Lily Iona MacKenzie's Blog for Writers & Readers

MY BLOG POSTS COMMENT ON SOME ASPECT OF WRITING & READING.

The Ripening
The Ripening:
A Canadian Girl Grows Up

" A wildly inventive, consistently engaging, and amusing comic novel, but under its bright exterior lurk darker undertones and truths.... "

" A wildly inventive, consistently engaging, and amusing comic novel, but under its bright exterior lurk darker undertones and truths.... "

" Tillie’s grit and ability to face life’s challenges are inspiring, the seeds for later discovering her artist self. Tillie takes readers on a wild ride. Join her if you dare! "

Lily Iona MacKenzie Books
Curva Peligrosa
Curva Peligrosa

" A wildly inventive, consistently engaging, and amusing comic novel, but under its bright exterior lurk darker undertones and truths.... "

" A wildly inventive, consistently engaging, and amusing comic novel, but under its bright exterior lurk darker undertones and truths.... "

" A wildly inventive, consistently engaging, and amusing comic novel, but under its bright exterior lurk darker undertones and truths.... "

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FLING!
Fling!

" A wildly inventive, consistently engaging, and amusing comic novel, but under its bright exterior lurk darker undertones and truths.... "

" A wildly inventive, consistently engaging, and amusing comic novel, but under its bright exterior lurk darker undertones and truths.... "

"Fling! is both hilarious and touching. Every page is a surprise, and the characters! I especially loved Bubbles, one of the most endearing mothers in recent fiction. A scintillating read."

Lily Iona MacKenzie Books
Freefall
Freefall :
A Divine Comedy

" A wildly inventive, consistently engaging, and amusing comic novel, but under its bright exterior lurk darker undertones and truths.... "

" A wildly inventive, consistently engaging, and amusing comic novel, but under its bright exterior lurk darker undertones and truths.... "

" These fascinating characters will fill your imagination, defying expectations about aging, art, and what truly matters in life. "

Lily Iona MacKenzie Books
All This
All This

" A wildly inventive, consistently engaging, and amusing comic novel, but under its bright exterior lurk darker undertones and truths.... "

" A wildly inventive, consistently engaging, and amusing comic novel, but under its bright exterior lurk darker undertones and truths.... "

" Indicative of the title, the poems in All This range from the conventional lyric/narrative that captures an intense moment of emotion, an epiphany glimpsed briefly out of the corner of the eye, to the more experimental. "

Lily Iona MacKenzie Books
No More Kings
No More Kings

" A wildly inventive, consistently engaging, and amusing comic novel, but under its bright exterior lurk darker undertones and truths.... "

" A wildly inventive, consistently engaging, and amusing comic novel, but under its bright exterior lurk darker undertones and truths.... "

Each finely crafted poem in this powerful collection comes alive on the page while she traces the days’ journeys with a painter’s eye, a musician’s ear, and the deft pen of a poet.

Lily Iona MacKenzie Books
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Tag: art

How Do Writers Eclipse the Real?

I’m thinking today of the eclipse of the sun that happened in August 2017. My husband and I had just spent three nights on the Mendocino coast in Northern California and were driving to our Bay Area home under an overcast sky. We didn’t see the whole eclipse, but we did notice a change in the light’s intensity as the moon began blotting out a portion of the sun. Instead of the sun making everything hard-edged and clear, there was a softer quality to what I saw from the car window, reminding me a little of how the earth looks under a full moon.

The link between visual arts and writing: Interview with guest artist Betsy Kellas!

