Monday, October 30, 2017

Indie Spotlight: Lily Iona MacKenzie

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

Monday, October 16, 2017

Indie Ink Runs Deep: Shannon Baker

Every now and then I manage to talk a small press author into showing us a little skin... tattooed skin, that is. I know there are websites and books out there that have been-there-done-that already, but I hadn't seen one with a specific focus on the authors and publishers of the small press community. Whether it's the influence for their book, influenced by their book, or completely unrelated to the book, we get to hear the story behind their indie ink....


Today's ink story comes from Shannon Baker, author of Dark Signal, which releases tomorrow. 

I’m the last person in the world you’d expect to get a tattoo. I could be a grandmother, for God’s sake, if I hadn’t scarred both of my daughters so much they’ve sworn never to have kids. I never wanted a tattoo. What if I get invited to the White House for dinner and it wouldn’t match my evening gown? And talk about commitment, I get nervous making holiday plans in case something better comes along.

Besides, I grew up in rural Nebraska. Enough said.

My youngest daughter begged to have the Red Hot Chili Peppers logo tattooed on her arm when she was 15.  I gave her all those motherly words of wisdom, “Why would you want to ruin your body with ink? You’re perfect just the way you are. You can do whatever you want when you turn 18.”
My writer friends started gathering tattoos, some of them inviting me to join with a matching design. That’s nice, I thought, but not for me. That ship sailed and I don’t need a tattoo at this late stage.

And then….

It started like an itchy mosquito bite. Then grew to an all-out rash. I found myself Googling tattoo designs. Sheepishly, I brought it up to my husband. “What would you think if I got a tattoo?”

He didn’t raise an eyebrow. “Why wouldn’t you?”

We sketched it out. I wanted something that symbolized my mystery writing career. I visited various artists, and debated whether I should smoke something medicinal for the pain I knew it would cause, or maybe secretly knock back some tequila before I went under the knife needle. Finally, one bright summer morning, I got my tattoo, totally without pain meds. Honestly, I’ve had kitchen accidents hurt worse.  

I know, you’re all rolling your eyes and muttering, “What’s the big deal?”

Beats me. So much angst went into it and it ended up being pretty anticlimactic. I gotta tell you, I love my tattoo.

One of the things I love best about it is the reaction I got from my daughter. After the stunned silence, she said, “Now I’m the only one I know without a tattoo.” See, I really did scar her for life. 


Shannon Baker is the author of the Kate Fox mystery series, set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills. She was voted Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2017 Writer of the Year and Stripped Bare earned the author a starred review in Library Journal (as their Pick of the Month) and a nomination for the 2016 Reading The West Award from Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers. She also writes the Nora Abbott Mysteries (Midnight Ink), featuring Hopi Indian mysticism and environmental issues inspired by her time working at the Grand Canyon Trust. Shannon makes her home in Tucson where she enjoys cocktails by the pool, breathtaking sunsets, a crazy Weimaraner, and killing people (in the pages of her books).

The mystery author will be traveling across America for special events and conferences. See her full schedule:

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Book Review: Absolutely Golden

Read 10/1/17 - 10/10/17
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended
Pages: 197
Publisher: Stalking Horse Press
Released: September 2017

Absolutely Golden strikes me as more style than story, in that D. Foy has penned a protagonist with a sanguine temperment swimming in ridiculously lovely prose. His sentences are either abruptly short or languorously lengthy, drizzled with commas and packed with so much emotion they shine like the sun, so bright we must shield our eyes lest they themselves get burned. You can feast on his writing:

"We suffer, we people, we do. We carry secrets we know nothing of, and harbor them even, and sometimes even nurture for life. And we keep this torment because we deserve it, or believe we do, because, really, nearly always, we feel guilty."

"The sun was rising, thought still the mountains hid it.  My room lay covered with that hazy pall of brass-colored light that with each day's coming makes the world seem everything's good, and yet I hadn't slept but for the haphazard snatch. And when actually I did catch a wink, it was to be assaulted by disfigured cherubs, their hair aflame, and defecating gressils, and jackals and crones, and enless piles of hacked-off limbs. Tranquility, in short, had been a distant song."

"It was so quiet, in fact, you could hear the friction of smoke on the gathering dark, of its rising from the pits, slither, slither, thither and thence, the steady trudging as well of anys in their line in the soil between a crack in the stones on the path, the motes of earth beneath their constant legs, the sound even, above, of the night itself, settling down like the breath of a woman on her sweetheart's eyes."

Keep in mind this takes place in the 70's at a nudist colony, where our narrator - a thirty something widow named Rachel - has reluctantly agreed to follow her hippy deadbeat boyfriend and his 'cousin' Jenny, chasing a much needed break in her rather stuffy, boring life. 

There is much drugging and drinking and swinging (both of the dancing penises and switching of partners kind). The characters are eccentric, almost overwhleming so, and are prone to fits of fabulous story telling, regaling their audience with tales that often send the reader on multi-page-long diversions that eventually, and perfectly, weave themselves right back into the here and now (or then and there?). 

I've read early reviews that refer to this book as comedic, the reviewers admitting to moments of actually laughing out loud. The back cover even refers to it as comic. Perhaps the author's sense of humor was lost on me? Perhaps I was just more strongly drawn towards D. Foy's hypnotic prose and the sheer awkwardness of our middle-aged sun-burned goddess, trying to make her square self fit into the star-shaped hole of Camp Freedom Lake? 

Whatever its intent, I found Absolutely Golden to be a bright and fascinating trip back to a simpler, if not necessarily sanier, time.