Story of the Writer
Everyone please welcome Melanie Marttila
Melanie is a science fiction & fantasy novelist-in-progress, a published poet and short story writer and all around awesome person. I first met Melanie through our awesome Facebook group entitled: THE WORDPLAYERS. Sounds cool huh? Because it is!
Are you originally from Canada?
Well, this is an interesting story (but I may be biased). I was born right here, in Sudbury, Ontario, and when I was about a year and a half, my grandparents built themselves a new house. My parents decided to buy my grandparents’ old house, where my dad had grown up.
It gets better.
After I spent a few years away at university, I returned to Sudbury, married, and, once we both had stable employment, my husband and I bought the house from my parents 🙂
The land on which both houses stand was part of a farm that my grandfather had bought, back in the day, and to finance the building of their new house (which my parents eventually moved into after my grandparents passed) they sold off some of the land to the city.
So I live in the house in which three generations of Marttilas have lived, on the street that bears my family name. Beside my mom. My writing room was my bedroom growing up. How cool is that?
I mean, some people might think it’s BORING, but, you know. Cool. *smiles*
I keep meeting great writers from Canada, it’s wonderful! I seriously need to go there one day. Look out Canada!
What’s it like?
Sudbury is a mining town in what most people consider northern Ontario. If you look at a map, we’re actually smack in the middle, about an hour and a half drive from Manitoulin Island in Georgian Bay, which is part of Lake Huron.
We’re the site of an ancient meteor impact, which is where all the stuff mined here came from and why Sudbury is called the nickel capitol.
Sudbury is also on pre-Cambrian shield, ancient mountains that have been ground down by glaciers. We have a chunk of it in our basement 🙂
When I was a kid, open pit smelting had blackened the rock and consumed most of the trees as fuel. In the 60’s, NASA came up here because the landscape, at the time, was very much what they expected to find on the moon . . .
The International Nickel Company (INCO) built the stack (to divert the sulfurous smog produced by smelting the nickel), changed their refining processes, and started to recover the landscape that had been ravaged by their previous practices. Now, we’re lovely and green again—in the summer, anyway. Winters here are pretty hellish.
Having said all that, my family was never involved in mining. Sudbury is the kind of place that gets into your blood, though. That’s why I came back and have made my life here, despite the winters.
Our area of Ontario is dotted with lakes that have formed in depressions in the pre-Cambrian shield. Outside the city, it’s considered prime cottage country.
Sounds like a memorable and scenic place.
How long have you been writing?
Egad. Since I was seven years old.
Wowsers! I have a seven year boy right now. Writing is not his strong suit, its reading. But it’s amazing you were able to begin writing stories at such a young age.
What was your career path?
I worked in retail from the age of thirteen through high school, had some interesting jobs in university—canine security patrol and video camera person and editor for a company that filmed show jumping and dressage shows across Canada and down into New York—and after graduation, I had an unreliable series of contracts in libraries and academia. My sister-in-law made me aware of an opportunity with her employer, and now I’ve been working with that same employer for fifteen years.
I’m currently in L&D, learning and development. Call me a corporate trainer. I’m a certified trainer (and certifiable, some would argue), but still working toward the goal of being able to leave my day job for my true passion, writing.
That’s an interesting mix of jobs there. I love how it always comes back to writing in the end.
I find everyone’s story so fascinating. Normally it starts early in childhood, then comes back full circle with a full blown passion of writing.
“The journey, not the arrival matters.”
~Michel de Motaigne
What did you study in college?
BA in English Literature, rhetoric emphasis, cum laude, thankyouverymuch 😉 MA in English Literature and Creative Writing.
Ouch, that sounds difficult. But it does make me very curious. I’ve only had one creative writing class in college. Got an A. Makes me feel smart.
You’re a writer; so what’s your story, or what inspired you?
I was in grade three. I’d just gotten a puppy and wrote what might be called a “personal essay” about her. So I was already writing. I just hadn’t really caught the bug. Yet.
