Marisa Billions is a high school English teacher in Southern California. She holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Criminology. She is the author of the fiction novel, This Too Shall Pass and is working on her upcoming second novel. She lives in Southern California with her wife, Stephanie and son Alexander and two Boxer Dogs, Max and Ruby.
Hi Marisa, thank you for joining us today at Reader Views! Tell us a bit about your novel, This Too Shall Pass.
It’s something of a strange recipe. It’s one part coming of age story, one part coming out of the closet. Two parts love story, with a dash of family drama and a sprinkling of supernatural ghost story thrown in for good measure.
This Too Shall Pass is your literary debut – what motivated you to actually sit down and write a novel?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a child. I loved to read books and I loved to tell stories. I actually wrote a book when I was in middle school on our old desktop computer, but it was never backed up, so god only knows what happened to it! So, I guess I can say it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do and I just finally took it upon myself to sit down and do it.
What was your inspiration behind the storyline?
Part of it is somewhat inspired by my own life events. The other inspiration is just that natural curiosity of what goes on after death, and whether or not the dead play any part in the lives of the living.
Who are the key players in This Too Shall Pass and what motivates them?
- Eva, the protagonist, is complicated. She states it in the beginning that she feels she is an acquired taste and that no one will ever acquire a taste for a person like her. And readers seem to have a love/hate relationship with her. She wants peace and happiness but she doesn’t know how to find the balance in her life that will bring her that peace.
- Doug’s main motivation is that his pride is hurt, so he is lashing out.
- Lucy’s motivation is just that she is unhappy. She is a jealous and bitter woman. Her cruelty comes from her own self-loathing.
- Riley does all that she does out of love. She has a huge heart and just wants to protect those she loves.
How did you develop your characters?
Characters are real people in my worlds. I compare them to people I know in real life and I think about how would they react? How would they sound? What would they do? Is that a realistic reaction?
Which one of your characters did you take the most pleasure in creating?
Probably Riley. She is based on my wife, and all that is wonderful about her.
Is there one character you relate to most?
Probably Eva. She is the closest to an autobiographical character I will ever create.
You mentioned This Too Shall Pass is part coming of age, part coming out of the closet, part love story, part family drama and supernatural ghost story! How did you blend all these moving parts into a cohesive story?
Honestly, the story wrote itself. I started this as a way to cope with some of the issues I was dealing with in my own life, and then I got inspired to take it a step further at a time. I had no plan in place, and I didn’t do the plot mapping or anything conventional you are told you “should” do when writing a book. I just sat down and each day and let it write itself. I know it sounds weird and unconventional, but it’s the truth!
Are there certain parts of the story where you took more creative liberties than others?
I think the entire the third section of the book, where the deus ex machina plot twist comes in, where it is no longer contemporary literature, but a supernatural story. Eva’s transition in that section of the book was difficult and I had to really put myself in a dark state of mind to get through that section.
Our reviewer said This Too Shall Pass is a captivating novel and emotional rollercoaster of the tug-of-war between motherhood and one’s own happiness. What other kind of feedback have you received on your debut novel?
The overwhelming feedback is that people love the characters. They feel like they know them. They feel connected to them. Especially Eva’s best friend Drew and Riley, the love of her life.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
The most surprising thing was how hard it is emotionally to put it out there. Also, to finish it. I felt like every time I went back in to re-read or edit, I wanted to fix or change or add or subtract. I still feel that way when I pick it up.
What is one thing you wish you knew when you started out?
This is time consuming. It’s all consuming, actually. Characters and their situations plague me at the oddest times. I’m constantly wanting to write things down or make notes to go back to. You don’t just walk away from your computer and you are done for the day. It’s literally all day. I will hear a song and think, “Oh, that reminds me of Eva and Riley. Oh, I should add xyz to their situation.”
What do you like to read and which authors have inspired your own work as a writer?
I’m not a genre specific reader (which is why my book is a melting pot of genres, most likely). But I will say Anne Rice is my goddess. She is the author that changed my life when I was sixteen. But right now, I’m heavily into Lauren Groff and Jeffrey Euganides. I love, love, love Groff’s voice as a woman writer. Euganides is from the same hometown as I am, and I love the way he writes. It’s poetic and dreamlike. His writing is underrated and totally what I wish I could be.
As you may be discovering, being an author is a full-time job these days. What do you enjoy most about the process? And the least?
The most is just creating. Giving birth to characters and situations. When I am writing, I feel like the characters are a part of my life and they are with me. (I swear, I’m not crazy!) The least is marketing. I hate marketing. I’m not a salesperson.
Describe how you felt when you first held a copy of your novel in your hands.
It was surreal, honestly. My book was available for pre-order, but friends and family who wanted to be supportive had ordered hard copies and their hard copies had arrived before my author copies had. I was jealous to see my book in their hands before I had a chance to hold it. When it finally got here, I just held it for like two or three minutes and looked at my wife and said, “Wow. I made this!”
How does your family support your writing? Were they surprised when you told them you were writing a book? (Or did you keep it a secret until it was finished)?
My immediate family and my Ohana (my chosen family consisting of my best friends Marc and Jenn) knew. More distant friends and family knew when I shared the Amazon link. But those closest to me were and are incredibly supportive. I couldn’t have done it without them.
What do you like to do outside of writing? What are some of your other passions?
I’m a nerd. I love art museums and books. My wife and I love travelling, so going on vacation is a huge one as well.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, as a writer or regarding life in general?
If you want something enough, you will make it happen. So just manifesting your dreams by taking the steps to make it happen. If that means writing, it means do what you need to do to write. If it means making the life you want, it means taking those steps to make it happen. It’s not easy and it’s not supposed to be. Life is Earth School (I can’t remember which Oprah philosopher that comes from, so not my terminology!) You learn as you go to overcome and make the best of what you are given to accomplish what you want. And sometimes, what you think you want, isn’t what you really wanted in the end, and it’s okay to change course or change plans as you need to. That goes for life and writing.
So, what’s next? Are there more novels in your future?
I just finished the first draft of my second novel. It’s not related to This Too Shall Pass. But it’s in the same vein. Flawed characters, some dark stuff, some romance. It’s a little sexier than the first, a little darker. But we are still a bit a way from completion. My goal is this time next year, maybe a little sooner. The working title is Like Sapphire Blue.
What advice can you give to aspiring authors?
Don’t quit. Sit down and write.
Marisa, thank you so much for joining us at Reader Views today!
A great big thank you to Reader Views! I appreciate what you do for the writing community! Especially for those of us in the Indie Market who are looking to make a name for ourselves!
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