25th Trillium Award

The Persephone Myth, with Melanie Dugan

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Melanie Dugan

Kingston-based author Melanie Dugan speaks with Open Book about her newest novel Dead Beautiful (Upstart Press), how Greek mythology is threaded through Western culture and a powerful theme that has surfaced in her work.

By Ashliegh Gehl

When Melanie Dugan sat down to write Dead Beautiful, something unusual happened. She surprised herself when she wrote the book in six weeks.

?I?ve been working on another novel for seven years now, so it?s not how it usually happens,? she said.

Melanie had an advantage. She knew Greek mythology well and had lived with the myths for many years. She read them as a child and in turn, read them to her children.

In Dead Beautiful, Melanie focuses on Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, who haphazardly falls in love with Hades, the God of the Dead. It?s a story about a young woman paving her own way and taking control of her life. It?s also a central theme in Melanie?s previous novels, Revising Romance and Sometime Daughter.

The theme is personal and Melanie chalks it up to coming from a family where the women are strong and professionally motivated. She has a sister who?s a doctor, another studied law and education and the third is a large animal vet. It doesn?t stop there. Her aunt is a biologist and her paternal grandmother was a single parent, widowed with two kids. And she describes her other grandmother as being ?very feisty.?

Melanie?s theme strings from one generation to another the way Greek mythology has morphed from its classical form to surface in television sitcoms and movies.

?The story cycles are embedded in Western culture,? she said.

The viewer may not even know the episode they just watched has ties to Aphrodite.

?I think the themes and the tropes and the motifs are there. Every generation goes back to them and finds something different in them. So I think we?ll continue to do that. I think that?s why they?re important because they never dry up. They never ossify.?

Melanie also did subsequent research for Dead Beautiful, pulling quotes from the Hymn to Demeter. It?s within the hymn that the story of Persephone is framed.

?When you look past the classical myth that you find framed there, you find out that Persephone becomes a psychopomp,? she said.

A psychopomp is a soul that guides the spirits of the dead. It?s a role Persephone ends up defining for herself as she partners with Hades.

?When you read about her as his consort, she?s pretty intimidating. She becomes as regal as he does and she fulfills his purpose of guiding the dead souls,? she said.

In her next book, Melanie plans to continue with mythology, but this time she?ll explore the Welsh myth of Blodeuwedd, a goddess made of flowers. She was made for a man who is cursed by his mother and not permitted to marry a woman living on the earth. That?s when his uncle gets the idea to make a woman out of flowers.

?In the myth, she falls in love with someone else and betrays him. In my story, it?s somebody waking up and becoming aware of themselves and realizing that they?ve been made for this person and nobody?s really asked them if they want to do that,? she said.

Melanie started a career in journalism in 1985. She has written for Toronto Life, The Whig Standard and Kingston This Week. She has studied at the University of Toronto?s Writers? Workshop, the Humber School for Writers and the Banff Centre for the Arts. To learn more about Melanie and Dead Beautiful, visit her website.

Ashliegh Gehl is a freelance writer and multimedia journalist.

She has written for the Montreal Gazette, Quill & Quire, OurKingston.ca, Northumberland Today and The Intelligencer newspapers.

Between countless cups of oolong tea, Ashliegh has been busy working on two books. Visit her website for more information.

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