantasy could sell in vast numbers and that it launched a new generation of fantasy authors. Brooks often refers to his old mentor's sage advice ("Thinking about a book before you wrote it was as important as the writing itself") and promotes outlines ("You can either do the hard work up front or do it at the end"). He also discusses the disappointments encountered in a 30-plus-year career that has seen struggles with a novelization (Hook) and less than stellar sales for some works not connected to the Shannara empire; yet he keeps a positive attitude about the writer's never-ending quest, which requires "determination, instinct, and passion."
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey; Reprint edition (February 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345465512
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345465511
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #43,137 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Terry Brooks is the New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty-five books, including the Genesis of Shannara novels Armageddon's Children and The Elves of Cintra; The Sword of Shannara; the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy: Ilse Witch, Antrax, and Morgawr; the High Druid of Shannara trilogy: Jarka Ruus, Tanequil, and Straken; the nonfiction book Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life; and the novel based upon the screenplay and story by George Lucas, Star Wars(R): Episode I The Phantom Menace.(tm) His novels Running with the Demon and A Knight of the Word were selected by the Rocky Mountain News as two of the best science fiction/fantasy novels of the twentieth century. The author was a practicing attorney for many years but now writes full-time. He lives with his wife, Judine, in the Pacific Northwest.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A. Wolverton VINE VOICE on October 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Like Stephen King's book `On Writing,' `Sometimes the Magic Works' is part autobiography and part writing advice. Brooks addresses the general and the specific, teaching writers how to avoid some of the biggest blunders while growing and developing into a writer of more depth.
Brooks had a very interesting beginning. He was a lawyer for several years, yet when he decided to write, he wasn't interested in becoming a legal thriller writer like Grisham or Turow. He settled on fantasy. (By the way, Brooks advises that you write in as many genres as possible until you determine which genre is for you.) His first book, `The Sword of Shannara,' made publishing history by becoming the first trade paperback to make the New York Times Bestseller list. So it was a bed of roses for Brooks from that point on, right? Hardly.
`Sometimes the Magic Works' is valuable for the writing advice, but also for a glimpse into the writer's life and the journey that Brooks has taken. Readers will see Brooks as a passionate writer and a dedicated family man. (Yes, you CAN be both!) This is a book that all writers, regardless of their genre, will want to read.
197 pages
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Joe Sherry on March 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Terry Brooks is the author of the Shannara fantasy series. The series began in 1977 when The Sword of Shannara was published, the early books have been compared often with Tolkien. Sometimes the comparison was favorable, sometimes not. Brooks himself said that he wanted to tell an adventure story like Tolkien, but he had no intention of going into the linguistic detail that Tolkien is known for. The Shannara series has been on top of the bestsellers lists with each new volume in the series.
Sometimes the Magic Works is part memoir, part writing guide as written by Terry Brooks. He writes about how his first book was published, some of the difficulties in writing the book that would become The Elfstones of Shannara , and about the book adaptions of Hook (horrible experience) and The Phantom Menace (wonderful experience). The other half of the book focuses on tips and thoughts for aspiring writers. Brooks writes about things that a writer should do, what they should not do, and what works for Brooks himself. There is an interesting chapter about outlining (yes, an author talking about outlining is actually interesting). Brooks talks about how he has to outline the major plot and characters and while he believes it is an invaluable tool (and the reason he does fewer drafts of the book than many writers), he was at a conference and as he was extolling the virtues of outlining, fantasy author Anne McCaffrey (The Dragonriders of Pern, and author of dozens of books) leaned over and told him that she has never outlined anything in her life.
Sometimes the Magic Works is written with a very easy writing style, and feels almost conversational, as if an old friend is telling us some personal stories. This was a very interesting book to read and it was nice to get into the personal thoughts of one of my favorite fantasy authors.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Maine Character on September 16, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a difficult book to review since it's not quite clear what it is. The back cover calls it a "writing guide" in which Brooks "shares his secrets," his website calls it "200 pages of sage writing advice for the beginning and expert writer alike," and the introduction tells you what a craftsman Brooks is and how "Terry Brooks is going to tell you about craft." But in truth less than a third of the chapters are about craft, and Brooks actually apologizes for them. In fact, there's just one example of writing in the entire book.

It's also not a full memoir, but simply a collection of essays on his experiences with the writing life. In that it's fine. It's very similar (though not as lyrical) as Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You in that it combines memoir with encouraging people to dream. It doesn't, though, come close to the depth or usefulness of King's On Writing or Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, both of which Brooks praises.

So the strange thing is, while I expected a book on craft, I actually looked forward to reading each day's chapter. Hardly ever dry or dull, Brooks comes across as sincere, smart, and humble. There's none of the arrogance of Sol Stein's books, but simply someone who got lucky doing the work he loves, and I enjoyed these essays.

In short, if you're totally new to writing and want a nice introduction to one author's experiences, it's fine.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Eric Wilson on November 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Shame on me, I know...I've never read a Brooks novel. As a writer, though, I was interested to read his insights on the writing life. The book looked readable. Helpful. Witty.
I wasn't disappointed. In fact, I read the entire thing in one evening. From peeks into the labor of the editing process to the debacle of writing the novelization of a movie, Brooks is honest and informative. He gives glimpses into his own beginnings and inspiration without seeming self-absorbed. He points future writers in the direction of hard work and quality craft. He offers a wonderful look into the joys of fiction.
Stephen King and Anne Lamott have written sublime books on the world of an author, and now Terry Brooks adds to the list a book worthy of his predecessors. If I had any doubts about his writing, I've now put those aside.
Time for me to grab one of his novels!
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