Work-life-writing-balance can be tricky for writers. Whether you’re published already or trying to crank out that first draft for publishers, it can be difficult to find writing time amidst our busier-than-ever lives.
There’s always something that says “hey, I need you to pay attention to me!” that really does need your immediate attention. And isn’t it always right when you’re hitting your stride?
It can discourage us, and make us worry that we might have to leave it all behind.
Luckily, Elisabeth de Mariaffi, author of The Devil You Know and The Retreat, knows the balance is possible–with a little bit of prioritization and ambition.
Listen to learn:
Of course, Elisabeth also has plenty of writing tips, especially for those of you who want to write literary thrillers!
[04:09] So I switched sort of on a whim and got into that workshop and went, “oh my god, this is what I wanna do.”
[13:55] And I didn't really have a novel, but I was like, “let's pretend I have a novel.”
[16:45] And I took a five week unpaid leave of absence from my job. And I wrote almost all the book in the five weeks.
[19: 13] … I chose one detail that I thought was chilling, and I put that one in, and I didn't put anything else in.
[22:54] … it's like when you're on a hiking trail and there's those markers and I'm like, “I know I need to get to the next marker.”
[24:15] And the artless is really hard because what we do as writers is we make these beautiful sentences.
[33:43] … it allows me to approach writing in a really expansive way, um, where I remember what this is supposed to feel like rather than just deadlines…
Intro: Well, hey there, writer. Welcome to the Resilient Writers Radio Show. I'm your host, Rhonda Douglas, and this is the podcast for writers who want to create and sustain a writing life they love. Because—let's face it—the writing life has its ups and downs, and we wanna not just write, but also to be able to enjoy the process so that we'll spend more time with our butt in chair getting those words on the page. This podcast is for writers who love books, and everything that goes into the making of them. For writers who wanna learn and grow in their craft, and improve their writing skills. Writers who want to finish their books, and get them out into the world so their ideal readers can enjoy them, writers who wanna spend more time in that flow state, writers who want to connect with other writers to celebrate and be in community in this crazy roller coaster ride we call “the writing life.” We are resilient writers. We're writing for the rest of our lives, and we're having a good time doing it. So welcome, writer, I'm so glad you're here. Let's jump right into today's show.
Rhonda Douglas: Yay. We are here with Elisabeth de Mariaffi. I'm so excited for this conversation. So, Elisabeth de Mariaffi—if you don't already know her—she is the critically acclaimed author of four books, beginning with the Scotiabank Giller Prize nominated short story collection How to Get Along with Women, which came out in 2012, and literary thrillers. The Devil You Know came out in 2015 and the 1950s era Hitchcock-style thriller Hysteria from 2018. Both of those were on the Globe and Mail “Best Books of the Year” list and shortlisted for the Thomas Rattle Atlantic Fiction Prize. Elisabeth has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Guelph, and she's taught fiction at UBC Memorial and through the Humber School for Writers. Her latest novel is The Retreat, and it's about a dancer who must separate truth from lies in order to survive a deadly storm at a remote mountain arts retreat, and it just came out last year. Welcome, Elisabeth.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Hi Rhonda. Thanks so much for inviting me on.
Rhonda Douglas: I'm so glad you're here. I wanted to start by asking you about short stories. So you began, like many of us, writing short stories. Do you wanna take us back, like, to the early part of your writing career, and just tell us how you got started in writing and, you know, what was going on at the time when you were finishing your first book of short stories.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: For sure. So I actually started in poetry, which was the—
Rhonda Douglas: No way! I didn't know that.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Oh, yeah, absolutely. So—
Rhonda Douglas: Amazing.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: —I had my kids sort of in my, like, early to mid twenties, kind of—I would say, ahead of the curve, <laugh> when most people have children. Um, and, um, and poetry is something that I felt that I—you know, I was sort of able to, you know, to work on poems. And I did some other things here and there. Like, I worked for the Community Editorial Board at my local Tor Star at the time I was living in Guelph. So I was writing, but I was writing in these, you know, very e-economical moments of my life. And then when my youngest was heading off to grade one, I thought, “well, I really want to turn up the burner here, and I really want to, you know, not, sort of, forget this part of myself.”
