The Author's Process

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

The Writer's Practice: Sarah Krasnostein

Efficiently and profitably, Sandra Pankhurst runs Specialized Trauma Cleaning Services in Melbourne, Australia. She leads her crew into the splattered aftermaths of various deaths, criminal and otherwise, and through the homes of hoarders, where her employees dig through walls of garbage while Pankhurst delicately, expertly, respectfully, kindly keeps the homeowners physically and mentally on task.

The Writer's Practice: Sarah Krasnostein

The Writer's Practice: Lara Elena Donnelly

Tropical Porachis, complex and intrigue-addled, is economically powered by a thriving film industry that at once dazzles and distracts from real-world political drama. The imagined country serves as stage for Lara Elena Donnelly's Armistice, the second book in her Amberlough Dossier series. On her publisher's website, she describes Porachis as "Golden Age of Hollywood-does-Bollywood, with a side order of In the Loop."

But how do you get to Porachis? Donnelly arrived via character.

The Writer's Practice: Lara Elena Donnelly

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