WELCOME to the Rave Reviews Book Club’s BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOK & BLOG BLOCK PARTY at Lily Iona MacKenzie’s blog for writers and readers. You can find me wandering the streets of the San Francisco Bay Area.
I’m offering two lovely book bags whose value is $15 and an autographed copy of my poetry collection All This.
Thanks to Jane Davis who published the following interview on her site: http://jane-davis.co.uk/2016/07/06/virtual-book-club-2/.
Q: Please tell us how you came to be a writer.
I don’t think I had any choice. Writing is as necessary to me as eating, and if I don’t write each day, I become irritable and unpleasant to live with. Ask my husband!
When I was thirteen, I started keeping a diary that I wrote in a coded language I invented so anyone who read it wouldn’t be able to enter my world. I have no idea what happened to that first attempt to keep a journal, but I’m sure it was my writing self trying to emerge. That part of me was buried though, along with the diary, until my mid-twenties when I experienced a deep depression. At that time, I started keeping a journal again. I also went into therapy, the first step in recovering my writing self.
The journal writing was my attempt to understand what was happening. I wrote daily not only about what I was thinking and feeling, but I also recorded my nightly dreams. I’ve continued this practice ever since, learning much about myself in the process. I feel that keeping in close contact with my dreams has fed my writing and enriched my imagination. At this time, I also started exploring the craft of writing, entering an undergraduate creative writing program.
Q: One of the main protagonists in your novel Fling!, released in 2015, is Bubbles. What words best describe her?
At 90, Bubbles is still feisty, curious, adventurous, lustful, fun loving, risk taking, and determined to live life on her terms.
Q: Where is the book set and how did you decide on its setting?
Fling! starts in Canada where the two main characters, 57 year-old Feather and her 90 year-old mother Bubbles, start their journey to Mexico. On the way , they stop in the San Francisco Bay Area, and segments of the book also take place in Scotland and return to Canada at times. But the book’s heart is in Mexico.
These settings were determined by the characters and where they were born. Bubbles is from Portree, Isle of Skye, but moved to Canada when she was 15. Feather was born in Canada, but moved to California when she was 23. The two women end up in Mexico because Bubbles’ mother Heather had died in Mexico City in the early 1920s. The Mexico City dead letter office has sent Bubbles a letter asking her to claim her mother’s ashes that were left there 70 years earlier. The dead letter office can’t send the ashes in the mail “for health reasons.” That letter sets off Feather and Bubbles on their quest.
Q: At what point in writing the book did you come up with its title?
The original title of the book, which it had from the beginning, was A Highland Fling. However, after revising the manuscript, I realized that A Highland Fling was too limiting, suggesting that all of the action takes place in Scotland. In reality, these women are more motivated by various definitions of fling: a brief period of indulging one’s impulses; a usually brief attempt or effort; or a brief sexual or romantic relationship. A Scottish dance has only a brief mention in the book. Hence Fling!
Q: Was your novel inspired by any real life events? And, if so, how do you deal with the responsibility that comes with this?
Fling! began because I was curious about my mother’s mother, someone I had never met. Early in the 20th C, my grandfather, a former Scottish schoolmaster in Scotland’s highlands, immigrated to Calgary, Canada, hoping to find a better life there for himself and his family. Meanwhile, WWI broke out, and his wife and five kids couldn’t join him for seven years. When they did, my grandmother couldn’t adjust to the brutal winters or to her husband. After being there a year, she moved out, refusing to put up with my grandpa’s verbal and physical abuse, and became a housekeeper for a wealthy family. The story is that her boss became her lover and took her to Mexico with him. She never returned and died there. I wanted to try and recreate what life might have been like for her once she left Canada, and that then brought in a number of other characters that inhabit the novel.
While some aspects of Fling! have seeds in my history of growing up in Canada and in family, those origins shift from autobiographical into art when I start writing. None of the characters are specifically modelled on people I know, but they may all be, at least partially, based on characteristics of people I have known in Canada and elsewhere. Or they may be totally invented.
Q: Do you think that self-revelation is part of the writing process?
I don’t think we can be serious writers without undressing completely, externally and internally, in our works. How else can we explore the vastness of life and its many dimensions? While we may be inventing characters and situations, fragments of our selves can’t help but be embedded in our work. Some writers are more autobiographical than others and therefore more revealing in that sense. But even in my novel Bone Songs (to be released in November 2016), which is not at all autobiographical, I reveal myself in the ideas I explore there. I am not at all like the amoral main character, Curva Peligrosa, but I do share some of her attitudes and beliefs. So the autobiographical gets intertwined with the fiction, and a writer can’t avoid being revealed in the process.
Q: Where does this story fit in with the rest of your work?
