Today I’m talking to Clarissa Goenawan, author of the literary mystery, RAINBIRDS, by Soho Press. RAINBIRDS JUST came out 6 March 2018, so you can snap one up at any of the usual outlets, or check out your local bookstore.
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.
MS: Here is a teaser to get you going….
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.
MS: Where did you get the idea for your book?
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.
MS: 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.”
MS: 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.
MS: 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.
MS: 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…)
MS: 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.
MS: 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
MS: 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.
MS: 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.
MS: 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 in between.
MS: 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.
MS: 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.
MS: 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.
MS: 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.
MS: Give one or two of your favourite blurbs.
“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
Thanks for joining us, Clarissa! If you want to snag a copy of Clarissa’s book you can use the links below:
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.