Online Novel Writing Class

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Are you writing a novel?

My Online Novel Writing Class is now open for enrollment.


Novel Writing Master Class: a 6-week online writing intensive featuring professional critique, weekly lectures and discussion forums, and informative, inspiring live video chats.


This class isn’t for everyone. Who qualifies?

  • Are you writing or revising a novel, or do you plan to begin one within the next two months?
  • Are you committed to writing or revising five to seven pages per week?
  • Do you want to hone the first fifty pages of your manuscript before sending the book out to agents and publishers?
  • Do you have questions about how to liven up the plot, find the best structure for your novel, create suspense, make the characters more complex, and write a memorable ending?
  • Have you found yourself “stuck” at any point in the writing of your novel-in-progress?
  • Have you struggled with beginning your novel?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, my Master Class in Novel Writing will help you reach your goals.

In this six-week course, you will:

  • Work on a specific project: a novel, novella, or novel-in-stories.
  • Get feedback from the instructor on up to eight pages of writing per week, a $750 value.
  • Participate in weekly discussion forums at your convenience?

What we’ll cover:

  • Crafting a compelling beginning
  • Creating and sustaining suspense
  • Structuring the novel
  • Understanding character motivation
  • Using associative writing and theme to enhance the plot
  • Writing a memorable, layered ending

During our three live video chats, you’ll be able to ask questions and discuss craft in real time. All of the Google hangouts will be recorded, so you can watch them at your convenience if you are unable to attend. You can also submit questions prior to the hangouts.


This course is taught by New York Times bestselling author, veteran writing teacher, and small press publisher Michelle Richmond.


  • October 7, 2015 – November 18, 2015. Google hangouts will be held on October 7, October 28, and Nov 18.
  • All course materials can be accessed for six months after the the class ends.
  • Remember, all Google hangouts will be recorded, so you can watch them at your convenience.
  • Please note: There will be no class the week of November 9.


When you enroll in this course, you’ll receive my feedback on up to 48 manuscript pages (a $750 value), in addition to all of the lectures, discussions, and Google hangouts.

If you’re serious about your writing and have been considering getting a professional critique of your work, the Fiction Master Class offers a great return on your investment.

Your page allotment is cumulative; if you miss a week, you can submit two weeks’ worth of writing to me for critique the following week.

Is this class right for you?

This master class in fiction writing is intended for:

  • writers who are writing or revising a novel or who have an idea for a novel they would like to write
  • writers who already have a grasp of the basic elements of narrative craft and are ready to explore craft on a deeper level
  • writers who are avid readers and passionate writers
  • writers who plan to participate in NaNoWriMo but prefer more structure and accountability

Class Structure & Benefits

  • The weekly lecture will address in-depth issues of fictive craft as they apply to the novel.
  • The forums will provide a place for students to discuss their work and their concerns with one another and with the instructor.
  • The Google hangouts will provide a live venue to ask questions and engage with the instructor.
  • Professional, in-depth feedback on your work from the instructor will help you craft or revise the beginning of your novel to grab the attention of agents and publishers.


After completing the course, you will have written or revised about 40 to 60 pages of your novel. You will have a clear idea of character motivation, how your novel should be structured, and what scenes need to be written. You will understand how your novel’s plot works within the context of your theme. You will have a compelling beginning, and you will have drafted an ending.


To receive professional feedback each week on your novel chapters, click here.

To sign up for the lectures, assignments, and Google hangouts (without professional critique), click here.


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Good News for the Book Business: Print sales on the rise, independent bookstores going strong

Alexandra Alter reports for the New York Times that a surprising thing has happened in the book business over the last couple of years (although perhaps not so surprising to longtime readers and booksellers): the sharp rise in ebook sales generated by early Kindle excitement has leveled off, and readers are returning to print.

Alter interviewed Steve Bercu, owner of BookPeople in Austin, TX, who credits his store’s profitable 2015, in part, to

the stabilization of print and new practices in the publishing industry, such as Penguin Random House’s so-called rapid replenishment program to restock books quickly…Penguin Random House has invested nearly $100 million in expanding and updating its warehouses and speeding up distribution of its books.

