The Hardest Part: Monica Byrne on The Girl in the Road

Durham author Monica Byrne‘s debut novel The Girl in the Road hit bookstores (and audiobook stores) last week, and both prior to and after publication the glowing reviews have piled up (from big names like Neil Gaiman, Kim Stanley Robinson, John Scalzi, and Helene Wecker, to blogs and ezines like Everyday eBook, to NPR and The Wall Street Journal). But it’s been a long, er, ahem, road for this writer, from dreaming of becoming an astronaut to “falling back in love” with her artistic impulses: writing, theater, improv. Her career as a playwright has already seen many accolades, particularly for What Every Girl Should Know, her 1914-set play in which “four young women in a New York reformatory adopt birth control activist Margaret Sanger as their secret patron saint” and which debuted in Durham ahead of a run in New York. Her latest play, the sex-and-diplomacy mingling Olympic Village-set Tarantino’s Yellow Speedo, is also garnering rave reviews (and selling out its performances). Sex and genderqueer themes are no strangers to Byrne’s fiction, either, and both play central roles in The Girl in the Road. A “twenty-first-century myth” of a near future of rising oceans and shifting economic and political power, told in two alternating timelines: Meena, fleeing India along “The Trail”, an energy-capturing pontoon bridge which crosses the Arabian Sea, and Mariama, fleeing slavery in Mauritania on an Ethiopia-bound caravan. Their stories parallel and entwine and collide in an intricate, beautifully-written (and line-after-line quotable) story. Here, Byrne writes not about the struggles with finding the right words or what to spare or grant her characters, but instead about having written the book and having a vision for it, and having the guts to wait for the right opportunity, not just the first one.

By Monica Byrne:

For me, the hardest part is knowing when to say no.

But it gets easier with practice. And it’s essential.

I first sent the manuscript of The Girl in the Road out to agents in January 2012. After a month, I got my first offer from Agent #1, a friend who’d just started working at a good agency. I was absolutely thrilled. Someone had read my manuscript and said “This is a Thing.” We talked on the phone. He was warm and enthusiastic and loved the book.

Though I knew he would be a great advocate for the book, he thought a small indie publishing house would be the best fit, while I felt the book had enough mass market appeal for a larger house. I knew I wouldn’t feel we had strived to reach the book’s highest potential without at least submitting to the larger houses, and the misgivings manifested as a sour feeling in my stomach. I felt like I was crazy—I had gotten an offer, which was the holy grail in and of itself, right?

I said no to him. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hardest Part: Jen McConnel

Durham author Jen McConnel is the author of the new adult novel The Secret of Isobel Key (out from Bloomsbury Spark and Audible for Bloomsbury) and most recently of Daughter of Chaos, a contemporary Durham-set young adult novel of witches and choices just released from Raleigh-based Month9Books [IndieBound | KoboKindle]. She’s also published in non-fiction, as we briefly touched on in a Carolina Book Beat interview last month, and has a few more novels already well on the way. For “The Hardest Part”, the prolific McConnel tackles the juggling act of pursuing shiny new projects versus the hard work of revision.



By Jen McConnel: The Hardest Part: Writing After Publication

For me, writing is always my center. Whether I’m drafting, revising, or simply courting a shiny new idea, I often refer to my writing work as “play”. Perhaps because of this lighthearted approach, I wasn’t prepared for the hardest part of my writing journey: writing after publication.

Some writers have talked about the sophomore slump, the fears and joys and insanity that come with writing your second book after you make a sale, but luckily, that hasn’t been something I’ve experienced. The biggest reason I’ve avoided the sophomore slump? I took that old advice to heart, and kept writing and writing and writing, no matter what. I wrote so many “next things” that by the time I had sold my first book to a publisher, I had a substantial backlist of finished, polished, manuscripts just waiting for homes. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hardest Part: Megan Miranda on Vengeance

Charlotte-area author Megan Miranda‘s 2012 debut novel Fracture introduced readers to teens Delaney Maxwell and Decker Phillips, the frozen waters of Falcon Lake, and a supernatural mystery both of Delaney’s recovery from brain damage and her inexplicable ability to predict — or perhaps cause? — the imminent death of those around her. Written from Delaney’s point of view, Fracture garnered a starred review from Publishers Weekly among a long list of other accolades, and she next published Hysteria, a standalone psychological thriller. With her latest book, Vengeance, Miranda returns to Falcon Lake, this time from Decker’s point of view. Here, Miranda writes about the difficulties in picking up where Fracture left off.

