in which THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS is released into the world

Late in the summer of 2013, I had just finished up taking part in a great contest called The Writer’s Voice. I had also just signed with my agent, was ready to dive into submission of the first novel, about to start my MFA, and testing the waters in the YA community, a community in which I felt like everyone knew each other but me.

Alongside me in this contest was another writer called Anna-Marie McLemore. I knew nothing about her, except the first hundred words of her novel and the pitch. Which I think I read a dozen times. “Wow, I wish this was a book I could read right now,” I remember thinking. “Wow, that Anna-Marie McLemore seems so cool and awesome and talented. I’ll be she is the bomb diggity.” I then proceeded to shyly internet stalk her. Like the big creep that I am. 

So imagine my surprise when a few months later, I got a direct message on Twitter from here which read, nearly in its entirety, “Wanna CP/beta?” (for those of you who are not writers, she was asking me if I wanted to be critique partners, meaning people who send their manuscripts to each other and trade feedback).

That’s right–this writer whose work I had had a big old crush on for MONTHS was asking ME if I wanted to be HER critique partner?

I think I fainted.

I wrote her back an email that was crafted with all the attention and care and redrafting of asking someone out on a date. I did my best to make myself appear far more interesting and intelligent than I actually am. This was the equivalent of the taped-glasses math club nerd getting asked to the prom by the dreamy captain of the football team.

I was not going to screw this up. I wanted this girl to like me.

So I sent my new friend a draft of the book that would become This Monstrous Thing. She read it. She had great and helpful things to say about it. Turns out she was also smart, funny, articulate, and kind.

“Damn,” I thought, “This girl is even cooler than initially anticipated.”

We kept reading each other’s writing. We traded more personal emails with that writing. We started talking about things other than books, and we eased slowly into friendship. We went from being CPs to pen pals to proper friends in opposite time zones. Over the past two years I’ve known her, Anna-Marie has been an incredible source of strength and inspiration for me–both as a writer and a human being. And one time she drove me around western Mass and I was pretty sure we were going to die. Also her and her cute husband are the kind of pair that make you believe in true love. That has nothing to do with anything. I just wanted to mention it. 

I remember exactly where I was when I heard This Monstrous Thing sold–it was such a special moment, I’ll never forget it. I also remember exactly where I was when I read that Anna-Marie’s first novel, The Weight of Feathers, had sold to St. Martin’s. It was also a pretty freaking special moment. Probably moreso for her than me. But I pretended I was a part of it. 

Today, that exquisite book by this exquisite human being, is released into the wild.  

TheWeightofFeathers2

The Weight of Feathers is an astonishing book. Of course I am biased because I know and love the author, but also I am a person with fantastic taste and I would think this book is gold whether or not I knew her. It is magical and evocative and lush and delicious and gorgeous. It is about inherited hatred and impossible love, about performing mermaids and tree climbers, about family and abuse and learning how to love others and yourself. It is about magic and culture and the way our families make us who we are, and how we break free of that and make ourselves. And the prose is so beautiful and sweet it will give you a cavity.    

So here are some recommendations for you:

  1. Get yourself a friend like Anna-Marie McLemore.
  2. Get yourself a copy of The Weight of Feathers.

Here are some helpful links to make it even easier for you to obtain this book:

Indiebound

Amazon

Porter Square Books 

GET YOURSELF THIS BOOK. I promise you will love it. And if you don’t, we can’t be friends anymore. Simple as that.

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in which three book things are happening

Hello my friends.

It’s been a while.

That’s because I have been otherwise occupied by the fact that MY FIRST BOOK COMES OUT IN 27 DAYS1!

So let me quickly catch you up on some of the things that you should know about in relation to this whole “book comes out in 27 days” things, because, I’m so sorry loyal blog readers who have words, but this is ALL I CAN THINK ABOUT RIGHT NOW.

Firstly, if you are gearing up for reading THIS MONSTROUS THING but worried you might not fully appreciate it because you haven’t read FRANKENSTEIN2, there’s a video for that! One time, during a Boston snowpocalypse snow storm, I got really caffeinated and made a five minute synopsis of Frankenstein that I promise is the fastest you will ever hear another human being speak. Also it’s shorter than SparkNotes. Your’e welcome.

