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: editing

What if  a writer isn’t fully committed to his/her work

I recall when I was making what I hoped would be my last proofreading of the manuscript for Curva Peligrosa. I’d lost track of how many times I’d made this journey through the novel, trying to track down any typos, spelling, or punctuation errors. And each time, I seemed to find a few, making me wonder how I missed them to begin with. My publisher’s editor also had read the text closely, plucking out any weeds she’d found. But it was almost impossible to find them all.

It takes a village to edit a short story!

On September 7, I posted on my blog “Don’t Avoid Editing Many Layers.” I want to expand on that post today as I’m constantly revising my own understanding of critique partners and how they help us writers grow. Revising is the most important part of the writing process, apart from generating material to revise, and I’m constantly reminded of how valuable good readers are.

Dear fellow writers: Don’t avoid editing’s many layers!

editrSmall presses don’t have the reputation that larger presses do of having high editorial standards. But my experience with these presses, especially Regal House Publishing, the one that published my second novel, Curva Peligrosa, was revelatory.

Editing’s Many Layers, #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Small presses don’t have the reputation that larger presses do of maintaining high editorial standards. But my experience with these presses, especially the one that published Curva Peligrosa, my second novel, has been revelatory.

A Novelist’s Commitment

correcting-1870721_1920I’m making what I hope will be my last proofreading of the manuscript for Curva Peligrosa. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve made this journey through the novel, trying to track down any typos, spelling, or punctuation errors. And each time, I seem to find a few, making me wonder how I miss them to begin with. My publisher’s editor also has read the text closely, plucking out any weeds she found. But it’s almost impossible to find them all.

No, Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus

Before I committed myself to writing and became part of that world, I had no idea what was involved in constructing a novel. I assumed the narrative flowed easily from the writer’s pen to paper (and in those days, a lot of writing was done with a pen or pencil, though typewriters also were used). The finished product looked so pristine that I couldn’t imagine it ever being anything but perfect. Not only did narratives read as if they had come fully formed from Zeus himself, but they also were error free.

Ha Ha Ha!

Now that I have another novel almost ready to find its place on bookshelves everywhere, I have a more realistic picture of what’s involved, and it’s a great illustration of publishing sleight of hand. What appears easy to a reader is anything but for the writer and her editors.

santa-31665_1280If you are the kind of person who continued believing in Santa Claus after your parents said he didn’t exist, you may not want to read on. I hate to disillusion anyone! But the only thing magical about creating fiction is what takes place between pen and paper—the imagination. Without it, our work would languish. Otherwise, the process is messy and, largely, trial and error.

For Curva Peligrosa, my novel that will be published this summer, I spent many years learning about my characters as they revealed themselves to me and discovering their stories. I’m not the kind of writer who outlines a plot in advance and then proceeds to write. Some can do this successfully, and maybe it’s not as chaotic. I can’t. I like surprises as a reader and as a writer. Planning in advance would eliminate much of the fun for me of inventing the novel’s world.

Once I discovered Curva’s center of gravity, I was able to get close enough to its finished form that I could ask fellow writers to read and comment on its chapters, giving me a sense of what was working and what wasn’t. When I felt I had a complete draft, I asked a trusted published colleague to critique it. Her feedback started me off on numerous rounds of revisions (we’re talking about over 300 double-spaced pages!) that included two professional editors I hired before I submitted the manuscript to Regal House Publishing and the publisher sent me a contract.

But that was only the beginning of several more rounds of content revising and close line editing. I’ve recently gone through yet another proofreading of the text, and I’ll need to go through it again after my publisher has also reviewed the manuscript.

I don’t mean to discourage any beginning writers, but you should have a realistic picture of what’s involved in giving birth to a novel, especially if you have literary ambitions and aren’t just writing pot-boilers. No, Virginia, there isn’t a Santa Claus, but writing a well-constructed novel can be even better.

The Many Layers of Editing: Part Two

I’ve already submitted a post about the level of editing I’ve been enjoying for my novel Curva Peligrosa, to be published in 2017. I don’t think I would have received such intense feedback if the novel had been published by a large press. While I’m extremely grateful for my publisher/editor’s attentiveness, at times I also feel overwhelmed by the number of comments she’s made that often go beyond suggestions and feel as if she’s taking over my manuscript. It’s a delicate balancing act on her part and on mine.

editrBut her observations also are forcing me to reconsider or question aspects of the work that I have felt were finalized. That is the most painful part: as someone who has knitted in a past life, this process reminds me of what happens if you slip a stitch. The knitter can’t just keep going. She has to return to the place where the error occurred and start over from that point. It’s not a happy move. Yet ultimately, it will give a finished garment that looks professional, not something marred by many snags and snarls.

