Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Ami McKay on surprising endings, witchy soundtracks and board-game solace

The author of The Witches of New York answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Ami McKay is the author of the novel The Witches of New York. (

Be they midwives or witches, if you're in an Ami McKay novel, you know the sisters are doin' it for themselves. In her latest, The Witches of New York, the author of the acclaimed historical novel The Birth House imagines a sisterhood of what some may call "nasty women," two centuries post-Salem. 

Below, Ami McKay answers eight questions submitted by eight of her fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.

1. Susan Juby asks, "What gets you through the inevitable hard parts of writing a book?"

Playing board games, eating popcorn and drinking copious amounts of tea. Also, clicking my heels together three times and saying "no writing is wasted, no writing is wasted, no writing is wasted." 

2. Kate Pullinger asks, "What relationship does your writing have to your own childhood, both in terms of where you grew up as well as whether or not you were a happy child?"

Everything and nothing. Everything: because I always had a great deal of encouragement from my family when it came to pursuing even the most fanciful ideas. Our dinner table conversations were wide-ranging, free-flowing, occasionally rowdy and often epic. It was a safe place to be my weird, geeky self. Nothing: because I haven't set any of my stories or novels in the landscape of my childhood (yet). 

3. Cathy Marie Buchanan asks, "Do you know how your story will end when you begin writing?" 

I start out thinking I know where I'd like to end, but then I'll find I'm wrong, every time. You'd think I'd learn, and stop trying to figure it out from the start, but at this point, I'm starting to think miscalculating endings is part of my process. Call me superstitious, but I'm not sure what would happen if I didn't initially plot an ending that was destined to fail. 

4. George Bowering asks, "If someone publishes a book you had not finished writing at your death, is that okay?" 

No. I'm not keen on the idea of an unfinished work being published "as is." That said, the thought of an intended posthumous publication/collaboration greatly interests me. For instance, if I were writing something and I knew I wouldn't be around to finish it, I might well try to find a writing partner to take up what remained of it after I passed. It would have to be a collaborative effort though, where said partner felt free to bring his or her own voice to the work. 

5. Russell Smith asks, "What is the musical soundtrack to your latest book?" 

Kate Bush, Kate Bush and more Kate Bush. Her voice is the perfect blend of witchy, femme and fierce. 

6. Kenneth Oppel asks, "Would you ghostwrite a trashy book if you were offered enough?" 

Define "trashy." Every stream of writing, every genre, every type of story has its tropes, parameters and expectations. If this so-called "trashy" book is unlike anything I've ever written, then I'm sure I'd have a lot to learn. If the people involved were competent and keen, the subject matter turned my crank and I thought I could do an honest job of it, then sure, why not? 

7. Lori Lansens asks, "If you could have dinner with one of your literary heroes, living or dead, who would it be? Where would you eat? What, besides books, would you talk about?" 

Edith Wharton. As a gesture of appreciation for the New York she so brilliantly depicted in her novels, I'd take her to a part of the city she seldom, if ever, saw. We'd go to Katz's Deli on the Lower East Side to slurp chocolate egg creams and matzo soup, order a couple of pastramis on rye and a plate of pickles (both kinds, sour and new). We wouldn't even need to talk. There'd be too much eavesdropping and people-watching to do.

8. Shani Mootoo asks, "How do your closest family members treat you, you the published — hopefully famous — author?" 

Same as always, like the goofy geeky weirdo that I am.