Secondly, on Friday, EpicReads will be revealing the BOOK TRAILER for THIS MONSTROUS THING! Remember when we filmed this? And it was freezing? And there was fake blood and a mechanical arm?

Well it’s nearly time, friends, when it will be revealed to the wide world.

Alive Dead Trailer

Steel thyself for Friday at noon. The monsters are coming.

Third of all, I got my first finished hard cover copy of the book! I swooned and cried and still grin nonsensically when I think of the fact that it is sitting in my apartment, a real thing and not just a dream. It just gets realer and realer!

CM4tDSwXAAADpym

27 DAYS! This book thing is starting to look like it’s actually going to happen.

  1. Heavy breathing.
  2. No judgement, but what is wrong with you?!
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in which the winners of This Monstrous Coloring Contest are announced

Gather round my friends cause we’re gonna announce the winners of This Monstrous Coloring Contest!

First and foremost, thank you so much to everyone who entered! I am thrilled, amazed, flattered, etc. that so many of you broke out your coloring supplies for me, Victor, and the foclicking Creature. The decision was brutal–there truly was not an unexceptional entry in the bunch. My panel of judges and I were considering making up special awards for each of you. You can view all the astounding entries on the dedicated Pinterest board here!

My panel of guest judges (which included an actual artist, an actual engineer, and an actual judge for the Utah State Fair, so she has previous experience) and I had a beast of a time choosing. In true Romantic fashion, we tore our hair with anguish. We collapsed onto our fainting couches from the strain. The smelling salts had to be fetched. But we, unanimously, decided upon a winner.

And now, without further ado. The winners.

But know you are all winners in my heart.

Our two runners up, who will be receiving This Monstrous Thing swag and a copy of the Color Your Own Graphic Novel Frankenstein, are….

enby

Enby Enjorals, in an entry we nicknamed “Psychedelic Seussian Frankenstein” 

Gwen Katz

Gwen Katz, in an entry we nicknamed “Frankenbowie” 

And the grand prize winner, who will be receiving an ARC of This Monstrous Thing (signed), a copy of Frankenstein (not signed), a copy of the Color Your Own Graphic Novel Frankenstein, and extensive swag is….

Ellie

Ellie M, in an entry we nicknamed “No, I must dance!”-enstein.  

Thank you to everyone who entered! I really can’t say that enough. If you entered, I would love to send you postcards and bookmarks as a sign of my eternal appreciation. If this is a thing that interests you, please email me your mailing address at themackenzilee[at]gmail

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in which the THIS MONSTROUS COLORING CONTEST is announced

A few weeks ago, I made an acquisition.

color your own

The Color Your Own Graphic Novel version of Frankenstein, adapted and illustrated by John Green. No, not that John Green. Though that would be awesome.

I must do something awesome with this, I thought. And then I looked at the stack of This Monstrous Thing ARCs on my desk.

And an evil plan began to take shape in my mind.

Friends, This Monstrous Thing drops in almost exactly two months. And I still have some advanced copies that I’d like to giveaway. Want to win one of these advanced copies? Now you can!

Announcing the THIS MONSTROUS COLORING CONTEST!

Here’s how to enter:

  1. Pick one (or both, if you’re ambitious) of the images from the Frankenstein graphic novel. You can find scans of them below, or on Pinterest, or on Twitter.
  2. Color them. With your markers. Or crayons. Or fingerpaints. Or on the computer. Extra points for creativity and TMT references and Frankenstein references and glitter and coloring outside the lines.
  3. Get your colored entry to me by August 1. You can do this many ways–Twitter, send it to me on Pinterest, Facebook, email it to me (themackenzilee(at)gmail(dot)com). Scan it, take a picture with your phone, take a picture of you with it, send it via owl–whatever floats your boat. If you mail me your hard copies, that would probably make my life and I will hang them on my wall.
  4. Wait anxiously for me and my panel of anonymous judges (probably myself and the MT) to make our selection of the winners.

