Hello and welcome to my blog series dedicated to author interviews for 2018 debut authors! This has been started as a way to support some of my fellow ‘debutantes’ of 2018. Some of the genres may be a little outside while I usually write/talk about here, but each of these I share struck my interest in one way or another.
(See past author interviews at the end of this post!)
Full disclosure: I just started Rainbirds the other day and I’m a little enraptured. It’s not something you can really speed through, yet the voice, the descriptions, the intrigue… it’s really hard to put down! It’s difficult to really put a finger on what exactly draws you in, but draw you in it does…
– Author Name: Clarissa Goenawan
– Book Title: RAINBIRDS
– Book Genre: Literary Mystery
– Release Date: 6 March 2018
– Publisher: Soho Press
– Please describe what the book is about.
RAINBIRDS is a story of a young man who is trying to come to terms with his older sister’s death by finding out the truth behind her murder, but in doing so, he ends up confronting his own dark secret.
– Share a teaser from your book.
When the car had stopped at the traffic junction, a soft light had fallen onto her pale skin, highlighting her delicate features. My hand was on hers, but she didn’t say a word, nor did she look at me. She didn’t even flinch. Her body was there, but her mind wasn’t.
That night, the two of us were lonely, isolated under Tokyo’s dazzling lights.
– Where did you get the idea?
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.”
– No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.
RAINBIRDS is part of a series of interrelated novels. So do keep a lookout at the side characters, because they might be the main characters for the next book.
– Tell us about your favourite 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.
– If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?
There is this young girl who celebrated my main character’s seventeenth birthday in the most bizarre way. I’m not going to give any spoilers, but let’s just say I wish to be part of the party (though that can possibly make me the third wheel… hmmm…)
– Are your characters based on real people, or do they come from your imagination?
Most of them came from my imagination, but a few were very loosely based on people I knew in real life. For example, Honda, Ren’s colleague, was inspired by my ex-colleague and lunch buddy who used to drive—yes, you guessed it—a black Honda sedan. All the characters’ personal stories are, of course, fictional.
– 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.
– What did you remove from this book during the editing process?
A lot of things that don’t really matter, including a scene of Honda teaching Ren the best way to enjoy xiaolongbao, a type of Chinese steamed bun.
– 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.
– Can you share your writing routine? (e.g. How do you carve out your writing time? Where do you normally write?)
I do my writing after I drop my kids at school, and until it’s time to pick them up. That gives me about a five hour solid time block. Most of my writing is done on random benches around my kids’ school.
– Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?
Some people are going to hate me for saying this, but I don’t believe in writer’s block.
– If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Be patient. Be very, very patent, because publishing moves in a different time from the rest of the world. It’s so sloooowwwww. There is a lot of waiting, and I’m not good with waiting—but I’m learning!
– How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
RAINBIRDS, my debut novel, is the first novel I ever wrote. I know this is not a common scenario in traditional publishing, and I’ve been so lucky.
– Do you have any writing quirks?
I like to write on a big table.
– 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.
– Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?
Yes, I write short stories, though not as often as I used to do when I’d just started out writing. I realized I prefer to work on novels, though short stories are great for variety.
– 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.
– What’s your favourite writing advice?
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. – Stephen King.
Intertwining elements of suspense and magical realism, award-winning literary debut RAINBIRDS opens with a murder and shines a spotlight on life in fictional small-town Japan.
“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
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.