Fling! was the second novel I wrote. Freefall: A Divine Comedy came next (my third book). Bone Songs followed. A follow up to Freefall will be Tillie: Portrait of a Canadian Girl in Training. It features a young version of the main character in Freefall. I’m also written a collection linked stories in The Sinner’s Club and I have another short story collection that’s ready for publication, though these stories aren’t linked. In addition, I publish poetry (one of my poetry collections All This was published in 2011, and I have another one ready to go: God Particles. I’ve also published numerous travel pieces, memoir, personal essays, book reviews, interviews, and etc.
Q: What is it about your novel that you feel makes it particularly suitable for book clubs?
Since women compose most book clubs, Fling! has a particular appeal to them, although I’ve talked to men that have read the book and loved it. Still, the main characters are female, four generations in fact. And in addition to the narrative being a bit of a comic romp featuring Feather and Bubbles, it also takes a serious look at the damaging results of multiple abandonments between generations and how the characters in this book reach some kind of resolution. So there is a strong psychological dimension.
As one reader who posted her review on Amazon said, “This book gave me a reason, or rather an opportunity, to celebrate my relationship with my mum. It will be a keepsake for the rest of my life. In fact, when my daughters grow up, this will be a book I will gift them. It is a must must must read for all mothers and daughters as well all men who love their mothers and daughters.”
But art plays a major role in Fling! Feather is a visual artist that focuses on sculpture, as is her great grand-dad Malcolm, another important character in the book. And Bubbles is an artist in her own way in that she’s open to the unknown and will to give it shape in her life. This thread weaves its way through the narrative.
There also are questions I can provide to book clubs if they’re interested in having their thinking about the novel enlarged.
Q: Do you find yourself returning to any recurring themes within your writing and, if so, are you any closer to finding an answer? Or, more simply put, What is the question that keeps you writing?
There isn’t only one question that sparks my writing. I have always been a curious person, so I’m interested in many things, but especially the BIG questions: Why are we here? What does it mean to be human? What role does the unconscious have in our lives? How can women become more equal/powerful in a world that still favours males over females? I think my work so far explores some of these question and more!
Q: Khaled Hosseini says that he feels he is discovering a story rather than creating it. Are you an avid plotter or do you start with a single idea and let the novel develop organically?
Yes, I’m in Hosseini’s camp. When I start writing, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, I have no idea where I’m going. That’s the fun part of writing for me: the quest. The heading off into the dark with very little light guiding me. I’m not sure I even have an “idea” at the beginning of a work. For example, my novel Bone Songs started with an image. I had read in the paper about a tornado hitting a small town near the city where I grew up in Canada. For some reason, that image grabbed my attention, and the novel actually starts at that point, with the tornado approaching the fictional town of Weed, Alberta.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
Since I have just signed a three-book contract with Pen-L Publishing, the press that released Fling! and will be publishing Freefall: A Divine Comedy, and Bone Songs will be released in the spring of 2017, I have a lot of revision to do, the fine-tuning that’s necessary before a book goes public.
Q: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
It’s lovely to be published, but the demands of marketing can be overwhelming at times. I have about a dozen Facebook groups that I need to keep up with in addition to Twitter. Pinterest. Instagram, etc. Finding lovely bloggers like yourself that are interested in doing reviews or book reviews is time consuming. Then there is scheduling and doing readings. Keeping up my blog and blog posts. It leaves me very little time to write!
Q: Is there a phrase or quote about writing that you particularly like?
I love John Cheevers quote: “I write to make sense of my life.” I feel that’s what I’m doing when I write.
Q: Where can we find out more about you and your work? (Please include all of your social media links that you would like mentioned.)
For those of you who are interested in poetry and will be receiving a free autographed copy of All This, here is more info about it:
“There’s a restlessness to Lily Mackenzie’s poetry that might properly be called “curiosity” — the eye alert in its socket, the ear straining to register. “The vaults// of syllables” pour out their riches: a delectation of sky, a rampage of color, the sweet sting of mortality. From Mendocino to the Sea of Marmara to the Mexican highlands, these poems are afoot in the Whitman sense, and wonderfully “chewy” — deeply figured and sonically dense. Or let’s say they sink their teeth into experience, lap it right up, “night splitting/ open and spilling// its milk.” In other words, what we have here is poetic sustenance.” Aaron Schurin, Academic Director for the University of San Francisco’s MFA program.
“The poems in Lily Iona McKenzie’s All This are an engrossing atlas of both geographical and emotional landscapes. They move from Canada to California, from the body to bereavement, from poetry to politics, from loss to love and back again. These innovative poems resonate because, miraculously, their topographies feel both familiar and new. We love living in them.” Dean Rader, former Associate Dean of Arts & Sciences and current professor of English at the University of San Francisco. He has published widely in the fields of poetry, American Indian studies, and popular culture.
Thanks for stopping by my blog and don’t forget to share your thoughts and comments below. Good luck on winning my giveaways! I’ll see you at the next stop of this awesome BOOK & BLOG BLOCK PARTY!