Sunday, October 30, 2011

Out-of-Town-Authors: Ami McKay

O (for Oprah) CANADA
Talk show host played role in birth of writing career

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
by: Ariel Gordon

Nova Scotia-based writer Ami McKay is originally from Indiana. Two things made her a Canadian writer.

One, she wrote Oprah Winfrey a thank you letter, which resulted in an appearance on the talk-show host's program.

Two, she met and married a Canadian. During her wait for residency papers, McKay wrote The Birth House (2006), which would go on to become a Canadian bestseller and a favourite of book clubs.

McKay followed up on that success with the play Jerome: The Historical Spectacle (2008), which was staged in Nova Scotia and then published by Gaspereau Press.

McKay will read from her just-released second novel, The Virgin Cure, Tuesday at McNally Robinson Booksellers.

1) As a writer (i.e. someone whose artistic practice is predicated on time spent alone) how do you approach performance? What do you get out of it?

I suppose reading in public is a kind of performance, isn't it? Having been a music major in university, the word performance generally conjures up memories of voice recitals, orchestra concerts or musical theatre productions. I suffered from terrible stage fright back then -- dry mouth, sweaty palms, a pounding heart, the works. Thankfully, readings tend to be more relaxed affairs for me. I think of it as an opportunity to share the stories I saved up while I was alone, writing. It's a chance to share a few secrets and dreams, and if I'm lucky, and the conversation really gets humming, I'll get to hear a few secrets from the audience as well.

2) What do you want people to know about The Virgin Cure?

Although it's a story set in Victorian New York, the issues that sit at the heart of the novel are things we still struggle with in the present. Moth, the narrator and protagonist, could just as easily be a girl I saw standing on a street corner last week, or the at-risk teen who just ran away from home.

3) Will this be your first time in Winnipeg? What have you heard?

I was in Winnipeg for half a day a few years back, certainly not long enough to get to know the city. I've heard wonderful things about the arts scene here, especially when it comes to theatre and music. I'd love to spend at least a week wandering around and taking it all in. Maybe I'll come back in the summer. I hear the lightning storms are wickedly beautiful.

4) What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?

I'm reading a fabulous, not yet released novel called The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak. It's set in the earliest days of Catherine the Great and it's got me hooked.

I've been making notes for my next novel, The Witches of New York. It shares a few characters from The Virgin Cure but isn't a sequel in the traditional sense.

5) The Birth House was inspired, in part, by your house in Nova Scotia. The Virgin Cure is based, in part, on the life of your great-great grandmother, a New York-based doctor. Tell me a bit about the process of fictionalizing these real-life sites/people.

In both cases I found early on in my writing that truth really is stranger than fiction. Sifting through personal histories and archives, I stumbled upon many accounts of events that seemed so wild or incredible that I knew I couldn't have imagined them if I tried. The temptation, of course, is to pepper the narrative with every last one of those juicy tidbits. I had to learn to refrain from including things that didn't enhance or further the plot. I think (and hope) I'm getting better at only weaving what's necessary into the story and leaving the rest for another tale.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.

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