The Magic of Possibility: Fling!

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

I recently read a novel that completely pulled me into the universe –and what a universe it is! Fling!, the new novel from writer and educator Lily Iona Mackenzie, is set in many countries. It’s at once a glimpse into new, interesting characters - and new, interesting worlds. It’s a saga that spans time, all at once. It’s color, and cold; light, and dark; memory, and forgetfulness; mothers, daughters, granddaughters; culture, and chaos. I love it.

Let me tell you why: I felt completely involved in the characters, family, and storyline. I rooted for some characters, felt puzzled at others, and felt champagne-like joy at the appearance of Annie (whom I just love). Fling! also covers the trickiness of mother/daughter relationships, and getting older. And, most importantly, Fling! offers the magic of possibility. That is pretty heady writing (and reading), and is what makes MacKenzie’s book a treasure to delve into deeply – and emerge happy, with a magical world in your memory. Highly recommended.

Fling! An interview with author Lily Iona MacKenzie


We were lucky enough to catch up with MacKenzie, and ask her about the book, inspiration, research, culture, family history, magic, and more. Here’s what she had to say…

Author Lily Iona MacKenzie


Please tell us about your new novel, Fling!...

Here’s a synopsis:

Feather, an aging hippie, returns to her Calgary home to help her mother, Bubbles, celebrate her 90th birthday. Bubbles has received mail from the dead letter office in Mexico City, asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, left there seventy years earlier and only now surfacing. Bubbles’ mother, Scottish by birth, had died in Mexico in the late 1920s after taking off with a married man and abandoning her husband and kids. 
A woman with a mission, and still vigorous, Bubbles convinces a reluctant Feather to take her to Mexico so she can recover the ashes and give her mother a proper burial. Both women have recently shed husbands and have a secondary agenda: they’d like a little action. And they get it. 
Alternating narratives weave together Feather and Bubbles’ odyssey with their colorful Scottish ancestors, creating a family tapestry. The “now” thread presents the two women as they travel south from Canada to San Francisco and then Mexico, covering a span of about six months. “Now” and “then” merge in Mexico when Bubbles’ long-dead mother, grandmother, and grandfather turn up, enlivening the narrative with their antics. 
In Mexico, the land where reality and magic co-exist, Feather gets a new sense of her mother. The Indian villagers mistake Bubbles for a well-known rain goddess, praying for her to bring rain so their land will thrive again. Feather, who’s been seeking “The Goddess” for years, eventually realizes what she’s overlooked. 
Meanwhile, Bubbles' quest for her mother’s ashes (and a new man) has increased her zest for life. A shrewd business woman (she’s raised chickens, sold her crafts, taken in bizarre boarders, and has a sure-fire system for winning at bingo and lotteries), she’s certain she’s found the fountain of youth at a mineral springs outside San Miguel de Allende; she’s determined to bottle the water and sell it. 
But gambling is her first love, and unlike most women her age, fun-loving Bubbles takes risks, believing she’s immortal. Unlike her daughter, Bubbles doesn’t hold back in any way, eating heartily, lusting after strangers, her youthful spirit and innocence convincing readers that they’ve found the fountain of youth themselves in this character. At ninety, she comes into her own, coming to age, proving it’s never too late to fulfill one’s dreams. 


What inspired you to write this book?

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 meanness, and became a housekeeper for a wealthy family. The story is that her boss took her to Mexico with him. She never returned and died there. I wanted to try and recreate what life might have been like for her once she left Canada, and that then brought in a number of other characters that inhabit the novel. 


What sort of research did you do to learn about Mexico and all the cultural traditions that you so beautifully describe?

I have visited Puerto Vallarta twice. I also went to San Miguel years ago. I drew on those visits partly, but I hadn’t visited Mexico City until after I’d completed the novel. Surprisingly, the info I collected from various websites and books allowed me to imagine pretty accurately these locations. When I actually did visit MC in 2008, it didn’t cause me to change much in Fling!


Culture and history play an important role in Fling!—from Scotland to Canada to Mexico. I think that family history is important, too—how did you weave these threads together in your book?

Great question! Each of these countries—Canada, the U.S., Mexico, and Scotland are basically so different. It intrigued me what drew my grandmother to Mexico in the 1920s, and I managed to discover some similarities between Mexico and Scotland as I was writing. There’s a related visible family/clan structure. There also are parallels in the strong sense of community that I’ve experienced in both places, even in the larger cities. I think the homogeneity of the cultures makes it less difficult for individuals to feel connected. So in a city like Edinburgh, for example, people on the street may not know each other, but they all have similar roots. 

