Andover resident, Amy Makechnie, has signed a contract with Simon and Schuster to publish her novel, The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair. Makechnie has lived in Andover for about twenty years, having moved here with her husband Gregor who had accepted a teaching job at Proctor Academy following his college graduation. Makechnie grew up in Nebraska and then attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah where she met her husband. In addition to writing, she is the mother of four children, volunteer soccer coach, leader of the Young Women’s Organization at her church and teaches a class at Proctor Academy. She also is a nutrition specialist and works with the athletic teams at Proctor. She took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about the book and her writing.
SDF: Has writing a novel been a long-time goal of yours, or is it something that took root more recently?
AM: I’ve been writing quite seriously for the last ten years. My first novel was really just a glorified autobiography. I didn’t know how to write a book! I had never studied story structure, narrative arc, theme, how to plot, etc. There was a steep learning curve. After querying literary agents with no success, I realized I should either quit or write another novel. I wrote The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair.
SDF: Which came first, the idea for the story or the desire to write a novel?
AM: The idea always always comes first for me. Ideas are fun and exciting. Writing is much harder; the blank page is often torturous. I usually start by taking lots of notes on notecards and jotting down quotes and ideas in notebooks. This goes on for months. Some story ideas stick, some don’t. If the story won’t leave me alone, I finally sit down and start putting those notes in a document which becomes the bones of a novel.
The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair is based on the true events of a woman I knew who suffered a traumatic brain injury, leaving her unable to remember anything after the age of 13. I was fixated on the relationship between an incredibly patient husband and a wife, who could not remember him or their children. It was a story I could not let go of. I wrote a fictional story from the point of view of a child and what it might be like to be literally “forgotten.”
SDF: I know that you have written a lot in your personal blog and that you have had some articles published. What else have you written that you are proud of?
AM: My blog (maisymak.com) was a terrific exercise for me to practice writing on a regular basis and to get positive feedback that was relatively low stakes. It gave me the confidence to start submitting non-fiction articles and essays on-line, which was higher stakes. I LOVE writing about people, so in that sense, non-fiction is more natural and easier for me. One of my most treasured pieces is a eulogy I was asked to write and deliver. Life stories fascinate me. I have found that most lives can easily be spun into a fictional story, which is how all of my novels have started – inspiration from a real person or event.
SDF: Publishing has changed a lot in the last few years and it seems like traditional “book deals” are no longer the only option. Did you consider self publishing options or did you send the manuscript to multiple publishing houses in the traditional way?
AM: I have considered self-publishing, and I think it’s a terrific option. Many successful authors are making it without a big, traditional publishing house behind them – it’s fantastic! However, I wanted the advantage of a literary agent, editor, illustrator, and publishing team. I also wasn’t confident in my ability to market on a large scale. I have been querying literary agents for about eight years, learning much along the way. I have notebooks and email folders filled with dozens of rejections! At some point I stopped taking it so personally, realizing that it was a numbers game – the more queries I sent, the higher the chance of succeeding.
I wrote The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair in 2012. My lucky break came when Zoe Sandler of ICM Partners requested my full manuscript in April 2016. After speaking on the phone for 45 minutes, she offered representation. It was a thrilling moment. We worked on my manuscript for a few months before querying publishers. Every publisher said no except for one: Simon and Schuster. They made me an offer in Feb 2017. It was one of the happiest days of my life.
SDF: Tell us about your main character, Guinevere St. Clair. How did you choose her name and how did you decide on what her character would be.
AM: I knew a girl named Guinevere and I loved her name. Alas, the French last name doesn’t have significance. Guinevere also reminded me of the legendary Guinevere and King Arthur, which does come into play in this book.
SDF: What are you future plans? Are there more novels in the works or other writing?
AM: There are definitely more books! I have two completed and have one currently in-progress. Zoe Sandler and I will begin pitching to publishers again in January 2018.
SDF: Can you give a little history about yourself and how that may have influenced your writing.
AM: Although I have always enjoyed writing, I didn’t plan on becoming a writer. I’m grateful my path to publication was unconventional as I believe my life experiences have made me a better writer – they’ve given me more to write about! I graduated from college with a major in Health and Human Performance, and a minor in English.
I am a faculty member at Proctor Academy and teach one section of Anatomy & Physiology. My undergraduate degree taught me the basic anatomy of the brain, but my curiosity for Guinevere St. Clair’s fictional story led me to far more than I ever learned in a traditional school setting. Neuroscience research not only helped me write a better book, but has made me a better teacher in the classroom. I’m in no way a body or brain specialist, but I remain fascinated with how the brain can heal itself and the many things I still do not know or understand. I have found that every novel I write involves questions and themes revolving around the human body – I can’t help it! It is very fun and keeps me interested in the story. I’m convinced that not majoring in creative writing was one of the best things I did for my literary career (of course, that only meant I had to learn it later!)
The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair has a release date of June 12, 2018, but can be pre-ordered at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, BAM, and locally at the Morgan Hill Book Store in New London.