Many Black women see hair grease as this benign thing. I worked to make sure that we understood her insecurities and how Hazel stirs them up — about not being Black enough and about Nella’s desire to be the next big Black editor. And I knew that I wanted my protagonist, Nella, to fail. It made the ending easier to write: What ultimately transforms her wasn’t a pill Nella had to take. I would walk him through all the different pieces of the plot: There was something controlling the women, but robots felt too easy and obvious — I was like, “I’ve seen The Stepford Wives, that has been done.” And my fiancé said, “Well, what if it’s in the grease?” I was so mad. “I’m not reading to make sure everyone’s okay.”

1. A lot of people were just not interested in talking about how we can help lower-level employees move up the ladder, how we can specifically help bring in more diverse voices. I started writing The Other Black Girl in January 2019, when I was working at Knopf Doubleday. I wanted the reader to care about her and root for her, but I also wanted to show the price of working in these white corporate spaces. We’ve seen her get embarrassed at the office. Find What Feels Inevitable

Clockwise from left: The Twilight Zone, 1959–64. *This
article appears in the June 7, 2021, issue of New York Magazine. That’s people being people. more
Clockwise from left: The Twilight Zone, 1959–64. Then you find out that he’s a serial killer on the very last page. Tags: And it was exhausting. Photo: TCD/Prod.DB / Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock PhotoGet Out, 2017. Zakiya Dalila Harris began writing The Other Black Girl while working as an assistant editor at Knopf Doubleday, and her textured observations of the overwhelmingly white world of publishing, and the insidious racism lurking therein, laid the groundwork for a tale that grows darker and more surreal as the narrative curls toward a shocking finale. I wanted the reader to understand why Nella would go under in the way that she did, because we’ve already seen her get really excited about Hazel and their friendship and then the friendship fizzles out. A good twist needs to be set up in the opening pages — you need to hold this thing up in front of the reader so it’s right before their eyes but they can’t see it until you pull back the invisible curtain. I wanted to plant a moment of horror right at the beginning as a way of pointing to Nella’s transformation at the very end. 2. In these kinds of movies, usually at least one person survives. Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Photo Courtesy of Publisher

The buzziest debut novel of the summer begins with the protagonist, Nella, a beaten-down editorial assistant at a prestigious Manhattan publishing house, catching a comforting and familiar whiff of hair grease. I also added a prologue, where you see another woman dealing with the effects of the grease before you meet Nella. I knew Nella and Hazel would connect over hair; Nella feels as though she has been on the outside of Black culture and Blackness her whole life, and I wanted this to be the thing the women would bond over. But it also wasn’t really paying all my bills. In my experience, a lot of Black women do not stay in these spaces. Photo: Courtesy Everett Collection

The revelation came from my partner, now my fiancé. We’ve already seen the main character get put through the wringer; we’ve already been satisfyingly horrified. One of my favorites is from George A. Get Out also has an amazing twist, with his friend driving up in the cop car at the end. I just didn’t know exactly how. I also knew that Hazel would be some kind of robot. Eric Garner was on my mind when I saw it, so the fact that the hero doesn’t get confronted by a white cop was a moment of comic relief. It’s such a part of us. The Black protagonist tries to save the white people in the story from zombies. Someone mentioned to me recently, “I thought this was going to be about two Black women being friends and having fun.” It’s like, Sorry, my bad. I did not nail the ending on the first try. I enjoyed it when I started, but it beat me down. The next morning, he hears a sound, looks through a broken window, and he’s shot — the people who were rounding up all the bodies assumed he was a zombie and killed him. “I tend to prefer twists that are especially bleak,” says Harris. For my twist, I tried to go against some genre expectations and literary conventions. Thank you for supporting our journalism. that put people in situations that seem really everyday and then get weirder and weirder and weirder. I won’t get into all of the details, but he settled out of court. She was already using it. But that excitement soon gives way to fear. The best twists are ones that feel, in retrospect, almost inevitable. But I wanted to play around with a third option in the book, too: that Nella might fail but that her failure could be a kind of success, a way to finally be in control. Stick the Landing

The Stepford Wives, 1975. By the time I was writing the first draft, I already knew that publishing wasn’t for me. Why didn’t I think of this myself? Photo: Universal Studios

Clockwise from left: The Twilight Zone, 1959–64. Photo: CBS Photo Archive/Getty ImagesGet Out, 2017. Photo: Universal StudiosNight of the Living Dead,… A twist fails if you haven’t sold the character or the world enough. A thrilling realization follows: Nella is no longer the only Black girl at the company. I knew for sure that there were going to be these two Black women in this very white workplace, and I knew there would be something wrong with one of them, Hazel — that she’d be off. This Black protagonist doesn’t, and that would totally happen. They all die, but he survives and gets through the entire night. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. You have to hypnotize the reader into believing the story is one thing — then you change the rules, and that’s scary. The Other Black Girl is available now from Atria Books. Photo: CBS Photo Archive/Getty ImagesNight of the Living Dead, 1968. Photo: TCD/Prod.DB / Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock Photo

There are so many different ways to nail a twist, but it starts with believability. That character wasn’t written specifically for a Black actor — Romero just gave it to the person who was the best for the role — but it’s really interesting to read it in the context of what it means to be a Black man in America. Subscribe Now! I could tell myself, I’ll write at home, I’ll write on the side, but publishing will be how I pay my bills. I’m a big fan of horror, sci-fi, suspense — I love shows like The Twilight Zone and Are You Afraid of the Dark? 3. He’s the only one left. My dad worked at Golf Digest in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and he was discriminated against: He did not get promoted when he should have been, and he ended up filing a lawsuit. There’s this short story by Stephen King called “The Man Who Loved Flowers,” about this man walking through the city who seems so happy and so in love. The twist comes from the fact that viewers know it could’ve been so much worse. Photo: Universal StudiosNight of the Living Dead, 1968. Here, the author walks us through how she approached the ending and what it takes to write a great twist. Photo: CBS Photo Archive/Getty ImagesGet Out, 2017. Set the Stakes

When I started writing The Other Black Girl, I already had an ending in sight. Women, Black women especially, aren’t allowed to get dark — there are many amazing writers doing this work, but it’s not mainstream. I’m always twisting my hair with grease and talking about hair products — taking care of Black natural hair is such a big part of my identity. I grew up with this idea of, You have to literally fight the system or get out in order to be heard.