I’m thrilled that my longtime publisher is taking the lead on this. People say, “Oh, the Big 5 publishers never change,” and I constantly hear complaints that the New York publishing houses have their heads in the sand. But it sounds as though things are changing, and the publishers are finding ways to make print books more appealing–which is good for readers, good for authors, good for bookstores, and good for communities.

I’m fortunate to live in the Bay Area, home of dozens of thriving independent bookstores. At Kepler’s 60th anniversary party last week, lines were out the door. Green Apple, a mainstay of the Richmond district in San Francisco, opened a new branch on the other side of Golden Gate Park a couple of years ago, and it’s thriving. So too are Books Inc., The Booksmith, and many other bookstores in San Francisco, Marin, the East Bay, and Silicon Valley. Southern California has some fantastic indies too. On my Golden State book tour last year, I had the chance to read at Warwick’s, an amazing independent bookstore with a strong community following in LaJolla, as well as LA’s Vroman’s. And in the past, I’ve had the pleasure of reading at West Hollywood’s famous neighborhood store, Book Soup.

And it’s not just the Golden State where independent bookstores are going strong. The article notes: “The American Booksellers Association counted 1,712 member stores in 2,227 locations in 2015, up from 1,410 in 1,660 locations five years ago.”

I’m sure there are plenty of reasons behind the shift, but I have an inkling that one contributing factor may be a more even-keeled approach to e-book pricing. When publishers have control over the price of e-books, it levels the playing field for print books and, as a result, for brick and mortar stores. My books often cost the same in paperback as they do in e-book format. As a reader, given a choice between print and digital when the cost is the same, I’ll always choose print. E-books may still be very appealing in contrast to hardcovers, which often cost twice as much, but once a book comes out in paperback, the e-book has no real advantage unless you’re a traveler who doesn’t want the weight of books in your luggage or a minimalist who doesn’t want the bulk of books in your living space.

And while the chains may have trouble competing with Amazon, local independent bookstores offer readers, authors, and communities something that Amazon never can. I think that’s why they do so well. Go into Books Inc. Burlingame during holiday season, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc., and you’ll see people lining up to have their purchases gift-wrapped. On any afternoon after school, you’ll find kids reading on the bench seat in the children’s section. Earl, the manager, and all of the employees, will put just the right book in your hand if you’re not sure what your looking for.

Amazon can’t give you that experience, but neither can Barnes and Noble–which may be why smaller bookstores seem to be faring better than the chains. Nor can they mimic the experience of walking into Kepler’s and being greeted by the co-owner, Praveen Madden, who is always excited about something he’s reading and will tell you why. Nor can it rival, for an author, the joy of finding all of my books lined up, signed, on a shelf at Green Apple, with handwritten shelf talkers. (Below, the store’s owners: Kevin Hunsager, Kevin Ryan, and Pete Mulvihill).

Two Kevins & a Pete at Green Apple Books, image courtesy Green AppleGolden State book launch at Green Apple

That’s why I bristle at the idea that independent bookstores are quaint entities we need to “save.” They are vital, and they are strong businesses with sound business models: small spaces filled with the kind of books people want to read, staffed by avid readers who also happen to be great salespeople. Independent bookstores tend to be located in community centers. Books Inc., for example, has eight small but incredibly well-stocked and well-curated stores scattered throughout the Bay Area, all located in the middle of communities that have a lot of readers. Green Apple is in the heart of the inner Richmond, near neighborhood markets and restaurants. The Booksmith is in the heart of Haight Street, a neighborhood with constant foot traffic. And what serious reader in San Francisco can resist a trip to City Lights in North Beach? The fact is, ordering books from Amazon is no more convenient than purchasing from my neighborhood store, which is a five-minute drive from my house, gives me “same-day service” without the prime membership price tag, and pumps money back into my community.

I’ve got nothing against e-books, really. But, as my 10-year-old, child of digital everything, consumer of all things electronic except electronic books, says, “I like real books a million times better.”

