Writer Wednesday: C. Lee McKenziePosted on July 13th, 2011 5 comments
Currently reading: THE PULL OF GRAVITY by Gae Polisner
Hi, everyone. It’s been a while since the last Writer Wednesday, but we’re back!
This week we have my fellow WestSide author, C. Lee McKenzie, author of Sliding on the Edge and The Princess of Las Pulgas. For the first time in recent memory, I read a book in one day. Something about Princess just kept me reading (and I guess for some reason my kids left me alone and let me read). Both of these books are examples of why I’m proud to be a WestSide author.
About C. Lee McKenzie:
Native Californian C. Lee McKenzie has always been a writer. But she’s also been a university professor and administrator, and for five years, she wrote and published a newsletter for university professors. She’s published articles on linguistics and intercultural communication, as well as on general magazine topics. Her fiction and nonfiction for young readers has been published in the award-winning e-zine, Stories for Children, and Crow Toes Quarterly has published her ghostly tales. Writing for teenagers keeps Lee in touch with young members of her family, and lets her revisit those wonderful teen years when everything is possible. When she isn’t writing, Lee hikes in the Santa Cruz Mountains in Los Gatos, California.
About The Princess of Las Pulgas:
Carlie Edmund has everything: a loving family, good friends, a perfect home and wealth and status; then in her junior year of high school all of that changes. How will Carlie take on the challenges of living in a different world, a world where she doesn’t “fit” and where nothing is as it should be?
On to the interview:
1. I just finished The Princess of Las Pulgas and cried through the first 155 pages as I absorbed Carlie’s pain and loss. Did you base this on a specific experience? What inspired you to write this book?
Wow! The first 155 pages, crying! I guess I did treat poor Carlie rather badly. You’re the second person today that’s told me she cried for my MC.
I can’t say that I based Carlie’s story on any one experience, but I have lost family members, and I know the feelings that come with those kinds of losses. There’s always fear, often resentment at being left,
sometimes relief if the person has suffered greatly, and then there’s the guilt that follows the feeling of relief. It’s all very complicated, and it takes some sorting out. I guess that’s what’s call the “normal healing
I really started this book because I’d sold the first one, Sliding on the Edge, and I needed something to present at a conference. I started with the question, “What if a family who had everything suddenly had
nothing?” So that’s where Princess began and it began before the economic downturn, so I didn’t set out to be a topical author on this one. It just happened.
2. We are both published by Sliding on the Edge was one of the original books they published. How did you find WestSide and what was your road to publication on Sliding like?Books. Your book,
I found an announcement in the SCBWI Journal that WestSide was looking for realistic, edgy YA stories. Since that’s what I write, I queried them and they asked for a full, then wanted my book. I found the road to publication on my first
book interesting because I knew nothing about the business. However, the editor was patient with me and when she made suggestions I took them. She knew a heck of a lot more than I did.
3. Did you have a different writing process for Princess than for your first book, Sliding on the Edge?
Oh yes, very different. Sliding started when I read a news article about Ivy League students who self-abused. It disturbed me to think that “successful” kids were cutting and burning themselves, so I wanted to know why and I planned to write about it. I just didn’t know it would be a novel. I’d thought about doing an article, but that didn’t happen. Also once I started the novel it came down pretty much the way I envisioned the story–first this and then that. Princess came down in random chunks, scenes I guess you’d say, and it was a very different story than what was finally published. I took out a major thread, added more depth to my MC’s character and changed some of the minor characters’ personalities. My editor was great in guiding me on book two.
4. What’s the nicest thing someone has said about either of your books?
The nicest thing is that it touched them in some way. They could relate to the people (They didn’t say characters.). Some said they didn’t want the book to end. All of these comments were very gratifying. One reader asked me what happened after the story ended. I thought that was interesting. He (Yes, an adult male person–a cardiologist who I don’t know, but ferreted me out at a gathering) had all kinds of questions and none of them were literary; they were all as if the people in the book were real. I thought that was quite a compliment. I also I had to scramble to figure out what to say in response to his questions. Now I have answers and maybe I’ll write a book about what happens after the book ends–a book 2? That would be interesting.