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: So I decided to go back to school and do an MFA, which I did, at the University of Guelph. I went into that program as a poet. That was my focus. But they make you take another genre as all good programs do <laugh>, you need to branch out and at least—at least take one other genre, maybe two even. And actually I was signed up for a nonfiction course, and a friend of mine in the program said, “you know, what are you taking next semester? Have you considered taking Michael Winter's short fiction workshop?” And I said, “oh, I-I wasn't going to.” And she said, “you know, I am and I think you should.” She was also a poet. And, so I switched sort of on a whim, and got into that workshop and went, “oh my god, this is what I wanna do.”
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Like, this is—in fact not even what I want to do, but like, this IS what I do. Like for me, when I wrote a poem and it worked, it would've been hard for me to explain to you why the poem worked. Do you know what I mean? It was more like a fingers crossed, right? Like, ooh, that <laugh>, this seems to be turning out, right? But when I worked on a short story, I understood it in this different way. So, I did that workshop, uh, that program has a-a one-on-one summer mentorship that you have to do. And I, and I continued on in fiction there, and then I was so happy with it. I said to the program head, who at the time was Connie Brook, uh, it was just before she passed away. Um, and I loved Connie, and I said, “I think I'd like to switch to fiction. And she said, you know, Elisabeth, we really let you in as a poet.” <laugh>
Rhonda Douglas: Oh-ho-ho!
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: But it was great. So I actually did a poetry thesis and I did it with Dionne Brand, um, which, you know, as an ex—
Rhonda Douglas: Oh my Lord.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Yeah. Like, as an experience—
Rhonda Douglas: Oh, total envy. Envy.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Yeah. You can't—you cannot beat that. And, working with Dionne, the things that I learned in that thesis, working on poetry, come into my fiction all the time. She also identified like, some of my main obsessions right at that time. And I—every time I write a new story or book, I'm like, “you did it again, just what Dionne said.” <laugh> So yeah, so that was sort of, that was that. And then I came out of there, um, by this time, between the beginning and the end of the MFA, I had, uh, divorced <laugh> and, and moved cities. So I had a lot on the go, and I—again, had this impulse of “I really don't want to leave this behind.” I applied to go to Banff for a fall session for two weeks, thinking that that would—I didn't wanna come out of that MFA, uh, which ended in August and sort of just, you know, do what we all have to do, which is—well now I just need to, you know, be a person who pays bills. And, and I did need to do those things, but I also wanted to keep writing. So, yeah, so I went to Banff and that was an excellent experience. And I met other writers there with whom I am still in contact, who I still exchange work with. And, I've stayed really close with them. Um, and, uh, yeah. So our—like, literally that's where short stories came from. And I-I know people have a lot of calculations about how to put together a collection. And, my collection was like—I had 11 short stories. I was like, okay, that's a book <laugh>.
Rhonda Douglas: They're all going in. They're all going in.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: That's, that’s the collection, that's the collection <laugh>. I was also super lucky. Zoe Whittal was in my, my MFA program and she was already working with Samantha Haywood at the time, and she introduced me to her. And that was like early days, like this would've been like, 2009, 2010. Sam agreed to rep me in those days based on a couple of short stories, which, you know.
Rhonda Douglas: Wow.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Yeah.
Rhonda Douglas: That's, that's amazing.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Yeah, it is amazing.
Rhonda Douglas: That very rarely happens.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Well, and it was, it was early—you know, earlier days for everyone—but it was, so it was a fantastic mo—you know, that was excellent. So yeah, so, you know, so I had an agent who was interested, who thought my stories were good. And then, short stories are really hard to sell, as I'm sure lots of people who are listening know <laugh>. So I ended up going with Invisible, which was an indie press. Uh, and Invisible’s had lots of success in the last few years, um, and I would highly recommend them.
Rhonda Douglas: Mm-hmm <affirmative>. They do a nice book.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: They do do a nice book. And I sort of had a wonderful experience working with them, and by this time I'd like, written another short story and I was like, “I'm putting this one in too, now it's 12.” But that was like, that was all the stories I have, so <laugh>. So yeah. So that's, that's kind of where that book came from. That was a long answer.
