11 Questions with Toronto Author Marissa Stapley

How Marissa Stapley went from freelance journalist to best-selling author and found her writing ‘coven’ along the way
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11 Questions with Toronto Author Marissa Stapley

Marissa Stapley could have been the first female prime minister.
Or a human rights lawyer.
Or an actress by day, cocktail waitress by night.
She had more than a few different career ambitions growing up, but in the end her creativity took over and she chose the path of an author – not without a few hurdles, though, including a publisher who went out of business before her first book could be published and a second book that garnered enough rejections to wallpaper her bedroom.

“With two novels languishing in a drawer, I felt I had no choice but to give up on my dream of becoming an author,” Marissa says. “Then I realized I needed to write fiction, that it was an integral part of who I was. So I wrote what would become my debut novel, Mating for Life, just for myself. I gave up on the idea that it was going to be published and I wrote for the pleasure of it.

Marissa went on to write Things to Do When It’s Raining and her much-anticipated third novel, The Last Resort, which comes out this June.

“No one ever warned me that it’s hard to make a living as an artist, and I’m glad they didn’t,” she says. “I had to find out how challenging it was for myself – and also, how worth it.”

Here’s what else she shared with us:

1. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Don’t give up. I give that advice to myself every time I’m feeling low. Sometimes you have to be your own cheerleader.

2. What’s your dream brunch date?

I’d love to have brunch with Alice Munro. But I’m also feeling so disheartened by politics lately I might enjoy a hope-bolstering meal with Elizabeth Renzetti (her collection of feminist essays, Shrewed, is just what the world needs now), Erin Gibson (of the Throwing Shade podcast; her book Feminasty just came out and is a hilarious but practical guide to surviving the patriarchy), Rebecca Traister, Rebecca Solnit, and Gloria Steinem.

3. What’s on your bookshelf?

I have eight bookshelves; I just counted them. Name a book, and it’s probably in my house, from literary to commercial to poetry to non-fiction. I’m always reading. But in terms of the authors I have the most of, that would be Alice Munro, Miriam Toews, Lauren Groff, Julia Glass, Barbara Kingsolver, Martha Gellhorn, Marian Keyes, Leonard Cohen, Carol Shields, Mary Oliver, Rebecca Solnit, and Rebecca Traister – plus every collection of feminist essays ever written.

4. How many books do you read in a year?

My ‘to be read’ pile is threatening to engulf my office; if I get through all the books currently on my desk within the next year, I will have read 75. That’s very likely to happen, and then some. If I’m really into something it only takes me a day or two to read it. I will – and often do – stay up all night for a good book. I’m sure I read 100 books per year, maybe more. I should really start keeping one of those reading journals. 

5. Do you prefer paper books or e-reader?

I prefer paper books – which is why I have eight bookshelves in my house. My mom is an interior designer: when she helped me with my living room, she tried to tell me I didn’t really want bookshelves all across one wall of the room because all those books would look messy and chaotic. But I love the way the shelves look with all my books – all those stories, all those alternate worlds and big ideas. It makes me feel right at home.

6. What does a typical day in your life look like? 

It depends on where I am in the writing of a book. When I’m just starting out with an idea, my schedule is very flexible. Meaning I have plenty of time to procrastinate. I get up, get the kids ready for school, walk them there, maybe have coffee with a friend, go to yoga, go to the library and do a little research, write a little, start to worry about dinner, start to worry that I haven’t done enough writing, and call it a day. But when a deadline starts to loom I’m writing all the time, starting at dawn and going to all hours. I always tell myself when I start a new book I’m going to approach it differently so I never end up in those frenetic end stages where I’m writing around the clock and losing my mind a little – but I’ve also realized that I thrive on that intensity, and so does the story.

7. What helps you get in your flow/zone?

Coffee! And silence in the house. I do my best writing when everyone is asleep, either early in the morning or late at night. When there is absolutely nothing else I could or should be doing but my writing. I’m able to completely give myself up to it at that point, and the hours fly by. There’s something about writing when the world is asleep that makes it feel like an exciting secret. Writing is definitely my day job, but I try to make it feel like it’s not!

8. When do you feel most alive?

When I’m with my family or one or all of the many supportive and talented author friends I’ve made over the years.

9. How close is your offline life to your online life?

In the past, I would only share the good moments or my professional successes on social media – and it was interesting how difficult that made things for me. I ended up struggling with something absolutely no one knew I was going through. Everyone thought my life was perfect. Since then, I’ve tried to find balance. I don’t want to share everything about my life, and in fact it’s freeing to have experiences that only happen in real time. I was at a concert recently and had to force myself not to post. I told myself, “Just because this is not happening on social media doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.” It was more relaxing and enjoyable not to be sitting there worrying about getting a good photo and writing a pithy few sentences about what I was doing.

I try to make everything I post as honest as it can be, just like my writing. I have highs and lows and, especially lately, moments of intense frustration with the world. I try to allow my social media accounts to reflect that, but I also try to remember that my life is happening away from those screens.

10. In real life, face-to-face interactions are on the decline as the world becomes more and more virtual every day. What are some ways you connect with your tribe? What do you do to ensure you’re having authentic face-to-face interactions regularly?

I think not feeling I have to make a clever post about every single thing I’m doing helps. The pressure of trying to present a moment to the world can take away from how authentic it feels. So when I’m with friends or family, I often just put my phone away and have the moment. I also go out of my way to connect with friends face-to-face when I can because writing can be very isolating. When I’m deep in the writing cave, I can’t be around anyone – but during the early stages of writing a book, I love meeting writer friends at coffee shops where we chat about writing for a while, and then sit beside each other and get it done. I have a close-knit group of author friends – we call ourselves ‘the coven’ – and we’re always connecting, either by text, email, or in person. We support one another whenever we can. This tribe of mine has made writing a lot less lonely. They also make me feel a lot less crazy, because they’ve had a lot of the same experiences in publishing I have and know how to support and guide me through. Hooray for tribes!

11. When you’re writing, where do you write? What is the setting? 

I write in coffee shops, in my bed, on my couch, on my back porch – but almost never in my office, until the very end of a book, when I hide. My office doesn’t have a door and every time I finish I book I tell myself I’m going to address that, but then I forget about it. When I was finishing The Last Resort, my husband nailed a sheet to the doorframe and slid food underneath it for a few weeks. I wish I were kidding about this. Keep your eyes peeled for The Last Resort, which comes out June 18th, 2019. You can visit her at MarissaStapley.com or follow her on Twitter @MarissaStapley.

Want to meet the author? Join us at our upcoming event, Stationing at The Last Resort, on July 27th to chat with Marissa and other book lovers over a delicious brunch! Grab your tickets while they last!

Shannon Hodgen is a lifelong writer, DIY enthusiast, and homebody. She satisfies her need to put pen to paper–or, more accurately, fingertips to keyboard–as an agency copywriter, blog contributor, and freelance editor in Toronto.

Favourite Book: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Favourite Brunch Spot: Dirty Food Eatery in The Junction


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