Swanky 17er Stephanie Elliot spoke to the author of the new YA contemporary novel UNDERWATER (Macmillan/FSG, January 12, 2016).
Morgan didn’t mean to do anything wrong that day. Actually, she meant to do something right. But her kind act inadvertently played a role in a deadly tragedy. In order to move on, Morgan must learn to forgive – first someone who did something that might be unforgivable, and then, herself.
But Morgan can’t move on. She can’t even move beyond the front door of the apartment she shares with her mother and little brother. Morgan feels like she’s underwater, unable to surface. Unable to see her friends. Unable to go to school.
When it seems Morgan can’t hold her breath any longer, a new boy moves in next door. Evan reminds her of the salty ocean air and the rush she used to get from swimming. He might be just what she needs to help her reconnect with the world outside.
Underwater is a powerful, hopeful debut novel about redemption, recovery, and finding the strength it takes to face your past and move on.
About the Author
Marisa Reichardt is a SoCal native and high school writing instructor. She has a Master of Professional Writing degree from the University of Southern California and dual undergraduate degrees in literature and creative writing from UC San Diego. She spent her college years shucking oysters, waiting tables, and peddling swimwear. She has spent her post-grad years writing, tutoring, and teaching. She currently lives in Los Angeles.
Stephanie: I knew from the very moment I read the blurb about UNDERWATER I wanted to know more about you and the book, and then when I saw the gorgeous cover, I was hooked! Thank you for sharing an ARC with me, which I read in about two sittings! What was that initial inspiration or spark that made you think, “I want to write ‘THIS’ book!”?
Marisa: First off. THANK YOU! I am seriously honored that you wanted to read Underwater and even more honored that you enjoyed it. As far as inspiration for the book, I think the initial spark was that I wanted to write about a teenage girl with debilitating anxiety. I still remember the exact moment when I made the announcement of that intent to my writers group. And then I had to start thinking about the why and the how of it. But it definitely started, one hundred percent, with wanting to address anxiety.
Stephanie: I’m assuming that Morgan holds THE special place in your heart, but I fell in love with her younger brother Ben, and also surfer sun-soaked, floppy-haired Evan as well. Did you base these endearing boys on anyone in the real world?… and personally, I just want to hug them both! They’re both so real and so sweet. Do you do anything unique when it comes to creating your characters or the environments in which they live?
Marisa: I think one of the best things to hear about Underwater is how much people love Morgan’s kindergarten brother, Ben. I love Ben too. So so much. He really just jumped off the page for me—from the first sentence I wrote about him flying like an airplane through the courtyard of Paradise Manor on page 11. I do know I couldn’t have written Ben until I was a parent myself but he isn’t at all based on my child or children I know. He really is very much his own person. As far as Evan, I just wrote my dream dude: a floppy-haired surfer.
I’m totally unoriginal with my world building. So far all my books have been set in a California beach town of some sort. And as far as creating characters, I don’t think it’s very unique, but I do try to pick a theme song—or even an entire playlist—for each of my characters. It helps me with brainstorming. I like to go on power walks by the beach with my headphones on and think about whatever and whomever I’m writing about.
Stephanie: What came first, the title or the story, and what is your writing process like? How long did it take you to write UNDERWATER?
Marisa: The story definitely came first. Underwater is not the original title of the book. It actually sold under the title of Shut-In. When my editor first suggested Underwater, I knew it was perfect. And that awesome cover never would’ve happened without that title.
As far as my writing process, I try to be a “butt-in-the-chair” writer, but that doesn’t always work for me. I wish it did… It took me ten months to write Underwater, which was the fastest I’d ever written a book but now I seem to be back to my pre-Underwater days and moving at a slower pace than I’d like. But I can also appreciate how different the process has been this time around and then I forgive myself (a little).
Stephanie: What was the editing process like for you? Did you enjoy it? What’s more fun – the book writing or the editing?
Marisa: First off, I have to say that I hit the editor jackpot. My editor, Joy Peskin, is smart, thoughtful, genuine, and generous. Our sensibilities were so in tune while editing Underwater that I often knew what she was looking for before she finished the sentence. Because of that, the editing process for Underwater was a really positive experience for me. While I’d have to say the initial book writing was the most fun, watching the book become what it did with the help of Joy’s careful editorial eye was magical.
Stephanie: Can you give us some info on what your next book is about?
Marisa: I will say it’s another YA contemporary and the main character is a badass girl with a sticker-smattered skateboard.
Stephanie: Ooh, I can already envision her skateboard and I can’t wait to read about her! Thanks for taking the time to share a little bit more about Underwater with us Marisa – I know everyone is going to love Morgan, Evan and Ben! It’s such a beautiful book!
Salty or Sweet: Sweet with a salty chaser.
Favorite Band: The Jesus and Mary Chain
Inspirational Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
TV Show: My So-Called Life
One non-electronic item you can’t live without: The ocean
Drink of Choice: Diet Coke (a bad habit I need to break)
Fave Fast Food Place: In-N-Out Burger
Lucky Number & Why? Three, because it’s such a repetitive element in my life.
Early Bird or Night Owl? Night owl. Hoot, hoot.
If not a writer I’d like to: be a mermaid.
UNDERWATER is available for purchase from:
About the Interviewer
Stephanie Elliot hates crafting interesting bios. She obviously loves to read and write, and napping is her next all-time favorite activity in the world (Look up #napmaster on Twitter!). She’s been married for a long time and has three children who cannot be the ages they are already. She’s lived in Florida, Illinois (twice!), Pennsylvania, and now Arizona, but to her, “home” is family and a page-turner. Her debut young adult novel, Sad Perfect (FSG/Winter 2017) is based on a unique eating disorder her teenage daughter has – ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder). Visit www.stephanieelliot.com for more intriguing info.