I’ve had to put my own role as writer aside and let the work itself have prominence. Otherwise, my ego gets too involved in the outcome and I won’t heed valuable criticisms that will improve the overall product.

Fine-tuning a novel takes not only an enormous amount of time but it also requires tremendous patience. Passages that had made perfect sense to me originally take on an opacity when viewed through an attentive reader’s periscope. Novel writers need to be prepared for this kind of scrutiny. We may feel we’ve hit all of the notes in our many drafts, but we also need to recognize our limitations.

It requires a skilled reader to help us see what we’ve missed. And humiliating as that may be, it’s an essential part of the writing craft. Being able to take good criticism and make it part of the final product.

The Many Layers of Editing

Small presses don’t have the reputation that larger presses do of having high editorial standards. But my experience with these presses, especially the one that is publishing Curva Peligrosa, my second novel, has been revelatory.

Before submitting the manuscript to the press for its consideration. I had been through it numerous times on my own, seeking to strengthen it. I also had hired two different “professional” editors to read and review it. They made valuable suggestions, many of which I used as a basis for additional rewrites.

editrBut I’m discovering a whole new level of revising in my interaction with my publisher/editor. She has done one read through where she looked at overarching problems that should be addressed. Now I’m going through her second review that consists largely of line editing. She has found many inconsistencies that are unavoidable in a 350-page work. She also has made numerous suggestions that have helped me to add important detail or to deepen/streamline the narrative. It’s an invaluable experience to have this kind of attentive and intelligent questioning of passages that I thought were complete.

Of course, I resist some of her comments, and I don’t act on all of her recommendations—maybe two thirds. Though she is deeply involved in the characters and action, it is my creation, and she doesn’t know the book in the same way that I do. But, then, that’s my role as the author. Even so, the work is much stronger because of her involvement in it.

From this experience, I’ve discovered how valuable this kind of intensive editing can be. While I gave birth to the world I’ve created, it helps enormously to have a sensitive eye that can assist in the midwifery. I feel I’m receiving an even higher caliber of help in this process than I might have if a large publishing house had purchased the book. Not only is there more clarity, but seeing the characters/situations/settings through a sensitive reader’s eyes gives deeper insight into the work in general.

This won’t be the final edit (a copyeditor will look closely at grammatical/typographical errors next after I go through it again on my own), but it has been more than illuminating. My publisher/editor’s reading has raised the novel to another level, something not all published authors achieve.

 

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.


On Revising

Okay, I’ve been writing for longer than I care to remember, but I still can convince myself (arrogant? yes!) that I don’t need feedback from other writers.  This attitude tends to take over when I’ve spent considerable time working on something, as I had with a memoir I’ve written.  After all, it’s my story I’m telling.  How could someone else help me to improve it?  I don’t usually take this approach to fiction I’ve created; I assume it can be made better.  But I had persuaded myself that this material was ready to be published.

When I recently sent parts of it to my on-line critique group (I’ve only met a couple of these lovely people face-to-face since we started working together several years ago), I didn’t expect I’d need to change much.  (Have you ever heard that voice before?  This draft is perfect as is?)  So when one of the group members commented that it seemed to be an early draft, I felt offended.  I’d been working on this collection for some time, and it had gone through several revisions.  The remark sounded patronizing to me, like one-upmanship.  Then the others in the group began pointing out things that I hadn’t thought about or hadn’t gone far enough with.  I had a defense against all of their suggestions.  Sound familiar?

Fortunately, after a few days, my senior inner editor gained control and suggested I review the emails I’d received.  I took the advice and looked over the draft with the recommendations in mind.  Some I didn’t act on. (I’m familiar enough with these readers’ perspective that I know which things to ignore.)  But as I began to re-read my piece, line by line, I could see many places that could be improved.  I may not have followed some of my critiquers’ suggestions, but just the act of re-entering the material with a critical eye opened it in ways I hadn’t expected.  And that’s one great value of having expert readers look over our drafts.  As writers (and readers), they were able to notice things I couldn’t because of my myopia.  Their varied perspectives gave me several different angles from which to view what I’d written.  The process is invaluable.

So here I am, humbled once again by how challenging revising can be.  I’m also reminded that even the most experienced writers resist being told their prose can be improved.

 

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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