Kellas_ copyIf you’re used to me posting something about reading and writing, you may be wondering why my guest interview today is with the visual artist Betsy Kellas. The reason? I think there’s a strong link between painting, sculpture, art installations, and written art, poetry and prose. Both use the line intensively though differently. Both intensely explore our everyday reality. And both use layering to create their effects and to add texture to a work. Here, then, is my interview with Betsy, but I urge you to visit her website and view the range of her artmaking: betsykellas.com

Does Art Strip the Writer/Artist Bare?

mosaic-200864_1920Working on my soon-to-be-released novel Freefall: A DivineComedy has made me see how art strips the artist bare, leaving him/her fully exposed. This dynamic is true for literary as well as visual artists, perhaps even more so. Writers mine all parts of their psyches in order to explore characters, emotions, themes, thoughts, desires, impulses, and so much more. In the process, they expose themselves, revealing the ways in which these aspects of self originate in the writer herself.

Reflections on How Poems Mean

sunrise-2899850_1920I’m always a puzzled by how writers can plan out a poem or story before even attempting the first sentence. Some do complete outlines, right down to the actual ending. Others have ideas they want to develop into a poem or story, which suggests control over the content. To me, these methods feel too engineered, preventing the unconscious to have much play in the process.

What’s in a character’s name?

I was having dinner with friends the other night that had read my novel Fling! They wanted to know how I came up with the main characters’ names—Bubbles and Feather. When I tried to pinpoint the moment when the names tumbled onto the page, I couldn’t.

When I worked backwards, I realized that all three generations of women, from the youngest, Feather, to the oldest, Feather’s grandmother and Bubbles’ mother, were named Heather, just as I was originally named after my mother, Lily. Since it would be too confusing to have all characters using the same name, I had to distinguish them. Heather, the grandmother, retained her name. The shift from Heather to Feather was easy because of her hippie/new age origins and interests. It was clear she was going to be out there in many ways, floating like a feather through life.

Fling_fullcover_4-13-15 copy

I think Bubbles came to me in one of those moments when the character actually named herself. Heather would have been too staid a name for this character. It didn’t capture her effervescence and overflowing life force. Bubbles also is rotund, like the ancient statue of the Venus of Willandorf, an image that’s on the front and back cover of the book. So the name captures some of that quality as well. But the word bubbles also has a negative aspect, which the character also does: she acts at times as if she were trapped in a bubble and it prevents her from interacting fully with others at important times.

Once the main characters’ names became clear to me, so too did their personalities and how they needed to be developed. In many ways, the foundations of the work fell into place at that point, though, of course, I still had many hundreds of words yet to write.

The Interdependence of Artist and Creation

I realize that though I only lived on a farm for about four years total when I was a child, that time took root in me and grew, invading my psyche in the most positive way. Wandering the land, those wonderful endless Canadian prairies, and exploring without many restrictions, nurtured my imagination, allowing it to spread deep and wide. There were so many areas to investigate.

A grove of trees next to our house was an ideal place to play. Light and shadow chased each other, giving me a retreat from the otherwise sun-drenched, wide-open spaces. My playmates, birds and squirrels and other tiny creatures, made their home there. Near the barn, our beehive kept us supplied in honey, and I spent time watching all of this activity.

I also rode calves and sheep inside the pens, imitating the way my stepfather broke horses. And then there were the discoveries I made while roaming the fields: dead animal carcasses crawling with maggots; squashed snakes, their guts streaming from their bodies; baby kittens abandoned in rain barrels that I rescued; lizards whose tails I cut off because I’d heard they would grow back and I wanted to watch the process; animals giving birth. I never felt bored.

Along with the freedom to roam and play at will, I also had responsibilities. If the cows weren’t milked, they would dry up, a good metaphor for what happens if writers don’t have an ongoing relationship with their projects. Similarly, if we didn’t gather the eggs each day, they would rot, leaving a mess in the hen house and also creating waste. They lay eggs; we ate them. They lay more. We were as dependent on the animals as they were on us to feed them and provide a safe environment. Again there’s a parallel between the artist and his/her creation, how interdependent they are.

We also had to tend our garden, the vegetables we canned in the fall our food supply for the winter. The life cycle was visible and insistent, a pattern that could be followed. That realization has stayed with me.

