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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Guest Interview: C. Lee McKenzie (Author of "Alligators Overhead"


Today, I’ve the honor to pick the brains of a wonderful blogger friend by the name of C. Lee McKenzie, (she of the awesome sauce blog, The Write Game.)
Aloha Lee,                        

Thanks for dropping in and agreeing to be my latest victim guest interviewee.
Aloha back! I only wish I could say that to you in person. It's been too long since my last visit to the islands. Gotta do something about that!

In late July, you published your first MG book, Alligators Overhead. Sincere congrats on that, but I have to ask: Why alligators? You seem very nice and normal, and alligators are mean and abnormal (I lived in Central Florida for three years and one nearly ate me…)
First, thanks for the "nice and normal" compliment, Mark. You obviously haven't talked to my family or you might not have written that about me. Sorry about the traumatic alligator encounter. That would put me off those critters for sure, but they've been on planet earth for over 65 million years, so they got here first. We have to give them some space and what better place than a lovely swamp?

So why alligators? I guess I wanted to write a story without a cat in it for a change. There are cat stories all over the place . . . and dog and horse ones, too. In my opinion, alligators are underrepresented. And as for those cats, well, I love cats or I did. Have you read the news on my blog about what those cats are up to? They want to ban my book. Very unreasonable demands! They're calling for a total rewrite of the story, taking out the alligators and putting themselves in as the witch familiars. This is a battle, but I'm determined to win.

Am I allowed to be bold? Why C. Lee? (I’ve always wondered what the C stands for :)

C. Lee McKenzie
I wanted a new persona when I started writing for young readers. I didn't know any simple way other than to alter my name. Beside I found a Cheryl McKenzie online who was a stripper and I didn't want people to confuse the two of us. For the record: I'm not, nor have I ever been a stripper. Do you know what the F. stands for in F. Scott Fitzgerald? or the C. S. in C. S. Lewis? How about S.E. in S. E. Hinton? (ANS: Francis, Clive Staples and Susan Eloise) I was always curious about those initials of authors, too. I'm glad you asked.



How did you come up with some of those awesome character names like Lucy Thricewater… she must have a very clean and filtered family history J
Clean and filtered she is, indeed. Each of the characters needed something special about them and I began with their names. (Do you see some kind of pattern in my life? Naming seems to be important. Maybe that came from something in my childhood.) The problem about the names in this book is that I had to put them into my spell check so I could spell them the same way throughout book. I mean Stiltencranz and Wartgob and Frankenhoff aren't too easy to say, let alone spell. But I loved the quirky names and they fit the quirkiness of the story. I kept the MC pretty common (Pete Riley), but then I had to tweak his sidekick's name a bit. I had a neighbor once that we called Weasel. He hated that nickname. Hope he has a good laugh if he ever reads my story. Either that or he'll write me a nasty letter to tell me how much hated me for calling him Weasel lo these many years ago.

If *they* said you could not be an author, and you had no choice, what is the one job you would most least like to do – and why?
How about witch for what I'd like most to be? That's an ancient and honorable job. They don't burn witches anymore, do they? That would be a downside to that career choice. I'd least like to be night watch woman. I'd also be almost totally unemployed, too. I'm an early riser, and I'm definitely an early to bed person. If I had to guard anything after ten, whatever I was guarding would pretty much be up for the taking. So there you have it: witch woman but not watch woman.

Can you remember when you finished your first ever story? How old were you, and what was it about?
I was about 8. It was actually a play about vegetables. (You're laughing? And that would be because . . . ?) I took my play seriously, and I created my cast only after giving it a lot of thought. There was Miss Tomato, Mr. Cabbage, Mrs. Carrot, and I think an onion or two. When I cast my play I could recruit the tomato and the carrot, but no kids wanted to play the cabbage or the onions. I had to do a rewrite and make the cabbage into a cucumber. I forget what the onions became. It was first experience with critics.

Someone gives you $5,000 to give away. You’re not allowed to spend it on friends or family, or donate it directly to a cause...  but you do have to spend the money in a charitable way. How would you pay it forward?
That's easy. I'd buy up tons of books and send to libraries all over the world, especially ones that were small and in poor areas where they needed books for young readers. Could you make that $10,000?

