Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Q & A with Lily Iona MacKenzie

Curva Peligrosa
by Lily Iona MacKenzie 

When Curva Peligrosa arrives in Weed, Alberta, after a twenty-year trek on the Old North Trail from southern Mexico, she stops its residents in their tracks. With a parrot on each shoulder, a glittering gold tooth, and a wicked trigger finger, she is unlike anything they have ever seen before. Curva is ready to settle down, but are the inhabitants of Weed ready for her? Possessed of an insatiable appetite for life and love, Curva’s infectious energy galvanizes the townspeople, turning their staid world upside down with her exotic elixirs and unbridled ways. Toss in an unscrupulous americano developer and a one-eyed Blackfoot chief, stir them all together in a tornado’s tempestuous tumult, and the town of Weed will never be the same again. A lyrical account of one woman’s journey and the unexpected effects it has on the people around her, Curva Peligrosa pulses with the magic at the heart and soul of life.  

ebook, 325 pages
Published August 25th 2017 by Regal House Publishing


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Read It & Reap:  January 16, 2018

A Canadian by birth, a high school dropout, and a mother at 17, Lily Iona MacKenzie has taken a circuitous path to becoming a published writer. She’s worked as a stock girl, a long distance operator, and a secretary (Bechtel Corp sponsored her into the States). She also was a cocktail waitress at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, became the first woman to work on the SF docks and almost got her legs broken, founded and managed a homeless shelter in Marin County, co-created The Story Shoppe, a weekly radio program for children, and eventually earned two Master’s degrees, one in Creative Writing and the other in the Humanities. Her reviews, interviews, short fiction, poetry, travel pieces, essays, and memoir have appeared in over 155 American and Canadian venues. Fling! was published in 2015. Curva Peligrosa, another novel, launched in 2017.  Freefall: A Divine Comedy will be released in 2018. Her poetry collection All This was published in 2011. She taught rhetoric for over 30 years at the University of San Francisco (USF) and currently teaches creative writing at USF’s Fromm Institute of Lifelong Learning. She also blogs at lilyionamackenzie.wordpress.com.


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Q & A with Lily Iona MacKenzie

Tell us a little bit about your main characters. 
Curva, of course, is the main character in Curva Peligrosa. Adventurous and curious from childhood, she’s from Southern Mexico originally and, after traveling for twenty years along the Old North Trail (see follow explanation of the trail later in this interview), she ends up in the fictional town of Weed, Alberta, Canada. She has no relationship to anyone I know, living or dead and reminds me of the goddess Athena who was born full blown from her father Zeus’s head. Over six feet tall, a sharp shooter, possessed of magical powers, adventurous, amorous, sexual, and fecund, she has the greenest of thumbs, creating a tropical habitat in an arctic clime. In no time,  she turns Weed upside down, like the tornado that opens the novel—upside down morally, spiritually, culturally, sexually.  

Curva is the physical embodiment of the tornado that will hit Weed two years after her arrival, a storm that turns the place upside down and unearths a trove of bones of those who had lived on the land before the Weedites: Native Americans and prehistoric animals. While the tornado damages Weed and disrupts the lives of its white inhabitants, it provides an opportunity for the relatively feckless (at that point) Billie One-Eye, the putative chief of the local Blackfoot tribe. As he protects the bones and dreams of preserving them, he turns into a true chief when he creates a museum that will honor them.

Curva and Billie share the book with a raft of colorful characters, borrowing from the literary tradition of South American magic realism.

In your opinion, what makes a good, strong lead character?
 The character has to be believable. By that, I don't mean that s/he must fit into the realist mode. But s/he must be congruent with the world the writer is creating and embody it. For readers, this character must come alive on the page so well that we’ll follow him/her anywhere s/he takes us on the narrative journey.

What or who do you see as influences on your writing style?
This is an interesting question because so many factors can influence a writing style. I’m very sensitive to the rhythms of language, and I hope that comes through in both my poetry and prose. I’m sure that taking piano lessons from a young age played a role in making me more alert to the music that words can create.