My days have a rhythm of waking, dispensing with the night by making my bed, dressing, and embracing a new day, open to what it brings but also aware of the give and take, the back and forth of household/garden chores, teaching, writing, and other rituals that shape my days.

 

Poetry and Perception

My poems reflect my continuing interest in perception and how we try to capture fleeting moments with language. I think the art that comes closest to what I’m trying to do in poetry is photography—the exploration of things in the world (and in ourselves) from various angles. The attempt to penetrate surfaces by using the very surfaces themselves.

James Hillman, in Revisioning Psychology, has helped me to understand my process. He says, “By soul I mean, first of all a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a thing in itself. This perspective is reflective; it mediates events and makes differences between ourselves and everything that happens. Between us and events, between the doer and the deed, there is a reflective moment—and soul-making means differentiating this middle ground”

The middle ground is what intrigues me when I’m writing poetry. I’m trying to get into my poems the way we actually perceive the world, inner and outer, from the soul’s perspective, how the two collide and collude in the brain, the poem a reflection of that activity. Charles Olson and Denise Levertov were after the shape of the inner voice—they tried to capture how that sounded on the page. Others try to recreate the external world in traditional lyrics, or narratives, or some combination of the two.

I want the dimension in-between, where both come together; it’s a more accurate rendering of how we perceive. It seems only art and dreams can begin to duplicate that world for us.

Where Inner and Outer Worlds Meet

I didn’t fall asleep till 1 AM this morning. I got involved in a fascinating article about Joseph Cornell, the American artist and sculptor who made such mysterious and gorgeous assemblages in various found and constructed boxes. It makes me want to haunt junk shops for interesting memorabilia that I can make things with, to start a collection I can draw from.

Before going to sleep, I had an image of turning an old radio into a Joseph Cornell box. I even thought of taking over our room in the garage for artwork so I could spread out more, cataloguing items I find.

That way of working is still very appealing to me. Poet Charles Simic, who wrote the article I read, described Cornell’s boxes as stages where inner and outer worlds met. I would like such a place to give concrete expression to my dialogue with the unconscious. Of course, I already do some of that in my watercolors and collages. And my writing does it to a certain degree. But I believe the visual arts draw on another facet. It’s just so difficult finding enough time to do everything!

I also felt inspired by what Cornell did with 16 mm film, cutting up old ones and taking from them what he wanted in order to make a new statement. It’s what I’ve been doing with appropriating certain things from books in some of my poems. I’d like to do more—and be more conscious of the act. It also seems time to get back to poetry, to let go of the prose for a while. Let poetry feed me.

 

A Writer’s Sanctuary

From inside my study, one wall book-lined, the other holding a large mirror that makes the room appear bigger, I sit on the loveseat, listening to Strauss and the waterfall powered by a tiny electric pump. When I’m home, I turn it on, the sound of water like a heart beat in this house, a tangible reminder of what usually is invisible, at least to waking life—water for me representing the unconscious and all that lives there.

I come to this sanctuary at the center of the house, separated from the master bedroom by French doors, to be alone, as much as one can be alone in a shared space. Images that trigger happy memories or just please me fill the walls and shelves: a canal in Venice, that watery city I love; a blackened white porcelain female figure holding a dove aloft that my sister had given me (it survived my house fire of many years ago); a print of an Emily Carr painting, the night and forest appearing eerie and alive; twisted pieces of driftwood; a small rock from the Acropolis; and a picture of my sister and me taken a few years back outside the remains of our barn on the Langdon farm.

My husband jokingly accuses me of conducting secret rites in my study after he goes to sleep, lighting candles, doing “witchy” things. To him, a Freudian analyst and an English professor, I’m sure that much of what I do with dreams and in Jungian analysis appears esoteric. Strange. Mystifying.

For me this room acts as a conduit to my deeper self. My laptop is in here where I record my dreams, store my journals, and write. I also have a table set up with watercolors and other art materials, ready to collect colors and shapes from the unconscious that choose to surface in this way.

