How a Tragic Story Morphed Into Beautiful Art
From October 20—22, 2017, the Stratford Writers Festival will take over Stratford, Ontario, as some of Canada’s top literary and creative talents come together for this unique three-day festival. With the festival rapidly approaching, we caught up with attending author Marianne Apostolides to ask her a few questions about her latest projects, and why literary festivals are important to the Canadian artistic community.
The book cover for Deep Salt Water is breathtakingly beautiful. Can you offer any insights on how it came together?
I agree about the beauty of the cover! The credit must go to collage artist Catherine Mellinger, and designer Kate Hargreaves. As to how the cover came together: Well, that’s an interesting story! In short, I never would’ve written this book if not for the collages by Catherine Mellinger…
Here’s what happened: Back in 2015, Catherine sent me an email, asking if I’d write text to her collages. I’d never undertaken that kind of project, so I was hesitant. But I loved the work—she’d taken vintage fashion magazines, layering photos of gorgeous, insouciant women with floridly beautiful (yet somewhat grotesque!) ocean imagery—so I decided to make an attempt, to see what emerged. I walked through High Park in Toronto, carrying printouts of Catherine’s collages; I let my mind wander. Soon, I decided to write in the voice of a blithe, insouciant woman who nonetheless knew everything about the damage to our oceans due to climate change. I wrote freely for a week when, suddenly, the project shifted. One afternoon, I wrote the sentence, ‘Blythe was a fish in my body,’ and I knew: the ‘I’ was me, and the book would be about my abortion…
I immediately told Catherine I couldn’t write toward her collages: I needed to take the writing in a different direction. With her absolute generosity, Catherine gave me her blessing; she asked, though, whether I’d share my writing when I was done, in case she wanted to create collages toward the text. I was thrilled by this idea. Over the next two years, Catherine created numerous collages, nine of which are contained in the book.
What’s fascinating, too, is how her artwork affected the writing. I chose to use a collage-like aesthetic, layering language and image, and juxtaposing divergent ideas. I also kept the ocean imagery: it’s because of Catherine’s collages that this ‘abortion memoir’ has an overarching ocean metaphor—one that augments the themes of loss, time, origin, beauty, regret…
Did writing this book act as a cathartic device for you?
No, I wouldn’t call the writing process ‘cathartic’… Do I arrive at a deeper understanding of my experience through writing? Yes. Does this provide a sense of peace around the issue? Definitely. But the act of writing isn’t a purge or purification, which is how the Greeks defined the term ‘catharsis.’ In fact, it’s the opposite… Through writing, I must stay with my most intense emotion/ thought/ confusion, attempting to make sense from the sensations of my body. In the end, I haven’t released myself from that emotion. Instead, I’ve incorporated it, quite literally: the insights become part of my instinct—my body’s knowledge—and this allows me to hold the fullness of my experience as I move forward.
Why do you feel it’s important to meet readers at events such as the Stratford Writers Festival?
Oh, there are so many wonderful aspects! I savour the chance to meet other writers—to be introduced to their work, and their thoughts. But the truly amazing part about a festival is this: The creative process isn’t complete until the work is received by a reader. In a fundamental way, my work doesn’t exist unless it exists in the mind of a reader—someone who brings his/ her imagination, intellect, and emotion to the words. That happens, in real time, at a literary festival; it’s incredibly exciting!
What is your favourite part about attending writers festivals or literary events?
I gave a partial answer to that question above! But I’ll talk specifically about this book, because the response has been powerful…
In Deep Salt Water, I’m very open about the grief I’ve felt in the aftermath of my abortion. This honesty has offered readers the space to feel their own emotions surrounding abortion. We don’t normally have that space, especially in this political climate. Given the threat to abortion rights, how can we possibly articulate our sense of loss? We feel shame, we feel guilt, and we often feel afraid that the complexity of our emotional response will be used to deny other women the right to choose. So, we tend to keep our mouths shut, and our emotions locked away.
Deep Salt Water opens the floodgates… After every reading I’ve given from this book, someone approaches me after. She doesn’t need to confess anything. But by the way she holds my gaze, or through the tone of her voice when she thanks me, I know why this book has such meaning for her. My encounters with these women (and some men, too) have been unexpected, and quite powerful for me, as a writer.
Are you working on any projects right now?
Yes! I’m working on a novel about what it means to say, ‘I love you.’
To hear more, don’t miss Marianne’s event entitled The Perfect Pairing: Combining Art and Literature on Saturday, October 21, at 11:30 am am at Revel Café as part of the Stratford Writers Festival. See you there!
Have you used writing as a cathartic exercise?