Editor’s Note: This exchange is part of a series of brief interviews with emerging writers of recent or forthcoming books. If you enjoyed it, please visit other interviews in the I’ve Got Questions feature.
- What’s the title of your book? Fiction? Nonfiction? Poetry? Who is the publisher and what’s the publication date?
The Ripening: A Canadian Girl Grows Up, fiction, Pen-L Publishing, 10/15/21
- In a couple of sentences, what’s the book about?
This coming-of-age story follows Tillie Bishop from her early years until she turns eighteen. She never knew her father, so when her mother abandons her at fourteen, Tillie quickly becomes streetwise. Even in Calgary, forces of the ‘60s—a decade of rebellion, discovery, and upheaval—already are at work within her. Her grit and ability to face life’s challenges are inspiring, the seeds for her later discovery of her artist self.
- What’s the book’s genre (for fiction and nonfiction) or primary style (for poetry)?
Young Adult, New Adult, & Adult
- What’s the nicest thing anyone has said about the book so far?
“Lily Iona MacKenzie deftly takes readers into that throbbing, psychedelic world of drugs, booze, and one-night stands where they will root for Tillie as she struggles to find herself. You will be swept along as she painfully learns that true happiness is seldom found amid the glitter and grime. It’s hiding somewhere else … in plain sight. A well-written and visceral story.” Janice Gilbertson, author of Summer of ’58, Canyon House, and The Dark Side of Gibson Road
- What book or books is yours comparable to or a cross between? [Is your book like Moby Dick or maybe it’s more like Frankenstein meets Peter Pan?]
Since there are so few novels (or memoirs for that matter) about a female adolescent’s sexual awakening, it’s difficult to find another book to compare it to!
- Why this book? Why now?
And why not? Each novel gives us one writer’s particular view of the world through his/her characters. This novel featuring Tillie grew out of my last one, Freefall: A Divine Comedy, where an older Tillie, a zany installation artist, is the main character. Pen-L Publishing released that book as well and had contracted with me for three novels. I so enjoyed interacting with Tillie while I wrote Freefall that I wanted to better understand her origins. In the follow up, then, I went back to the ‘40s and ‘50s, to a world that flashed green and red lights at women, the era that produced Tillie (and me!). Some had begun to challenge the dead ends their futures seemed to hold, and Tillie ends up being one of those girls.
- Other than writing this book, what’s the best job you’ve ever had?
Teaching writing at the college level and beyond has been extremely gratifying for me. One thing I discovered when I was teaching rhetoric to college students, and still applies to the creative writing classes I currently teach for older adults, is that my writing of poetry, fiction, or non-fiction is like teaching for me. Both give me an opportunity to investigate ideas, fears, interests, and obsessions—to ask and answer questions. The two roles complement each other, writing being a more introverted activity than teaching. When I write, I do the dance of seven veils. I remain relatively hidden while exposing myself, exploring my mind and imagination in public view, trying to tempt the reader. When I teach, I do a similar dance. Some seduction is needed to catch a student’s attention and turn it towards the important art of them capturing their thoughts in writing conveying them to a reader.
But I’m learning, too, from my students’ successes and failures, growing along with them as a teacher and writer. However, growth requires a willingness to try new things, both on the teacher’s part and the student’s, so I also must create an atmosphere where such risks can take place. I need to be skillful not just in teaching the craft itself but in managing a classroom, in creating a space where students feel safe to experiment and explore.
- What do you want readers to take away from the book?
I hope readers will resonate with Tillie’s ability to cope as she faces a multitude of challenges in eventually finding her way in the world. It’s an inspirational story for all ages. We all must deal with difficult times. I believe that Tillie’s story will give readers the courage to take on their own trials.
- What food and/or music do you associate with the book?
Country western music as well as rock and roll. Food? The kind of good country cooking that Tillie grew up with: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, home-baked bread and cinnamon rolls. Not too many vegetables!
- What book(s) are you reading currently?
I’ve recently discovered the spy novel genre, and while I have no desire to try writing such fiction, I’m impressed with some of the literary narratives that writers such as Daniel Silva, Peter May, and Louise Penney are producing. At the moment, I’m caught up in Silva’s House of Spies.
Learn more about Lily on her website.