Do others have this kind of sanctuary in their homes? It seems essential in order to tolerate the craziness of the external world.

 

The Hermitage Isn’t for Hermits

Some say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I challenge that adage. Give me a thousand words rather than a picture. Often they will articulate the truth about a place, while a photo can be very selective, focusing on one glorious moment, or one stunning structure, and ignoring everything in-between.

I’m thinking of our recent trip to St. Petersburg. Like many travelers, I had seen the air-dried shots of golden domes and the city’s lights reflected in the Neva River during the white nights. Unfortunately, they didn’t prepare me for the reality. Yes, there are some lovely places to visit in the city, including the many former palaces, and yes the golden domes that top most of the cathedrals are dramatic, and yes the pastel-colored structures look particularly charming from a tour boat. But overall, St. Petersburg is not a beautiful city. Nor would I call it handsome.

Perhaps I was biased because Stockholm was our last stop before we flew into St. Petersburg. Founded in 1200, and an even older city, its structures don’t seem as tired as youthful St. Petersburg, founded in 1703. Like Petersburg, Stockholm also was built along multiple canals. But it has a fresher ambiance, and the buildings seem more varied, not locked into one man’s vision: Czar Peter the Great’s. He specified the heights of buildings and their style, creating a monotonous vista overall.

Moscow in comparison is much more attractive because of the variety of structures, from ancient to new. It first emerged in the 12th Century and has grown organically since then, based on many people’s vision, not just one. Trees line the streets, much like in parts of Manhattan. In fact, it reminds me of New York both visually and in terms of its energy: the city buzzes day and night, its aggressive drivers roaring through the wide boulevards.

But St. Petersburg does have an advantage over Moscow. While the latter has the Kremlin and what’s inside those walls, St. Petersburg has the Hermitage, the most remarkable museum in the world. At last count, there were nearly three million works on exhibit. Its total area covers 418,230 square feet. IMG_0038

The Hermitage’s origins can be traced back to Peter the Great’s private art collection. He purchased numerous works during his travels abroad and later hung them in his residence. Catherine the Great expanded the collection considerably, she and her successors building the Hermitage’s holdings mainly with purchases of the Western European aristocracy and monarchy’s private collections. By the time Nicholas II ascended the throne in 1894, he was heir to the greatest compilation of art in Europe. Most impressive is the fact that the museum didn’t lose any of its treasures during the wars. The director managed to move everything to safe locations until after the danger had passed.

The collection includes pictures you won’t see elsewhere. Works by Leonardo da Vinci, Rafael, and many other world famous artists command a central place in the galleries. Our favorites are always the impressionists and post-impressionists, and there are numerous galleries—several city blocks long—containing pieces by Matisse, Degas, Renoir, Monet, Cezanne, and the rest. The exhibition includes many paintings by lesser-known artists from that period whose work is equally impressive. A feast for the eyes.

IMG_0724

People on tours, even if there are only two people and a guide, don’t have to stand in line for tickets or entry, so we were grateful that we had a guide, Gallina, for two of our visits there. We entered by a separate rear entrance. Once inside, Gallina knew all the right moves to avoid the larger tour groups and crowds that usually throng the place. On our own, it would have taken us hours to figure out where everything is. But Gallina knows exactly where the major works are located and how to reach them.

Since the museum is located in the Winter Palace, as we made our way through the rooms, it wasn’t just the artworks that caught our attention. The interiors remind visitors of the Hermitage’s former life. Without our guide’s insight, we wouldn’t have noticed how the floor and ceiling designs mirrored each other in many of the rooms and that we were experiencing the original materials. We passed through one room blazing with chandeliers and another where the Czar’s throne still sits expectantly, waiting for its resident.

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The décor constantly reminded us of the contents’ origins, creating a dramatic backdrop for the treasures. The main entrance has a massive stairway that ascends on both left and right, red carpet marching up the center of the marble stairs. On our ascent, we kept thinking of all the people who had gone before us, including royalty. It put into perspective the importance of what we were seeing.

