Issue 037 Author Interview: Amanda McGee and “At Love’s Heart”

Another Tuesday, another Issue 037 author interview! Today we have the pleasure of featuring author Amanda McGee and her short story “At Love’s Heart.”

LSQ: Your story is rife with amazing visuals, from the frigid sea to the icy tundra. Just reading all of it made me feel cold! But it wasn’t mired in description, either. How do you find the balance between too much and too little description?
Amanda: I actually consider settings in stories to be one of my weak points, so I’m really glad to hear that you felt this one! Working in short stories more has allowed me to really drill down on sensation in setting by being very slow and deliberate in my descriptions and visuals. It usually takes me a lot longer to write three thousand words of a short story than it does to write the same amount of a novel. I often read back over what is written every time I return to the text and tweak the language, which I don’t let myself do for novel or novella-length works.
For Bronne’s world I spent a lot of time just trying to visualize the landscape in my head. Pinterest certainly didn’t hurt! I also took a lot of winter walks, which I enjoy doing anyway, especially when there’s snow on the ground. There’s something really lovely about being cold when there’s no expectation to be warm. It’s very peaceful.
LSQ: Bronne’s transformation throughout the story is subtle, yet striking. How did you get the idea for a woman slowly becoming part of the ice?
​Amanda: I actually wrote another story before this one that is set in the same world many years later. Bronne features in that one as well, though not by name. I found myself really interested to learn how she came to be in the place she found herself, and telling her backstory turned into something far more poignant and heart-wrenching to me than the original tale. I do still enjoy that story though, and I hope it finds a home someday.
My inspiration for the original story was actually a little bit based on George R.R. Martin’s The Ice Dragon, which is a short novella he published a few years ago that featured a little girl immune to cold who rode on the back of a dragon that could freeze things with its breath. In the end it became a very different story, as these things do.

LSQ: Despite the frozen motif, your story has a surprising amount of warmth to it brought by the characters’ love. Do you have any advice on writing about this abstract concept?

​Amanda: One of the challenges of writing a story when you know the ending you have to get to is that it can be hard to give the characters volition and to make the reader feel for them and to feel their emotions. I wanted this story to be about making hard choices, and loss, and mostly gentleness.
I can say that, for a short story especially, if I read over the story myself as the writer and don’t feel at least a little echo of the emotions I intended to evoke, then I feel that I have failed. If I can make myself cry, or laugh, or feel love, then that is the first hurdle. This obviously makes editing hard sometimes!
Writing any emotion is tricky but love is especially tricky because we don’t always realize it is there. It’s a very quiet emotion that you have to stop and listen to when other, louder feelings are banging the drums. It is the genesis of many of those louder feelings. So I think that is probably the best advice I can give when thinking about writing it – pay attention to those louder feelings, but walk them back to find the core of what has motivated your character to feel that way. It’s good advice for life, too, I think.
LSQ: What was your favorite part about writing this story?
​Amanda: I think my favorite part of writing the story was all of the colors that it turns out ice can be. It’s really very beautiful. Otherwise, I actually discovery-wrote a lot of this. I knew I needed Bronne to get to where she was going, but I didn’t know how she would grow on the journey. Her relationships and the people she touched – a lot of it was a surprise for me, but in the best way.
LSQ: Are you working on anything else at the moment? If so, can you tell us a bit about your other projects?
Amanda: ​I am working on so many things! Right now I’m actually revising a serial novella I plan to publish through my Patreon over the next year. It’s a modern-day Bluebeard retelling set in Vermont. A little dark, but I really enjoyed writing it.
I also am working on two novels simultaneously because I am a glutton for punishment. One is a science fiction story with flooded cities, soaring towers of glass, and one very unlucky thief. The other is an urban fantasy with murders, what I suspect are probably demons, and an unwise romance. We’ll see how they go! I would have much rather just picked one, but both of them keep knocking around in my brain so I’ve given in.