As an old adult, I usually think young adult novels are not for me. But I’m beginning to rethink that the position after talking to writer Marisa Reichardt about her debut novel Underwater (hardcover, digital). While she says the novel is YA because it has, “A teenage protagonist facing teenage protagonist issues while embracing the truth of teenage emotion,” she goes on to explain why the operative word in the phrase “young adult” may not be the first one.
Let’s start with the basics: What is Underwater about?
Underwater is the story of seventeen-year-old Morgan Grant who becomes an agoraphobe after a tragic event at her high school. With the help of her family, an understanding therapist, and a new boy who moves in next door, Morgan begins to face the life she’s been missing.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
First and foremost, I wanted to write a story about a teenager dealing with severe anxiety. I am not a stranger to anxiety myself. Once I started to answer the who, what, and why of that, the rest of Underwater took shape.
Obviously, like most writers, you probably read a lot. But which of your favorite authors and books do you feel are the biggest influences on Underwater?
I am a huge fan of Rainbow Rowell and Curtis Sittenfeld. I appreciate the way they get all the messy truths and tiniest of details on the page. And I love what Vladimir Nabokov does with language. And no, I am not saying my writing even comes close to being as gorgeous as his. But if the ultimate dream is to write a line that people want to read over and over again, then that influence came from reading Lolita.
Why did you decide to write it as a young adult novel, as opposed to just an adult novel or something less age-specific?
I completely, one hundred percent, set out to write a young adult novel. I have always been drawn to coming-of-age stories and I think some of the most exciting and edgiest stories are happening in the world of YA right now. I was up for the challenge. Teenagers are smart and savvy. They can smell inauthenticity from a mile away. You have to bring your A-game if you want to write for them. I wanted to try.
But do you think someone who isn’t young would appreciate Underwater?
Definitely. There is a misconception that YA literature is only for young adults. I’ve read that something like fifty or sixty-five percent of YA book sales come from adults, and that isn’t just adults buying for teenagers. Many are buying YA books for themselves. I do feel Underwater has adult appeal because nobody ever really forgets what it’s like to be a teenager. But I also think there are elements of the book that will appeal to adults, particularly the storyline involving Morgan’s mom.
Your website also says that you, “can usually be found huddled over her laptop in coffeehouses.” How much of Underwater did you actually write that way?
It’s funny because everything I’ve written except Underwater — including what I’m writing now — has been written that way. For Underwater, I actually wrote quite differently. I would come home, turn off all the noise, close the blinds, and shut myself in to get to that headspace I needed to be in to write this particular story. But I did edit most of the book while huddled over a laptop in a coffeehouse, and that certainly involved plenty of writing since I added about sixteen thousand words to the book.
Did you find that writing on a laptop in a coffeehouse was conducive to good writing, or did you realize later you had to rewrite all of that stuff?
I can literally remember, like in really specific ways, some of my most productive writing sessions which have happened in coffeehouses. I love writing like that. So I definitely didn’t dump that stuff. But sometimes I do need a change of scenery. I coffeehouse hop. If I start associating a particular place with writers block or not being productive then I need to move on to a new space.
The coffeehouses in question are in Los Angeles, where you live. So I’ll ask the question I’m sure all your friends have asked: Has there been any interest in turning your book into a movie?
Not at the moment. While a movie version of Underwater would be extraordinary, I’m pretty good with it being a book too.
This would never happen, but if someone was making Underwater into a movie, and they asked you who should direct it and star in it, who would you suggest and why?
I’d like to think [Lost In Translation director] Sofia Coppola would be a great aesthetic and emotional fit. I have repeatedly failed miserably at casting Morgan. And my only request for casting Evan is that they find a real surfer from Hawaii to play him.
Underwater is your first published novel. But is the first novel you’ve written?
Underwater is the third book I wrote. The other two shall remain in a drawer. Locked. Where nobody will ever see them. I don’t regret them. They were great learning tools. But I don’t have any interest in reviving them.
Since you’re obviously not going to reworking one of those books, do you know what you’re going to write next?
I’m currently working on another YA contemporary standalone novel. I’m excited about it and happy to report that I’m drafting in coffeehouses again.
Ha! Finally, if someone reads Underwater and likes it, what book would you recommend they read next and why?
Oh, man. So many. I’m part of a 2016 debut group of YA and MG writers called The Sweet Sixteens, and I have read so many good books that are coming out this year, so I’d send them there first because I think they very well might discover their next favorite author. And I will always recommend Rainbow Rowell and Curtis Sittenfeld because they are my favorite. I’d start with Prep by Sittenfeld and Eleanor & Park by Rowell.