Heavy Revisions and Living the Dream with Clarissa Goenawan
By Monica Prince
Indonesian-born Singaporean writer Clarissa Goenawan’s manuscript, Rainbirds, was shortlisted in the 2015 SFWP Literary Awards Program and the First Novel Prize in the UK. From there, the manuscript won the Bath Novel Award in the UK in 2015. Her award-winning short fiction has appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in Singapore, Australia, the UK, and the US, including The MacGuffin, Your Impossible Voice, Esquire, Monsoon Book, Writing the City, Needle in the Hay, and others. Rainbirds is her first novel, published by Soho Press in March 2018. Check out her website, follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and once you pick up her book, review it on Goodreads.
SFWP editor Monica Prince reached out to Clarissa Goenewan to see what inspires and sustains her through this long journey toward publishing her first novel.
Monica Prince: How did you first start writing? Was there a specific moment or inspirational person who encouraged you to become a writer?
Clarissa Goenawan: Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to be a writer. It was my childhood dream. However, as I grew up, I started to feel that this wasn’t a viable way of making a living and pursued a more “realistic” career option instead.
MP: What is your educational and work background? Have either of these influenced your relationship to writing?
CG: Prior to writing full-time, I spent my early twenties in marketing, sales, and banking. I once worked for a book distribution company, which gave me some insights into how the publishing industry works. I became more aware of the hard work behind each published book.
MP: What genres/forms excite you? What do you tend to stay away from?
CG: My first love is the novel. I read mainly literary fiction and mystery, and everything in between. I also like Asian fiction, especially Japanese literature. That being said, I’m pretty open to any book a trusted friend gushes about.
I don’t usually enjoy writing full of unnecessarily difficult words. If I need to reach for my dictionary a couple of times, it’s probably not for me. I prefer simple and concise writing.
MP: What is your writing process like? Are you a “morning pages” writer or more of a note-taker?
CG: I write whenever I have the time. As a mother of three young children, this often translates to when they’re in school or sleeping. I do a fast first draft—usually one to two months during NaNoWriMo—and do rounds and rounds of edit. Typically, I spend years revising and polishing my work.
MP: Does anything scare you to write about?
CG: I’m not comfortable writing about race, religion, and politics. These are sensitive topics that need to be handled well. I did try once, though, for a short story—I haven’t really decided what I want to do with it.
MP: Tell us a little about your new book, Rainbirds. After it was shortlisted with SFWP in 2015, what was your process getting it published?
CG: I spent about a year finding an agent and a publisher. The publishing process itself took almost two years, which involved multiple rounds of structural editing, line editing, and proofreading.
MP: How does revision work into your writing philosophy?
CG: I believe that good revision clarifies the writer’s intention. It helps us communicate the kind of story we want to tell.
MP: What would you be if you weren’t a writer?
CG: Right now, I can’t imagine being anything else. I’m very passionate about my job. Every day, I feel so blessed, so fulfilled, so content. I’ve always dreamed of being a writer, and now that dream has come true.
MP: Do you have any advice for other writers just starting out?
CG: I’d like to share my favorite quote from Stephen King. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Publishing does involve luck, but luck favors those who work hard and never give up.
Pick up a copy of Clarissa Goenawan’s debut novel, Rainbirds, out March 6, 2018!
Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan. Cover Art: Soho Press.