SK here. Boy, is Lynda in for a—Donkey, shhhh! Sorry, where was I? Oh, I'm waiting impatiently for Lynda to wake up and join me for Coffee Chat. I have someone special here today for Lynda's 101st post: the one and only guest who's ever been thoughtful enough to gift us with our pet Donkey: C. Lee McKenzie! And she brought us— . . . oh, I hear steps . . .
ER: [Stares incredulously at Donkey, strapped to a chair in the kitchen.] Oh, SK, you've done a lot of things in your day, but—well, first of all, where on earth did you find a booster seat big enough for a DONKEY? And why on earth is he in the—
CLEM: [Jumps up from behind Donkey.] ’Tis me, the soreprise guest.
ER: [Faints dead away.]
[Thirty minutes later. Lynda is calm and Donkey is back outside, running around with Live Bacon and AndyAndy.]
SK: Sorry, ladies . . . I thought it'd be funny. But Lee, thank you for joining us today! Don't worry about Lynda, she'll be fine. It's not our problem she can't take a joke.
CLEM: I had no idea she’d topple like that. Can we do it again? That was so amazingly fun! Oh, sorry, Lynda. Let me help you to the chair. [Looks to SK.] I really am sorry. Tell her so when she can process again. Please.
SK: I will. [Nods.] She’ll blame me anyway. See that murderous look? It’s all for me. But I’m about to make it better with coffee. A cup o’ Joe always cheers her up. We’ll even give her whatever you have in that bag you brought. What did you bring? It smells delicious! [Wipes drool.] Oh, and you’ll definitely be in her good graces since you even brought her a book to talk about.
ER: [Takes coffee and gulps it down.] More, SK.
Did I hear something about a book?
SK: YES! You know that formula rule thingy? One positive and a negative makes a negative. Well get this: apparently, a Double Negative makes . . . wait for it . . . A BOOK!
CLEM: Come to think of it, I should have gotten two books out of that formula. I was never good at math.
SK: Good thing we don’t care about math too much around here. So this Double Negative book, I think I can relate to your Hutchison McQueen character. Gets in trouble, eavesdrops and memorizes what he hears? A boy after my own heart. Ahem, way to throw a hint in there about his reading.
CLEM: I did a lot that eavesdropping and memorizing in school, too. Are we related? You’re kind of silly. (No offense, but I mean Bacon? Donkey?) I’m kind of silly. You seem to like coffee. I like coffee. You like Lynda, too. And I find her a joy. She makes me laugh, and she falls for our pranks.
SK: Hutchison seems like he’s full of layers, Lee. Would you say his personality and behavior came to you easily? What separates him from other characters you’ve written?
CLEM: For one, he’s a guy. My other MCs are of the other sex. Small difference there. Otherwise, I think they have a lot in common—big problems that kids shouldn't have to manage alone, older people in their lives that either are helpful or hurtful, some growing pains and reversals of attitude.
Hutch came fully formed and ready to go. All I needed was a place to put him and a series of events to make a plot that wouldn’t put people to sleep. [Nudges Lynda.] Stay with me, Lynda. I haven’t finished yet.
ER: Oh, I'm awake, all right. At least I think I am. I could have sworn Donkey was in my kitchen, and that can't be right . . . [Shakes head, looking confused.] Anyway, Hutch does sound fascinating. So many people have issues they assume no one else has, or can understand, and they end up feeling very alone. Putting on the tough guy act only works to a certain point.
How difficult was it to write from a guy's point of view? I've heard people criticize JK Rowling for writing some of Harry Potter's dialogue to sound like how a middle-aged woman thinks a teen guy feels, but not how a teen guy actually feels or speaks. Did you run Hutch's dialogue or thoughts by a few guys to see if he sounded authentic, or do you simply have a good feel for that sort of thing? I read a snippet of the book, and he sounds guy-ish to me.
CLEM: JK and I discussed the matter of middle-aged women and young boys. Wait! That didn’t come out right. We discussed the matter of middle-aged women writing teen boy dialogue and how challenging that was. She knows nothing. I tried to set her straight, but she’s on to new ventures and busy counting gold. As to my technique . . . I turned to my male brood for input.
ER: And by the way, your jam is delicious! I'm so glad you brought some—and not another large animal.
CLEM: Oh, no! I forgot Hannibal. Just a sec. Won’t be a moment. [Grabs jam and hurries to the door. Leaves. Returns shortly with empty jar.] Sorry about that. I forgot my yak. He needed a jam fix. Now where were we?
