A Writer’s Process 8(b)

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The marvelous Melanie Fishbane and I are back. And so are you! Great! Let’s get this party started! But first: If you’re brand-new to the blog, you may wish to know that this is part 2 of the interview. You can jump over to part 1 here and get acquainted with Melanie’s work in progress. (Or, if you’re like Kay Thompson’s irrepressible character, Eloise, you can skibble over to part 1.)

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El Space: Aside from your work in progress, you’re working on some academic papers. Please tell us about those and how you came to write them.
Melanie: I love breaking things down and analyzing them, because it is a way for me to have a conversation with myself about what I’m thinking. Essays (and answering questions for a blog post) are a great way to do that!

I returned to essay writing in 2008, when I was inspired by the way teens were responding to Edward Cullen (Twilight), Darcy (Pride and Prejudice), and Gilbert Blythe (Anne of Green Gables) online. I considered how there was a similarity in the way that these characters were constructed that made teens fall in love with them and then wondered about my own literary loves—Gilbert Blythe and Almanzo Wilder in case you were interested.

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Almanzo Wilder

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Gilbert Blythe

El Space: I am! Mainly because I’m nosy.
Melanie: Well, in that case, you should check out this blog post where I talk about it.

El Space: Read it! Great post.
Melanie: I’ve been working on the Perfect Man Archetype for about four years now (it was my critical thesis) and hope to put my literary findings into a book one day.

El Space: I’d love to read that! And I could say something about finding the Perfect Man in general, but let’s move on!
Melanie: YA is having such an interesting growth and I think by tapping into this archetype, I’ve been able to connect to our literary heritage.

The other essay I’m working on is how L. M. Montgomery used writing to help her deal with loss, specifically what I see as her grief narratives: Rilla of Ingleside and The Blythes Are Quoted. I came to this, because I wanted to explore how Montgomery wrote about grieving and the process of grieving.

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El Space: How do both worlds—your academic subjects and your novel—meet?
Melanie: Well, for the Perfect Man Archetype I’ve been able to look at how I construct the love interests in my novels and how I might subvert them. I want to create characters that I hope my readers will fall in love with, but will also, hopefully, surprise them.

montgomery_rilla_hcFor the Montgomery essay on grieving, I came to this because my novel is also a grief narrative, as my protagonist is recovering from the sudden death of her father and I hoped to gain insight into how to write this with authenticity.

 El Space: If you were to write an academic paper on a current heroine, not including your own, who would you choose? Why?
Melanie: Good question! You know, I don’t know. The first character that came to mind was Katniss from The Hunger Games, mostly because she has inspired a stream of strong willed, hurt, emotionally detached characters in YA. I wonder if maybe it is because I remember being so emotional as a teen but don’t think that I even understood what was going on or why I felt the way that I did. In a way, that is being disconnected, going into the head, not the heart. Come to think of it, my novel deals with this a bit, too.

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El Space: What advice would you give to a teen about writing?
Melanie: Write things that inspire you and don’t worry about being bad. You will be, but that is okay. I would also suggest keeping a journal, because it will allow you to safely work with your own story and emotions. Then if you see a writing workshop at your local library, take it. And don’t take the feedback too personally; you aren’t a bad person or a bad writer if the sentence is bad; it is just that the sentence is bad and that can be fixed. I wish someone had told me that as a teenager. I might not have waited ten years to go back to writing fiction and poetry.

Wow! Thanks, Melanie, for being such a great guest. (She also picks up after herself and doesn’t leave coffee mug rings on the table. Nice.)

And thank you for stopping by. If you have questions for Melanie, you know what to do! Please comment below!

Eloise illustration by Hilary Knight found at truetostyle.com. Gilbert Blythe photo from sjaejones.com. Almanzo Wilder photo from Wikipedia. Rilla of Ingleside cover from lmmresearchgroup.org. Other book covers from Goodreads.com. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss photo found at graphic-engine.swarthmore.edu.

A Writer’s Process 8(a)

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!

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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.

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Laura Ingalls Wilder

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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.

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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.

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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.