5. Have you gotten any letters or reader reactions that surprised you?
They all surprise me, but I just got one that touched me deeply . Here are a couple parts I’ll share. I don’t think this person will mind because I won’t give the reader’s name. “I lost my mother a few years ago to cancer (it was a very long battle) and reading Carlie’s thoughts and feelings of guilt, relief, sadness, numbness, anger was like reading my own experience. I just wanted to tell you how much your novel meant to me and I am very honored to have read it. It ranks up there with “Little Women” (which is my all time favorite book – my mother use to read it to me all the time as a child). I cannot wait to read your future works. Not many authors are able to pour such emotion onto the page and succeed – but you have. Thank you for writing such an amazing piece of literature.”
This was a big surprise and kept me writing on my fourth book. I was thinking of moving on to other endeavors.
6. Where did you grow up? When you were 15, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I grew up all over the place, but all in. Guess it’s good that it’s a big state, so when I say all over the place I can really mean it. I started in a northern valley in a town called . From there I moved to another valley town called Patterson, then , , San Bernadino, . North again. This time to Gilroy (the garlic capital of the world, YAY!), , , Los Gatos–my angle of repose place. And when I was 15 I was definitely going to be an archeologist. I wanted to find another or dig in the . That didn’t happen, but I still love to read about archeological finds and in my next book I indulge myself in a bit of Egyptology.
7. Where did you go to college? What was your favorite course there?
I went to and my favorite course was something called Correlation of the Arts. A brilliant course that integrated literature, architecture, science, music and geography. I never missed one of those classes. My next favorite, if I can go there, was Psycholinguistics. It really opened me to understanding how the mind works and how language and culture interact to create who we are. My family wonders about me sometimes when I get excited about synapses and neurolinguistic programing articles. Can’t help myself.
8. Besides writing, what do you do to fill your days?
I love this question. I keep asking for more hours in the day, but nobody’s listening! Writing is a big part of my day most days, but when I take a break I hike. I love being outside on a trail and I do that as much a possible. I definitely carve out three hours a week for yoga and I have for years. In the summer I grow my own vegetables, so I do a lot of stuff with dirt starting in March. Outside of that I read, I try to keep in touch with my friends and family and I stare at the trees in the forest where I live, wondering how I could be so lucky to have them. All of that pretty much takes up the day and I find the only way to even near finishing what I want is to get up about 4AM, which I do, but not every day.
9. If I told you tonight’s dinner was your last meal ever, what would you request? (appetizer, main course, dessert).
Oh dear. I love to eat, so this is the hardest of all your questions. But I guess if I only had one meal left in this world I’d choose bruschetta as an appetizer. For the main course I’d take a freshly made black pasta with prawns and green-lipped mussels, tossed with olive oil and lime and sprinkled with fresh parmesan cheese. (Now I’m hungry.) I seldom eat dessert, but if I did and I was having it with this meal I’d take a cheese with fresh seasonal fruit. If was eating it as a stand alone dish, Hot Fudge Sundae topped with nuts, hands down.
10. And the important question: Favorite Chocolate–Dark, Milk or White?
Dark. Never Milk. Bitter and with lots of nuts. No nuts? Don’t like it.
Is there anything else you want to talk about?
Well, I could talk about tons of things, but I guess I’ll plug something that’s coming out in October. The 2009 Debutantes, a group I’m very proud of being associated with, has created an anthololgy of short stories. The theme and title is The First Time and it will include every kind of genre imaginable. I was really excited to see the cover and to see all of the great YA people involved. My story is called Premeditated Cat. Hope people will look for it when it comes out. I believe that will be in October.
Thanks so much for your time. You can learn more about C. Lee McKenzie at her website.
Have a great summer!
I tried to leave this comment earlier and the blogOsphere would have none of it! Let me try again.
Thanks for letting me be here, Shari. Love your blog, especially the colors; they’re all my colors.
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