The winner of the coloring contest will receive…

  • An ARC of THIS MONSTROUS THING, signed by the author. I have an in.
  • A copy of the Color Your Own Graphic Novel Frankenstein
  • A copy of Frankenstein. Not signed by the author. Sorry.
  • THIS MONSTROUS THING swag
  • I will probably color a picture for you. Or draw you something. Whatever. It will be awesome.

Two runners up will receive….

  • A copy of the Color Your Own Graphic Novel Frankenstein
  • THIS MONSTROUS THING swag

ALL ENTRANTS will receive swag from THIS MONSTROUS THING.

Here are the two images you can choose from. All images copyright 2010 by Dover Publications, image credit to John Green. No, not that John Green. Click for a larger version.

#1: Victor and the Creature in the lab as Victor beholds the accomplishment of his toils:

coloring contest-1-HQ

#2:(Sincerely my favorite thing anyone has ever drawn ever) The Creature frolicking through nature: 

Coloring contest 2 HQ

So that’s all you have to do–color! And you might win yourself some free books.

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in which I get up to shenanigans around the internet

I have not been great at blogging lately. I have been writing a lot of other things which makes it hard to want to write in my free time. What little of it there is. That’s the other thing, I don’t have a lot of free time.

But if you have missed this blog and wonder what I’ve been up to lately, here are some other places you can find me around the internet….

Until next time. I’ll be back soon.

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in which the reviews come in

The reviews for THIS MONSTROUS THING are starting to come in.

And guys, they’re awesome!

Kirkus Reviews says it’s “More than just a Gothic romance novel; the settings give a nice international feel. The old and new…are woven together in language and theme creating a solid tale that explores what it means to be human. Part homage to a sci-fi original, part re-imagining, plenty of teen torment and trouble—an absorbing read.”

Publisher’s Weekly calls it an “accomplished first novel” (a phrase I’m probably going to get tattooed on my forehead) and describes the characters as “suitably tormented, in accordance with Romantic tradition.” Meaning that now I have a new life goal, which is to live every day like a suitably tormented Romantic hero.

Pop the champagne, don’t forget to enter to win a copy here, and read the full reviews here and here!

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in which I go to BEA

Next week a thing is happening called BEA.

It is big. It is bookish. And I will be there!

And you might be there too! And I want us to be friends!

I will not be at BEA in an author capacity–I’m going as part of my day job–HOWEVER this doesn’t mean I wouldn’t LOVE to meet you and talk about author things. Or not author things. Mostly I love talking about Star Wars and sweaters and Mary Shelley best of all. But also we can talk about THIS MONSTROUS THING. If you want.

So if you are going to be at BEA and want to get in on the monstrousness, here’s a few ways you can:

  • If at some point you happen to stop by booth 3246, I might be there selling other people’s books…but I would love to talk to you about mine1
  • There should be galleys of THIS MONSTROUS THING at the Harper booth at some point probably, and if you get one and come find me I will sign it for you/write you a secret code inside of it and also give you exclusive cool monstrous Frankenstein-y swag!
  • If you don’t get a galley but still come find me, I will give you swag and probably a hug. Though maybe not because sometimes hugs make me uncomfortable
  • I am going to try to be at the blogger-author meet up happening on the 28th at 3 pm. And maybe at some other things too. But that’s all I know of right now. If there are other partying and shenanigan things I should be at, tell me!

So come say hi! I am anxious but excited about BEA (anxcited, a word I’ve found myself using over and over again during my debut year) so please make me less anx and more cited by coming and saying hello.

  1. You will know me by my ferociously red hair, my round glasses, and the eccentrically patterned textiles I will likely be wearing.
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in which Mackenzi and Anna-Marie talk about being critique partners

An essential part of the writer life is the critique partner relationship. What is a critique partner, you might ask? It is generally a trusted friend, usually a fellow writer, who you swap projects with, read each other’s work, and give feedback on how to make it even more awesome. 

