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: writers Page 1 of 2

What goes into creating characters

When I was 13, I began keeping a diary. But since I feared someone might read it, I invented a coded language to record whatever I needed to write about at that time. I don’t know what happened to the diary. But I like to think that whoever found it thought s/he had stumbled on a relic from a spaceship or another country because of the unfamiliar words.

Are All Writers Artists?

absorbed-2409314_1280Anyone can be a writer in the sense of putting sentences together that form longer narratives. But not all of these writers are artists. That’s the distinction I 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.

Do Writers Write for Particular Readers?

At a recent poetry reading, I was asked if I wrote for a particular ideal reader, something I hadn’t given much thought to. So here I am laboring on Labor Day in response to that question.

Writers as Chameleons!

The other night I dreamt that I had at least seven different selves that I circulated among. I wasn’t surprised. My roles in the outer world shift regularly from writer to teacher to mother to wife to social director to cook. But I also realize that writing fiction, poetry, and non-fiction calls on very different aspects of myself.

Trusting Ourselves as Writers

“I write to make sense of my life.” John Cheever

I’ve been reading Blake Bailey’s Cheever: A Life, and it’s been extremely illuminating in many ways. John Cheever, considered one of the best 20th Century short story writers, struggled at times, as most writers do, to trust his impulses in creating short stories and novels. Many of his works first appeared in the New Yorker, and for much of that time, William Maxwell, long-time editor at that magazine, was both his good friend and editor. This relationship eventually became a problem for them both.

Does Art Strip the Writer/Artist Bare?

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

Writers Or Magicians?

emoticon-1421124_1280Fiction writers have been called many things, but magician seems to me 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 magician, assisting in making visible what wasn’t there before.

“Be someone on whom nothing is lost.” —Henry James

zucchini-1605792_1920Many writers try to live up to Henry James’ advice: “Be someone on whom nothing is lost.” We writers need to approach our internal and external realities in a mindful way, taking in as much as we can so that when we write description, create dialogue, and develop characters, we have plenty of material to work with. But being mindful also means we are more alert to our surroundings and, hopefully, more alive in each moment.

Are Writers Shapeshifters?

plant-426672_1920During a visit to Calgary, Canada, the city where I grew up, I conducted a workshop at the event “When Words Collide.” It was entitled “The Origins of Fiction: A Personal Odyssey.” Preparing for the occasion had me thinking about narrative seeds, especially mine. What starts me on these explorations of others’ lives?

Are Writers Garbage Pickers?

white-male-2064827_1920When I arrived at the gym yesterday, I parked the car next to the Big 5 Sporting Goods store’s huge garbage containers, located in my gym’s parking area. I felt embarrassed for the man I saw lurking behind the bins. He wore a baseball cap and tried to appear invisible as he rummaged through the trash. The image of him prowling there stayed with me, and I couldn’t help but think of it as a metaphor for writers.

Are All Internet Sites Created Equal?

Okay, it’s confession time. I’m a snob, an elitist, and worse. I believe that my many years as a university teacher of rhetoric, and my equal amount of time as a writer of several novels, poetry, essays, and more, qualify me as a specialist in those areas. In addition, my broad and deep background in the liberal arts has taught me what constitutes good and bad writing/thinking. I don’t claim to be the final arbiter of taste, but I do believe we can learn to recognize when fiction (or any other kind of writing) doesn’t measure up.

cat-copyA parallel: If we love food and have eaten at better restaurants, it doesn’t take long to recognize the difference between high-level cuisine and what is mediocre. Similarly, for those of us that love wine, a more costly bottle usually tastes better than two-buck chuck. Isn’t this how we develop more discriminating palates? And shouldn’t this refinement apply to literature and other arts? Or has widespread popular education, prevalent communications systems, and what is often called ‘mass society’ totally eroded these differences?

I believe it did for me. Early this year, I joined an on-line group that billed itself as a writers’ book club. Its mission is to profile, promote, and propel indie authors, an undertaking I applauded at the time since my novels have—and will be—published by smaller presses. I paid my membership fee, willing to take a risk and also hoping that this association would help me find more readers for my work. A constant learner, I also thought I might pick up something new from my fellow writers.

But once I became a member, I discovered that most other subscribers had self-published. Their work lacked the depth and quality I was hoping to find. I don’t want to get into a discussion here of the pros and cons of self-publishing, though I think it’s a viable option in some cases, especially if the writers are professional and seek expert editing before they release their books. Yet in this case, there clearly was a difference between the self-published writers (for the most part) and those who had work released through traditional presses.

Unfortunately, one of the organization’s requirements is for each member to purchase, read, and give an ‘honest’ review of another member’s book for a total of four a year. In general, the books I purchase are mainly literary, and I had difficulty finding any in that category among my fellow writers there. Though I had agreed to this membership rule, I found it difficult to do because there was so little of quality to choose from. I also felt exploited by the requirement. While so far I’ve read and reviewed three books for the group, I haven’t had the favor returned.

Realizing I made a mistake to involve myself in this pledging enterprise, I’ve finally decided to quit, but my experience with it has forced me to be more discriminating. In the future I’ll remember that, yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus, and yes, Lily, not all Internet sites are created equal.

The Internet offers many opportunities for authors to network and market themselves. But I need to chuck my egalitarian instincts and not get involved in situations that consume my time without any payback. A valuable lesson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Language’s Mystery And Its Relationship to Writers

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.

