The Author's Process

Mirabai Starr, Bringing Together Stories & Experiences to Write Wild Mercy

Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics is the recently released book by Mirabai Starr. Her latest contribution to the conversation on religion and spirituality presents us with a new perspective: the perspective of the divine feminine.

Starr’s translations of the mystics John of the Cross, Teresa of Ávila, and Julian of Norwich earned her much acclaim in the religion and spirituality genre. As an author, Starr, who teaches philosophy and world religions at the University of New Mexico-Taos, has largely focused on creative non-fiction and contemporary translations of sacred text. Wild Mercy is a hybrid of the two styles of writing.

Mirabai Starr, Bringing Together Stories & Experiences to Write Wild Mercy

A Conversation with Author Elizabeth McCracken on Writing Bowlaway

Elizabeth McCracken’s highly anticipated new novel Bowlaway is her first in 18 years. This is a character-driven piece which begins at the turn of the last century, and is focused on the fictional community of Salford, Massachusetts. Grand in scope, the novel covers generations — all affected, some tangentially, by the inexplicable appearance of Bertha Truitt’s unconscious body, along with a bag carrying a bowling candlepin, in a graveyard.

A Conversation with Author Elizabeth McCracken on Writing Bowlaway

Jane Healey on Research for The Beantown Girls and Women’s Stories in History

With her second work of historical fiction, Jane Healey knew that she wanted to highlight a story of lesser-known women. So when she came across the story of the Red Cross Clubmobile girls, American women who volunteered to bring a piece of home to soldiers in World War II, she was instantly drawn to them. The Red Cross Clubmobile girls became the subject of her new novel, The Beantown Girls, out last February from Lake Union.

Jane Healey on Research for The Beantown Girls and Women’s Stories in History

Ilima Todd on How She Developed Her Historical Romance, A Song for the Stars

Ilima Todd’s journey toward publishing her first historical romance, A Song for the Stars, out April 2 from Shadow Mountain, unfolded much differently than did her previous publishing experiences.

At the 2012 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference, Todd, then an unpublished author, mulled over the assignment her workshop class had been given: Write the first page of something you have always wanted to write. The story she wanted to tell had come to her immediately, and it was far from her chosen niche, very different from the young adult sci-fi that would become her first published novel.

Ilima Todd on How She Developed Her Historical Romance, A Song for the Stars

Wendy Meddour on Writing Children's Picture Book, Lubna and Pebble

Taking on a scary, big-world topic and writing it in a way that small readers can both relate to and find hope in is no easy task. That is exactly what Wendy Meddour set out to do in her latest picture book, Lubna and Pebble. While adults will immediately recognize the setting as a refugee camp, children will be captured by the triumphant creativity, resilience, and caring shown by one small child. 

Wendy Meddour on Writing Children's Picture Book, Lubna and Pebble

Matthew Phillion on Creating Magical Worlds for Poseidon’s Scar

Poseidon’s Scar, published in January, is the second book in Matthew Phillion's YA fantasy Echo and the Sea series. The book is drenched in mythology and woven into imagination. Phillion has cast Echo, a fierce young woman who stands her ground, confronts conflict, and has the ability to breath under water, because she’s an Atlantean princess. The city of Yacuruna is inspired by the yacuruna of South American folklore: hairy, backward-facing river monsters. These creatures are said to live in upside-down cities beneath the water's surface. They shape-shift into beautiful people, in order to lure humans into the water. After learning of the tale, “this had to be in my book” Phillion explained. It was no easy task, however, pulling readers below the river's surface, along with the characters, to a wondrous, hidden city. “Writing an upside-down underwater world was tough,” he told Spine.

Matthew Phillion on Creating Magical Worlds for Poseidon’s Scar

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