Sarah Smarsh on the Challenges of Writing Heartland

Each author struggles with her own worst stretch of creation. For some, fanning the spark of an idea into a fully formed concept stands out as most agonizing. Others get caught in the middle stages, struggling to find a way out of narrative tangles and research rabbit holes and multiple storylines. While each phase of her book Heartland had its challenges, writer Sarah Smarsh told Spine that the hardest might have been final edits—letting go of a book she’d worked on for some 16 years.

Sarah Smarsh on the Challenges of Writing Heartland

The Illustrator's Practice: Jeff Östberg

I was born in 1988 in a town called Kramfors in the northern parts of Sweden. It's a very small town so I spent a lot of my time drawing from a young age and I think growing up in a town like that has been important for my process. After college I moved to Stockholm to keep studying art and started with two preparing art schools followed by three years at Konstfack University of Art, Crafts & Design where I did a BA in Graphic Design & Illustration and graduated in 2013. Thereafter I had a year where I did a lot of music which I also love, went broke and started working in a store I hated so I kept building up my portfolio and webpage and some time after launching my page and posting stuff on Behance things started to move. Since then I've been working full-time illustrating.

The Illustrator's Practice: Jeff Östberg

Emily Mahon Discusses Designing the Cover of What If This Were Enough?

When the stars align and the universe is kind, an author’s voice aligns perfectly with a designer’s vision. Such is the story of Emily Mahon’s cover for What If This Were Enough by Heather Havrilesky. Mahon’s simple, no-nonsense, pearlized cover illuminates the humor, emotion, and topical scope Havrilesky brings to the page. And that, dear book lovers, is how all-time favorites are made.

Emily Mahon Discusses Designing the Cover of What If This Were Enough?

The Writer's Practice: K.M. Jackson, As Good as the First Time

K.M. Jackson has ideas, for books and books, for series upon series. "I have more ideas than I have time," said the author, whose romance As Good as the First Time launches this month. "The ideas come way too fast." Her new bulletin board is covered with ideas. "They come from the weirdest spots." Her Pinterest board is full of ideas. "The spark could come from anywhere."

The Writer's Practice: K.M. Jackson, As Good as the First Time

Joe Wilson, Using Illustration to Bring The Sealwoman's Gift to Life

The Sealwoman’s Gift is the debut novel by Sally Magnusson and I had the great pleasure of bringing the cover to life. The book is a story about loss and love, set during a true incident in Icelandic history in 1627, when Barbary pirates raided an Icelandic island and abducted the 400 inhabitants into slavery in Algiers. Working alongside Art Director Sara Marafini at John Murray publishers, we decided the contrast of these two settings was something we could use to create a beautiful cover to wrap this book in. I was provided with a package of reference material, including my own work, extracts from the novel and some ideas Sara had about the direction. From here I started to develop some very rough thumbnails to try and plot out a rough composition and idea for the piece.

Joe Wilson, Using Illustration to Bring The Sealwoman's Gift to Life

Christina Dalcher, on Developing her Debut Novel, Vox

With Vox, her debut novel, Christina Dalcher “wanted to create a story about a woman who studied language and yet didn’t speak up as the world changed around her and in the end lost her voice.” In the novel, women are limited to 100 words per day and the country must submit to a value system cruelly enforced by the government. The story of how such a world developed and how it is taken down is bold and riveting. The story of how the novel developed is no less intriguing.

Christina Dalcher, on Developing her Debut Novel, Vox

Jonny Pelham on Designing the Cover for Women Talking

Women Talking is based on a real event which happened in 2009 in which almost every woman and girl in a Mennonite village, regardless of their age or status, was raped, sometimes repeatedly, by their menfolk. Miriam Toews imagines a small group of these women gathering in a hay loft whilst the men are away, visiting the city, to discuss how they will continue to live their lives in the aftermath of their ordeal.

Jonny Pelham on Designing the Cover for Women Talking

The Writer's Practice: Paul Matthew Maisano, Bindi

A writer uses tools and techniques, creates outlines and charts that impose order on characters and places, chronologies and narrative flow. These things matter to the writer. These things are real and useful, and can be employed to manage multiple perspectives and geographies. These things, Paul Matthew Maisano relied on when he was writing his first novel Bindi.

The Writer's Practice: Paul Matthew Maisano, Bindi

Eric Wilder, Learning to Interpret Cover Design

Eric Wilder, book cover designer and publisher of Spine Magazine, recently designed the dynamic-yet-pristine cover for Learning to Interpret: Working from English Into American Sign Language for RIT Press. The cover, which features traditional letters as well as ASL ‘glyphs,’ encourages anyone who picks up the book to begin the work of interpretation right away, which was exactly Wilder’s intention. “Learning to Interpret is academic in nature and deals with interpreting in American Sign Language. My goal was to come up with a very clean yet engaging cover for the subject matter. And by engaging I mean, I wanted readers on some level to have to interpret the cover for themselves,” Wilder said.

Eric Wilder, Learning to Interpret Cover Design

Luke Bird explores Japanese design culture for Convenience Store Woman

I definitely have a bit of “shinnichi” in me. I love all-things Japan and am becoming fascinated by the culture, so I was delighted to get a chance to design this little gem of a novel for Portobello at the back-end of last year. 

Joyfully, the brief was particularly thorough and helpful. I noted the editor’s comparisons to Kawakami and Murakami, words like ‘sweet’, ‘charming’, ‘original’ and 'off-beat’. On the flip-side, though, this is a novel which tackles tougher subjects like loneliness and ‘the pressure to conform’. It suggested we try and achieve “Contemporary Japan. Unconventional woman. Supermarket setting. Prize-winning. Best-selling.”, and that we start by looking at brightly coloured Japanese food packaging and possible portraits of the story’s central character and narrator, Keiko.