Read Alter’s article, “The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip and Print is Far From Dead.”

photo of Books Inc. courtesy of Yelp

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5 Great Novels to Read This Fall

The RoomThe Room by Jonas Karlsson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A delightfully strange novel that brings to mind Kafka and Hrabal. When a narcissistic office worker named Bjorn discovers a secret room, his co-workers, who do not believe the room exists, ostracize him. While in the room, however, Bjorn does his best work, making himself indispensable to the company. The co-workers who despise him come to resentfully rely on him to keep their entire department relevant. A slim, tricky, maddeningly amusing novel that leaves many questions unanswered.

There Must Be Some Mistake: A NovelThere Must Be Some Mistake: A Novel by Frederick Barthelme
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Forgetful Bay reminds me a lot of the Gulf Coast, where I grew up. No one does Gulf Coast torpor–the heat and humidity and wrenching boredom of it–quite like Barthelme. Wallace Webster lives a quiet life, observing the strange goings-on and frequent deaths in this backwater community with a sharp eye and quick wit. I was reminded of the short story “The School,” by Barthelme’s brother Donald, in which a series of small animals dies, leaving a group of innocent children wondering, “Is death that which gives meaning to life?” As with “The School,” the crimes that befall Forgetful Bay become increasingly difficult to ignore.

Barthelme draws Webster’s relationships with the various women in his life–daughter, co-worker, and occasional lover–with tenderness and complexity. A wonderful novel by one of my favorite writers, whose work proves, again and again, that you don’t need a lot of pages to cover a whole lot of emotional ground.

Marta Oulie: A Novel of BetrayalMarta Oulie: A Novel of Betrayal by Sigrid Undset
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The 1907 novel by Norwegian writer Sigrid Undset, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in 1928, still holds up to scrutiny today. It is now, as it was then, a very modern novel. The subject–the interior life of a young married woman who desperately longs for a more passionate life–made waves in Norway upon its publication and has been translated for the first time into English. A beautifully written, deeply affecting journey into the mind of a woman struggling against convention.

Academy GirlsAcademy Girls by Nora Carroll
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When single mom Jane Milton, recently divorced, returns as a teacher to the stuffy boarding school where she spent her formative years, she is bombarded by sinister memories and shadowed by a former classmate. Moving back and forth between Milton’s senior year and her current life as a teacher, Academy Girls is a compelling mystery about how the crimes of the past echo into the future.

The New NeighborThe New Neighbor by Leah Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Delightfully creepy and quietly terrifying.

View all my reviews

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MFA Students in Creative Writing: Why You Should Never Make Your MFA Thesis Available Online

As an MFA candidate, you may think that the most important thing for you as a writer is “being read.” As someone who went down the MFA road in the nineties, and whose thesis formed the basis of my first book, I can tell you that longterm ownership of your creative work is far more important than the immediate satisfaction of being read.

It has come to my attention that some university libraries are requiring graduate students to make their theses available remotely “for educational purposes.” If your university has requested this, fight back and say no. The very purpose of MFA programs in creative writing is to prepare writers for a career in writing. During the course of the program, MFA candidates are expected to produce a “publishable book.” The moment you publish that book online for the benefit of your university library, you have taken away the motive for your future readers to purchase the book. Good luck finding representation with a literary agent, or sending out your book to publishers, or to first-book contests that seek “an unpublished work.”

If you’re an MFA student whose university has pressured you to make your book-length thesis available online, talk to your department head. Professors should be fighting on behalf of their students. I also encourage you to visit the Authors Guild for more information about copyright protection.

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Ocean Beach, San Francisco

5 Simple Everyday Habits to Increase Happiness

While no one can be happy every minute of every day, and while sadness has an important place in our emotional lives, we can cultivate happiness by creating a few simple habits and practicing them every day.

1. Make the beds every morning.

It’s difficult to maintain order in a house, especially if you have little ones. Even without children, the piles of papers, books, CDs, gadgetry, sports equipment, laundry–you name it–can be overwhelming. Which is why I make the beds every morning. It takes five minutes to make a bed, it gives you a small sense of accomplishment early in the day, and every time you walk into the bedroom, you are met with a small island of calm in the midst of the chaos. I prefer soft white bedding with pillowcases in a bright color or inviting pattern–all the more zen.

