The second title in our Simon & Schuster x Shedoesthecity book club was Marissa Stapley’s breathtaking page turner, Things To Do When It’s Raining. We’ve been enchanted with Marissa’s writing ever since getting our hands on her debut novel, Mating For Life. Her second novel is an important reminder that some things in life are better kept secret, and some things are not. It’s up to us to determine which is which.
Mae Summers and Gabe Broadbent grew up together in the idyllic Summers’ Inn. Mae was orphaned at the age of six and Gabe needed protection from his alcoholic father, so both were raised under one roof by Mae’s grandparents, Lily and George. A childhood friendship eventually developed into a first love—a love that was suddenly broken by Gabe’s unexpected departure. Mae grew up and got over her heartbreak and started a life for herself in New York City.
After more than a decade, Mae and Gabe find themselves pulled back to the Summers’ Inn. Hoping to find solace there, Mae instead finds her grandparents in the midst of decline and their past unravelling around her. A lifetime of secrets that implicate Gabe and Mae’s family reveal a version of the past that will forever change Mae’s future.
Sounds juicy, right? It is. We connected with Marissa to ask her some questions.
SDTC: Was there a particular moment or idea that made you want to write Things To Do When It’s Raining? How did the idea grow from there?
MS: I came up with the idea shortly after my grandmother passed away three years ago. I was grieving and I had this half-baked idea that writing a character who resembled her—Lilly—would make it feel like she hadn’t died at all. This didn’t turn out to be true. The hardest part of writing this book was realizing I had to let go of my grandmother and allow Lilly to become a character in her own right. Just like Mae and her grandparents, my grandparents and I were close. I spent a lot of time with them when I was a child and lived with them during university. I thought I knew them, but when my grandmother was gone I realized there were things we had never talked about, open secrets in my family it was too late to discuss. While Lilly came to resemble my grandmother less and less as the story became real, I began to explore my family’s past in a way I never have before. The story is not my family’s story, but the idea of leaving things unsaid and of burying painful secrets is.
After writing my first novel, Mating for Life, which takes a rather jaded look at romantic love and marital relationships, I wanted to write a story that had an element of breathless romance in it. In the end, the love stories between Mae and Gabe and Lilly and George, are still quite real, but there’s also this sense of getting swept away by a love that feels destined and that can survive anything—hence the Nicholas Sparks comparisons. No matter what happens to these characters, their love shines through. I set out to write a book like that, a book where love sustains a lot of blows and still survives, completely intact. I think I accomplished that here and it makes me really happy when I take a moment to consider that.
What was the biggest discovery you made while writing this book?
There’s a line in the book I love. It comes when Lilly is contemplating all the secrets she has kept in her life. She looks out her kitchen window at the river and thinks, “…some things are better kept secret. And some things are not: life’s most difficult task is to know which is which.”
The book went through many drafts, but this passage always stood out and eventually started to inform the direction of the novel. It can become compulsive, the need to share all of ourselves with the people we love and we desperately want to love us back. If they know everything and still want to be with us then it’s meant to be, right?
I’ve lived a little and learned a lot about human nature through my writing, and I’ve realized this isn’t always the case. Secrets are lonely but they’re also a part of life. I think the most important person to accept unconditionally is yourself. You don’t need to lay yourself bare in front of another person in order to be worthy of love. That was a huge discovery I made while writing this. Radical honesty? No thanks. I think radical love comes from understanding that there will always be a secret place inside the person you love, and that you’re allowed to keep a part of yourself aside, too.
What was your writing ritual? Are you an early riser? A night owl? Can you describe how you write? The snack/beverage that energizes you?
Oh boy, I’m all over the place. But I see a pattern now that I’m on to my third book: I go to bed and wake up at normal times during the early stages of a draft, and generally do my writing when my kids are at school. I spend mornings in coffee shops and I’m very relaxed about the whole thing. I also procrastinate. It’s incredible the things I can find to do other than writing when a deadline isn’t staring me down. But I’m always thinking about my work in progress no matter what I’m doing—which means it’s very important that I never go anywhere without a notebook.
