Author Interview: Marissa Harrison

 It's time for the Writing Desk Blog interview with debut author Marissa Harrison!

Marissa's bio, plus links to her platforms and more information on her upcoming novel, Rain City Lights, can be found in Wednesday's Get to Know the Author post.

Image provided by: Marissa Harrison

Writing Desk Blog: Please join me in welcoming debut author Marissa Harrison to the Writing Desk Blog! Thank you for joining me today. 
Your debut novel, Rain City Lights, is due out for publication on 01 October 2020. (I was thrilled to read an ARC of this novel and loved it! Stay tuned everyone, Rain City Lights will be featured on What Am I Reading Wednesday in October.) If you could describe this book in three words, what would they be?
Marissa Harrison: Gritty, Unapologetic and Angsty 
WDB: Rain City Lights is a coming of age story set in 1980s Seattle and deals with a number of cultural and socio-economic issues, all with an ongoing murder investigation lurking in the background. Were there any particular historical events or locations that inspired this setting?

MH: In 2013 I’d gotten into documentaries about the eighties because I was fascinated by the social issues of the time, and able to draw connections between my experiences as a child and what had been going on in the country. I came across a documentary about the making of Nirvana’s album Nevermind, and became a little obsessed with them. But it wasn’t until 2014 that I got the idea to write Rain City Lights. I was walking with my husband in Interbay - which is an area in Seattle that sits between two wealthy neighborhoods, is very industrial and dare I say, grungy - and we passed an industrial yard, train tracks and seafood processing warehouses. And suddenly, Sasha Coen popped into my head and wouldn’t leave me alone until I committed to writing about him. 

The next year I started reading true crime books written in the eighties and nineties about the Pacific Northwest, mostly just to learn/remember what people wore and how places looked back then. I read The Search for the Green River Killer and was struck by the stories, or lack thereof, of the young women who lost their lives in such a gruesome way. One of those young women really caught my attention - she was fifteen or sixteen at the time of her murder and I thought to myself, “how does something like this happen to a child? And why???” But true crime books tend to focus on who the killer is and the investigation more than the stolen lives, and I felt very strongly that the stories of those young sex workers didn’t begin with their death and the moments leading up to it. I found myself wanting to know everything about them, because it felt like that’s what they deserved. And so Rain City Lights became my attempt to explore the world of those disadvantaged youth living in Seattle at that time, and specifically the disease of addiction as Monti goes through a journey of denial, anger and forgiveness. 


