Monthly Archives: May 2013

Four Book Friday

I’ve been thinking for a while about doing a blog series, especially since in the last year I have met so many amazing aspiring writers whose thoughts I want to steal for my own blog! Then an idea came to me last night when I was falling asleep, and it didn’t sound stupid when I woke up. So I’m going for it.

The new series is called Four Book Friday. Every Friday, I will feature a different author/writer/friend who loves books, and they will talk about four books that changed their life. Or if that language is too intimidating, four books that had a substantial impact on their life. Not favorite books, mind you. Books that changed your life. They are two very different things.

Today that person will be me. Because, like I said, I just thought of this last night, so I didn’t really have a chance to plan ahead.

So, may I proudly present, the first in a summer series of….

FOUR BOOK FRIDAY

Four books that changed my life by Mackenzi Lee

Mike Mulligan and His Steam ShovelMike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton – The value of this book to me is almost purely sentimental. This was my dad’s favorite book to read aloud to me when I was a kid—I think the construction themes appealed to him—and ever since, I have shared a bond with my father that passes through this book.  For that reason it is very dear to my heart. It also captures that blissful experience of being read aloud to as a child. When I imagine myself small and listening from my dad’s lap, this is always the book that is being read to me. For me, this book is childhood, simplicity, and kindness. It is the sort of pure fantastical delight that all picture books should be.

The Thief LordThe Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke – This was the first book I was ever obsessed with, and I think this is the book that made me obsessed with books. I can’t even remember what it was about this book in particular that spoke to me more than any other. Maybe it was the setting in Venice. Maybe it was the magical realism. Maybe it was Scipio Massimo, the first fictional character I ever had a crush on. But whatever it was, this book captured me and didn’t let go for years. I loved it so much I wrote a script of it and directed it at my middle school. As you probably guess, it was awesome. This book was also the first that instilled in me a deep and abiding love for setting, both as a reader and writer. For years and years, my number one place to see before I die was Venice, because of the way it had captured my imagination in this book. A city with canals instead of roads? That was too amazing to be real. When I finally went to Venice, it was every bit as magical as The Thief Lord promised it would be. And now I’ve written my own novel set in Venice. All thanks to this little blue book.

One DayOne Day by David Nicholls – This is one of those books that if I had read it at any point in my life, I probably would have liked it, but the timing of when I read it made it life changing. I had just come back from England and I was having a career crisis where everything I thought I was going to do with my life was falling apart. I had a few precious months to make big decisions about my future, and I was laboring under the delusion that I was the only person my age who did not have my life together. Then I found myself in this book, in the character of Emma Morley, the bookish rule-follower who wants to be a rebel and change the world. I have never identified with a character as much as I do with Emma—she even ends up writing children’s books after an initial failed career as an actress. Uh, that sounds familiar. I had also just come out of a relationship that mirrored Emma’s relationship with her best friend Dexter, and it was good to know that I was not alone in what I was feeling. I have never felt so strongly like a book was written for me. One Day reached out to me and said, “You are not alone,” just when I needed it most.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #1)Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

I definitely talk about his book a lot, but that is because it had such a huge impact on me. I read this when I was again in the throws of “what do I do with my life”. I was a few months away from graduating from college. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but my problem was I was having a hard time finding adult books that I liked. I had started returning to my roots in children’s literature, but vampire books were at their peak, and a lot of YA literature I read had me rolling my eyes. Was it possible, I wondered, to have a book with the playful escapism of young adult AND the literary merit of an adult novel? Yes. Yes it is. I found that in Daughter of Smoke and Bone. And more than any other book, it was the book that cemented my desire to pursue an MFA in writing for children. This book was so important to me that I wear a necklace almost every day with a wishbone charm on it, just like the main character Karou, to remind myself why I am in this field.

Want to join Four Book Friday? I need aspiring and published writers/lovers of books to take part! If you would like to join the fun, please email me at mackenzilee(at)hotmail(dot)com. I would love to feature you and your life-changing books!

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in which I illustrate Harry Potter

I am not an artist.

I have always wanted to be an artist, but I possess no skills in this particular area. And my sister, the MT, does, which has always been intimidating. If we hung my paintings next to hers in the house…well, let’s just say there would be a clear winner. It would be like hanging your five year old’s drawings up beside a Van Gough. The MT is a very good artist.

