There’s something about the characters in Mating for Life—sisters Fiona, Ilsa and Liane, their mother, Helen, and the women surrounding them—that feel very real to me. I’m aware that I made them up, that I created them in my mind and then gave them life on the page only. And yet, somehow, I feel like I see them everywhere. I’ve had to stop myself from approaching women on the street and saying crazy things like, “Ilsa?! It’s you! I knew we’d meet in person one day!” or “Liane! Hi! Want to grab a coffee?”
I think part of what has made these characters so real is that they came from a very authentic place inside me. I started writing Mating for Life when I had reached a point in my life where I believed everything was supposed to come together. Husband? Check. Two kids? Check. House? Check. Perfect life? … Not exactly. The truth is that no matter what point we’re at in our lives, we all have our challenges, we all have our instincts to fight or embrace, and we’re all trying to write ourselves a happy ending—but learning in the process that this is anything but a simple task.
As I wrote about these women that I identified with so strongly—Liane, with her rose-colored perception of love tempered by harsh reality; Ilsa, struggling to align her bohemian, pre-child self with the person she feels she’s supposed to be; Fiona, with her fierce devotion to her family and the impossible standards she’s set for herself; and Helen, who, even in her sixties, isn’t quite sure who she is—the music I listened to helped set the mood for every writing session. I got to know my characters through these songs. (Think about your best friend in the world: you probably know what her favorite song is, right? Or maybe there’s a certain song that makes you think of your mom, or sister, or favorite aunt. It’s the same with these women and me.)
Eventually, I created playlists for each character (Liane’s a bit of a hipster-folkie, Ilsa listens to a lot of Tori Amos, Fiona has a grudging appreciation for Joni Mitchell that she inherited from her mother, and Helen divides her time between Bob Dylan, Melanie, and Jefferson Airplane) and I’m sharing some of these songs with you now. This music helped bring the characters in my novel to life, and I hope you’ll feel the same as you listen and read.
Have a listen to the Playlist
Marissa 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–and she has the same birthday L.M. Montgomery.