Abbie Fine On Writing A Book 20 Years In The Making

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.


Abbie Fine is the author of THE LAST FIRST DAUGHTER, and has directed more than 20 professional theatre productions. She works full-time as a nonprofit manager, supporting local arts and culture organizations. She currently works to enhance a large public library system and loves working with librarians, publishers, and authors.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

The kernel of the idea for THE LAST FIRST DAUGHTER came to me 20 years ago! I was 12 when the ANASTASIA cartoon movie came out. I developed a huge crush on Dimitri (my first crush!) and I thought the story was fascinating. Way back then, I had the idea that the story would be so much cooler if Anastasia knew she was a princess, but was going around in disguise. Then she’s asked to pretend to be the missing princess, but she doesn’t reveal her true identity right away. I guess I’ve always liked heroines who control their own destiny!

I’ve had many story ideas in the past two decades, but somehow this idea really stuck with me. I didn’t start drafting it until more than 16 years after getting the idea, when it was the right time for me to tackle it. My lesson learned? Don’t dismiss those “wouldn’t it be cool” ideas, no matter how or when they come!

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

In the 20 years since getting this story idea, I didn’t pursue writing—I became a professional theatre director, with a particular interest in the works of Shakespeare (total Shakespeare nerd here!). My favorite play is AS YOU LIKE IT, mainly because I love the heroine, Rosalind. She’s smart and complicated and sets her own course. One day I realized the play uses the same plot device as in my Anastasia-inspired idea. So that’s how my main character Rosalind (Lindy) was born, and how I built a lot of the plot. I stole from the best! I borrowed elements from the play that I loved and discarded others that weren’t as exciting to me. This helped get me through those stuck moments in the drafting process, even if plot points later changed during revisions.

You never know when your deep study of the classics will pull you through creative projects!

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

The path of THE LAST FIRST DAUGHTER changed many times throughout the process. I had been thinking of this as a “princess story” for two decades, but when I started putting characters to paper, it didn’t feel quite right. It turns out I was more interested in the unique challenges of present-day, so Lindy became a contemporary version of a princess—the First Daughter. It felt more relevant to have Lindy’s mother as President (rather than Queen) and gave me a chance to tackle some themes about technology. The setting became even more relevant as the years progressed (when I started drafting, our current administration hadn’t even announced a run for office).

I also found myself adding more obstacles in Lindy’s way as I put words on paper. Why would I make it too easy for my characters? That’s no fun!

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

I tend to stay fairly focused on my current creative endeavors, so I don’t have new story ideas to jot down weekly or even monthly. I do have several ideas in the queue, and I find I’m most inspired by some unique experiences I’m lucky to have. Write what you know, yes? My husband is a private pilot and we enjoy the hobby together—I’m dying to write a story about a teenage girl pilot.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

With my background in theatre, I use the same method in writing that I do in directing. When choosing a play to direct I ask myself two main questions: why this play now, and what is there to enjoy in this play? The “why this story now” question looks at why it might be important for this story to be told, today, in the current climate. Writing and publishing takes so long, I don’t mean writing to a specific trend or current event. But I do mean finding bigger themes that feel relevant. For THE LAST FIRST DAUGHTER, I wanted to write about a girl engineer who isn’t naturally the best leader, but works really hard at it—with her friends—to make change.

With the “what is there to enjoy in this story” question, I want to make sure there are elements that I think readers will find fun and, more importantly, that I will love writing. In my new manuscript, I’ve included a magic system based on the arts just because I love art. If I’m going to be working with a story for multiple years, I want to be passionate about it. I think this leads to a better end result, too. 

I have 8 cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

I don’t have any furry friends, but I’m having a baby girl this year—my first! She’ll be my snuggly writing buddy, and my inspiration. We’ll make it work! For now, my preference is listening to music while I write. My favorite is Lindsey Stirling and her badass violin. Her music has great energy, but not many lyrics to distract. Highly recommend!