The Author's Process

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

The Writer's Practice: Lilliam Rivera, Dealing in Dreams

Sixteen-year-old Nalah, AKA Chief Rocka, leader of the all-girl Las Mal Criadas crew and the heart of Lilliam Rivera's new YA novel Dealing in Dreams, is blinded by her vision of life in Mega Towers. The Towers, three giant and luxurious concrete apartment blocks, loom over the residents of Mega City. All of Nalah's actions on the streets — running curfew patrols, punishing stragglers, fighting other crews in public showdowns — are aimed at earning the favor of Déesse, the city's beloved leader, and a home in the Towers for Las Mal Criadas.

The Writer's Practice: Lilliam Rivera, Dealing in Dreams

Rebecca McLaughlin on Writing Confronting Christianity

Before writing her debut book, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World's Largest Religion, Rebecca McLaughlin had written a variety of articles for online faith-focused platforms. With the book she wanted to address a broader audience, and to tackle her own faith head-on. In doing so, she took on not only a personal spiritual challenge, but a writing challenge as well. McLaughlin told Spine she set out to take a deep look at the arguments that could be significant barriers to belief, positioning her book as a litmus test of modern Christianity.

Rebecca McLaughlin on Writing Confronting Christianity

Mallory O’Meara on the Process of Writing The Lady From The Black Lagoon

Mallory O’Meara, author of The Lady from the Black Lagoon, was a 17-year-old self-proclaimed “horror geek” when she first saw the Creature From The Black Lagoon. She was captivated, and did what she typically did when something caught her curiosity: investigate everything she could about the movie, the director, the actors, how they filmed the underwater scenes, and of course, the Creature. In her research, she came across a single black-and-white photo of a glamorous woman with dark hair and captivating smile, painting the mask of the Creature. The photo caption identified Milicent Patrick, animator and creature designer. It was several years before O’Meara came to learn that in 1950s Hollywood, a woman monster designer was a very rare thing.

Mallory O’Meara on the Process of Writing The Lady From The Black Lagoon

Interview with Miles Harvey & Emily Olson-Torch On The Garcia Boy by Rafael Torch

DePaul University’s nonprofit Big Shoulders Books press disseminates, free of charge, quality works of writing by and about Chicagoans whose voices might not otherwise be shared. The press is primarily run by students in the university's MA in Writing and Publishing and undergraduate English programs. Their most recent release, The Garcia Boy, shares the story of the late award-winning essayist and educator Rafael Torch, son of an undocumented Mexican immigrant. 

Interview with Miles Harvey & Emily Olson-Torch On The Garcia Boy by Rafael Torch

Author Roselle Lim on her Debut Novel, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck & Fortune

“A horned lark perched on the concrete balcony outside my window, framed against the colorful paifang of Montreal’s Chinatown.” So begins Filipino-Chinese author Roselle Lim’s debut novel, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, out in June.

The average reader may be swept away by the language and beautiful imagery of the first page of Lim’s novel, without a thought as to how much time, effort, and care went into crafting that first sentence. “The first line, to me, is extremely important. It needs to convey the voice, the tone, and the footing of the new book,” Lim said. “It took me until about the third round of revisions to get the line just right for Natalie Tan.” Lim considers the first line of a novel the entry point for a journey, one that sets the reader’s expectations for the entire novel moving forward. 

Author Roselle Lim on her Debut Novel, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck & Fortune

Lindsey Drager on Writing The Archive of Alternate Endings

In The Archive of Alternate Endings, author Lindsey Drager has penned a historical fiction which follows the 75 to 79-year passes of Halley’s Comet and answers the questions: What things change? What stay the same?  

Expertly crafted, The Archive of Alternate Endings weaves stories of our past with fantastical peeks into the future, at a rapid pace. Blending fact with fiction is challenging. Writing it so that the reader believes it as all true is an art. “Historical fiction is speculative … in the vast majority of cases it is our own brains that fill in gaps," Drager told Spine. “If you are going to speculate history, it should be for a good reason.” She did just that, by touching upon important moments in history and reminding us that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Lindsey Drager on Writing The Archive of Alternate Endings

Melissa Rivero, Developing her Debut Novel, The Affairs of the Falcóns

Melissa Rivero's debut novel The Affairs of the Falcóns, published April 2 by Ecco, centers on Ana, an undocumented Peruvian immigrant, as she navigates work and motherhood and marriage, intrafamilial classism and colorism, and 1990s New York City, all while managing a growing debt load and avoiding deportation.

Moving along a chronological path interspersed with flashbacks, the novel is written in close third-person. Readers follow Ana as she progresses through her life, just as Rivero followed Ana as she progressed through her writing.

Melissa Rivero, Developing her Debut Novel, The Affairs of the Falcóns

Anne Ursu, on Writing The Lost Girl

A lightning bolt — that is how most of Anne Ursu’s previous books came to be; a jolt of inspiration and the pieces fell into place. Her latest middle-grade novel, The Lost Girl, however, was more sculpting than lightning. “I had to keep chipping away at it, shaping and reshaping until I found its form,” said Ursu.

In 2014, Ursu had the idea of writing a novel about watching someone you care about struggling at school. Identical twins seemed like the perfect way to tell that story and so characters Iris and Lark were born. Ursu added magic, fairy tales, summer camp, female identity, and a chalkboard sign that read “Alice, Where are you?” which she’d once passed in her car. Then she let the idea sit and waited for lightning to strike.  

Anne Ursu, on Writing The Lost Girl

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