When the Never Happens
It’s February 2017 and I’m standing in front of a class of professional writing and communications students who have invited me to chat about my upcoming YA novel, MAUD, and path to publication. As part of their assignment, they’ve been told to come prepared with a list of questions. Being budding writers, they’re very curious as to how I somehow made the dream happen. When I tell them my story, their professor said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Remember, everyone, Melanie’s situation is very unique. It NEVER happens.” My colleague and friend said it as a way to dampen expectations in a field that is a lot about disappointment and waiting. But the other thing I could hear is that “NEVER” – in ALL CAPS. IT NEVER HAPPENS.
It has stuck with me ever since.
Because, in my case it did. Which means—every once in a while—the NEVER does happen. So, here is my story of NEVER that will hopefully inspire you, so we can believe in the “NEVER” happening all the time.
Long ago I had wanted to write historical fiction for kids and did my first masters’ degree on the construction of Joan of Arc in contemporary children’s lit. The idea was that I would have the credentials to somehow, one day, write the kind of historical fiction that I had loved as a kid, but also enhance it by writing about previously ignored women in history.
There are many reasons that it took me another 10 years to work up the courage to write any historical fiction again. But, by the fall of 2012 I was finishing up my Master of Fine Arts at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. I had been sending some of my writing to a certain editor for years and being told that it wasn’t quite ready yet—and it wasn’t. I joke that I was sending her my bad writing, which made me wonder what she ever saw in it. At the same time, I had just given a paper at the L.M. Montgomery Institute’s biennial conference. This was the third conference I had attended in Charlottetown and, over the years, I had come to know the community in Ontario and the Island.
I was also working for Indigo doing their online merchandising for kids and teen books, which gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of people, including editors and other writers. I’m very grateful for all that it taught me about the industry, retail and bookselling. It afforded me the opportunity to send my bad writing to an editor who mentored me during this early stage of my career.
And, then the NEVER happened.
The editor invited me out one afternoon. I had assumed it had to do with Indigo business, but it wasn’t. She explained that L.M. Montgomery’s heirs were looking for someone to write a YA novel about Montgomery as a teenager and because of my interest in the author, my connection to the community and the fact I was studying YA, my name was floated.
My first thought was: Why aren’t they asking someone more established?
My second thought was: I cannot do this.
But what came out of my mouth was: “Uhm…yes!”
I was told that I needed to come up with sample pages and a proposal, so they could decide if it was a right fit. I agreed. I had to finish my MFA but promised to submit something for March 2013 –which (after having shown it to a few people and wondering what the heck I was doing) I did.
And then I waited. I emailed friends constantly. My goodness was I annoying. I somehow expected that the editor would get back to me within a few weeks. You know, because she had nothing else going on her life… But in May (yes, I know not that long in publishing time, see what a newbie I was) I got an email saying that there were some notes.
I met up with the editor who gave me her thoughts and we talked about the book for a long time. I was sent back to my writing desk to revise the pages. After a few weeks, I sent the revision.
And waited. Once again annoying my friends with my neurosis and ponderings. I pretty well was sure the editor would figure out that this was a huge mistake.
In July, I heard back from the editor telling me they wanted the book!
I remember I was in one of the Indigo offices (on break of course), talking to her and could feel how the earth was moving. Things were about to change. Everything that I had dreamed about was coming true.
Four and a half years later, there was a bouncing baby book. And, I’m proud of my first book. Of course, I wish I could go back and rewrite a lot of it. It taught me a lot about my creative process, how I’m the most impatient person when it comes to my creative process, how I have expectations about my books and am sad when things don’t quite turn out the way I had expected, but that sometimes things are even better than we expect and that is cool, too.
I’m grateful to that editor for taking a chance on a less established writer (I still don’t know why).
For making the never possible.
Publishing is a lot about timing, it is about patience…the waiting! It is about getting the butt in the chair, submitting even when you aren’t sure it will ever turn out into anything. It is about making true and good connections, hoping you present your best self to the world. It is about mentoring new authors and making opportunities happen.
It is in these opportunities that the NEVER happens. Now…go…make that NEVER happen.
MELANIE J. FISHBANE holds an M.F.A. from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and an M.A. from Concordia University and teaches English at Humber College. Her YA novel, Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery was published in 2017 and was shortlisted for the Vine Awards for the best in Canadian Jewish Literature. Melanie lives in Toronto with her partner and their very entertaining cat, Merlin. You can follow Melanie on Twitter @MelanieFishbane on Instagram, melanie_fishbane and like her on Facebook