The Author's Process

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

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