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: russia

Russia is much in the news these days and a Russian was the first governor of Alaska: Learn more in MASTER OF ALASKA!

master of alaska blog tour.pngAbout Master of Alaska

The detail and research that author Roger Seiler used—from biographies to actual letters and reports by the Governor Baranov himself—creates a riveting story.

Master of Alaska – a compelling Historical Fiction about the first governor of Alaska sent to the colony by Russia in 1790 – George Washington was President at the time. Master of Alaska starts in October 1790 when Aleksandr Baranov left his family in Russia and sails across the North Pacific to Kodiak to become the chief manager for Tsarina Catherine the Great’s colony in the far Northwest of North America. Baranov is shipwrecked, saved and adopted by the Aleut natives. Later he is forced to marry Anooka the daughter of the tribal chief, despite still having a wife back in Russia to save his men from starvation. Only slated to serve five years, Baranov spends the next 28 years in Alaska, surviving natural disasters, a massacre of his people at Sitka, meddling competing Russian authorities, a British attempt to undermine his colony and an assassination attempt. Interestingly, Baranov’s native wife and teenage daughter play an intricate role and contribute much to his success and survival in Alaska. Baranov built an empire and sought peace with the warring Tlingit, and thanks largely to his efforts Alaska is part of the U.S. today.

Excerpt:

Baranov Meets Anooka (p. 82)

INTRO: After Aleksandr Baranov had reached the Russian settlement at Three Saints Bay on Kodiak Island, he took command of the colony. The Aleut village chief, named Grigor by the Russians, had learned to speak Russian and invited Baranov into his longhouse to confer. As they sat in front of the central fire, Baranov took from his pocket a bright copper plate engraved with Tsarina Catherine’s coat of arms and gave it to Chief Grigor as a gift.

Chief Grigor’s eyes widened in amazement as he examined the copper plate closely. “This is important,” he said.

It was exactly the reaction Baranov wanted. He continued, “I look for a long future of friendship between us. We can help each other in many ways. I must explore Montague Island, over here, and need some of your men as guides.”

“Great Nanuq, do you have a woman?”

Baranov was taken aback. “I have a wife in Russia.”

“In Russia? What good is that? Take my daughter for wife. Then I be your father, and we work together as one. This way we make powerful alliance.”

Before Baranov could react, Chief Grigor turned and called out to his daughter in his Native tongue, “Anooka, come here!”

From a dim recess of the lodge, a slender seventeen-year-old in deerskins approached with unusual youthful dignity. She had glistening long, black hair flowing over her shoulders, and set in an oval face were the high cheek bones common to many Natives. Her big, warm, brown eyes looked out from under lovely arched eyebrows. Clear, tan skin, a straight, pretty nose, and a mouth with soft lips completed her. To Baranov, Anooka was strikingly beautiful. Though reserved, the self-confidence of her rank allowed her to glance at the strange Russian in front of her, and then she faced her father.

In the Kenaitze dialect of the Alutiiq language, the chief told her, “Turn around and face the great Russian Nanuq.” She did so. With no hint of shyness, she looked Baranov right in his eyes. Her intelligent dark eyes held his stare as an equal for a long moment, until she yielded a slight smile, revealing perfect white teeth, and looked down.FrontCover0823Bmasterofalaska

Nanuq quickly collected himself and, wanting to get back to the negotiations for guides, replied, “Chief Grigor, your offer is most generous. But as I said, I already have a wife in Russia.”

Grigor insisted, “But not here. How long has it been, great Nanuq, since you’ve had a wife at your side?”

Baranov stared at him in silence. He didn’t want to offend the man, but the proposal was absurd.

The chief tried once more. Certainly an alliance with this Russian Nanuq would greatly benefit his own stature in the eyes of his people—and especially their southern enemies, the hated Tlingit.

“I see. Well, you need a wife here! And we need a strong alliance.”

“A Russian can only have one wife.”

“Poor man! Poor man!” said Grigor in mild disappointment. He knew that making such alliances, especially with one as strong as Nanuq, could take time and much negotiation. But just how strong was Nanuq, anyway? Maybe he should be tested. There was more than one way to impress the Tlingit with Kenaitze power. Grigor motioned to Anooka to return to her work.

“Well, then, the least I can do for you is give you the guides you need.”