Rhonda Douglas: Wow. Wow. So—and what was it like to wake up and find out that it was nominated for the Giller? ‘Cause that's a big moment.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Yeah, it was wild. It was, you know, not what anyone—you know, like that book, we brought it out. The pub date was October 1st, so I, so, um, the Giller Prize calendar runs until September 30th. So all books published from October 1st of one year to September 30th of the following year are eligible for that year, which means that it literally came out, like, the day after that, that, uh, deadline. And there's some strategy about that, right? With a small press and a smaller book, it gives the sort of time to, to build momentum. And it had a very good, it had a good run. It had a couple of really great reviews, but you know, it was a small press and it was a small book. It was just short stories. So I really wasn't expecting anything like that. And, a couple of years later, I was actually at Woody Point, at the same time as Margaret Atwood. And Margaret Atwood was on the jury that put the book on the long list. So you can imagine <laugh>, so I got a chance to say thank you to her for listing that book, and she said, “it was good.” So I'll walk around with that for the rest of my life. Yeah <laugh>.
Rhonda Douglas: Yeah, you should get a t-shirt <laugh>. Yeah, for sure. Just wear it around. I love it. So, can I go back and ask you about the MFA? So a lot of writers wonder, like, is it even worth it, getting an MFA? What were the biggest, I don't know, the biggest gains, I guess—for you were the, the things you enjoyed the most about the MFA?
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Yeah, I get this question all the time. So I teach through Humber School for Writers, which is like a one-on-one mentorship program that you do for, for eight months. And often those students ask me, “is it worth me going on to an MFA?” And I just really think there's, there's lots of really good reasons to do an MFA—if it's the right fit for you. For me, I had been home with little kids. I had been feeling isolated. Most of my friends in their twenties were doing graduate degrees or doing cool NGO jobs <laugh> in Honduras or, or someplace like that. And I hadn't done those things. So what I really needed was community. And I got it, you know, and I felt very lucky to have that community. There's different ways to do an MFA, for me doing that one in person.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: It's a University of Guelph program, but it's actually taught at the Humber campus, at the north tip of Toronto. So I was in Guelph driving an hour <laugh> to get to a University of Guelph program <laugh>. But it was—yeah, that, that part of it was really important to me. It guaranteed immersion in my work. It guaranteed for me to take it seriously. Like, you know, I'm like an only child, you know what I mean? Like, I like to achieve and please. And so a school program is—I always thought I would get a master's degree. So there were lots of, like, practical reasons for me. An MFA is no longer considered a terminal degree because you can get a PhD in creative writing now, but an MFA in creative writing does allow you to apply for teaching jobs at universities.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: That's kind of the, the standard they're looking for. So there was a practicality there where, well, I can get this degree that will allow me to focus on my writing for two years. And also, right, I will, you know, have this teaching possibility that I wouldn't have otherwise. But the real thing that I came away with was I would not have maybe been a fiction writer as quickly, you know? I really focused on it. I was obsessive, I just loved it. And I loved the people in that program, many of whom are still good friends, um, most of whom I'm still in contact with on social media. And I love watching their successes. And we were only the second cohort in that program. And I think knowing all those amazing, talented writers, and having people to talk about it with who were also taking it really seriously, right? Like, like I think having that community of people who just want to think and talk about writing and what writing is and what it can do and why we are doing it—I think that's important at a certain point, you know?
Rhonda Douglas: Wow. And, you know, the, the deadlines are great, the feedback is great, but you're right, it's really the community. Community is everything as a writer. I think it's just so important.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Yeah. And I know people who've done that—UBC does what they call a “low residency” or an “optional residency.” So most of your workshops are online. Yeah. So, and I know tons of people who've done that and have really loved it. And again, for the same reason that it brought them some connection. That program has a-a summer—as you would know, Rhonda—has a summer, two week in-person residency on the Vancouver campus that I taught at a few years ago. George, my husband and I, both went out and taught, and it was great. That program would be another possibility if you're looking for that.
