The Author's Process

Mira Jacob, The Creation of Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations

Back in 2014, writer Mira Jacob's six-year-old son Z became obsessed with Michael Jackson. He wanted to dance like Michael, he wanted to look like Michael, and what began as Z's questions about his pop-star obsession spread into deeper questions about skin and color and race and family. Jacob is East Indian and her husband is Jewish, and Z wanted to understand who he was.

When Z learned about the killing of Michael Brown, a black man shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, the questions grew more complex, and carried fear.

Mira Jacob, The Creation of Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations

Kris Waldherr on Book-Publicity Efforts for The Lost History of Dreams

Writer Kris Waldherr's novel The Lost History of Dreams launches from Atria Books next month. The book, best if not fully described with the genre-centric words "romance," "Gothic," and "mystery," follows post-mortem daguerreotypist, historian and widower Robert Highstead as he seeks to carry out a cousin's dying wish, a quest that pushes him through his own grief into someone else's ghost-infused love story.

Like all 21st century authors, Waldherr is working hard alongside her publisher's publicity team to create advance buzz around her novel, and is tapping into her full skill set to do so. "I'm both a designer and an author," she told Spine. "I'm using all my design mojo to help my novel fly in the world."

Kris Waldherr on Book-Publicity Efforts for The Lost History of Dreams

Positively Un-Precious: The Writing Practice of Alison Stine

When The Kenyon Review published Alison Stine’s essay “On Poverty” on Leap Day of 2016, the Appalachian author’s commentary on classism in the writing world-- a piece full of bite but avoiding vitriol--went viral. Like, really viral. Stine’s work has appeared in publications typically associated with the literary elite (read: writers who got a head start): The Paris Review, The Atlantic, The Nation, Tin House, and others. Two years after “On Poverty” made its debut, SPINE caught up with Stine, whose novel The Grower will appear from Mira in fall 2020. 

Positively Un-Precious: The Writing Practice of Alison Stine

Lynne Kelly on the inspiration & writing of Song for a Whale

Lynne Kelly’s middle-grade novel, Song for a Whale, grew organically. The main character, Iris, is a 12-year-old Deaf girl who feels isolated from her school and family. Since Kelly is a sign-language interpreter you might assume her goal was to capture the experience of a Deaf character, but you would be wrong. Much like her award-winning first novel, Chained, it began with an animal; in this case a whale.  

Lynne Kelly on the inspiration & writing of Song for a Whale

Karen Thompson Walker Discusses Process for Writing The Dreamers

Author Karen Thompson Walker's new novel The Dreamers, out last month, is set in the fictional college town of Santa Lora, California, where a mysterious virus has arrived in a college dorm, placing its victims in a perpetual dream state. Soon, the disease extends outside the dorm walls. The book wraps readers in a tranquil dream while keeping them turning the pages to uncover the cure.

Karen Thompson Walker Discusses Process for Writing The Dreamers

Andrew Grant, Creating a Champion for the Underdog & Writing Invisible

With his eighth book, Invisible, out this month from Ballantine, Andrew Grant wanted to appeal to a wide range of readers while balancing the complexities of uncertainty, surprise and action. His approach was to create a hero who “very much resonated within the time that we live in, a hero that was most suited for current times.” Protagonist Paul McGrath comes home to New York City after many years away as military intelligence officer, a career that alienated him from his pacifist father. He arrives too late for reconciliation. His father died under questionable circumstances, and the man police believed responsible walked away during the trial due to a legal technicality. In an attempt to find the truth about what happened to his father, and gain access to restricted areas within the courthouse, McGrath, whose motto is the only constant is change, takes a job as a courthouse janitor.

Andrew Grant, Creating a Champion for the Underdog & Writing Invisible

Clémentine Beauvais on the Inspiration & Development of In Paris With You

This month sees the US release of Clémentine Beauvais’ best selling French novel, In Paris with You. Told in verse, this tender and funny book is the story of Eugene and Tatiana, whose teenage romance fails, only to be rekindled when they meet again ten years later. The novel has been a bestseller on French charts since it was published in 2016, selling 30,000 copies in the first three months, and reprinting three times in the first two. It is no surprise this beautifully written story has such appeal. It is infinitely relatable, yet utterly unique. Much like the story in the novel, the story of the novel also crosses time and geography.

Clémentine Beauvais on the Inspiration & Development of In Paris With You

Brandy Colbert Talks Writing, Journalism, And Teaching

Brandy Colbert wrote the contemporary YA Finding Yvonne to fill a space.