Anooka sat on a blanket in the back of the longhouse, where she had been making a bear claw necklace for her father. Why did Father want to give her to this man? Though short, he looked strong and intelligent, but strange. Could she ever want him? She knew what she wanted would count for nothing. Her father would decide, and she had to trust him to choose well for her. She would ask one thing: that her father wait until he really knew a man before he made his choice. As his daughter, she deserved at least that, and the chief had only just met this Nanuq.

Baranov looked into the shadows for Anooka, straining for another glimpse of her youthful beauty. Grigor noticed.

About the Author Roger Seiler

Award-winning filmmaker and author Roger Seiler grew up in Alaska from age three.  His love of adventure comes from both his parents. His father Edwin was a civil engineer eventually becoming an Alaskan bush pilot. His mother Josefina was born in Puerto Rico and was a writer and Alaskan sport-fishing lodge manager with the hobby of Flamenco dancing.  In his late teens, Roger was a king salmon sport fishing guide on Alaska’s Naknek River, and also a commercial salmon fisherman in Bristol Bay.

He attended Deep Springs College and graduated With Honors from UCLA with a BA in Theater Arts – Film. His first film work was for UCLA’s Automotive Collision Research project, including a film for TV, “Safety on the Road,” which he wrote, produced and directed. While attending UCLA, Roger also worked with actor Karl Malden and famed director Francis Ford Coppola.

Roger worked for IBM for several years as an in-house filmmaker involved largely in producing and directing motivational films for employee conventions. He has made over 30 documentary films. His IBM film, The Inner Eye of Alexander Rutsch had a special screening at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and won the CINE Golden Eagle Award, as did three of his other films, Frontiers, Challenge Over the Atlantic, and Strategy of the Achiever.

Roger currently lives in South Nyack, NY with his wife Sally. Roger is a devoted reader and supporter of libraries. In 1977 he was elected to the Board of Trustees of the Nyack Library (Carnegie funded in 1879) and has continued to serve for 40 years, 16 as Board President. Master of Alaska, a historical novel, is his second book and whose publisher North Face Publishing is a subsidiary of Motivational Press Publishing.

Interview with Roger Seiler 

How do you come up with book titles?

 A title must grab attention and be easy to remember. The subtitle should suggest what the book is about, with a bit of a hook – intriguing but not giving away too much.

What have people most liked or found most meaningful/funny/creative/ challenging about your book?

They love the dialog and the way they hear what is going on inside the characters’ heads. Then they say they were gripped by the adventure, the conflicts, and how the confilcts are resolved.

Why do you write?

 I love making characters come to life on paper. Seeing them, hearing them, thinking how they think, feeling what they feel, and putting it all down on paper in words that make it all seem real gives me a thrill.

Where do your characters come from?

I focus on the historical novel genre, so my characters come from history. Mostly they are people who     actually existed or could have existed at the time of my story. My fictional people help to draw out and support the character exposition of the true-to-life protagonist and antagonist. The protagonist has to be someone we can identify with and admire in some way – maybe not all the time, but most of the time. The antagonist and bad people are bad because they have no empathy for anyone. I try to show that the greatest conflicts between people can be negotiated with empathy.

At what moment did you decide you were a writer?

When I won an American Legion writing contest in the 8th grade. I still have the silver medal I won, but the essay I wrote on some patriotic subject is misplaced somewhere. It led me to historical fiction, usually focused on some time of conflict in American history. I love telling stories about real people who were unique, fascinating, conflicted, and who tell us something about the human condition that is useful in our own lives. My first story came in 1987 — a sci-fi story about a scientist who discovered the origin of Dark Energy and the ordinary composition of Dark Matter.

How do you start a novel/story?

I do historical research about a subject that interests me, first online and then in books and letters. Then I sketch the story by hand on paper as scenes based on history in a rough outline, using the guidelines of the three act structure, the inciting incident, and the ups and downs within the story arc. I leave a lot of space between scene headings for me to add notes later. I look over the sketch and then start filling in details, though not in any particular order – just as ideas and visions of characters, events, and things come to me. Once the sketch is fairly fleshed out, I key it into my laptop. Then I start writing – a little bit here, a little bit there, as ideas come to me. At first, writing is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. As for the start of the story, I come back to do that last after I really know my characters and what the heart of the story is about. I can almost never know this at the beginning of my process. I’ll typically do at least 100 rewrites of the first page to get it right – which I could never do at the beginning of the process because I don’t really know enough then about my characters and story which have had to evolve throughout my writing process. Sometimes a rewrite of the first page can involve a change of just one word or a punctuation mark, which can make a remarkably significant difference. Just like panning for gold – a constant flushing out of the sand to reveal what has value.

