Lily Iona MacKenzie's Blog for Writers & Readers


Writers as Travelers

curvarMy husband and I like to travel when we have the time and money. We’ve managed to visit St. Petersburg, Moscow, the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, Marrakech, Fes, Rabat, Istanbul, the entire Aegean/Mediterranean coast off Turkey, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and many other countries.

I enjoy these excursions because they take me into physical and psychic territories I otherwise would not experience. It’s very different looking at pictures of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg or of Moscow’s Red Square. The photos give viewers a sense of these places. But actually being there offers a whole other perspective. I never could have appreciated how large the Hermitage is or the size of its collection of art and artifacts if I hadn’t actually made my way through the many rooms overflowing with the massive, breathtaking collection. I wouldn’t have understood what an undertaking it was to save all these treasures during WWII (and those who worked at the museum then did manage to do so). These are only a few of the surprises that those of us who love to travel experience during our journeys.

Writers face something similar when they enter the worlds they create in their fictions, whether long or short. Each story offers settings, characters, objects, and interactions that they never would have known about if they hadn’t set forth on this voyage of discovery. While I had visited Mexico before I started writing my novel Fling!, it was only through capturing my imagined Mexico in the narrative that I felt a deeper connection emotionally to the land and its people. Somehow, by exploring Mexican settings and traditions, such as Day of the Dead, I knew more intimately the place and its inhabitants.

In Curva Peligrosa, Curva, the main character, comes from Southern Mexico, causing me to deepen my connection to that country and its people. But Curva is not an ordinary woman, and she took me on many an adventure I otherwise would not have experienced. Sections of the narrative are letters she writes from The Old North Trail, a passageway that extends from the Canadian Arctic down to the deserts of Mexico and beyond. It runs along the base of the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide, following a kind of shoreline between the mountains and the plains for over three thousand miles. The Blackfoot call the trail “The Backbone of the World.”

Here is what I learned about it from the following website: from

For 10,000 years aboriginal people of North America used The Old North Trail (from the Yukon Territory in Canada to New Mexico), first on foot, then with dogs pulling cargo-laden travois, and finally with horses.

Today, you can still see traces of the trail in certain locations.

Though I’ve never actually seen or traveled this trail, the fictional Curva did as she made her way from Mexico to Canada with her two horses, two parrots, one dog, and one goat. Joining her as she made her way north, I not only read Walter McClintock’s The Old North Trail, an account of the four years he spent with a Blackfoot tribe in Southern Alberta that helped me to flesh out the details I needed, but I also experienced the trail through Curva’s eyes. Though an invention, and totally imagined, it took me into a world I otherwise would not have inhabited. I’ve never been much of a camper or a backpacker, so I had to dig deep to visualize what her days must have been like in the wilds.

Just as travel in the external world enlightens us and gives us deeper experiences of foreign surroundings, so, too, does writing provide something similar. When the story begins to establish itself, I feel a similar excitement and curiosity as when I’m traveling. I’m always amazed at what I learn through these characters that take shape on the computer under my fingertips. They open up new vistas and possibilities not only for me but, hopefully, for my readers. And that’s one of the reasons why I write: to be surprised and edified.

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