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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…


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tea and sympathy

In Nothing Less!, The Birth House, The Witches of New York, Uncategorized, Witchy Wednesday by ami

morning light on teacups.

In certain circles in the 19th century, drinking tea was considered a dangerous habit. More specifically, working class women were discouraged from engaging in the practice because if they were taking time from their daily chores to congregate around a pot of tea, it could only mean that they were up to no good. In short: “Sipping tea was once thought of as a reckless, suspicious act, linked to revolutionary feminism.” (Alison Aubrey, for

No wonder I love it so! 

reading the leaves

My love affair with tea began in my early 20’s. Up to that point, I hadn’t given it much thought. It had been an occasional treat in my childhood home, mostly in the summer, when my mom would get out her sun-tea jar and brew up a batch to be served iced and sweet.

The summer I started grad school, everything changed. One afternoon, after weeks of drought, a thunderstorm cut loose and provided a heavy, welcome rain. My roommate Dawn and I were sitting on the front porch of our house watching the deluge come down when I told her, “I bet I could wash my hair in that rain.” She laughed and replied, “I’d like to see you try!” After lathering up, I leaned over the porch railing and started to rinse my hair. For a finale, I danced in the puddles on the sidewalk in front of the house and shook my curls clear of any remaining suds.

As I was towelling off, a knock came at the door. It was the woman who lived two houses down…a woman we knew very little about, except that she had a beautiful set of wind chimes on her front porch and a large back lot surrounded by a tall, solid wooden fence. (There was no way to see through it. We’d tried. )

“Hello,” the woman said, staring at me. “I was watching you. I saw what you did.” I looked to Dawn and she looked at me, both of us worried that our neighbour was there to complain about my raucous, weird behaviour. Instead, she gave me a warm smile and said, “I was wondering if you’d like to come to my house for tea.”

William McGregor Paxton, “Tea Leaves” 1909

Tea at Brenda’s.

I said yes, and soon discovered that my neighbour Brenda, was a witch. She used the word proudly and freely, and it suited her in the best possible sense. Her home was filled with all that you’d expect (pitted antique mirrors, crystal balls, tarot cards, owl wings…the list goes on.) And her back yard? A walled garden, lush with flowers and herbs, all grown in the service of healing and magic.

I started going to her house once a week, sometimes with Dawn, sometimes without, sometimes to meet other women who were part of Brenda’s circle. Tea was always the central focus of our visits—tea for stimulating the mind, for nourishing the body, for soothing the soul, for guiding the spirits, for telling the future, for conjuring dreams. It’s played an important part in my life ever since.

tasseography – the art of using tea leaves for divination.


“We had a kettle; we let it leak:
Our not repairing made it worse.
We haven’t had any tea for a week…
The bottom is out of the Universe.”

It stands to reason that tea would find its way into my writing. In The Birth House, midwife Marie Babineau brews tea on several occasions (medicinal and otherwise) and peers into women’s tea cups to “see what’s in store.” In The Witches of New York, witches Eleanor St. Clair and Adelaide Thom run a tea shop called “Tea and Sympathy” where women congregate to share their secrets and have their troubles solved. The rituals and superstitions surrounding tea are observed and noted throughout the novel: Two spoons placed on the same saucer mean a wedding will soon follow; two women pouring from the same pot means one will soon carry a child; tea spilled from the spout of a carried pot means a secret will soon be revealed; tea stirred while in the pot will surely stir up a quarrel. In once scene, teatime brings forth the spirit of a lost child. In another, tea fosters prophetic dreams.

In the play, “Nothing Less!” tea is served at a local suffragist meeting alongside plans for political rebellion. The intrepid band of female activists exchange information, ideas and aspirations all while sipping Red Rose and having their tea leaves read.

In my mind, tea and feminism go hand in hand. Grandmother’s teacups aren’t stuffy relics that should easily be dismissed. Great movements have been borne of teatimes past. Radical thought and blessed magic, too.

If we are to persist, my darlings…perhaps we need more tea. 




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a perfect day

In Nothing Less!, the writing life, Uncategorized by ami

Remembering my grandmother and my musical roots.

