Monday, June 22, 2015

Author Interview: Michelle Athy

For today's post, I'm so excited to welcome Michelle Athy to my blog to celebrate her release of Pearl: An Historical Novella.

To get you guys pumped, I've conducted an interview with Miss Athy below:

1. What was your inspiration for Pearl?

I've read a lot of Regency historical romance, but I was getting tired of reading the same types of heroines over and over again. I knew from movies like Amazing Grace that the late Georgian time period was full of action--the American and French Revolutions, the Napoleonic Wars, the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, movements to free slaves. It was also a time of manners and societal rules, like in Jane Austen.

Being biracial, I had a "What if?" moment. What would it be like to be biracial in those times? So I came up with a mixed race family and plonked them down--white father, half-black daughter, white daughter (same father, different mother)--into Regency England. It was originally going to be a romance, then it turned into a historical fiction novel.

My fictional family, the Keegans, had a background story in Barbados, which was a major producer of sugar and a British colony. I moved the story back to the 1790s instead of Regency. In one scene, Mrs. Keegan, the free black common-law wife of Mr. Keegan, was leaving the house and her maid fixed a shawl over her shoulders. Mrs. Keegan said, "Thank you, Pearl." That's where the character first emerged.

2. What was your writing process like?

I was initially writing about the Keegan family as well as continually researching. I went through four drafts of the Keegans. A friend read the second draft, then a fellow writer read the third draft. Pearl the maid had appeared in the third draft and I really liked her character. She came in with a clear point of view and a clear goal--to find her long-lost brother. My beta reader singled her out and said, "She's really interesting. I'd love to read more about her!"

I queried The Keegans of Banner's Edge, more for the actual experience of querying rather than because I was expecting anything. But the idea of taking Pearl's subplot and making it into its own story came pretty quickly after I was done querying. I cut and pasted her scenes into a new document and filled in some missing spots and gave it an ending. Then I had a beta read it, revised it, found an amazing copyeditor, input her suggestions and corrections, and then it was ready.

3. Why did you decide to self-publish?

I didn't want to expand Pearl's story by padding it. It felt pretty complete once I finished a draft. There isn't really a market for novellas in trade publishing and although the self-publishing market for historical fiction isn't as large as it is for fantasy or sci-fi or romance, I thought that self-publishing was a viable way to get Pearl out into the world.

4. What are your plans after Pearl?

I'm getting back into writing a novel I was working on, which is about a contemporary woman who finds out that she'd about to inherit a lot of money from a British noble family that she's descended from--the family is dying out. The other half of the story takes place in Victorian times and is about a young woman, Victoria, who is of that British noble family. Beyond that, I have vague ideas of another novella that I'll self-publish, but nothing definite yet.

5. From start to finish, how long did your journey take from conception to publication?

Let's see--from the time I decided to put Pearl into her own novella to the time I pressed "publish"--three months. From the time I started writing anything Keegan family-related to publishing Pearl: three or four years, according to my blog. I was writing other things along the way, though, as well as taking breaks, but it was a long ride. I think it took that long because it was my first time trying to write historical fiction and I was riddled with insecurity about if it was good or not a lot of the time.

6. What advice would you give other writers?

Whew. Well...I'd say stay true to your own road. Just because someone else is writing a trendier genre or getting more praise or has a more popular blog does not mean that you should do what that person is doing. A lot of writing good fiction, I find, is seeing what reads well to you. Also, keep learning about writing: join a group, join a forum, read some craft books. Keep reading, read all kinds of books!
About the Book:

Time to a slave only means endless work, but for Pearl, the last ten years have meant time without her younger brother Julius. He was sold away from Barbados, a little island of sugar cane and slavery, but Pearl is still there, the lady's maid to Mrs. Keegan.

After Mrs. Keegan dies, rumor has it that Mr. Keegan may return to his native England with his two children, which means Pearl will be sold for sure. Surprising herself, Pearl asks Mr. Keegan if he intends to sell her. To her shock, he says that yes, he'll return to England—but he's going to free her first. Pearl asks to be taken to England, too, with vain hopes that she'll uncover what's become of Julius—even if it means she'll remain enslaved.

Freed and employed as the Keegans' nanny, Pearl does not know how to begin looking for Julius or how to conduct herself as a free person in a new country. Her search leads to an unlikely alliance with Mr. Keegan, friendship with freed blacks, learning to read and write, and the choices to change her life, on her own terms.

About the Author:

Michelle Athy once threw herself around the living room, shouting the alphabet at the top of her lungs as a toddler. She began writing stories outside of school assignments at age 9, decided she wanted to be a writer at age 12, and earned a Certificate of Merit in the Barnard College/ CBS Woman I Admire Essay Contest in 2003.

She attended two sessions of the Columbia University Summer Writing Program for High School students and graduated from Emerson College in Boston, MA, in 2007 with a Bachelor of Arts in Writing, Literature, and Publishing, and graduated with an M.S. in Publishing from Pace University. Michelle interned at the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency and W.W. Norton, among other places.

She began blogging in 2009 and hasn't stopped since. The Sunflower's Scribbles is mostly a writing blog, but also a book blog and a blog about outings and adventures and musings and rants...

Michelle is currently working on several writing projects, mostly in the realm of historical fiction. She is active on social media (the main homepage will tell you where) and also on the AbsoluteWrite Watercooler.

This is her Amazon profile. This is her Goodreads page.


  1. Congratulations, Michelle! I learned a lot in the interview, and am putting this on my TBR list

    1. Thank you! :-) I hope you enjoy it when you get to it!

  2. Yay, Sunflower Michelle!! ^_^
    I love the inspiration story. It's perfect. Super great advice, too!

    1. Thanks! Seriously--Pearl just snuck up on me :-)

  3. It's amazing how you write on thing...and then you get a whole new story out of it. Seems like it was meant to be :)

    1. It's a little weird how it worked out. Then again, I have a pretty messy process :-)