Then . . . IT happened. The students of the grade five class wrote and illustrated their own storybooks and were invited to present them to us.
One of the grade five students, a girl named Siobhan Riddell (isn’t that a lovely name?) did her own version of St. George and the Dragon. I didn’t even remember the rest of the stories. I wanted to take Siobhan’s home with me and read it and look at the pictures, over and over.
The thing you should know about Siobhan is that she was an awesome artist, even then. She grew up to become a professional artist and then, that bastard cancer took her from the world 😦
But that was the moment. I made my first submission—to CBC’s Pencil Box, a show that dramatized the stories of their young viewers—that year. I wrote the Christmas play for my class the next year.
And I’ve been in love with words ever since.
That’s such a lovely story! I often wonder what it is that ignites in some children to become writers and not others. I suppose some just “catch the bug”. Love that expression.
What’s your GOAL in becoming a writer?
To write. Pure and simple. Writing is (almost) everything to me. It’s my spiritual practice; my counsellor; my companion, and my comfort. I feel off when I can’t write for whatever reason. I have said that I’m going to write until age and infirmity—it’s going to take both of them because I’m not going down without a fight—rob me of the capacity.
My self-worth isn’t pinned to getting published, but I can’t see how I can justify quitting my day job unless I can make a decent living from my words. So, I’m doing the work to make that happen.
So far, I’ve had three sales of science fiction short stories, a handful of wins in local writing contests, and a bunch of poetry published in anthologies.
2015 was a year of near misses, long lists, short lists, second readings, and the like. And lots of rejections. I’m also querying an epic fantasy novel, without success. I like to reframe rejections: I’m one ‘no’ closer to ‘yes!’
I’m focused mostly on writing novels now, though, and most of those are fantasy of various shades.
YES. I love your attitude here. “one step closer to yes” is a great way to look at it. I can’t wait to see what you come up with. We wouldn’t mind seeing more of your poetic muscle too.
What 3 things have hindered you from completing your projects? (CONFLICT)
I generally finish what I start. I’m diligent (and a bit compulsive) that way.
The three things that keep me from writing as much, or as quickly, as I’d like are:
The day job. It allows me to invest in my writing (conferences, courses, etc.) but—man—would I love to spend my days doing the thing I love.
Actually, it’s just the one thing (oopsie). *grins*
I like that you are DILIGENT. It’s an indispensable character trait necessary for every writer. Without it our stories go nowhere. Our characters go nowhere. Our careers go nowhere. Splendid. You don’t suppose you could lend me some of yours do you? Got an extra gallon or so lying around?
Here’s a picture of Melanie’s desk
What keeps you motivated in achieving your dream? (DESIRE)
The writing itself. It is truly a way of life for me. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
As one of my characters says, I want to be a part of the great voice that carries this age into the future.
Now that’s not arrogant at all, is it? 😛
Not at all. You are very clearly a writer to me. I love your laser-beam-like focus on writing.
What’s your ANTAGONIST? What’s in the way?
Um. Yeah. Day job.
Ah yes, the dreaded day job. The more I dive into the writing realm the less I like my day job. All I want to do is read and write. I’m not sure how that happened, but there it is.
Day Job: I hate you.
You: I hate you too.
Day Job: I wish you’d quit and go write somewhere.
You: I will, you just wait…
If you have given up your dream, why?
I’ve never given up. The dream has lain dormant for periods of time (sometimes years), but even when I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about writing, journaling, daydreaming, and doing other creative stuff (sketching, gardening, cross stitch–yeah, that’s what I thought at first, too–and I was even in a musical for a local theatre company).
I discovered Joseph Campbell in my undergraduate years and I’ve really come to understand my creative journey in terms of the Hero’s Journey. It hasn’t been a straight line, or even a circle, as the Hero’s Journey is often presented.
