BRIAN: Melanie, it’s a pleasure to have you here in the Underground. We met, virtual style, on Author Salon almost a year ago, where you are hard at work on your epic fantasy novel, Initiate of Stone. You’ve won a few prizes for your short fiction. I know a lot of writers find the leap from short fiction to full-fledged novels daunting. Many never make the leap. What made you decide to undertake the challenge of writing
MELANIE: First, I’d like to thank you, Brian and Underground Book Reviews, for giving me this opportunity. I’m quite honored to be considered for the emerging writers series and happy to be here.
Novels have always been in me. I had several ideas, even as a child, that I knew couldn’t fit into a shorter form. At the time though, I didn’t have the skill or the dedication to devote myself to a novel. Plus, the opportunities presented to me were all contests. Short stories and poetry work better for that venue.
When I was seventeen I started writing novels longhand, in spiral notebooks. Graduating through a typewriter to a 286 computer with a rudimentary word processor, I wrote, rewrote, transferred my files using a 5 1/4 inch floppy to a newer computer, then a 3 1/2 inch floppy to an even newer computer, and now I have a desktop, laptop, and a tablet with USB drives and backups on DVD.
Even when I was published as a poet, though it was wonderful, it seemed a distraction, a detour from the path I should have been on.
So it’s never been difficult for me to write a longer work. Short stories have always been more challenging for me.
BRIAN: Please tell our readers a little about your project, Initiate of Stone.
MELANIE: Just as all her dreams are about to come true, Ferathainn learns that her family and friends have lied to her all her life. The truth, along with her marriage and initiation as a mage await her on her sixteenth birthday but, come the day, soldiers, led by a red-haired butcher, attack her village and put every hope and support beyond her reach.
Alone, bereft, and raped, Ferathainn falls victim to a spirit that promises to grant her the power to exact her revenge. That ill-fated attempt leads Ferathainn to the discovery that the attack on her village was only part of a larger plot to destroy the land of Tellurin and free a mad god from his prison.
Her quest to become powerful enough to prevent the end of her world puts Ferathainn on a collision course with her rapist and the secrets of her past.
BRIAN: In my humble opinion, epic fantasy needs three things to make it work: believable worlds, believable characters and grand, sweeping plots. Worlds, character and plots – as a writer which one do you think is your strength and why?
MELANIE: Definitely the characters. Everything begins with my protagonist and her or his story. Without that character, none of the others would exist, nor the plot, nor the world. It all grows out of one imaginary person.
I think my fascination with character comes from introspection, primarily, but also my interest in Jung and Campbell, and my book addiction. When I read a character that touches me, I remember them, what qualities affected me, what actions made him or her heroic. Everything I’ve lived and experienced, everything I’ve learned, everything I’ve read, it all helps me improve my craft.
MELANIE: All my characters start with an idea, a moment, a broken place. Usually, it’s the character’s lowest point, the time when their sense of self is so shattered that they make the wrong choice because they think it’s the right one.
Every character evolves as well. Even Ferathainn wasn’t originally who she is now. The character that became Eoghan was always a monk, but at first he was a much older man. Fer was an even younger character then and I wasn’t comfortable with his love for her. In many ways, it precluded the possibility that she’d ever feel the same way about him, so I made them contemporaries in age. He always became the Hammer of Light, though, called away from his true love by his goddess to become her champion.
That core moment of sacrifice fascinated me. I had to dig deeper, be cruel, make his situation more tragic.
Eoghan’s need to sacrifice verges on the pathological and his journey is not the obvious one. His physical transformation changes nothing about who he is. It’s only when he begins to sort through his feelings of worthlessness that his character arc truly begins.
BRIAN: Here at UBR we treat self-published and traditional published authors the same. What are your thoughts about self-publication?
MELANIE: I’ve actually gone that route with a poetry collection I contributed to as a part of a collective (Battlechant, 1999) and I was the co-editor of a short-lived poetry journal called Like lemmings ... (poetry over the edge). It survived for two years (1998-2000). This was all, of course, in the days before ebooks.
The issue with self-publishing is to ensure that you are putting out the absolute best product you can in the most legitimate manner possible. There’s always the looming implication of “vanity publishing” and that’s why a site like UBR is so great. You seek out the good stuff and show the reading public that there are great books written by authors with solid craft who self-publish as well as those who choose the traditional route.
BRIAN: How is the Melanie now versus Melanie before she started writing? In
other words, how has writing changed you and your life?
MELANIE: I started writing when I was seven, so you’ll have to forgive me when I tell you that I really don’t remember what my life was like before I started writing.
It has changed my life in positive and negative ways, though. As a young creator, I was incredibly sensitive. Several damaging lessons that I was unfortunate to learn early on became internalized and the inner editor adopted that negative messaging. I believed those lies for most of my writing life, even when I won a hundred dollars for a short story; even when I was asked by the editor of a new science fiction magazine to write a story for his first issue; even when I defended my Master’s thesis, a collection of short stories, and earned my degree in English literature and creative writing.
It wasn’t until I participated in a workshop by Governor General’s Award winner Nino Ricci that I put my inner editor in its place, put on my big girl panties, and started daily writing practice.
Since that day and until recently, writing has become a kind of spiritual practice for me, a kind of therapy, a comfort, and a faithful friend.
Things have changed a lot for me since I started building my
platform and joined Author Salon. I have to come to terms with some of those changes, which I’m thankfully beginning to do.
It’s all a process and it’s all good.
BRIAN: Melanie, thanks for joining us. To our readers, if you want to see an excerpt of Initiate of Stone right here on UBR next week, let us know by subscribing to our newsletter, liking us on Facebook, and commenting on this interview. You can also visit Melanie Marttila's blog, Writerly Goodness. If you are an agent or publisher you can view also her profile and query for Initiate of Stone at Authorsalon.com.