The Author's Process

The Writer's Practice: Justina Ireland

Hey. How do you feel about zombies?

Two years back, writer Justina Ireland launched this question at Balzer + Bray Executive Editor Jordan Brown. Ireland wasn't a publishing novice — Simon & Schuster had released several of her young adult titles — but she was coming out of a self-imposed hiatus, and a recent split with her agent. "I went back to the well and said, 'What do I love about this process?' I took a moment." And then she wrote another book, a post-Civil War American young adult novel. With zombies. 

The Writer's Practice: Justina Ireland

Katharine & Elizabeth Corr on Finishing the The Witch’s Kiss Trilogy with The Witch’s Blood

In March, sisters Kate and Elizabeth Corr finished their popular The Witch’s Kiss trilogy with its final installment The Witch’s Blood and faced some conflicting feelings. 

“On one hand, we’re really proud of what we’ve written, and kind of amazed that we’ve had three books published in less than two years,” said Kate of the fast-paced and character-driven Sleeping Beauty retelling.

“On the other hand, we’ve spent so much time with Merry and Leo and the rest of our characters— so much time in their world— that saying goodbye to them was really sad,” said Liz. “It’s sad thinking that we’ll probably never write about them again.” 

Katharine & Elizabeth Corr on Finishing the The Witch’s Kiss Trilogy with The Witch’s Blood

The Writer's Practice: Juliet McDaniel, Mr. & Mrs. American Pie

Palm Springs socialite Maxine Simmons thrums at a higher frequency than the rest of everyone. She's fierce and she's funny and she's fearless, the madcap heart of Juliet McDaniel's debut novel, Mr. & Mrs. American Pie. Though she won't arrive on bookshelves until August, Maxine's been around for years.

"Whenever I've had to be in a situation where I'm uncomfortable, I pretend to be someone like Maxine, over the top ridiculously confident " McDaniel told Spine. "She's been with me her whole life."

The Writer's Practice: Juliet McDaniel, Mr. & Mrs. American Pie

The Writer's Practice: Steve Kistulentz, Panorama

Twenty-first century America visually consumes cataclysmic events. A shooting, a plane crash, a terrorist attack — these tragedies we process through videos captured by strangers' cameras, presented to us by newscasters or posted by unknown users online. Watching, we may feel pain or horror or shock, but also we experience a disconnect, pulling these moments into our minds via screens. 

The Writer's Practice: Steve Kistulentz, Panorama

Q & A with Author / Literary Agent Eric Smith

Michigan-based author, blogger, and literary agent Eric Smith is no stranger to the public eye. A popular and engaging social media user, the New Jersey native regularly and enthusiastically interacts with his literary followers and has gone viral several times. 

Smith’s book-themed ramblings have appeared on Book Riot, Paste Magazine, Publishing Crawl, and Barnes & Noble’s blog. His own books have been published by Bloomsbury, Quick, and Flux. 

Smith, who began his publishing career in social media and marketing at Quirk Books, received his BA in English from Kean University and his MA in English from Arcadia University. 

He spoke to us about the intersection of his two equally compelling careers

Q & A with Author / Literary Agent Eric Smith

The Writer's Practice: Elizabeth J. Church, All the Beautiful Girls

In her second novel, All the Beautiful Girls, Elizabeth J. Church wanted to explore women's bodies, "how in our culture they've been abused, reviled, dishonored, glorified, objectified … all of those things," she told Spine. "The best vehicle I could think of was a Vegas showgirl."

The Writer's Practice: Elizabeth J. Church, All the Beautiful Girls

The Writer's Practice: Nafkote Tamirat, The Parking Lot Attendant

An enigmatic, charismatic, possibly dangerous parking lot attendant rules an empire of Ethiopian parking lot workers, inextricably tangled up with the Ethiopian community of greater Boston as well as a mysterious, decaying utopian commune on a tropical island. The narrator, an intelligent and emotionally isolated young woman, pushes her singular self forward through each community, at once insider and outsider, welcomed and expelled.

