The Author's Process

Writing in Full Contact with the World: Hanif Abdurraqib on A Fortune for Your Disaster

Poet and writer Hanif Abdurraqib strives to pursue whatever curiosities are in his mind when he sits down to write. The end result this time around is his latest poetry collection A Fortune for Your Disaster, exploring grief, change, heartbreak, history, and moving forward. Fortune, out this month from Tin House Books, is his second poetry collection, following 2016’s The Crown Ain’t Worth Much. 

Writing in Full Contact with the World: Hanif Abdurraqib on A Fortune for Your Disaster

Melanie Benjamin on Writing Mistress of the Ritz

In Mistress of the Ritz, Melanie Benjamin’s most recent novel (May, Delacorte Press), Benjamin takes one of the most popular and captivating eras for historians, both professional and amateur, World War II, and shines a light on two individuals who remained in the shadows: Blanche and Claude Auzello. As caretakers of the Hôtel Ritz in Paris, hub of elegance and glamour, they had the awesome responsibility of keeping face for the Nazis while plotting subterfuge.

Melanie Benjamin on Writing Mistress of the Ritz

A Conversation with Peter Mendelsund on Writing

In recent years, Peter Mendelsund has been shifting his career from designing books to writing them. The former Associate Art Director of Alfred A. Knopf already has a couple of non-fiction titles to his name – What We See When We Read and Cover, with another, The Look of the Book, on the way – and has now stepped into fiction with Same Same, a twisting metafictional meditation on creativity. We asked him a few questions about this latest adventure between the covers.

A Conversation with Peter Mendelsund on Writing

Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg Discusses Her Novel, The Nine

Inspired by the biblical story of Hannah, who finally has a son, Samuel, after years spent longing for a child, author Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg set out to write a story about the relationship between a mother and son. Set within the walls of fictional elite boarding school Dunning Academy, Blasberg’s The Nine (She Writes Press) reflects on the relationship of Hannah Webber and her only child, a son named Sam. Hannah has kept a close eye on Sam, being involved in his life and school as much as possible. Although she struggles with the desire to keep her son at home, Hannah believes that in order to give Sam the best education, he must become a student at Dunning  

 Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg Discusses Her Novel, The Nine

Dr. Aysha Akhtar on Developing Her Book, Our Symphony with Animals

Dr. Aysha Akhtar made her first foray into non-academic writing with Our Symphony with Animals: On Health, Empathy, and Our Shared Destinies (Pegasus Books, May 2019). Throughout her book, Dr. Akhtar weaves stories of interactions between humans and animals with science, human experience, and social history to draw assertions about the connection between humans and animals: how we interact, develop empathy from, and benefit from relationships with animals. 

Dr. Aysha Akhtar on Developing Her Book, Our Symphony with Animals

Blood, Sweat, and Fears: Meg Elison on Writing The Book of Flora

Released in April, Meg Elison's The Book of Flora (47North) wraps up her The Road to Nowhere trilogy. The post-plague society depicted in the book disrupts stereotypes of gender and sexual intimacy, and introduces new concepts of "normal" and hope for the future. Rife with gender fluidity, queer acknowledgement, and political undertones, The Book of Flora is, as Elison told Spine, “a call to action.” 

Blood, Sweat, and Fears: Meg Elison on Writing The Book of Flora

Dr. Anthony Mazzarelli on co-writing Compassionomics

Imagine this: You’ve been in the examination room at your doctor's office for nearly 30 minutes, waiting to review an abnormal test result. Your anxiety, already elevated by the news something is amiss, has only been heightened by the detached manner by which you were received, processed, and shuffled into the waiting area. The doctor arrives and the news is grim; your treatment will be painful and the odds do not look favorable for your complete recovery.

 Dr. Anthony Mazzarelli on co-writing Compassionomics

Authors Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb team up for Meet Me in Monaco

In France for the 1955 Cannes Film Festival, Grace Kelly just wants to escape the flash-bulb pops and overlapping questions of the paparazzi. When British press photographer James Henderson chases her into the struggling boutique of Sophie Duval, the perfumer offers to hide Grace from prying eyes and cameras. This encounter, which is the first link in Meet Me in Monaco’s chain of events, forever entangles the lives of photographer, movie star, and perfumer.

Authors Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb team up for Meet Me in Monaco

January Gill O’Neil, The Power of Poetry

Poet January Gill O’Neil, author of the fall 2018 release Rewilding, might not believe that poetry is ever necessarily on the side of power— but she does equate the two.