Another of the MT’s many talents is the ability to read aloud and change her voice. This most likely stems from early exposure to the Harry Potter audiobooks and their fabulous narrator, Jim Dale. When the MT was little, she used to toddle around the house with her Sesame Street tape player in tow, listening to Harry Potter on repeat. It wasn’t a long jump to go from listening to imitating.

When I arrived home last month, I discovered that my family had started a new tradition in my absence: every night they gather and the MT reads aloud from Harry Potter in the tradition of her idol, Mr. Dale. It is most excellent, and fortunately they were just starting Chamber of Secrets when I arrived.

Aside from not being an artist, there is another thing I am not very good at, and that is sitting still and listening1. I loved hearing the MT read, but gosh darnit sitting still is hard! I knew I had to find some way to entertain myself while MT was reading, but it had to be something that I could still listen to the story while I did it.

So, on a random impulse, I started drawing one night2. I drew what the MT was reading us in Chamber of Secrets3. I used to do this when I was a kid and my dad would read aloud to me, and after a few chapters, I started really enjoying it. My family enjoyed it too…mostly for the comedic value.

I am fortunate enough to live in a home where my mother puts up with my shenanigans and my father doesn’t say much, so when, in an overacted show of pride in my first drawing, I slapped it on the wall with some tape, it got left there. I hung every subsequent picture beside it, resulting in a wall of our entryway being covered in Chamber of Secrets art that looks like it was drawn by a demented seven year old.

Last night we finished the book. I hung my last picture on the wall, surveyed my handiwork, and realized that I have never been so proud of anything in my entire life4. So what better to do with something I am insanely proud of than share it with the virtual world?

And so, I present to you, alternate chapter art for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by Mackenzi Lee. Watch out, Mary Grand-Pre. You have been dethroned.

  1. If you have ever had a conversation with me, you may notice that I am perpetually fiddling or doodling or journaling. Seriously. Can’t just listen. Too hard.
  2. Again, and I cannot put too fine a point on this: I am not an artist.
  3. My primary medium being sharpies and one erasable pen.
  4. This is an exaggeration. But not by much.
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The first drawing. Before I decided I was drawing chapter by chapter. So chapter 1 has no art.

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I am absurdly proud of that photographer.

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ignore the incorrect number

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the MT loves Dean Thomas in this one. She also says Mrs. Norris looks like a werewolf. So her opinion is invalid.

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this was voted family favorite.

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This lettering is my greatest achievement to date.

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My original drawing for this chapter was panned. I was forced to redo it, and I am much happier with this one.

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My father and the MT maintain it looks like Aragog is carrying eggs on his back. THEY ARE HIS EYES. Obviously.

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“You shouldn’t have drawn his eyes! Now we’re going to be petrified if we look at it!!!” -The MT, in a panic

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Just to clarify, I drew Harry’s thumb on the wrong side of his hand. He is not, contrary to what my dad says, flipping Lucius Malfoy the bird. This is family-friendly artwork.

Which one was your favorite? Or were they all too beautiful for words? Tell me in comments!

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in which I dream big and write letters

I used to be a big letter writer. And by used to be, I mean still am.

I grew up in that small blip of the 90s when the internet was barely a thing, and the only way I knew to communicate with people was through the good old US Postal Service1.

I wrote a lot of letters as a child. Primarily in a misguided attempt to make my dreams come true. I was that kid who submitted dozens of articles and drawings to all my favorite magazines2. And never saw any of them in print. I wrote a letter to “Les Miserables3” telling them I would be a great Young Cosette4 on Broadway. Never heard back. I wrote to publishers with my story ideas, certain they would want to publish me. Did not happen. When my favorite band lost a member, I wrote and offered myself up as a replacement. That did not pan out.

