In today's Indie Spotlight, Lily Iona MacKenzie discusses her newest novel, Curva Peligrosa, and the struggles of discovering who your characters really are and helping them find a life of their own.
Giving Birth To a Fictional Character
My novel Curva Peligrosa opens with a tornado that sweeps through Weed, Alberta, and drops a purple outhouse into the center of town. Drowsing and dreaming inside that structure is its owner, Curva Peligrosa—a curiosity and a marvel, a source of light and heat, a magnet. Adventurous, amorous, fecund, and over six feet tall, she possesses magical powers. She also has the greenest of thumbs, creating a tropical habitat in an arctic clime, and she possesses a wicked trigger finger.
When Curva had ridden into Weed on one of her horses two years earlier, she was like a vision from a surrealistic western, with her two parrots, a goat, glittering gold tooth, turquoise rings, serape, flat-brimmed black hat, rifle, and six-shooters. After a twenty-year trek up the Old North Trail from southern Mexico, she was ready to settle down. Her larger-than-life presence challenges the residents of Weed, who have never seen anything like her. I must admit, I hadn’t either.. I am neither 6-foot tall nor as buxom as Curva. In my external life, I’m pretty conventional. I’m happily married, teach college-level rhetoric to freshmen/women as wells as memoir workshops to seniors, and have never backpacked. Nor have I traveled hundreds of miles by horse with a travois.
Unlike me, Curva is amoral and not bound by the usual codes that restrict many middleclass women not only in terms of their relationships but also in the daily choices they make. She lives fully in her senses, bedding with multiple men if she desires, enjoying what she refers to as walking marriages where a woman invites a man to spend a sweet night with her, but he must leave by daybreak. She also pursues her dreams, no matter what hardships she encounters in doing so (as in trekking the Old North Trail for twenty years with horses, dogs, a goat, and parrots).
Given that I was a high-school dropout and single parent at sixteen, my options were severely limited. I had a son to raise on my own and received no child support from his father. A quick learner, I parlayed the typing skills I had learned in my high school commercial course (it was assumed then that most women would end up as clerk typists or some versions of that role) into a variety of office jobs after starting out as an office girl. Consequently, in Curva Peligrosa, I wanted to create a female character that was fully feminine but not as restricted as I had been either by self-imposed limits or by society’s boundaries.
Curva didn’t fully come alive for me until I discovered her name. Originally, I had called her Lupita, yet I was having trouble getting inside her character. But then my husband and I visited Cuernavaca, a small town two-hours’ drive from Mexico City. On our way there, I kept seeing signs along the side of the road with the words curva peligrosa, which means dangerous curve. The name itself released this character. Suddenly, I could hear her speak, I could see her interacting with others, and I knew her. She seemed to emerge full blown as Athena did from Zeus’ head, and Curva also has a mythical quality.
Was Curva based on anyone I know in actual life? No. I wanted to create a character that was not like someone we’re likely to run into. But she does reflect elements of various goddesses. Curva’s love of nature and willingness to travel solitary in the wilderness reminds me of Artemis, goddess of the hunt. She also can be associated with a kind of Eve figure who creates her own Garden of Eden that she would like to establish in Weed. Curva wants the northerners to be able to experience this more idyllic state that her lush greenhouse represents. Finally, Curva has an earth-mother dimension. She’s a kind of Demeter figure, associated with animals and the earth, and doesn’t do well in chronological time.
Have I succeeded in midwifing Curva’s birth? Will she find a home in readers’ imaginations? In September 2017, the paperback edition of Curva Peligrosa was released, and now you, dear reader, will join in this creative process.
Together, we’ll give Curva the opportunity to continue her explorations.
Lily Iona MacKenzie has published reviews, interviews, short fiction, poetry, travel pieces, essays, and a memoir in over 155 American and Canadian venues. Her novel Fling! was published in 2015. Freefall: A Divine Comedy will be released in 2018. Her poetry collection All This was published in 2011. Lily taught rhetoric at the University of San Francisco for over 30 years and currently teaches creative writing at USF’s Fromm Institute for Lifelong Learning. She blog sat http://lilyionamackenzie.wordpress.com.