“Poetry is power,” O’Neil insists. “Making the choice to sit down and write or read a poem is power. It’s a choice. It’s self-care. It’s the start of a revolution. It’s change. Like a photo, a poem captures a moment. And that is powerful.” 

The Cave Canem fellow has been published widely to much critical acclaim, including in The New York Times Magazine, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day series, American Poetry Review, New England Review, Ploughshares and Ecotone, among others. In 2018, she was awarded a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant, and from 2012-2018, she served as executive director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival.

January Gill O’Neil, The Power of Poetry

Beginning To End: The Making of Hard Mouth, Part 1: Amanda Goldblatt

Beginning to End is a series from Spine following a book from writing through acquisition, design and on to publication and publicity. For our second "season," we're looking at Hard Mouth, Amanda Goldblatt's debut adventure novel about a woman facing—and sometimes fleeing from—her father's drawn-out battle with cancer. Counterpoint Press publishes the book this month. We begin the series by talking with Goldblatt.

Beginning To End: The Making of Hard Mouth, Part 1: Amanda Goldblatt

Lara Elena Donnelly on Writing the Amberlough Dossier Series

Set nearly a decade after Amberlough, after Cyril DePaul tipped over the first domino that led to the rise of a brutal fascist government—and five years since Armistice, since violent resistance to that government began in earnest—Amnesty, the conclusion to Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough Dossier, answers an often-ignored question: What happens once the revolution is over?

Lara Elena Donnelly on Writing the Amberlough Dossier Series

Scott Jurek, Venturing into the Wilderness for North

Scott Jurek ran 2,189 miles in just 46 days in 2015, and set a record for the Fastest Known Time attempt for the Appalachian Trail. That's an average of about 50 miles a day. Or, in more comprehensible terms, 84 back-to-back marathons. He just did it.

In North, out last spring in paperback from Little, Brown Spark, Jurek and his wife, Jenny Jurek, describe the resilience and exhaustion on their plunge into the wilderness, and readers hitch a hike for the mucky ride. The Jureks portray what becomes possible when you work to make a dream into a manifestation.

Scott Jurek, Venturing into the Wilderness for North

Mamta Chaudhry on Creating & Editing her Novel, Haunting Paris

While walking along Quai d’Anjou in the Parisian neighborhood of Île Saint-Louis with her husband, Mamta Chaudhry glanced—as she had developed a habit of doing—at the lighted windows of the homes they passed. From one of those windows drifted softly played music, and Chaudhry began to envision what kind of life the people who lived there led.

With that piece of music echoing in her ears, she imagined the voice of Julien, a ghost who watched over his still-mourning lover Sylvie from the banks of the Seine below her window. Julien spoke the words that would later become the first page of Chaudhry’s debut novel.

Mamta Chaudhry on Creating & Editing her Novel, Haunting Paris

Devi Laskar on Creating Her Debut Novel, The Atlas of Reds and Blues

When she was accepted to a California writers' workshop in 2004, author Devi Laskar wanted to dust off an old short story she had written about arranged marriage. However, a good friend from graduate school, who was also attending, insisted she write something new. 

“So I wrote a family story about a woman and her kids and her dog,” Laskar explained. “I was torn between my love for The House on Mango Street — and my desire to emulate it — and my years of training as a reporter.” 

Devi Laskar on Creating Her Debut Novel, The Atlas of Reds and Blues

Lisa Grunwald Discusses Writing Time After Time

On a 1937 December morning, as sunrise light streams through the high, arched windows of Grand Central Terminal, Joe Reynolds spots an out-of-place young woman near the station’s famous gold clock. After coming to the woman’s aid, Joe learns three things: Her name is Nora Lansing, she’s a wealthy Manhattan socialite, and she absolutely captivates him.

This serendipitous meeting begins an unlikely love affair that defies both time and tragedy. As Joe and Nora find each other again and again, they slowly unravel the mystery surrounding Nora’s strange circumstances even as the threads of their lives wind tighter together.

Lisa Grunwald Discusses Writing Time After Time

Scott Carney on Writing What Doesn’t Kill Us

Wim Hof, “the Iceman,” practices cold exposure in order to accomplish incredible feats: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts, for example. He also holds the world record for a barefoot half marathon above the Arctic Circle, and standing in an ice cube-covered container for more than 112 minutes. 

Reporter Scott Carney’s investigative and participatory journalism book, What Doesn’t Kill Us, delves into Hof's methods, and explores how far humans have strayed from our evolutionary roots and the implications that has on our health. "The developed world—and, for that matter, much of the developing world—no longer suffers from diseases of deficiency," he told Spine. "Instead we get the diseases of excess.” 

