Elisabeth de Mariaffi (2007 cohort)
When I came into the Guelph MFA in 2007, mine was only the second cohort to begin the program. I was thirty-three years old—a little older than the average—had two small children at home, and had been writing and publishing poetry in magazines for about ten years, off-and-on. I applied and was admitted as a poet. Two years later I completed my thesis in poetry under the guidance of the estimable Dionne Brand. I tell you this because now, in 2015, I sometimes wonder if I'll ever write another poem.
That's the exciting thing about those focused years. I walked out of the program with a new society of friends and colleagues, many of whom are my all-time favourite people to this day. I also walked out as a fiction writer. Part of the beauty of a two-year program is how it forces you to expand outside of what you know. While I initially signed up to take a creative non-fiction course in my second semester, on the strong recommendation of a new friend (and on a bit of a whim, let's face it) I switched over to Michael Winter's short fiction workshop at the last minute. Between that workshop and a summer mentorship, I put together half a manuscript's worth of short stories and sent them out for publication while I got down to the business of writing my poetry thesis. When the thesis was done, the stories I'd sent out had all been placed in magazines and I spent my post-MFA year tenderly juggling freelance money-jobs with real writing time—time I used to keep pushing at short fiction, until I had a whole collection's worth of stories ready to be seen.
Writing a first novel felt very much like that big leap—poetry to fiction—all over again. A novel is nothing like a short story: it's tangly and full of strings. It's a mess. It feels like a mess until pretty much five minutes before you're done with it. I know this now, because my first novel, a literary thriller called The Devil You Know, has just been released. Since my time in Guelph's MFA, I've moved to the far edge of the continent, re-married, and worked and quit two full-time day-jobs. I'm back at work now as a writer again, tiptoeing into a new novel.
I wish I could tell you about it, but it's a mess.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi is the author of one brand new novel, The Devil You Know (HarperCollins, Canada; Simon & Schuster, USA 2015) as well as one book of short stories, the Giller-nominated How To Get Along With Women (Invisible Publishing, 2012). Her poetry and short fiction have been widely published in magazines across Canada. In 2013, her story “Kiss Me Like I’m the Last Man on Earth” was shortlisted for a National Magazine Award. Elisabeth now makes her home in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where she lives with the poet George Murray, their combined four children and a border collie—making them CanLit’s answer to the Brady Brunch. [featured: spring 2015]
Review: Emily M. Keeler on How to Get Along With Women in the National Post