2. Read every evening.

I love reading alone, and I try to do it for a few minutes every evening while my husband and son are spending time together. But one of the great things about reading before bed is that it’s an easy ritual that can also be shared with children. When my son was small, after a long day I loved sitting in the bed with my son, the bed piled with books he had chosen. By the time we turned the last page on the last book, he’d be ready to have a glass of milk and go to bed. These days, he prefers to read to himself, but we still often read side by side in the evenings. There are so many things to distract from time spent with family, so many time constraints that can lead to stress and arguments; reading with my son is a way for us to be close to one another in an utterly contented, quiet way. It’s also when some of our best conversations happen, and when he asks some of his most endearing and surprising questions. As parents, most of us always feel that, in some way, we’re coming up short. But I feel happy knowing that my son loves reading, and that this is a pleasure he will likely carry with him through his life.

3. Wear something that makes you feel good.

It can be a pair of shoes, a favorite scarf, a beloved jacket from college–it really doesn’t matter. Just choose something that makes you feel good–better yet if it has some sentimental value. Even if your clothes feel a bit tight today and the lines around your eyes came as something as a shock in the mirror this morning, wearing one beloved item that you know looks good on you can give you confidence. I love to wear a gold chain with an emerald that my husband gave me for our fifth wedding anniversary; every time my fingers absently find the emerald, I remember the choice my husband and I made more than a decade ago to spend our lives together, and it makes me feel calm and happy. What’s your emerald necklace?

4. Say something kind to someone you love.

It’s easy to be polite to strangers. We all know to say please and thank you in public, to smile and open doors for others, to ask, “How are you?” Being nice is ingrained in American life; the balance of friendliness and formal politeness varies, of course, depending on region, upbringing, and personal style. But in the rush of daily activity, it’s easy to forget to extend the same courtesies to the people we love, the people we see each morning when we wake up and each night before we go to bed, the people with whom we share meals and bills and responsibility. My husband and I always take time for a kiss and a hug and a kind word in the morning before he leaves for work (it sounds very 1950s, I know, but as I work from home, and he wears a suit, I do send him off every morning, something like June Cleaver). I feel grateful to him for going to work week after week, year after year; and he feels grateful to me for packing lunches and getting our son dressed and getting him to school (and working); and we both like each other very much. If he looks good in that shirt, I tell him. If he made a particularly amazing batch of chocolate chip cookies (which he does pretty often), I let him know I appreciate it. He does the same for me, numerous times a day, in numerous different ways.

We both do the same for our son. Think of a typical day–how many times do you end up correcting your children, telling them to do this or don’t do that, explaining that if they don’t brush their teeth, the teeth will eventually fall out? It’s not bad parenting–it’s just the way of the world–there are a lot of things we have to tell our children. But how many times do you say, “That’s such a great idea,” or, “I love how imaginative you are,” or, “I had so much fun with you today,” or, my favorite, “You’re a great kid.” They need to hear it, and it’s easy to say. So, each day before you part with your family members in the morning, and again before you go to bed at night, be sure to say something kind. It will make them happy.

5. Go outside and breathe.

I need not wax lengthy or this one. Hot or cold, rain or shine, remember to look at a tree or a bird or some rocks or some wildflowers. The only time I found it hard to go outside and breathe was Beijing, circa 1998, because breathing the city air was like breathing soot. So I would take a cab to the Forbidden City, find a quiet spot, and do my sitting and breathing there. Now that it’s summer in Northern California, we have our meals outside as often as possible–on the deck, or down in the yard in a little tee-pee my sister made for my son. I love to step outside first thing it the morning, when the air is cool. There’s a sense of promise to the morning hours, a sense of the world waking up which we can easily forget if we run from house to car to work, without spending a moment in the outside world. My son likes to go down to the back yard (we live over a canyon, and getting to the back yard is something of a trek) and check to see if Rocky the Fast, his favorite chameleon, is scuttling around on the bottom step. It’s good to be reminded of a world that is bigger than we are, and creatures that are smaller than we are. Perspective breeds happiness.

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