Welcome to the Spotlight Michaela MacColl and Always Emily!

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I’m pleased to shine the spotlight on author Michaela MacColl and her newest YA novel Always Emily! Fan of the Brontë sisters? Enjoy mystery and romance? You’re going to love this book! Stay tuned below for a chance to win a copy of this thrilling novel!

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Always Emily by Michaela MacColl (Chronicle Books/2014)

In 1835 Haworth England, 17-year-old Emily is forced by her sister Charlotte to leave her beloved moors to a boarding school, where Charlotte will be a teacher. Both sisters crave the writing life, but Charlotte is practical, having lost a mother and two sisters to disease, she worries about the future and her aging clergyman father. Teaching would be a good practical profession. But when Emily’s homesickness and misery allows her to escape back home, Charlotte stays to teach. Emily comes across a mysterious young man camping on the moors and learns he suspects his mother is being held captive by his cruel uncle. Charlotte comes home for a short break and becomes embroiled in the mystery as the two sisters work together, instead of against, as they usually do. A griping and engaging tale based on the famous Brontë sisters.

Spotlight on Michaela MacColl

What was the spark that led you to write this story about the Brontë sisters – and what made you write a mystery/romance?

Always Emily is part of a series of literary mysteries, with a touch of romance.  The first was Nobody’s Secret and it starred Emily Dickinson solving a murder that was based on a poem. Always Emily features Emily and Charlotte Bronte. These sisters are so different but they both stumble on the same mystery on their beloved moors. As they untangle the problem (with a few handsome suspects to distract them), they find a new equilibrium as sisters.

My inspiration is always to portray famous people in stories that make them accessible. I try to incorporate elements of their literary style too. In Always Emily, I use many motifs found in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, as well as details from their lives that informed those works.

You include a detailed and fascinating author’s note at the end of the novel, explaining what was fact and what was fiction in this story. What were the particular challenges in writing a novel based on actual persons from history? And what were the particular joys?

I have to confess, the author’s note is one of my favorite things to write. I love showing the reader how I did it. What little details inspired the story and what bits were invented. For many of my readers, this may be their introduction to these authors and this setting.  I feel a special obligation to make clear what’s historical and what’s fictional.

When I research my stories I start with the heftiest biographies I can find. Then I may go into other sources that are more specific.  For instance, when writing about Emily Dickinson, I found a very useful academic book about Emily Dickinson’s domestic help and how it impacted her output. The author had done a ton of research that gave me brilliant details about Emily’s kitchen and household responsibilities.

The more I read, I find that I’m building a personality for my characters in my mind, layer by layer, detail by detail. By the time I start to write, I feel as though I know the character intimately. It’s really fun – as though my character was co-writing the story with me.

Emily is headstrong and independent. Charlotte is more practical and responsible. Both are brave and smart. Which sister are you most like and why?

Debbi, at first when I wrote this novel I couldn’t choose. I began with an alternating  point of view structure.  It turned out to be unworkable and felt artificial so I compromised by keeping the story in the third person with a tight point of view that varied by chapter – some parts of the story are clearly Emily’s, others are Charlotte’s.  But there was always that nagging question, who is the main character?  Personally, I have a lot more in common with Charlotte and I sympathize with her perpetual struggle to keep her eccentric family grounded and solvent.  But who doesn’t like the wild and impulsive Emily?

The title Always Emily sounds romantic (I think that’s why my publisher liked it) but in fact the person who says it in the novel is her exasperated sister. No matter, what, it’s “always Emily” who get the attention and admiration.

Thanks for having me visit!

Thank you, Michaela!

Michaela attended Vassar College and Yale University. She earned degrees in multi-disciplinary history. Unfortunately, it took her 20 years before she realized she was learning how to write historical fiction. Her favorite stories are the ones she finds about the childhood experiences of famous people.  Michaela has two daughters, three large cats and  lives in Connecticut.

For more about Michaela and her books, check out her web site, follow her on Twitter, or like her on Facebook!

Want to win a copy of Always Emily? Follow these directions to enter the drawing.

1. Comment on this post, and for fun, are you more like headstrong and independent Emily or practical and responsible Charlotte? I would like to say I’m more like Emily, but I suspect I’m much more like Charlotte. But when I feel like I’m perhaps too adverse to change, my good friends remind me that I’ve picked up and moved all over the country/world many times in the past 15 plus years. Perhaps I have a little of each in me! (And I suspect we all do!)

2. Entrants must have a U.S. mailing address.

3. Comment by midnight EST on Friday, May 30th. Winner will be drawn at random and notified by email. I’ll announce the winner here on the following Tuesday.

Good luck and happy reading!

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8 responses »

  1. Oh my gosh! This novel sounds fabulous and a perfect one to bring to my older Mother-Daughter Book Club! I’d say I’m a cross between headstrong and practical–I like to do what I want, I hate people telling me what I should do, but I’m more and more practical the older I get.

  2. I am more like Charlotte, but hoping and trying to be more like Emily as I “grow up.” This book sounds wonderful!

  3. Normally, I resist reading anything that purpotes to interpret or translate or analyze the Bronte sister, just because I loved them all (okay, and their books) so much, and I have strong feelings about them, and I have met few people who see them the same way I do. Okay, yes, I feel like they are mine, and I don’t like to share–admittedly, not the most mature attitude. 🙂 But your recommendations for YA romance are some of the best I’ve ever received. So, no pressure, Debbi, but I’m willing to try! Definitely entering and, even if I don’t win, I’ll be checking this out. Please enter me. And, yes, I’d rather be Emily (NOT Catherine, but Emily), and I suspect that, like you, I’m more like Charlotte. But actually, after reading all the novels decades ago and some biographical stuff, I think I’d choose Anne. She seemed so much more grounded and calm than the others–her books have a matter-of-factedness that I love.

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