Welcome to an interview with debut author C. Lee McKenzie! Her book, SLIDING ON THE EDGE, hit the shelves on April 27, and I was fortunate enough to read an ARC. Thanks, Lee!!
What was the inspiration behind your idea?
Unfortunately, it was a news article with statistics that were very disturbing. “Nearly 1 in 5 students at two Ivy League schools say they have purposely injured themselves by cutting, burning or other methods, a disturbing phenomenon that psychologists say they are hearing about more often.” When I read that I remember saying out loud, “Something’s wrong.” And those are the words that begin my book.
Did you already know so much about horses, or did you research it all?
I love horses, but most of my knowledge came from friends and relatives who not only love them, but also own and ride them. I’m in a rural community where horses are nearby, so I have a lot of contacts with the information I needed to be accurate in the book.
What prompted you to tell Kay’s story alongside Shawna’s?
I love connecting generations. I feel we live in such an isolated society here in the U.S. We often don’t connect with our grandparents and when we do we don’t really have the time to know them. I never thought of my grandmother as someone who once was sixteen or twenty, who made mistakes and had regrets. I never thought of her as anyone other than my grandmother. I wish I had, so I gave Shawna the chance I missed.
How many drafts did you go through?
This question sent back to my “archives.” I did three drafts to submission. Somehow I thought it was more. It seemed so. Maybe it was just that I wrote a lot at four in the morning that year. I do six a.m. without complaint, but four was hard.
How many drafts did your editor go through with you?
None. We went to line edits after the manuscript was accepted. Those were booooring!
How long did it take to find your editor?
Well, let’s see. I sent SLIDING ON THE EDGE to three editors and one agent early in ‘07. I never heard back from any of them. Come to think of it, they owe me stamps! When I sent it to WestSide in November of that year, I heard back in two days with a request for a full. Talk about heart-stopping moments. “You really want to read the whole thing?” I didn’t ask the editor that, but I said it out loud to the computer.
Are you agented?
I am “agent less”—sort of doing this publishing-marketing thing like a paint-by-numbers kit.
How do you get to know your characters?
Once I start writing a book or any story for that matter, I carry the characters with me everywhere: I talk to them at the dinner table, while I’m hiking, in my sleep until they become people. Once I know them (what they eat, how they walk, the way their voices sound, what their favorite color is) I can put their stories down. But don’t ask me to do that on paper. I’m a bust at that!
What was your favorite part of writing this book? Least favorite?
I loved the Kenny parts. I don’t know why, except he was such a favorite person to live with. I miss Kay and I miss Shawna, but I really miss Kenny. I had trouble writing the scene when Shawna actually confronts Monster. It scared me. In fact, I had to write that sitting alone away from my computer and away from my home. I think I wrote that scene on a beach. The beach has always been a place I go when I feel down or scared.
How does it feel to have your first book on the shelves?
It’s rather amazing. And I think the first time has to be quite special. I don’t know yet because I don’t have a second experience to compare this one with. I do know that every once in a while, I had to touch my Advanced Reading Copies just to feel them. I also had a very hard time giving my last ARC away.
How did you get in to writing for kids?
I’m not too sure. I’m not even sure how I started writing fiction in the first place. But I’m really happy that I came to it. It’s one of the most rewarding, frustrating, exhilarating, ego-busting experiences I’ve ever had.
What are you working on now?
It’s a YA novel. I’ve titled it Princess of Las Pulgas. I started writing it in January of last year and I’m going through a final edit before I submit it. I’m not sure if my editor will take it, but she has asked for a full based on my synopsis. Keep your fingers crossed for me.
(my fingers are duly crossed, Lee)
Do you work on one project at a time, or multiple?
Too many, I’m afraid. Currently, I’m re-writing two Middle Grade novels, finishing up on Princess, and have submitted a non-fiction piece and a short story to a magazine. I think it would be easier to focus on one thing at a time, but my mind doesn’t seem to work that way, so I’ve given up trying to make it behave.
Are you a planner, or do you write by the seat of your pants?
I think you get from what I’ve said that I’m a “by the seat of my pants” kind of writer. Every time someone gives me one of those grids to analyze characters or to plot the story I get exactly one thing down; then I go for a walk.
Are you a paper person, or the computer-only-type?
Both. Most of my writing is on the computer. It makes revision (which I consider the most important part of writing) so easy. But I often write in my notebook. Sometimes I find changing between the two is freeing. I like the ideas that come when I’m outside in the garden or on a trail. They often produce more exciting scenes than the ones I’ve written at my desk.
What are your favorite reference books? And why?
If you mean for facts, grammar, punctuation, I dive into Strunk and White when I need some specific grammar or punctuation point. They’re right to the point and quick with the information. My dictionary is still my best friend at times. I love reading the etymology of words. If I’m stuck on more global issues like building a scene or developing dialog I often go to Stein on Writing. He’s brilliant and he gives examples that make grasping these concepts so easy.
Thanks, Lee, for taking the time to share all this with us!
If you'd like to see more of Lee and her book, here's some great links:
Interview with Cynthea Liu