Today we're shouting all the hoorays for Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L. M. Montgomery by Melanie J. Fishbane, out now from Penguin Teen/Penguin Random House Canada!
Fourteen-year-old Lucy Maud Montgomery — Maud to her friends — has a dream: to go to college and become a writer, just like her idol, Louisa May Alcott. But living with her grandparents on Prince Edward Island, she worries that this dream will never come true. Her grandfather has strong opinions about a woman’s place in the world, and they do not include spending good money on college. Luckily, she has a teacher to believe in her, and good friends to support her, including Nate, the Baptist minister’s stepson and the smartest boy in the class. If only he weren’t a Baptist; her Presbyterian grandparents would never approve. Then again, Maud isn’t sure she wants to settle down with a boy — her dreams of being a writer are much more important.
But life changes for Maud when she goes out West to live with her father and his new wife and daughter. Her new home offers her another chance at love, as well as attending school, but tensions increase as Maud discovers her stepmother’s plans for her, which threaten Maud’s future — and her happiness forever.
Welcome, Melanie! I have to say, that cover is gorgeous. So, tell us . . .
Who was your favorite character to write and why?
Besides Maud, I would say my favorite character to write was Will Pritchard. He is one of Maud’s two love interests who comes into her life during a time where she’s going to have to make some big decisions. Will is based on Maud’s real life boyfriend who she met the year she had lived with her father in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Will showed up as a cross between the pioneer boy of my childhood, Almanzo Wilder, and who Maud wrote about in her journals. He emerged as a man who saw things as they were, a good horseman with no patience for games or pettiness. He became a foil for Maud’s ambitions and, also, the confinement of expectations put on young people of the period. I can still hear his voice in my head while I write this now. He’s also quite handsome. :)
Melanie J. Fishbane laughs carelessly with the handsome Will Pritchard. Photo by Kate Sutherland.
What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?
For some people who write historical fiction the issue is not enough material, but with L.M. Montgomery, the issue is that there is so much. Montgomery was very particular about what she left behind. She burned her correspondence before she died, and copied out her journals into uniform ledgers, destroying the originals. There are also scrapbooks, her book collection, thousands of photographs (many she took herself as she was an avid photographer), and personal artifacts. There are also letters that others kept of letters that she wrote to them, particularly from her time in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
I had wanted to stay true to the arc of Montgomery’s experience as described in the journals, so I had tried to keep closely to the timeline, but I soon learned that this hurt the pace of the novel, particularly in the third act. For example, when I was writing about Maud’s time in Park Corner there were several family events and an episode with her cousins that involved many shenanigans. I had wanted to include it to show how Maud was connecting with the Montgomery side of her family, but inevitably it was cut because it slowed things down and away from the main emotional arc.
Do you write in silence? If not, what’s your soundtrack?
Unless I’m reading out loud or doing very precise copy editing, I need to write with music. Maud had a playlist that was inspired by music of the period, both popular and sacred. I also listened to a lot of contemporary music from PEI and Saskatchewan. The Meds and Catherine MacLellan were on loop for much of the writing process. As well as Sia’s 1000 Forms of Fear, particularly “Chandelier” and “Big Girls Cry” because it echoed Maud’s emotional experience. Oh…and the Anne & Gilbert: The Musical, because…Anne and Gilbert…I put a selection of these songs on my website: http://melaniefishbane.com/mauds_world/mauds-playlist/
Tell us about your writing community. Are you in a critique group? Does a family member read your early drafts? Is Twitter your bastion of support?
I feel pretty grateful because my writing community is international, but closely connected. There are my classmates from VCFA and the Dystropians, my friends from TorKidLit, a local Toronto writing group that meets once a month to support young adult and kids’ writers, and CANSCAIP. I also have my Montgomery writer friends who I send stuff to when I need some advice. I have a few friends that I write with in Toronto and share first drafts with, as well as some from VCFA of course. I don’t have a critique group anymore. I had a writing group for about a year or so that met once a month, but because of a variety of circumstances we now only meet occasionally. I would say that through Facebook groups and Twitter, I’ve been able to stay connected to my tribe.
Tell us about something special you keep on your desk/wall as you work.
After my grandfather died, my aunt found a letter he had written to me around my birthday, but for some reason never gave it to me. In the letter, he talked about listening to me talk about what I had planned to do, how pleased he was to see me talk about my plans for education and the future, how I had made him a “very proud Zaidy.” I put the letter in something to protect it and posted it on my bulletin board. Maud is dedicated to him.
What a special find.
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
Sharron Darrow, Mary Quattlebaum, Rita Williams-Garcia and Sarah Ellis.
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
Everything. It taught me how to take myself and my writing seriously, putting in place good writing habits. It also connected me to a community that I continue to stay in touch with. I think going to VCFA also gave me the credentials I needed to prove to the publisher that I could do this project.
What is your favorite VCFA memory?
Running across the campus to learn who our advisors would be.
What was special about your VCFA graduating class?
We were so supportive of one another and became close right away. Even now, we continue to just be there. If one of us needs something, we jump into action. We are family.
What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?
Stay as present as you can. Enjoy all of it. Suck up all the energy, knowledge and experiences you can, because it goes very quickly.
Thanks so much for visiting, Melanie! Hooray for Maud!
Obsessed with L.M. Montgomery and the red-headed orphan Anne of Green Gables since she was a kid, Melanie J. Fishbane is tickled red(?) to be celebrating the launch of her debut novel with the Launchpad.
Melanie is a member of the January 2013 Dystropians. Visit her online at melaniefishbane.com.
Author photo by Ayelet Tsabari.