Welcome to the latest installment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.
Today I’m delighted to have the opportunity to interview historical YA author Melanie Fishbane.
As she notes on her website, Melanie holds an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and an M.A. in History from Concordia University.
With over seventeen years’ experience in children’s publishing, she lectures internationally on children’s literature and L.M. Montgomery, who she has been obsessed with since she first read Anne of Green Gables in Grade Six.
A freelance writer and social media consultant, Melanie teaches English at Humber College. Melanie also loves writing essays and her first one, “My Pen Shall Heal, Not Hurt”: Writing as Therapy in L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside and The Blythes Are Quoted,” is included in L.M. Montgomery’s Rainbow Valleys: The Ontario Years 1911-1942. Melanie lives in Toronto with her partner and their very entertaining cat, Merlin. MAUD is her first novel. You can follow Melanie on Twitter @MelanieFishbane and like her on Facebook.
MAUD (Penguin Teen) is available now from your preferred online or bricks-and-mortar retailer.
For the first time ever, a young novel about the teen years of L.M. Montgomery, the author who brought us ANNE OF GREEN GABLES.
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.
Full disclosure: Mel and I are in the same writer’s group. So yeah, I’m not super objective about her work, which I recommend unreservedly – although MAUD itself was already in edits with the publisher by the time we met, and I haven’t read it yet. Sorry, Mel. It’s at the top of my TBR pile, I promise!
[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Mel! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?
[MF] Thanks for having me, Stephen! I suppose that I felt like something extraordinary was happening when I signed the contract to write MAUD.
What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?
My initial strategy was to complete my MFA at VCFA (Vermont College of Fine Arts), finish the novel I was working on, find an agent, and what comes after that, but the universe had other plans and, instead, I received an opportunity from Penguin Canada (now Penguin Random House of Canada) to write a YA novel about my favourite author, L.M. Montgomery. I still cannot believe it years later. I hadn’t finished my degree, nor an agent, but something in the writing I had been sending to the editor over the years and the fact that I had been lecturing on Montgomery, made her (and the heirs) think that I could do this. To be honest, this was something I had always wanted to do for a number of years. I had done my MA in History, specifically on historical writing for kids and teens at Concordia in Montreal, so this felt like coming home, a convergence of all the things I loved.
I was asked to put a proposal with an outline and a few sample chapters, which I submitted three months later. After, I was sent feedback and then I worked on those revisions, resubmitted and then waited. Soon after, I was given an offer.
And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?
I was a bit nervous finding an agent to negotiate the deal because I was worried that the publisher would think badly of me as they came to me. The lawyer I used was great, but it if I had looked for an agent to help negotiate the deal, there might a be a connection to help me sell my next book.
Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?
I’m not sure what I had expected. Having worked on the other side of things for over seventeen years, I was aware of how stores and publishing worked. But, it is different when it is your book, at least it was for me. I told people that I was “cautiously optimistic” about how the book would do, publisher support and the response. My publicist has been working very hard on my behalf, I have done many forms of media, they have showcased the book at conferences and in digital advertisement, and they supported my book launch, even sent me to PEI so I could do something there. I know what resources are available for first time authors, authors in general, so I know how unusual this is and I’m grateful.
Essentially, you must get comfortable with the general feeling of nervous-excitement coupled with anxiety, as well as learn to ‘let go,’ because there is a lot happening behind the scenes that you don’t know about and there must be an element of trust that things will go in your favour. I remain… “cautiously optimistic” and practise gratitude.
What are you working on now?
A few things. I have two essays that are due soon so that is my priority. It is good because I find short projects like these get me back into a rhythm and provide a feeling of accomplishment, particularly because novels can take so long.
I have two novel projects competing for my attention this summer so we’ll see which one wins out. One is a YA historical fiction that focuses on issues of consent and women’s rights and the other is an upper middle grade/YA about a girl who is obsessed with a teen idol for all of the wrong reasons.
How can people keep up with you online?
I’m pretty easy to find. 🙂
There’s my website: http://melaniefishbane.com
Thanks again to Mel for the interview!
Shameful confession time: I ended up sitting on this post for, like, a month after she sent it to me in a very timely manner. I had a very good June, but it was a lot busier than I expected!
But I think… it worked out really well, in the end? Because now, this post is going up just before Canada Day — the 150th anniversary of Confederation, no less. And there is no more iconically Canadian writer than L. M. Montgomery — and no more iconically Canadian literary character than her creation. Anne Shirley. What better way to celebrate them, and Canada Day, than Melanie’s novel?
Coming up next on the blog: I’m not sure yet. I’m still kind of easing back into the blogging after a lengthy quiescence. But it’s the mid-point of the year, so perhaps a state of the me update would be timely?