With me on the blog today is the awesome Melanie Fishbane! She’s here to talk about her novel, Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L. M. Montgomery. Yes, that Lucy Maud Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon fame. Maud was published by Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017.
If you follow my blog, you know the drill. I’ll discuss a giveaway at the end of the interview. If you’re new to the blog, well, the same information is appropriate. Now, let’s talk to Melanie!
El Space: What made you decide to write a novel based on the life of Lucy Maud Montgomery?
Melanie: I’ve been reading L. M. Montgomery for most of my life. I first read her when I was about 11 and was enamored by the woman behind the books. I’ve also always wanted to write historical fiction for kids and teens. It was one of the reasons I did my first M. A. and studied biographies for children—in that case it was Joan of Arc—so when this opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t say, “No.” It was the perfect symmetry of everything I loved coming together. Maud’s teen years are also something rarely explored, so it felt like I would be telling a new story. This story has never been told, and it felt important to show a side of Montgomery that many people had not seen. Essentially, the portrait of an artist as a young woman.
L. M. Montgomery
El Space: What was your process for researching this project?
Melanie: It was important to me that I visit where the novel took place, so I spent about a week in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and returned often to Prince Edward Island to do research. In fact, I travelled to all the places Maud lived, including Leaskdale, Norval and Toronto, Ontario.
I also interviewed as many people as I could. In Cavendish and Park Corner, PEI, I interviewed Maud’s relatives and in Prince Albert, I spoke to the archivist at the Prince Albert Historical Society, as well as a local volunteer who drove me around and showed me where things once were.
There were also many hours in the various archives that included Montgomery’s journals, book collection, and other artefacts, such the L. M. Montgomery Institute, and L. M. Montgomery Collection Archives and Special Collection at the University of Guelph. Then I went to the secondary sources and her times, including the history of PEI, a local history of Prince Albert, and Saskatchewan, as well as a book on indigenous peoples in Saskatchewan. I also used websites with old newspapers, such as Island newspapers and Peel’s Prairie Provinces.
Prince Edward Island
I included a selected list of these books and the websites at the back of Maud and in my References and Resources section on my website.
El Space: I love Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and other books. Anne was irrepressible. Was L. M. Montgomery anything like Anne or like Emily Starr, or another of her heroines? Why or why not?
Melanie: Montgomery encouraged a connection between herself and her characters and the world she built. In her autobiography, The Alpine Path, she shows particular places in Cavendish, such as the Haunted Woods and Lover’s Lane, that appear in the Anne series. Avonlea is inspired by the village that Maud grew up in. Anne’s situation, being an orphan and her imagination, is reflective of Maud’s experience. Maud felt like she was. Her mother died when she was 21 months old and she used her writing as a way to channel these feelings. Montgomery, however, said that it was Emily Starr, the character in the Emily series, she was probably most like, and that the series would be the most autobiographical, because it was the story of a young writer.
El Space: What did you learn about yourself as a writer as you worked on this novel?
Melanie: I have so much to learn. 🙂 Seriously, I discovered a lot about how much I enjoyed the revision process. While some writers might like the first draft, I found that it was getting into the weeds of the revision process where I could really find my story—Maud’s story. I also see how close I can become to things, and the importance of the editor in the process. My editor was amazing in pushing me to the next level, and gave me room to make mistakes. And there were many. . . .
El Space: What writing advice do you have for authors who want to write novels based on real people?
Melanie: Depending upon who you might be writing about, people have particular ideas about who that person is. Having some compassion too—that is important, but it is also important to allow your character to emerge. Be true to the story you need to tell, that your character is inspiring you to. I would also say that it should be realistic.
One of the things that I had to realize is that the real Montgomery was quietly subversive, mostly in her writing. She never stood up and marched or was an activist in our contemporary understanding of what that might mean. She was a product of her times and Victorian codes of behavior, and that meant that she wouldn’t necessarily be overtly “feminist.” She didn’t even call herself a suffragette. But her books are feminist. At this point she would have to learn how to navigate these constricting spaces and that meant being true to this. As much as modern Mel would have liked Maud to stand up for certain injustices she saw or fight for things in the way we would like to today, it wouldn’t have been true to her character. So, I stayed true to that. I got out of my own way. Be true to the character, his/hers/their times and story.
El Space: What will you work on next?
Melanie: Currently, I have two essays due at the end of the month. So I’ll be working on that. 🙂 In terms of fiction, there are two novels that are whispering to me. We’ll see which one will win this summer.
Thanks, Melanie, for being my guest!
Looking for Melanie? Check out her website, Twitter, and Facebook.
You can find Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound. But stop the presses! One of you will get a copy sent to your address! Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on May 29.
The girls wonder when Melanie will write a series about them, since they’re irrepressible too.
Author photo by Ayelet Tsabari. L. M. Montgomery photo from freeclassicebooks.com. Book covers from Goodreads. Map of Canada from commercialpropertycashflow.com. Prince Edward Island map from commons.wikimedia.org. Writer thinking image from clker.com. Stick figures from clipartpanda.com. Rosie Bloom, Kirstea, and Lippy Lulu by Moose Toys. Photo by L. Marie.