Recently, my beloved CP Anna-Marie McLemore (whose novel, The Weight of Feathers, is stunning) and I did a joint interview for the Fall Fifteeners on the ins and out of a critique partner or CP relationship (you can read the original interview here!). Except we’re novelists, so we got a little long winded and had to cut a lot of the brilliant things we said. Because everything we say is brilliant.

So here is the deleted scenes from our conversation, some additional thoughts on how to be the best CP possible. Anna-Marie’s answers appear in pink, mine are in green. Sorry our favorite colors clash so badly. 

ThisMonstrousThing hc c. finalJPG TheWeightofFeathers2

On how to find your CPs: 

AM: How I connected with my CPs is a mix of in-person and online. Mackenzi, you’re a great example of meeting a CP online, because I first got acquainted with your work through The Writer’s Voice Contest, and then we started talking over Twitter. I read your entry and immediately thought, “I want to read that!”How did you connect with your CPs, Mackenzi? And do they all read your work at the same time, or do you stagger?

M: I remember being very glad you reached out to me, because I read your entry and had the same ZOMG I WANT THIS reaction to your book, but I was still very new to the writing community and too shy to reach out. Plus you just seemed too cool for me. Which I still sometimes think you are.

AM: I couldn’t possibly be too cool for you! You have a mechanical arm and an endless supply of obscure facts about historical figures! Okay, I’m done interrupting…

M: I am lucky to have done a great MFA program and found some writers through that who I’m now in a writing group with. We meet every two weeks, talk about writing and life, and read and critique each other’s stuff. It’s a much more casual relationship, because we have the MFA background together and have been friends in addition to critique partners. Giving feedback is very different when you’re sitting across a plate of French toast from someone than it is over the internet. I love my writing group in person because they are highly brainstormy, and I love being able to talk out problems with them. They are the people I go to when I get stuck.

On what to look for in a CP: 

AM: Mostly I first connect with CPs because I adore their work. Their stories are brave, unexpected, and intensely memorable. If I admire a writer as much as I do my CPs, I know there’s a good chance they can help me make whatever I’m working on so much better. With you, Mackenzi, I was struck by how efficiently and vividly you depict time and place, and this became the first of many things I’d come to admire in your work.

Connecting with CPs this way also means there’s a good chance I can be helpful to them. When I critique, I start with what I like about a story—what’s strongest, what’s working, at least for me. It’s not because I’m trying to be nice, it’s just how I work. And if what I’m saying resonates with the author, I try to help them figure out what’s getting in the way of the things that are strongest and most engaging.

That’s not to say that you can’t critique a piece you don’t love. Far from it. Even with stories I don’t quite connect with, that’s usually where I start—what’s working. And this is why it’s helpful to have multiple points of view. Maybe the plot thread that stuck out to me as out of place is the thing everyone else goes wild for. Maybe the scene I loved isn’t serving the story as well as it could. Different POVs are invaluable.

On how to be a good CP: 

M: The first thing I’d say on this subject is if you’re entering into a CP relationship, be sure you’re willing to take feedback. We’ve all had that CP or writing group member or MFA student who argues with every piece of feedback they’re given and doesn’t really seem to want anyone to tell them anything except how good their story is. Don’t be this person. But also recognize that not every piece of feedback you’re going to get is going to be right for your story. I’ve also had CPs who took every piece of advice I gave them and applied it and it always made me uncomfortable, because it’s their story. They should be making changes that serve their story. A CP relationship is a mix of being open to hearing what other people have to say about your writing, and going with your gut.

On how to know if a CP relationship isn’t working: 

AM: You may not know exactly what you want to do right away, but CP comments should give you a sense of looking at the story with new eyes. If feedback from any one CP repeatedly makes you feel drained it’s probably destructive, and it’s probably not working. The biggest red flag in a CP relationship is if you don’t feel safe. If you don’t feel safe giving them your work, or if you don’t feel safe being honest about how you’re reading their work, then something’s wrong. Whether you both want to work through it or whether it’s best to part ways of course depends on the situation.

