NOBODY'S SECRET by Michaela MacColl (Chronicle Books, April 2013)
Today I have the great pleasure to kick off the blog tour for Michaela MacColl's new novel, Nobody's Secret. This is--wait for it--a murder mystery starring a teen Emily Dickinson. Let me say that it is a tremendous historical novel, for all of you historical devotees. Emily is totally spunky; the identity of the murderer is not guessed at until very near the end--and the writing is topnotch and engrossing. I was lucky enough to get to interview Michaela, and am even luckier to be able to send a hardback, hot-off-the-presses copy to one lucky commenter.
Here's the blurb from Goodreads:
One day, fifteen-year-old Emily Dickinson meets a mysterious, handsome young man. Surprisingly, he doesn't seem to know who she or her family is. And even more surprisingly, he playfully refuses to divulge his name. Emily enjoys her secret flirtation with Mr. "Nobody" until he turns up dead in her family's pond. She's stricken with guilt. Only Emily can discover who this enigmatic stranger was before he's condemned to be buried in an anonymous grave. Her investigation takes her deep into town secrets, blossoming romance, and deadly danger. Exquisitely written and meticulously researched, this novel celebrates Emily Dickinson's intellect and spunk in a page-turner of a book that will excite fans of mystery, romance, and poetry alike.
Here's my interview with Michaela MacColl:
1.) Hi, Michaela. I loved PROMISE THE NIGHT, your novel about
Beryl Markham--which I featured on Middle Grade Mafioso in January 2012. What draws you to characters like Beryl and Emily Dickinson?
I’ve always been drawn to interesting characters
in history. I’m particularly fascinated by women, because let’s face it,
there’s usually a lot holding them back.
Beryl was a girl who had to complete with boys to do what she wanted to
do. Emily Dickinson lived a constricted life of a girl in the 19th
century, yet she found her freedom in her independence of mind.
2.) She certainly comes across as very independent minded! Another thing I really enjoyed was that you did a magnificent job with period
details (for example, the fact that Emily and Vinny are no strangers to caring
for dead bodies, as they have tended to the corpses of their deceased elderly
relatives.) I'm sure you read widely--but was there one particular source you
found yourself going to during your research?
I usually start with biographies. There are
several good ones of Emily – my favorite was called My Wars are Laid Away in Books by Alfred Habegger. But they aren’t
enough. I also visited Amherst, the Emily Dickinson Museum and the Digital
Archives at the Amherst Library. The
archives were probably the most fun – they have Emily’s shopping lists and bits
of poems written on any scrap of paper she could find.
3.) I hope one day to get to Amherst. Perhaps the Don will increase the travel budget, hint hint... Now, about the poetry, which you weave through the novel so well... here's a confession: although I studied English Literature at
university in England, I shamefacedly admit I'd never heard of Emily Dickinson
until I came to live in the States. (As for The Don, his favorite poet is
Hallmark.) For novices like us, what favorite poem(s) by Emily would you recommend
Emily’s poems don’t have titles. She didn’t use
them. Her poems are usually identified by the first line. One of my favorites (and probably the one
that might appeal most to young teens) is “This is my letter to the world, That
never wrote to me.” Or “Hope is a Thing with Feathers.” The thing about Emily
is that she wrote about what she thought and felt and saw. Her poems have an
immediacy that keeps her modern almost 150 years after her death.
4.) They sure do. Now, I hope you'll excuse this fanboy moment, Michaela, but I truthfully have to say you are
becoming one of my favorite writers--and I've never thought of myself as much
of a historical novel buff. What new novels do you have in the pipeline? (So I
can reserve my copy...) Any more murder mysteries?
Michael – that’s so nice of you to say! Thanks so
much. And I’m glad you asked! Nobody’s Secret is the first in a series
of literary mysteries. The mystery in this novel was inspired by a poem. The
next one is tentatively titled Always
Emily (another Emily!) and it’s about… can you guess? That’s right, Emily
Bronte and her sister Charlotte. The mystery in that novel is inspired by
events in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.
5.) Really? I can't wait!! (I went to school in Yorkshire, not too far from the Brontes' stomping grounds.) Okay, final question: I love the way you've brought historical
characters alive in your fiction. If you were to host a dinner party attended
only by characters from history, who would you invite and why?
The problem with that question is that I would be
too intimidated by anyone I would invite!
I’d love to meet Elinor of Aquitaine, Elizabeth I and Catherine the
Great. They’re all women who defined their times instead of allowing their
times to define them!
Thanks for having me
at Middle Grade Mafioso – It’s always a pleasure. Thank you, Michaela. I bet that would be a dinner party for the ages. (The Don told me to crack that pun, and he's still chortling while chomping his cigar. Groan...) People, if you want to follow the Nobody's Secret bloggers, here's where they'll be tomorrow: The YA Book Shelf. And don't forget: comment for the win! Have a great Middle Grade Monday, and happy reading!