The sending of each letter was followed by intense periods of wild daydreaming, in which I envisioned the future I was sure was about to unfold at my little feet as a result of this correspondence. I was going to be a Broadway actress. An international superstar. The youngest author ever. The new star of American Girl magazine.  And I had so many more dreams that didn’t involve letters. I started bands and dreamed of Rolling Stone covers. I envisioned myself a concert pianist in Carnegie Hall every time I practiced the piano. I had my Oscar speech memorized before I knew my times tables. In all my childhood innocence, I dreamed big and I dreamed hard.

die of cute

I wanted to find a picture to go with this post. But I couldn’t. So please enjoy this picture of a St. Bernard puppy.

The problem with having big dreams and intense fantasies accompanying them is that over and over and over, I was disappointed. Friends, there is nothing more painful in this whole world than disappointment. In my experience, disappointment is consistently the worst. When I was a child and all my big dreams were constantly and consistently shattered, it left its mark. Which means that today, I am a little gun shy about dreaming. My strategy for a long time was to refuse to acknowledge that my dreams even existed, and when forced to confront their reality, I always expected the worst. While I fully acknowledge this is a terrible and destructive strategy, it keeps me from experiencing the disappointment I did as a child when I let myself dream too big.

But recently, I’ve again found myself confronted by things I want. And it is scary, wanting something as much as this. I am in hot pursuit of many of these ambitions, but the road has already been rough, and I’ve found myself again and again retreating into my strategy of expecting for the worst and not allowing myself to hope for the best.

But I have been trying very hard to apply the advice from one of my favorite books, The Art of Racing in the Rain. In it, one of the main characters is a racecar driver who says the secret to racing is keeping your eyes on the road ahead of you. If you look at a crash off to the side or where you will spin off to if you miss a turn, you will inevitably end up there. He then continues:

“The car goes where the eyes go. Simply put, that which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves.”

Where we set our sights is where we will end up. And so with that in mind, I have embarked on the road towards the things I want, and I am trying not to look to the side or at where I will end up if I crash and burn. I am trying to be hopeful, and not beat myself down with expecting the worst.

Last week I entered a writing contest called “The Writer’s Voice”, which you were all privy to if you follow this blog with any sort of dedication5. It was incredibly uplifting and encouraging for me as a writer, and I had some unexpected success that has resulted in me maybe taking one tiny step towards the Big Dream of publishing a book. In a few weeks, I may be moving backwards again, but right now, things look so unbelievably bright that I am fighting the instinct to shut my eyes and imagine the worst. I am trying—so very, very hard—to not dream out of control like childhood me did, but not shut myself down emotionally like recent me did either. I want to just exist in this moment and enjoy the fact that for two days, people enjoyed my writing, and something may happen because of that.

And if it doesn’t….that’s okay too.

  1. I also once lived in the 1860s, which increased my affinity for letter writing.
  2. Including the one I now work for.
  3. I’m pretty sure that’s how I addressed the letter: “Les Miserables/The Barricade/Paris”
  4. Fantine was my first choice, but I was only eight. Too young to play a prostitute. Actually, I think Evita was my first choice, but that wasn’t playing on Broadway at the time. And, you know, the age thing.
  5. If not and you have a burning desire to see it, the entry is here.
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in which i eat a kumquat

Today at work, the copyeditor put a kumquat on my desk.

“What’s this?” I said.

“It’s a kumquat,” she said. “You should eat it.”

“I didn’t know those were real,” I said.

“Surprise,” she said. “Now eat it.”

I studied the little orange fruit, which was just slightly bigger than a grape. “I sense a trap,” I said.

“No trap,” she said. “They’re delicious.”

“How do I eat it?” I said.

“You just put it in your mouth.”

“Peeling and all?”

“Peeling and all,” she said. “At first it’s sour, but if you chew it long enough, it gets sweet.”

I put the kumquat in my mouth and I chewed it. And it was sour. Eye-wateringly sour. I started to spit it out, but the copyeditor said, “You have to keep chewing! It’ll get sweet, I promise.”

So I kept chewing. I muscled through the sour, and through the sour turning to bitter. All while my taste buds screamed and my sinuses rebelled.

And then, suddenly, just like she had promised, it turned sweet, and my last moments of the kumquat were sweet. Sweet enough that the sour didn’t seem quite so bad anymore.

“I don’t think I liked it,” I said.

The copyeditor smiled. “Just wait. In a few minutes, you’ll want more.”

