Lily Iona MacKenzie's Blog for Writers & Readers

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

craft of poetry

Full disclosure:  I started this blog so I would have a “writer’s platform” I could show agents and potential publishers.  But it doesn’t come without a cost, and that is one’s privacy.

The idea of public and private has shifted.  While some people still keep private diaries/journals, myself included, others are blogging their hearts out for all the world to see.  Facebook, Myspace, YouTube, chat rooms, etc., have conditioned a new generation to spill it all on the web, to not hold back.  Some even set up webcams in their houses so strangers can follow their daily routine. (more…)

Meet Evonne Marzouk, today’s guest author:

Evonne Marzouk is an inspirational public speaker and author of The Prophetess. Her work has also been published in Newsweek, the Washington Post, the Jewish News Syndicate, The Wisdom Daily, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, RitualWell and many other publications. She recently co-authored a chapter on “The Heroine’s Journey” in the book Jewish Fantasy Worldwide (2023) and offers a free printable Heroine’s Journal on her website to empower all women to live their greatest dreams. IG/FB: @heroinewhisperer

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When I picked up Marguerite Duras’ The Lover, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew she was considered one of France’s most important literary figures, but The Lover was the first work of hers that I had read.

lovers-1676972_640The back cover claims that The Lover is “an exquisite jewel of a novel,” but it’s my understanding that this work is autobiographical and not fiction. At fifteen, Duras, who was then living in Saigon with her mother and two brothers, started a relationship with a Chinese man twelve years older than she. It continued for almost two years. And while the work centers on the sexual involvement and its repercussions in her life, the narrative also slips in and out of Duras’ dysfunctional family life, where her mother beats her while Marguerite’s older brother cheers on the mother.
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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. It also is the source of the books I’ve written, the muse that continues to inspire me to write, daily. (more…)

Fiction writers have been called many things, but magician seems the best description. They dip into the black hat of their imagination and produce an endless variety of characters, situations, images, genres, events, and styles. The effect on readers is nothing less than magical, the reader also becoming a conjurer, assisting in making visible what wasn’t there before. (more…)

Tony Flood spent most of his working life as a journalist, initially on local and regional papers and then on nationals. He was also editor of ‘Football Monthly’, Controller of Information at Sky Television and enjoyed a spell with ‘The People’ before retiring in 2010. In his celebrity book My Life With The Stars, Tony recalls: “My work

as a showbiz and leisure writer, critic and editor saw me take on a variety of challenges — learning to dance with Strictly Come Dancing star Erin Boag, becoming a stand-up comedian, and playing football with the late George Best and Bobby Moore in charity matches.” Tony now spends much of his time writing books and theatre reviews, as well as playing veterans football. He says: “I must be one of the oldest — and slowest — players in the country!”

More details about Tony and his wife and fellow author Heather Flood — andspecial book offers — are available on the websites:
www.fantasyadventurebooks.com
www.celebritiesconfessions.com (more…)

Dreaming Myself into Old Age

October 9, 2023 | By | Reply

Dreaming Myself into Old Age

At the beginning of 2012, in my seventy-second year, I decided to return to analysis so I could explore my concerns about aging and dying. Fortunately, I found Dr. Y, a Jungian analyst who takes Medicare, freeing me to explore my new terrain—old age—without depleting our savings. Dr. Y is a psychiatrist who merges the rational world of science with C. G. Jung’s more esoteric ideas about the psyche. I have feasted on Jung from the time I first discovered his writing in my late twenties. For me, his more mystical aspect overshadowed the scientist. I love how he evokes the multiplicity of things—the magic, the mystery, the many levels to reality including the mythic part. Of course, dreams inhabit the mythic dimension, and I view them as communications from a part of myself that knows more about me than my conscious ego does. (more…)

Meet Robert Archambeau, today’s guest author:

Robert Archambeau possesses the world’s least interesting international identity. Of French-Canadian ancestry, he was born in Rhode Island, raised in Canada, and spent summers in Maine or at his father’s art studio on a lake in the Canadian wilderness. An art school brat, he always felt it was inevitable that he would end up making art, or at least movies, but his fate was grimmer still. After a brief stint as a deck hand and grotesquely underqualified ship’s engineer, he fell in with a group of poets and pursued graduate studies in English at the University of Notre Dame. While studying for his PhD, he ran off to Chicago, got married on a sailboat in Burnham Harbor, and worked as a clerk in a secondhand bookstore. Here, sitting at the long counter in the Aspidistra Bookshop, he wrote his doctoral dissertation on Wordsworth, as well as many of the poems that would make up of his first collection of verse, Home and Variations. (more…)

I’m thinking today of timing—how important it is to success. Timing and perseverance: the two go together. I’m also noticing the seasonal aspect of creativity, how cyclic it is. That too is hard to grasp. I want it all the time. I’m afraid if it isn’t there, it won’t return. But I need to remember that if I pursue my creative impulses, and if they’re in accordance with my abilities, then there will be success. Maybe not financially, though that would be nice. But I’ll experience the satisfaction of achieving what I’m capable of. (more…)

My novel Curva Peligrosa opens with a tornado that sweeps through the fictional town of Weed, Alberta, and drops a purple outhouse into its center. Drowsing and dreaming inside that structure is its owner, Curva Peligrosa—a curiosity and a marvel, a source of light and heat, a magnet. Adventurous, amorous, fecund, and over six feet tall, she possesses magical powers. She also has the greenest of thumbs, creating a tropical habitat in an arctic clime, and she possesses a wicked trigger finger.

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Michelle Cameron is the author of Jewish historical fiction, including Babylon: A Novel of Jewish Captivity, the award-winning Beyond the Ghetto Gates and The Fruit of Her Hands: the story of Shira of Ashkenaz. She has also published a verse novel, In the Shadow of the Globe. Napoleon’s Mirage, the sequel to Beyond the Ghetto Gates, is forthcoming in August 2024.

Michelle is a director of The Writers Circle, a NJ-based creative writing program serving children, teens, and adults. She lives in Chatham, NJ, with her husband and has two grown sons of whom she is inordinately proud.

Visit her online:

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With two new books being published by Shanti Arts, and wondering how best to market them, I’ve been thinking about book festivals I’ve participated in. I realize that, while these events are great for focusing on the many book genres available, I also have concluded that I probably won’t attend one again. A few years ago, I signed up for the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley, a relatively new venue at the time. Its first session was in 2015, and it claims to be an international event that draws people from all over the world: “More than 50,000 diverse people of all ages, from urban to suburban Bay Area communities and beyond.” (more…)

Join me and my editor/publisher, Christine Cote, to help celebrate the release of my hybrid memoir Dreaming Myself into Old Age: One Woman’s Search for Meaning (to be released on 9/19/23) and my newest poetry collection, California Dreaming (published on June 27). We’ll explore some of the main themes in both of my books as well as Christine’s work as publisher/editor of Shanti Arts Press. There will be lots of opportunities for Q&A.

In Dreaming Myself into Old Age, I’ve hoped that reflecting on this these later years will help me to better understand and deepen them. Perhaps, in sharing my quest, readers will make their own discoveries, as has been true for me whenever I’ve read about someone else’s journey. But I also believe that aging presents its own mysteries for us to uncover, and that is part of my search as well. Dreaming Myself into Old Age is set within my lifelong pursuit of self-discovery.

According to my editor, this exploration carries over in California Dreaming. She says, “Lily Iona MacKenzie’s unbounded zest for life sings through the poems in California Dreaming. A writer in her bones and a dreamer in her heart, she discovers the poetry in everything—travel, art, music, nature, past and present. Her words and rhythms touch the soul and leave their treasures behind. ‘Listen closely to these poems’ quiet but insistent murmur.’ (Kathleen McClung)

Grab your favorite beverage, find a cozy spot, and join us online for an hour of delving into the mysteries of dreaming and aging!

California Dreaming & Dreaming Myself into Old Age can be purchased from Shanti Arts as well as Amazon and other major outlets. ???