No air conditioners or other modern devices cool the rooms. Instead, on warm days, the windows are opened so breezes can waft through and cool viewers and artworks. During our visit, several military bands were practicing in the huge square in front of the Hermitage for an annual celebration that would be happening the next day. As we made our way through the structure, Russian marching songs entertained us, and we could imagine similar music playing there in earlier times.

Hungry to see as much of the museum as possible, we visited it on four separate days, two without our guide. Gallina advised us to take advantage of the Wednesday evening hours when the place is open until 9 PM, which we did. The lack of long lines made our entry go quickly, and it was wonderful visiting when the exhibits weren’t overrun with people. We were able to get lost and stumble on treasures we might not have found otherwise. We ended up seeing artifacts on the lower level that date back to the earliest recorded history. Fragments of murals and interior walls are hung so that their textures resemble modern paintings.

During our second visit alone, we went in the mid-afternoon. It took about 30 minutes to reach the cashier where we purchased tickets, and this time we did have to contend with crowds again. But we pretended Gallina was leading us and made our way through the various rooms, constantly amazed by the variety and extent of the holdings.  

IMG_0612I started this rumination by saying that the Hermitage isn’t for Hermits. What do I mean by that? Hermits prefer solitude, but it’s impossible to be alone in the Hermitage. Its vast holdings make visitors participate in a world that we can only access through art and artifacts. I left feeling transformed by the experience of being there, not just taken back to previous eras but also filled with the images of everything I saw there. They reside in me now as well as in the Hermitage, my own private collection.

 

 

 

 

Pen-L Press will be publishing my novel Fling in 2015. A wildly comic romp on mothers, daughters, art, and death, the book should appeal to a broad range of readers. While the main characters are middle-aged and older, their zest for life would draw readers of all ages, male or female, attracting the youthful adventurer in most people. Though women may identify more readily with Feather and Bubbles’ daughter and mother struggles, the heart of the book is how they approach their aging selves and are open to new experiences. Since art and imagination are key to this narrative, artists of all ages would find something to enjoy. And because the book crosses many borders (Scotland, Canada, the U.S., and Mexico), it also can’t be limited to a specific age group, social class, gender, or region.

My first fan letter for Fling came from an 80 year-old woman who lives in the tiny village of Christina Lake, B.C. My son, who also lives there, had given her my manuscript to read. She said, “I just wanted to express to you how very much I enjoyed your writing.  I started it and didn’t stop till I had read it all.  I very much like your style and your subtle humor. Thank you for a most enjoyable read. I can’t understand why it hasn’t been scooped up by some publisher. But I know that it will be. In my estimation I know that it is excellent literary work. I am a voracious reader and have been since grade 4. I remember my first book was Tom Sawyer and I have never stopped since then. I go through 4 to 5 books a week.  We are so fortunate here at the Lake now.  The Library staff in Grand Forks come out here every Wednesday. I have become very fond of the young lady who comes out. She provides me with all the award winning books and orders others for me. Again I want to express to you how very much I enjoyed your manuscript.  Have patience my dear….it will be published to wide acclaim I am so sure.” —Joan Fornelli.

Here is a synopsis:

Feather, an aging hippie, returns to her Calgary home to help her mother, Bubbles, celebrate her 90th birthday. Bubbles has received mail from the dead letter office in Mexico City, asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, left there seventy years earlier and only now surfacing. Bubbles’ mother, Scottish by birth, had died in Mexico in the late 1920s after taking off with a married man and abandoning her husband and kids.

A woman with a mission, and still vigorous, Bubbles convinces a reluctant Feather to take her to Mexico so she can recover the ashes and give her mother a proper burial. Both women have recently shed husbands and have a secondary agenda: they’d like a little action. And they get it.

