Like Sapphire Blue
Mirador Publishing (2022)
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 novels, This Too Shall Pass, Like Sapphire Blue, and Into the Blue Again and is supposed to be working on her upcoming fourth novel. She lives in Southern California with her wife, Stephanie and son Alexander and two Dogs, Max and Bonnie.
Hi Marisa. Welcome back to Reader Views! Tell us about Like Sapphire Blue – what’s it all about?
Emma is raised poor and motherless in an affluent neighborhood; she has to overcome everyone’s perception of her to eventually succeed. She’s triumphant in reaching her goals. She falls in love with the woman of her dreams, beats the odds, finds love and joy, and builds an incredible life. Only for unthinkable circumstances, in the form of betrayal, tears down everything she built. Everyone said she was going to be nothing… Did she prove them right or wrong?
What inspired this story?
Honestly, it started as a short story. I was going to write a collection of them based on an experience my wife and I had while camping in Lake Tahoe. To make a long story short, normally when we camp, people are super social and walking around the RV park. At this one RV park, no one was socializing, so as we sat around the campfire I started making up stories about all of the campers. And I just made up a story about one camper having killed their spouse and being on the run. After I wrote it out, I felt like it needed a full on book.
I love the title! What is the significance behind it?
Emma’s eyes are blue. When she first meets the love of her life, they are in an art class. She’s asked about the color of her eyes. She tells her she doesn’t know, that they are “like sapphire blue”. It’s a phrase they return to as it’s something that becomes between them.
Tell us about Emma. She’s had a tough life. What motivates her?
She knows she has more potential than her father. She sees what the lifestyles of her friends are – and she is a natural athlete and intelligent. She knows she can leverage her abilities to rise up. And she does. Some of the motivation does become her love interest Bailey.
What are the dynamics between Emma and Bailey?
In the beginning, it’s Bailey calling the shots. She’s in charge. Emma will do anything for her. But circumstances constantly drive them apart. So when they get together the final time, Emma has had more life experiences, and Emma has begun to see her own worth and potential. So she becomes the alpha, so to speak. But regardless of it all, Emma has a deep devotion to Bailey. She builds her life around her and making her happy.
One of our reviewers said her favorite part of the story is their relationship, saying it had her “feeling all the feels.” Is it easy or challenging for you to write at such an intimate level? Are you a sentimental kinda gal?
Ummmm…. Funny thing is… I’m stoic as hell. It bugs my wife. I don’t talk about my feelings. I don’t express them. I don’t like to talk about things. But I love to observe. I love to listen. And while I don’t talk about my feelings, I will write about them. Writing is my therapy. That being said, Emma and Bailey and their dynamic is not based on my own life. Eva and Riley (from my first novel) are pretty close to autobiographical though.
You really put Emma through a lot and seem pretty fearless in doing so. Talk about your relationship with your characters and how they change over the course of your writing.
This always makes me feel like I sound like I should be committed to a mental hospital. But I felt like Emma was a real person while I was writing this book. I would go on walks in the morning and listen to the playlist that helped me write. And as I would walk it was like Emma was there with me. She was telling me this story. I would come up with an idea, and I could hear her in my head saying, “No. That’s not what I would do.” I think what kind of happens is I do start building these characters and considering them as real people. Three dimensional. And I analyze everything – how would a person like this respond to that… It becomes intensely personal.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing Like Sapphire Blue?
The plot twist. Writing it and keeping Emma a character that readers will still root for and find lovable.
Was there any research involved in preparing to write the story or was this strictly the result of creative license?
I had to look up a few things about brain aneurysms and does the hyoid bone actually break with manual strangulation.
What is the importance of LGBTQ literature in the face of such a politically divided nation?
Representation matters. There is definitely an increase in LGBTQ literature now. It’s still not as widely read outside of our community – but it exists now and there is definitely a push for it on BookTok and Bookstagram. But when you are in a marginalized community, seeing characters that you can relate to is a big deal.
Are there any LGBTQ writers or books that have influenced you as a writer?
Not really. My reading is all over the place. I love so many authors right now. Lauren Groff is my current favorite. My top reads so far this year are They Never Learn by Layne Fargo and They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera (I’m still recovering from that one. I can’t think about it without wanting to cry).
