Author Marisca Pichette is a rare talent. Not only does she effortlessly straddle prose and poetry, she is, by far, the most prolific, determined, and business-savvy writer I know. She understands what it takes to get published; not just the hours of hard toil, but growing a rhinoceros hide and limitless perseverance. Perhaps that’s why we bonded on our MFA program. I remember Marisca telling me she had dozens of submissions pending in her Submittable queue at any given time, and it occurred to me that I might want to do the same if I wanted to broaden my chances of publishing success. In fact, it was Marisca’s won’t-quit attitude in sending out her poetry that landed her her very first book deal for debut collection of speculative verse, Rivers in Your Skin, Sirens in Your Hair, published by Android Press. Marisca perfectly embodies the attitude and advice we live by here at Aspiring Author (quit when you’re dead), and I couldn’t be happier to publish my interview with this inspirational debut author.
How did you get into writing?
Growing up, my sister and I invented stories together, putting our toys in grand imaginary narratives. The worlds we built grew with us and formed the backdrop of the stories we subsequently wrote down. My sister, Piper, is still an avid creator, though her talents surpass writing, as she composes music as well. I just have one passion: words.
How did you find your literary agent?
I started querying far too early. I was in high school, writing my first fantasy series, when I began trying to get it published. I actually received encouraging responses from the publishers who responded, and over the next six years I worked on refining my craft and writing more complex narratives. I finally found my literary agent in 2020, and we’ve been working together since then.
Describe your publishing journey
My first published works were all literary—poems and short pieces in nonpaying, college-based magazines. Once I started my MFA program, I targeted the pro market. I leaned into my passion for genre and had my first pro sale in speculative fiction in 2020. In any given year, I submit hundreds of pieces, and on average, 90-95% get rejected. I’ve seen gradual progress, with more publications each year, and a bit more recognition along the way. Still, there are always setbacks. When I signed with my agent in 2020, I had a publication contract for my debut novel. That contract didn’t last, as the publisher failed to survive the hardships of the pandemic. I’m now working with my agent to pitch this novel to other publishers, as well as a new novel.
Your debut collection, Rivers in Your Skin, Sirens in Your Hair, presents the reader with a “magical journey in speculative verse.” How do you access the “magical” in your work?
Maybe it’s the way I grew up, but magic never seemed distant from reality. If anything, I feel like a little bit of magic brings me closer to what it means to be fully alive. Magic to me is trees budding in the spring, frost covering fields in the fall. Magic is scars holding a memory of absent pain, clouds swelling with the chance of rain. Magic is in everything that adults forgot, but children remember. To quote my friend and fantastic author, Dyani Sabin, “magic is what is really there, if only we could see it.” How do I access the magical? I look at the world around me. I squint hard. In the smallest details and lingering in hazy shapes along the horizon, I fancy I see magic.
Who are your literary inspirations?
The authors that inspired me to write from childhood were Anne McCaffrey, J.R.R. Tolkien, Brian Jacques, Terry Pratchett, and…the unpalatable author of those wizard books. It took me years to see the diversity missing from my reading, and once I did, a whole new world of incredible authors was opened to me. I love the work of N.K. Jemisin, Anna Maria Hong, Ocean Vuong, Sienna Tristen, Carmen Maria Machado, Ken Liu, and K. Arsenault Rivera, among many others.
Describe your relationship with your literary agent
My agent is business-focused, which means she doesn’t tend to do editorial work on my manuscripts. Instead, she’s connected me with editors to carry out development edits, and when we’re both satisfied on the result, she pitches the new manuscript. My agent helped me to negotiate the contract for my poetry collection, which I received independently. She is an invaluable resource for marketing, and a great cheerleader for my work!
Describe your relationship with your editor
My poetry collection was edited by J.D. Harlock at Android Press. Editing poetry is a different world from prose, and the process was generally faster and more straightforward than working with an editor on a novel. J.D.’s edits were direct, thoughtful, and astute.