WDB: The burgeoning Grunge scene also plays a big part in this story. Were you a fan of this music genre before writing this book, or was it something you had to research along the way? Any bands you’d recommend for readers who are unfamiliar with the genre and would like to get a better feel for how it ties in with the story?
MH: I wasn’t a fan of Grunge until 2013. I’d grown up hearing the hits (I’d come to loathe Man in the Box by Alice in Chains because I’d heard it SO MANY TIMES). It wasn’t until I learned the story behind the movement that I was able to fully appreciate it, and then of course, by listening to the music that hadn’t been played out on the radio. Thank you, Spotify. I did a lot of research between 2014-2016. The thing that drew me into the scene was this theme of disillusioned youth - young people who felt that society as it existed simply didn’t work for them, so they created their own world. At the time I had my own feelings of disillusionment, and was so inspired by the DIY scene and how they came into success by shucking conventional norms instead of adhering to them. One could say it inspired me to go for my dream of writing a novel. Alice in Chains is my favorite of all the bands. Finding the story I was called to write was one of the biggest struggles in finishing this book, and I had my “Big Magic” moment in 2015 after watching a video of Alice in Chains perform on YouTube. At the time I didn’t know anything about the band, just that if I wanted to write effectively I needed to learn as much as possible and not just settle on Nirvana. After watching this performance I got the idea of Sasha and Monti, two teenagers coming to terms with the seriousness and intimacy of their relationship under the pressures of new attraction and a conservative society, and pictured a scene that took place beneath the Ballard Bridge (this ended up getting cut because that’s just how it goes). 
A few months later, as I went down the rabbit hole, I learned that Alice in Chains actually had a practice space by the Ballard Bridge, so that was pretty cool. But the band I had the most fun reading about was Mudhoney. Someone in my readings described the guitar playing as “anti-solo” and I was like, “what does that mean?” Then I listened to the song “Come to Mind,” which is my favorite by Mudhoney, and then I was like, “Yes. Yes, I get it now.” The song “Take Me for a Ride” by Yellow Snow is a favorite song, and “Lizzy” by The Melvins. Soundgarden is fantastic. “Bleach” is my favorite Nirvana album because it makes me nod my head the most. And “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult isn’t Grunge, but was my go-to song when thinking about the vibe and relationship between Monti and Sasha. 
WDB: Of course, an in-person book tour isn’t possible at the moment, but as an Indie author is this something you’d like to plan for in the future? If so, which cities would you most like to include on your route? 
MH: I’d love to do a book tour! Seattle, Portland, Chicago, and Los Angeles are the first that come to mind. I don’t have a clue about how to get that started though. 
WDB: These next questions are ones I like to ask in each Writing Desk Blog interview, it’s interesting to see the range of responses I get! 
Are you a plotter or pantser? Do you have a specific planning style you use when writing, or do you prefer to let things flow more naturally? 
MH: I am a combination of both. It took a while to figure out what my writing process was, but I started making the most progress with Rain City Lights after I had all the major plot points and pinch points decided. Then I would write a list of possible scenes to fit between those and start writing. Some ended up in the book, and sometimes my characters would do and say things I didn’t plan for, so I’d go with that and then start a new list of potential scenes to connect my plot points. 
WDB: What is your favorite method for connecting with readers and other writers? Social media, conferences, meet-ups, or a combination? 
MH: Before COVID-19 I really enjoyed going to conferences, author events and workshops. And I’d just joined a writer’s group, but now that in-person stuff isn’t possible so social media is my go-to. I’m not the best at it though, because both of those words, social and media, aren’t really my strong suit. But I’ve found the online book community to be so welcoming. 
WDB: Where do you typically work from? (Home, office, coffee shop, etc.) Is there any place you find you're more productive than others? 
MH: I usually work from home. My husband and I share an office that I’ve titled “The Magic Room.” He has his music studio setup and I have a desk in my little writing corner. Every now and then I’ll go to a coffee shop for that romantic, author vibe. I used to write on my lunch break at a coffee shop in a tower overlooking downtown Seattle and the bay. That was fun. I wouldn’t say any particular place is more productive than others. For me it all depends on whether or not I’m in that elusive “flow.” 
WDB: If you are able to tell us, what’s next for you? Will Rain City Lights be a stand-alone novel, or do you think you might revisit these characters in the future? 
MH: I’m working on another book right now, but the writing is slow. Haven’t quite got that motivation to wake up at five am and write before work every morning. But I’m excited about the concept, and it feels like the second book won’t be as hard to write. Right now I don’t have plans to revisit Rain City Lights, though I did end up cutting a plot line and character from the final version. I really loved this character, and I could see his story being something Monti pursues later. But I’m really picky when it comes to sequels, I think they have the potential to ruin a perfect ending and I really like where Monti and Sasha ended their story. The last line of the book makes me giddy because I feel like it so perfectly encapsulates who they are together and what their future looks like.
WDB: Has your experience primarily been with traditional publishing, indie/self-publishing, or a mix of both? Which route do you prefer and why? 
MH: My experience has been wholly indie so far, so I can’t say that I prefer it to traditional. I chose this route because I’m really impatient. I learned that with the traditional route it can take years to secure an agent, and then two to three years before your book hits the shelves. Plus I was a self-taught writer, a minority and had zero platform so I decided my best shot at getting published before I turned forty was to go the indie route.
WDB: Something about you that people may be surprised to know? 
MH: I have a tendency to break into song in less than appropriate settings, like whenever my husband is on a zoom meeting or in the grocery store, but am usually too terrified to do karaoke. 
If you'd like the chance to win an ebook copy of Rain City Lights, check out the September 2020 Giveaway post! Entries will be accepted until Monday, 28 September 2020 at Midnight EST.


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