Alternating narratives weave together Feather and Bubbles’ odyssey with their colorful Scottish ancestors, creating a family tapestry. The “now” thread presents the two women as they travel south from Canada to San Francisco and then Mexico, covering a span of about six months. “Now” and “then” merge in Mexico when Bubbles’ long-dead mother, grandmother, and grandfather turn up, enlivening the narrative with their antics.

In Mexico, the land where reality and magic co-exist, Feather gets a new sense of her mother. The Indian villagers mistake Bubbles for a well-known rain goddess, praying for her to bring rain so their land will thrive again. Feather, who’s been seeking “The Goddess” for years, eventually realizes what she’s overlooked.

Meanwhile, Bubbles’ quest for her mother’s ashes (and a new man) has increased her zest for life. A shrewd business woman (she’s raised chickens, sold her crafts, taken in bizarre boarders, and has a sure-fire system for winning at bingo and lotteries), she’s certain she’s found the fountain of youth at a mineral springs outside San Miguel de Allende; she’s determined to bottle the water and sell it.

But gambling is her first love, and unlike most women her age, fun-loving Bubbles takes risks, believing she’s immortal. Unlike her daughter, Bubbles doesn’t hold back in any way, eating heartily, lusting after strangers, her youthful spirit and innocence convincing readers that they’ve found the fountain of youth themselves in this character. At ninety, she comes into her own, coming to age, proving it’s never too late to fulfill one’s dreams.

Fling, a meditation on death, mothers and daughters, and art, suggests that the fountain of youth is the imagination, and this is what they all discover in Mexico. It’s what Bubbles wants to bottle, but she doesn’t need to. She embodies it. The whole family does.


Poetry & Perception

Many of my poems reflect a continuing interest in perception and how we try to capture fleeting moments with language. The art that comes closest to what I’m trying to do in poetry is photography, the exploration of things in the world (and in ourselves) from various angles. The attempt to penetrate surfaces by using the very surfaces themselves.

I just re-read a piece in an old issue of Round Table Review that has helped me to understand what I’m after in poetry. In an article entitled “This Talk of ‘Soul’: What Does It Mean?,” Mary Stamper quotes James Hillman from his work Revisioning Psychology: “By soul I mean, first of all a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a thing in itself.  This perspective is reflective; it mediates events and makes differences between ourselves and everything that happens.  Between us and events, between the doer and the deed, there is a reflective moment—and soul-making means differentiating this middle ground….  (qtd. in Round Table Review, Jan/Feb 1995, 7)

I’m trying to get into my poems the way we actually perceive the world, inner and outer, from the soul’s perspective, how the two collide and collude in the brain, the poem a reflection of that activity.  Charles Olson and Denise Levertov were after the shape of the inner voice—they tried to capture how that sounded on the page.  Others try to recreate the external world in traditional lyrics, or narratives, or some combination of the two.

I want the dimension in-between, where both come together; it’s a more accurate rendering of how we perceive. It seems only art and dreams can begin to duplicate that world for us. This idea connects to what Stamper says: “This means death of the notion that things appear to the soul in the same way that they appear in everyday contexts, that soul understands things in the same way that our egos do” (Round Table Review, Jan/Feb 1995, 8).

I also see a relationship between impressionist and some kinds of abstract paintings and the poetry I want to write—of just suggesting something. Giving only enough information/detail to set the imagination working. I don’t want everything spelled out. I want mystery in my poems, new worlds. Or as Mark Rothko responded when he was visiting Greece and someone there commented on Rothko’s striped paintings: “‘Why don’t you paint our temples.’ Rothko replied, ‘Everything I paint is a temple.'”

I’d like to think that everything I write is one. There seems some evidence for the idea that we are changed by the things we create—actually shaped by them. Ralph Ellison shares this idea. He says the novels we write create us as much as we create them. And Joseph Brodsky believes language has a life outside of us and uses the writer.