Rhonda Douglas: Wow. Okay. So, so then after the short—the book of short stories, you, I wanna say you switched to literary thrillers, but—You wrote a first literary thriller. Like, were you intending to switch genres? Like what, what was going on when you wroteThe Devil You Know?
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: So, when I was first telling those short stories, you know, one of the things Sam said was my agent, Samantha—said “well have you got a novel? ‘Cause it'll be easier for us to talk to publishers.” And I didn't really have a novel, but I was like, “let's pretend I have a novel.” And so I wrote a two page pitch for it. And I knew what I wanted The Devil You Know to be about. I thought when I was first writing it, I—and I stalled at about 40 pages, right? Because my life got really busy. I moved to St. John's, there was a lot of things on the go. I thought I was writing a coming of age novel. A literary coming of age novel, bout what it was like to grow up when I grew up, through the eighties and nineties in Toronto, in the shadow of really Paul Bernardo and all his crimes, which we did not know when we were living through it was one person. But, you know, through—if you grew up in Toronto through those years, like through the eighties, there was, it-it sounds really weird. There was always a little girl right in my age group who went missing. So for women of my age, I think it's very acute. Although after I wrote the book, I found that women from generations on both sides of me really connected to it. So, and then, and then, you know, what it was like in sort of the early nineties. And there was so much fear, in Toronto, and it was really traumatizing for young women. You know, you have to think about everything that happened at that time. There's things that I think about now that didn't even get into the book, like what happened in Montreal in 1989, at the university, right?
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: So, like, all these things as, really, a generation that should have grown up in this opening umbrella of feminism. And instead, so many things scared us. And I think for this generation of women who maybe got a little paralyzed and sat down, right? Like, think about everything that could have happened, if you know, those women at the engineering school in Montreal had not been violently killed. What did that do to women who were coming up in academia at that moment? Right? It's really scary. And it's meant to be scary. It's meant to have that effect on us. So this is what I was thinking about. I thought it was gonna be a coming of age novel. I stalled out at 40 pages and I couldn't really get beyond that. And I left it, and then I came back, and I went, “this is really a novel about fear, and what it's like to constantly be afraid.”
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: So, the only way to tell it is to make the reader afraid. And that is how it became a literary thriller. And it was like, as soon as I made that connection in my brain, I was like, “oh, okay.” And, like, I was working a job at the time, and I took an unpaid leave. So I had like—by this time, like I wasn't not working on it, but I was working extremely slowly on it. So now I sort of redirected, I had the first 60 pages, of this new direction of the novel. And I took a five week unpaid leave of absence from my job. And I wrote almost all the book in the five weeks. I was like now ready to write the book. I mean obviously—you know, then there's like—you do other drafts and stuff, but like, “yeah, here's the story, here's what happens.”
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Um, so yeah. So that is—and then I got kind of hooked, right? Like, once I did that, I was like—and the response from women on that book was really big. Uh, and men, actually, so they—I got two kinds of emails after that book. One was women going, “oh my god, like, you have nailed it. This is what it feels like.” Right? And then I had emails from men, saying, “I knew it was bad, but I had no idea how bad it was. And this has really actually opened my eyes.” So to me that was like, really important. So then, yeah, so then I got really interested in, in writing about fear and what that writing in genre can do if we don't necessarily follow—I think some of the shitty things that, that genre can do in terms of violence and depicting it. I have, I have rules for myself in terms of how I approach it, but.
