Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Interview with Marissa Levien, author of The World Gives Way

Please welcome Marissa Levien to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The World Gives Way was published on June 15, 2021 by Redhook.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing Marissa a Happy Book Birthday!

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

Marissa:  I wrote this truly bonkers story for a kindergarten assignment… we would dictate the story to our teacher, and they would write it out for us. For most kids, it was just a couple sentences, something like “The cat ran into the tree to chase a squirrel. Then a bird flew away.” Mine was this long run-on paragraph about an alien in a cloud spaceship coming down to earth to bury the severed limbs of his ancestors. It drew some weird looks from the teachers, but six-year-old me was very happy with the finished product.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Marissa:  I’d say I’m a hybrid. I love outlines, but I also strongly believe that you should let your characters change and grow as you’re writing them, which means sometimes they’re going to change the story on you. When that happens, you just kind of have to go with it.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Marissa:  When writing a story, I always get bogged down in the middle. I always have a sense of how a book is going to begin, and how I want it to end, but the middle is where I get stuck. Sometimes it’s because I’m trying to force a plot through that’s not quite the right fit anymore, or because I’m avoiding the necessary conflict or change for my characters. But somewhere, about 150 pages in, I usually have to take a step back and shake off my preconceived notions of the story in order to keep going.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Marissa:  Everything influences my writing. I’m a very big fan of reading all genres, and even outside of literature, just taking in as much of the world as possible; paintings, dance, history, travel, politics, scientific theorems, you name it.

For this book, I read a lot of Calvino, a lot of Beckett, Douglas Adams, Karen Thompson Walker, and Emily St. John Mandel. Lots of existentialism and lots of humanity. One of my main characters is also an art appreciator, so I got to pull from some of my favorite artists, like Alma Thomas and Roman Opalka.

TQDescribe The World Gives Way using only 5 words.

Marissa:  A warm, humane, aesthetic, apocalypse.

TQTell us something about The World Gives Way that is not found in the book description.

Marissa:  Most of the descriptions talk a lot about the class structure in the book, the fact that my main character is an indentured servant. I don’t think many of them directly state that the book is an apocalypse story.

TQWhat inspired you to write The World Gives Way?

Marissa:  I’ve had apocalypses on the brain for a few years now (I’m sure the 2016 election had something to do with it), and I kept thinking about what it would be like to know that the end of the world is coming, and to just sit with that knowledge. There are plenty of thrillers and action movies about characters fighting to avert the end of the world, but I was interested in writing a character who was fighting to come to terms with the end of everything, and fighting to live their best life with the time left.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The World Gives Way?

Marissa:  I did a lot of research on what I consider to be the world’s most beautiful places: Tokyo, Mexico City, Istanbul, Petra, Tunisian deserts, Mediterranean coasts, the Himalayas. I was creating a world that had to be a little bit of everything all compacted into one, so I wanted to blend as much of the world together as possible. That meant also finding ways to blend cultures with food, religion, architecture, technology, etc. I did a lot of research and then tried to pepper it into the world of the story as subtly as possible.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The World Gives Way.

Marissa:  Lisa Marie Pompilio designed the book cover, and it’s beautiful. There’s a lot of teal and warm peachy-orange colors; we’ve been joking that the color palette accidentally matches the decorating in our house. It’s been very convenient for Instagram.

The cover shows a woman in profile, against a moon and backdrop of stars. The woman is meant to be Myrra, my main character. I don’t know specifically if this was the intent, but her posture to me suggests someone who has been beaten down a bit, but is also resolute and strong. It fits the character very well.

TQIn The World Gives Way who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Marissa:  Tobias was the easiest character to write, I think because he’s fastidious. I like writing characters who are buttoned up, who want everything just so; I think I’m a little like that, which might be why they’re easy to write.

Myrra was the hardest (and most rewarding) character to write-- she’s faced with pretty terrible circumstances throughout The World Gives Way, and I had to constantly reassess and delve more deeply into what was driving her, what pushed her to keep going.

TQDoes The World Gives Way touch on any social issues?

Marissa:  I ended up having quite a bit to say about class structure in The World Gives Way, which is funny to me because I don’t think I intended to write a book that was so focused on that. But the circumstances of the story, the nature of the social structure aboard a generation ship where people must buy their passage-- it very much demanded that class, wealth, and power all be evaluated, and I got more and more passionate about it the more I wrote. Now it’s one of the first things people note when they’re describing the book, this element of class dystopia. I didn’t know how many opinions I had about class and the wealth gap until I started writing them down, but it turns out I’m pretty angry about it.

TQWhich question about The World Gives Way do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Marissa:  I’m sometimes surprised that people don’t ask more about the thread of motherhood in The World Gives Way. This was another thing that came into the book by accident, but became very meaningful as I kept writing. Early in the book, Myrra is given charge of a baby, Charlotte, and as she deals with all the other conflicts thrown her way, navigating an apocalypse, running from the government, etc, she is also learning how to be a mother. Myrra’s own mother disappeared, and the push-pull of her caring for Charlotte and coming to terms with her own fraught upbringing becomes a huge driving force in the story. I’m at a time in my life where I’m on the precipice of having a family of my own, and I spend a decent amount of time wondering what kind of mother I’ll be, if I’m capable of such a monumental thing. I think that definitely found its way into the book.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The World Gives Way.


“The world is a relative concept”

“Who knows what keeps us from letting death in. Even now, when death waits at the threshold for the whole world.”

TQWhat's next?

Marissa:  I’ve been working on a haunted house book, which has been an absolute blast to write. It means I get to read a bunch of ghost stories and gothic romances, all in the name of research. I’ve set it on the Oregon Coast, an area where I grew up, which makes a nice change after all the worldbuilding I did in The World Gives Way. Earlier this year I took a trip out to Oregon to reacquaint myself with the landscape. I’m honestly surprised more people don’t set horror stories in the Pacific Northwest. It’s fantastically moody, with all the clouds and rain and dense impenetrable forests. I know Stephen King loves Maine, and the English have their wild moors, but the Pacific Northwest has always felt wonderfully haunted to me. I’m finishing up my first draft now. I’ll be eager to share it soon.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

The World Gives Way
Redhook, June 15, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 416 pages
“Marissa Levien's debut novel is a thrilling adventure, and in a moment when we're all looking for escape pods, this is a great one.”—Emma Straub, New York Times bestselling author


In a near-future world on the brink of collapse, a young woman born into servitude must seize her own freedom in this glittering debut with a brilliant twist.

In fifty years, Myrra will be free.

Until then, she's a contract worker. Ever since she was five, her life and labor have belonged to the highest bidder on her contract—butchers, laundries, and now the powerful, secretive Carlyles.

But when one night finds the Carlyles dead, Myrra is suddenly free a lot sooner than she anticipated—and at a cost she never could have imagined. Burdened with the Carlyles' orphaned daughter and the terrible secret they died to escape, she runs. With time running out, Myrra must come face to face with the truth about her world—and embrace what's left before it's too late.

A sweeping novel with a darkly glimmering heart, The World Gives Way is an unforgettable portrait of a world in freefall, and the fierce drive to live even at the end of it all.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

© Robert Mannis

About Marissa

Marissa Levien is a writer and artist who hails from Washington State and now lives in New York with a kindly journalist and their two cats. The World Gives Way is her first novel.

Website  ~  Twitter @marissalevien


Post a Comment