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: imagination Page 1 of 2

Language and its mysterious relationship to us

5d9cf373-e31c-400e-9fe0-1655625ab9b2My husband and I got into a discussion of poetry and our different approaches to it. His training is in new criticism. Mine embraces more contemporary work, though I’m eclectic and like many different styles, including John Ashbery’s method of disjointed narrative. My husband recognizes I’m onto something that Melville was alluding to in Moby Dick—the gap between language and what it tries to depict…how language organizes and creates our way of seeing.

Is Imagination the central pivot of human life?

I’m realizing that we take the imagination for granted. It isn’t enough to have imagination, but it needs to be recognized, educated, refined, and developed, just like any faculty.  I could have a bent for playing the piano or singing, but nothing much will come of it without practice, lessons, and traversing the various levels involved in becoming a skilled musician. These musings have led to today’s blog post on this subject.

In Defense of Fiction: Is It Appropriate to Appropriate?

typewriter-801921_1920During a radio interview with Kate Raphael of KPFA’s Women’s Magazine, she asked me if I worried about being accused of appropriation because I’m writing about cultures/characters that aren’t my own. We were discussing my novel, Curva Peligrosa. Curva is originally from Southern Mexico. Another character, Billie One Eye, is half Blackfoot and half Scottish. They feature prominently in this book.

The Imagination = Fountain of Youth

“Logic will get you from point A to point B, but imagination will take you everywhere” – Albert Einstein.

I’ve been thinking about the importance of imagination not just as a writer and reader but alsthe-background-1911648_1920o as a survival tool. And I wonder how and when this faculty first appeared. Of course, when discussing imagination, creativity is not far behind, for the two are handmaidens. The imagination needs our creative abilities in order to be realized, and to be fullycreative, one needs imagination.

Writers as Shape Shifters!

Those of us who write undergo a personal odyssey each time we pick up our pens or apply fingers to a computer. We also participate in discovering the origins of fiction. But what starts us out on these explorations of other’s lives?

An ode to the imagination!

the-background-1911648_1920I tried to get started today on a children’s story of a girl sleeping in an elegant dollhouse, an image I had in a dream awhile back that has stayed with me.  But I felt extremely critical of what I wrote.  I had to stop…for now.  Let it breathe. Let the criticalness soften—fall away.

Fairy tales rock!

narrative-794978_1920From the time I learned how to read, fairy tales, the world of mythos, nourished me and fed my curiosity about life and the world. My parents had purchased a set of the Books of Knowledge, wonderful, fat red volumes that I browsed whenever I had the chance.  At the center of each book was a special section of nursery rhymes, folk, and fairy tales.  They were the heart of each encyclopedia, and I believe they continue to be the heart of literature.  The heart of civilization.  All of the archetypes show up there: the good/bad mother; the helpful/deceitful trickster; the caring/unfeeling king. And so many more.

Letting the Imagination Lead

supernova-1183663_1920In addition to writing adult fiction and non-fiction, I also create pieces for children. Today, I tried to start a children’s story of a girl sleeping in an elegant dollhouse based on a dream image that has stayed with me.  But after a few sentences, I felt extremely critical of what I had written.  I had to stop…for now.  Let it breathe, I said to myself. Let the criticalness soften—fall away.

In Defense of Fiction: Is It Appropriate to Appropriate?

typewriter-801921_1920During a recent radio interview with Kate Raphael of KPFA’s Women’s Magazine, she asked me if I worried about being accused of appropriation because I’m writing about cultures/characters that aren’t my own. We were discussing my latest novel, Curva Peligrosa. Curva is originally from Southern Mexico. Another character, Billie One Eye, is half Blackfoot and half Scottish. They feature prominently in this book.

Transiting the Real

sofa-749629_1920Recently, my reading group selected Rachel Cusk’s novel Transit as our next book, and I recalled reading a review by Elaine Blair of Cusk’s novel Outline in the January 2015 New Yorker. Blair claims “Cusk has written admiringly about Karl Ove Knausgaard, and her proposed cure for the trouble with fiction sounds like a gloss of his. ‘Autobiography is increasingly the only form in all the arts,’ she told the Guardian.” Blair goes on to say that some writers are hewing closer to the author’s subjective experiences, of effacing the difference between fiction and their own personal lives.