Rhonda Douglas: Okay. What are some of those rules? Are you, I mean, —just knowing you, I'm assuming, you know, your characters have agency.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: I mean, I look at it always like, what I'm interested in is a story with a strong female protagonist, a mystery, thriller… and pacing. Um, and often a sort of a—like, there's definitely, there's always like a darkly feminist thread. Sometimes darkly humorous, like sometimes I'm trying to, you know find ways to get in at it in different, in different directions. I really think a lot about when to show violence, what kind of violence to show, what is too much. I do a lot of thinking about that. So when I wrote Devil, the most important thing to me was—I was actually dealing with some true crime. It was sort of at the moment the true crime was exploding podcast wise too, right? So it was an interesting moment to be writing about it. In that case, I chose one detail that I thought was chilling, and I put that one in, and I didn't put anything else in. And you don't need anything more than that, right? In the same way that I prefer not to turn a story on a rape, even though sexual assault is really commonplace, you know, for many women—I don't mean, I not diminishing—
Rhonda Douglas: It’s certainly a source of fear for us. Yeah.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Yeah. And it's there all the time. But I hate to turn a story on that. Um, you know, right around this time the Staunch Prize was launched, which is a UK prize that gives awards to writers who have created a work, like a thriller, that does not depict any violence against women. So that's like one end of the spectrum to me, right? So it's really—it's interesting and I understand the, um, I understand the impetus behind that. So this is all kind of going on at the same time. I'm on tour with Devil, and I actually did a panel at Vancouver with Roxane Gay and Roxane Gay's book, An Untamed State was out at the time, which is about a woman who goes to Haiti to visit her family. And she's kidnapped and held hostage for ransom.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Okay, so we have the Staunch Prize over here that's like, “no, we're not gonna show any violence at all.” And there's me going, “okay, well, violence is very pervasive in women's life, and it feels untruthful to me, you know, to, to write a book like that. So I'm gonna find a way to use it to talk about the fear that this generates.” And then there was Roxane Gay on the other side who said, “no, I wrote the violence, and I'll tell you why I wrote the violence, because I want people to know what a gang rape actually does to a body.” And that is, I think, also extremely important. So any book can do the right thing if it's done in the right way.
Rhonda Douglas: Right. Wow. I mean, what I love about that is that you have rules for yourself. Like you've just, you've thought that through and you know who you are and what you wanna do, and you've made the rules for yourself. So I love that. <laugh> I guess it could—I feel instinctively not having written a literary th-thriller, that the process for writing a short story, and the process for writing very successful literary thrillers, as you do, must be different. Is it?
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: <laugh> Yeah.
Rhonda Douglas: Was it for you, <laugh>?
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Yeah, I mean, it is like, in terms of like the actual, like, characters and dialogue, I don't think a lot changed between my first book of short stories and that first literary thriller. Each book is a little bit different, but I think my—the way I write is always the way I write, uh, no matter what I'm doing. It's just that, when I'm writing a novel—any novel requires a bit of structure, right? Because otherwise it's hard to, to write it, and it's hard to read it, I think. A thriller gives you like a backbone. Like I sort of think of it as sort of the spine of the book. I go, “okay, well I know that I'm going to have to move in this way.” And I can keep everything else surprising and different from the way other people write thrillers, you know, I don't have to write a commercial style thriller.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: And I don't really <laugh>, even though that would be more lucrative. But I think, yeah, it does give you, yeah, a little bit of something to lean into like, “okay, I know this is the way the book has to go here. I know I have these”—sometimes I call them tent poles, right? Even though that's not exactly, maybe the right metaphor, but I feel like, you know, there's—it's like when you're on a hiking trail and there's those markers and I'm like, “I know I need to get to the next marker.” And if I can do that, then, then I can sort of do whatever I want in between. And when I teach novel now, especially if we're doing like a, like a one or, or three off kind of workshoppy thing—what I really teach is the structure piece of it where I'm like, you know, “here's, here's how we like to tell stories as humans, and, and you're gonna find it easier <laugh> if you do this.”
Rhonda Douglas: Right. It's nice to have the markers, yeah. <laugh>
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Yeah, yeah.
Rhonda Douglas: Yeah <laugh>. For you and for the reader. Yeah, absolutely. And I seem to recall, ‘cause you were a visiting writer in The Writer's Flow Studio, and I seem to recall something about an Excel spreadsheet at this point. Like, are you—how far down the road to, like, really plotting it out have you, have you gone at this?