SK: But . . . I didn’t even get to taste the jam after Lynda took the jar away. That’s it. I’m not buying that Hannibal any cute boots.
ER: But—the jam— [Suddenly realizes what Lee just said.] A YAK? [Mutters to self.] Pleasepleaseplease let that be her ride home.
[To Lee] I thought maybe you'd had some words with JK. She could really use some advice from a strong writer like you. Honestly, I have no idea how she would have managed if you hadn't been helping her out all these years.
CLEM: You’re the first to mention my role in her success. Thank you, Lynda. Here. [Reaches into bag and presents a new jar of jam.] Hannibal should be on a diet anyway. So about JK. Did you notice her switch to a new genre? [Points finger at self.] But enough about JK. Let’s talk about something more exciting.
SK: I love you, Lee. Can I get a jar of—no? Okay. [Sinks in chair.]
You know what’s exciting? Your cover. I really like the colors and the pose, and I think it fits perfectly with the blurb. Maybe next time if you need some models, you’ll call us up, huh? For the female characters, that is.
CLEM: I audition models on Sundays about 5a.m. You’d be perfect for my next book. But you have to leave Donkey at home. I haven’t written a part for him. Glad you like the cover. I wanted a flowing gown, pink I think, but they said I had to write a different kind of book to get one of those.
SK: So that jam?—err, how long did it take you to write Double Negative? What was the most difficult part of writing it?
CLEM: [Takes jam from Lynda and hands her a napkin.] Sharing is good, Lynda.
And about your question, SK . . . Oh, here’s a small spatula. Lynda left a bit of jam in the bottom.
The hardest part was starting the darned thing. I had one idea that maybe I should start with Hutch already in Juvie (translation: Juvenile Hall). Then I thought, “That’s depressing and there’s usually orange involved in Juvie, so my book could become confused with that other one, the Orange Is the New Black. Have you heard of it? Not many have, and I wanted my book connected to winners. Nothing personal, Piper. It’s all about marketing.
And SK, if you change your mind, Hannibal wears size 20. He prefers open toes so the polish shows. [Reaches across the table, takes napkin from Lynda and gently swipes her chin.]
ER: Oops. Thanks, Lee. You're a doll. [Compulsively continues to check chin for jam "bonuses."] It's your own fault, really, for making such delicious jam. And to be fair, I hadn't quite noticed I'd started eating it straight from the jar, or I would have shared earlier . . . I think.
Ahem . . . weren't we talking about a book or something? Since SK asked about the most difficult part of writing it, you know I have to ask if you had a favorite thing about writing Double Negative that made the process unique or particularly satisfying for you.
CLEM: Typing THE END was pretty darned satisfying. I didn’t think I’d ever do that. But seriously . . . I can be that for a sec, right? Good. Putting different generations together in a story is always a challenge, especially when each older character must contribute to my teen's story, but not take over. When I can get that together, I’m really happy. I loved Maggie (70+) and I loved Jimmy (40s). I really wanted them to have their own stories, but I wanted Hutch to out-shine them. I think I made that happen. Readers will tell me if I didn’t. Believe me. They will really tell me about that.
SK: Oh yeah, readers will share their honest opinions. That’s for sure. In general with your books, but especially with Double Negative, what message do you want your readers to get from your work?
CLEM: When I started the book, I wanted teens to follow Hutch through the roughest of times and see him, not only survive, but start toward a decent life. When I’d finished, I’d become an advocate for literacy. That happened because of what I found out about illiteracy in the U.S.
Here’s a stat that will set Donkey on his ear: 33% of people (over 7 million) living in the L.A. area are illiterate or semi-illiterate! I really want kids to appreciate their ability to read and pass that on.
[Smiles at SK and ER.] And I’ll bet you thought I was just a writer out to make the big bucks.
Thanks for the fun and a chance to yak it up about my book. Please ask me back and I’ll bring more jam, promise to keep Hannibal outside, and not play any more practical jokes.
SK: No more practical jokes? [To Lynda] Does she know us at all?
ER: I have to wonder. But I still like her just fine.
You can find C. Lee McKenzie most often at her own blog, The Write Game, and you can find her books, including (but not limited to) Double Negative, on Amazon, Evernight Teen, and other places. We're so glad she visited us today! And we're even more glad she took Hannibal the Yak home with her.
You can find S.K. Anthony in a number of places. She's on Twitter @SKathAnthony, her website is www.skanthony.com, her Facebook page is S Katherine Anthony, and on occasional occasions, she'll be right here with me, drinking coffee and laughing it up over our latest plans and schemes. And possibly even talking about books and writing.
You can find me here. I'm always here.