Remembering

As I set out to photograph the flowers around my apartment complex, I couldn’t help remembering my grandmothers: Lela (paternal) and Marie (maternal). Both are dead now, one as recent as 2011. Seems fitting to think of them on Memorial Day. Though neither fought in a war—Memorial Day being a day to pay honor to military service people—they were soldiers nevertheless. Just not in the military.

    

In keeping with my habit of not posting family photos (I’m writing this blog under a pen name after all), I will not post photos of my grandmothers. (Sorry to disappoint.) Instead, think of the flowers I photographed as representing my grandmothers. 🙂

Now, what do I mean by soldiers? Imagine being dirt poor and having kids to raise. You fight a battle against despair every day. But you have to win this battle for the sake of your kids. Both of my grandmothers had large families—my paternal grandmother having nine children, and my maternal grandmother having fifteen. You read that right. Two of my mother’s siblings did not live to adulthood.

My grandmothers didn’t go to college. One grandmother didn’t even go to high school. But all of her children did. College too. Both grandmothers wanted their children to have a better life than they did.

    

When I was a kid, my family spent many a weekend traveling to Pontiac, Michigan, to visit my paternal grandparents, and many a summer’s day driving to see my maternal grandmother in Lake Providence, Louisiana. We never thought about the fact that my grandparents were poor. They loved us, and we loved being with them.

My paternal grandmother taught me to crochet. My maternal grandmother taught me to be generous even if I have next to nothing to give. That was how she lived.

Some people talk about antiques or trust funds passed on to them by grandparents. Neither of my grandmothers had much to leave anyone. But they left something money couldn’t buy—a legacy of resilience, faith, and unselfishness. Not to mention precious memories of time spent with them. Their personalities imprint just about every story I write (and even one that I ghostwrote under a different name).

   

This Memorial Day, I also remember the people of Manchester and the victims of the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert on May 22. My blogger friend Laura said it best in this post. She provided excerpts from a post and comments by another blogger friend, Andy, who lives in Manchester. Many of you follow his City Jackdaw blog.

Memorial Day also is a day for me to remember that I’m giving away two books.

    

Thanks to the random number generator, the winner of The World’s Greatest Detective is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Nancy Hatch!

The winner of Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L. M. Montgomery is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Jill Weatherholt!

Nancy and Jill, please comment below to confirm. If either of you would prefer an eBook to a physical copy of the book, please let me know.

Rosie Bloom is shocked to discover that the flowers she planted came up crocheted. She plans to contact the seed company to demand answers.

Photos by L. Marie. Rosie Bloom by Moose Toys.

Check This Out: Maud—A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery

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.

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.