Friday, November 21, 2008

Best of Interviews: Marisa de los Santos

Posted by Lynne Griffin

When I saw the advance praise for the new novel, Belong to Me, by Marisa de los Santos, I was delighted. A big fan (along with millions of other readers) of her first novel, Love Walked In, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. De los Santos delivered with her second gem. After finishing Belong to Me, I contacted Marisa asking if she’d like to be part of our author spotlight series. And lucky for us, she agreed.

Lynne: Can you share with our readers a glimpse inside your literary life?
I taught literature for many years at the undergraduate level. And spent most of my time writing poetry. The idea for Love Walked In came to me after I had my first child. It was published in 2006 and before it was off my desk I started writing Belong to Me, which was just published in April.

Lynne: How great is it to have two novels out in a two year period?
It’s been wonderful, really. Belong to Me has brought new readers to Love Walked In. It’s been very special to have new life to that book, through my latest. I love hearing from readers who’ve really connected with Cornelia Brown.

Lynne: I was surprised Belong to Me was a sequel. Can you tell our readers how you came to that decision?
I started on Belong to Me, when Love Walked In wasn’t even off my desk. The characters wanted to say more, so I wrote it before Love was published. For me, each book evolves over time. I don’t have lots of ideas that I can pick off a shelf. I write the book I need to write at the time. Belong to Me has a different mood, a different tone. I worried people might not like it because the characters are in different places in their lives. In Love Walked In, there was lots of room for play. Belong to Me is more serious, but it had to be written that way; it’s a more grown-up book. My third is not a continuation of last two. But who knows about my forth.

Lynne: I know you’ve had the same editor for both books, but not the same publishing house. Can you tell us about that?
Marisa: After Love Walked In was published, my editor moved to Morrow. I will be there for my next two books, as well. It’s very nice to have a home. It’s been a very positive experience, and I think that has to do with the fact that I’ll be with them. It works for me—and for them—to think long term about our efforts. It would only make sense; it’s an investment.

Lynne: Any words about your agent and editor relationships?
I’m very fortunate to be close to both my agent and editor. All the relationships are very personal, with your agent, editor and publicity staff. For me the experience has been extremely positive.

Lynne: How do you balance writing and promoting?
Marisa: The times I’m not writing are just as important as when I am. The first time I was on the road, I remember sitting in a hotel room trying to write. I wasn’t in my space. I’m a homebody when I’m writing. I need total immersion, as much as you can get of that when you have a family. That’s what I need, I figured out. So now when I’m promoting, I’m writing less. But I do a lot of the working out of the story in my head, so I’m always doing that.

Lynne: Tell us about your writing routine.
Marisa: During the school year, when my kids are in school, I write between 8:30- 2:30. Each day I start by reading pages from the day before, and then I plunge in. I write sentence to sentence, and I don’t know my story until I’m writing. I have a vague sense, but the story comes as I write. My first drafts take a long time because I fine-tune as I go. I don’t have numerous drafts, but more of a thorough continuous draft. I send my manuscript to my agent in chunks. She’s a great editor. I’m very at home with her.

Lynne: What’s most important to you as a writer?
Marisa: I can’t write for an audience. I never want my books to lack integrity because I’ve not been true to my story and the characters. I value my audience, but I have to write what I have to write.

As a writer and a reader, characters are paramount to me. I love language, but I get impatient when books don’t have a story to tell. The highest compliment I can get is that my characters feel real. The books I go back to over and over again—the ones that become part of my life—are the ones where the characters are alive.

The way I write is character-driven. I don’t plot, I let the characters tell me what the story is.

Lynne: How are you contending with your new found success?
It’s all wonderful. This whole publishing life for me has been full of serendipitous things, some incredibly miraculous things, but it doesn’t change my daily life. The thing that brings it home for me, isn’t the sales figures, it’s the email, the conversations with readers. The fact that my books are touching people, reaching people, that’s the best thing.

I’m grateful things are happening now that I’m happy, and my life is firmly in place. It is all a great privilege to be doing this, though there was no big identity shift, because I’d had always been a writer. The real relationship is between you and the work; nothing changes that, and nothing should.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with the people I’ve worked with; they’ve been dedicated to me and my books. I know I’m blessed and I live in a state of gratitude.

Thank you, Marisa, for sharing your time with the readers of The Writers' Group. Your insights are incredibly valuable.


Amanda said...

Normally, I read very little modern fiction, but with what Marisa says about audience and integrity and character-driven books, I think I'm going to have to check her books out! Very few authors write like that these days, and I appreciate it so much when one of them does. Thanks for the interview!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

You're welcome, Amanda. You won't be disappointed. Marisa's fiction is well written, engaging, and her characters feel like friends. Enjoy!


Anna Claire said...

I'm going to check out her books, too. I've heard of Love Walked In, and both books look great :)

I'm glad to see that she does one long continuous draft because she fine-tunes as she goes. I write like that, too, and until now hadn't come across another writer who does that.

Thanks for the fab interview!

Amanda said...

I have now read both Love Walked In and Belong to Me, and both are wonderful! Thanks for introducing me to her books. :)