On how to end a CP relationship: 

M: When I was first starting out, writing was such a solitary practice for me. I wrote things, I read things, I revised things. Then as soon as I started showing it to other people and getting feedback, I thought, “WHY HAVEN’T I BEEN DOING THIS FOREVER?!” Other people could help me identify and solve the problems!? SIGN ME UP. Showing other people my writing and having them help me make it better had literally never occurred to me. So I went sort of crazy and was suddenly wanted to show my work to everyone and solicit their help.

Which, as you can imagine,  backfired. I ended up showing my work to a lot of people who just weren’t the right people for me to be showing it to. For a lot of reasons. It wasn’t that I thought my work was perfect and they were giving me feedback and I didn’t like that. It was just that something felt intangibly off to the way they reacted to my manuscript. And it was mutual–I didn’t love their stuff either. Reading it didn’t get me excited. I didn’t want to help them make it better. I just felt meh. And as a result, we weren’t giving each other good feedback. The things I was getting from them didn’t’ feel like it was helping me make my book better, it felt like them trying to rewrite the novel the way they would if it were their novel.

Some of these relationships naturally petered into nothing–we just stopped sending each other stuff. Some of them ended with mutual “I don’t think this is working.” One ended with a writer straight up telling me she thought my stuff was no good.

And so then I went back to not showing anyone my writing ever.

I think it’s important to be honest but kind when a CP relationship isn’t working. I have a friend who I was once CPs with, but turns out in spite of being friends, we’re not good critique partners. We were honest with each other about how it just wasn’t working, returned to friendship with no hard feelings, and still support each other any way we can.

For me, writing and being a critique partner and in a writing group has been a long process of learning who is worth listening to. Which sounds mean and haughty, but hear me out. Some people are going to *get* your writing–they’re going to understand what you’re trying to do and help you do it better. Those are the people you should be listening to and soliciting feedback from and listening to opinions from. Like you said, you want to be taking feedback from people who make you feel excited about the pile of flaming garbage that revision often is.

That was a long story.

On how to deal with professional jealousy: 

AM: In terms of professional jealousy, what I’ve more often felt with CPs was intimidation, a sense of, “they’re so incredible, what right do I have to critique their writing at all?” It’s not quite the same thing, but it can be just as lethal to a CP relationship. Early on, I was so in awe of the writers I was exchanging work with that I held back on suggestions because I felt presumptuous. But it wouldn’t have been presumptuous — suggestions were exactly what they wanted, and what they were asking of me! It took a little while for me to understand that they were just normal people, and that their books did not spring from their brains fully formed and ready for copy-editing. Just like me, they needed other writers to make it happen.

The professional jealousy can be hard but it’s also a natural thing. If you’re crippled by jealousy or can’t be a good CP because of it, that might be a sign the relationship isn’t working out or has other deeper problems. Because if you really care about someone and their work, you’ll be happy for them. You can still be a little jealous. But you’ll be happy. I remember when you signed your book deal, Anna-Marie, it never occurred to me to be jealous. In spite of the fact that I had been on sub for a year and was in the throes of “everyone has a book deal but me” despair. So maybe if you can’t handle good things happening to your CP but not you, maybe you should find a new CP.

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in which I am raised as a Jedi

On this occasion of my favorite holiday, Star Wars day, aka May the Fourth, let me tell you about how I was raised in the Jedi order.

Not by my parents—everyone knows that Jedi are taken from their parents at a young age. Though they were always tolerant to supportive of my Star Wars obsession, they were not the people who raised me as a Jedi. My parents weren’t even the first people to show me Star Wars1.

I was raised in the Jedi order by the neighbors’ kids.

When I was in fifth grade, a new family moved not quite into our neighborhood, but neighborhood adjacent. There was a boy my age, and a girl my sister’s age2. Our friendship was unlikely—I was right at the age where Boys and Girls Can’t Be Friends Because that Means You Have  Crush on Him and That’s Gross. And all four of us were just a very unlikely combination. They were from the south, abrasively polite, and said “Yes ma’am” and “no sir” to the adults, while I called all my friends’ parents by their first names and had a smart ass streak. They were not Mormons, like most people in my Utah community. They thought the mountains that I had grown up with were the most amazing things they had ever seen. I thought those mountains were pretty average. They had a hyperactive Labrador and an above ground trampoline, while we had a borderline comatose malamute and parents with a fear of dangerous fun.

