Authors on the Verge: Meet C. Lee McKenzie, young adult novelist

This week we have C. Lee McKenzie. In her other life-the one before she began writing fiction for teens and middle grade readers-C. Lee was a teacher and administrator at California State University, San Jose. Her field of Linguistics and Inter-cultural Communication has carried her to a lot of places in the world to explore different cultures and languages.

Tell us a little about your first book SLIDING ON THE EDGE (WestSide Book, coming April, 2009).


Shawna Stone is sixteen going on twenty-five. Already deeply scarred, she has learned to survive with a tough attitude and a thin blade. Her journey is destined to be short. SLIDING ON THE EDGE enters the world of a desperate teen and her disillusioned grandmother, each with secrets that stir mutual distrust. As these two unlikely companions struggle to co-exist we are reminded that the human spirit has the capacity to overcome even the deepest suffering.

Now let’s start the interview. When you received your offer, what happened?

When? Before or after the fainting? But really, I guess I just kind of sat there at my computer staring at the e-mail and re-reading it. Then I panicked. The book the editor wanted was in pieces all over my hard drive. I had chapters in one folder labeled “Under Nourished.” In another folder “Hard Hat Area.” In yet another, “Stoned while Writing?”

So now that you have a contract, what’s it like to be on the other side-on the verge of publication? What does it feel like to be official?

It feels officially scary. I’ve never really shared something I’ve written that I felt emotional about. Most of my writing has been about (Don’t go to sleep here.) cultures in contact or why the past participle is vanishing. Now people will read what really matters to me.

Tell us a little bit about your path to publication.

I think of my path to publication like a hopscotch game chalked on a sidewalk that every so often has big tree root bumps. I stepped on a lot of lines. Many times I tossed my lanyard either to far or too near. And sometimes I tripped on those darned tree roots when I came near to winning, then had to start all over.

And here’s our favorite question. How many rejections did you receive IN GENERAL (not just for this book) before you landed your first major publishing contract?

• 0-10
• 11-25
• 26-50
• 51-100
• 100+

Tell us about one of your most heart-breaking rejections and about one of your best.

One that stands out as heart breaking came on an unevenly cut 2 ½” X 8 ½” piece of paper. The word “This” was misspelled. That broke my heart first because I’d wasted the time to submit to them and second because I didn’t have my red pen handy. The best came from a magazine. Here’s how it started: “I have to say your story is among my favorites. It is unique, very well written and it contains all the elements of a good story.” This made my heart sing.

How long did it take to sell your books, from putting the first words on the page to receiving an offer?

• 0-3 months
• 3-6 months
• 6 months to 1 year
• 1 year – 2 years
• 2 years – 3 years
• 3 years+
• The manuscript has been around longer than I have.

Prior to selling your books, you were …

Working a full-time job unrelated to writing

Now that you’ve sold some books, you plan to …

Not change a thing.

What are some of the new things you worry about now that you have a contract?

“Hey, what if nobody wants to read this thing?” That wakes me up a lot. Or, “What will my mom, sister-in-law, son say when they read the part about X?” “Is this the only book I’ll ever write well enough to publish?” That’s a biggie.

If you’ve already begun or have finished the editorial process with your publisher, let you us know what that’s been like.

I will never have it this easy again. Working with my editor has been truly enjoyable. She was efficient, patient with a newbie, and supportive. I’m very spoiled.

Describe a typical day in your writing life.

I can’t say I have one of those, but here is what happens a lot. I write at three or four in the morning if I wake up with characters tromping through my brain. Other times I hike and talk to myself as if I’m one of my characters. Often I sit at my desk and draw stuff-circles are big when I’m stuck on a plot piece. I sulk on and off on a day when nothing comes into my head and nothing goes down on “paper.”

Any advice for aspiring authors?

Learn to sort comments about your work. Listen to writers who are themselves “good” at their craft, but trust yourself when it comes to making or not making suggested changes in your WIP.

Any inspiring quotes you live by?

“Don’t ever give up.”

Aside from WRITING FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS: A CRASH COURSE<—shameless plug, are there any other books on craft you recommend?

I have to say I really enjoyed and learned a lot from On Writing by Stephen King. And if you want to know the nuts and bolts-techniques and strategies-read Stein on Writing by Sol Stein. Nothing nebulous in the book.

Finally, Snoop wants to know: If you could do anything else besides write stories, what would it be?

I’d love to be able to capture the essence of a book in its illustration. One of my greatest pleasures is spying a cover that grabs my eye and makes me pick up the book.

This concludes our interview with our latest author, C. Lee McKenzie. We wish her much success with her debut novel Sliding on the Edge. To see what C. Lee is up to these days, visit her website at or her blog at

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