How do you separate the business end of writing from the craft?
I find this easier to do in short fiction than novels. With short fiction, I write what interests me, and I can always sell the result somewhere. Novels are harder. The hurdles to publication are higher, and publishers hedge their bets. I draft a novel based on my love for the story and I edit it with sale in mind. Once I’ve told myself the story, I need to make sure an audience will understand it (and hopefully love it!) as I do. Poetry is easy. You know you’ll make no money from it, so just write!
What is your writing routine?
I’m not sure I have one! I don’t write regularly. If I have a project I’m working on, it consumes me until it’s finished. I’ll spend a month drafting a novel, set the whole thing aside for another month, then take a week to deep-dive into editing, take another break, and repeat. Last year, I set a goal to produce new poems and stories consistently. Meeting this goal meant writing almost every weekend. It was a whirlwind experience. I enjoyed the new work I produced and was able to submit and publish a deal of it over the course of the year. This year, I’m giving myself a break from short form. I hope to focus on novel work, and maybe produce a new novella as well.
You’re prolific at writing and submitting. How do you balance both?
I’m an Aries sun, Virgo moon, and Leo rising. I feel like my neurotic obsession with writing and submitting is explained easily by astrology. To unpack this somewhat: I’m a competitive, compulsive completist. Once I begin something, I need to finish it. I write nearly all stories and poems in a single sitting (however long it takes). I hate having a piece lying around without being on submission somewhere, and if the magazine allows simultaneous submissions, I send it to at least 3 places at once. Truly, I want very badly to succeed. No matter how many times I hit a wall, I’ll always find a window and be on my way again.
Do you have any speculative fiction influences, heroes, or muses?
I’ve listed a few of my influences already, but I want to stress the power of my peers. The writers I’ve worked alongside—from my sister growing up, to my friends in high school, to the phenomenally talented members of my MFA cohort, to the emerging authors I’ve met at conferences and online—each touch me with their imagination, skill, and inspiration. Along the way, my muses are landscape, legend, and possibility. Is that too dramatic? Or just dramatic enough?
Your work takes mythology, folklore, and memory and projects them through a queer lens. How important is it for you to project this voice in your work?
I had virtually no queer literature growing up, and I didn’t realize the lack until I embraced my identity in my late teens. I don’t want anyone to feel they aren’t reflected in the media they encounter—or fail to recognize themselves due to persistent homogeneity. As much as I love reimagining old stories and turning them queer, it’s even more important to craft original tales. I am working toward a new canon of twisted, decadent, determined folklore to spread like glitter over everything. This is the defiant cry of anyone whose identity has been marginalized: we exist, we’ve always existed, and we will continue to exist—and most of all, we will shine.
Which do you prefer writing, poetry or prose?
Oh, that’s a hard one. They tap into different veins. Poetry gives me space to play with words without worrying about developing character or plot. And yet, I can’t resist using poetry to tell a story in miniature, a narrative snapshot of emotion and imagery. Point for poems: they don’t take too long. Point for prose: it takes a long time. I have a complex relationship with prose. I love immersing myself in atmospheric worlds, discovering characters and riding the tides of tension and resolution. But it consumes me—especially novels. I can’t write or think about anything else until I’ve finished. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just the truth. So the question isn’t one or the other. The question is which one when. A poem is great for a quiet afternoon. A novel is suited to summer, or to pull me through the long dark winter. A story is perfect for a snowy day. And an idea? An idea is for always, just waiting to see what form it will take. To that extent, I sometimes have a tough time separating poetry and prose. I’ve written poems that turned into stories, and flash fiction that turned into poetry. I think this speaks to how the genres can be quite similar, especially if you write lyrically. Overall, I’d say it’s important to flex both muscles. Building your craft in poetry will add depth to your prose, and cultivating your prose will lend structure to your poetry.
