Interviewed by Sommer Schafer

Read Angie Ellis’ fiction piece, Salt Water

Sommer: I admire how the form of this story mirrors and enlightens the content, mood, and plot. The short scenes, the lack of transitions, the jumping through present time, all give the feeling of an invisible and essential presence, which I think is Meredith’s sense of loss spurred on, in part, by the birth of her child. As you crafted this story, how much did the form impact the story and the story impact the form?

Angie: Honestly, it was rather unintentional at first. Shortly before I began the story, there was a photo circulating in the news of a mother orca holding her dead calf to the surface of the water (she did this for 17 days). This is where it all began in my mind, and I think it’s the reason the story took on this sort of snapshot form—little glimpses that held meaning but perhaps in a way that was difficult to articulate or express.

For me, the best stories are the ones that can’t be easily pinned down and that bring up more questions than answers, more ideas than resolutions. One question I came away with was: does Meredith identify more with the mother whale or the dead baby whale, losing pieces of itself as it falls to the bottom of the ocean? What do you think?

As I wrote it, I was thinking about the mother whale and her unwillingness to let go. Meredith knew that with the birth of her baby, she would have to say goodbye to her mother. She was caught in this very natural cycle of birth and death, but in a way that’s tangled and hard to separate.

That said, there’s another side to Meredith’s grief, as you mention—the loss of self that we can experience when our roles in life change. I get the sense that she took on this new role more for her own mother and her husband than for herself.

You could have spent paragraphs on the labor scene, but instead it gets a few lines. What was your decision in that?

What was unusual about Meredith’s birth was that it was coupled with grief and loss. I wanted to kind of let that aspect hang for a bit, instead of getting into the details we already know about childbirth—the physical pain, the exhaustion, the joy. I also tend to write sparsely. 😉

I love your use of metaphor in this story: the mother whale, the baby whale, the “salt water” of the ocean and all the story’s mothers’ tears. When a story comes to you, does it come first as an image or an action? And how do you find that balance between image and action?

Thanks! Well, I almost always begin with an image, and, of course, in this case it was the orca with her calf. I couldn’t get it out of my mind, so it really informed every scene in some small way. As far as balance, I don’t ever feel sure that I’ve found it! I question everything I write, one of the many questions being: did I linger too long or not long enough?

What are you working on these days?

I’ve been working on a rather gloomy historical novel 🙂 Sometimes I love it, sometimes I really don’t, but I’m determined to finish! I take breaks now and then to write the odd short story.

Do you have any advice for writers on handling rejection?

Expect it! It will happen a lot. The sting wears off to an extent, though there’s always a touch of disappointment, of course. Next thing: learn from it. Don’t just pump the same story through Submittable again. Read it, cool-headed; ask what can be improved (it can always be improved). THEN re-submit. Or set it aside if you’ve moved on (that’s ok, too) and start your next story!

Thank you very much for doing this interview with me, and congratulations!

Thank you! I’m thrilled to have a story included in The Forge  🙂