The Writer's Practice: Nafkote Tamirat, The Parking Lot Attendant

Will Mackin, Collecting his Experience as a Soldier in Bring Out the Dog

"We were walking across the desert. It's like walking across the bottom of the ocean, rolling dunes of sand." Former Naval officer and writer Will Mackin, author of the new short story collection Bring Out the Dog, is telling Spine what it felt like, what it looked like to serve in Iraq. What it was like to serve in Iraq during that one minute, on that one day, that one moment that was so surreal, so ugly and so beautiful and so "fucking weird," he took out his grease pen and wrote notes across his arm. So he wouldn't forget. So he could carry the moment forward.

Will Mackin, Collecting his Experience as a Soldier in Bring Out the Dog

The Writer's Practice: Nadia Hashimi

Nadia Hashimi's middle-grade novel The Sky at Our Feet is full of memorable characters. As the reader progresses through the book, three rise to prominence. Intelligent, impulsive Max struggles to balance the medical requirements of her seizure disorder with her desire to be independent. Jason D, thoughtful and tenacious, races to find his aunt, hoping together they can save his Afghan mother from deportation. As Jason and Max scramble around New York, the city takes on a spirit of its own, becoming as integral to the narrative as the two children.

The Writer's Practice: Nadia Hashimi

The Writer's Practice: Rebecca Kauffman

Writing her first novel, Another Place You've Never Been, Rebecca Kauffman figured out what kind of writer she was: a slow one. She wrote a paragraph a day, and couldn't write more. She struggled, too, with stress and anxiety. Why was she spending so much time on this project, this fictional thing that might, only might, someday become a book?

The Writer's Practice: Rebecca Kauffman

The Writer's Practice: Jen Campbell

With words, Jen Campbell has constructed a life. For 10 years, the UK-based writer and vlogger worked as a bookseller. She creates original book-centric content for her YouTube channel and its nearly 40,000 subscribers. She teaches writing workshops and has published six books, including her first two works of fiction, out last fall. 

The Writer's Practice: Jen Campbell

Ben Dolnick on Writing The Ghost Notebooks

In the course of writing The Ghost Notebooks Ben Dolnick pondered ghosts: Should they be an imagined manifestation of his main character's grief? Should they be real? He wrote and rejected 100,000 words. Pounded his head against the wall (figuratively). Paced and muttered into a Dictaphone, in circuits around his backyard. Paced and muttered into a Dictaphone, in circuits around New York.

Ben Dolnick on Writing The Ghost Notebooks

The Writer's Practice: Ashley Woodfolk

No writing during the week = no fun on the weekend. That's how author Ashley Woodfolk gets it done.

Woodfolk's first book, the YA novel The Beauty That Remains, releases on March 6 and she has two more books in progress. At the start of each week, she sets a writing goal. Because she works full time for a children's book publisher, she has to wake up early early early if she wants to write. She's not fond of early early early, but she is fond of hanging out with her friends. So she bribes herself. Get up early. Do the writing. Enjoy the weekend.

The Writer's Practice: Ashley Woodfolk

The Poet's Practice: Dorothea Lasky

First, a thought. Or a dream, a happening, an itch, a longing, an aversion, a quickening, a word. Then a poem, and after more time and more poems, maybe one adheres to another, and that to another still, and eventually an idea of poems together. A book.

This is how it happens, a book of poetry. Can happen. Might.

The Poet's Practice: Dorothea Lasky

Open Letter Books, Translating Stories from Acquisition to Publication

Open Letter Books brings world literature to English-language readers. Working in conjunction with the University of Rochester's Literary Translation Studies program, the nonprofit press publishes ten titles a year. To explain how Open Letter moves a title from acquisition to publication, Publisher Chad W. Post walked Spine through the process on two recent titles.

Open Letter Books, Translating Stories from Acquisition to Publication

The Writer's Practice: Aimie K. Runyan

Aimie K. Runyan has been drawn to historical fiction for most of her life. It “has the ability to transport you through time and space, where contemporary fiction has less of that. It requires so much more description, and makes the writing so much more vibrant, which is one of the joys, and challenges, of the genre,” said Runyan. In her latest book, Daughters of the Night Sky, Runyan takes the reader to the front lines of World War II in Soviet Russia, and tells a tale of war, flight, and women’s rights.

