A Writer in the Spotlight – Mackenzi Lee

A Writer In The Spotlight Logo

Hello gentle reader,

I had the pleasure of interviewing YA author Mackenzi Lee in June 2015, a couple of months before her YA Historical Fantasy debut THIS MONSTROUS THING came out. Eighteen months later, and Mackenzi is now an established author, with two books coming out in 2017-2018. I thought it was time to have another chat with her… Hope you enjoy!

A Writer in the Spotlight – 37

My interview (9th January 2017)

Mackenzi Lee

THIS MONSTROUS THING came out a little over a year ago. What were the highlights of your debut year? Anything you’d do differently?

I’d sort of do everything and nothing differently–in the same way I’d do everything and nothing differently if I could live my life again. So much of what I know at the end of my debut year is because I made mistakes and learned things the hard way, but those mistakes are the reason I now know things.

Don’t think about it too hard.

But there were so many highlights, and I keep thinking about those highlights whenever I’m down or stuck or things feel like I don’t know how to author. Like getting to hold my book for the first time, or the reader who asked me to write a note to Mary Shelley in her copy of Frankenstein, or the reader who showed up to an event with a copy of TMT that she had color coded, or getting an envelope full of mail from an eighth grade class who read the book, or the twin girls who chose to come to one of my events and buy my book for their birthday present, or my childhood librarian sending me a picture of my book on the library shelf, or the guy sitting next to me on a red eye flight buying my book on his Kindle right in front of me.

I think the thing I would do differently would be to try and focus more on these moments, and not the lists I’m not on or the stars I don’t get or the festivals I’m not invited to. But I’m a neurotic writer, so that’s easier said than done. Focusing on the good moments is a lifelong battle.    

Now that you’re published, what would you say has changed in your writing life?

Right before I sold THIS MONSTROUS THING, a grad school mentor told me to enjoy this time before I was published because it was the last time I could write for myself. I thought at the time that was so stupid–publishing is the end game! What’s there to enjoy about not being published?!

Now I understand what she meant, because once you’re published, there’s a lot more to consider every time I make a decision about my writing. I feel like editors and agents and reviewers and readers have all become my internal voice. As a result, the first thing I tried to write after TMT was a disaster because I was so caught up in how backward the process felt when I already had agent/editor/publishing house attached to the book, as well as reader expectations.

But then I wrote Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, as a project that started just for me, that I never intended to let anyone read. Publishing has definitely changed my writing, but I’m trying not to let it change that I want to always be working on things I love and am proud of.

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You have a much anticipated book coming out in 2017, THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE. Can you tell us a little bit about your inspiration for this story?

I first learned about the concept of the eighteenth century Grand Tour (a sort of gap year young noblemen took in the 1700s between finishing school and waiting to take over their family estate) years ago, when I was a TA for a humanities class in college. It was the sort of thing I shelved in my brain as “something to write about someday.”

I really love playing with tropes and genre conventions in my books–TMT is very much my self-aware Gothic novel. I don’t know when exactly I had the idea to write the same sort of tropey adventure novel set during a grand tour, or what prompted it, but I remember deciding early on that I wanted to write an adventure novel populated with the sort of people who have traditionally  been left out of these sort of narratives—both historical and adventure novely. So my lead trio of my very traditional historical adventure novel interact in various ways with sexuality, race, chronic illness, and gender in ways that adventure novel protags usually don’t.

What type of research did you have to do for this book? Did you go on a Grand Tour of Europe yourself?!

I went on a Grand Tour-ish?

When I was in college, I did a year abroad in England, during which I took my own Grand Tour over the course of the weekends and school holidays, so it was a long, drawn out, sporadic tour. But I did get to visit all the places Monty and Percy go to in the book, and I definitely drew on my memories when I wrote. And I also definitely plotted the book around my favorite cities in Europe. The “road map” of the book was one of the first things I figured out, even before I had a plot.

My favorite research I did for this book was reading the journals and letters of real 18th century grand tourists, both because they were populated by so many colorful interesting details about a daily reality that felt almost otherworldly to me because of how different it was from mine, but also feelings and thoughts and anxieties that I related deeply to. A lot of these grand tourists from the 1700s—men around the same age as me—shared so many thoughts that I do. It was amazing, and definitely shaped how I thought about my novel.

Can you talk a little bit about SEMPER AUGUSTUS, which will come out in 2018?

Oh my yes! This is not a book I am well practiced in talking about yet!

SEMPER AUGUSTUS started from a place of me wanting to dissect my least favorite trope—the girls dressing as boys in historical fiction. But of course it ended up being a lot of other things too—a book about religion and family and first love and community and ambition and loyalty.