Wow… You’ve been blogging since 2007. How did you first hear about “web logs,” and was it like just you and like six other people here on Blogger? (I bet one was Alex J. Cavanaugh  :)
Yep. Them was the good old days. To tell the truth, I hated blogging. I only did it because my editor told me I should. I not only hated it, I was rotten at it. Then I started connecting with writers and readers and that changed how I looked at this new way of sharing ideas. I started enjoying it. I started having a lot of fun. I'm glad I kept at it. I mean if I hadn't, I never would have joined the A to Z Blogging Challenge. I never would have met you or all the other great bloggers!

What’s next on the writing front? Is Alligators Overhead going to be part of a series?
I'm finishing up another MG fantasy adventure, but it's another stand alone and it doesn't have any alligators in it . . . No cat either. I have a hard time with series. I can read them; I just don't think I have the talent for writing them. I'm also in the final stages of a rewrite on another YA that I hope to put out next year. In between those two books, I hope to get away and find an island paradise where I can locate some inspiration for some future stories. Any suggestions in your neck of the woods, er, water? (Stay away from Tahiti… they’re always filming The Final Bachelorette there…)

Reading your five fabulous moments here I’m going to hazard a guess you don’t live in Manhattan or Downtown Chicago. Are you all country – or a recent import?
I'm a long time hick. I love visiting cities, but they make me jittery after a while. If I have a perfect day it has to be a walk in the forest or along a creek. My next best one is a sandy beach day. I really love the sounds that nature make and prefer them over our noisy man-made ones.

You walk into a classroom, full of first-year writers, and you’re *the* teacher. What three points would you want to impress on this group of fresh, eager author-interns J
First, I'd ask if they've consider coal mining? It's honest work and when they go home at night they won't have to face letters of rejection or critiques about their current WIP. Seriously, I guess I'd want them to know that everyone can write stories. Then I'd want them to know that not everyone can write them well, but they can learn with practice and by paying attention to good writing. Third, I'd want them to know that if they are truly passionate about writing and sharing their stories with others, they can never give up. Giving up is the only sure way to guarantee failure.

Lee, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my random questions – and much success with Alligators Overhead.
What great questions, Mark. You did your research! I really appreciate the time you took to put this together.


Alligators Overhead is available from Amazon  and a variety of sources via Lee's blog, The Write Game.


26 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Vegetables? I wonder if the cats would've protested being replaced by vegetables?
And now we know your first name! Yeah, I wouldn't want my name associated that way.
And yes, first to comment! I'm back on track.

Nick Wilford said...

Not much difference between writing and coal mining anyway. Both about hacking into the unknown, with the promise of maybe a diamond in there somewhere! Great interview, Mark and Lee. :)

Samantha said...

*sigh* I think there's a stripper with my name too. I better come up with something else :P

I'm so glad Lee has stuck with blogging. I had my reservations about it too when I first started, but she's so right! Once you actually connect with other writers it becomes a lot of fun :)

Great interview!!

(Oh yeah: I go by both Sam AND Samantha. The choice is yours Mark. Just don't call me Sammy :D)

Ciara said...

C. Lee - A stripper? LOL, I have a mud wrestler in Europe with the name Ciara Knight. It is interesting.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Great interview! The only thing I'd slightly disagree with is being a coal miner...at least in writing I'm pretty certain the ceiling won't collapse on my head. But you're right, it is good, honest work...but I'll leave it to the brave among us. :)

BUDDY said...

"Mahalo!" for a terrific interview, Lee and Mark.

Lee, Mike says to tell you your character names remind him of the Roald Dahl stories he used to read his kids. I'll have to take his word for that.

Oh, and I totally agree with you about the redundancy of cat stories. But sweetie, you can't have too many dog books!

Mark, I've never been to Hawaii, but I do love me some SPAM. (The real stuff, not the e-mail kind.) Maybe I could be an honorary Hawaiian.

Mr Lonely said...

walking here with a smile. take care.. have a nice day ~ =)

Regards,
http://www.lonelyreload.com (A Growing Teenager Diary) ..

cleemckenzie said...