When my deadline is approaching, I start waking up around five o’clock every morning so I can get a few solid hours in. I used to stay up late writing, but I think I’m getting too old! The other night I was up until ten o’clock writing and it felt like midnight!
I do my best writing in solitude, so those early morning hours are really working. Granted, I’m also on a deadline for my third book so all bets are off. My husband—who is amazing—is picking up the slack around the house while I write around the clock. We have two kids, so it’s not easy. But we both realize that immersion in a draft is important. I feel guilty when I feel like I’m checking out of family life, but this is my job. And I consider it a great accomplishment that I’ve started allowing myself to prioritize my work. That’s not always an easy thing for a mother to do. But everyone knows I’ll be back. And when I am, I’ll be thinking of all kinds of fun stuff to do with the [the kids] instead of writing…
As for a snack or beverage, it’s coffee. Obviously! Five o’clock in the morning requires two or three. And if I do end up staying up super late, I enjoy a warm bourbon.
What conversations do you hope or imagine readers will have after reading your book?
People, quite simply, are flawed. There is no point expecting anyone to be perfect. We are always, at some point, going to be called upon to forgive a person we love for hurting us in some way. Or to beg someone else’s forgiveness. This is the kind of realization I hope people will have after reading this novel. I also hope they’ll be compelled to talk about how reading it made them feel, especially if they’ve been burying issues for a while.
I received an email recently from a high school friend who was very moved by Things To Do When It’s Raining because it reminded her of her own grandmother and a huge secret she had kept from her family until fairly recently. I think reading my novel made her realize she wasn’t alone—that so many families have secrets and this doesn’t mean there’s something wrong or unfixable about them. So maybe what I hope the most is that people will discuss this book with the people they care about. But I also hope people will say things like, “Wow, I loved that book so much! I can’t wait to read what she writes next!”
What authors or books have inspired you as a writer?
So many! I am constantly inspired by other authors and their words. But I became a novelist because of Lucy Maud Montgomery, whom I read as a child and felt an immediate kinship with. For a brief moment I decided I wanted to be Canada’s first female prime minister (I was a feminist before I knew what the word really meant), but Kim Campbell killed that dream. I also realized I didn’t have a thick enough skin for politics; I can barely get through an unfavourable Goodreads review! Really, I’ve never wanted to do anything but write.
I feel lucky to be able to do what I love every day, but this career has also been the result of an incredible amount of hard work and perseverance. That’s where the life of Lucy Maud has been so inspiring—and sad. She’s one of the best-known novelists to come out of Canada, and her work is still read and appreciated today. But she died with the belief that her work wasn’t taken seriously—because she was a woman writing about women (and young girls, no less). This is a tough reality I still live with, and my female friends who are authors still live with it, too. But we don’t give up on our dreams just because we are often dismissed as not serious. And it’s getting better. Every once in a while someone refers to my work as “fiction” and doesn’t feel the need to add the word “women’s” because of my gender and the subject matter.
Has the creative process of writing made you appreciate something in life more?
I realized a lot while writing Things To Do When It’s Raining—namely that second novels are tough! Third novels are no picnic either, but you come from a place of knowledge about the editorial process and the publishing process that you didn’t have before. When I wrote Mating for Life, I wrote with no one else in mind. No editor, no readers waiting in the wings, no sales or marketing team trying to figure out a way to position my words. Just myself. You never get back to that place, no matter how hard you try, and in a way you have to learn how to write all over again. But that’s not a bad thing. I’ve grown as an author and as a person by learning the true meaning of collaborating on a creative project when it comes to the editorial process. I’ve also gained an incredible team of people who are as invested in my work as I am—not to mention a terrific community of fellow authors who understand exactly what I’m going through.
How did you celebrate completing your second novel?
It was so long ago! I don’t remember, but I’m sure I opened a bottle of champagne with my husband who is just as happy as I am when the marathon ends and he gets me back for a little while. Although usually while we’re toasting I’m already bouncing new novel and plot ideas off of him. He’s always the first person I talk to about a new book. He’s a tech guy and frankly, not that interested in fiction. But if I can grip him with an idea or a draft I know I’ve got something good.