On Fridays right here, writers talk about their books, their process, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. Today AMY WOLF joins us to celebrate the launch of her novel, The Misses Brontë’s Establishment, a Kindle Scout winner published by Kindle Press.
What if Branwell Brontë had not died before Emily? What if Charlotte were able to marry her Mr. Rochester? What if the Misses Brontë’s Establishment actually did find a pupil: one who is taught by three geniuses?
Meet Maria Shelby, spoiled–and rich–daughter of a knight in mid-Victorian England. Maria has a habit of getting into trouble: at eighteen, she’s already been sacked from six London schools and no one else will have her–except The Misses Brontë’s Establishment in the remote Yorkshire village of Haworth.
Maria is bundled off to Exile, to a land as strange to her as the Brontë’s imagined Gondal. She finds herself constantly freezing; the strange family she resides with actually recites Shakespeare at the table(!); the brother is a poesy-spouting firebrand; and as for the median Miss Brontë, let’s just say she’s a bit lacking when it comes to social skills.
Yet with the passage of time, Maria–so ignorant she cannot add a simple sum or say hello in French–comes to value her teachers: Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. She studies German, Geography, and Philosophy, subjects utterly verboten for women at the time, and gets to read George Sand.
During her stay at the Parsonage, Maria discovers some explosive letters addressed by Charlotte to Monsieur Heger, the model for Mr. Rochester, in Brussels. This spurs Maria to become a proto-detective, not to mention a first-class spy. Gradually, she finds herself attracted to the romantic, red-haired Branwell and becomes a friend to Charlotte, who is tortured by thoughts of Monsieur Heger and her own thwarted ambition.
Maria serves as our eyes and ears to incredible literary history: the creation of the Brontë masterpieces Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. She lives through the scathing reviews, the searing deaths of Emily and Anne, and the near-hopeless fall of Branwell as he descends into drink and opium. Will Branwell ever recover? Will Charlotte reunite with Heger, or end up marrying her father’s stiff curate? And what about that strange vision which keeps assailing Maria in the cellar?
Part suspense, part high comedy, part Victorian novel, The Misses Brontë’s Establishment takes the reader on a profound literary journey, along with young Maria.
- What were the most challenging aspects of writing this book, and what came easily?
I’d say the primary challenge was staying true to who the Brontës were, both as writers and people. I’ve been researching for fifteen years–including visits to most of the Brontë sites and reading all the biographies–so I think I have a decent grounding in what made this family tick.
What came easily, oddly enough, was emulating the style of Victorian prose. I’ve read so many novels from this period, and in my English B.A. essays, scored highest on the Victorians, so the style really flowed. If I had a doubt about the etymology of a word, I would look it up to make sure it was in use during the 1840’s. Not fanatical or anything, oh no. . .
- Tell us about your main characters and what drives them.
My main character is Maria Shelby, a young girl who is used to being spoiled and coddled in London. She’s rich, her father is a knight, she’s pretty and has many suitors. But her dad gets tired of her being kicked out of girls’ schools, so he “remands her to Haworth,” to the Misses Brontë’s Establishment. Here, Maria is exposed not only to the “heathen” North, but also to poverty, since the Brontës live very modestly.
At first, she is contemptuous of her three teachers–Charlotte, Emily, and Anne–but as her tenure there lengthens, she comes to appreciate the power of the mind as opposed to that of position. She gets very close to Charlotte and helps her attain the love of her life (as well as finding her own in Haworth).
Charlotte Brontë is who she is: a genius; a great writer who was the most ambitious of the three sisters and who in fact was responsible for their works’ publication. She is hyper-sensitive, a hypochondriac, passionate, and has the zeal of a monastic when it comes to art. She isn’t afraid to challenge the luminaries of the day, from Thackeray to Harriet Martineau. As tragedy strikes her family, she develops a thicker skin and is able to answer her critics. Plus, with Maria’s help, she is reunited with her first–and greatest love–the real-life man who served as the model for Mr. Rochester.
- Can you describe your journey to publication: the torment and elation, the times none of it made any sense, the moments when it all came together?
For me, it’s mainly been torment :). I knew I wanted to write from the fourth grade on, but there was always that nagging concern standing in my way: the need to make money. So I started my career in the film industry, which lasted for 15 years, then branched off into IT and database development.
My writing career turned around when I went to the ’92 Clarion West Writer’s Workshop in Seattle. Each week, we were taught by amazing pro’s (among them, John Crowley and Pat Cadigan) and I not only formed lifetime friendships, but also started selling to the professional market. All in all, I’ve sold 38 short stories.
I took a shot at self-publishing on KDP with a memoir, and achieved more than average success.
Now, with The Misses Brontë’s Establishment, I’m going out with a paperback as well, so we’ll see what happens.
As far as NYC, they do their best to ignore me. It must be an LA/NY thing!
- You get to the end of your life, and there to escort you through the tunnel to the light beyond and show you around is a philosopher / author / artist / scientist / celebrity you’ve always revered. Who is it, and why him/her?
Charlotte Brontë. I love her, I really do, for her genius; forward-thinking feminism; ambition; and perseverance. Mainly, for her courage.
- Tell us about your other books, past or in the pipeline.
OK, here we go! I have a memoir on Amazon Kindle, Don’t Let Me Die in a Motel 6. This is the story of my life during and after the Great Recession, hitting such high marks as unemployment, bankruptcy, foreclosure, and repo. Here’s the fun part: it’s a comedy! Republicans tend to hate this since it defies their Well, if you’d only saved more . . . mythos. But if you’re a Dem or even faintly progressive, I think this is a fun, poignant read.
In the pipeline: a YA fantasy series The Cavernis Trilogy. My first love is fantasy (hence, Clarion) and this is the tale of Mattie Sharp, an L.A. teen who is whisked to Cavernis, a world teaming with dragons. There, she is reunited with her childhood pal – the wyvern Artorius – trains to be a female knight, and meets the guy she falls for – except at first, he’s a dragon. This is definitely a comic (as in humorous) tale, and I’ve created a world of dragons the likes of which has never been seen before. NYC, are you listening?
Here are two other amazing facts:
- The Misses Brontë’s Establishment was meant to be real. After Charlotte & Emily returned from studying in Brussels, they printed a flyer (which appears in the book) soliciting pupils. Since Haworth was so remote, no one responded and this “school scheme” was dropped.
- I used to do stand-up at The Comedy Store in Hollywood!
Amy Wolf is a Kindle Scout winner for her novel The Misses Brontë’s Establishment, which launched on August 11, 2015. She has published 38 short stories in the fantasy/sf genres, including Realms Of Fantasy (2) and Interzone (U.K.). She is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and has an honors degree in English from The University of London. She started her career working for the major Hollywood studios, especially 20th Century Fox. One of three natives out of 10 million, Amy was forced from LA and now lives in Seattle (where it rains). She has one adult daughter currently terrorizing LA, 2 horses, 2 dogs, and a bunny.
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