REMEMBER DIPPY by Shirley Reva Vernick The Story: Johnny's plans fly out the window when he finds out his single mother is leaving town for the summer. She has a breakthough job in upstate New York. He can live with his Aunt Collette but only on the condition that he "help out with" his autistic older cousin, Remember. Yup, you heard it right: Remember Dippy. That's his cousin's name—and Remember is a gawky awkward kid with some pretty strange habits, like repeating back almost everything Johnny says and spending hours glued to the weather channel. Johnny's premonitions of disaster appear at first to come to cringeworthy fruition, but when the two boys save a bully from drowning, salvage the pizzeria guy's romance, and share girl troubles, Johnny ends up having the summer of his life. Opening lines:
"Hull, Vermont, should be named Dull, Vermont. More cows than houses. No mall, no roller rink, not even a mini-putt. So I knew my last summer before high school was going to be a boring one like all the others. What I didn't know was that it was going to be a rotten summer."
What I liked:
I pretty much say it about all the books I like: VOICE. By this I mean that the voice (the outlook, the word choices) of the main character, Johnny, is spot on. Johnny would much rather hang with his friends, Mo and Reed, than with his cousin Remember ("Yes, that's right, his name is Remember--straight out of some New Age baby-naming book.") Remember (or Mem, as Johnny calls him) is on the autistic spectrum and does indeed have several habits that would exasperate a neurotypical teen. Mem repeats parts of what others say; he throws tantrums when he feels he can't control what's happening in the world around him. But he is also sweet. Therefore, while Johnny views his neighbor, Mr. Boots, as a "cranky old man," Mem calls him his best friend. Mem also doesn't get rattled by the boy whom Johnny can't stand, Dirk Dempster. In the end, it's Mem who teaches Johnny acceptance.
Cast of Characters: There's actually a lot going on in this novel. Johnny's Aunt Collette, who is Mem's mom, and with whom Johnny's spending the summer, has a suitor. Niko, who owns the pizza parlor in town, has lost the engagement ring he wanted to present his girlfriend. There's a girl, Leesha, visiting from Chicago who actually likes it in Hull and doesn't want to return home. (Mem, of course, befriends her.) Dirk Dempster has a rotten home life, but he and Johnny come to an uneasy truce. There are rescue ferrets. And Johnny and his pals end up helping (and growing to appreciate) Mr. Boots after he falls and breaks a leg.
Humor: Yup, there's a lot to laugh about. Middle school boys playing mini golf with... hard boiled eggs?! "So that's how we invented a new sport called Egg Whack. Mo actually wanted to call it Egg Roll, but Reed and I vetoed it on the grounds that it sounded like Chinese take-out." There are haircut disasters: "Who was this alien with the spikes and poufs staring back at me...? I looked like a rock star on a bad hair day, only worse."
But I think my favorite line is near the end, when the kids have pulled off something major and Johnny says "For a terrifying moment, I thought we were going to have a group hug. Leesha put both arms out, and Mem started leaning in--but I was saved by the bell. The doorbell, that is." See what I mean about voice?!
In conclusion, REMEMBER DIPPY doesn't have a huge promotional budget. It's being published by a small press (more on that later). But it was definitely one of the more endearing novels I've read in a while, and I would encourage you to seek it out. Middle Graders will find the attitudes and experiences of the novel ring very true to life.
About the Author (from Amazon): Shirley Reva Vernick's debut novel The Blood Lie was named on the 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults list from the American Library Association. It also received the Simon Wiesenthal Once Upon a World Children's Award and Sydney Taylor Honor Book Award. Shirley lives with her husband, two daughters, and two frisky dogs in western Massachusetts. In addition to running a popular storytelling website—storybee.org—Shirley has written for Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Ladies' Home Journal, national newspapers, and the publications of Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Boston universities. About Cinco Puntos Press: I would invite anyone who is interested in small presses to visit the Cinco Puntos website. The publishers, Lee and Bobby Byrd, talk about publishing as a voyage of discovery. And one of their authors, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, was recently awarded the 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for his book Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club! Thanks for stopping by, and have a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and Wonderful Reading Week.
I'm over at Project Mayhem today, interviewing the amazing Karen Yingling, school librarian extraordinaire. If you don't know Karen, stop by and learn all about her and what her students like to read. If you do know her, stop by and say 'hi!' anyway!!
I'm thrilled today to be interviewing one of my Project Mayhem mates, James Mihaley. (Project Mayhem is my group blog and, if you haven't visited it yet, you should do yourself a favor and pop on over. We're one of the best group blogs out there, and always up for a bit of middle grade mayhem.).
Anyway, James is one of our newer members. He has an awesome novel out, and the paperback edition has just been released. In honor of that wonderful event, he's going to be giving away a signed copy to one lucky commenter!!!