I also have studied the visual arts, and that has caused me to be more alert to my surroundings, noting colors and textures and sounds. I believe those things come through in my work.

But I also learn from other writers, too numerous to mention. I not only read a book for its contents but also for its style. Craft always interests me as I’m reading. How did this writer create this particular effect? What can I incorporate into my own material?

That said, my strongest influence has come from Latin writers, and certain novels have had a profound effect on me at different stages of my life for various reasons. Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude found me at a time when I needed a model for the magical realism approach that seems natural to me and inhabits much of my work. I LOVE that book and return to it often for inspiration.

In another mode, Roberto Bolano, a Chilean writer, has also inspired me. He diverges from the more familiar magical realist vein and creates his own genre. I’ve read most of his books now, and they create a world that seems like a parallel universe to ours. He also steps beyond the usual fiction boundaries, violating our expectations of how a novel should unfold or end. I’m always entranced by his work and learning from it.

Do you ever research real events, legends, or myths to get ideas?
 I don’t research such things to get ideas, but once I’ve been impelled to write about something, I’ll do whatever necessary background preparation I need. With Curva Peligrosa, she travels the Old North Trail for 20 years, 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 3,000 miles. The Blackfoot call the Old North Trail "The Backbone of the World.” To learn more about this actual trail, I read Walter McClintock’s The Old North Trail: Life, Legends and Religion of the Blackfeet Indians, a fascinating book that not only gave me insight into the trail itself but also into the Blackfoot. One of the main characters in Curva Peligrosa is Blackfoot chief Billie One Eye.

Of course, I’ve physically visited Mexico several times, but I’ve also researched that country online and in books, and I’m originally from Canada, though I now make my home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

What is the best writing advice you have been given?
Writing is a life-long commitment. Don’t take it lightly as it requires tremendous discipline in order to succeed. But while publishing is most writers’ ultimate goal, you also must write because it’s an essential part of your being. You have to do it! Writing well also requires a life-long apprenticeship. Read everything you can by writers you admire and also by the ones you don’t respect. Sometimes the latter can be your best teachers as they will show you what not to do. Finally, learn from everyone and everything. Be attentive not only to your inner world but also to your surroundings. Explore the world in as many ways as you can so your imagination has plenty of material to work with.

Finally, write. Rewrite. Write some more. Get feedback from respected editors. Revise, revise, revise. Keep writing. Persistence is key in this avocation.

If you could have any superpower, what would you choose and why?
 I’m not a great fan of seeing people suffer unnecessarily. I know that some difficulties can strengthen us and create stronger character. But whenever I turn on the TV or read the newspaper, I see too many disturbing stories of individuals going through horrendous challenges, from fires and floods to genocide and wars. If there is a creator, I think s/he erred by allowing so much pain to be part of human life. Just last night, during this holiday season, as my husband and I were walking to a restaurant on the Mendocino coast (in California), I saw a homeless woman huddled in a doorway. It was a very cold night, and she had chosen to stay in the streets because her mental illness prevents her from seeking shelter. This is unacceptable! So if I had a superpower, I would alleviate such misery.

What do you do to unwind and relax?
 I’m passionate about all of the arts, and museums, concert halls, and theatres are my temples and my inspiration. If I had another life, I would come back as a visual artist. I love to dabble in painting and assemblage, a joyful activity for me because I don’t have expectations of myself to market what I’m creating. They’re just done for the fun of it. I also am avid about exercising every day, either at the gym or on my stationary bike at home. This time includes a variety of movement practices such as tai chi, pilates, and yoga.  

What book are you reading now?
 I’m just finishing Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March, a picaresque novel that follows the main character from childhood through young adulthood. I chose it because Bellow is such an amazing stylist. His accurate descriptions and the way he captures a character in just a few well-selected lines leave me breathless at times. Bellow truly is a writer’s writer. For those of us who are constantly trying to improve our writing craft, he’s essential to read.