Sitting in the back of the Liberal Arts offices at Humber College, Melanie J. Fishbane has accomplished a lot of what was on her to-do list at 12 years old. She’s an English teacher at the college and is now waiting eagerly – and a tad fearfully – for the release of her debut young adult novel, Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery, out in a few weeks.
To say she’s a fan of the subject of her book – Canadian literary legend Lucy Maud “L.M.” Montgomery – would be an understatement. Melanie’s brown hair fans out like a cape when she walks me to the unoccupied cubicle for our interview. The jazz band’s music on the floor above us trickles in. As we talk, she’s animated.
An MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, an MA in History and a board member of the L.M. Montgomery Institute, Melanie was the ideal choice to write Maud. It’s a story with the 14-year old Montgomery at its center who has dreams of writing and attending college.
The stars seem to align for Melanie and her book since this year marks Canada’s 150th birthday. As the fledging nation was finding its feet, Montgomery was growing up alongside it after being born seven years after its birth. She was among the first female writers to emerge post-Confederation and helped start the Canadian Author Association.
“She was part of this growing voice of what was Canadian literature. You know how people now would interview authors about, like, their process or their favourite books growing up or anything like that…Montgomery was that person for a long time.”
Montgomery would go on to write her serialized memoir in the Toronto magazine, Everywoman’s World, in 1917. It would be collected in a book called The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career. Of course, she’s also the author of the internationally popular series, Anne of Green Gables. A series that is the first introduction to Canada for many through the lens of a red headed girl from Prince Edward Island.
What came first? I ask Melanie. The desire to teach or reading Anne of Green Gables? She lights up. She recalls reading Anne first who eventually becomes a teacher in the series but also acknowledges the complex feelings of the profession that Laura Ingalls Wilder, writer of the Little House series, had when she became one to financially support her family.
For 12-year-old Melanie, teaching encompassed two things: it was the profession of the women in her family and it was a job that would allow her control. Today, Melanie sees it as a calling.
“I’m a teacher now because I want to give back. I’m under no illusions that I’m in control,” she said laughing.
Control was brought up again when discussing her feelings of being a debut author. For her, sending off Maud meant losing that control and putting it into the hands of readers. But Melanie knows what it’s like on the other side. She’s been a book blogger for years and used to co-manage the Indigo Books’ Kids’ and Teen blog.
So what does Melanie hope to achieve with Maud in 2017?
“Tell the most authentic story I could for the character I created. […] My hope is that people will read the story and be fascinated enough by her [L.M. Montgomery] that they will go out and read…she wrote 21 books [and] over 500 short stories if not more. She’s written non-fiction, there’s poetry and journals. There’s so much stuff and not everyone is going to want to read all of that but maybe by reading my book, it will inspire them to find out more about her.”
Melanie also hoped that in 200 years, Montgomery will be studied and revered in the same way that Jane Austen is today. As someone who has inspired Margaret Laurence, Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Jane Urquhart, and now Melanie J Fishbane, Montgomery is more than a female children’s author. She’s part of Canadian history.