“I wanted to explore the life of an unapologetically sexual black teenage girl, which we don’t often see— at least, not without their lives being ‘ruined’ shortly thereafter,” Colbert said. 

The novel features a teen violinist forced to make a difficult decision when she becomes unexpectedly pregnant. National Book Award finalist Elana K. Arnold called it “a pitch-perfect song of a book about all the ways a heart can break and mend.”

Brandy Colbert Talks Writing, Journalism, And Teaching

Chaya Bhuvaneswar on Crafting White Dancing Elephants

Reading forward through a short-story collection, a reader hopes to be moved uniquely by each piece, but also to arrive at book's end having undergone a singular experience. Writer Chaya Bhuvaneswar's White Dancing Elephants, described by author Jimin Han (A Small Revolution) as a "daring mix of ancient, contemporary, and dystopic stories," provides such a cumulative read.

Chaya Bhuvaneswar on Crafting White Dancing Elephants

Author/Designer Hafsah Faizal on Writing We Hunt the Flame

What if the Hunger Games were set in a fantasy world?

Contemplating that question during a discussion with her sisters sparked the idea behind YA author and popular designer Hafsah Faizal’s debut, We Hunt the Flame, a YA novel that took “four years and many iterations” to complete.

We Hunt the Flame features a huntress masquerading as a boy, as well as the prince sent to assassinate her. Evelyn Skye, New York Times bestselling author of The Crown’s Game series, called the ancient Arabia inspired fantasy “danger, magic, and hope all wrapped into one.”

Author/Designer Hafsah Faizal on Writing We Hunt the Flame

Author Amy Bloom Details Her Process for Writing White Houses

Lorena Hickok was plain. Plain, Hick was, hardscrabble born just before the 19th century turned, risen up and away from her abusive father, away from South Dakota, into a career as a straight-spoken newspaperwoman, into the White House, into the bed of Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States. Plain Hick was, and straight she spoke, straight words, but as imagined and written by Amy Bloom, words also strong and compelling, language sometimes spare, sometimes sharp, often lovely like the lovely of a winter beach.

Author Amy Bloom Details Her Process for Writing White Houses

Justine Bateman on Writing & Designing Fame: The Hijacking of Reality

Justine Bateman absolutely, one hundred percent could have written a celebrity memoir. You know the ones with the catchy titles, the People Magazine prose, the quirky-but-always-pretty photos splashed across the front. One of those. Bateman could have written one — publishers were pushing her to write one — and you know, it would have been easy.

Justine Bateman on Writing & Designing Fame: The Hijacking of Reality

Julia Dixon Evans, Channeling Points of View for How To Set Yourself On Fire

In Julia Dixon Evans' debut novel How to Set Yourself on Fire, 30-something Sheila and her 12-year-old neighbor grow increasingly obsessed with letters to Rosamond, Sheila's recently deceased grandmother, from Harold, a lovestruck neighbor. While Sheila's voice provides the book's primary viewpoint, Harold's voice adds a second narrative rhythm.

Later in the book, Sheila, whose own life tends towards chaos, attempts to impose order by hanging the letters on laundry lines strung around her apartment. Evans's own creative process involved a similar moment of organizational imposition.

Julia Dixon Evans, Channeling Points of View for How To Set Yourself On Fire

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 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

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

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

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

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

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

Q & A with Sea Witch Author, Sarah Henning

“I never could quite escape the fact that I wanted to write books,” said former journalist-turned-novelist Sarah Henning. “I think it’s impossible for us to run away from who we really want to be…  Dreams don’t die even when we’re adults and have a mortgage and kids. Some people stuff those dreams down and let them rot in their guts and some of us go for it, even if it seems selfish or silly, though dreams never are. Anyone who tells you that you’re either of those things for going after what you want most likely has a big dream-shaped ulcer in their gut.”

Q & A with Sea Witch Author, Sarah Henning

Janet McNally Explores Fairy Tales, Ballet, & Addiction in The Looking Glass

Novelist Janet McNally’s latest book was inspired by her love for fairy tales and ballet. 

In The Looking Glass, Sylvie Blake’s older sister Julia disappears, leaving Sylvie struggling to live up to Julia’s legacy at the National Ballet Theatre Academy. With the help of their old storybook, Sylvie sets out to find her sister and ultimately learns that “the damsel in distress is often the only one who can save herself.” 

Janet McNally Explores Fairy Tales, Ballet, & Addiction in The Looking Glass