Lily Iona MacKenzie's Blog for Writers & Readers


What Goes into Creating a Novel?

FreefallTomorrow, January 1, 2019, Pen-L Publishing will release my third novel, Freefall: A Divine Comedy, and I’m as excited about its appearance as I was when they published my “debut” novel Fling! in 2015. My family and friends have all commented on how prolific I am, assuming that I wrote these books in the past five years or so. But the reality is very different. Anyone who has written a long narrative knows that a novel is not just long in length, but it also takes a LONG time to produce.

Fortunately, I keep a separate journal for each book I write where I have a dialogue with myself about the process, the characters, and other things that come up. In September 2000, I first began playing with material that later became Freefall by writing a short story that featured one of the major characters. My husband, an English professor who specializes in 19thand 20thCentury American Lit, read the draft and felt it could be a novel.

I wasn’t so sure.

During my late teens, I had hung out with three girlfriends in Calgary, where I grew up, and we eventually moved to Toronto, calling ourselves the Big Four. In the late 20thCentury, I had a mini-reunion with two of those women in Whistler, B.C., that made me wonder what would happen if all four of us had a longer reunion. I was torn about whether I wanted to explore that period in my life and create characters whose seeds were in these early friendships. I feared it wouldn’t be interesting enough and that this kind of relationship narrative had been done too many times already. I wondered what I could bring to it that was fresh.

After writing several pages, I showed the draft again to my husband. He was engaged and amused by what I’d written. He said, “You don’t know what you’re going to discover when you start writing,” and it’s true. His response prompted me to continue, to dive in. In the process, I continued to discover how stories and characters unfold for me. It wasn’t until I started writing that I uncovered the main character, Tillie Bloom, her characteristics, and her personality. Bit by bit, I learned how my novels unfold. They reveal themselves to me as I go, images and ideas coming at the right time. Each day, I feel my unconscious feeds me the things I need.

I also realized that there was a mystery for me, too, in writing this book. Whatever Tillie had repressed that these women help her discover is relevant for me. Since I don’t know what will be revealed as I write, it’s a revelatory process for me, too. I find out along with the reader, making it even more urgent that I invest myself in this narrative.

Of course, I hit snags. On 12/10/00 I wrote the following: “I haven’t been able to make any progress with this novel in the past week. I feel it’s silly, not a very good story. Yet when I reviewed what I’d written, it did seem interesting and evocative and trying to get to something important. I’m judging it too soon and shutting myself down.”

And then back in 2001, I thought I’d finished Freefall. On 4/27/01, I wrote “I seem to have finished Freefall. It’s a strange feeling after being so absorbed with these characters for the past year and a half or so to draw it all to a close. I know there’s still more work to do on it, but I think I’ve completed my vision, as close as I can, and am ready to move on.”

Once again, I had my husband read the draft. He said, “This has the potential of being a richer, more serious book. Push it farther.” And there I was, ready to send it out to agents. Wrong! I admitted that I needed to dig in and explore the characters more thoroughly. He also said, “It’s a romp, a romance. Lively. Funny. Serious. There’s a lot of wisdom in it and great lines/images. You’re a scavenger, like ravens or crows going around and taking bits of this and that.”

Eventually, I realized I hadn’t made it clear enough that Tillie herself is in freefall. We all are. And that’s the divine comedy. I also learned that a bond had been formed between these women in their youth that still causes them to be connected, even though they don’t have much in common or haven’t been together in recent years. And this, after all, is what I seek as a writer. I attempt to gain insight into myself and the human condition through these novels I’m writing.

Tomorrow, Freefall: A Divine Comedy will be officially published. I hope you’ll get a chance to read it!





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