Opening night for Two Planks and a Passion Theatre’s 2017 season was absolutely glorious! The weather was perfect for both shows — Nothing Less! set on a hill overlooking the beautiful Nova Scotia landscape;  A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed around a roaring campfire, the Bard’s words rising up with a near-full moon.

I only wish my grandmother had been there to see it.

We all have those moments—at weddings or the birth of a child; or during a spectacular sunset; or even upon pulling a loaf of bread, perfectly browned from the oven — when we wish more than anything that a special someone who has passed on was standing next to us. My Grandma Bartz has been gone since I was sixteen, but I’ve felt the echoes of her influence in my life throughout the writing and rehearsal process for Nothing Less! I’m sure she would have loved it.

My grandmother, Elsie Irene, c. 1918

Nothing Less! was inspired, in part by my grandmother’s life on her family’s farm in the early 1900’s. She and her siblings helped run the Stewart farm in Michigan’s Shiawassee River Valley through good times and bad, growing everything from sugar beets to spearmint (the later for Mr. Wrigley’s chewing gum.)

Plotting in the hayloft…

Elsie Irene was born in 1894, and was in her early twenties during WWI. She and her sisters were a lively bunch, giving their brothers a run for their money when it came to both smarts and strength. She was a firm believer in women’s independence and in getting the vote. She was also an accomplished pianist, and even left the small town of Owosso, MI for a brief time to study at the Chicago Conservatory of Music. Not long after she met my grandfather at a picnic auction, they married and she gave up her musical aspirations.

Throughout my childhood she encouraged me to stick with my music lessons. For much of my youth, she lived in an apartment in Lansing, MI, so I only saw her during summer vacation. The rest of the year she was my pen pal, writing to ask how I was fairing in school and “at the piano.” When I’d complain about the drudgery of practising scales, she’d reassure me that it would all be worth it.

Great Aunt Florence, wielding an ax.

When I was in my early teens and she was nearly ninety, she came to live with us for a short while. Dementia was slowly pulling at her mind, but she enjoyed sitting and listening to me practice. My piano teacher lent me some old hymnals and a few Reader’s Digest songbooks with popular songs from the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s so I could play and sing the music of my grandmother’s youth. We’d hold little sing-a-longs, just the two of us in the living room, and when we were done she’d make me promise that I’d never give up music.

It was a powerful thing to have such an ally when it came to my artistic pursuits, especially from an early age. It made made me feel as if I had full licence to follow my dreams. So it was no surprise to anyone in my family when I went on to study music in university and later became a full-time musician, conductor and teacher.

The Stewart Family c. 1918.

When I moved to Nova Scotia, I broke my promise to my grandmother. After a brief stint of playing harp at a nursing home as a volunteer, and a few coffeeshop gigs here and there, I largely stopped making music. A number of tragedies had piled up in my life that were connected to my musicianship, and I just couldn’t go on with it. Writing became my path to healing, and then an occupation. I wasn’t sure I’d ever return to my musical roots again.

Fifteen years and three novels later, I’m finally back at it. I’ve spent the last several months writing, composing, arranging, singing and conducting my way through Nothing Less! and every minute has felt like a homecoming; the two halves of my artistic life—music and writing—now made into a whole.

Thanks dear Elsie Irene, (dancing out there between the moon and stars,) for everything.

Behind-the-scenes at Nothing Less with my Two Planks family! (costumes by Jennifer Goodman, photo by Chris O’Neill )

A Perfect Day, by Carrie Jacobs Bond, 1909. (from my grandmother’s music collection)

When you come to the end of a perfect day, and you sit alone with your thought,

While the chimes ring out with a carol gay for the joy the day has brought.

Do you think what the end of a perfect day, can mean to a tired heart?

When the sun goes down with a flaming ray and the dear friends have to part? 

Well this is the end of a perfect day, near the end of a journey too;

But it leaves a thought that is big and strong, with a wish that is kind and true.

For memory has painted this perfect day with colours that never fade,

And we find at the end of a perfect day, the soul of a friend we’ve made. 


Nothing Less! runs until August 19th at the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts. For tickets, visit:

Two Planks and a Passion Theatre. 

Read a review of this year’s productions: 

“Land, Fire, and Theatre make for a Thrilling Experience at the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts”