May 26, 2013

Guest Post : Location by Michaela MacColl

Posted by Unknown at Sunday, May 26, 2013
Hello everyone! Emily here! Please welcome Michaela MacColl, author of Nobody's Secret, a mystery starring Emily Dickinson! I'm reading her book right now & loving it, especially considering the fact Emily Dickinson has always been one of my idols(not to mention the fact that of course, Emily Dickinson is an Emily, and MC's with my name are always cool!). :) I'll have a review up soon, but for now enjoy this awesome guest post!

Location, Location, Location.

Thanks Emily for letting me visit On Emily’s Bookshelf. I can’t but be so very pleased that I’m writing about Emily Dickinson on another Emily’s site.

When I start a new novel I always try to see the locale where my story will take place. When I wrote about Queen Victoria, I took a trip to London and spent a ridiculous amount of time at Kensington Palace.  So how could I not take an extended visit to Amherst (I’m in southern CT – it’s a two hour ride) to research Nobody’s Secret, a literary mystery starring Emily Dickinson?

The main landmarks in Amherst have not changed much since the 1840s. Amherst College is still there and the layout of the streets is identical.  Of course the town green has been transformed from a very marshy cow pasture to a beautiful landscaped quadrangle (courtesy of Frederick Olmstead who also designed Central Park – coincidentally it was Emily’s brother Austin who hired Olmstead to make Amherst beautiful).  The  First Congregational Church has been turned into an academic building, but it still stands. And most importantly, Emily Dickinson’s home has been preserved as a museum (see

But the problem for me is that I wanted to write about Emily as a 15 year old. And when she was nine, she and her family were forced by economic circumstances to leave this house (called The Homestead). When Emily was 25 her father managed to repurchase it and she remained in this house until her death at the age of 55. But what about those missing years?  The Dickinsons moved to a house about three blocks away. The house was roomy and the ladies were pleased that the kitchen had a great deal of light. There was a small orchard and a barn to keep their horse. A favorite feature for Emily (less popular with her family) is that the property abutted a cemetery.  Emily loved spending time there.

In fact, she’s buried there now.

I can’t visit the house because it has been turned into a gas station (really!)

But you know, it’s OK.  I know some of the essentials about the house from Emily’s letters and reminiscences of people who visited. But for most of the house I have the freedom to make it up!  And in the world of historical fiction, when you can get away with making something up – that’s a whole lot of fun.

If you’re interested in learning a bit about Nobody’s Secret, my fabulous publisher, Chronicle Books, built a trailer. You can find it on my website,

Thanks for having me Emily!

Thanks for stopping bye, Michaela! Check out the next stop for the tour at


  1. I really loved this post specially the house pictures. The Before and After is amazing, how you can travel trou the past helped by a photo

  2. I'm such a nerd for historical posts and places1 Thanks for sharing!

  3. Aw, what a shame the house was torn down only to be replaced by a gas station! This book sounds neat, I enjoy historical fiction! Thank you Emily and Michaela for the wonderful guest post!


I love all your comments, and it makes me so freakishly happy to get the alert that I have a new one, so thank you!

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