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An Interview with Elisa Greb

This Friday, we're learning all about Elisa Greb's brand new novel, Actually Invisible, and how she came to write contemporary lesbian romance with a character who shares the same career path. Discover Josie's journey of coming out as a high school teacher, as well as the process behind this story here, and don't forget to grab this exciting debut now!


Thank you for joining us, Elisa! First of all, please introduce yourself to readers. 

Hi, everyone! My name is Elisa Greb. I’m a brand new indie author and a not-so-new English teacher. I live with my wife and our two sons, and I’m super excited to be doing this interview, so thank you!

Tell us about your debut contemporary novel, Actually Invisible, and what inspired you to write it.

Actually Invisible is a story about Josie, a millennial woman who lives and works in an unnamed small town. As if Josie's life isn't complicated enough teaching high school English, co-parenting the toddler conceived by her wife, frequenting the fertility clinic while trying (and failing) to conceive their next child, keeping her lips zipped at school so her students don't know she's gay, and grieving the loss of her father, things get messier when a student comes out to her in a writing assignment. Suddenly thrust into a small-town spotlight powered by social media, the student's parents' mission to get her fired, and an influx of anonymous email threats, Josie scrambles to decide whether she should crawl back into her closet or finally start living her truth. 

This story lived inside of me for many, many years in one way or another. For the first ten years of my teaching career, I was terrified to talk to students about my personal life for fear of backlash, particularly from the adults in the community where I teach. But it was so hard to keep quiet when I knew that I had students year after year who needed positive queer role models, so I finally—little by little—stopped denying it when the occasional student would ask me. It didn’t take long for word to spread like wildfire. That was about eight years ago, and it’s been a journey to become more and more comfortable. In 2019, I began writing this novel as a kind of therapy to help me through a possible worst case scenario. Now that it’s written and has been well-received by different groups of people, I’m excited for it to help others feel less alone.

The main character, Josie, is a lesbian teacher like yourself and is also closeted at school. Do you share any similar experiences? Why did you decide to write a character with a similar background, and why was it important to you to include this representation?

Much of Josie’s personality is very much me, but the events in the novel are entirely fictionalized. A few snippets here and there (particularly in flashbacks) are loosely based on things that happened when I was younger. It is also true that I lost my dad (who was not, by the way, an alcoholic) and did at one point struggle with infertility. The students and fellow teachers in the story are all amalgamations of hundreds of kids and adults I’ve interacted with over the years. The bottom line for me in sharing Josie’s experience as a lesbian teacher was that I knew I could do it honestly and bring emotional truth to the story, rather than factual truth. Emotional truth is what draws me to the stories I end up loving, so I hope lots of people will be able to connect with Josie on different levels and, ideally, see themselves in her.

Did your close connection to Josie and her experiences affect your writing process at all? Were there any barriers you put into place so as not to “self-insert”, or did you hope to keep things personal in this sense?

The biggest effect on my writing process was the speed that the words came out! It was like they had been waiting for me all along. I wrote the first draft of the story in about four months, heading up to our attic after school and writing for hours every day. I had to get it out. Like I said, the emotional truth of the story carried me through, rather than factual truth. I was able to tap into my own anxiety, grief, and fear while telling an entirely made-up story, so I only inserted myself in speculation as to how I would feel in Josie’s shoes.

Were there any of Josie’s other traits, or other characters, you felt connected to and why? Are there any you hope readers will particularly adore?

I cannot put into words how much I adore Josie, which is an epic exercise in self-love for me. I hope readers will adore her for her authenticity and quirks, and I hope they will root for her in her relationships with Cam and Liesel and, obviously, in her professional quandary.

What initially drew you to the contemporary fiction genre? Are there any other genres you’d like to explore or have explored in the past?

I feel like this story can only exist when it is set. With same-sex marriage finally being legalized in the United States in 2014, I feel like that put many of us in a unique spot; we were being recognized formally but maybe not used to being recognized informally in different situations, if that makes sense. In other words, I was married with children before my students even knew I was a lesbian. All of this combined with recent attempts to silence LGBTQ books just made the post-2014 world feel like exactly the right setting.

Did you find any other surprises or challenges while writing this book? How did you overcome them?

Does shirking my parenting duties count? My wife is a saint. Truthfully, though, my biggest challenge is now–with the anxiety that creeps up on me about who will read my book and what they might have to say about it. I’m out of the closet, but I think that doorknob will always be within arm’s reach.

How does it feel to publish a vulnerable and personal story like this? What do you hope readers will take from your novel, if anything?

It feels both exhilarating and terrifying to be publishing a vulnerable and personal story like this; however, there are so many people (teachers in particular) who are living their lives in silence because they feel like they have to, and if I have to be a trailblazer of sorts for them, so be it. It wouldn’t be my first rodeo. On the other side of the same coin, I also hope to bring awareness and empathy to a situation that some people may not have even considered before – to emphasize that we are all flawed humans and that love is indeed just love.

We’d love a hint about any of your current projects! What are you hoping to write or publish next?

I have some thoughts about continuing Josie’s story if there is enough interest, but my lips are sealed for now.

Have any shows, movies, books, or games influenced your own work at all?

Too many! I will just mention that I was inspired by the flashbacks in the show This Is Us, which led me to include some in Actually Invisible.

If you could give any advice to authors set to make their debut, what would it be?

Get ready for an absolute whirlwind of marketing in the form of social media! But definitely have fun with it. I’m building my social media presence from the ground up after being private forever, so I’m putting a lot of time into it. It’s worth it to get to interact with lots of new people.

Our podcast focuses on media we’re currently loving. Are there any books, shows, movies, or games you’re enjoying at the moment? Any recommendations for our audience? Bonus points if it includes sapphics!

I went through a very serious Wentworth phase last summer and am currently enjoying the acting chops of Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black. I’m in between books right now but recently adored Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby van Pelt. I love character-driven stories, and who can resist a brilliant octopus?

About Elisa

Elisa Greb has a B.A. in English Literature and a M.Ed. in Secondary English Education. She loves all things to do with words—reading, writing, poetry, grammar, linguistics, and more—and is a sucker for a good pun and a well-planned road trip. She lives in Pittsburgh with her wife and two sons.


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