Luke Bird explores Japanese design culture for Convenience Store Woman

Sister Act: Vanessa Bell's Daring Book Cover Designs

Every time you refer to her as Virginia Woolf’s big sister, Vanessa Bell rolls her eyes at you from the grave. An acclaimed modernist painter and founding member of the lauded Bloomsbury group, Bell also dominated the world of modernist book cover design. Bell was the queen of the unclean line, and her book covers were the visual manifestation of her sister’s uninhibited, musical prose. If you fear asymmetry, read no further. If you crave kinetic graphics and broken rules, carry on.

Sister Act: Vanessa Bell's Daring Book Cover Designs

Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott on Writing Swan Song

Author Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott’s start in screenwriting and directing fostered an early interest in adaptation.

“I was always interested in the art of adapting works of literature for the screen,” Greenberg-Jephcott said. She related a life-changing incident from 2006. 

“I was in a villa in Provence having received a fellowship for a Tolstoy adaptation I’d written, and was inspired by authors present to try my hand at prose fiction,” Greenberg-Jephcott recalled. “I had a childhood passion for Capote and was intrigued by the women he called his Swans, who kept cropping up in the Clarke and Plimpton biographies, as well as in Truman’s work. I knew what I had in mind for their collective and individual narratives was too expansive a tale for a feature film—even a series risked not fully capturing their unique voices.  I began what would become a ten year process of research and gestation.”

Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott on Writing Swan Song

The Writer's Practice: Mary Kubica, When The Lights Go Out

Novelist Mary Kubica's fifth thriller, When The Lights Go Out, launches this week. The best-selling author told Spine that each of her books starts with the flicker of an idea, which she fans from several angles to see if anything alights. "A book often begins with a small, subconscious spark of inspiration that's then molded in a very conscious way to see if the spark has legs," she said. "For When The Lights Go Out, that first spark was the twist itself, which was exciting because it's never happened for me this way. Usually I have no idea how my books will end, but only a beginning!"

The Writer's Practice: Mary Kubica, When The Lights Go Out

Author Minh Lê Collaborates with Illustrator Dan Santat for Drawn Together

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

When asked for advice on writing picture books, author Minh Lê offers up this quote, from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Wind, Sand and Stars. "Not that you have to go full Hemingway and write only in terse prose, but you should make sure that every word on the page serves a purpose," Lê told Spine. "Weigh yourself down with too many unnecessary words and there's a good chance your story will never take flight."

Author Minh Lê Collaborates with Illustrator Dan Santat for Drawn Together

Steve Leard on Designing Snow on the Atlantic

I was briefed by Dominic Fagan at Zed Books to create the cover for Snow on the Atlantic by Nacho Carretero. The book tells the story of Cape Finisterre and how this sleepy, windswept corner of Spain became the cocaine gateway to Europe.

Zed wanted the cover to look like an exciting history book, whilst avoiding any pirate clichés or featuring any cocaine on the cover.

Steve Leard on Designing Snow on the Atlantic

The Writer's Practice: Polis Loizou, Disbanded Kingdom

How does the co-founder of a theatre company create a novel that captures the tumult of coming-of-age in modern London? For Polis Loizou, Disbanded Kingdom developed like a collage.  

It began with Loizou’s journals written when he was 24 years-old. Like Oscar, Disbanded Kingdom’s main character, Loizou describes himself at that time as “bumbling and directionless.” The journals captured the emotional journey of discovering how he fit in the world after university, but turning that into a novel was a challenge.  

The Writer's Practice: Polis Loizou, Disbanded Kingdom

Cover Reveal! The Lost History of Dreams, Kris Waldherr

Acclaimed visual artist and author Kris Waldherr traffics in art and words, which is why the cover for her debut novel The Lost History of Dreams is just as packed with meaning as it is visually stunning. Everything--from the cover’s cryptic eye miniature and shadowy visage to its delicate lavender typeface--harkens back to Waldherr’s own evaluation of the novel itself: “The Lost History of Dreams is a novel built on images. Daguerreotypes of the dead and photographs of the living. Watercolor paintings of migrating birds. Eye miniatures created by secret lovers. Stained glass and forbidden dreams,” Waldherr said.

Cover Reveal! The Lost History of Dreams, Kris Waldherr

Luke Tredget on Writing His Debut Novel Kismet

Vacations, sunny and exotic. Refresh! Never-grumbly couples, undertaking hip adventures designed for two. Refresh! Gift-giving BFFS and stylish office mates and smiling babies and goofy but never ill-behaved pets. Refresh!

Social media keeps 21st century everybody hooked, with a finger always on the "refresh." But also, it keeps everybody stressed, spending more time measuring a life up against other lives than living it. "When you're being served a daily diet of pictures and videos of other people whose lives are seemingly more exciting and exotic than your own, it is only natural to question whether your life is all it could be," Luke Tredget told Spine. The author explores social-media-induced anxiety in his debut novel Kismet.

Luke Tredget on Writing His Debut Novel Kismet

The Writer's Practice: Mike Scardino, Bad Call

Half a century ago, Mike Scardino served as an ambulance attendant for St. John's Queens Hospital. In the late '60s, working an ambulance didn't require training beyond what the Red Cross (or in Scardino's case, the Boy Scouts) offered. The job paid better than anything else a young college student could earn on breaks, but it was brutal, physically and emotionally. 

The Writer's Practice: Mike Scardino, Bad Call