Life is like a kumquat. Sometimes, it’s sour and it hurts, but if you don’t push through and keep chewing, it never gets sweet.

in which I adopt a plant

Today was plant day at the Church Office Building. They apparently take the whole “going green” thing really literally here, because on the third Wednesday of every month, anyone can go down to the floral department in the basement and adopt a plant.

Really. It’s called plant adoption.

So naturally, I went, because I’m always up for doing weird things that will someday make a good story. And as a result, I am now the proud parent of this little guy.

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Aw. Iddin he cute? He is tall and crazy, so he suits me.

His name is Mycroft. I’m going to feed him and water him1 and love him and he will live forever2. It has only been five hours, and I am already very attached to Mycroft. But I get attached to things really easily. Far more easily than I get attached to people.

I am a week and two days into my employment with the LDS Church. And so far, I really could not be happier. This is basically my dream job, and I enjoy immensely every task that has been thrown at me3. Working here has only served to further emphasize just how much I love children’s literature, and how passionate I am about writing for children.

One of my many assignments today was to go through the September issue of the magazine and change the names of any protagonists with overused or boring names4. Easy peasy, I thought, but as soon as I tried to think of names, my mind immediately went totally blank. Because that’s the way the world works. The same thing happens when someone asks me my favorite book, and I immediately forget every book I’ve ever read. So I turned for inspiration to the facebook. I logged on, wrote down the first names of about six friends who had recently posted, and turned it in.

I am certain this will not be an isolated incident. Meaning over the next year, many of you who are friends with me on the facebook may be featured5 in a Mormon children’s magazine. Pays to have friends in moderately high-ish places, doesn’t it?

On that note, if you have any stories from your childhood that you think would make a great story for The Friend, please send them my way! I’d also love any stories from your family history. I have made my project here to put more stories in the Friend that are historical in nature but NOT about pioneers. There are too many of those, and they make those of us without pioneer ancestors feel left out. So if your grandparents handed out Book of Mormons to Nazis or something equally as exciting, please feel free to share!

 

  1. I have to put him right by my computer screen, where I will see him everyday, or else I guarantee I will forget.
  2. Plant resurrection! It’s a thing!
  3. Today I wrote a poem about Jesus. And enjoyed it immensely.
  4. Or what one of my editors lovingly called “Mormon Belt Names.” Because we’re going for diversity here.
  5. Albeit in an obscure, roundabout way.
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in which I start anew

If you are here from The Writer’s Voice, bless you. Also, that entry is one post down! 

In the past week, two big things changed in my life.

First, I returned to Salt Lake. On a plane that took off late, with only my Dixie cup filled with Diet Coke to soothe my aching hunger resulting from eating nothing but twelve Red Vines for both lunch and dinner. If you couldn’t tell, it was a very long flight. But I survived. I am back in the great valley of the Salt Lake. Don’t get confused, even though the blog is still called looking for Boston. I’m in Salt Lake. As in Utah. Looking for Salt Lake just doesn’t have the same ring to it, frankly. On that note, if you are also in Utah and want to party, hit me up1. I’m here until September.

Second, and the reason that I came to Salt Lake to begin with, is that I started my new job, which is writing for the LDS Church’s children’s magazine, The Friend. So far, it is awesome. The whole deal is much less churchy than I anticipated, which is actually a relief. Though we are writing about Jesus, the place still feels like a normal office. Albeit a very conservatively dressed2 office where the men all open doors for you3 and everyone is alarmingly polite and there are a lot of people in little black nametags.

But the new job seems like it’s going to be a hit. I have been treated as a bit of an exotic flower since I arrived. I am a source of fascination to both the staff and the other interns, as I am neither from BYU nor an undergrad. I am apparently interesting both because I have worked out in the big, wide world in a variety of exciting settings,and because I am not coming to work directly from Provo5.  Our managing editor is also thrilled to have an intern that is actually making the focus of her academic study writing for children6. She even wants me to give weekly presentations to the staff on things I have learned from my program. No pressure.

Overall, it’s been a full week for me with a lot of big changes. Good changes, though. I also don’t anticipate blogging as much this summer, since—spoiler alert—having a full time job sort of eats up your social calendar. But I will be here. And I will be sharing with you all the many splendors of a life inside the LDS Church7.