What feeds your process? Can you listen to music and write or not… can you write late at night or are you a morning person… when the spark happens, do you run for the pen or the screen or do you just hope it is still there tomorrow?

I rarely listen to music as I write because its mood can distract me from the mood of my story, as I concentrate on thinking, imagining, and writing. I start writing right after breakfast and just keep going until I run out of steam that day – sometimes that’s not until 11 at night. But I do have other things to do, so sometimes I’ll stop writing after 2 or 3 hours in the morning, then come back to it in the evening. Mostly, once I have an idea about how some characters are going to interact in a scene, I write continuously until it feels like I’ve got something meaningful happening between them, or a particular character has been more fully revealed.

What writing mistakes do you find yourself making most often?

 I tend to overwrite, especially in “showing” the story. I’ve learned that it’s often best to “show” just the high points and low points of the story, but to “tell” what happens in between so as not to bog down the reader in unnecessary minutia, and to move the story along in a way that keeps the reader engaged. Too much “showing” can be boring. “Telling” has its place, like stepping on the accelerator to get in the fast lane. There needs to be a rhythm between show and tell, and once you find the right rhythm, you keep up its proper tempo.

Who is your favorite character from your book(s)?

In Master of Alaska, my favorite character is Baranov’s wife Anna with their daughter Irina a close second, because of their success in showing empathy for others. Baranov is fascinating, but he has had to learn from Anna how to succeed in dealing with adversaries. She showed him how to develop a different kind of inner strength than ever had before. Without her he would have failed.

If a movie was made of your book, who would the stars be?

Daniel Craig or Jeremy Renner would be Baranov; Ariel Tweto (1/2 Alaskan Native) as Irina, Baranov’s part Native daughter, unknown Alaskan Native as Anooka/Anna; James Franko as Kuskov. The film director should be Ali Selim.

Important Links:

Roger reading from his book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBgh3nraTrY&feature=youtu.be

On Twitter: https://twitter.com/MasterAlaska

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=master%20of%20alaska

Website http://MasterofAlaska.com

On Amazon: http://amzn.to/2qrLNQQ

On B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Master+of+Alaska?_requestid=312472

On Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31921257-master-of-alaska?from_search=true

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tsar of Writing: Anthony Marra

I’ve now read two of Anthony Marra’s books, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and The Tsar of Love and Techno. Both are not only moving but also darkly funny. Someone once said that humor is a way of writing about serious matters, and Marra proves this saying to be true. He has chosen an area to write about whose inhabitants have been long-suffering. But somehow they manage to find specks of light in the soul-destroying darkness they inhabit. tsar copy

While A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is an official novel, official in the sense that it focuses on a handful of characters and is plotted, The Tsar of Love and Techno isn’t one. Instead, it’s a collection of linked stories that roam from the 1930s to the present and even beyond. Yet, Marra has so skillfully woven together these individual narratives that the work is as satisfying to read as a novel because the characters form part of a closely-knit network. By the end of the book, the narrative comes full circle so that the offspring of individuals encountered in the first section or two appear.

Consequently, one feels that this world had coherence and depth. There is violence and tragedy, but there also are family connections that somehow manage to survive just as the characters somehow manage to live through difficult situations.

In a scene where Kolya, the elder of a pair of youthful brothers is protecting his younger sibling from an assassination they have stumbled onto and are secretly witnessing in White Forest, the condemned man’s eyes happen to meet those of the younger brother’s. The man’s mouth is sealed with tape, but he tries to warn his killers about the boys’ presence: “He’s trying to warn them,” Kolya muttered disbelievingly. “He’s trying to warn the people about to kill him” (164). The killers didn’t pick up on what their prisoner was trying to say, but when one of them pulled the trigger to finally shoot their target, “nothing sounded but a hollow clack” (164). The condemned man ended up needing to show his murderers how to properly load the gun so he could experience his proper ending.

This kind of incestuous interaction is a major theme in The Tsar of Love and Techno. Victim and transgressor are so painfully intimate at times, it’s difficult to know whom to root for. But as a reader, I always was rooting for Marra, whose skill and wit give a new definition to the word “tsar.”

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.

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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.


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