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

Courtesy Photo


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.” 

The Road to Nowhere was not, at first, meant to be a trilogy. Elison started with The Book of the Unnamed Midwife—originally meant as a standalone—but, in the process, began to develop thoughts on later generations in this post-apocalyptic world. Before the second book deal was even struck, Elison started writing the second book, The Book of Etta. None would be harder for her to write, however, than The Book of Flora


Elison described her typical writing process.

“I churn out the first draft in huge chunks, writing 10,000 words a day when I can get the time alone. I do not re-read or edit as I go, and I try not to talk too much about it in this stage. Then, I put the book away for six weeks or so. I put it out of mind, don't open the file, think about other things. Moving on to another project is the best and most complete way to do this. When the time has passed, I've got enough distance to look at it critically and start making it better. My drafts are typically light—a skeleton sketch, not fully fleshed out upon the page. I gain 10-20 percent of length in the second draft. I know many writers over-write, but I never have.

"I write first thing in the morning whenever possible. I like to set goals for myself: 500 words gets me a cup of coffee, for example. One thousand gets breakfast, and 2,000 earns me my freedom for the day. This sets up the rest of my day to feel productive and settled, and I don't fret about fitting in time to write. I fit my day to writing."

Once Elison finishes the solitary process of writing a first draft, she seeks feedback from her writing group or a beta reader, sometimes choosing a very specific reader who can offer her a particular perspective. After that round, she gets vocal.

"I read the entire book out loud or get my husband to read it to me. I catch errors that way that I'll never see in silence. I tune the prose, make the last changes, and get a feel for the book that doesn't come from any other method. I really recommend this to all writers. I read everything I write out loud."

At any point in the process, should Elison face writer’s block, she searches for underlying issues.

“Writer's block is a complicated question. I don't think it's a thing into itself. I think it's a symptom. … When I get stuck that way, I go looking for the reason why. When your sink doesn't drain, you don't assume something is wrong with the faucet. You look for the blocked pipe. I think about it like that, and get busy taking apart the trap”. 

While these steps have largely remained the same throughout the trilogy, Elison said The Book of Flora proved exceptionally difficult to write. 

The pinnacle novel for the trilogy was tumultuously written as the author struggled through a cracked molar, emotions brought up by America’s 2016 presidential election, and unprecedented stress to meet deadlines. “I struggled to write The Book of Flora the whole time. … Flora was the one time I really tore a book apart before it was finished. Those were terrible circumstances I hope never to repeat. … This series has always been about my worst fears, and some of them were confirmed and tinted a little darker that fall [election season]. Flora is a better book because of that change, but it still cost me time and peace of mind.”

Elison hopes that “readers take away from Flora a sense that gender and sexuality are way more complicated than most of us have been taught, and that our circumstances dictate a much more open approach than we currently use.”  Her trilogy advocates for readers to “stand up to bigotry and do better before we slide into becoming the worst, most doomed versions of ourselves. Our worldview makes our world. My book is a call to change both.”  

You can find more about Meg Elison and her works at and on Twitter @megelison.

Mercedes is a lazy reader with an interest in postcolonialism, graphic novels, and anything cat related.