The Imagination = Fountain of Youth

“Logic will get you from point A to point B, but imagination will take you everywhere” – Albert Einstein.

I’ve been thinking about the importance of imagination not just as a writer and reader but also as a survival tool. And I wonder how and when this faculty first appeared. Of course, when discussing imagination, creativity is not far behind, for the two are handmaidens. The imagination needs our creative abilities in order to be realized, and to be fully creative, one needs imagination.

imagination copy

Kant, apparently, believed that the “faculty which takes pleasure in the contemplation of both beautiful and sublime objects is that which forms images” (The Critique of Judgment). Forming images is one aspect of inventiveness. Images have many components, usually based on something that we can name in the inner or outer world, like tree or bird or dragonfly. These entities then not only name something we can visualize, but they also can be metaphors or symbols that signify something more. In this sense, imagination really is an image-nation, inhabiting its own sphere.

The ability to dream and fantasize and discover has its foundations in our imaginative faculty. Think of how bland and one-dimensional this world would be if we couldn’t envision something more, something that hasn’t been considered before. This is what inspires me to write. Writing offers me an opportunity to exercise my own imagination and create something totally new in the process. I feel my all novels are a celebration of the imagination and where it can take us. For me, it is the fountain of youth. As long as we can imagine, we are young in spirit and able to transcend even this decaying body.

Writers Versus Artist: Is There a Difference?

I’ve been thinking more about my reaction to some writers. One can be a writer…anyone can be a writer in the sense of putting sentences together that form longer narratives…but not everyone is an artist. That’s the distinction I want to make between the work some people are publishing whether the book is self-published or travels the traditional route via a publisher, small or large.

But why is being an artist different and does it matter? Art should cause us to see others, the world, and ourselves differently. When it’s functioning best, it shakes our usual way of thinking/perceiving and connects us to something deeper. Transcends the everyday. If I’m just writing purely autobiographical material that’s barely disguised as fiction and not inventing as well, I’m not opening the door for something new to enter. Instead, I’m reiterating what I already know and passing it off as art—regurgitating. That isn’t to say that memoir/autobiography can’t be artful. It can. So can novels that have autobiographical elements. But, again, it’s how it’s written—the literary techniques and imagination the writer has at his/her disposal that transforms the raw material into artistic expression.

I realize I’m creating a hierarchy here, but I do think the best writers are priests/priestesses in their own way, offering Slide1through the word, through their words, through our universal language, a vision of something else. For me it’s equivalent to viewing our surroundings from a ground floor window versus climbing to the highest level and seeing how much more there is to know about. A writer who isn’t an artist seems to be stuck with that ground floor view. A writer who is an artist has much more scope in his/her work. He/she is able to transform his/her material, and that’s where the artistry comes in. Transformation is at the basis of many religions, and I think it’s also the basis of art: transmuting base metal into gold as the alchemists attempted to do. Taking the letters that make up our words and giving them magical powers to shape our thinking and seeing.

Writing back to life

writer

It’s wonderful to be writing again after my daily commitment was severely interrupted by launching and marketing Fling! I felt hollow during that time, as if something vital were missing from my daily diet. What is it about writing that is so necessary for me and I’m sure for other writers?

When I sit down at my computer, or in front of a sheet of paper, another world opens up to me. It’s not unlike what I experience at night before I fall asleep. The word “fall” seems key here: during those hours, we descend into the unconscious, into another level from our surface life. While the brain may be cranking out a conglomeration of images we’ve collected throughout the day, I don’t believe that’s all we’re doing when we sleep. I think dreams are more mysterious than that explanation implies.

How do you explain the imagination and all it encompasses? How do you constrain it by rationally trying to identify its source, its ability to help us soar on the back of words and create new configurations that end up being stories or poems? You don’t. If you’re a writer, you wed memory, words, and imagination in a marriage that always surprises. And that’s what I missed during those dry days when I didn’t have access to that realm. I’m happy to be back.

IS AUTOBIOGRAPHY THE ONLY FORM IN ALL THE ARTS?