Language is absolutely mysterious in its relationship to humans and the things it touches.

 

Pen-L Press will be publishing my novel Fling in 2015. A wildly comic romp on mothers, daughters, art, and death, the book should appeal to a broad range of readers. While the main characters are middle-aged and older, their zest for life would draw readers of all ages, male or female, attracting the youthful adventurer in most people. Though women may identify more readily with Feather and Bubbles’ daughter and mother struggles, the heart of the book is how they approach their aging selves and are open to new experiences. Since art and imagination are key to this narrative, artists of all ages would find something to enjoy. And because the book crosses many borders (Scotland, Canada, the U.S., and Mexico), it also can’t be limited to a specific age group, social class, gender, or region.

My first fan letter for Fling came from an 80 year-old woman who lives in the tiny village of Christina Lake, B.C. My son, who also lives there, had given her my manuscript to read. She said, “I just wanted to express to you how very much I enjoyed your writing.  I started it and didn’t stop till I had read it all.  I very much like your style and your subtle humor. Thank you for a most enjoyable read. I can’t understand why it hasn’t been scooped up by some publisher. But I know that it will be. In my estimation I know that it is excellent literary work. I am a voracious reader and have been since grade 4. I remember my first book was Tom Sawyer and I have never stopped since then. I go through 4 to 5 books a week.  We are so fortunate here at the Lake now.  The Library staff in Grand Forks come out here every Wednesday. I have become very fond of the young lady who comes out. She provides me with all the award winning books and orders others for me. Again I want to express to you how very much I enjoyed your manuscript.  Have patience my dear….it will be published to wide acclaim I am so sure.” —Joan Fornelli.

Here is a synopsis:

Feather, an aging hippie, returns to her Calgary home to help her mother, Bubbles, celebrate her 90th birthday. Bubbles has received mail from the dead letter office in Mexico City, asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, left there seventy years earlier and only now surfacing. Bubbles’ mother, Scottish by birth, had died in Mexico in the late 1920s after taking off with a married man and abandoning her husband and kids.

A woman with a mission, and still vigorous, Bubbles convinces a reluctant Feather to take her to Mexico so she can recover the ashes and give her mother a proper burial. Both women have recently shed husbands and have a secondary agenda: they’d like a little action. And they get it.

Alternating narratives weave together Feather and Bubbles’ odyssey with their colorful Scottish ancestors, creating a family tapestry. The “now” thread presents the two women as they travel south from Canada to San Francisco and then Mexico, covering a span of about six months. “Now” and “then” merge in Mexico when Bubbles’ long-dead mother, grandmother, and grandfather turn up, enlivening the narrative with their antics.

In Mexico, the land where reality and magic co-exist, Feather gets a new sense of her mother. The Indian villagers mistake Bubbles for a well-known rain goddess, praying for her to bring rain so their land will thrive again. Feather, who’s been seeking “The Goddess” for years, eventually realizes what she’s overlooked.

Meanwhile, Bubbles’ quest for her mother’s ashes (and a new man) has increased her zest for life. A shrewd business woman (she’s raised chickens, sold her crafts, taken in bizarre boarders, and has a sure-fire system for winning at bingo and lotteries), she’s certain she’s found the fountain of youth at a mineral springs outside San Miguel de Allende; she’s determined to bottle the water and sell it.

But gambling is her first love, and unlike most women her age, fun-loving Bubbles takes risks, believing she’s immortal. Unlike her daughter, Bubbles doesn’t hold back in any way, eating heartily, lusting after strangers, her youthful spirit and innocence convincing readers that they’ve found the fountain of youth themselves in this character. At ninety, she comes into her own, coming to age, proving it’s never too late to fulfill one’s dreams.

Fling, a meditation on death, mothers and daughters, and art, suggests that the fountain of youth is the imagination, and this is what they all discover in Mexico. It’s what Bubbles wants to bottle, but she doesn’t need to. She embodies it. The whole family does.


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