Ready for our March books? Every month, I’ll be featuring interviews with other debut authors– we’re all part of a group called Author’s 18. Check us out on Facebook, GoodReads Instagram and www.authors18.com. There’s some great stuff going on!
Author: Clarissa Goenawan
Genre: Literary Mystery
Publisher: Soho Press
by Clarissa Goenawan
Set in an imagined town outside Tokyo, Clarissa Goenawan’s dark, spellbinding literary debut follows a young man’s path to self-discovery in the wake of his sister’s murder.
Ren Ishida has nearly completed his graduate degree at Keio University when he receives news of his sister’s violent death. Keiko was stabbed one rainy night on her way home, and there are no leads. Ren heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister’s affairs, failing to understand why she chose to turn her back on the family and Tokyo for this desolate place years ago.
But then Ren is offered Keiko’s newly vacant teaching position at a prestigious local cram school and her bizarre former arrangement of free lodging at a wealthy politician’s mansion in exchange for reading to the man’s ailing wife. He accepts both, abandoning Tokyo and his crumbling relationship there in order to better understand his sister’s life and what took place the night of her death.
As Ren comes to know the eccentric local figures, from the enigmatic politician who’s boarding him to his fellow teachers and a rebellious, captivating young female student, he delves into his shared childhood with Keiko and what followed. Haunted in his dreams by a young girl who is desperately trying to tell him something, Ren realizes that Keiko Ishida kept many secrets, even from him.
“Luminous, sinister, and page-turning all at once. I loved it.”
—Kate Hamer, internationally bestselling author of The Girl in the Red Coat and The Doll Funeral
“A beautiful mystery setup with a complex, magical love story.”
—Eka Kurniawan, award-winning author of Beauty Is a Wound and Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash
Where did you get the idea for RAINBIRDS?
One afternoon, I was just wondering, “What if someone I cared about suddenly passed away, and then, I realized too late that I never actually got to know them?” At first, I wanted to write a short story about a young man who had just lost his older brother, which later on, morphed to an older sister. And then, I realized there were so many things I wanted to explore in their relationship, and that this story has to be a novel.
What’s the story behind the title?
I came up with it! There was actually a really funny story behind it, which you can read at the end of my guest post for Bath Novel Award, “Five Ways to Find The Perfect Title for Your Novel.”
Tell us about your favorite character.
Rio Nakajima, also known as ‘Seven Stars.’ She’s a seventeen-year-old girl who is bright and bold, unafraid to voice her opinion and relentlessly goes after what she wants. She doesn’t care about conforming to public’s expectation, and I really admire her for that.
ABOUT THE WRITING PROCESS
How long did you take to write this book?
Almost five years, which at a point of time, does feel ‘forever’ to me. But, in term of traditional publishing, it’s still relatively fast.
First draft – 1.5 months
Editing – 1.5 years
Submission to agents – about half a year
Submission to publishers – about half a year
From signing of contract to publication date – about two years
What kind of research did you do for this book?
I grew up reading copious amounts of manga (Japanese comic books), and I learnt Japanese language since high school, so that gave me a good starting point. I also consulted a huge number of books, essays, and articles, and asked some friends who’re familiar with Japan to be my beta readers.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I tried to plot, but that didn’t work. I normally have a sense of beginning, somewhat of an ending (though, most of the time, it changes), but nothing inbetween.
What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?
The first draft! I’m always pleasantly surprised by the unexpected places my characters lead me to.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?
The last few edits are the hardest for me. By then, I have grown too familiar with my work. It’s hard to discern the trees from the forest.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Clarissa Goenawan is an Indonesian-born Singaporean writer. Her debut novel, RAINBIRDS, is the winner of the 2015 Bath Novel Award. Her short stories have won several awards and been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. She loves rainy days, pretty books, and hot green tea.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in Surabaya, a city in East Java and also the second most populated city in Indonesia. In my mid-teens, I migrated to Singapore, which I now call home. I live with my husband, three beautiful daughters, and a broken-coated Jack Russell named ‘Hunter.’
How did you get into writing?
It was my childhood dream ☺ I’d loved reading ever since I was a kid and dreamt that one day, I would publish my own book. But I only started to seriously pursuing the profession after I quit my banking job at age twenty-four (probably not the most conventional thing to do, but I never regretted it.)
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
My guilty pleasure: I read a lot of manga (Japanese comic books.) I also spend a lot of time reading online articles and on Twitter—probably too much for my own good.
Share something about you most people probably don’t know.
I used to be a bookseller. I was in charge of marketing children’s books for a regional book distribution company, which include everything from baby boardbooks to YA novels. I spontaneously talked about countless books—most of them I’d only read the short synopsis because there were so many— to the media every month, but when it comes to pitching my own book, I’m always struggling. Always.
Which book influenced you the most?
Stephen King’s On Writing, which I highly recommend to all aspiring writers. It’s full of gold—awesome writing advice, great editing tips, and a realistic portrayal of a writer’s life. Worth re-reading every year.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently editing my second and third novels, both of them literary mysteries. And just like RAINBIRDS, they’re set in Japan.
CLARISSA’S SOCIAL MEDIA
LIKE THIS? Check out other debut novelists interviews:
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Authors ’18 Book Interview: Match Made in Manhattan by Amanda Stauffer
Authors ’18 Book Interview: The Marine’s Secret Daughter by Carrie Nichols
Authors ’18 Book Interview: The Night Child, by Anna Quinn