It’s set in 1637, during the Dutch Tulipomania which is this very odd pocket of Dutch history where an economic bubble sprung up around tulip bulbs, until, at the peak, single tulip bulbs were being sold and traded multiple times a day, sometimes for the price of a canal house in Amsterdam. Basically 17th century Beanie Babies. SEMPER AUGUSTUS is set during the height of the mania, and is about two siblings trying to pull off a con to sell a tulip bulb for way more than its worth. My family is Dutch, so I have a lot of personal ties to the cultural landscape of the story, as well as the conflict between religion, community, and self.

I’m so excited for everyone to read it. But one book at a time.

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Finally, do you have any reading recommendations? Recent reads that stood out?

I literally always have reading recommendations. Some recent reads that floored me:

My current obsession is Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, a nonfiction book about octopuses and animal consciousness and emotion. I could have not have given less of a shit about octopuses before this book, and now I am OBSESSED with them. Not only are they basically the most fascinating creatures on the planet,  but Sy writes about them with such elegance. I found this book utterly and unexpectedly riveting.

Also I’m late to the game with Landline by Rainbow Rowell but that book had me inconsolable on a plane. Rainbow is a freaking wizard with words–if I could write sentences half as good as she can, I could die happy. That book made me feel all the things–the most emotionally real and honest novel I’ve encountered in a long time.

Lastly, The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman, a fabulously accessible and high-stakes historical fiction novel about lady bare knuckle boxers in Georgian England. I mean….what’s not to love in that premise alone?

Thanks for the interview, Mackenzi!

You can add THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE on Goodreads, as well as SEMPER AUGUSTUS.

Waiting On Wednesday – 90

Hello gentle reader,

This week I’m waiting on a very exciting book: THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE by Mackenzi Lee (expected publication: 20th June 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books). You may recall I loved Mackenzi’s debut THIS MONSTROUS THING and I’m very much looking forward to her second release, another YA Historical Fantasy that sounds right up my alley again!

gentlemansguidetoviceandvirtue

From Goodreads:

An unforgettable tale of two friends on their Grand Tour of 18th-century Europe who stumble upon a magical artifact that leads them from Paris to Venice in a dangerous manhunt, fighting pirates, highwaymen, and their feelings for each other along the way.

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

Witty, romantic, and intriguing at every turn, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a sumptuous romp that explores the undeniably fine lines between friendship and love.

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly event, hosted by book blogger Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases we’re eagerly anticipating.

Have you read THIS MONSTROUS THING? Is THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE on your TBR list?

What are you waiting on this week?

A Writer in the Spotlight – Mackenzi Lee

A Writer In The Spotlight Logo

Hello gentle reader,

today I’m delighted to share with you another interview with a debut YA author! Meet Mackenzi Lee, author of THIS MONSTROUS THING (coming 22d September 2015 from Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins).

Mackenzi Lee

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Author: Mackenzi Lee

Website: https://mackenzilee.wordpress.com/

Twitter:  @themackenzilee 

Biography:

Mackenzi Lee is a reader, writer, bookseller, unapologetic fangirl, and fast talker. She holds an MFA from Simmons College in writing for children and young adults, and her short fiction for children and teens has appeared in Inaccurate Realities, The Friend, and The Newport Review.  Her young adult historical fantasy novel, THIS MONSTROUS THING, which won the PEN-New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award, as well as an Emerging Artist Grant from the St. Botolph Club Foundation, will be published on September 22, 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. She loves Diet Coke, sweater weather, and Star Wars. On a perfect day, she can be found enjoying all three. She currently calls Boston home.

My interview (3d June 2015)

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? When/How did you decide to be a writer?

Definitely not–when I was in high school I wanted to be an actress, I majored in history in college, and worked in children’s theater and public radio before I found my way to writing. When I was young, I wrote a lot, and in high school I wrote fanfiction and terrible poetry. But I never really thought about being a writer as a career until I was living in the UK and doing a lot of traveling. Since I spent a lot of time in airports and bus stations, I started reading for fun for the first time since I was in middle school. And it was so much fun that it reminded me how reading as a kid had inspired me to write. So I started writing, sort of for the first time and sort of again. So for the first time again.

Are you a full-time writer? When and where do you write?

I am not–I actually have two other jobs (lucky for me, both are book related). So I do a lot of writing late at night and on weekends and on my lunch breaks. I am lucky enough to be part of a community called the Writer’s Room of Boston, which gives me a space to write, so I do a lot of work from the sixth story of an old skyscraper near the harbor, looking out on a fire escape that is so picture perfect I want to climb out on it with my ukulele and sing Moon River. I also do a fair amount of writing in bed. Because tired.

What do you say to writers who want to be traditionally published one day?

The number one big thing is to remember that everyone’s path is different. There is no one right way to get published, or one path, and other people’s’ journey is no indication of what yours will be.

