I hope you’re in a cozy spot, because here today and tomorrow is the marvelous Melanie Fishbane. If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’ll already know the place Melanie and I have in common. So, feel free to avert your eyes while I tell the new players on the team the name of that place. Ready? Avert your eyes NOW: Vermont College of Fine Arts. LOOK HERE!
You might know Melanie from her blog: Wild About Words. If you’re not familiar with her blog, please make yourself acquainted with it. We’ll talk amongst ourselves until you return.
El Space: Glad to have you here today. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Melanie: I have competing literary obsessions that vie for my attention constantly and are jealous if I ignore them too long. Most people have one, I have two: Laura Ingalls Wilder and L. M. Montgomery. I have been playing the piano since I was 11 and before that, the accordion. I used to live in Montreal. I’ve been working in the book industry for over sixteen years.
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Lucy Maud Montgomery
El Space: Sixteen years? Wow! And great authors to obsess over. A couple of days ago, a friend told me she was reading the Little House on the Prairie books to her kids. I hope they’ll also read Anne of Green Gables someday. Now, let’s talk about your work in progress. Please give us a brief synopsis of your work in progress.
Melanie: My current WIP is a YA novel called It’s all Ancient History: Or, Oy! A Family Drama—I nicknamed it Oy!—and revolves around a seventeen-year-old girl who is attending her aunt’s wedding when something happens that pushes her to reassess the kind of person she wants to be. Will she be a participant or the observer in her own life? Intermingled is the idea of the pull of one’s family history, Jewish mysticism, a Celtic punk band inspired by musical theatre, mistaken identities, and Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Most of the novel’s action takes place in one night.
El Space: Wow! I’d love to see how you blend these elements. What did you find challenging or exhilarating about writing it? How did your experiences inform the writing?
Melanie: I love the process of writing—finding the right word to say what I mean. That is also the challenge—finding the right word. I like that I can connect characters to their story and it doesn’t make me feel so crazy all of the time, but I can feel perturbed when I hit with a particular plot snag.
I think that I’ve been writing this particular WIP since I was a kid. There are elements that made its way into this novel that I never thought that I would ever write about, but are there. I write from what I know and how I felt about things as a teenager. There were questions about life and the universe then that I still ponder, and those questions made their way into the narrative.
El Space: Why magical realism?
Melanie: I find that it frees me up more than the world building that characterizes science fiction and fantasy. I still had to build my world, but the fantasy rules and elements could be more fluid because I want the reader to make connections for themselves. There are elements that could be real and hint that it might be so, but it will be up to the reader to decide on the story’s magical truth. When I look back on my personal story, I can see connections and links that have a truth for me based on my experience. I’ve done a lot of reading on astrology, religion, history, and studied alternative healing. For me, magical realism allows me to experiment with the many aspects of these things that I think are interesting.
El Space: What books have you read recently that inspire you as a writer?
Melanie: For an essay that I’ve been working on about L. M. Montgomery, I’ve been reading some books and essays on how writers such as Margaret Laurence, Mark Twain, and William Shakespeare used their grief in their writing. Two were excellent: Shakespeare and Son: A Journey in Writing and Grieving by Keverne Smith and Christian Riegel’s Writing Grief: Margaret Laurence and the Work of Mourning.
I’m interested in how other writers have tapped into their emotional turmoil to write their stories. Learning about how these authors used their pain and joy to write helps me understand how I use mine.
Some good books that just inspire me to write well because these authors are just on their game: Hélène Boudreau’s I Dare You Not to Yawn, Kathi Appelt’s The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, and Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina.
And I see by the old clock on the wall that our time is up for today. But don’t worry. Melanie will be back tomorrow to answer more questions. And maybe she’ll bring donuts. Who knows? In the meantime, if you have questions for Melanie about her process, please comment below. See you tomorrow, same place!
Lucy Maud Montgomery and Laura Ingalls Wilder photos from Wikipedia. Book covers from Goodreads.com.