If you like these books, please leave a brief review.

Join Zoom Meeting: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/85890431364?pwd=aHFiMERFM3lZeXI2VzBlSFRXenN4UT09

Meeting ID: 858 9043 1364

Passcode: 613741

I look forward to seeing you at noon on September 23.

Lily Iona MacKenzie

 

With two new books coming out, I’ve been wondering about applying for book awards. Fellow Regal House author Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop came to my rescue with this piece on book awards that she first published on SUBSTACK on August 16. This is an important post for all authors, published or unpublished.

My memoir, Daughter of Spies: Wartime Secrets, Family Lies which came out in the fall of 2022, marks the first time I’ve published with a small independent press. In the three years since acceptance, I’ve learned lots about how much it costs to produce a book, how important distribution can be, and the amount of time and energy that goes into marketing and publicizing a book, no matter if it’s self-published, traditionally published or released by an independent press.

The one thing that has stopped me in my tracks is the number of “come-ons”, scams, and false promises that land in my inbox daily.  These include payment for reviews on Instagram or with “influencers,” (I admit to hating that word), hybrid publishers wishing me to submit my next book, advertising offers, emails encouraging me to submit my book for a festival and so on. Every one of these involve me spending money and, in the end, they will cost me far more than I ever expect to make in royalties. And all of them prey on a writer’s desperate desire to be lifted above others in the great cacophony of modern life where people more and more choose visuals on devices over reading the printed word.

I’ve quoted this figure before but it’s worth repeating. In the US alone, over 4 million new books were published in 2022. (These include both self-published and commercially published books in all formats.) As a comparison, ten years ago in 2013, just over 275,000 books were published in the US.  No wonder writers are desperate and prone to scams and false promises.

The one I’m focused on because I jumped on board are the hundreds of awards. I entered 15 contests, some of which were approved by the Alliance of Independent Authors and some of which were given a caution or negative rating. I was advised by experts in the field such as the knowledgeable and experienced publishing specialist, Jane Friedman, to check how long the contest has been around, to study past winners, to look for a list of judges, to evaluate how important the prize is to members of your book community, and most importantly, to look at contests that are created primarily to make money. In the beginning, I paid some attention to this advice but the lure of a possible award (how could they not pick me?) made me throw caution to the winds.

Here’s the bottom line. I’ve entered fifteen contests and I’ve spent close to $900 on contest fees. I’ve been shortlisted in a memoir magazine contest and been declared a finalist for another book award. In one case I won a Bronze Medal in the Female Memoir division, and in another, I was named a runner up in the Memoir category. None of these “honors” paid me any money. The announcement of my “win” is most often followed by a bombardment of emails encouraging me to pay more for editorial or marketing advice or for a bronze medal on a colored ribbon or to enter more contests or book festivals. I’ve won no mention at all in six contests, and five have yet to report.

However, in many cases, the list of “winners” is truly daunting. I’m convinced that most of the writers who submitted “won” something. In one contest, I counted the finalists, winners, and runners up and came up with 146 entries that garnered some mention. It cost me $50 to enter that contest. If 500 people entered just one of the possible categories (and I suspect there are many more desperate and eager authors like myself), the income off the bat is $25,000. Where does the money go? Who are the judges? Are they paid?  Starting a writing contest seems to have become a profitable business.

Of course, there are reputable contests for writers from PEN awards to the Pulitzer Prize to the excellent listings in Poets and Writers Magazine. If I have one piece of advice to offer to writers interested in submitting to contests, I’d say stick to the reputable listings including the smaller and less well known awards you can find at the Alliance of Independent Authors . Don’t fall into the trap I jumped into. Don’t waste your money on the “for profit” contests that might give you a momentary burst of gratification (see, they did pick me!) but in the end will do little to sell your book or get it to new readers.

Visit Elizabeth’s website at https://elizabethwinthrop.com.

Follow her newsletters on Substrate.

