A Peek at the Creative Space of C. Lee McKenzie

Joining us this week for Creative Spaces is writer C. Lee McKenzie. She is the author of two young adult novels, The Princess of Las Pulgas and Sliding on the Edge.

The Princess of Las Pulgas was published in 2010 by Westside Books. From Lee’s website, “Carlie Edmund has everything: a loving family, good friends, a perfect home and wealth and status; then in her junior year of high school all of that changes. How will Carlie take on the challenges of living in a different world, a world where she doesn’t “fit” and where nothing is as it should be?”

In Sliding on the Edge (published in 2009 by Westside Books), “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.” 

To learn more about C. Lee McKenzie, visit her website or her blog.

Describe your workspace.

I love this idea of describing where a person creates. I’ve often imagined the settings where Dickens or Austen wrote and wondered how those places influenced the words they set down. I feel like the luckiest person when I consider my workspace–I actually have two. The first is my desk upstairs in my office where I do a lot of my writing. While it’s always in chaos, it looks out onto a redwood forest where there’s no human noise most of the time. My office is filled with lots of bird noise and squirrel activity. One daring Wallenda-type squirrel, high-wires it across the front of my house daily. He’s the only critter that I stop writing for, and I think he has to be some kind of inspiration. My second workspace is in my garden where I love to take a print out of my WIP to read or where I like to read what others have written.

Describe a typical workday.

I can’t say I have a typical workday. I’m not an “organized” writer in any sense of the word. Some days I write nothing, but others I’ll fill up pages. I’ve stopped worrying about goals and word counts and just let whatever happens be enough. I have days when what I write might as well be a grocery list. Then along comes all of this prose that I love. It’s an amazing process and, as I see it, my job is to appreciate the good and the bad that is part of that process.

If there’s anything typical at all, it would be that I’m up early–about 4 or 5 when I’m writing. Usually I can’t sleep anyway because I’m writing in my head. I seldom write at night.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

The view is my most favorite thing. When I need some perspective on what’s important in a story or in my life, I just have to look out at the redwoods. That perspective is there. I love my computer. I switched from a PC a few years ago, something I never thought I’d do because I’d always been a PC user. I got so tired of all the hacking, and then they came out with Vista and that did it. I’m an Apple user now. My desk is the third thing I adore! It’s huge. I used to have this old-fashioned roll-top that I’d lugged around with me for sentimental reasons. It never had enough room. Then I splurged on my super modern wrap around the room desk. It’s always a mess, but I have more room for that mess now and that makes me happy.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

I know it’s a quirky ritual, but I like to wear my hoodie when I write. Well, it’s really a signal to my family. When I’m at the computer with my hood up that means DO NOT TALK TO ME UNLESS THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE. When it’s not up I’m only dealing with email or blogging, so they can ask me anything then.

What do you listen to while you work?

Nothing. I love to write when there’s silence around me because there’s so much noise inside my head. The characters are yammering on and on, my muse is doing her “Now you’ve got it” mantra, and my self-doubt editor is trying to get her two cents in. Silence, please!

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Coffee is my morning must. I splurged again and this time on an espresso maker so I could have the very best first-cup-in-the-morning coffee. Now, I’m a caffeine snob and can turn down anything perked.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

That’s hard. When I’m into a story focus isn’t an issue. I enter the story, see the place where it’s happening, hear the people as they talk or think, and am a part of the action. When I’m trying to find a story, distraction is my middle name and I find it hard to sit at my desk. I often leave the house, take a hike or walk up to the creek a few miles away. That helps me think and get my focus back.

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

Mostly I write on the computer, but I do take notes on just about anything at hand if I’m not at my desk. I have odd looking grocery receipts with things like, “Don’t kill the dog in scene three, chapter two.” written on the back.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

Once I have an idea, I try to wrestle that onto the page in a single sentence. I put that sentence in the header of my document, so it appears on each page. As I write, I use that as a guide. Sometimes I change it when the story wants to go in a slightly different direction. I’ve found this sentence to be a real challenge, but if I don’t take the time to write it I’m always sorry. Besides, if I happen to be stuck in an elevator with an important agent or editor and the conversation turns to what I’m writing, I have my “elevator pitch” ready. Very handy.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

My cat, Al. I call him the “Fur Person.” I’d share that space with him, but nobody else. He’s the only writer who understands me and my writing style. He even knows when to curl around the keyboard and offer suggestions. No other person can do that.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

Write in scenes. That helped me a lot. Instead of having to tackle a whole book or chapter in my head, I can think about a small, but meaningful chunk of writing. If I can write one good scene, then another will follow and another until I have a chapter, until I have a book. Yep. That advice has been invaluable.

6 Responses to “A Peek at the Creative Space of C. Lee McKenzie”

  1. cleemckenzie

    Loved finding your email this morning, Jenifer. Thanks so much for the guest interview on your blog. I really appreciate it.

  2. K. L. Gore

    I can relate to having notes written on all sorts of scraps of paper. My Mac has sticky notes everywhere, which drives my husband bonkers (he says he's double parked between NU and TS)! I love the hoodie idea. Maybe I could also paint a snarl on the back so my family would really get the hint. 🙂 Enjoyed your interview immensely!