Toronto writer Marissa Stapley’s fourth book turns out to be as lucky as the title suggests.
In a first for a Canadian author and book, Reese Witherspoon chose Stapley’s latest novel, “Lucky,” as the December pick for his Reese blockbuster Hello Sunshine Book Club.
“I’ve known that for three months,” Stapley told me on a Zoom call from Los Angeles at 6 a.m. the day before the announcement, the first morning light illuminating in the background.
She’s in LA, staying with her family near the Santa Monica Pier to attend events hosted by Witherspoon’s book club company Hello Sunshine. But she took an oath to the strictest secrecy, being able to tell it only to her husband and her children. “I like my characters to have secrets, but I find it hard to keep secrets.”
Witherspoon announced her choice Tuesday morning on her Reese’s Book Club app. “She actually sent me a really good email the other day, just wanting to say hi and log in before the pick and it looks like she really fell in love with ‘Lucky’ herself, who according to her. she was one of the best heroines she had read for a long time.
âI think I’ll keep this email forever. ”
So how does a Canadian author have a chance to get their book chosen? Here’s how it happened, as Stapley describes: his agent, Samantha Haywood, president of the Transatlantic Agency, sent “Lucky” to a book scout; he gave it to the group Hello Sunshine. Reese read it, apparently, and she loved it.
In September, Haywood and Nita Pronovost, editor-in-chief of Stapley at Simon & Schuster Canada, took her to dinner “under cover” to celebrate the April post of “Lucky” in person after not being able to thanks to COVID -19. When they broke the news to him, “I broke down in tears, I think I cried all dinner,” Stapley said.
The idea for the book, about a crook named Lucky (short for Luciana) who succeeds in a robbery with her boyfriend and is now trying to start a new life, was sparked when Stapley heard on a radio station in the United States that A prize lottery ticket worth hundreds of millions of dollars had not been claimed.
The hosts were speculating on what might cause a person not to claim such a prize. “Maybe they would be arrested, they said,” Stapley recalls. This set his imagination on a path that led to “Lucky”.
The book is dedicated to Stapley’s mother, Valerie, who died of cancer in 2020. She pays homage to her in the book: a policeman named Valerie turns out to be Lucky’s biological mother (and at the beginning of the book, a character named Margaret Jean is named after Stapley’s grandmother).
It’s a poignant story, the connection between “Lucky” and Stapley’s mother. She wrote about it in an essay for The Star in February 2021. The book was written while caring for her mother in the later stages of her life.
âShe told me that if I insisted on entrusting myself to her care, I would have to continue my work. That way, when I came to her house, she wouldn’t feel like a patient. She liked to call my extended visits “writing retreats.”
As reading is a distraction and an escape for many of us, so too were Stapley and his mother writing “Lucky”. âI wanted it to be fun and entertaining, so I kept trying to find ways to feel good all the time. I’m glad it turned out as tight and compelling as it did. It was a difficult time. I don’t know how I did it, actually. I do not know.”
Back at dinner in September, Haywood and Pronovost also told Stapley that being picked for Reese’s book club “changes everything,” Stapley recalls. If history – and another famous celebrity book club – is any barometer, they’re not wrong.
When Rohinton Mistry’s “A Fine Balance” became the Canadian top pick for Oprah Winfrey’s famous book picks in 2002, headlines screamed, “The Author Wins Winfrey’s Prize Draw.” This choice was followed back to back by “Fall on Your Knees” by Ann-Marie MacDonald. Both were originally released in 1996.
âFall on Your Knees,â published here by Knopf Canada, has won awards and sold 200,000 copies, but only 45,000 in the United States, where it was published by Simon & Schuster.
âIt was a good sale for a first novel,â said at the time Marcia Burch, advertising director for Simon & Schuster in New York City, which published it in that country, âbut that puts it in a any other category. We make a first impression with the Oprah logo on the cover of 620,000 “, and, according to the Star article, an additional 70,000 copies have been printed in Canada.
Mistry’s novel was printed 700,000 in the United States and the book made it to the New York Times bestseller list.
Interestingly, in 2018, BookNet Canada dug up Reese’s book club’s sales power a bit, comparing it to the Oprah Effect. Although they discovered that Witherspoon’s choices had increased sales to some extent, Oprah was still the Queen. Reese’s Book Club has had a few years to gain momentum, however – his Instagram account @HelloSunshine now has nearly 837,000 followers, with @OprahsBookClub at just 619,000.
Another thing Oprah provided was the profile: MacDonald told The Star at the time, âThe United States is a very difficult market to break into; they have their own huge cultureâ¦ so asking Oprah to tell millions of friends to read your book is major.
That’s a sentiment Stapley echoes when speaking of Reese’s Book Club, saying that one of the biggest benefits is “that people will want to read my books, that they will know them.” It can be hard to get the word outâ¦ As a Canadian author it is not easy in the commercial world to bring your books to the fore and I have really struggled with that throughout my career, just trying to make my books accessible to readers. ‘hands in the United States And it will get there.
The stars of literary fiction from this country were fighting for pole positions; now, Canadian literary authors have their place on price lists and in the hearts of readers around the world. Stapley hopes the same will happen for commercial fiction writers; its editors at Simon & Schuster Canada think so.
âCanada has long been a country with many superb genre writers,â Pronovost said in an email to The Star. âIt’s exciting that Marissa is the first Canadian selection; it will amplify Canada’s voice in commercial fiction across North America and beyond.
In the meantime, Stapley’s next book is set in Europe – writing which she can focus on thanks to the success of “Lucky.”
âI feel like I have this golden ticket,â Stapley said. “I’ve spent most of the past three months waiting for someone to tell me it was a mistake.”
This article has been modified from a previous version to correct the name of Nita Pronovost.
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