March 15, 2012
Interview with Melanie McDonald
Today I’m welcoming Melanie McDonald to my series of author interviews. Melanie is the author of the coming-of-age novel Eromenos. She has an MFA in fiction from the University of Arkansas. Her work has appeared in New York Stories, Fugue, Indigenous Fiction, and online in Fiction Brigade and Squawk Back. She has pursued her writing in New York, Galway, and Paris. She spent several months in Italy at work on Eromenos.
Q: Melanie, can you give us a brief description of your novel?
A: Eromenos is a coming-of-age novel set in the second century AD, in which Antinous of Bithynia, a Greek youth from Asia Minor, recounts his seven-year affair with Hadrian, the fourteenth emperor of Rome. Eromenos was published in March 2011 by Seriously Good Books, a new indie press for historical fiction, and we just celebrated the book’s one-year anniversary on March 11. I received a 2008 Hawthornden Fellowship in Scotland to work on this novel, and am happy to report that Eromenos was a 2011 Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist and has received excellent reviews.
Q: Was Antinous of Bithynia, a real person or is he completely of your imagination?
A: Antinous was an actual person, and a member of Hadrian’s second-century Imperial court. Very little is known of his personal life (particularly before he became part of Hadrian’s milieu), so Antinous in my novel is a work of imagination based on the few facts we know about him.
Q: How much historical fact is woven into your novel?
A: I did quite a bit of research for the novel to ensure the historical facts would be as accurate as I could make them; that era of Roman history is fascinating, so the research was a pleasure.
Q: How did you come up with the title?
A: The word eromenos in Greek meant the young beloved, the younger man in a pair bond in which the older man, the erastes, was the lover and mentor who taught this partner how to become a Greek citizen, a duty they did not take lightly. The second-century Roman emperor Hadrian was an admirer of Greek culture, and he seems to have modeled his relationship with Antinous in part on that earlier Greek relationship ideal.
Q: Who designed the book’s cover?
A: The cover art for Eromenos is a gorgeous photo by artist Megan Chapman. The publisher and I both thought she did an amazing job of conveying the atmosphere of the story.
Q: Can you describe your writing process?
A: I jot down story ideas, make notes and start drafts in longhand; once I have enough to scratch out a full draft, I move on to the computer. It’s much easier to revise on the computer once you have a draft to work on, but I seem to think better on paper.
Q: How did your interest in writing begin?
A: I can remember being fascinated with the physical act of writing itself when I was very small, about three or four, I imagine. I would scribble all over sheets of paper and go show them to the nearest adult I could corner, usually my mother or grandmother, hoping that person who already could read would then read all this and tell me what I’d written.
I also drew in my books, either to redesign them to my satisfaction or to add my own stories-in-pictures to theirs. I’m so grateful that my parents never objected to these small acts of vandalism on my part – in fact, I think they may have encouraged them a little.
Q: Who are some writers who inspire you?
A: Oh, that is a tough one: Anton Chekhov, Alice Munro, Gina Berriault, Tillie Olsen, Ray Bradbury, Emily Brontë, John McGahern,, A. L. Kennedy, Iris Origo, Lars Gustaffson, Saki (H. H. Munro), the James Joyce of Dubliners – the list changes all the time, though.
Q: Any other thoughts about writing you’d like to share?
A: Actually I’d like to quote the writer Tom Rachman’s theory about fiction, because I think he articulated this so beautifully in an exchange with Malcolm Gladwell. Rachman said:
Writing (and reading) is a sort of exercise in empathy, I think. In life, when you encounter people, you and they have separate trajectories, each person pushing in a different direction. What’s remarkable about fiction is that it places you in the uncommon position of having no trajectory. You stand aside, motives abandoned for the duration. The characters have the trajectory now, which you just observe. And this stirs compassion that, in real life, is so often obscured by our own motives.
We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:
Coffee or tea? Tea
Ocean or mountain? Ocean. . .though the mountains are alluring. . .
Hiking or shopping? Hiking (definitely not shopping!)
Violin or piano? Violin
Mystery or fantasy? Sci-fi Fantasy
Darcy or Heathcliff? Heathcliff forever, baby, no contest.
Love scene or death scene? um, deadly love scene?
Thanks to Melanie for joining me today. For more about Melanie and her debut novel Eromenos, visit the Melanie McDonald website.