MEET TINA MARTEL, Memoirist and Artist
Q. Before writing “Not in the Pink”, had you written/published anything else e.g. Articles, poems, columns, stories of any kind?
A. The only writing I have done has been academic – for my teaching position. I have been a professional artist for many years though and have had to write many artist statements, grants, project proposals and I have written more than a few to-do lists. Do those count?
2. What was your primary motivation for writing “Not in the Pink”?
A. I felt that although there were a number of books available that talked about dealing with cancer, it seemed to me they were divided into two categories: one was inspirational – and frankly I didn’t feel as if I was on a “journey”. That implies a choice. I got sick. I sometimes think that the diagnosis of cancer appears to come with the expectation that you become “enlightened” and some kind of hero. As if we don’t have enough to deal with. And the other kind of book was “how to”. Giving people advice didn’t seem right. I don’t really know how to have cancer as I have only done it the one time. I simply wanted to write about the reality: the bad, the good, the horrific. Something real. That gave permission to someone going through this the understanding they could laugh, cry, be angry…be human.
Q. “Not in the Pink” is more than just a book/memoir. Tell us about how you came to produce your book this way and why?
A. As my treatments occurred away from my home and studio I only had my sketchbooks to make work in. Besides drawing and painting I create a lot of mixed media work which combines text, photographs, really whatever I feel like throwing into the mix. It was natural for me to collect medical records, take photographs, video. I “collect” all the time. Simultaneously I was writing email updates for friends and family. It seemed the logical thing to do was combine them. I am first and foremost an artist and really could not conceive of doing this in any other format. I have been heard to say I am an artist who accidently wrote a book.
Q.. How long did it take to put this book together with your writing, paintings, illustrations and photographs?
A. The sketchbooks I started when I was first diagnosed. The paintings followed more haphazardly – when I was well enough I went into my studio and painted. I kept writing and expanding on my emails. This went on for almost two years. Then in November of 2013 I started to seriously work on combining the writing and images. It took another 10 months before it went to the printer. During that time I worked with my husband, Doug, who is an amazing graphic designer. I would do the rough page layouts, assemble the material for them and he would do the actual work with the programs. We worked intensely: almost every weekend, and most nights. I occasionally had to return to the studio to alter images or create new ones that were a better fit. The day before I submitted the manuscript to the printer I substituted a drawing with one I drew the night before.
Q. Did your book end up as you initially envisioned. If not, why not?
A. Yes, at least in its broader concept. Smaller specifics changed as we worked thorough the page designs. I had in my mind that it would combine the typical chaotic imagery of an artist’s sketchbook with a smaller amount of text. It was always supposed to be primarily visual.
Q. How hard was it for you to write about your cancer and the treatment you had to have? Please explain.
A. Because I was doing it as it was happening it didn’t seem as difficult when I initially started. I have always kept sketchbooks, so that part was normal for me. It was both a way of processing what was happening and a way to pass endless days. It became more difficult when I tried to assemble both parts together. Then I was reliving and sharing it.
Q. Apart from the emotional aspects, as a genre, what things did you find most difficult about writing memoir?
A. Mostly that I don’t consider myself a writer. I am an artist. Sketchbooks are less linear than journals. And mine were definitely not linear. There were many times I felt lost as to how to organize and tell my story in a coherent way. Also, the comment frequently comes up that it must have been therapeutic. I am afraid my version of therapy is more sitting on the beach in Mexico drinking tequila with my friends.
Q. What was your method of writing ie. do you just let it flow or edit as you go?
A. I just write and write. I would edit some after I had a few sections written. But then I found myself second-guessing what I should say. I also found it challenging to not re-write from where I am now in my recovery. After I felt I had done everything I could I left it to my very amazing editor Barbara Scott to really hammer it into shape.
Q. Do you find it hard to edit? Why or why not?
A. I find it hard to edit as I am a digresser – it was difficult for me to determine what was important to leave out or in. My editor was so key. I will admit I struggled with the idea that someone else would come in and make cuts that I would say “no” to. But by the time I was finished writing I had almost had enough of looking at it. I remember clicking the send button to email the manuscript to my editor and thinking “Ok. I am ready to pass this on and whatever happens…happens”. When I submitted the final text manuscript I also sent her a version with the images so she had a context for the piece as a whole.
Q. Given your book is as much a work of art as a memoir, it must have been expensive to produce. So did you self-publish or did you find a traditional publisher? If you found a publisher, did they want many changes before printing?
A. I did self publish. I approached a number of small publishers with the manuscript/images when it was close to being done. The bigger companies weren’t interested in any thing this expensive to produce unless you already have a big name. In retrospect though I am not sure how receptive I would have been to changes from a publisher. This was hitting pretty close on a number of levels – my art work and my writing. I was lucky enough to have some financial support from a dear lifelong friend and her husband who invested with me.
Q. When someone wants to buy your book, they may hesitate because of the price. That price is, of course justified, as readers here are buying a lot more than just a book to read: they are buying a work of art. Have you found much resistance to the price? Would you consider offering it as an eBook if it could be converted?
A. I really haven’t had anyone comment about the price – other than your similar observation, that it is a “work of art” and there are a lot of images contained within the book. It is possible that if there is reluctance with the price people don’t bother buying it. And I never know. Because of the production cost I could not have priced it any other way. I am wavering on the idea of eBook as for me it needed to exist as an “art object”. Something to be held in your hands. That’s the artist in me. I could probably still be convinced. But then the issue still remains because it is a full colour production that the file size alone would not lend itself to the eBook format. I am looking at it. Never say never.
Q. What plans do you have to get further exposure for your book ie. are you doing book signings, book talks? Do you have a blog? Are you looking into or have you had any media or press support?
A. I do have a website notinthepink.ca where the book is available for sale. It has a blog. But I confess I am not as diligent as I should be with keeping up to date and posting. I can currently be found on booksgosocial.com which offers a sneak peak at the first two page spreads of my book. I am also on goodreads.com and amazon.ca and amazon.com. The book is easy to find. I am new to web marketing and consider myself a digital immigrant. I am learning. I did have a traditional book reading in Calgary through Loft 112 in January. And I have a book signing/reading scheduled in Saskatoon on April 23, 2015 with independent book store McNallyRobinson. I have a radio interview with online Phoenix radio station The Author’s Show scheduled in March 20, 2015 for release shortly afterwards. I have entered a few competitions for books and sent out review requests. Otherwise I am searching out more exhibition opportunities similar to the Not in the Pink: the creative process which I did with the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie as my initial book launch.
Q. Do you have any future books in mind or are you currently already writing something else? Would you produce another book like this one? If not, why not?
A. I am focusing on marketing Not in the Pink and concentrating on my art practice which became quite neglected as I wrote/illustrated this book. If I were to do another book it would be similar in format. However, I certainly don’t want a sequel to this one.