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Half Spent Was the Night

In The Witches of New York by ami

Cover design by the amazing Kelly Hill.

So I’ve written a little tale that will appear mid-October (because a certain magical raven didn’t want to stop talking, even when I repeatedly told him I had a different book to write.) “I have unfinished business,” he said. “Can’t it wait?” I asked. “No,” he insisted.

I don’t want to give too much away, but as you can see from the beautiful cover art, the Witches of New York are back, along with Perdu in a Yuletide story that to me sits somewhere between A Christmas Carol and a Dr. Who Christmas special. I’ve always adored short stories that take place during the holiday season—tales of ghosts and magic and time gone wild Between the Years.

The title is actually a line from a carol that was first printed in 1599, “Lo, How a Rose e’er Blooming.”  The story itself contains several nods to Victorian tales and fairytales, as well as winter traditions and folklore I hold dear.

There’s also a masquerade ball…

and a scheming demon…

and an intriguing stranger

…and even a pair of recipes from my family tree. The proof pages arrived on my doorstep a little over a week ago and I was completely wowed (as always) by Kelly Hill’s interior design. I swear after all these years of working together, she’s learned to read my mind!

Some of the design elements from Half Spent Was the Night.

As I mentioned above, the tale came as a bit of a surprise. Long story short, I won’t be traveling much (if at all) with it because I need to keep at a book I’ve been working on for the last while—my first work of non-fiction, something I call a “genetic memoir.” I promise I’ll tell you more about it, soon.

For now, I’ll leave you with the publisher’s description of Half Spent Was the Night. If you’re in Canada, it’s already available for pre-order via my publisher’s website (see link below.) If you’re in the States and elsewhere, I’ll have an update on how and where to order it in the next few weeks!

From the publisher:

During the nights between Christmas and New Year’s, the witches of New York–Adelaide Thom, Eleanor St. Clair and the youngest, Beatrice Dunn–gather before the fire to tell ghost stories and perform traditional Yuletide divinations. (Did you know that roasting chestnuts was once used to foretell one’s fate?)
     As the witches roast chestnuts and melt lead to see the future, a series of odd messengers land on their doorstep bearing invitations for a New Year’s Eve masquerade hosted by a woman they’ve never met. Gossip, dreams and portents follow, leading the witches to question the woman’s motives. Is she as benevolent as she seems or is she laying a trap? And so, as Gilded-Age New York prepares to ring in the new year, the witches don their finery and head for the ball, on the hunt for answers that might well be the end of them.

Pre-order: Half Spent Was the Night

(The trio of vintage images above are from the following sources: La Mode circa 1882; The Violet Fairy Book, illustration by Henry Justice Ford; Sigmund and the Witch Woman, illustration by Harry Clarke.)

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Reading Guide for Witches

In The Witches of New York by ami

witches, asylums, flower-lore, and a 19th century handbook for women’s rights…

The discussion questions posted below are for use by book clubs and individual readers alike. (SPOILER ALERT – the discussion questions focus on various characters, themes and plot points of the novel, The Witches of New York. If you haven’t read the book and don’t wish to have anything revealed ahead of time…don’t read past this point.)

Description of the Novel:

From the publishers:
In the vein of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, comes a new novel from historical fiction maven Ami McKay that transports readers to the heart of Victorian New York, where three witches practice their craft—to the delight of some—but at their own peril.

Respectable Lady Seeks Dependable Shop Girl. Those averse to magic need not apply.

The year is 1880 and New York is fast becoming the “city of wonders.” Telegraph lines crisscross Manhattan, elevated trains race above the streets, the Brooklyn Bridge is nearing completion, and work is underway to fit Broadway with electric lights. As enterprising men chase after their ambitions, the ladies of Manhattan’s high society pursue their dreams by enlisting the help of two women who run a teashop near Madison Square. Two hundred years after the trials in Salem, the pair dares to declare themselves witches.

Enter Adelaide Thom and Eleanor St. Clair. At their humble teashop, Tea and Sympathy, they provide a place for whispered confessions, secret cures, and spiritual assignations for a select society of ladies, who speak the right words and ask the right questions. But the profile of Tea and Sympathy is about to change with the fortuitous arrival of Beatrice Dunn.

When seventeen-year-old Beatrice leaves the safety of her village to answer an ad that reads “Respectable Lady Seeks Dependable Shop Girl. Those averse to magic need not apply,” she has little inclination of what the job will demand of her. Beatrice doesn’t know it yet, but she is no ordinary small-town girl; she has astounding spiritual gifts—ones that will serve as her greatest asset and also place her in grave danger. Under the tutelage of Adelaide and Eleanor, Beatrice comes to harness many of her powers, but not even they can prepare her for the evils lurking in the darkest corners of the city or the courage it will take to face them. In a time when women were corseted, confined and committed for merely speaking their minds, were any of them safe?


