Monday, August 1, 2011

Interview with Melanie McDonald

Last week I was seduced by Melanie McDonald's delightful novel Eromenos, and I'm thrilled to share my interview with her. Read on to learn about her first foray into fiction, how she writes, and what she's reading now.  (Plus, comment for another chance to win a copy of Eromenos.)

"The perfect man, circa 1966"
What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

That very first, wordless piece was composed in the back of my copy of Ballerina Bess by Dorothy Z. Seymour. My hand-drawn addendum to the story is the depiction of a wedding that features a bride and groom descending a staircase, accompanied by champagne, cake, and some horses beside a barn. The groom of this Western-themed wedding appears to be Chekhov, from Star Trek, uniform topped off with a cowboy hat.

When I taught World Literature, I liked to show my college students that little book with my narrative addition and ask how many had done the same with their own books, at least before parents or teachers told them to stop. Quite a few hands always lifted. As children, we understand instinctively how books encourage us as readers to engage with other minds; allow us to eavesdrop at will on that great conversation, held across time and all places, called literature. Some choose to keep on scribbling in the margins, and some even attempt to participate in the conversation themselves. They are called writers.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

Yes. The routine depends on whether I’m working on a story, or between projects. I keep a writing journal, and also have a couple of notebooks going all the time to write down ideas for stories, titles, character names and sketches. I also copy down quotes from other works that intrigue and inspire me. When I’m working on a story, I write in longhand for the first draft, then move on to the computer once it’s time to begin revising, though I still make revision notes by hand and stick them on the pages of the most current manuscript.

Was Eromenos the original title of your book?

The working title through the first several revisions was Fox, Lion, Hunter, Hound—unwieldy and almost as long as the book itself, although it reflected aspects of the relationship between Antinous and Hadrian that I wanted to address. Late in the revision process, a couple of writer friends and I tossed around the idea of calling it Eromenos, since that was the ancient Greek word for Antinous’ position relative to Hadrian. In the ancient Greek pair-bondings later emulated by Roman aristocracy, an older man, the erastes, pursued a younger man, the eromenos, while also instructing him on how to become a responsible citizen. The closest English translation for the word would be “beloved” or “beloved youth.” The publisher also much preferred this shorter title.

What about Antinous’ story first grabbed you?

His beauty, and his silence. Though his image still graces museum collections around the world, there seem to be no quotes or writings ever attributed to him, unlike many of the other members of Hadrian’s court, including Hadrian himself. That Hadrian’s great love had no voice of his own in history struck me as both odd and sad.

As you were writing Eromenos, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

Yes, more than one in fact. (Spoiler alerts here.) I was surprised by Antinous’ behavior when I first drafted the scene in which he has sex with Calliria, but the scene felt right, psychologically, which made me realize this first reaction reflected contemporary sexual attitudes, rather than those of their era; he did redeem himself later, for me at least, when he chooses to decline a sexual encounter, and realizes that Calliria had no choice.

I also dreaded reaching the end of the novel in the first draft, because I knew the ending, when Antinous drowns, would be sad and painful to write, yet when I began to write that final scene, it also evoked a curious sense of elation, or resolution, unexpected but gratifying, perhaps because the final act of my Antinous had become one of self-determination.

Do you have another book in the works (that you’re comfortable telling us about)?

There’s a new story that I’ve been working on, contemporary and much lighter and involving lots of food porn, and one character in particular seems determined to take over from the original protagonist. I’m letting them wrestle it out, and we’ll see where it goes.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

I like to cook, and really like to eat! I also like to travel, dance, try new wines, watch movies, and of course, read. Walking in the evenings is a pleasure, and I try to squeeze in morning walks sometimes as well.

Read any good books recently?

Oh, yes. In fiction, The Yacoubian Building, by Alaa Al Aswany, The Cuttlefish by Maryline Desbiolles, and My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira. I also just finished La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life by Elaine Sciolino, and my next non-fiction foray probably will be The Wild Vine by Todd Liman, a novel about American wine and the Norton grape, indigenous to Virginia. I’ve also been dipping into a poetry collection translation, the Canti of Giacomo Leopardi, a nineteenth century Italian poet, so this seems like a good time to acknowledge the translators, those most selfless of writers, whose work allowed me access to three of the books listed here: Humphrey Davies (The Yacoubian Building), Mara Bertelsen (The Cuttlefish), and Jonathan Galassi (Canti), thanks for letting me in on those conversations.

Audra, thank you so much for including me in the conversation on Unabridged Chick.

*** *** ***

My thanks to Ms. McDonald for taking the time to answer my questions.  Check out the other blogs on the tour for more reviews and guest posts from the author!

GIVEAWAY! I am so excited to offer a giveaway of Eremenos, thanks to the publisher. To enter, leave a comment with your email address. Open internationally, closes 8/12.  For another entry, be sure to comment on my review.


  1. Yay, I'm first! I'd be totally into reading this book just for the cover alone. It's so moody.

    empty.chords at

  2. The cover is so striking, esp in person -- there are these little flaws, like a photograph -- so cool. It's a delish novel!

  3. I agree. Amazing cover! I wonder what Eromenos means. Enjoyed the interview too. Thanks for the giveaway!

  4. I'm adding this to my list for the GLBT Reading Challenge. I'd love to win it! colreads at gmail dot com

  5. Whoops -- forgot to say thanks for the lovely giveaway!

  6. I am entering :) I do wish I had read this one instead of my fellow book blogger on my blog ;) Oh I am evil. But it just sounds so good

    blodeuedd1 at gmail dot com

  7. I loved the picture of the perfect man! No need to enter me.

  8. This sounds like nothing I have read before. I would love the chance to win a copy! Thanks!

  9. I love everything about this book! The cover, the storyline, the name, everything! Thanks for a chance to win a copy of it :)

    jwitt33 at live dot com

  10. Would love to read this!

    lag110 at mchsi dot com

  11. This really does sound like a fascinating read. Even knowing how it ends I would love to see how we get there. I like the idea of taking someone who history has not given a voice and giving them that option.

    Please enter me.


  12. thanks for the chance to read this novel

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  13. This book sounds great! Good interview, too. dragonflame720 at yahoo dot com

  14. The book and also your interview were both great.


  15. I love this storyline. Thanks for the giveaway.
    mamabunny13 at gmail dot com

  16. I would really love to win this book.
    I have heard about it and think I would enjoy this.

  17. This sounds very good! And different from what I usually read.

    Please enter me for the giveaway :)

  18. I'm so in for this one!

  19. thanks for giveaway

  20. Please count me in :)