Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Elisabeth de Mariaffi on whether things are getting better... or worse

The author of The Devil You Know answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi is the author of The Devil You Know. (Ayelet Tsabari)

Elisabeth de Mariaffi's first thriller, The Devil You Know, takes a young crime reporter down a perilous path to the past. Evie Jones is haunted by the unsolved murder of her best friend, who died when they were just 11 years old.

The St. John's writer is on the longlist for the International DUBLIN Literary Award.

Below, Elisabeth de Mariaffi answers eight questions submitted by eight of her fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A. 

1. Linda Spalding asks, "Did you feel loved and protected as a child?"

I did. It was an odd sort of childhood — expect they all are — because I grew up in Canada with a very tiny family, two parents and a grandmother, and there was perhaps so much protection going on that I felt weirdly isolated within the triangle. Like I had to create a boundary for myself. And then we'd go and spend big swaths of time overseas, where I had this huge extended family, many many second cousins, and that feeling of being lost in a crowd was so much what I longed for at home — but of course there, I was a different sort of outsider.

2. Jordan Tannahill asks, "What is the cruellest thing a lover has ever said about your writing?"

The cruellest response is, I think, the polite silence.

3. Dianne Warren asks, "Do you like doing public readings? Why or why not?"

I do. But I'm a talker in general, so no big surprise there. I tend to do a bit of talking ahead of actually reading — this is partially because it makes me feel more comfortable, up there with the mic, and partially because I think most audiences do not really want to hear a 20-minute recitation, the author's nose down in her own book. That's because the public reading is really a place of connection, a place of engagement, for all of us. So, I particularly like panels, or any format with a Q&A. It's more lively. Having said that, I saw Anne Enright read a few years ago, and I loved watching her — she has a way of leaning across the lectern that creates great intimacy, even in a large theatre. As though she is leaning across her kitchen table, and you will not believe what happened next.

4. Graeme Smith asks, "As the American performance artist Laurie Anderson said: 'What I really want to know is: Are things getting better? Or are they getting worse?'"

Well, I really think they are getting worse. I think we were on the cusp of things getting better in a calm, progressive way back in the '90s. And then there was this great rolling back, but we were distracted, and only halfway noticed. The good news is that the calm, progressive version almost never works, historically speaking — so now we have arrived here and I think what we're really seeing (and maybe I am too optimistic) is the last kick and gasp of the old system. But the kick is a strong one. I do think things are going to get wildly better — but the process will not be calm, or progressive. I think it will be sharp and shocking when it happens.

5. Yann Martel asks, "What's the favourite sentence (or scene) that you've written?"

Oh, that's hard. I wrote a scene in a story called "Jim and Nadine, Nadine and Jim" where the couple are arguing, and the man is a bit of a thug, and while he's arguing he's also eating cheezies. So his mouth is all orange, his "hand was orange with cheezy dust right up to the wrist." I also love the scene in The Devil You Know where the two girls go to the endangered animal sanctuary. A place like that existed in my neighbourhood when I was growing up. We really would stop in to see the neighbourhood ocelot. Hard to imagine that we took it for granted.

6. Johanna Skibsrud asks, "What non-literary inspirations inform your work?"

Landscape, I'd say, or geography. The lay of the land and the way the light hits it, and what it hits. Music, to some extent. When I was writing short stories, each story was very much associated with a single song for me. I'd play the song over and over again while I was doing rewrites, fine-tuning, until the tone of the song and the tone of the story matched.

7. Pasha Malla asks, "Who is one writer, living or dead, who you wish could edit or critique your drafts?"

I guess a tag-team of Gabriel García Márquez and Ernest Hemingway could be cool.

8. Anita Rau Badami asks, "How do you choose your next novel or project?"

I have a lineup in my mind, and I just hope things stay orderly. Honestly, sometimes it's a character I have in mind, and sometimes it's an approach, something I've seen someone else do, either in writing or some other form, and I just want to try it. Everything is play to begin with, that's what keeps it interesting. It's what keeps the lineup long.