It’s been more of a spiral, kind of like the end of C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle, where the Pevensies, Scrubb, Pole, and the rest run through Narnia after Narnia, in Escher-esque fashion, Aslan urging them, “Further on! Further in!” until they reach their final destination.
My journey has been defined by my threshold guardians. The play I wrote in grade four? The teacher edited my work substantially without telling me or explaining why the changes were necessary. Even at that point, I knew it was wrong, and it seeded a deep distrust of authority.
In grade five, a former friend appeared to offer an olive branch, bury the hatchet, what have you, but only did so long enough to gain my trust and ask to ready my stories . . . to which she took an entire bottle of white out, returning my exercise book of obliterated words only when the teacher made her stop.
The big threshold guardian was my first advisor in my MA program, an icon of Canadian Literature. He questioned my presence in the program and accused me of “wasting his time.” That was the wound that wouldn’t heal, even after I returned to work with a different advisor and finish the collection of short stories that became my creative thesis.
After that, I internalized the lessons of my threshold guardians over the years and my internal editor became monstrous. It’s one thing when other people tear you or your work down, but when you start to tear yourself apart . . .
It wasn’t until another icon of Canadian Literature shared his own trials with threshold guardians that I found my way back to the page.
I’m happy to say I haven’t left it since.
Wow that’s a very touching story with devastating experiences along the way. But what I’m really seeing and enjoying, is your resilience through it all.
Why do writers give up, quit or never complete their projects?
The new writer is afraid to look silly or expose their relative level of craft to the scrutiny of others.
The experienced, but unpublished, or minimally published, writer is afraid that they can’t be as good as other publish authors, or that their stories have no value.
Even published writers fear that they can’t write another novel as good as their last.
You have to learn to put fear in its place, make it your friend, listen to the legitimate lessons it has to teach you, and then agree to disagree on the rest.
That’s the hard part.
Well said. Seems like fear must teach us many lessons along our journey. To step out there and expose ourselves to the world. For better or for worse. With this in mind, I found a Superhero guy to help us out a little. I call him….CAPTAIN NO FEAR.
Captain No Fear
Behold some of Melanie’s poetic muscle below.
A Poet’s Apprentice
learning the words;
noun and adjective,
verb and adverb.
Putting them together
in little sentences—
she won’t let me play
with the big ones yet—
But she’s left me alone
just for a minute
with this big cauldron
and other viscera.
Before she returns
I grab the ladle
burning my mouth
with the potent brew.
Then I run
me and my belly full of words,
out the Dutch-door,
through the muddied fields
of hay stubble,
to the tree with leaves of paper,
draw forth the quill–
stolen from a feather duster–
prick my thumb
Lovely! That’s great! UGH I miss poetry so much. I haven’t written very much lately. You’ll have to come back and grace us with your poetic words.
*Tell us about your short stories
In “The Broken Places,” a doctor on board a generation ship headed for another galaxy tries to diagnose a strange plague affecting the ship’s crew/citizens. What she discovers in trying to find a cure for the blue skin, void-like eyes, and verbal non-sequiturs is something she never suspected, but if she doesn’t stop the condition from progressing, the crew, and their mission, are in jeopardy. That one was published in Bastion Science Fiction Magazine in June 2014.
“Downtime” is the story of Opus, an AI-borg who achieves sentience, and liberation from her creators, as she learns what it means to be human, and that she’ll never be one. The good people of On Spec Magazine, one of Canada’s most respected speculative fiction markets, published that in their Fall 2014 issue.
Something tells me one day you’re going to hit one out of the ball park.
*what has writing taught you over the years?
What has writing taught me? Who I am. That quote by Flannery O’Connor, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say,” is very true. The more I write, the better, the more authentic, a person I become. The rest is between me and the page 😉
Oh yes! I love that quote. I’m finding it to be very true in my own experience. Writing things out is a very tranquil experience. There’s no like it.
THANK YOU MELANIE
THIS WAS A TRULY ENJOYABLE INTERVIEW
until the pen