 Vengeance (Fracture, #2)

By Megan Miranda:

As a general rule, I find the middle third of every book the hardest part to write. The excitement of a new idea gets me through the first third, and the promise of seeing the end usually powers me through the last third—but that middle third, man, I usually have to force my way through it. But at least I’m aware of this pattern. I’ve come to expect it, even. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hardest Part: Alexandra Duncan on Salvage

I first heard about Asheville, NC author Alexandra Duncan back in 2011, when her novella “Rampion” (published in F&SF) starting generating a lot of buzz — it would go on to be selected by Rich Horton to appear in his annual “Year’s Best” anthology for Prime Books. Reading “Rampion”, a fairytale-infused historical fiction set in the Caliphate of Al-Andalus, I started following her writing, but… it appears she had something longer in mind, for which some serious waiting would be required. Luckily, I had her previous short fiction — published in F&SF since 2009 — to keep me company. Yesterday, her debut novel Salvage was released in hardcover and ebook [Kindle] by HarperCollins’ Greenwillow Books, as well as a highly-anticipated audiobook edition from Harper Audio. A YA title, it targets a younger audience than has her heady short fiction, but by no means without a literary sf sensibility, bearing themes of feminism and climate change. Duncan also sets her sights on the extra-terrestrial rather than the lush fantasies of her short fiction. But it wasn’t the change of age, or venue, or theme, which gave her the most difficulty. Here, as Duncan writes, sometimes life itself, our own neuro-chemical minds and bodies, can be our own worst enemy.

By Alexandra Duncan:

There are very few careers where you can make having an anxiety disorder work to your advantage. For a long time, I thought writing was one of those few.

When I started writing my first novel, Salvage, I had several short stories and a novella under my belt. I thought I knew what worked best for me as far as a motivation. Write every day. Feel uneasy and wrong if you don’t write – like you left the oven on – so make sure you write every day. Let your characters and plot take over your thoughts until the story is as perfect as you can make it. Send it off into the world. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hardest Part: Mur Lafferty on Ghost Train to New Orleans

Durham author Mur Lafferty already had a handful and a half novels out in the world when, last year, she both had her “debut” novel published by Orbit, The Shambling Guide to New York City, and she won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer at the Hugo Awards at the World Science Fiction Convention. Not a bad year, eh? Still, after all the books and the stories, she had to go back to the drawing board — again and again — to get a particular plot point right for book 2 in her Shambling Guides series, Ghost Train to New Orleans, out earlier this month.


By Mur Lafferty:

In Book 1 of The Shambling Guides, the love interest, monster hunter and plumber Arthur, gets bitten by a zombie. They find someone who can give him magic herbs to hold off the curse, so long as he takes the herb for the rest of his life. But heck, diabetics have to do something similar, only insulin isn’t magic, so it’s not a big deal, right? Read the rest of this entry »

The Hardest Part: Jeremy Whitley on My Little Pony: Friends Forever

When I started looking more seriously into the local comic scene in 2009 and 2010, I found some big names: Tommy Lee Edwards, Scott Hampton, Richard Case. And, thanks to Ultimate Comics’ Al Gill handing me a copy of The Order of Dagonet #1 I have been able to follow comics writer Jeremy Whitley for a few years now, through the original Dagonet run from Whitley and artist Jason Strutz’s Firetower Studios, the re-issue of the comic from Action Labs, and a similar path for Whitley’s next project, the Eisner-nominated Princeless. I interviewed Whitley and Strutz for Bull Spec #3, and published their 4-part graphic story “The Long Lives of Heroes” across issues 5 through 8. I’m a big Whitley fan, which is one reason I’m so excited to see his story for My Little Pony: Friends Forever #2 from IDW next week. Here, Whitley writes about getting to play inside the rules of the My Little Pony universe — a bit of a contrast from creating in his own stories.


(W) Jeremy Whitley (A) Tony Fleecs (CA) Amy Mebberson
“The Cutie Mark Crusaders have done everything they can think of to get their cutie marks. But there’s one creature of chaos who might have some ideas they would never think of… Discord! When our pint-sized heroines start working with the unpredictable trickster, the results are bound to get unusual! Will Ponyville be able to survive their friendship?”
In Shops: 2/26/2014

By Jeremy Whitley:

The hardest part of writing My Little Pony was accepting that I’m playing in someone else’s world.  A lot of writers only ever get to/have to write in worlds that are of their own making.  When I started working on MLP, I would make decisions, commit to them, and then be told that it was something I couldn’t do.  I’m a big fan of the show and I love the world they’ve created, but in something like that that’s constantly evolving both on tv and in the comic, you can hit walls you didn’t even know existed. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hardest Part: Dario Ciriello on Sutherland’s Rules