Great interview. I’m curious where the compassion comes into play. I think I get it, but I’m wondering if you could talk more about that aspect of writing about real people.
Good point, Charles! Will forward your comment to Melanie.
Hi Charles…It is about reminding oneself that people have very clear ideas about historical characters and that they may not like my interpretation. While I felt compassion for how they might be feeling, in the end it was important to make the character my own and hope that readers will like my interpretation. I hope that clarifies some things for you.
That’s a good point! What a tightrope you had to walk while writing your novel.
Great interview, ladies. I enjoy the revision process too, Melanie.
I do too, Jill. Drafting is tough. I can relax and revise. XD
Loved this interview. Good for you, Melanie, in staying true to your own and to Maud’s character.
Thanks, Penny. Or should I call you Peggy? XD I also appreciate that Melanie stayed true to the times. So often we see a revisionist history because times have changed.
Enjoyed the interview.
I forwarded a link to this post to one of L.M. Montgomery’s granddaughters . . . who winters on our street (in FL) and spends her summers on P.E.I.
That’s awesome, Nancy! Thank you! XD How cool that she’s in your area. I’d love to visit some of the places that L.M. Montgomery wrote about.
I just got a clarification ~ our neighbor (Louise) is the granddaughter of the then owner of Green Gables:
“My grandparents were the folks who owned Green Gables which was a favorite place for L.M. Montgomery to spend time as she was growing up and in her later years. She and our Grandmother were distant cousins and really good friends. She named different spots on the farm (which is now in a National Park) such as Lovers Lane, the Haunted Woods, etc., which still go by those names.”
Thanks for clarifying, Nancy. That’s still cool!!! What a lovely connection. 🙂
So interesting. As part of my MFA I also worked on fictionilizing the youth of an historical figure. Couldn’t find a lot out there. I think it’s such a cool approach.
Wow. Cool. I also think this is an interesting approach. Thanks for stopping by!
Sounds great, and I love the cover. I liked what Melanie had to say about allowing Maud to stay in her own character – it always annoys me when characters are forced to have modern views or behave in modern ways that wouldn’t have been realistic for them, whether they’re based on real people or entirely fictional. Good luck to Melanie with the book!
I agree with you! Times have changed, but history is history! Why pretend that everyone in the past had a twenty-first century mindset?
Great interview. Always cool to learn how writers write!
Thanks, Andy. I’m fascinated by the creative process as well. 🙂
I loved those books and the sense of place, family & belonging they invoke…Thank you to L.M. Montgomery and thank you, Melanie Fishbane for keeping ‘kindred spirits’ alive and well.
(and thank-you, Linda for your dedication in bringing great authors/books to our attention)
I’m always glad to do that, Laura. Totally agree about the books. I also love that sense of family.
I can’t remember the first time I read Anne of Green Gables. I identified with Anne, whose imagination often got her into trouble. 🙂
A novel inspired by the life of a writer in his youth should not be easy to do. How can we rediscover the feelings of a human being who lived in a totally different time?Melanie did seriously the work since she went to the areas where L M Montgomery lived at this time . This is a true historical work to seize deeply the ways of life of this past time . Bravo Melanie!
Thanks Linda to introduce her to us .
Merci, Michel. That is the beauty of historical fiction.
So glad to know that you and Janine are safe.
Thank you for this interview, Mel and Linda! I’m starting a new historical novel and one of the main characters is based on a real person who was involved in a tragic incident in 1969. However, I’ve decided in this case to fictionalize the character to the point of giving him a new name and backstory because he is not well-known and I want to protect the privacy of his family members who may still be alive. The interplay between real people and invented characters, though, is one of the challenging aspects of historical fiction.
How cool, Lyn! When do you think you’ll be done with your book? What made you decide to write it?
I liked your discussion of staying true to Maud as the woman she was. “She was a product of her times and Victorian codes of behavior, and that meant that she wouldn’t necessarily be overtly “feminist.” We all have such strong views of how a strong woman should behave. It’s easy to forget how different it is to grow up in another time and place.
A few weeks ago my sister and I were talking to her 40-year-old son and his wife. They were flabbergasted that when we were young married women, it was against the law for us to have our own bank accounts and that we weren’t allowed to work after we were obviously pregnant. They seemed to think that we should have fought those odious rules and expectations. And yet, it never occurred to us.
We’ve come a long way, haven’t we? It’s interesting that people assume people in the past had the same freedoms we have today. Bucking the system was not without costs. So it’s easy to say what someone else should have done.
Fan Fiction that isn’t fantasy and sci fi–how exciting! Once you get the word out about this book, I can’t imagine it won’t fly off the shelves.
I agree, Jacqui! Thank you for stopping by!
I like how your questions help us get into the mind of the writer. Everyone has a unique writing style, obviously, but it is interesting how you show that writers also have their own methods. It is like going behind the wall and seeing the writing
from the other side. That’s also why I love to read the memoirs, journals, biographies, etc. of any writer I truly connect with. Thanks!
Thanks, Janna. I also love to go behind the scenes to discover points of inspiration. 🙂 I love the creative journey.