Lily Iona MacKenzie

Welcome to my website, Lily Iona MacKenzie.  Would you please introduce yourself to my readers, Lily and share something about your life.

A Canadian by birth, a high school dropout, and a mother at 17, in my early years, I supported myself as a stock girl in the Hudson’s Bay Company, as a long-distance operator for the former Alberta Government Telephones, and as a secretary (Bechtel Corp sponsored me into the States). I also was a cocktail waitress at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, briefly broke into the male-dominated world of the docks as a longshoreman (I was the first woman to work on the SF docks and almost got my legs broken), founded and managed a homeless shelter in Marin County, co-created The Story Shoppe, a weekly radio program for children that aired on KTIM in Marin County, CA, and eventually earned two Master’s degrees (one in creative writing and one in the humanities). I have published reviews, interviews, short fiction, poetry, travel pieces, essays, and memoir in over 150 American and Canadian venues. My novel Fling! was published in 2015. Curva Peligrosa, another novel, will be published in 2017. Freefall: A Divine Comedy will be released in 2018 and Tillie: A Canadian Girl in Training in 2019. My poetry collection All This was published in 2011. 

When did you write your first book and how did it come about?

Actually, the first book I had published was a poetry collection, All This. I’m primarily a poet who got lost one day and ended up also writing fiction. But I frequently return to my poetry roots.

Do you always write in the same genre or do you mix it up?

Magical realism seems to have claimed me as a genre, though I notice a novel I’m currently revising, Tillie: A Canadian Girl in Training, to be released in 2019, seems more in the realism vein than I’m used to writing. But overall, my work falls more in the category of literary/contemporary fiction.

When you write, do you start with an idea and sit down and let it evolve, or do you make notes and collect ideas on paper beforehand?

My novels usually start with a question. Fling! began because I was curious about my mother’s mother, someone I had never met. Early in the 20th C, my grandfather, a former Scottish schoolmaster in Scotland’s highlands, immigrated to Calgary, Canada, hoping to find a better life there for himself and his family. Meanwhile, WWI broke out, and his wife and five kids couldn’t join him for seven years. When they did, my grandmother couldn’t adjust to the brutal winters or to her husband. After being there a year, she moved out, refusing to put up with my grandpa’s verbal and physical abuse, and became a housekeeper for a wealthy family. The story is that her boss became her lover and took her to Mexico City with him. She never returned and died there. I wanted to try and recreate her world, so she’s at the heart of this novel.

With Curva Peligrosa, I had read about a tornado attacking a small Canadian town. For some reason, that image grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. So this novel begins with the tornado, and I had to run to keep up with it!

As for notes, I keep a lot of notes while I’m working on a novel where I have conversations with myself about characters and their actions. I also include in my notes whatever research I’ve done. With Curva, she travels the Old North Trail by horse from Mexico to Canada, so I had to dig up info about geographical aspects of Mexico that are in the story as well as material about the Old North Trail. In my notes, I also keep track of my characters and sometimes get inklings of what might happen next.

Would you like to give us a short excerpt from one of your books?

Here is an opening section from Tillie: A Canadian Girl in Training:

Three-year-old Tillie clawed at dirt in her backyard, imitating cats she'd seen peeing there. Some earth got into her mouth, and she paused to chew on it, wiping her lips with the back of her hand, streaking black across her face. Then she started digging again, flinging soil into the air, inhaling its moldy smell. It collected under her tiny nails.
            After pulling down her panties, Tillie crouched and peed. The urine sent off steam, and the scent prickled her nostrils. She watched the puddles it made—tiny rivulets running in many directions and soaking into the ground. Finished, she scratched at the soil, filling up the hole again, just as the cats did. She smeared her dirt-streaked palms on her dress and left her underpants behind, the air on her bare bottom feeling good. Then she meowed and rolled on the ground, kicking her legs.

Her mother May, watching from their room on the second-story of the Calgary rooming house, burst out laughing. Tillie flinched, grabbed her panties, and pulled them over her head. Her face flooded with warmth.

Who is your favourite character and why?

I have a special relationship with all of my characters, so, as with our children, it’s difficult to choose a favourite. They all have aspects that I resonate with. I love 90 year-old Bubbles’ joie de vivre. I also find Curva to be compelling. She takes on a mythical dimension in the novel. Unexplainable things happen in her presence: time slows down or stops, the ground gives away, mysterious springs appear. Billie One Eye, who also appears in Curva Peligrosa, is half Blackfoot and half Scottish. Through him, I developed a passion for freeing Native Canadians from their restrictive lives.

What is the best marketing tip you have received?

My stepdaughter is a publicist, and she cautioned me to pace myself. I was frantically trying to engage in all of the social media, from twitter to Facebook to Pinterest to Instagram, etc. She said to pick the ones I feel most comfortable with and focus my energy there. Her wise words helped enormously.

I also feel blog tours are extremely beneficial in getting the word out about our work. There are a number of options: book cover blitzes; interviews, guest blog posts, etc. It may not produce an immediate jump in book sales, but the author’s name and book title is circulating. 

What do you do when you are not writing or reading?

My husband and I share a passion for all of the arts, so in addition to reading voraciously, we are regular museum, concert, and theatre goers. We also love to travel, and this summer we plan to spend a month in France, visiting Provence, the Dordogne, the Loire Vallye, and Paris.

What is the biggest factor for you when selecting a book to read?

I like to be challenged by a work’s content, whether poetry, fiction, or nonfiction, and taken to new places emotionally, intellectually, and psychologically.

Do you have your own website?

I have a blog where I try to post weekly. I always love new visitors: http://lilyionamackenzie.wordpress.com

Are you working on a new book at the moment?

I’ve included here the excerpt from Tillie: A Canadian Girl in Training. I’ve have already done a few drafts of this novel, but now I’m going deeper, trying to add more dimension and detail where needed. Revising narrative is always demanding, requiring many rounds of reviewing and editing.