Book: The Last Resort
Photo Credit: Eugene Choi
Author: Marissa Stapley
"Marissa Stapley is an award-nominated journalist and the bestselling author of the novels Mating for Life (2014), Things to Do When It's Raining (2018) and The Last Resort (2019), which is an Oprah Magazine, New York Post, US Weekly and Parade Magazine favorite. Her writing has appeared in newspapers and magazines across North America, including the Globe and Mail, National Post, Toronto Star, Reader's Digest, Elle, and Today's Parent. She has taught creative writing and editing at the University of Toronto and Centennial College. She lives in Toronto with her family." (source: www.amazon.com)
1. What were some of your inspiration for ‘The Harmony Resort’?
I was inspired to start writing about a resort during a holiday with family a few years ago. We were in an idyllic setting and everything seemed perfect — but, being a writer, I couldn’t help but start to speculate about the guests around us. Were they really as happy as they seemed? Did any of them have secrets? I came in from the beach one day and started jotting down ideas, but I had to wait to start “The Last Resort” until I had finished the book I was working on already. (I did pitch it to my agent and editors, though, and they loved the idea.)
I chose Tulum because I’ve been traveling to that part of Mexico since childhood and I’m familiar with the area — and also because I needed cenotes to be close at hand, as you will understand when you read the book! While writing, I happened upon a resort called ‘Hotel Esencia’ on Instagram, and that became the inspiration for the sumptuous hotel setting.
2. What makes the tropical paradise backdrop so brilliantly terrifying?
I find books and movies that take place in controlled settings terrifying even when they’re not meant to be. A tropical setting is supposed to be perfect, but so many things can go wrong. Sinister hosts, hurricanes, strangers with bad intentions. It’s the perfect setting within which to mess with your characters.
But I also feel that it reflects well on what are expectations about things often are — and how it can become impossible to meet those expectations. Holidays are supposed to be heavenly, and because of this often unrealizable ideal, they become anything but.
Marriage can be the same thing: a wedding can be this perfect, rose-colored day, and no one talks about the fact that marriage is actually really hard work, and truly knowing another person can be impossible. A tropical paradise felt like the perfect setting to explore all this.
3. Have you ever spent time at a place like ‘The Harmony Resort’? If so, what did you learn about yourself?
No, thank goodness, although my husband and I did have couples counseling a few years ago because, as I mentioned above, marriage is hard work! There is absolutely no shame in making a commitment to work on your marriage, and I think many couples run into trouble when they think that having some kind of counseling is a problem. The truth is, most of the couples at the Harmony Resort are coming at it way too late.
What I learned about myself in marriage counseling was how defensive and closed this type of experience can make you. I really played with that while writing “The Last Resort”: the idea that the couples don’t want to be wrong about anything. What they want is to be told that they are right, and their spouse is wrong, that they are calm and perfect, and their spouse is angry and off base. Of course, it never works that way.
To have successful counseling of any kind is to accept that the only person you have the power to change is yourself. I’ve learned that over the years, and I tried to take some of my characters on that journey as well.
4. Do you feel marriage counseling is important for sustaining a great relationship?
I absolutely do. I think everyone should do it — although not in a place like Harmony Resort, of course. Not only do I think marriage counseling is important for sustaining a great relationship, I think counseling and therapy are important in sustaining a healthy existence for anyone. There’s this misconception — changing, but slowly — that you only go to therapy if there’s something wrong with you. In fact, that’s not true.
Therapy can help people get through acute challenging situations, of course. But I’ve found it to be most helpful in my life when things are going well. It’s kind of like eating healthy or exercising, not because you have an illness but because you want to be healthy and free of disease for the rest of your life.
5. Some very heavy relationship topics are covered in ‘The Last Resort’. Why did you feel it was important to discuss these subjects?
These past few years have been huge for bringing some very difficult truths about power imbalances between women and men to the surface of the conversations we have in society. It has been hard for some to accept that these things are real, and even harder still to find the strength to fight to change them so true equality can be achieved.
All of that is at the root of why I wrote a book like this, one that deals with difficult topics and can be, at times, uncomfortable to read. It’s a thrilling page-turner on one hand, and, on the other, an important exploration of who people are in relationships and why that can be damaging not just to individuals, but to society as a whole.
6. What do you hope couples that read this book take away from it?
I don’t think I had couples in mind specifically as I wrote this novel, but more just people in general. I hope people take away a sense that on one hand, it’s okay to have secrets, and having a few secrets doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s okay to be protective of yourself sometimes, to perhaps one person in public and another in private — but not if you’re hurting someone, or hurting yourself.
I also hope people take away the strength to question this story we’ve all been sold about how marriage and relationships can complete us and the ultimate happy ending is to be in a happy marriage or relationship. In truth, a happy marriage or relationship can be incredibly rewarding, sure. But if you can’t achieve that, you’re not a failure.
And you certainly can’t achieve that if you don’t work at it, so accept that, too; that actually, relationships that look perfectly effortless generally aren’t. Within every relationship, there’s a secret about why it works, or why it isn’t going to work. We’re all human beings and we all have struggles and the true happy ending is coming to terms with that within ourselves. Perhaps if we do, we can be ready to have healthy relationships with other people.
7. What is the best advice you’ve ever received on writer’s block?
I have been giving this advice to myself lately about writer’s block: writing is about more than just sitting down and getting it done, although that is certainly a key piece. However, at this point in my career, I don’t need to be told to get my butt in the chair and get to the end of a book. I can do that, no problem.
What I do need to remind myself is that if the writing doesn’t feel right that day, it’s okay to get up from the chair and go for a walk, or start working on a different project (I like to have a few on the go at once), or even just set the book aside for a little while until it starts to feel right again. Sitting down and writing every day is a good thing, but so is taking the time to really think about the story and the characters and where you want them to go.
Once you’ve inhabited the world you’ve created, not just while writing, not just while sitting and staring at a cursor, but while thinking about the story and connecting it to the world at large, the book will be better.
8. What was the best book you’ve read so far in 2019?
I just finished City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert and loved absolutely every minute I spent with that book. It’s pleasurable and fun — but also wise and important. Gilbert does such a good job of balancing darkness and lightness, and I aspire to achieve that balance so perfectly too.
9. Do you plan on writing any more books in the future?
Absolutely. I’m writing my fourth book now, and am very excited about it!
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