On a semi-related note, my blogiversary is coming up – Looking for Chicago/Boston is turning the big 1! How would you all feel if I did a giveaway to go with it? Would you enter? What would be an awesome but also shippable prize? Leave ideas in comments!

  1. And there ain’t no party like a Van Engelenhoven party cause a Van Engelenhoven party includes cookies the size of your face and everyone arrives early and then has high social anxiety the whole time.
  2. I have worn skirts to my knees and sleeves every day and I still feel myself to be the most scantily clad person there.
  3. They also always let women walk into an elevator first. I’m sure this is a courtesy thing, but it could be nefarious. Send the women in first to make sure there’s no crouching lion hidden in the blind spot.
  4. They all knew what “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me” was and were jealous of Carl Kassel on my answering machine! Phew.
  5. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.
  6. When I first arrived, we had a very happy conversation about Extra Yarn and Marla Frazee, and I knew I was in the right place.
  7. Unrelated—by far the greatest part of my job so far is that my cubicle has been decorated with art children have sent in that has been rejected for various reasons, mostly because of their more creative tie in to the Church. They are all hilarious and awesome and delightful, and I wish I could post them here, but I think that’s a breach of confidentiality. Ah well. You will just have to imagine how hilarious they are. Or come visit me at work.
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The Writer’s Voice

So. Remember how I was going to get better about talking about my own writing? Well today we’re taking a big leap forward because I am entering a contest called the Writer’s Voice, which requires that I post a query (pitch) letter and the first 250 words of my novel. So here it is.

Query

Moriarty is the son of Death, raised believing in the beauty of ending a life. Then he takes over his Father’s work, and finds that ripping souls from mortal bodies is nothing like the stories that populated his childhood. It’s violent and bloody, and as hard as he tries, Moriarty can’t find anything to love in it.

Until he meets his next victim: Rocsanne Vetrario, the bold, bohemian daughter of Venetian glaziers. Instead of ending her life, Moriarty accidentally saves it, thus kindling a friendship that tumbles into love amid the canals of 1890’s Venice.

But their summer together shatters when Moriarty learns that Rocsanne’s step-mother Lavinia is on a crusade to recover the lost secrets of Venetian glass and its power to bestow immortality. When Lavinia discovers her daughter’s romance with the soul collector himself, she threatens to kill Rocsanne unless Moriarty helps retrieve the legendary glass.

Surrendering the glass would give Lavinia control over Moriarty and his work, but if Rocsanne dies, he would lose her forever to the afterlife. Moriarty will do anything to save Rocsanne—he isn’t about to kill the only girl who ever loved Death.

DEATH AND THE GLASSMAKER’S DAUGHTER is a YA historical fantasy complete at 67,000 words.

I am currently a graduate student at Simmons College, earning my MFA in writing for children and young adults. I have had short pieces published in Talkin’ Blues, Pandora’s Box, and The Newport Review.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

ONE

The first thing he noticed was the rain.

Moriarty had never felt rain before. It didn’t rain in the Greylands, nor did the brushed-black sky wink with tiny pinpricks of light, like jewels floating in a glassy lake. Even the sky itself was new—there was no sky in the Greylands.

But the rain was the first, and most marvelous thing—the way it felt against his skin, each drop unexpected and ephemeral.

Yes, Moriarty decided. I like the rain best.

Hector hadn’t told him about the rain.

But Hector had hardly told him anything about the humans, or mortality, or the work he would be doing there, the work that used to be Hector’s.

Though they had never discussed it, Moriarty had always known that someday, Hector would grow weary of soul collecting, and the work would pass to him. Father to son.

He had not expected it to be so sudden.

He had thought that, day by day, Hector would begin to impart to him the secrets of his work. The little things, like how to know which humans were the closest to dying, and what it looked like when they did. Then he would begin to take Moriarty with him on his errands to the human world, show him the correct way to separate a reluctant soul from the mortal body that housed it. They would steal together through mortality, disguised, and visit workhouses and operating theaters, places where Hector could school him in the exact moment that a soul was released, and how to catch it between his fingers. He would let Moriarty try it a few times under his watchful eye before the day that he remained in the Greylands and sent his son ahead alone.

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