But they also loved Star Wars as much as the MT and I did.

And so Star Wars became the first common language of our friendship.

jedi

Look at the tiny jedi! And get a load of MT in those Yoda ears.

For the better part of two years, the MT and I saw them most days, tumbling through an elaborate universe that was partly George Lucas’s, partly of our own making. We bought lightsabers and coordinated Halloween costumes and Legos and action figures. While our parents hiked behind us or walked through an amusement park or a convention centers, we ran ahead, just a little too old to be playing pretend this aggressively in public. We even wrote a brilliant musical parody, The Sound of Blasters, which ran for one magnificent night in their backyard4.

I spent two years living as a Jedi knight with this family and the boy I will always think of as my first best friend.

And then the next year, they moved away. As quickly and mysteriously as they came.

It was a delirious, wildly happy two year period for me, and when I look back on my younger self, I can point to this time with them as one of the many reasons I write books for young people. Because I spent those two years more in love than I ever have been since, both with Star Wars and with these neighbors next door. I loved Star Wars like I couldn’t love anything anymore because at some point in your growing up, you get told you can’t love things *that* much anymore, and I loved those kids like I can’t anymore because even the most vanilla life will give you some well-earned trust issues. But when you’re a kid and a teen, no one tells you not to love things that much.

And that’s why I love young people, and why I love writing for them. Because they love things. I think of the way I loved Star Wars. And the way I loved those neighbors who lived in Star Wars with me. I want to write for people who are that open and willing to love.

  1. Though I have a distinct memory of going to Media Play, back when people bought music at stores, and sitting at one of the tables with my dad and watching Empire Strikes Back for the first time.
  2. And then they also had a middle son who fell awkwardly in between us.
  3. If you would like to talk about magnificent parents who never forced gender norms on their kids, when I said I want to be Queen Amidala one year and then Anakin Skywalker the next, they never batted an eyelid at either of these things. I have excellent parentals.
  4. And included the legendary YMCA parody, YODA, of which the first line was “YODA! Been living eight hundred years, I say YODA, he’s got them big old green ears.”
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in which This Monstrous Thing gets blurbs

*doesn’t blog in long time*

*then blogs twice in one week*

*Mackenzi makes no sense*

Except I have some news! It is small news, but it is exciting news, so that makes it feel big.

As you well know, because I went on about it at length, advanced copies of THIS MONSTROUS THING are out in the world. Which means people are reading my book! That remains a strange and extraordinary thing.

And an even better thing…some people who are reading it are liking it! Including some very cool authors that I admire very much.

And even better than that? Some of those very cool authors have agreed to say nice things about it publicly, which we can then print on the book to trick people who like their books into read mine! Huzzah!

So THIS MONSTROUS THING officially has some very cool blurbs from extraordinarily cool authors! My head is still exploding a little. So if I have not convinced you to read my book, perhaps one of them can…

“A compelling and brave retelling of the original science fiction novel. A secret history, a love story, something both old and new.”

-Scott Westerfeld, author of Zeroes, Uglies, and Leviathan

“Mackenzi Lee’s This Monstrous Thing is simply beautiful.  It pulses with electricity, mystery, and heart and brings to life one of my all-time favorite tales with an unexpected twist.”

-Danielle Paige, New York Times bestselling author of Dorothy Must Die and The Wicked Will Rise

“A richly imagined tale of two brothers and a dark science that twists everything I thought I knew about FRANKENSTEIN. A monstrously good read!”

-Megan Shepherd, author of The Madman’s Daughter series

So if I hadn’t already convinced you to buy yourself a copy of THIS MONSTROUS THING, perhaps Scott, Danielle, and Megan have. (Shameless plug–you can preorder it from Porter Square Books! And I will sign it! And probably draw you a picture or write you a secret coded note in it!)

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