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How I wrote it

Marissa Stapley: How I wrote Mating for Life

Columnist, magazine editor and author Marissa Stapley knows a thing or two about patience. Her first novel, Mating For Life, was a long time coming—born from the ashes of a book deal gone wrong. In our ongoing series, "How I wrote it," Marissa lays bare on animal inspiration, mystical advice and the book's acoustic anthem.

This book was actually born out of a great deal of disappointment. I have always dreamed of being an author. In 2010, I finally completed my first novel and sold it to a Canadian publisher who subsequently, within the year, and just months before the book was supposed to come out, ended up going out of business. I was crushed, but I kept trying, I rewrote the book into young adult, nothing was happening with that book. I then wrote another novel that my agent tried to shop to publishers—there was not a lot of interest. I was writing from an "I need to redeem myself, I must get published, I will achieve my dream" place that had not enough to do with creativity. 

I also felt like I had a message. My first novel had an environmental angle. I really thought that I had this message to carry to the people, to do this environmental conservation thing, and I was hitting people over the head with it. And at one point I went to a psychic with a friend, and she said to me, "You are a writer." I don't know how she knew, maybe she could tell from my ink-stained fingers or something. "You have a message that you are trying to hard to bring to the people," she continued. "You need to let go of that and just write something that is more real." And so I started over, and this new writing, writing just for me, became Mating for Life.

At the beginning of every chapter, there is a short epigraph featuring the mating habit of a certain animal. That was something that was introduced around maybe draft two, when I was up at the cottage that we go to every summer. I was thinking, "Which animals mate for life?" I was feeling this connection with nature that I sometimes feel is lost when we're in the city, and I saw a loon out on the lake. I heard that loons mate for life. I saw two of them and I thought "Isn't that beautiful and romantic, they mate for life." Then I went home and did some Internet research and learned the true story of loons—which is actually that the male loon comes in, takes over the territory and will kill a loon that's already there. It's actually a bit of a gory and dramatic story. And I thought "This is so interesting," what we think as humans that these certain animals who mate for life don't necessarily do that. They have their instincts and their little dramas." It reminded me so much of the characters in the book.

There is one song that inspired the book. It wasn't always called "Mating for Life," it used to be called "Joyful Girls," after a song by Ani DiFranco called "Joyful Girl." I think it was written about her mother. It is really about this woman who does everything because, as she says, "I do it because I want to, I do it because it's the least I can do." It speaks to me about this sense of duty that women, especially in past generations, had to care for their family, and almost be a bit of a martyr. When I listened to this song I felt very moved by it and also by the idea that these women in my book are not of that generation and they're struggling with this idea of being everything that a mother is expected to be to a family, doing everything just because they want to when in some cases they just don't want to. They want to be more true to themselves. Every time I hear it I think about the girls in the book.

Images courtesy of Marissa Stapley and Simon & Schuster Canada.

mating_for_life__really_small.jpgMarissa Stapley is a writer and former magazine editor who contributes to Elle, The Globe and Mail, and The National Post, among others. She also teaches writing at the University of Toronto and editing at Centennial College. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two young children. 

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