The second big thing is to remember that everything you write counts, even if it doesn’t get published. I have three or four or five practice novels I wrote before THIS MONSTROUS THING. I have a book that I signed with my agent with that was on sub for a year and never sold. It’s hard not to think of all the time I spent on these projects that will never do anything but sit on my hard drive as wasted time, but it’s not. I couldn’t have written TMT without writing them first. Writing is like playing an instrument–no one sits down at the piano and expects to be good right off the bat. You have to practice, and that practice isn’t wasted time.

And third, remember that it’s not a race. You don’t have an expiration date on you. You aren’t running out of time to get published. I know it feels that way–trust me, I know. And I know it feels like good things are happening to everyone but you. There will be days you will go on Twitter and feel like everyone has an agent and everyone has a book deal but you. But the good thing is, it’s not a race. There aren’t a finite number of books that can be published. You don’t get a countdown clock attached to you as soon as you start trying to be traditionally published. This thing takes time.

ThisMonstrousThing

THIS MONSTROUS THING was inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, how did you come up with the idea for it?

My novels never have a single inception moment, so TMT came from a lot of places: seeing a production of Frankenstein at the National Theater in London that changed my perspective on the book, traveling to Germany and France at Christmas time, learning the story behind Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein. And, probably most importantly, a lifetime of being the volatile older half of a pair of siblings.

Do you listen to music when you write? If yes, what did you listen to when writing THIS MONSTROUS THING?

I do listen to music! A lot of TMT was written to the album The Life of the World To Come by the Mountain Goats, which is very biblical (each song has a corresponding scripture) and has lots of life and death and resurrection imagery, so it was very appropriate for a book based on a book based on the Bible. My favorite song from the album is Genesis 30:3 and Psalm 40:2 (which has the oh so appropriate line “Send me a mechanic if I’m not beyond repair”). Some other highlights from the TMT mixtape: Autoclave by The Mountain Goats, Mary by Noah and the Whale, Empty Rocking Chair by Parsonsfield, After the Bombs by the Decembrists, Don’t You Want to Share the Guilt? by Kate Nash, A Girl, A Boy, and a Graveyard by Jeremy Messersmith, Lies by the Swell Season, Machine by Regina Spektor, One More Time with Feeling by Regina Spektor, and the Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel. I try to find songs with lyrics that mirror elements of the story, and all of these do.

What are you working on now?

I have another book coming out with Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, so I’m hard at work on that! It is unrelated to TMT–but it is another standalone historical fantasy (or industrial fantasy, if you prefer, because there is lots of metal. Or historical fanfiction, which is what I’m starting to call my work). It’s set in 1893 Chicago and is about a bisexual boy with a metal-based superpower. I’m also working on a manuscript set during the Dutch tulip mania in 1637, about first love and gender identity.

What are your favourite books? (= Any books you’d recommend?)

Always.

For great historical fiction, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (also happens to be my favorite book).

For steampunk, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.

For Frankenstein, This Dark Endeavour and Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel.

For Mary Shelley, The Lady and Her Monsters by Roseanne Montillo.

And some current favorites that have nothing to do with TMT: Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee, The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore, Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert, Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear, and Drift & Dagger by Kendall Kulper.

Thanks for the interview, Mackenzi!

Waiting On Wednesday – 67

Hello gentle reader,

today I’m waiting on THIS MONSTROUS THING by Mackenzi Lee (expected publication: September 22nd 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books). It’s a YA Historical Fantasy and a reimagining of Frankenstein. I’ve been waiting for this book since the book deal was announced on Publishers Weekly, which is to say… forever. I’m so looking forward to its release!

ThisMonstrousThing

 

From Goodreads:

In 1818 Geneva, men built with clockwork parts live hidden away from society, cared for only by illegal mechanics called Shadow Boys. Two years ago, Shadow Boy Alasdair Finch’s life shattered to bits.

His brother, Oliver—dead.

His sweetheart, Mary—gone.

His chance to break free of Geneva—lost.

Heart-broken and desperate, Alasdair does the unthinkable: He brings Oliver back from the dead.

But putting back together a broken life is more difficult than mending bones and adding clockwork pieces. Oliver returns more monster than man, and Alasdair’s horror further damages the already troubled relationship.

Then comes the publication of Frankenstein and the city intensifies its search for Shadow Boys, aiming to discover the real life doctor and his monster. Alasdair finds refuge with his idol, the brilliant Dr. Geisler, who may offer him a way to escape the dangerous present and his guilt-ridden past, but at a horrible price only Oliver can pay…

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly event, hosted by book blogger Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases we’re eagerly anticipating.

Have you heard about this book? Is it on your TBR list? What are you waiting on this week?