How has LGBTQ representation in literature improved or expanded in recent years?
Honestly, outside of The Well of Loneliness and Ruby Fruit Jungle, I didn’t even know how much was really out there until I started my own journey as a writer. But once I found BookTok (the subcommunity on TikTok) and Bookstagram (Instagrams book community) I didn’t even know how much was there. I’ve been binge reading since then. So many great stories are out there, and talented writers that blow me away!
How concerned are you about the growing popularity of book-banning as it relates to your novels?
It’s definitely concerning. Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill scares me. And several states that want to mimic DeSantis and his hate bills, scare me to no end. I have a son. Are you telling me that he can’t talk about his two loving moms at school? I am insanely grateful that I live and teach in Southern California. I have a diverse classroom library (No- my books are not part of that) that I try to keep updated and stocked with stories and authors that represent the varied and diverse stories and backgrounds of my students. Hatred is not okay. It’s not acceptable. It’s not okay to say only one story matters and can be represented. Reading stories about gay people or watching movies about them won’t make you gay. I was raised reading stories about straight people and watching straight people movies. I’m still gay.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating this book?
How attached I can get to people who aren’t real. I cried when certain characters died. Like ugly cried.
What kind of reaction to your writing do you most seek from your reading audience?
That my characters are realistic and likable. Or lovable.
What kind of feedback have you received on Like Sapphire Blue?
I’ve only had one negative review of it. It’s been shockingly well received.
How have you grown as a writer since writing your first novel?
I’m a lot more fearless with pushing myself creatively.
You’ve really come a long way with marketing your work. What are some of the things that work best for you, marketing-wise?
Oh. That’s still a challenge. Every day. I hate marketing. I think I’ve learned that there is not one formula that works for everyone. You have to find what works and replicate that. I love making pretty videos with cool music on Canva and posting them, but they never do well. The ones I hate to make the most – showing my face- as I text or email or call someone with something snarky- those videos do well for me. How many books have they sold? I couldn’t tell you.
You have a sequel to Like Sapphire Blue called Into the Blue Again. Can you tell us a little about this story without giving away too much?
One of my friends, Ryan French, is also one of my beta readers. She’s an avid reader and she’s not afraid to be honest with me. When she finished Like Sapphire Blue she told me I couldn’t end Emma’s story there. So I did this on her suggestion. Emma meets a woman named Morgan at the end of LSB, and Into the Blue Again picks up with Emma’s story while going back through Morgan’s story and how their lives have this parallel course. It has trigger warnings like mental health and addiction and suicide. It’s got some mild spice and lots of bad decisions made by Morgan.
Will this be a continuing series or does it conclude with Into the Blue Again?
This is it. I’m done with this story line. I have considered making a bit of a metaverse with some recurring characters. Riley from my first novel makes an appearance in Into the Blue Again.
CONGRATULATIONS are in order! Like Sapphire Blue really cleaned up in our 2022 Literary Awards program. Tell us about your reaction when you heard the news.
When you sent out the finalist email, I received a personal email congratulating me. I was like “Wow! If that’s as far as it goes, I’m honored.” On the date the results were announced, I didn’t get the personal email first, so I assumed I was just a finalist and I was still proud of that. Then I opened the link so I could see who did win and my book popped up first. I put my phone down and walked away. I was like, “I need coffee. I am thinking my book won. That can’t be.” So I made coffee, sat down and reopened it and I was like, “No way. I really won.” It’s been a trip. I’ve never expected it. I’m super happy!
Also, regarding the Amy Lignor Memorial Award of Excellence, Amys review for Like Sapphire Blue was the first one I received. And my first professional five star review at that. Her review is something that I still cherish. I was so excited to share Into the Blue Again with her when I found out about her passing. I was so heartbroken to hear the news. So, to win the award named in her honor, is such a great privilege.
Where do you go from here? Are you working on another story presently?
I’ve had a lot going on personally so I haven’t been really working on anything. I’ve been playing with short stories (they are linked on my website, authormarisabillions.com) and enjoying that. I have ideas… I have a character who won’t let me be poking around. She’s got a story I need to tell. But I haven’t figured it out yet.
Is there anything else you’d like to add today?
That I really appreciate the love and support and I’ve gotten from Reader Views. This has been an amazing experience. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
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