Scott Carney on Writing What Doesn’t Kill Us

Spencer Hyde, Drawing on Personal Influences for Waiting for Fitz

From wedding ceremonies to hand washing, if society understands the reasons behind an action, it is considered "normal." In his new book, Waiting for Fitz, Spencer Hyde tells the story of Addie, a teenage girl struggling with OCD. She is admitted to a psychiatric ward where she finds friendship with a schizophrenic boy named Fitz. Together the two learn about love, forgiveness, courage and who they are in the space between "normal" and their own atypical reasoning.

Spencer Hyde, Drawing on Personal Influences for Waiting for Fitz

Marjan Kamali, Exploring Iranian Culture for The Stationery Shop

In The Stationery Shop, Marjan Kamali tells the story of a romance that reaches far beyond its origins and across the span of the characters’ lives. Amidst growing political turmoil in their home of Tehran, Roya and Bahman do not expect to fall in love amidst the books of their local stationery shop, let alone find their entire lives changed by it. Little do they know, this will also be the year that Prime Minister Mossadegh is removed from power with the assistance of the American government. 

Marjan Kamali, Exploring Iranian Culture for The Stationery Shop

Ulli Lust, on How I Tried to Be a Good Person

Ulli Lust, a 2013 Los Angeles Times book prize winner for her graphic novel Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life, is revisiting her past with her newest book How I Tried to Be a Good Person. The graphic novel is a memoir, like Lust's first book, and according to Fantagraphics is “a story of sexual obsession, gender conflict, and self-liberation.” 

Ulli Lust, on How I Tried to Be a Good Person

Amy Chu & Janet K. Lee, Bringing Sea Sirens to Life

Last year, graphic novel sales drastically outpaced the growth rate of other print publishing. More and more readers are drawn to the marriage of art and storytelling that goes into books like Sea Sirens, a new middle-grade novel about a Vietnamese-American surfer and her water-loving cat. Spine sat down with Eisner Award-winning illustrator Janet K. Lee as well as writer and co-founder of Alpha Girl Comics Amy Chu to talk about bringing their graphic novel to life.

Amy Chu & Janet K. Lee, Bringing Sea Sirens to Life

Nafiza Azad Discusses Writing The Candle and the Flame

Nafiza Azad has always been annoyed by Shakespeare’s “What’s in a name?” question. 

“It centers the Western perspective as the only one that matters,” the YA author explained. “[But] a name has all sorts of meanings and functions in different cultures around the world.” 

This fact is reflected in the city of Noor, the setting of Azad’s diverse debut novel The Candle and the Flame. Names play a prominent role in the novel, as the main character Fatima, one of the few people left in Noor after a tribe of djinns slaughters the human residents, acquires the power to divine the true names of djinn. “Names for the djinn are very important,” Azad said. 

Nafiza Azad Discusses Writing The Candle and the Flame

Dea Poirier, on Perfecting her Craft with Next Girl to Die

It may have only taken Dea Poirier six weeks to write, but when Next Girl to Die came out last month, it was the culmination of years of hard work. Perfecting her craft and following her passion for connecting with people led to this debut novel, in which Detective Claire Calderwood must battle emotions from her past while trying to hunt down a ritualistic serial killer.

Dea Poirier, on Perfecting her Craft with Next Girl to Die

Author Ayesha Harruna Attah Delves into Her Past for The Hundred Wells of Salaga

When Ayesha Harruna Attah learned of her enslaved great-great grandmother, only known as “slave,” she wanted to give her a voice that had previously been denied. The origin story of her book, The Hundred Wells of Salaga (Other Press), comes from this personal family history, as well as years of research and writing to get it right.

Author Ayesha Harruna Attah Delves into Her Past for The Hundred Wells of Salaga

Casey McQuiston on Writing Red, White & Royal Blue

An idea hit writer Casey McQuiston while driving on the I-10 off-ramp, and she couldn’t ignore it. That idea was the seed of Red, White & Royal Blue, out now from St. Martin’s Griffin. She did what any good millennial writer with a day job could be expected to do. “I got to work, sat down at my work computer, and G-chatted my best friend. I said, ‘I need you to sit down and listen to this for a second.’” Characters and names tumbled rapidly to the top of McQuiston’s mind, and it flowed so naturally. “This is the one,” she thought. After considering starting so many books and waiting for an idea to grab her, she knew she had found the concept and cast of characters for her first novel.

Casey McQuiston on Writing Red, White & Royal Blue