As for the U.S. and Canada, on the surface these two countries might seem parallel. But having been born in Canada—I moved to the States when I was 23 and became a naturalized American in 1973—I’m deeply conscious of the differences. For one thing, though Canada is large in terms of total area, only a small portion of it is habitable. Therefore, the population was only 35,540,419 at the end of 2014, not as large as California’s number: 38,802,500. Both countries are heterogeneous. But Canada’s parliamentary system creates a different political atmosphere, and there seems to be a national tendency towards socialism. Even the far-right individuals still think that health care for all should be mandatory. There are other areas where Canadians have been much more progressive than the U.S. that I won’t go into here, but the main one is that guns aren’t nearly so prevalent (the Mounties that settled Western Canada were more like social workers than gunslingers). Therefore guns weren’t used as a way of establishing order (or brandishing power as with the pioneers who settled the American West). 

But your question is how did I weave together these different threads. I suppose I took my instructions from one of Fling!’s Scottish characters, Annie, who knits constantly, and with whom I identify as a writer: as someone who has knitted in the past and watched my mother knit all her life, I see the relationship between that process and writing fiction. Writers constantly need to go back and redo parts of their narratives. For these characters, and for Feather (the 57 year old daughter of Bubbles), “Like a snarl in Annie’s knitting, she’s waiting to be untangled and rewoven into the fabric, freed from the negative family stuff but not separated from kin.” The knitting seems a symbol of connecting all of these strands. 


How did you get into writing magical realism? And what is it like, to dream this writing (write this dreaming?)...

The shape shifting that often happens in such novels seems psychologically true to me. For example, in Fling!, when my grandmother’s ashes resurrect and she appears after being dead for 70 years, it couldn’t be true literally. Though most Christians would disagree, and perhaps those who believe in reincarnation, the dead don’t come back to life. However, the dead are constantly appearing in our dreams, in our thoughts, in our inherited behavior. So while the thing being described may not exist in our physical sense of reality, it does when it’s viewed as a metaphor. It’s as if people can return from the dead. I also like to write magical realism because it allows my imagination to explore images and ideas that aren’t confined to everyday life. While I love most everything about our commonplace world, I also have a strong sense that other realities exist simultaneously. This genre helps me to investigate that possibility. 

Also, my view of the world is pantheistic. Everything seems alive with what some people might call the divine, though I find that term too limiting. I think magic actually comes closer to what I mean in the sense that as children, we view the world as an enchanted place. In most developed countries, especially, we are taught to dismiss such beliefs and become more “realistic” as adults. I’ll give a personal example. I grew up in Calgary where the winters were very cold. One of the beauties of that weather, though, was that Jack Frost visited and left amazing designs on the windows. But when I was five, my Scottish schoolmaster grandpa told me there was no such thing as Jack Frost (or Santa Claus). Of course, I didn’t believe him. I still don’t! But I think magical realism retains elements of this enchantment with our world, and those who write it are trying to recapture for their readers that dimension. It’s a way of viewing life through a different lens than what realism offers. Different rules exist, allowing the writer to break out of realism’s limitations. Finally, magical realism allows me a playful way of treating darker material.  

As for what it’s like to dream this writing/write this dreaming, I’ve kept a dream journal since my mid-20s, so I feel as if writing and dreaming are intimately intertwined. In fact, since I dream so prolifically, I believe I’m writing in my dreams as well, unable to find enough time during the day with all of my other responsibilities to compose stories. So I do it at night! But the dreams also keep me aware of other realities, yet most of us ignore this possibility given our busy lives and immersion in the quotidian. 

Lily Iona MacKenzie - Having just climbed to the top of Pyramid of the Sun, Mexico

Having just climbed to the top of Pyramid of the Sun, Mexico


What's up next for you?

Over the years, I’ve written a total of four novels. In 2016, another press will be publishing Bone Songs, the last one I wrote. This work didn’t start as my other novels have, with characters whose seeds come from my actual life. Instead, it began as an image. I had read in the newspaper about a tornado hitting a small town outside of Calgary, and for some reason, it gripped my imagination. Out of that came a character who has no relationship to anyone I know, living or dead. She’s a little like the goddess Athena being born full blown from her father Zeus’s head. Her name is Curva Peligrosa, and she was born in Mexico. Over six feet tall, a sharp shooter, possessed of magical powers, adventurous, amorous, sexual, and fecund, she ends up in a fictional Canadian town called Weed and creates a tropical habitat there. 

Her larger-than-life presence more or less overturns the town of Weed, whose inhabitants have never seen anything like her. She’s a curiosity and a marvel, a source of light and heat, a magnet. In fact, she’s the physical embodiment of the tornado that hits 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. 

I’ll be spending a lot of time this fall working on whatever final editing the press suggests. I also have a collection of interlocking stories I’m working on called The Sinner’s Club. Each character is part of the same church setting and has an intriguing story to tell. The various sections offer a kaleidoscopic view of this religious community and its characters’ foibles. 

And whenever I find time, I also write poetry, essays, and other short fiction. 


Is there anything else you'd like to share? 

For writers who may be reading this interview, write. Rewrite. Write some more. Get feedback from respected editors. Revise, revise, revise. Keep writing.


Learn more about Lily’s work:





All photos courtesy and copyright Lily Iona MacKenzie

Note: We received a review copy of Fling! from the publisher - thank you!