Jean and Johnny: A Cautionary Tale

It has been so long since I’ve blogged, that Blogger had changed their interface. Interesting.

I had meant to come back here about a month ago. I had this fascinating diatribe dedicated to Beverly Cleary’s Jean and Johnny called, “Jean and Johnny: A Cautionary Tale.” It was going to discuss how Cleary brilliantly describes the detriments of an unworthy first crush. It was going to discuss how I had a hard time finishing this novel because I was reminded of all of my embarrassing first crush moments with boys who, in retrospect, were not worthy of my attention of favour. But who knew that then. It is an important part of growing up. 
However, the final touches are being added to the Critical Thesis now and my attention must return to my work in progress – a novel that despite my efforts of procrastination and chasing pretty lights continues to be written. I am pretty pleased with the CT. I really like the essay and feel like I’m in those pages.  My Perfect Man Archetype is coming to the light and hopefully the paper will be helpful (or even entertaining) for those interested in archetypes, YA romance, feminist literary theory and good ol’ fashioned brooding boys. It will be hard to to let it out into the world, but it is time. I need to let him out – for real this time. I looking forward to using the archetype in the paper on Gilbert Blythe and L.M. Montgomery and cultural memory that I’m giving in June in Prince Edward Island. It will be interesting to see how people react to this new and improved version of him. 
Back to the novel. I’ve been working on this novel for almost a year now and it continues to surprise me. Themes are filtering in that I didn’t expect. Characters pop in that I didn’t know where there. The deeper I get into my protagonist’s voice, the more I am discovering.  Not just about the novel, but about myself. I knew that I would write a novel one day from my Jewish culture and experience, I just didn’t expect for it to happening while I was doing my MFA.  We are encouraged to dig deep, to write from our most authentic places. As much as we must learn about structure, dialogue, and the mechanics of novel writing, there are the characters that will not let us go. My protagonist took hold of me two years ago and she’s been whispering in my ear ever since. She wants her story told and I must oblige. 
But, my attention falters. Particularly when I get to something that picks at the scab that I would rather leave alone. But she won’t let me. And neither would the young man who wants to open the story. A young man who I think is how I wished that many of the boys were like in Hebrew School. Don’t get me wrong, there were some nice boys, but the ones where I put my ill-fated crushes were not. 
Part of what I read about in the female literary tradition is the idea that women writers craft an ideal of a character. I saw what I wished my character to be, but I couldn’t believe – based on my experience – that he could be like that. I had a hard time believing and so did my reader. 
Writing to my advisor last weekend I had an epiphany. A scab flaked off and what remained were memories of Jewish boys who didn’t live up to expectations. Their religious background shouldn’t matter, but in the context of my pre-teen/teen cultural experience it did. I had done what my parents asked of me and participated in a Jewish youth group to meet nice Jewish boys. In retrospect, it was probably the wrong Jewish youth group for me, too religious and dogmatic. But I didn’t know that then and the boys that I met through this group spread false rumours about me, lead me on, and were clearly uncomfortable with my “alternative” views on religion. 
I was heavily questioning my spirituality around this time, too. Pondering the existence (and gender) of god. My first dark night of the soul is wrapped up with these first crushes and so when I think of them, it is clouded by all of the other things that were going on. I am grateful, now, to these boys for showing me the kind of man I would craft in my imagination, and the kind I wish to spend my life with. 
So, when I go deep into the core of my character and it requires me to go deep into my cultural and ancestry and that pit in my stomach tells me that I’m getting somewhere, I pull back. The intensity of it threatens to drown me. 
But this young man persists. He isn’t going anywhere and neither is my protagonist. And, clearly, neither am I. This is the novel that needs to be written. So, I take a deep breath and dive.

About Melanie J. Fishbane

My novel, MAUD: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery was published in 2017 through Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017. I hold an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Here I talk about my writing process, things I love, and creative people who inspire me.
This entry was posted in Children's Literature, Literary Book Boyfriends. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Jean and Johnny: A Cautionary Tale

  1. Welcome back. Great post!

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