My very first piece of fiction was written in the 5th grade, entitled, “The Ugly Princess: Believe it or Not.” It was inspired by all those fairy tales with beautiful princesses, but I worried about the ones who were not blonde, blue-eyed, and thin. I wanted to go the other way. That was about it for fiction, because I was soon drawn to journalism where I wrote about the kinds of people no one else wanted to write about. I came back to fiction because I wanted to try it out. When I was pregnant with my first child, I took a creative writing course to scratch that itch. That was the beginning of Blue Girls, a short story at the time that languished “in the drawer” until I started my MFA in 2006.
I don’t know how to do anything else, but write. I’ve given up cooking, the garden looks terrible, I don’t sew or knit, the kids are grown and have their own lives (which I still try to run). I made a few phone calls for Hillary, but I don’t even volunteer anymore. So I have to do something!
I wanted to write a novel that would help me make sense of those years right after the Kennedy assassination and before the sexual revolution, the women’s movement, and the war in Vietnam entered the nation’s consciousness. The characters in the book grapple with these changes in their own way. I want to emphasize that this book is also very funny – albeit with some tragic moments.
I had the first chapter of Blue Girls for a long time, but my MFA mentors and classmates suggested I change it. I was reluctant to let go, to “kill my darlings.” But I did it, and that led me into the novel. I kept coming up with characters and situations that could happen at a liberal arts women’s college in the sixties. I think the MFA experience (at Stonecoast of the University of Southern Maine) gave me the necessary drive to keep writing and to come up with a draft by the time I graduated in 2008. Like many of my writing colleagues, I had a home to run, a family who needed me, and a job to tend to, so I needed that motivation and drive that the structure of the MFA provided.
One of the best things that came out of the MFA experience and the writing of the novel, was my writing group that formed with former and current MFA colleagues in 2007. We meet once a month and are scheduled to read at least twice a year. I think people were ready for me to move on, to write something else, so I read the very last chapter of Blue Girls last year. Without my writing group, I don’t think Blue Girls would have been finished or published. Of course, my husband and children nagged me, too, but it was my writer friends that really inspired me.
“My new book, Blue Girls, will take you back to the ’60s when the important question of the day was whether to go to the Pappagallo’s store and buy a new pair of shoes or attend the anti-war rally on campus.”
Jean M. Peck was born and raised in Portland, Maine, and insists that salt water runs through her veins. She has lived in many European and American cities, but always called Portland home. She is the author of dozens of magazine and newspaper articles and two other books: At the Fire’s Center (University of Illinois Press) and co-author (with Abraham J. Peck) of Maine’s Jewish Heritage (Acadia Press). She currently lives in Cumberland, Maine, with her husband and a small dog who runs their lives. Her two children have also moved back to Portland.
Jean is working on a YA novel that will probably morph into something else by the time she finishes. She’s been teaching writing at the University of Southern Maine, but plans to take next semester off to market Blue Girls and get some traction on the new novel.