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Usually what I do is… I do a nice gestural one at the very beginning, and that's like fitted on one page, you know what I mean? I was lucky enough to get some mentorship in screenwriting from Karen Walton, who's amazing. And I remember her always saying “one artless sentence per beat sheet.” Like, and the artless is really hard because what we do as writers is we make these beautiful sentences. And if you take—if you say “artless,” now you're just saying what happens. And sometimes the beautiful sentence is actually masking the fact that you don't really know exactly what happens. So—
Rhonda Douglas: We haven't figured that out yet.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Yeah, right? <laugh> So it's actually, I think, smarter and more honest with yourself to say, “I don't know what happens in this beat” and just fill everything else in and then come back and go, “okay, so what could happen?” So if you can do it on one page, gesturally—and then I start writing. Um, and for me, the voice is, like, probably even before I've done the beat sheet, in most cases, I've written 10 or 25 pages. That is the beginning. And that's just finding the voice of the novel. Cause that's the piece that's gonna come to me first, and it's the thing that actually is most interesting to me. Then once I'm like, okay, “here's so—so here's this character,” so—you know, what gesturally is going to happen. And then if I have a general one pager on it, now I have something to move towards, so that I can sit down every day and I don't go, “geez, I don't know what happens.”
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: I know sort of what to do, but I don't feel bound to that sheet. And that usually takes me through to… often the halfway point, actually, often the midway point. And then at that point I go, “okay, so now we have 150 pages. Take a break, go back, read through them. Is this working? Does something need to be changed? Do you still think the second half of the novel looks the same way?” And usually the answer is no. Um, so <laugh>, so that's usually how I work, so that I'm not feeling too constrained by the beats, but I have them there if I need them. And I'm really allowing the, the voice of the novel to lead me into it. And you know, a novel has to be rewritten a thousand times anyway, so, so that <laugh> that helps me.
Rhonda Douglas: <laugh> Yeah. And are you doing some writing for screen? Have you—are you trying some writing for screen?
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: I have. Nothing's been produced <laugh>, but that's also part of that world, I think. When Devil came out, that was optioned right away, and that's kind of how I ended up falling into screenwriting because I was hired to write the adaptation. So I wrote an adaptation of that, and then, I ended up writing a totally different horror comedy that's still under option and out there right now. Loosely my ten second pitch is flight attendant trainees versus vampire pilots, trapped on an island airport.
Rhonda Douglas: Love it.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Um…
Rhonda Douglas: Love it. Yeah. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Um, so you know, I did that, attached to the original project. I ended up being asked to try to create some new material and I wrote a pilot, that again was sort of a dark comedy. So I've had, um, lots of experience doing that right. Which has really, I think, gone back and reinforced the structure part of novel writing. Like, I think that when I first wrote Devil, I didn't really understand that. And screenwriting, like, there's just no room for—I often compare screenwriting to poetry actually, because they're both so image based and so economical. There's no room for extra stuff. So you really have to know what happens and its impact on, on the reader and the viewer.
Rhonda Douglas: Hmm. You're making me wanna study screenwriting. That sounds fun. So, I wanted also to talk to you about building a writing life. So you moved to St. John's, and, you're based in St. John's. You're four books in, what does life look like now? Like,you also have a day job, I think, and you do lots of teaching. And how do you, how do you balance it all? How does it all come together? I say that hoping it comes together <laugh>.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: It, it does come together. Sometimes it's, um, sometimes it's busy. So when I first moved here, I had a day job and then, you know, financially was in a good enough position to be able to back out of that, and I actually just, like, reduced my hours. And then I was like, “no, I think there'll be enough work teaching and doing other things that I'll be able to fill this in.” And, and I'm a person who really likes to manage my own time, so that was a better option. I have a job right now working for an arts and culture magazine. We're a quarterly, so I'm the operations manager. That's really new. That was just since June. And I made the decision to d-do that (a) because I, I really liked the magazine and I liked the people who run the magazine, and I knew we would work well together.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: And I knew it was something I was gonna be able to do from home and manage my own time, which is always super important to me. But I'd also gotten to a point where I was taking so many, teaching commitments and little jobs that it was taking up too much of my mind time, you know, to the sort of the hustling to find this job and that job and teaching, I find takes it out of me. So I'd been doing some sessional teaching at MUN and, and I really enjoy teaching, but you know, it's something that I invest in.
Rhonda Douglas: Do you give everything?