The Writer's Practice: Aimie K. Runyan

Emily Midorikawa & Emma Claire Sweeney on Writing A Secret Sisterhood

A Secret Sisterhood explores four literary friendships: between Jane Austen and her brother's playwriting employee Anne Sharp; between Charlotte Brontë and her strong-minded schoolmate, feminist writer Mary Taylor; between George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe, American author of Uncle Tom's Cabin; and between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield, whose complicated friendship other biographers have reduced to rivalry.

Emily Midorikawa & Emma Claire Sweeney on Writing A Secret Sisterhood

The Writer's Practice: Felicia Yap

In her first novel, the high-concept thriller Yesterday, Felicia Yap explores memory and its effects on relationships. Half the book's characters are "Duos," who can only remember the last 48 hours. The remaining characters remember even less; "Monos" only recall yesterday. While characters constantly write in journals ("iDiaries") to save present details for future review, in many ways their lives are a constant surprise.

The Writer's Practice: Felicia Yap

Akemi Dawn Bowman, Exploring Emotion with YA Novel Starfish

Messy family dynamics. Social anxiety. Abuse. Healing. As a teenager, Akemi Dawn Bowman struggled through all of it. Looking back, she realized a book addressing these difficult experiences would have helped. So she wrote it.

 Akemi Dawn Bowman, Exploring Emotion with YA Novel Starfish

The Writer's Practice: Peter Manseau

To write the story of 19th century charlatan photographer William Mumler is to write much of the story of the American 19th century itself. In Peter Manseau's latest book The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln's Ghost, the award-winning author tells many tales: of the rise of photography, of the development of a distinctly American popular culture, of a nation left grieving in the wake of the Civil War, of a people aching for something to believe in — and finding it in Spiritualism and in William Mumler's "spirit photography." 

The Writer's Practice: Peter Manseau

Spine Podcast, Bonus Episode: Erika Swyler

We’re taking a break from our usual design discussion to bring you this bonus episode. 

Earlier this year when we were developing this podcast we took a look at several different formats for the show. One of the thoughts we had was to discuss with authors the process of bringing one of their books to life. Which led us to record an interesting conversation with author Erika Swyler. Erika's first novel was the Book of Speculation. She has a fascinating story to tell as to how she became involved with the pitching process for that book. We also talked to her about writing, and a little bit about her current project.

Spine Podcast, Bonus Episode: Erika Swyler

The Writer's Practice: Linda Sue Park

Raffa, the short-statured, brave-hearted hero of Linda Sue Park's Wing & Claw trilogy, possesses the encyclopedic knowledge of flora required of a young apothecary. He easily recalls each plant's physical and medicinal properties, and comprehends how best to combine and manipulate to achieve the desired affects in human subjects. But Raffa holds something more inside him than most "pothers." Witness: 

"[Raffa] pounded the stem and leaves of the scarlet vine to a pulp, then added some to the poultice. As he stirred, the paste began to take on a gentle vermilion glow, and in his mind he heard something that sounded like a faraway cowbell … ."

The Writer's Practice: Linda Sue Park

The Writer's Practice: Tor Udall

Kew Gardens, the historic, 299-acre botanical garden in southwest London, sits at the heart of Tor Udall's first novel, A Thousand Paper Birds. The main characters — a widowing musician, a struggling origami artist, a grief-stricken linguist, a curious child, and a quiet gardener — push through time, through grief, even through the porous borders separating the living from the dead. As their narratives intertwine, the characters crisscross Kew Gardens, from memorial bench to glasshouse, from woodland to pond. 

The Writer's Practice: Tor Udall

Rachel Khong on Writing Goodbye, Vitamin

Ruth Young arrived first. The 30-year-old sonographer showed up before her ex-boyfriend and before her younger brother. She even arrived before her parents: her mother, recently obsessed with vitamins; her recovering alcoholic, philandering, history professor father, battling Alzheimer's disease. All these characters play central roles in Rachel Khong's first novel, Goodbye Vitamin, but first, said Khong, came Ruth.

Rachel Khong on Writing Goodbye, Vitamin