I am sooooo late to this party! But I have an excuse a really good one. Well, a pretty good one. My car battery died. Now I realize I don't have to drive to get here, but I do have to drive to get elsewhere, so there was a tow truck involved and the driver not really comfortable with mountain roads (Who knew?) and other stuff. Any way, I made it, and I'm so glad I did. The weather here is perfect and the company very interesting.

Thanks for the great visit, Mark. I'll be back.

cleemckenzie said...

@Alex I should have stuck with veggies. You're so right. The cats wouldn't have come up an objection to those.

@Nick Hacking into the unknown . . . I love that.

@Samantha It must be our charming names. Just overlook it. You'll be the one with all your clothes on, so everyone will know you're the one who writes.

@Ciara Knight is such a pretty name. I can see it for a writer, but not so much for a mud wrestler.

@Elizabeth you're probably right, but there's a lot bravery involved in this writing business, don't you think?

@Buddy you are so literary! I'm always amazed at what you know. I have a dog in my next book!

Hi @Mr. Lonely Thanks for the visit!

Sheena-kay Graham said...

Alligators catches anyone's attention title wise. Nice post.

nutschell said...

Wohoo Lee!
I agree about the power of names when it comes to creating stories. I love that she'd use the money to buy books for libraries! I'd do that too!

Nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

Catherine Stine said...

Good interview questions, Mark!

Morgan said...

Awwww... LOVED THIS! C. Lee, you are fabulous. I love seeing your beautiful face everywhere. And I'm excited to check out your work--I definitely get a very talented vibe from you :)

And Mark, I'm DYING with your comment on Alex's blog today... I'm still laughing...

Carol Kilgore said...

Fun questions and great answers. Good luck with your new book!

cleemckenzie said...

@Sheena-kay Catchy names title are important. This did get me a radio interview. Love your name BTW.

@Nutschell you are always generous, so I know you'd donate books, too.

@Hi again Catherine. You sparked an idea on your blog post about rewriting openings. Thanks.

@Morgan you are so kind. And you stirred my interest in what Mark has said on Alex's blog. Have to go see!

@Carol I really appreciate your wishes for good luck.

M Pax said...

You share a name with a stripper ... interesting.

I've discovered that MPax is a record label. I keep getting all these follows on Twitter from rappers until they figure out I'm not the record label. If they read my bio, they'd figure it out sooner. I've even had people email me demos.

Donna L Martin said...

Greetings!

I'm hopping over from GUTGAA and have decided to start visiting some of the blogs early. Nice to meet you and you have a lovely blog!

Donna L Martin
www.donnalmartin.com
www.donasdays.blogspot.com

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Mark and Lee .. it's the misty swirls of the swamps with witches, alligators and perhaps triffids that's worrying me .. lots of diversity and brain wanderings here ..

Great interview with C .. I'd often wondered what it stood for .. love the sound of the 8 year old vegetable stories .. they're fun .. cheers Hilary

cleemckenzie said...

@MPax I can see you rapping in space. :-)

@Hi Donna glad you stopped in early.

@Hilary if I return to vegetables as MCs I'm emailing you. :-)

Bonnee Crawford said...

Lee:

A play about vegetables doesn't strike me as particularly terrible if you were only 8. I was still watching Vegie Tales when I was like 12...

STOP DOUBTING YOUR ABILITY IN WRITING SERIES! YOU CAN DO ANYTHING! BLARG!

Alligators are cool. Cat fur makes my nose and eyes itch, though I don't have a severe allergy.

Mark:
Thanks for sharing this awesome interview with this awesome person. Have an awesome day :)

Nicole said...

Great interview! Your "perfect days" sound amazing - it's always fun to get away and just drink it all in.

Carrie Butler said...

I swear, Mark has the best interviews. Only he could unearth the truth about Cheryl the Stripper!

Too funny, Lee. :)

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Deanie Humphrys-Dunne said...

Really a fun interview Mark and C. Lee. I'll bet the vegetable story was really cute! Happy weekend, everyone.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Uh, Mark? I'm thinking you're gonna have to disallow anonymous comments, lol! I know I had to.

Lee, I'm with you on a good day. Cities are fun to visit and I've had to live in a few but they do make me *jittery* after awhile. Too many people. Loved the idea of a Vegetable play. How fun.

Sia McKye Over Coffee

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