I can’t quite place how I digitally ran into Dario Ciriello back in 2009. Probably it was that I had a silly idea that I would be a writer, thinking that the mess I was working on was looking like it would be a novella, and looking around to see who published at that length. Enter Panverse One, edited by Ciriello, which blew me away. An all-novella anthology (the first of three, so far, all excellent) with fantastic, varied stories, a beautiful cover, and a well-produced physical book, introducing me to a world of small press, print-on-demand publishing that I had no idea even existed. “Wait, wait… one dedicated person with the drive to do something like this can actually do something like this?” It’s not exaggerating to say that Bull Spec would not exist without the inspiration provided by Panverse One — and Ciriello was just getting started. After taking a brief hiatus after Panverse Three in 2011, Panverse Publishing returned to fiction with three novels in 2013, one of them Ciriello’s own Sutherland’s Rules, a non-fantasy, non-sf (*), high-stakes, high-fun, crime adventure novel set across California, London, and Afghanistan. It’s the second of Ciriello’s books I’ve read and immensely enjoyed (the other being his non-fictional memoir of moving to Skopelos Island in Greece, Aegean Dream) and I’m hoping for many more. Here, Dario writes about the hard part of getting one of the characters from Sutherland’s Rules right, down to her motivations, before being able to write her to the fullest.

(*) OK, OK. There might be some hallucinogenic trips into branching parallel universes.

Sutherland's Rules

By Dario Ciriello:

The hardest part of writing my recent novel, Sutherland’s Rules, was understanding Carol, my female protagonist.

I’ve written female protagonists—and they’re all strong—before, and not had much trouble with them. I like strong women. In fact, I’m married to one.

Carol, though, was a real challenge. Carol is an attractive  professional dancer in her early fifties, now the owner of a dance school; she’s also bisexual and a partner in an open marriage, and the latter made it especially challenging when writing in her viewpoint. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hardest Part: Lisa Shearin on The Grendel Affair

I first met Lisa Shearin at a 5-author science fiction and fantasy panel at the Cary Barnes & Noble in 2010, hearing about her Raine Benares adventure fantasy series and feeling a bit overwhelmed — here’s an Ace-published author with 4 (at that time, since the series has grown to 6) books and I had a lot of catching up to do. But now Shearin has started a new series with the release of The Grendel Affair, the first book in her SPI Files series, giving old fans a new adventure to begin and new fans an obvious place to start, with a no-nonsense Southern urban fantasy heroine new on the job of protecting humanity from supernatural threats in New York City. I had the opportunity to talk with her on Carolina Book Beat earlier this month, and one thing we didn’t quite get to was the sentence-to-sentence, page-to-page work of writing a novel. Here, Shearin writes about the hardest part of her writing process: filling those blank pages.

The Hardest Part: First drafts (because you can’t fix a blank page)

By Lisa Shearin:

Unlike many writers, I prefer the rewriting/editing part of writing a book. For me, the first draft is the necessary evil that I have to get through to reach the part I really enjoy. Once I have the entire story down in rough draft form, that’s when I can start to play and have fun; because at that point, I’ve at least got something to work with.

For me, my ideal writing goal is 1,500 words a day. With chapter lengths of approximately 4,000 words, that’s about three chapters a week, right? Uh, not usually. Fifteen hundred words a day is when I’m really cranking out the words, inspiration is flowing, my muse is in the room (and cooperative). One thousand words a day more often what happens (because I still have a day job). But what about the times when the words aren’t flowing, when I really don’t know what happens next? Read the rest of this entry »

The Hardest Part: Jenna Black on writing a full novel after having sold it on proposal

Durham author Jenna Black’s next novel publication is a re-issue of her 2006 novel Watchers in the Night, which begins her series The Guardians of the Night, all set for re-release in 2014 starting with book one next week. With two additional series also in print, Faeriewalker and Morgan Kingsley, she has two more series ongoing, her Nikki Glass urban fantasy series and her new near future YA dystopia Replica, and with all these novels she’s had plenty of time to examine and exercise her craft. Here she writes about one of the consistently difficult parts of her career.

Jenna Black Watchers in the Night

By Jenna Black:

It’s very difficult to single out the hardest part of writing a novel. It tends to be different with each one. With sixteen novels on the market, I have plenty of hard parts to choose from. But one thing that I’ve found consistently hard over the years is writing a full novel after I’ve sold it on proposal. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hardest Part: Tina Connolly on Copperhead

For author Tina Connolly, the hardest part of her debut novel, Nebula Award nominee Ironskin, was the muddle in the middle. For the follow-up, Copperhead, there was no time to battle with such a muddle. There wasn’t in fact much time for anything other than writing: so that’s just what Connolly did.

By Tina Connolly:

So the hardest part of writing Copperhead was that I got busy. I mean insanely busy. The only thing more boring than listening to someone recount their dreams is listening to them drone on about how unspeakably busy they are, so suffice it to say I was already a very busy person, and then I had a baby. That was three years ago, and now, as I write this, I have had TWO babies, written two books, and moved to a fixer house that needed things like heat and wiring and fewer blackberry vines in the attic. Plus, I started the flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake (now at 94 episodes!) and continued to work as a face painter. Among other things. Read the rest of this entry »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 75 other followers