Hey, all, it’s Alexa! So, about a year and a half ago, I reviewed this incredible story entitled Double Negative, and it is right now in the running for TCK Publishing’s Reader’s Choice Awards! In honor of that, today, I have the privilege of interviewing the author, the wonderful Mrs. C. Lee McKenzie, who created one of my favorite contemporaries of all time.
I’m C. Lee McKenzie, and I write young adult and middle grade fiction. I have four traditionally published young adult novels–Sliding on the Edge, The Princess of Las Pulgas, Double Negative and Sudden Secrets.
Sign of the Green Dragon, is a middle-grade adventure story set in modern times, but linked to ancient Chinese Dragon lore. My middle-grade trilogy will soon be complete with book three arriving in 2018. It started with Alligators Overhead, then The Great Time Lock Disaster, and now Some Very Messy Medieval Magic.
When I’m not writing I’m practicing yoga, doing sun salutations in my garden (some call it weeding) or scratching my head over how all of this writing stuff started. I’m still not sure, but the ride has been exhilarating and so much different than I’d expected.
Thank you so much for coming! First question:
What’s the first book you remember reading?
That’s really in the far distant past! I think it might have been Alice in Wonderland or a sleazy Frank Yerby novel on my grandmother’s bookshelf. She only had those, The Life of Boswell, and the Bible available. I don’t think I read the Bible because the print was so small and the book was so thick. I had no interest in Boswell, but the Yerby novel had a hot cover. I was either four or five when I could finally reach that shelf.
Haha, well, that must’ve been interesting.
Who was the best teacher you ever had?
Mrs. Stockton, hands down. She was my third-grade teacher and she made me want to come to school and stay. My fondest memories are after lunch when she read to the class. She was a great reader and made all of the characters distinct. Ever heard of Mr. Popper’s Penguin? That was one of my all-time favorites when I was in the third grade.
I have heard of that! Haven’t read it though. And awwww, sounds like she was wonderful!
Best meal you ever had?
I think it was in Piraeus. Something Greek, of course, and it involved fish. I still remember all the yumming that I did while I stuffed myself.
Mmm, I’ve never really tried Greek food, but you make it sound like it was definitely good!
How did you come up with Double Negative?
I’ve always been keen on literacy projects, and I guess I wanted others to take notice of the literacy issue, especially in the U.S. People I mention illiteracy to often think it doesn’t happen here. I wanted to tell a story about how illiteracy or low-literacy affects people. In Double Negative, it’s Hutch McQueen’s life that’s going down the toilet, and a lot of that is because he can’t read much at all.
That’s really cool! I love it when authors find a cause they care about and weave it into the story, so that, even though the book does raise awareness about the issue, the story is really about the character themselves, and, like you said, how the issue specifically affects them.
Would you ever write a sequel or spinoff?
For Double Negative? No. I’ve told his story, and Hutch is launched. He has the potential for a future, and even his dad has a chance for a better life and a better relationship with his son. I think Hutch and I have come as far as we can. However, I have another kid that I’m working with now. Unlike Hutch, the guy can read and he’s a popular basketball player. Then something really rotten happens, and guess what? He’s in one huge mess. It’s almost done. I’m working on final edits.
Ooh, I am definitely intrigued!
What’s your favorite thing about these characters?
I love Hutch for being the smart, devilish kid he is. Stubborn to the max, but once that characteristic morphs into determination, he’s on his way to a much better life. Maggie’s one of my favorite old characters. Feisty and brave, she confronts one of the biggest challenges in her life, the loss of her memory. I’m fond of Nyla, too. A target for the “in-group” because she’s fat, she’s also smart, and she’s a girl with a very large and forgiving heart.
❤ ❤ ❤
One heart for each of them. They are so wonderful.
What do you imagine them doing today, moving forward from the novel?
I see Hutch doing well in college and still in touch with Father Kerry and Maggie. He’s turned into a role model for other kids who once lived on Palm Street. Nyla’s on her way to an advance degree and a brilliant career. I see her in some field of science and doing good for people.