Reading Group Questions for The Witches of New York:

1. How do the female characters in the novel, (Beatrice, Adelaide, Eleanor, Judith Dashley, Marietta Stevens, Georgina Davis, and Aunt Lydia) break with the traditional roles of women in the 19th century? Which of them do you identify with, and why?

2. Women who choose to live outside the norms of society have historically been ostracized and condemned for their actions. The novel touches on some of punishments inflicted on women who dared to be different, such as witch trials, executions, and being put in mental asylums against their will. Do you see any parallels with how women are viewed today? What sorts of judgements and punishments do women experience for being considered outside the norm (for being different, powerful, outspoken, “witchy” etc.)?

3. The witches in the novel (Adelaide, Beatrice and Eleanor) all believe in and practice various forms of “witchcraft” rooted in women’s wisdom—herbalism, divination, ritual magic, superstition etc. Are there any traditions, from your family and/or your culture that others might interpret as “witchery”? What place, if any, do these traditions hold in modern society?

4. The meaning of the word “witch” has changed over time and has been through multiple interpretations in literature, media and society. What does the word mean today? What might explain the current trend of women reclaiming it as part of the larger trend towards feminist activism?

5. Moth from The Virgin Cure is now Adelaide in The Witches of New York. In what ways has she changed? In what ways has she stayed the same?

6. The worlds of magic, science, fantasy and reality collide within the pages of the novel. Both Beatrice Dunn and Dr. Quinn Brody seek to make sense of things that can’t be explained. How are they alike or different in their journeys? Have you ever experienced something paranormal that can’t be explained?

7. The secondary characters in the novel include ghosts, fairies, a demon, and a talking raven. Perdu says on a number of occasions that he is no bird. Who or what do you think he is? (The answer can be found in the “additional reading” links at the end of this post.)


Additional resources and reading: 

When it pains you not to speak.  (An essay on the origin of the word “witch” and what it means today.)

Ravens and Riddles (A journal entry about the inspiration behind Perdu, and the secret behind who he really is.)

Toronto Star review of The Witches of New York

Starred review of The Witches of New York from Kirkus

Interview with Shelagh Rogers on CBC radio’s The Next Chapter

Archive of all my journal entries pertaining to Witches.

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HalCon 2017

In The Witches of New York, the writing life, Witchy Wednesday by ami

So excited for Hal-Con!

I’ll be ushering in autumn this year by attending Hal-Con…as an author! In years past, I’ve gone to “the biggest, geekiest sci-fi convention in Atlantic Canada” with my family and had a total blast, so I’m SUPER excited to be one of this year’s featured authors.

Of course I also have a ton of burning questions…Which Kiki’s Delivery Service t-shirt do I wear? How do I keep my cool while fan-girling over Tamora Pierce? What’s my limit when it comes to buying new D&D dice? Hopefully I’ll get that all figured out before I go.

If you’re headed to Hal-Con, I’d love to see you at one of the three panels I’m on, and/or during one of my signing times. Here’s my schedule for the Con… (and I may also try to add a time when anyone sporting witchy cosplay can meet at my author table for a group photo!)

Friday, September 22 —3pm

“Writing Historically” – a panel with Steven Erikson, Tamora Pierce and Ami McKay

Fantasy can take many forms in many universes, including our own.  Our panel will talk about how to create believable fiction in any time period.

Friday September 22 —4:15-5-15

Signing at Author table B9 (I’ll have my magic cauldron with me…so drop by and get your bookish fortune!)

Saturday September 23 — 3pm

“The Creative Process” – a panel with Alexander Freed, Conor McCreery and Ami McKay

Being creative can mean different things to different people.  It’s a journey that varies for every artist from every medium.  And…it’s a journey that our panelists will be sharing their own perpectives on!

Saturday September 23 — 4:30-5:30

Signing at Author table B9 (I’ll have my magic cauldron with me…so drop by and get your bookish fortune!)

Sunday, September 24 — 2:45 pm

“Witchcraft: From History to Fiction”

Witches have been a cause of fear and fascination for centuries.  In the past they filtered into nightmares and caused the death of dozens of innocent women.  More recently, they have taken a role in fantasy and fiction as strong portrayals of these female characters.

Please join Professor Kathryn Morris and Author Ami McKay as they talk the fact and fiction behind witches.

Sunday, September 24 — 4:30-5:30

Signing at Author table B9 (I’ll have my magic cauldron with me…so drop by and get your bookish fortune!)

This gorgeous witchy keepsake box and Tarot card set will be up for auction at Hal-Con.

Each year at Hal-Con they hold a charity auction in support of IWK and Kids Help Phone. For my contribution to this year’s auction, the amazing Ian McKay has designed and crafted a gorgeous keepsake box to accompany a witchy Tarot set that includes: the Robin Wood Tarot, “Grimoire” – an enchanting fragrance created by BARRE studios for The Witches of New York, signed copies of The Virgin Cure and The Witches of New York, and some delicious witchy tea!

See you at Hal-Con 2017!!

Hal-Con 2013, when youngest boy-o was still shorter than me…