The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia
10 September 2008
Interview with debut author Amy MacKinnon
The heroine of Amy MacKinnon’s recently released Tethered: A Novel (Shaye Areheart Books/Random House) came to her three years ago, soon after Amy visited the body-preparation room of her uncle’s funeral parlor. Tethered’s undertaker heroine, Clara Marsh, is a loner who reluctantly comes out of her shell to befriend lonely little Trecie and to help the police solve the murder of the unidentified “Precious Doe.”
Amy, thank you for visiting my blog today, and congratulations on the release of Tethered and its being chosen a September pick for Borders’ Original Voices Program.
In my “books read” list, I labeled your book a mystery with magical realism. How would you classify it?
A great question, one I’ve been discussing with my friends lately. It was never intended as a mystery, thriller, horror, or anything other than a novel. I do like magical realism, however, so let’s go with that.
What was your favorite part of writing Tethered?
Please don't think me trite, but the very best part of all was the actual writing, the high I would get when I wrote a good section. And I loved when I was surprised by the direction the story would take, surprising even me. The flower theme and Clara’s garden were a luminous shock.
Ah, the flower theme! I really loved that. Was it hard to write about characters with such wounded souls?
Not at all. Though people are quick to read about the tortured in news accounts, in excruciating detail even, no one actually wants to hear from the victim. Too painful, I suppose. I wanted them to be heard, especially Precious Doe. She’s based on the real Precious Doe, Erica Michelle Marie Green, to whom the book is dedicated. Also, I needed to rewrite her ending, to know she was safe and loved.
Did your experience writing nonfiction for newspapers and radio help or hurt when you began writing a novel?
Any kind of writing will only help. It taught me to use an economy of words; to place the who, what, where, when, why up front; to work well with editors (very important!); and most especially to know that once words are committed to paper and printed, the impact—and all that goes with that—last a lifetime.
Your style is so beautiful that I kept stopping to reread paragraphs and savor them. How did you develop your style? What hints can you give my blog readers for writing beautiful sentences?
Shauna, that means a lot, thank you. My first novel, the one I submitted to 73 agents, with partials/fulls requested by 50, and rejected by all, was written in a style I thought I, an inexperienced novelist, should try: very straightforward. It fell flat. But I didn’t have an MFA, didn't major in literature, couldn’t get a short story published to save my life, I had no right to attempt beautiful language—or so I thought. One day I gave myself permission to write something I promised not to show anyone. I wrote the most gorgeous prose I was capable of; it freed me to aim higher. I put it away for a few months, then re-read it. It was startling to realize it was pretty good.
What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to aspiring authors?
I would absolutely not recommend my writing structure to anyone! Stephen King writes everyday and has a ten-page requirement. Julia Glass wrote Three Junes in fifteen-minute snatches, here and there while working and raising children. It is up to the writer to decide how badly s/he wants this life and what s/he’s prepared to do to make that happen.
Do you have any other advice for my readers who are working on their first novels?
Be bold. Never give up. Believe.
What are you working on next, and how are those books related to Tethered?
I'm working on another very dark story about both the best and worst of the human spirit. It too will have aspects of magical realism with the prominent theme being the search for faith.
Thank you again for visiting my blog to talk about Tethered.
Thanks so much for having me, Shauna. Can’t wait to return the favor.
Amy MacKinnon’s Website is at http://www.amymackinnon.com. She shares a blog, The Writers’ Group, with three writing friends at http://writersgroupblog.blogspot.com/.
Her book, Tethered, is available at Amazon.com, Borders.com, and Barnes & Noble.