That is awesome! I love it so much!
What advice would you give to someone else in your situation (writing-wise)? Or someone else in Hutch’s situation?
Outside of yelling, “Run!” I can’t imagine giving advice to someone’s in the same pickle (AKA situation) as I am. It’s easy to tell Hutch, “Wake up, kid! Take the help your offered and get out the mess you’re in.”
Haha, that’s true. There are rarely easy answers to writer problems. :p
Are you reading any good books right now or what would you recommend people start on?
I finished The Time Traveler’s Wife a few weeks ago. Interesting narrative structure in that book, but I just couldn’t warm to the characters. I’ve just started Joyce Carol Oates, We Were the Mulvany’s. I’m intrigued, but so far it hasn’t grabbed my full attention, so I’ll have to get back on that one.
I’ve heard a lot about The Time Traveler’s Wife! But characters are a big deal to me too (as you probably know, haha), so that would be difficult for me as well.
Anything else people should know about you or your books?
A few years ago I would have said no to writing a series, but I got caught up in some fun adventure with a couple of kids and couldn’t stop writing about them. I now have a middle-grade trilogy: Alligators Overhead, The Great Time Lock Disaster, and Some Very Messy Medieval Magic (book #3 is coming 2018, Dancing Lemur Press). I’m still not sure how this happened. Maybe it did because I needed a break from angst. Pete and Weasel have none of that. They simply land in trouble a lot.
I took a shot at an adult short story a couple of months ago. It’s titled Matilijas. I submitted it to the Creative Writing Institute’s anthology, and it was a Judges Pick, so I’ll be in the anthology called Lost. That comes out in December. I have a few more short stories submitted, but I haven’t heard any word about them yet. I find short stories a challenge, but a lot of fun at the same time.
Just the titles of those MGs make me wanna read them! And awesome, congratulations on that! Can’t wait to hear more about your publishing endeavors as you hear back about the other submissions!
Thanks for the great questions! And thanks for letting me be on your blog.
Oh you’re welcome! Thank you so much for coming! 😀
If you readers want to know more about Double Negative, your wish is my command. 😊
Sixteen-year-old Hutchinson McQueen is trapped between an abusive mother and an absentee father. Shackled by poor vision and poor reading skills, he squeaks through classes with his talent for eavesdropping and memorizing what he hears. After another suspension from school and suffering through one of his mother’s violent attacks, he escapes to a friend’s house that turns out to be a meth lab. The lab is raided and Hutch lands in juvenile detention. When the court sentences him to six months in a new juvenile program, he meets a teacher with Alzheimer’s who will change his life and hers.
Hope you all enjoyed the post! Double Negative is one of my all-time favorite contemporaries: personal, powerful, and real, it is an incredible story, an excellent experience, and absolutely deserves to win. Here’s the purchase link for the book, and do not forget to vote for him here before December 10th! Just go to page 12, the YA and MG tab, and click on the title of the book. 🙂
~ Love, Alexa ❤
Other Books by C. Lee McKenzie
Alligators, witches and a spooky mansion aren’t your average neighbors unless you live at the edge of the Ornofree swamp in the backwater town of Hadleyville. The town’s bad boy, Pete Riley, may only be a kid, but he’s up to his eyeballs in big trouble, and this time he isn’t the cause. This time the trouble arrives when a legendary hundred-year-old mansion materializes next door and the Ornofree alligators declare war to save their swamp from bulldozers. Things only get worse when Pete’s guardian aunt and several of her close friends vanish while trying to restore order using outdated witchcraft. Now Pete must find his aunt and stop the war. He might stand a chance if his one friend, Weasel, sticks with him, but even then, they may not have what it takes.
No YouTube. No smoothies. No Manga. Not ever again. Not unless Pete figures out how to reverse his spell and free Weasel and him from Victorian England.
A young wizard accidentally opens a time lock, and he and his bookish friend are swept into Victorian England, where they will be trapped forever if that wizard-in-training can’t find a way to reverse his bad spell by the next full moon–just three days away!