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Yeah, it's something I really invest myself in. And, I had to really be honest, what sessionals get paid in this country in general. And I was like, you know, you cannot make this work. So, you know, which is not to say that I don't have a teaching future, um, at a university in a different way. But sessionally, it's just not working. Because I just, am investing too much of myself in it and, therefore losing a lot of my own mind time. Uh, so yeah, so that's what I'm doing right now. Our magazine is called Riddle Fence, and our submissions are always open, so you can look us up online, riddle fence.com, if you read—
Rhonda Douglas: Love Riddle Fence, <laugh> mm-hmm.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: oetry, or short stories or, or nonfiction, you're welcome to submit. So I do that and I'm still teaching at Humber this year, and I like that program a lot because it's one-on-one. And I often have, you know, maybe one private student at a time as well. I do the odd manuscript evaluation. I just have to sort of be quite careful, you know, it's, it's such—it's a tightrope, I'll be honest with you. And so it's not for everyone. Like, some people would feel much better <laugh> knowing that they have to be at work for certain hours and they have certain hours to themselves, and I don't really have those boundaries, but I am learning all the time to walk that tightrope in terms of finding, what do I need in terms of money-making opportunities versus free time to let my mind wander.
Rhonda Douglas: So important. So what's your process and routine right now when it comes to—you're working on a new novel? I'm assuming, are you, do you have something in the works?
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: I do have a novel in the works. I'm also working on some short stories. So I have a number of things <laugh>, I have a number of things on the go. I found 2022 was a bit of a weird year for me. Um, and I don't know if it's just like—it's been now almost three years living in pandemic land or you know, I—like a lot of things. You know, putting out a book in 2021 was extremely different from putting out a book at any other time that I have. And part of it is just like, the kinds of things that I was doing. A lot of it was virtual, which is great. And I actually love virtual events, but some of it was, you know, I wanna say like, a lot of sort of marketing things were really downloaded to writers.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: And I know I'm not the only person who feels this way. But it was a lot of like, “can you film a video of yourself doing this? Can you film a video of yourself doing that?” And, it's exhausting, right? It's exhausting in a different way. And I didn't even realize how tired I was until about halfway through this year, when I kept getting sick. And so I had to have a bit of a serious conversation with myself about, you know, taking some downtime. The last few months I've been trying to reconfigure how 2023 is gonna look, how my writing schedule is gonna look, how I'm gonna prioritize that. And I think, you know, I'm in good shape right now <laugh>, but that's why I sort of took a break from the novel. I have a few short stories on the go because it's—that's just feels like, really pleasurable to me, and it allows me to approach writing in a really expansive way, where I remember what this is supposed to feel like, rather than just deadlines and, you know.
Rhonda Douglas: Wow. You have one of the—I mean, I know you say the marketing is exhausting, but you have one of my favorite author newsletters—
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Oh! Thank you!
Rhonda Douglas: No Body, No Crime <laugh>, right? So it's at your website, elisabethdemariaffi.com, and people can sign up. So, tell me a little bit about that. Like how, how do you approach that? Because it's so much better than so many others that I see.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: I really started that, like, almost for myself, to be honest with you. I think I've been doing it now for maybe two years? One year? two years I think, or a year and a half, I don't know. Um, yeah, it's called No Body, No Crime. There were a few things I really liked about other people's newsletters. So I had—uh, I was following Sarah Wineman's newsletter and Laura Lipman's, and one of the things I liked about Laura Lipman's was that she would sort of say what she was reading. And Sarah does the same thing actually. Sarah Wyman is, is an incredibly smart writer who writes about true crime, in a really intelligent, interesting way. So if you haven't read her books, you should look them up. But, so I was thinking about that.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: I was thinking about social media, and whether or not it was serving me—again, you know, this started in the middle of the pandemic. I felt quite disconnected from a lot of people. You know, when I moved to St. John's, it wasn't a big deal. We used to get off the island three times a year, and that was actually sort of part of my work life, was going to the mainland to do events or to have meetings. I haven't been to Toronto now since 2019, which is really weird <laugh>. So that was, I thought, “how has social media changed,” you know, in the time—I was sort of an early adopter both of Twitter and, and Facebook. And those places don't feel the same to me anymore. I probably will leave Twitter. I haven't actually been very active on Twitter in the last six months, and obviously it's getting, just, worse and worse.