Thursday, July 10, 2014

Marissa Stapley: Mating for Life

Marissa Stapley was one of the featured authors in the latest BookBuzz event, an author/reader party I co-founded with Meredith Schorr and Francine LaSala. I was thrilled to have another Canadian author join us. She is so lovely, warm, funny, and kind, and the second her debut novel, Mating for Life, was released by Atria, I bought it because I'd heard such amazing things about it.

Well, as I told Marissa when I met her for dinner the other night, I am exhausted because her novel is keeping me up late. It is an exquisite, superbly written, complex story with the kinds of characters I love--layered, complicated, and dark. I don't want it to end. It is such a pleasure to have Marissa here today! Welcome, Marissa!

About Marissa:

I'm a National Magazine Award nominated writer and former magazine editor whose work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, National Post, Elle Canada, and many others. Mating for Life (Atria Books; Simon & Schuster Canada) is my first novel. When I'm not writing, I'm reading. (In fact, I never go anywhere without a book. Except maybe swimming.) Some of my favourite authors are Meg Wolitzer, Julia Glass, Alice Munro, John Irving, Lauren Groff, Margaret Atwood and James Salter. I live in Toronto with my husband and two children, where I teach writing, and am working on another novel.

Marissa's path to publication is inspiring and her passion will resonate with every writer who has a dream.

Never, ever, ever, ever, give up

I have a magnet on my fridge with the phrase “Never, ever, ever, ever give up” emblazoned on it in bold writing. This is a phrase attributed to Winston Churchill during the darkest days of WW2—so perhaps it’s a bit dramatic of me to say that this quote has carried me through some of the darkest days I’ve had on the path to getting published, but it’s true.

As anyone who has ever written a book, or tried to write a book, or who is in the process of writing a book, knows, writing a book is not an easy thing to do. The act of writing a book alone, especially for the first time, requires tremendous self-discipline, determination, creativity, and skill.

My debut novel, Mating for Life, was released by Simon & Schuster Canada and Atria books this July. But it’s not my first attempt at writing a novel. My first attempt was about seven years ago. Happily, I managed to sell the book to a publishing house in Canada -- but they promptly went out of business, crushing my dreams in the process. (A lot of other people’s dreams were crushed in the process, too; it was a truly heartbreaking time for many Canadian authors, and also for the founders and staff at the publishing house itself).

After I got over the disappointment, I determinedly wrote another novel. I now have a folder full of dozens and dozens of very kind, very personal “Thanks, but no thanks” letters from publishers around the world. I appreciated the kindness, and the fact that it was clear that many of these editors had actually read my book (or at the very least had had their assistants or interns read my book) but the entire process was incredibly disheartening. This was the second time I had poured my heart, my soul, and a huge amount of my time (no small feat with two children under five!) into the writing of a book. And it had failed. Again. This time, I couldn’t blame a publisher going under. This time, it was all on me.

I moved that “Never, ever, ever, ever give up” magnet a little lower on the fridge. When I glanced at it, I looked away. I hate to admit this, but I gave up. I was offered a job at a magazine, and I took it. I was sad not to be writing fiction anymore, it was incredibly depressing to have given up on a dream I had held since reading Anne of Green Gables when I was seven, discovering that L.M. Montgomery and I had the same birthday – and hers 100 years to the day of mine, no less! – and deciding I was fated to become a writer, too. But it wasn’t fate, I now decided. It was a dream, and it hadn’t worked out, and I had a great husband, two wonderful kids, a job, family, friends. I needed to focus on being grateful for what I did have, rather than focusing on what I didn’t.

For the most part, it worked. I did have a lot to be grateful for during that time, and I loved my magazine job. But after several months passed, and I kept turning non-fiction proposals into my agent (who kept saying, “These are interesting … but why have you given up on writing fiction, again?”), it became impossible to ignore the fact that something was missing from my life. My passion for writing fiction, for creating stories, for making up characters felt real, for immersing myself in other worlds, was not something I could just turn off. My life without writing creatively was not complete.

And so, I started to write again. I didn’t tell anyone about this book I was working on: not my husband, not my mom, not my best friends. I started with short stories, and then linked them together into a narrative about women who were also at a place in their lives where they believed everything was going to be perfect—except that it wasn’t.

There’s a lot of divorce in my family, and I have always been interested in the idea of monogamy as a choice we make as humans, rather than an instinct that we have. This fascination with our instincts, and a passion for nature and our connection to it, is where the animal mating habit epigraphs at the start of each chapter came from. As I wrote Mating for Life, I also wanted to present an honest portrayal of the relationships we have, and I wanted to explore what it takes to love another person—any other person, not just a spouse, but a friend, or a sibling, or a child, or a parent—forever. I believe that some of our best stories as human beings are rooted in the relationships we have with others. I hope with Mating for Life that I’ve done these relationships justice, even if not all the stories in my book have a happy ending. I hope that I’ve created a story readers can identify with, and also a story that will help people realize that they’re not alone. We all share the same instincts, and we all struggle to reconcile what we think we want with what we actually have.

Here’s something else that’s important about my book: No matter what, my characters never give up. And so, whenever an aspiring writer asks me for writing advice, I simply say: Never, ever, ever, ever give up. If writing is your passion, you will find a way to succeed at it in the end.

With pitch-perfect honesty and heartwarming humor, this captivating debut explores marriage, motherhood, identity, and what it takes to love someone—family members, friends, or spouses—for life.

Former folk singer Helen Sear was a feminist wild child who proudly disdained monogamy, raising three daughters—each by a different father—largely on her own. Now in her sixties, Helen has fallen in love with a traditional man who desperately wants to marry her. And while she fears losing him, she’s equally afraid of abandoning everything she’s ever stood for if she goes through with it.

Meanwhile, Helen’s youngest daughter, Liane, is in the heady early days of a relationship with her soul mate. But he has an ex-wife and two kids, and her new role as a “step-something” doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Ilsa, an artist, has put her bohemian past behind her and is fervently hoping her second marriage will stick. Yet her world feels like it is slowly shrinking, and her painting is suffering as a result—and she realizes she may need to break free again, even if it means disrupting the lives of her two young children. And then there’s Fiona, the eldest sister, who has worked tirelessly to make her world pristine, yet who still doesn’t feel at peace. When she discovers her husband has been harboring a huge secret, Fiona loses her tenuous grip on happiness and is forced to face some truths about herself that she’d rather keep buried.

Interweaving the alternating perspectives of Helen, her daughters, and the women surrounding them, “each new chapter brings a wise and tender look at single life, dating rituals, and marital unease” (New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Close). In this “absolute feat of storytelling” (bestselling author Grace O'Connell), Marissa Stapley celebrates the many roles modern women play, and shows that even though happy endings aren’t one-size-fits-all, some loves really can last for life.

Connect with Marissa!
Buy Mating for Life!

The first two chapters of Mating for Life and a bonus short story can be found on Wattpad!



  1. What a great post. Excellent words of advice. Marissa's career struggles are as fascinating as, I'm sure, is the novel itself!

  2. I've been having some trouble with blog comments not sticking: sorry if you get this twice. The quote about not giving up is one of my all time faves. And I found Marissa's own journey fascinating too.