After this conversation, we looked at some poems I had written recently, and he was reading them differently than previously. This time he was able to grasp what I was doing. We talked of how our training can shut us down, put blinders on us. He said, “Joseph Brodsky believes language has a life outside of us and uses the writer.”

I agree. I think there’s truth to the statement “in the beginning was the word.” Language is absolutely mysterious in its relationship to humans and the things it touches.

I also see a relationship between impressionism, some kinds of abstract paintings, and the poetry I write. It tends to mainly suggest something. Give only enough information/detail to set the readers’ imaginations working. I don’t want everything spelled out. I want mystery in my poems (and my prose)—new worlds.

I’m reminded of this quote: “Mark Rothko, painting his stripes in Greece, was asked: ‘Why don’t you paint our temples.’ He replied: ‘Everything I paint is a temple.’” I’d like to think that everything I write is one.

There seems some evidence for the idea that we are changed by the things we create—actually shaped by them. Ralph Ellison shares it. He says the novels we write create us as much as we create them. How mysterious language is and its relationship to writers.

The Writer as Chameleon

The other night I dreamt that I had at least seven different selves that I circulated among. I wasn’t surprised. My roles in the outer world shift regularly from writer to teacher to vp of USF’s part-time faculty union, to mother, to wife, to social director, to cook. But I also realize that writing fiction, poetry, and non-fiction calls on very different aspects of myself.  MoodyNosyBeWeb(1)

When I’m involved in creating a fictive narrative, I have to allow myself to enter into many different settings, characters, and feeling states in order to pull it off. For example, with Fling!, the novel that will be published in July, when I wrote the section on Mexico City, I had never been there. Nor had I visited the city in the 1920s, one of the time periods that occur in the book. But through research about the city, and inhabiting my own imagination, I somehow managed to pull it off. I not only created a believable environment, but I also established a character that fit into that period.

When I write poetry, something different happens. I don’t start with a particular character or setting. Instead, I’m motivated by a feeling or an image or an unexplainable nudge. Nor do I have any idea where the poem is going, though the same is true with fiction. I’m always heading off a precipice, never knowing where or when I’ll land. Poetry seems to be sparked by some inner urge and often leaves me with a quandary or unanswered question. The poem remains a mystery in many ways even to me, the creator.

Non-fiction draws on some aspects of the above two genres, but a very different self takes charge here. While I also don’t usually know where I’m going when I write non-fiction, I am less dependent on mood and characters to guide me. Here, ideas tend to rule, and I dance between them, letting one spark another until a mosaic forms and I have an essay.

Do other writers have a similar process?

Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty: A Mixed Bag

I have mixed feelings after just completing Ann Patchett’s memoir about her friendship with Lucy Grealy, a poet/memoirist/essayist who died at 39 from what appeared to be a drug overdose: Truth and Beauty: A Friendship. Grealy was diagnosed at age nine with a rare form of cancer that is often fatal. It caused the doctors to remove her jawbone. During her remaining years, she went through 38 surgeries. Various doctors attempted to restore her jaw and implant lower teeth (which she didn’t have) so she could chew properly. As it was, she was limited to eating only very soft food.

On the one hand, Patchett does a great job of resurrecting Grealy in this book, an attempt, I’m sure, to keep her friend close by, even though she was dead. Patchett had saved most of Grealy’s letters over the years, and she intersperses them throughout the narrative, giving readers a flavor of Grealy’s thinking and writing. Patchett also captures the intensity of their friendship—they really seemed more like sisters than good friends—from the time they became roommates at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

In spite of being disfigured from her many surgeries, Grealy seems to have had considerable charisma and loved being among people and partying. She was a flamboyant social animal who lusted after men, sex, and life. Patchett appears to have been more subdued and grounded, offering stability to her friend that she didn’t have herself. It appears Patchett even was something of a mother figure, especially in the sections where she describes carrying the 100 lb Grealy from taxi to apartment after her various hospitalizations.

While I’m impressed with Grealy’s heroic response to her terrible fate and with Patchett’s apparent commitment to her friend, I also am interested in the writing life that’s captured here. Both had residencies at prestigious places, such as the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Yaddo, and Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies. They shared their struggles for recognition and success, each achieving fame in her own way, and they were a central part of the NY literary scene. So it’s a book well suited to other writers.

However, Patchett’s memoir makes it sound as if Grealy’s friends were her only family, and we rarely hear any mention of her actual family’s response to her. As a result, Patchett comes across as equally heroic as Grealy in her devotion to her friend. But I wanted to know more about how Grealy’s situation impacted Pachett emotionally, but there’s very little self-reflection here. I also am puzzled by the title Truth and Beauty, both very abstract words that tend to idealize this relationship and seem far from the nitty gritty reality of it.

There seems something cancerous at the core of this friendship Patchett describes that hasn’t quite been diagnosed or resolved, neither by the book nor by Patchett herself.

 

 

 

 

 

A Message for All Writers!

I came across this Charles Simic poem and believe it’s speaking to us writers. Of course, I’m sure it has multiple meanings. What do you think?
 
The White Labyrinth
 
There is one waiting for you,
On every blank sheet of paper.
So, beware of the monster
Guarding it who’ll be invisible
As he comes charging at you,
Armed as you are only with a pen.
And watch out for that girl
Who’ll come to your aid
With her quick mind and a ball of head,
And lead you by the nose
Out of one maze into another.

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