Welcome to the five hundred and nineteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with children’s author C Lee McKenzie. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Lee. You write children’s books, was there a reason to choose this genre?
Lee: I admit that it was an accident. I wrote a story with a main character who was sixteen, and that’s exactly the age publishers like their young adult MCs to be. I knew nothing about this business of writing and selling books. I was so green. This has been one very steep learning curve for me!
Morgen: A lot of us are still on that curve. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Lee: Sliding on the Edge (2009), The Princess of Las Pulgas (2010), The First Time, Premeditated Cat, my short story in this anthology (2011), Two and Twenty Dark Tales, Into the Sea of Dew, my short story in this anthology (2012) and Alligators Overhead (2012).
I have sort of a pseudonym. There were too many Cheryls writing in my category, so I changed my name to C. Lee. That’s not very creative, but it did separate me from the other Cheryls.
Morgen: And it makes your name more generic (like Morgen), easier for different genres. It certainly didn’t do JK Rowling any harm. Do you think it’s easier writing for children than adults?
Lee: Anyone who thinks it’s easier to write for young readers than it is to write for adults hasn’t tried the former. If anything, I think it’s harder. I have to engage young readers immediately and hold their interest throughout the story. They cut me no slack, so long descriptive passages (something I love, BTW) are out. Pacing is key for teens and pre-teens used to visual stories from movies, TV and video games. Characters have to be exciting or people with stories they can connect with. The dialogue has to sound like a young person speaking without falling into popular slang that will soon be out-dated–unless I’m setting the story in the past.
I’ll tell you what I really can’t write. Picture books. Telling a story for that age group in approximately thirty-six pages with just the right words is daunting. So, IMHO, writing for youthful readers presents a set of steep challenges.
Morgen: It certainly sounds like it. I wrote a children’s story (Dan the Detective) for college a few years ago and thought about putting out as an eBook so I asked some fellow writers (of children’s stories and / or who had children) and I soon learned from their feedback that I have a lot to learn. I’ve put in back in its folder for now but hopefully one day I’ll see the light. It’s funny what you said about loving description. One of my poets loves description whereas I glaze over, I’m definitely more a fan of dialogue. Do you get a second opinion on your stories before they’re published – if so from adults, children or both?
Lee: Oh yes! I’m very lucky to have an excellent critique group and some friends who know better than to patronize me with, “that’s nice” when something is wrong in a story. I have a few kids who beta read for me, too. I couldn’t send stories out that hadn’t been read by others first.
Morgen: “That’s nice” doesn’t help, does it? We need to know what works and doesn’t. You’ve self-published anything? If so, what lead to you going your own way?
Lee: I’ve been traditionally published twice with stand-alone novels and twice in short story anthologies. I decided that since I was doing so much work promoting these books myself I might as well take on the last bit of the process and publish this middle grade book on my own. I’ve learned so much doing it, and I’m glad I chose to go this route.
Morgen: Me too. I currently have six eBooks, with more planned shortly, and it’s a fun process. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Lee: Alligators Overhead, my new middle grade novel, is available as an eBook. I had help formatting and uploading it to Amazon and B &N simply because I didn’t have the time. I did do the formatting for Smashwords and managed to pass their requirements to be in the Premium Level. This is the part of process I’m not terribly keen on.
Morgen: It does get easier once you’ve done it a few times (I recently created a How to create an ebook page on my blog for those considering it). Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Lee: I lost the battle to keep my original title for my first book. The editor didn’t think Bad Ass Attitude would work for parents. I thought it would work for kids. I still do, but the book came out as Sliding on the Edge. The publisher loved The Princess of Las Pulgas, my second book title, so that was no problem. The third one I had total control over, so Alligators Overhead was the title I not only wanted, but also got.
Morgen: I have to say that I agree with you on your first title (although he/she may be right on the parenting front and they do pay for them) but (sorry editor) I can see why you put a after it. Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Lee: Yes and Yes. But I’ve stopped worrying about goal setting like, “Write X number of words each day.” I’ve also stopped worrying if a story isn’t pouring onto the computer screen. The words come and the stories come when they’re ready. I’m constantly surprised by their sneak attacks. I guess I’ve been brewing them in my head, but not conscious of doing that.
Morgen: It’s amazing what you sub-conscious comes up with. The creation is my favourite aspect of writing. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Lee: From our U.S. past it would be a toss up between Abe Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, but I think I’ll go with Jefferson, although I’d be terrified to open my mouth and reveal how much I didn’t know. Then I’d like to seat Thomas across from Chairman Mao and see where that conversation would go. The last choice is really hard because I’d want to pull someone to the table who was from a totally different background. How about Paul Sagan? That might be interesting.
As to what to serve for dinner . . . I’d be so nervous that I wouldn’t be able to cook a thing. I’d drink some wine and call a caterer.
Morgen: I don’t know Paul Sagan (I do Carl Sagan) so had to Wikipedia him. I certainly think the other two would certainly keep the conversation lively. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
Lee: No party tricks, I’m afraid. I love to hike and I practice yoga to keep sane. I’ve been at both for over twenty years, so I guess they are activities I’ll enjoy until I can’t move around anymore.
Morgen: I have a couple of party tricks for you: did you know the back of your arm from your wrist to your elbow is the same length as your foot. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend barking like a seal (although it’s fun) but would flipping a stack of (eleven at best) coins off the back of your (size 8-and-a-bit / 42) elbow. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Lee: I have a webpage at http://cleemckenziebooks.com and blog at http://writegame.blogspot.com. Then because you can’t sell books by standing on the curb… Let me rephrase that. I don’t want to sell books by standing on the curb, I’m on Facebook, too. My newest page is https://www.facebook.com/AlligatorsOverhead. I love visitors at all these places, so I hope people will stop in and say you sent them.
Morgen: I hope so too. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Lee: Oh my yes. How do you post two times a day? How do you manage all of the authors who seek you out from around the world? And how did you remember my name from over a year ago? That still impresses me!
Morgen: I post three times, actually. The 7am daily interview, 5pm fiction and 7pm item (spotlight, guest post, flash fiction or poetry), sometimes even a 5am flash if I spot something of interest that I want to share with my readers. Although I know I shouldn’t say it, and writer Steve Bowkett has told me off for doing so, I have a dreadful memory but somehow writing-related things just stick… probably because I’m passionate (my mum would say obsessed) about it. Thank you, Lee.
I then invited Lee to include a synopsis of her latest book…
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 twelve, 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 the witches 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.
And Lee thought you might enjoy this. I did.
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