Although not native to the Maritimes, author Ami McKay ‘s novels grow out of that rich storytelling tradition affiliated with East coast writers. McKay is a young writer who came out of the starting gate just a few years ago with a burst energy and a soft fresh voice. Her first novels, The Birth House and The Virgin Cure, were blockbusters. McKay’ s next book The Witches of New York is a work in progress. On a short road trip down the TransCanada highway I informally questioned Ami McKay about her writing process.
ES: Some artists say the urge to create starts in their head; others say it starts in their heart. Where does the process start for you?
AM: The heart. It has to. Things that start in my head tend to fade away too quickly. Writing a novel is building a world. I find my novels by putting myself in the way of people’s stories and having the patience to listen and let the story take form. My infatuation with storytelling began sitting at the kitchen table listening to family history. This may seem mundane but it was there I learned how to let a story resonate.
ES: Do you ever find it necessary to move from your heart to your head?
AM: Yes, during the research part because that has to be methodically lined up. It is important with historical fiction. I am often relying on the good will of busy people who hold the archival material; it is only right to arrive prepared. When writing The Virgin Cure, the records of my great grandmother were in the private library of a well-known and very busy New York surgeon. Also, absorbing archival material is a head trip. I came to understand how overcrowded lower Manhattan was by studying the census of the period.
ES: Would you walk us through you’re actual writing program?
AM: My program is very prescribed. First I write in longhand making notes and doodles in the margins.
ES: Writing long hand is time consuming.
AM: With a computer it is too easy to delete. The process is too fast to let the story unfold. It can create a false reality.
ES: What happens next?
AM: The next layer is typing the notes into a computer. I use it to delete, print, then hand write over the notes. I am trained as a musician. I play the French horn, the harp and the piano. I use the computer screen to reveal patterns; like using the same word too often, the lengths of my paragraphs and looking for rhythms. It is like studying music scores.
ES: The renowned twentieth century German artist Joseph Beuys said creativity is not selective; everyone is creative. What does being creative mean to you, Ami?
AM: To allow ourselves to play in the most basic and pure form, like we engaged in as children. Imagination is in our head. It can be extended into our physical space.
ES: Do you set goals?
AM: To write what I want to read.
ES: If you had one piece of advice to give to a young writer what would it be?
AM: Inspiration comes if you show up for it regularly every day. Lightening doesn’t strike.
Ami McKay’s next book The Witches of New York is sort of a sequel to The Virgin Cure. Once again it takes place in nineteenth century New York, includes a character from her last novel and is rooted in Mckay’s family history. It’s too soon to talk details about The Witches of New York.
For updates on McKay and her work go to: www.amimckay.com
Elaine Steinberg is an advisor on the board of Sunday@6mag. Her varied experience in the visual arts accounts for her interest in exploring creativity.