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Stephanie Cowell has been an opera singer, balladeer, founder of Strawberry Opera and other arts venues including a Renaissance festival and an outdoor arts series in NYC. She is the author of Nicholas Cooke, The Physician of London, The Players: a novel of the young Shakespeare, Marrying Mozart, and Claude & Camille: a novel of Monet.  Her work had been translated into nine languages and adapted into an opera. Stephanie is the recipient of an American Book Award.  Her website is www.StephanieCowell.com. (more…)

Writing is such a part of my day that if I don’t get to it, I’m constantly distracted, as if I have a lover I’m thinking about. It’s like a siren’s call, pulling me away. My husband Michael notices it. He comments on me seeming drifty. He’s right. I’m not fully there. The discipline of writing an hour or more a day pulls me into myself and gives me the contemplative part I need. Balance. (more…)

The Editor’s Craft

Editing writing requires tremendous restraint. I was reminded of this recently when a poem I had submitted to an anthology was accepted providing I approved of the editor’s changes. I’m open to thoughtful revision suggestions—a text can always be improved—but I assume the recommendations will be just that, insightful observations that cause me to re-think my work. In that light, I can re-enter a poem or story and see if any of the ideas resonate enough for me to make changes. Yet since I’m the poem’s creator, I expect to revise it myself and have the last word on its content.

Imagine my shock when I downloaded the email attachment and discovered a new poem, including a different title. I had expected to see a Microsoft Word document with the reader’s thoughts recorded via the tracking tool. But she hadn’t even extended that courtesy. She expected me to approve of her changes and give her my blessing to publish the piece. I didn’t.

Some of my original language was there, but this particular editor had cannibalized my work, making it her own. I understand the impulse to give new shape to someone else’s writing, thinking that your vision is the right one. But editors must resist that urge. If followed, the publication will contain poems that all have a similar style—the editor’s and not the various writers’.

I recall being part of a poetry workshop years ago where one of the poet-critics took a similar approach to critiquing submitted work. She crossed out lines, rearranged stanzas, added her own language, and generally rewrote our poems. They no longer resembled the writers’ original rhythms and voice. The critiquer now owned them.

Poetry works on many subtle levels. A sophisticated poet knows how to manipulate them all. To ignore a poem’s complexity violates its integrity and the artist’s vision. Good editors don’t mess with a poem’s fine tuning, realizing they don’t inhabit the original impulse that created the contents. They also may not have the sensitivity to make it a better piece.

As for a poem’s multiple layers, its presentation on the page is the first thing we notice. Some poems want to be single-spaced, the lines huddled close together, forcing the reader to focus on the language as it unfurls on white space. Some need more breathing room, slowing down readers, giving them time to digest each word, phrase, and line. Others want extensive stanza breaks or the rhythm of couplets, triplets, or quatrains. Or a mix of the above. Or the arrangement may not follow any convention. The poet may not want too predicable rhythms, depending on the contents. But most of all, text and form should reflect each other.

Then there are line lengths. Long lines give a writer the chance to open up in a prosy way and create a relaxed pace. Shorter lines can add tension but also speed up the reading. If there is extra space between lines or stanzas, that, too, will create varying effects. Similarly, line breaks have different purposes, from causing the reader to pause and reflect on what has gone before to hurling him/her into the next part of the poem. All of these things work together to produce a balanced, aesthetic whole, and it’s part of the writer’s pleasure to determine these craft choices on her own, though at times she may ask for feedback from an attentive, trusted reader.

There’s much more that goes into shaping a successful poem, too much to cover here. Unfortunately, the woman who edited mine ignored the craft’s fine points and the courtesy she owed the writer. Not only did she change the title, but she also made the poem single spaced with only two stanzas; previously, it was a mixture of couplets and tercets. I had used form to reflect the sea’s expansiveness and movement, the waves washing rhythmically on the shore (the sea was the main focus).

In the original, the lines covered a whole page with lots of white space between them. Her revision was a tight little text that bore little resemblance to the poem I wrote. Of course, she complimented me on my lovely poem, but she was really praising herself.

 

 

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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