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, will come out on October 15, 2021. My poetry collection All This was published in 2011, and a chapbook (No More Kings) was released in March 2020. 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.