Interview with Marisa Kanter, Author of Finally Fitz

By: Michele Kirichanskaya
Jun 12, 2024

Marisa Kanter (she/her/hers) is a young adult author, amateur baker, and reality television enthusiast. She is the author of What I Like About YouAs If on Cue, and Finally Fitz. Born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, her obsession with books led her to New York City, where she worked in the publishing industry to help books find their perfect readers. She currently lives in Los Angeles, writing love stories by day and crocheting her wardrobe by night.

I had the opportunity to interview Marisa, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Hi! Thanks so much for having me. I’m Marisa Kanter, author of the young adult novels What I Like About You, As If On Cue, and most recently, Finally Fitz. I grew up in the suburbs of Boston and my obsession with books led me to New York City, where I worked in the publishing industry in sales and marketing to help match books with their perfect readers. Currently, I live in Los Angeles. When I’m not writing love stories, I can be found consuming stories in any and every medium or with a crochet hook in my hand. 

What can you tell us about your latest book, Finally Fitz? What was the inspiration for the project?

Finally Fitz is a spin-off of my second novel, As If On Cue. In that book, Fitz is the best friend who is confident and self-assured, who exists for comic relief, who has it all together. In Finally Fitz, readers learn that she very much does not. As If On Cue ends with Fitz getting into a summer fashion program in New York City and I was so thrilled when I got the go-ahead from my publisher to write Fitz’s story. It’s the queer fake dating book of my dreams. It’s a romcom, but it’s also about learning how to be kind to your imperfect self. There’s also a sister love story in this book, something that was for sure inspired by my relationship with my sister. And New York itself provided so much inspiration, I lived there for six super formative years and my heart is still very much there.

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, particularly young adult fiction and romance?

From a young age, my parents fostered a love of reading. I was the kid who always had a book in my hand, and I came of age during the explosion and legitimization of YA as a genre. I grew up reading Meg Cabot, Sarah Dessen, Suzanne Collins . . . all authors who centered their teen characters with such care, who took teenage girls seriously, who made me feel seen. Reading YA as a teen empowered me to start writing my own stories. So I suppose what initially drew me to YA was being a teen myself, but what continues to draw me to YA is, as Taylor Swift would say, for the hope of it all. Hope is the thing that distinguishes YA and it feels good to write stories that are, at their core, hopeful.

How would you describe your creative process?

Chaotic. Just in that, it’s been different for each project. Every time I sit down to write a book, I forget how to write a book. Every time, I remind myself that I did it once, twice, three times . . . I can do it again. What I can say is that my process is always driven by the characters first and foremost. I cannot start drafting until I have two things: the names of my characters and a playlist that fits the vibe of the book. Sometimes scenes pour out of me and other times every word is a painstaking effort, but I’m learning to embrace that every book is going to be its own journey.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

Being queer and Jewish, I think back on the stories I consumed in my youth and the ways I would grasp for any semblance of representation. With my Jewish identity, I looked to representation in shows like The Nanny and The Rugrats, or in characters like Gordo from Lizzie McGuire and Lily Moscovitz from The Princess Diaries. All examples with explicit Jewish representation that I, a Jewish kid, very much sought out. But I didn’t reckon with my queerness until college and then looked back and reckoned with why I was drawn to queer (and queer-coded!) media. Cadet Kelly? GAY. The ‘I Don’t Dance’ scene in High School Musical 2? GAY. And RENT, the first people of explicitly queer media that I engaged with, became obsessed with, at the time having no clue why! Today, media, especially children’s media, is becoming more explicitly queer and it is my hope that the joyful queer and Jewish representation in Finally Fitz can make someone feel a bit more seen.

As a creative, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general? 

This is such a basic Sagittarius answer, but travel is such a source of inspiration. I can’t go to a place and not imagine what life would be like there. I interact with a local and then make up an entire backstory for them. It is such a joy and a privilege to explore a new place, to observe how people relate to each other in said place, to exist in a world so removed from your own. In terms of creative influences, I think of musicians like Taylor Swift and Phoebe Bridgers who are true storytellers in their lyricism, who are so incredible at evoking a specific emotion with their songs.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or challenging? 

I love the psychology of writing—creating complicated characters and working out the why, how people become the way they are. I love crafting a romance that, ultimately, is healing. If there is a thematic thread that connects all my work, it would be this: people (you!) are deserving of love, exactly as you are. So I love the emotion, the character work, expressing it in witty dialogue, in non-verbal expressions, in all of the ways we as people effectively (and not-so-effectively) communicate.

What I love less is the logistics of it all . . . plot, stakes, and the puzzle of figuring out how to communicate my characters’ stories most effectively.  

Many creators would say one of the most challenging parts of writing a book is finishing one. What strategies would you say helped you accomplish this?

First drafts are daunting! It’s a blank page and potential. I struggled with getting to the finish line of this one, but I just kept telling myself, “You cannot fix something that doesn’t exist.” Sometimes, my perfectionist tendencies would win, and I would spend an entire day writing and rewriting a single paragraph. But accepting that first draft words 1) are first draft words and 2) are good enough for now eventually dimmed those tendencies enough to allow for the forward momentum required to finish. Allow yourself to write badly first, then make it pretty later.

Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

I’m a former (always?) theatre kid. Survivor is my favorite show. I love to crochet. I am terrible at keeping plants alive. I love a family game night. And I’m unapologetically enthusiastic about the things that bring me joy.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

Question: If you could go back in time and talk to your teen self, what would you say?

Stop being so hard on yourself. As a teen, I put so much pressure on myself. Applied the word perfectionist to myself like a badge of honor. I didn’t understand the difference between being ambitious and having unreasonable expectations and believed the worst thing I could do was fail. Unlearning perfectionism, reckoning with the truth that it is so often a symptom of anxiety, has been an ongoing process that I wish I’d started sooner.

What advice might you have to give for other aspiring writers?

Engage with stories in any and every genre and medium. Read widely, of course. But as an artist, I have learned so much from television, from movies, from musicals, from graphic novels. Engage widely, and find your people. Creating can be lonely without them.

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

I am currently in the middle of drafting another queer and romantic story that I cannot wait to share more about!

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors (comics included) would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT? 

How much time do you have? There are so many, but a few that I would love to highlight:

Header Photo Credit Sam Cheung

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