Watercolor by Lily Iona Mackenzie
I don’t have hayseed clinging to my trousers, but growing up on a Canadian farm gave me a unique foundation as a writer. I sprouted under cumulous clouds that bloomed everywhere in Alberta’s big sky. They were my first creative writing instructors, scudding across the heavenly blue, constantly changing shape: one minute an elephant, bruised and brooding. The next morphing into a rabbit or a castle. These billowing masses gave me a unique view of life on earth.
As a girl, I prowled the land, talking to chickens and pigs and lambs, creating scenarios for them. I also tried to make perfume from the wild Alberta roses and captured caterpillars, watching with wonder when they transformed themselves into butterflies. Everything around me seemed infused by nature spirits waiting to be released.
I soon realized that all objects are in motion, waiting for stories to illuminate them. The clouds’ shifting form also schooled me in the various possibilities open to me as a writer. So did Jack Frost’s enchanted creations that enlivened the windows in wintertime, forcing me to view my surroundings as if through a bewitching prism. These early experiences helped me to envision multi-dimensional characters. No wonder magical realism pulses at the heart of my narratives, and my work celebrates the imagination.
As an adult, I continue to seek instruction from clouds. Just as they provide the earth with much-needed water, I believe that stories have a similar function, preparing the mind to receive new ideas. Also, conditions inside a cloud are not static—water droplets are constantly forming and re-evaporating. Stories, too, change, depending on who is reading them, each one giving life to its readers.
A high school dropout, and a mother at 17, in my early years, I supported myself as a stock girl in the Hudson’s Bay Company, as a long distance operator for the former Alberta Government Telephones, and as a secretary (Bechtel Corp sponsored me into the States). I also was a cocktail waitress at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco; briefly broke into the male-dominated world of the docks (I was the first woman to work on the SF docks and almost got my legs broken); founded and managed a homeless shelter in Marin County; co-created The Story Shoppe, a weekly radio program for children that aired on KTIM in Marin; and eventually earned two Master’s degrees (one in Creative writing and one in the Humanities).
I’ve published reviews, interviews, short fiction, poetry, travel pieces, essays, and memoir in over 165 American and Canadian venues. Fling!, one of my novels, was published in July 2015 by Pen-L Publishing. Regal House Publishing released Curva Peligrosa, another novel, in September 2017. Pen-L Publishing published Freefall: A Divine Comedy on 1/1/19. The Ripening: A Canadian Girl Grows Up!, featuring the same main character as in Freefall, came out on October 2021. My poetry collection All This was published in 2011, and a chapbook (No More Kings) was released in March 2020.
Shanti Arts Publishing will release my hybrid memoir Dreaming Myself into Old Age: One Woman’s Search for Meaning in 2023 as well as my new poetry collection California Dreaming.
I also taught writing at the University of San Francisco (USF) for over 30 years and was vice-president of USF’s part-time faculty union. I currently teach creative writing at USF’s Fromm Institute for Lifelong Learning.
6 thoughts on “About Lily”
Hello Lily, Just checking in to say hello. This 78 year old loves to write and writes every day. It is mostly fiction and adventures. It is really cool when someone believes what I wrote about was true or was something I did. My three children still remember the stories I told them every summer while traveling via Greyhound from California to Ohio to Massachusetts back to Calif. Thank you for all your inspirations. Julia a Knaake
Julia, I’m so happy to meet someone close to me in age who is also writing every day! Writing is how I make sense of my life, and it sounds as if you have a similar approach. Keep writing and stay safe during this crazy time!
Thank you Lily. My partner in crime is 88 and he and I just keep floating along drifting down the stream everyday turning here and there into a new adventure each day.
You stay safe and happy each day. Julia
I love it!
Hi Lily, thanks for inviting me to this site from Twitter. We seem to have a lot in common. I was born in Saskatoon. I can relate to everything you said about clouds. Lying on our lawn I would stare for hours at the puffy clouds.
I’m impressed that you “founded and managed a homeless shelter in Marin County” The people I write about have become my best friends, Unfortunately they have very short lifespans. I have attended many funerals. When there isn’t a funeral we pour one drink out for all those who have passed and drink a toast or two to the recently departed.
I’ll return your site often and will check your books.
Thanks for the visit, Dennis. Yes, working with the homeless was eye opening for me. So many levels of need and so little available to help those who need it.