Interview with YA author C Lee McKenzie

Today I talk with YA author C Lee McKenzie about her writing, her books, and more. C Lee McKenzie is the author of The Princess of Las Pulgas and Sliding On the Edge.

Why do you write?

I think I’m a reader who had this desire to be on the other side of that reading process. I forget who said this, but it applies to me. “Writers are readers who suddenly want to emulate.” That’s probably not a quote, but it’s close.

What do you love about writing? (Or about the publishing business, or both.)

I love to create people who have a story to tell, then let them tell it. I also love to make a story the way I want it. Of course, it’s not as easy as I thought it would be. I’ve found that sometimes those people and those stories take off in directions they want, not necessarily what I had planned. So I guess the surprises have also turned out to be what I love in this writing business.

What don’t you like about the publishing business? (Or about writing.)

I hate waiting, and authors spend a lot of time doing that. I’ve had to learn about patience and about occupying myself while I WAIT for someone to read my story, WAIT for someone to comment on it, WAIT for someone to like it enough to buy it, WAIT for the edits, WAIT for publication, WAIT for the reviews. I have a blog called the Write Game; if I’d known more when I started it, I would have called it the Wait Game.

I understand! (laughing) It’s hard to wait, and as writers we often have to wait a long time, even just to have the book published after signing the contract.

What would you want in your ideal writing studio? What does your writing space look like now?

I’m really lucky to have my ideal writing studio. It’s a full wall of windows looking out over a forest of Redwood trees and down into a garden. The only thing that’s not exactly perfect (*laughing here*) is my desk. When I start the day it’s usually beautiful–organized, neat, everything within reach that I’ll need. By the end of the day the desktop looks like I’ve cultivated it and forgotten to rake it smooth. I sometimes have my lap top out alongside my desk top because there’s something on one and not the other, and then there are the piles of books and notes. Coffee cups, of course, and snack remains. Total chaos around me, but inside my computers I might have some good writing.

Your studio sounds beautiful! And I think a lot of us writers and creative people can relate to being messy.

Where do you write most often?

I usually write at my desk. I often print out and take drafts outside to read and edit. If I’m away from home, I make notes in a journal I carry or on my laptop. Then, of course, there are the wrinkled scraps in my pocket that have notes I’ve written while standing in the grocery store check out or waiting in the car for the light to turn green. I’ve found story details on the backs of receipts for gas, shopping bags, even my checkbook register. I’ve discovered that thinking is a messy process for me; when I write I’m all about clutter. The fun part is to pull all of that into something that people want to read.

I love that you make notes on anything around you! I do that, too.

What do you think is the most important thing (or things) that makes a good book work?

I think first, it’s the characters. Readers have to connect with the people inside a book; they have to care about them and their stories. If the people aren’t believable, the story doesn’t work, and that applies to Werewolves and Goblins as well as realistic men and women.

Yes, characters are important.

What is your favorite type of book to read?

That’s a hard question to answer, since read all kinds of books. But I guess I’d have to say that my first choice is a gripping novel, and that can be realistic as well as fantastic. I love biographies and historical fiction too. I drive my husband crazy because I’ll start to read one book, then pick up another. I often read two or three books at the same time.

What are some of your favorite YA books? How about picture books?

I really love S. E. Hinton’s books. They’re dated, but I still think of them as young adult books I can relate to. Jane Yolan’s books are also right up there when I think “favorite.” As to PBs. There’s a Griffin in My Garden has always been a favorite in our family. In fact, we had a stone griffin made for our garden, and it stands looking out over the flower and vegetable garden to this day. I almost believe it’s steamy breath is what brings our plants to life quickly and makes them bloom. That’s part of the story we love.

S. E.Hinton’s books are some of my favorites, too.

How much of yourself or your own experiences and emotions do you put in your books?

I suppose there’s some of me in those books; it would be impossible to separate all that I am from my writing, but I’ve never really had the experiences that I write about. I’ve never been abandoned or mistreated; I’ve never thought of cutting myself like Shawna in Sliding on the Edge. I have moved a lot, so the angst of new places and new schools is something I can relate to, and I did use some of those feelings when I wrote Princess of Las Pulgas.

What is your favorite book that you wrote? Why?

I don’t think I’ve finished my favorite book yet. It’s still at about fifteen chapters and it’s based on my father’s early life as the son of an immigrant family. I’ve set it aside for a while, but I’ll get back to it once I’m sure how I want the story to develop from where I stopped writing.

What do you want to tell readers?

I want to tell them thank you. I appreciate them. I appreciate that they took their valuable time to read what I set down.

Where can readers find you online?

I blog at and my website is I hope they’ll stop by, say hello and tell me what they think of my books.

What are you working on now? Or what’s your next book that we can look for?

I’ve submitted a book about an abused and abandoned boy who’s on the way to a life in prison if no one steps in to help. Fortunately, there are two people in my story that find this boy worth their effort; one is a priest and one is a retired teacher. The teacher will have the biggest effect on Hutch (the boy), but she’s fighting a losing battle with Alzheimer’s, so there’s a bittersweetness in her success.

That sounds really interesting, Lee!

You’ve asked some challenging questions, Cheryl. They were interesting to answer. Thanks so much for opportunity to be here on your wonderful blog.

I’m very happy you stopped by.

About Cheryl Rainfield

I write the books I needed and couldn't find as a teen. I write teen fiction--paranormal fantasy and gritty realistic fiction. I'm the author of SCARS (WestSide Books, 2010) #1 ALA QuickPicks, and Governor General Literary Award Finalist, HUNTED (WestSide Books, Oct 2011), STAINED (Harcourt, 2013), The Last Dragon (HIP Books, Sept 2009), and Walking Both Sides (HIP Books, 2011). I also enjoy drawing, surfing the web, connecting with people I like, doing crafts, and being with my dog.
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6 Responses to Interview with YA author C Lee McKenzie

  1. Great interview! I’m also a multi-book reader 🙂
    I can’t wait for her next book. It sounds wonderful.

  2. How great to be here on your blog, Cheryl. Thanks so much. I look forward to meeting you in person one day.

  3. Waving to Brenda! How high is your stack of books next to your bed? So pleased to hear others are like me. I’m telling my husband who freaks when he watches me switch books before finishing!

    Thanks for the comment and your book is part of my stack!

  4. Hi Cheryl, this is a wonderful interview. There are so many things I resonated with. One would be the reading of multiple books – oh dear, I am reading around three or four at the same time – thus, I need to have lots and lots of bookmarks handy.

    The messy workspace kind of speaks to me as well. While I am not a YA lit author, I do write academic texts/manuscripts and oh boy, that would translate to pile-high hardbound books and printed-out/highlighted journal articles strewn all over my desk – yes, a rake is needed to kind of sort them out.

    I am looking forward to reading both your novels. =) You have some heavy-duty stuff going for you, and I admire the fact that you are speaking about these truths/realities. The world needs to hear these voices.

  5. Myra, I’m glad you liked Lee’s interview and found a lot you could relate to! I think it’s easy for us creative and writer types–and writing academic texts is writing!–to get messy. I’m so glad you’ll check out both our novels; thank you!

  6. Lizann Flatt says:

    I chuckled at writing everywhere and on anything because I can relate. Count me among the a messy desked too. Great to learn about a new author. Thanks for doing this interview, Cheryl!

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