I’ve just read a review by Elaine Blair of Rachel Cusk’s novel Outline in the January 2015 New Yorker. Blair says, Cusk has written admiringly about Knausgaard, and her proposed cure for the trouble with fiction sounds like a gloss of his. ‘Autobiography is increasingly the only form in all the arts,’ she told the Guardian.” Blair goes on to say that some writers are hewing closer to the author’s subjective experiences, of effacing the difference between fiction and their own personal lives.

But Blair also points out that “Cusk’s shorthand doesn’t begin to account for the variety of literary experiments we’ve been seeing from novelists like Knausgaard, …. and W. G. Sebald” (70). As a writer, I’m all for any kind of improvisation on the novel or any other kind of narrative. I haven’t read Knausgaard, but I have devoured all of W. G. Sebald’s “fictions,” novels that are truly novel in that he has invented a hybrid form. He incorporates travelogue, biography, memoir, speculation, and literary criticism into the narrator’s perspective: often a wandering and thoughtful observer of his surroundings.

Vertigo was the first of Sebald’s books that I read. In order to enter his world, I had to disregard most of my preconceptions about what a novel should be. Initially, I was attracted by his playfulness and the tongue-in-cheek tone, as well as by the sly humor and wit. I also felt there was something else lurking there. Just as the narrator has a paranoid fear of being watched or followed, I felt followed by something in the book that I couldn’t quite identify, some truth or knowledge, as often happens with good poetry where meaning emerges from around the poem’s borders. Sebald’s approach explodes for me the myths I’ve created about novels needing to incorporate dramatic scenes, etc., all of the various workshop admonitions about narrative arc and development.

Though I haven’t read Cusk’s work, and only have this review to go on, I am concerned with the idea that some writers may rely more on their personal experiences to create “fictions” than employ their imaginations. Contemporary life is already too one-dimensional and focused on surfaces. Most people aren’t aware of their dreams and the unconscious. Or they deny that anything other than the day’s residue is being circulated in these nighty dramas. What a loss!

As Carl Jung pointed out in Man and His Symbols, “Imagination and intuition are vital to our understanding” (82). He goes on to say that it isn’t just poets or other artists who employ these ways of perceiving, but they are also essential to scientists. He emphasizes that the rational intellect isn’t the only way of knowing or understanding ourselves and the world (inner or outer) and claims that “the surface of our world seems to be cleansed of all superstitious and irrational elements” (86). This observation is even truer today than when Jung wrote this piece in 1961 near the end of his life.

If our novels are limited to portraying our everyday experiences, the chitchat that goes on in our living rooms and other social settings, then we are missing a whole level of vitality and knowledge. It’s the imagination in conjunction with the unconscious that produces myths, symbols, and alternate views of reality. Not that our personal experiences can’t be imbued with these elements, but if they are the sole basis for our fictions, then we are deprived of something much richer and more worthwhile.

 

 

 

 

Writing like an Architect

Seeing Othello recently confirmed for me that being a first-rate writer requires the same kind of training that an architect receives. A typical program includes courses in architectural history and theory, building design, construction methods, professional practice, math, physical sciences, and liberal arts. Writers may not need to study math or the physical sciences, but they do need to give themselves the best liberal arts education they can find, both formal and informal. And like architects, in order to be successful in their field, writers need vision, a rich imagination. Creative writing programs can help educate us to a certain extent in terms of craft, but much of our learning must happen outside the academy. That means the direction is unsystematic and  mostly comes from within. Yet like an architect, we need to be thoroughly familiar with materials and structures, both ancient and contemporary. We also need to make friends with the unconscious.

I once naïvely assumed that I could devote one summer to writing and suddenly bloom like Athena from Zeus’ head, becoming an author overnight. It didn’t happen. As I’ve discovered since then, it takes a tremendous amount of sheer hard work, of experimenting and exploring and discarding until control over the craft emerges.

Then there are all the inner blocks to overcome, dragons that we continuously have to slay before we can claim our own voice. These include the inner critic who wails that we don’t have any talent and no one will every publish our work. It also involves all the ways we can distract ourselves from the task at hand, pencil sharpening instead of writing.

Though at times I would like to renege on the commitment I’ve made to myself, if I keep plugging along, I see progress.

 

 

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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