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: So, but even Facebook doesn't really feel the same to me anymore. So that was where it came out of, I thought, well, “what could I do that would make me feel more connected?” I started writing this newsletter, which is really, like, I'm glad you like it, <laugh>. It's really just, it's literally a letter. I only send it out once a month. And it's like, you know, “here's, here's what I've been thinking about and here's what's going on, like, literally with me,” You know, sometimes more personally, uh, sometimes more, um, you know, what I'm thinking about. And then I do this big list of what I’m, you know, working on and reading and watching and listening to, because I love those lists from other people. And I think that I was missing, maybe—maybe missing those conversations, you know, cause my social world really shrank, in the pandemic, and so maybe I'm missing that. But I find that, there's always a great response. Like every time I send one out, there's this little, the writer voice in me that goes, “is this dumb?” <laugh>
Rhonda Douglas: No, it's not dumb. It's fabulous. Yes. And I'm the person like, clicking on the links and going, “oh, I've never heard of that before.” <laugh> “Oh, that's a nice read.” Like, yeah, no, it's great. Love it.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Yeah, no, it's, it's, it's really nice and it, it has done what I was hoping it would do in terms of—I do get a nice response from people out there. So I feel like it—it feels more real to me. And, um, and also it gives me a chance to, to write a letter, which I think is a different kind of writing.
Rhonda Douglas: It's a very old—old school skill.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Yes, yes, exactly. You know, when I first started, I was thinking—when I was a young woman, I was really obsessed with Madame de Sévigné, who lived in France in I think the 1700’s. Um, and Madame de Sévigné was a letter writer, and she would write a letter specifically to someone—like I would write a letter to you, Rhonda—knowing that it was going to be passed around and published and, right? But it, it was written to a person such that, I could kind of say whatever I wanted to. And it was like her way of publishing, right? And I thought that it was so weird. Such an old school way of doing this, and that was also a little bit in the back of my mind when I started it.
Rhonda Douglas: Nice. So, for everyone listening, if you haven't signed up to it yet, you should definitely go to Elisabeth's site and sign up. It's great. So one final question before we hop off, Elisabeth. I wanted just to ask you, you know, this is like the words of like <laugh>, from someone who's several books in, working professional writer—for the writer who maybe has those 10, 11 short stories and about to put out a book, or trying to finish that first novel… what are your words of advice for someone at that stage, if they're writing?
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Well, I mean, if you're, if you're in the submission process, now, you're always looking for, whether it's—you're seeking an agent or seeking an editor for your book—of course we always wanna sell, right? We always wanna sell and we always want to publish, but you're really looking for people to be on your team, that like in your writing what you like in your writing. And if you don't have that, things are gonna slip away from you very quickly. So that's what I always—that would be my words of advice. If you're looking for an agent, if you're looking for an editor, look for the people who, when they look at your work, say, “I love this part.” And you go, “oh, that's actually what I'm trying to do. That is—you have identified my intention.” That's what you want, so that you're not always trying to bend to somebody else's vision of what your writing could be, you know?
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Which is not to say we shouldn't listen to other people's edits. We should, because, sometimes people give you something really surprising and you need to go away and have a little walk with yourself and, and go, “is, you know, is <laugh>—would that make it better?” Because often having those fresh eyes are really important. But, at the core, the people who work on your team have to love what you love in your writing. And if you stick with a team like that, you are going to always feel like you're doing what you me-mean to do. And I think that's the most important thing.
Rhonda Douglas: Hmm. Awesome. Thank you so much. Thanks for being here. Really appreciate it. And, good luck with with 2023 ... the writing schedule, the writing life, and <laugh> how it all comes together.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: <laugh> The writing life.
Rhonda Douglas: May it all be Fabulous for 2023.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Well, thanks so much for having me on, Rhonda.
Rhonda Douglas: Okay, talk to you soon. Bye
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: Bye.
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