Interview: C. Lee McKenzie

I’m happy to welcome C. Lee McKenzie, author of The Princess of Las Pulgas and Sliding on the Edge, as part of a tour with Teen Book Scene. You can check out other tour stops over the next two weeks for a variety of guest posts and reviews. (I will be posting a review of the book this weekend.) The Princess of Las Pulgas was released on December 15; you can get a taste of what the book is about by watching the trailer.

C. Lee McKenzie was kind enough to answer a few questions about her life, writing, favorite words, and the inspiration for her characters:

Carlie experiences a culture shock when she is forced to move. What is the biggest culture shock you have experienced?

That’s really an easy question to answer, Melanie. When I was about twenty-five, I left the U.S. to live in Hong Kong, then Laos. I couldn’t have chosen a more different culture, could I? Actually, Hong Kong wasn’t the biggest shock because it was so westernized, but Laos was truly a strange land for me. Traffic jams consisted of ox carts, old Pugeots and bicycle pedicabs that were called samloes. The open markets were filled with foods that I had to guess at, so I often chose just by the color. If it was green I took a chance and bought it. If I got lost, the Laos were very kind and when I used my severely limited Lao language, they’d fill in the gaps or steer me in the direction I needed to go. Snakes and geckos that like to find their way into my shoes were my biggest problem. Still, to this day, I check my shoes before I put my foot in.

Mr. Smith, an English teacher, encourages Carlie to get involved in a play. Were there any teachers who particularly influenced you or pushed you outside your comfort zone?

I’ve dedicated Princess to Mrs. Stockton and Mr. Ridgley. Both of these teachers were very important during my school days, and I suppose you could say they “pushed” me to do more than I thought I could. Mrs. Stockton was sure I could win a dance competition in the third grade, and I did. Mr. Ridgley, my English teacher in my senior year was sure I could ace my ACTs, and I did. When I wrote Mr. Smith, these were the teachers I had in my mind, so he’s really a composite of two very wonderful people I had the good fortune to meet along the way.

What is one thing you wish you could tell yourself as a teenager?

I wish I could tell her, “Be patient. Take your time in making decisions because each of these choices you’re making now, my dear, will affect the rest of your life.” Of course, being the impetuous teen that I was, I probably wouldn’t listen.

Do you have any unusual writing rituals?

I don’t think my ritual is unusual, but my family does. When I’m really into a book, I pull up my hoodie and hover over the keyboard on my computer. That’s my signal: “Do NOT Disturb . . . unless the house is on fire. No exceptions.” When I’m clearing out email or doing business, the hood’s down.

Given that you’ve studied and taught linguistics in addition to writing, it is clear that you love words! What is your absolute favorite word?

I love the way the word, loquacious rolls off the tongue and through the lips. But that’s closely followed by pontificate and hubris. I don’t use any of these unless I’m trying to sound smart.

Are there any words you find yourself using too much?

I have to be careful with that silly word, just. It just keeps popping up all the time, and I just hate it when I find it scattered throughout a manuscript. I’m pretty militant about using my Find feature and deleting all those justs.


Many thanks to C. Lee McKenzie for taking the time to answer some questions and for providing a book to give away to one lucky blog reader!

If you would like to win a copy of The Princess of Las Pulgas, please leave a comment telling me about a culture shock you experienced or a teacher who influenced you.

The Fine Print

  • The giveaway ends January 17th at 12:01 AM.
  • It is US only.
  • The winner will be chosen by random.org and notified by email and on this website.
  • The winner will have 48 hours to respond with their mailing address or a new winner will be chosen.
  • You must be 13 or older (or have a parent’s permission) to enter this contest.
  • You may only enter this contest once. If you attempt to enter multiple times, you will be disqualified.
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5 Responses to "Interview: C. Lee McKenzie"

  • Thanks for hosting me and for the great questions. I’m just back from ALA and trying to catch up.

    Best to you and your followers.

    1 C. Lee McKenzie said this (January 11, 2011 at 8:01 PM)


  • Hmm, A teacher that influenced me would have to be my English teacher in High School. She taught me poetry sophomore year and then senior year I took two electives with her, creative writing and multicultural literature. She gave me a deeper love of writing and helped me see a talent that I didn’t know I had. . . in fact, it was only this year when I started writing again and happened to stumble across those old notes that I fully appreciated all she did for me.

    Great contest 🙂 Thanks

    2 Rachel said this (January 13, 2011 at 2:00 PM)


  • My HS Government teacher was crazy influential. She’s the one who motivated me and taught me that I could do/be anything I wanted, and she always believed in me, and was super supportive. She believed I could do it, which went a long way to helping me believe I could do it.

    3 Ashley said this (January 13, 2011 at 2:50 PM)


  • I haven’t had a very larger culture shock before, but when I visited New York City for the first time it was truly amazing seeing all the different people and how well dressed everyone seemed to be! I felt completely out of place.

    4 Katie said this (January 16, 2011 at 3:34 PM)


  • When I was 11 I went from small town nothing to big city crazy when my parents moved from Ohio to Florida. Things were quite different, especially since I used to be able to take my bike everywhere I wanted to go, now I was miles away from my grandparents and the stores.

    meredithfl at gmail dot com

    5 Meredith Miller said this (January 16, 2011 at 6:06 PM)


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