We completed our MFA together. Would you recommend the MFA to aspiring authors?
If you have the time and money, I highly recommend a low residency MFA. In addition to connecting me with incredible authors as mentors and peers, the program structure helped me develop a process for working and writing. Most authors can’t afford to write full time (especially after paying for an MFA), so it’s imperative you discover how to fit your writing into your otherwise busy life. Stonecoast really fostered this skill. Another important piece of that program was the business side. I learned how to compose a query letter, seek out agents, write stories that would appeal to the market, and most importantly: not give up after multiple rejections. Of course, many of these skills can be learned at workshops, retreats, and other short-term writing programs. An MFA isn’t for everyone. I feel it was right for me.
You attend many conferences, workshops, and readings. Describe the impact they’ve had on you?
The conferences I attend were suggested to me during my time at Stonecoast, and they’ve been great experiences. I began going as an attendee and over the past two years I’ve graduated to a panelist and speaker. I generally prepare by emailing with my fellow panelists beforehand, timing myself if I’m doing a reading, and combing through the schedule for friends and authors I don’t want to miss! Meeting new authors has been a true highlight of these events. Sharing work and learning from others makes conferences and readings so rewarding. They’ve broadened my community and support network, and given me many great books to read. Some of my favorite events are the ICFA, Can*Con, the ephemera series, and Boskone.
What books about writing do you recommend?
Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer
Steering the Craft by Ursula K Le Guin
A Stranger’s Journey by David Mura
What keeps you sane?
My partner, my cats, time to sit and read, and a window to the wilderness.
What does success look like to you?
Success is satisfaction. Do you love what you create? Does it speak to you, and maybe a few readers? Do you have peers who support you, or you support? Are you—every day—learning something? That’s success to me.
What advice do you wish you’d listened to?
Spend time on things. I don’t mean on writing (but that’s always important); I mean give your work time to rest. I try to do this, but sometimes I’m too preoccupied with getting a piece on submission that I send it out before it’s matured. When you sit with something after drafting, you realize things. You might see areas that need trimming or fleshing out, you might learn more about your characters and world. Is a fermentation metaphor useful here? Don’t bring grape juice to a wine tasting.
What advice do you wish you’d ignored?
If you spend enough time on certain sites, you’ll find out all sorts of fake stats for how much interest you should get in a novel before scrapping it. I say “fake” because reality doesn’t conform to probability. If you believe in a project—if you think it’s good and you’ve worked hard on it to make it exactly how you like it (bonus points for workshopping and getting beta readers)—don’t give up, no matter how many rejections you get. There’s no half-life for creative work. It will always find a home.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors looking to get published?
If you’re debuting, no matter how big or small your publisher (but especially if you’re self-published), you need to work hard. Start a newsletter, force yourself to run a blog or social media. Put your introverted self out there as much as you feel safe doing, because word of mouth is how we survive. Look at what other debuting and established authors are doing and adopt what you think you can handle. Potential readers need to hear about your work before they can seek it out! If you’re aspiring, the real task for you is to keep at it. Write, read, find out about events in your area. Connect with people who share your interests and start building your community. You’ll need the support. For all writers: we’re telling different stories and living different lives. All our words long for a home as nurturing as the one they started in. Remember: that first home is the most important. All your words need is you.
About Author Marisca Pichette
Marisca Pichette is an award-winning author of speculative fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. She wrote her first story using quill and ink, sitting on a rock in the Western Massachusetts woods, a leather-bound journal balanced on her knees. Since then, she has published stories and poems across genres, with work appearing in Strange Horizons, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Fireside Magazine, Flash Fiction Online, Vastarien, and Plenitude Magazine, among many others. She makes her home next to the woods that continue to influence her, busily filling the pages of a new journal. Her debut collection of speculative verse, Rivers in Your Skin, Sirens in Your Hair, comes out in April 2023 with Android Press. You can also pre-order the ebook from Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and leave a review on Goodreads.