Interview with Clarissa Goenawan, Author of Rainbirds

Today we’re thrilled to be talking with Clarissa Goenawan about her new novel, Rainbirds.

Please describe what the book is about.

Ren Ishida is nearly done with graduate school when he receives news of his sister’s murder. He heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister’s affairs, failing to understand why she chose to abandon their family and leave Tokyo for this small town in the first place. But Ren soon finds himself picking up right where Keiko left off, accepting both her teaching position at a cram school and the bizarre arrangement of free lodging at the wealthy Mr. Katou’s mansion, in exchange for reading aloud each morning to Katou’s depressed, mute wife. As Ren gets to know the figures in the town, from the mysterious Katou to fellow teachers and a rebellious, alluring student named Rio, he replays memories of his childhood with Keiko and finds his dreams haunted by a young girl with pigtails who is desperately trying to tell him something.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

“A hand model?” I’d never heard of that, but an image flashed into my mind of Seven Stars, holding a cigarette with her beautiful fingers, looking vacantly at the rain.

What do you want people to know about your book?

If you love complicated and flawed characters, dark family secrets, or stories set in Japan, you might enjoy Rainbirds.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

I always wanted to be a writer since I was young, and finishing my first novel further convinced me that, “Yes, this is what I really, really want to do for the rest of my life.”

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

First draft : 1,5 months – mainly during NaNoWriMo
Editing: 1,5 years
Submission to agents : about half year
Submission to publishers : about half year
Preparation for publication: almost two years
Total: about five years. Whew!

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

I love both drafting and editing. During the first draft, my characters often lead me to unexpected places. The various stages of editing give me focus and direction to clarify what kind of story I really want to tell.

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

One day, I suddenly thought, “What if someone I care about suddenly passed away, and then, I realized—too late—that I never actually got to know them?”

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

When corresponding with my critique partners. We often brainstorm together, bouncing around ideas about our current WIPs. A lot of things we come up with might be unusable, but usually, we’ll find a perfect solution sooner or later.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

My main characters are usually coffee drinkers, but I don’t drink coffee. I prefer tea, and always have a variety of them at home to suit different moods.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Read a lot, and write a lot. Really, there’s no shortcut.

What’s next?

I’m currently editing my second and third novels (both of them are literary mysteries) and gathering ideas for my fourth novel (psychological suspense). All of them, just like Rainbirds, are set in Japan.

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“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