I “met” Clarissa through an online group of debut authors, and have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her over the course of the last year. Her novel, Rainbirds, is, quite simply, stunning. Kate Hamer, internationally bestselling author of The Girl in the Red Coat and The Doll Funeral, describes it as “luminous, sinister, and page-turning all at once” and I wholeheartedly agree.
About the novel:
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.
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.
For a chance to win a copy of RAINBIRDS, share our post on Facebook or retweet the following tweet:
Interview with Clarissa Goenawan + Giveaway for RAINBIRDS https://t.co/aW8geoWzeo
— The Debutante Ball (@DebutanteBall) April 28, 2018
Let’s meet Clarissa!
Kimmery Martin: What is the best perk of your job?
Clarissa Goenawan: Definitely the flexibility. I’m a mother of three young kids. It makes such a huge difference that I can do my job anytime, anywhere–next to them on the bed when they’re sleeping, or on a bench near their school while waiting for their lesson to end. Most of the time, I can be with my children whenever they need me.
That being said, the flexibility also comes with a huge responsibility. As ‘self-employed’ writers, we need to be very disciplined in doing our work. This is easier said than done. I have to confess I often spend more time on social media than I want to admit (eeeekkk…)
KM: Do you have a regular first reader? If so, who is it and why that person?
CG: Yes, a Belgian writer named Maya. She was my first reader for my first three novels—one is Rainbirds, while the other two are still WIPs.
I met Maya through needleinthehay.net, a website that does free and regular writing contests. Both of us wanted to improve our writing so we decided to team up. Interestingly, we actually specialize in different genres—I write mainly literary fiction while Maya is mostly known for her erotica.
Maya is my go-to first reader because she’s very good at giving big picture feedback. She can see through plot holes, weak characters, confusing subplots, and flat story arcs. She’s also very frank and honest. If something doesn’t work, she won’t hesitate to point it out to me. We’ve been critique friends for years, and I completely trust her judgment.
KM: The road to publication is twisty at best–tell us about some of your twists.
CG: In November 2013, I received an email from a local publisher, inviting me for a coffee.
At that time, I had only been writing for about a year—mainly flash fiction and short stories. Not many people knew I was writing, and I didn’t have the confidence to call myself a writer. I did, however, send my writings to some free competitions and anthology open calls, which led me to that local publisher.
I met the owner in his shop—a charming indie bookstore manned by its resident cats—and we had a talk. It was kind of surreal. For the first time ever, I felt like I was a writer, albeit not a very confident one. We spent quite some time discussing the feasibility of publication—me doubting I was good enough, or if there was any market for my kind of book, and him convincing me that yes, some readers would enjoy reading my work. Needless to say, I was very moved.
Of course, publication did not happen immediately after that. It took me two years to finish Rainbirds and almost a year to find an agent. My debut novel was eventually sold to a number of international publishers, including a Singaporean publisher.
In March 2018, Math Paper Press published Singapore edition of Rainbirds. Yes, they are that local publisher who noticed me before anyone else did. And yes, I still have the email.
KM: What is your advice for aspiring writers?
CG: I’d love to echo Stephen King on this. Read a lot and write a lot.
It always amazes me when someone says they want to be a writer, but they don’t really have time to read books. It’s like saying you hate food, but you want to be a chef. Just don’t. If you’re serious about being a writer, you need to read A LOT.
A lot of aspiring writers are hoping for instant success. Well, we’ve all heard of that success story. Someone who got multiple offers on the first round of submission, someone whose book went into an auction, earning a huge advance, making big splashes everywhere, being made into a movie. Remember that these people made headlines because their stories are rare. For most of us, the path to publication is full of rejections. Always work hard and never give up.
KM: What’s your next big thing? (new book, new project, etc.)
CG: I’m currently working on my next two novels. One of them is literary suspense, while the other is a literary mystery. Just like my debut novel Rainbirds, both of them are set in Japan. The three novels are not in series, but they are interrelated. You’ll see characters in one book make appearances in the others.
Fun fact: The suspense novel was my 2015 NaNoWriMo novel, while the mystery one was my 2016 NaNoWriMo novel. I’m a huge fan of writing your first draft during NaNoWriMo.
Another fun fact: The main characters of these two WIPs were featured in Rainbirds. If you’ve read Rainbirds, I hope you’ll have fun guessing who they are
Clarissa Goenawan is an Indonesian-born Singaporean writer. Her award-winning short fiction has appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in Singapore, Australia, the UK, and the US. Rainbirds is her first novel. You can connect with her at the following sites:
Barnes & Nobles: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/rainbirds-clarissa-goenawan/1126551443?ean=9781616958558
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