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Ami McKay: ‘The minute the process fails to excite me, I’m done’

Handout photo of Ami McKay.

Ami McKay, who lives in Nova Scotia, is the author of two previous novels, both of which were national bestsellers: 2006's The Birth House, which was a finalist for Canada Reads, and 2011's The Virgin Cure. Her third novel, The Witches of New York, continues the story of Moth, the heroine of The Virgin Cure, who is now running a tea shop with a most peculiar partner. It was recently published by Knopf Canada.

Why did you write your new book?

I began writing it because I couldn't stop daydreaming about the protagonist from my previous novel. She had another story to tell, replete with witches and ghosts. I finished writing it because halfway through, I discovered there were "witches" in my family tree, including my nine times great aunt, Mary Ayer Parker who was hanged at Gallows Hill during the Salem witch trials.

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Which books have you reread most in your life?

The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

Who's your favourite villain in literature?

Mrs. Danvers from Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. She's deliciously evil and skillfully written. Gloomy, manipulative, spiteful and wicked, it's easy to hate her and yet I want to know more about her. Tall, gaunt and dressed in black, she looms around every corner of Manderley waiting to whisper terrible things to the second Mrs. de Winter. "Why don't you go? We none of us want you. He doesn't want you, he never did. He can't forget her. He wants to be alone in the house again, with her. It's you that ought to be lying there in the church crypt, not her. It's you who ought to be dead, not Mrs. de Winter."

What scares you as a writer?

That I'll get bored with the work. I keep a notebook filled with story ideas (plots, characters, odd scraps of news) most of which require a fair bit of research and time to turn them into novels. But what if every story I choose to chase falls flat? The minute the process fails to excite me, I'm done.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

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"Don't wait to start speaking your mind." Heaven bless my mother for giving me that bold advice when I was still in my teens. No one's going to show up on your doorstep the minute you turn 20, 30, 40, 50 or 110 to wave a magic wand and say, "Today's the day to start telling the world what you think." It's excellent advice, especially for young women, writers and witches.

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