Here's a little something about his debut novel (which is a hoot--just as James is).... YOU CAN'T HAVE MY PLANET, BUT TAKE MY BROTHER PLEASE (Feiwel and Friends, 2012): Thirteen-year-old Giles is the last person anyone would expect to save the planet. He’s not as charming as his little sister, and not as brainy as his goody-goody older brother. But when Giles witnesses an alien realtor showing Earth to possible new tenants, he knows he’d better do something. With the help of an alien “attorney” and the maddest scientist in middle-grade fiction, Giles just might save humans from eviction from Earth. Let’s hope so. The alternatives are . . . not so hospitable.
My Interview with James:
1) Your agent sold your novel in one day. How did that happen, and how did you keep yourself from joyfully launching into outer space?
I did launch into outer space. I was up there for a month and a half. I spent all my advance at a night club on Jupiter. Believe me, it was worth it.
Getting serious for a moment, (I promise just a moment, I give you my word of honor), when I wrote the book I didn’t have an agent. Upon completion, I sent my ms to Rosemary Stimola. Rosemary called me on a Monday, said she wanted to represent me. She said she knew someone at Macmillan who might be interested.She asked me if it would be all right for her to submit it.
I said, “HELL YES!”
The next day, Tuesday, she sent the book over to Macmillan. On Wednesday, Rosemary called me with the news that we sold it!
And check this out. I had submitted the book to two other agents when I sent it to Rosemary. I got rejections slips from those agents after I sold the book, telling me they didn’t think it would sell!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Therefore, if you get a rejection from an agent or two, it means absolutely nothing!!!!! Do not be deterred!!!!!!! (Michael said I’m only allowed to use 836 exclamation points in this Q&A.I think I’ve already reached my quota.) [That you have, James--but I have several hundred more that I'm hording for myself!!!!]
2) As well as being a writer, you're a professional hip hop dancer and choreographer. How long have you been writing and dancing?
As we all know, there is a God of Writing and there is a God of Dancing. Some people say the two gods don’t like each other that much. On the Mount Olympus of Creativity, there is also a third deity, the God of Writing & Dancing. He looks like a dwarf but has very long wings. He got his head stuck in a jar of honey one day outside a supermarket in Bakersfield, California. I helped him get it out. He rewarded me with a wave of his magic wand. Presto. I became a writer and a dancer.
3) I know that particular God too, but he only allows me to do the cha-cha with two left feet. Oh well... Back to being serious...What piece of writing advice would you have loved to have been given, starting off?
To not place so much pressure on yourself with a first draft. When we’re starting out, I think we have a tendency to try and perfect every sentence, right from the opening paragraph. The danger of that approach is that we may end up discarding the exquisitely chiseled opening once we get into the book and find out what it’s truly about. With the first draft, it’s all about getting ink on paper, black on white. Just let it rip. Then, put it down for a week, let it breathe, pick it up and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses.
Your ability to accurately evaluate the merits of your work increases dramatically when you put it down and let it breathe. I wish I’d known that at the beginning.
4) I totally agree! Now for some gossip: I've heard that hummingbirds love you. Do they descend upon you, kind of like Hitchcock's The Birds? How long has this been going on?
My bond with hummingbirds is peaceful and exhilarating.
It began a few years ago when I spotted a hummingbird’s nest in a bougainvillea outside my bedroom window. So tiny and magical. Mother hummingbird was sitting on her eggs in the moonlight. A month later, in another part of the Los Angeles, a hummingbird flew into my car when I was getting ready to start it up. We hung out together in the car for a couple of minutes, me and the hummingbird. Quite an experience. And quite true.
5. One last thing I've been wondering about, James. In the back of your newly released paperback, there’s a Q&A. It talks about you being a robot. What’s all that about?
I am a robot. Just kidding. Not really. The truth of the matter is that my skills as a dancer enable me to move exactly like a robot. I decided to use that to create a movie to help promote ‘You Can’t Have My Planet But Take My Brother, Please’. The movie will be coming out this summer on You Tube. It’s called ‘The JimBot’.
Here’s the premise of the film: What if it turns out that ‘You Can’t Have My Planet’ was the first book in history written by a robot? What if children’s author, James Mihaley, is actually a robot in disguise? In the movie there’s an investigative journalist who wants to reveal to the world that I’m a robot and win a Pulitzer prize. I have a nosy neighbor (MGM: not me, I swear!) who has proof that I spark in the rain.
The film is hilarious. Plus it has a beautiful theme promoting non-violence.
It was directed by Mike Pedraza, who is an editor on the 150 million dollar Matt Damon movie coming out this summer. Mike’s wife, Donna Pedraza, produced it.
Here is an illustration from the movie done by Austin Jones. It’s me as a baby robot.
When the JimBot comes out this summer, I’ll be sure to let you know!
Thanks so much for the great interview, James. If you're ever in MG Mafioso land, look us up. The Don loves dancing (and accordion-playing!), so it might be quite a party.
Once again, guys, leave a comment to be eligible for a signed copy of YOU CAN'T HAVE MY PLANET, BUT TAKE MY BROTHER PLEASE. And happy reading!!