Amira K. Makansi is a winemaker-cum-writer, who spends her days sipping wine from barrels and crushing grapes during harvest, and her nights spinning new worlds into existence. After graduating from the University of Chicago in 2010 and narrowly dodging a career in law, she made it her mission to follow the wine path to the west coast of America to craft amazing wines. At the same time, she and her mother Kristy and sister Elena started writing a book together, which eventually became THE SOWING, the first book in the Seeds trilogy. Now, with the Seeds trilogy complete, she is looking forward to new projects. She divides her time between writing and winemaking, working the long hours of harvest in the fall and spending the rest of the year doing what she does best—bringing new stories to life.
Welcome, Amira. From the moment I met you, your passion for life, justice, and the literary world was evident. I remember thinking, I need to get to know her, and thinking not long after that, one day I need to interview her, so more folks can be introduced to that passion and that wisdom. So, here we are. When did it crystallize for you that you were going to be a writer, and was it a bolt of lighting epiphany, or more so a gradual actualization of your writerly DNA?
I think it was a very slow evolution. Like so many writers, I imagine, I was constantly writing when I was a kid. I wrote a thirty page Brian Jacques fanfiction about some ferocious bunnies living in the woods in green gel-pen (in cursive!) when I was nine. Two years later I graduated to Harry Potter fanfiction on a website called fanfiction.net. I had a fifty-page single-spaced, very character-driven story about Fawkes the phoenix. From the beginning, I was drawn to write. But during high school and college, a lot of that was squashed out of me. I didn’t have time to read books for pleasure, let alone write new ones. (Says something about the priorities of our educational system.) I forgot about writing entirely.
I still had the itch, though, and it came out in bursts of creative clarity. I got back into writing after graduation. I developed a story idea based on a dream I’d had years before, about a group of boys I knew growing up. That one may yet end up a novel one day. Then my mom got me hooked on this girl named Remy, and her romantic antagonist, who at the time we called Alex. Remy and Alex, too, were based on characters from a dream of hers. Elena and I wrote chapters alternating between Remy and Alex’s perspective, Kristy edited it, Alex eventually became Vale, and their story, tentatively titled Seeds, eventually became The Sowing. At some point along the road to publishing The Sowing in July of 2013, I realized that having written a book made me a writer, and I suppose that was the moment when I decided I liked that title and wanted to continue being a writer.
The story of how the Seeds Trilogy (and the terrific companion piece, The Prelude) came about is pretty cool—tell us about that, and what the series is about?
Sociologists and anthropologists will tell you that all stories can be boiled down to some remarkably small number of similar storylines. Seeds is, at its heart, a story of a girl and a boy growing up, confronting an evil world, and trying to change it for the better. The prologue to The Sowing sets the stage for the rest of the story—Remy Alexander’s older sister Tai is murdered in a classroom massacre. In the next chapter, we learn that this event drove the remaining Alexander family members to join the Resistance, a group of fighters working against the corrupt government at the heart of the Okarian Sector. Meanwhile, Valerian Orleán, who was just starting to fall in love with Remy when she fled, is searching for answers. The first book is about their inevitable collision, and the ripple effect of that collision.
The backdrop to all of this is a world in which the government has begun controlling people, changing their personalities, their identities, using chemically enriched food and genetically modified seeds. In the wake of devastating wars and climate change that changes agriculture as we know it today, food has become the world’s most precious resource. It’s meant to be a cautionary tale: this is what the world could look like, if we carry on too far down our current path.
What was it like writing, editing and publishing as a team, and are there future familial collaborations in store, or going your separate literary ways for now?
Writing as a team was incredible. We each brought different strengths to the table, and I think we were able to parlay those into a powerful combined voice. Whenever one of us was done writing a chapter, we had two built-in editors near at hand to tell us how great—or shitty—that first draft was. However, we are going our separate ways for now. K. Makansi was a great introduction into the world of publishing, and I don’t think we could have done it without support from each other. But we are all ready to tackle our own projects now.
I met you at a writer’s conference (and am forever grateful). What’s your take on those, and a little more broadly, what advice do you have for writers relative to building their platforms and engaging literary communities?
Budding writers and aspiring authors should take any and all opportunities they can afford to network, connect, bond, schmooze, and pal around with other writers. If you are a writer, other writers are your most important allies in the fight for publication, recognition, and book sales. If you are writing your first book, other writers will help you make that book better. If you are trying to publish a book, other writers will give you advice and tell you what to do and what not to do. If you are published and are trying to sell your book, other writers are the most powerful weapons in your arsenal for convincing readers to read your books. If you can afford to go to that writing conference in your hometown, do it. If you are a blogger, blog about writing, reading, and publishing, so that other writers will be engaged and share your posts. If you are an avid reader, read books by writers in your network, review them, and share those reviews with the world. You will make friends and allies everywhere, and these alliances will only help you all in the fight for literary success.
I think many, if not most fiction scribes—definitely myself among them—fantasize about seeing their work on the big screen. This dream may well become a reality for you. What can you tell us about that, and what else is next for you in your journey?
Thanks for asking! K. Makansi recently sold the option to adapt The Sowing into a screenplay for a film production to Big Picture Ranch in Ojai, California. Big Picture Ranch, composed of Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell, specializes in films that raise awareness, inspire change, and solidify new cultural ideas. Their films have been shortlisted for Oscars, won awards at Sundance and Cannes, and been picked as New York Times Critics’ Picks. We were incredibly excited about working with Josh and Rebecca because of how passionate they were about the project, and because, unlike many Hollywood producers who sit on the rights to produce a book without ever moving forward, they are truly committed to bringing The Sowing to the big screen. They just contacted us today to say they’re moving forward on the screenplay!
One more question, and it’s a touch personal. Not only has it been my good fortune that you have become one of my most treasured friends, but it’s moved my heart witness the bond you and my young daughter Rachel have built through these last few years. You inspire her as a woman, author, and friend (and she likewise for you, you’ve shared). Your journey—despite your remarkable early success—is like Rachel’s still nascent (which is amazing to think about): when long from now all’s said and done, what would you like your legacy to be?
I want to inspire the next generation of writers, just like Brian Jacques and J.K. Rowling did for me fifteen years ago. I want kids to write fanfiction of my books, based on my characters, until they are mature and developed enough to create their own worlds, their own stories, their own characters. I want people to read my stories and feel utterly compelled to create their own. It blew my mind when K. Makansi got our first piece of fan mail about The Sowing. But I’ll probably cry if a kid ever sends me a story written in gel pen he or she wrote based on my characters. The day someone tells me she was inspired to write because of me—that’ll be the day I sit back and rest on my laurels.