Tag Archives: family things

in which my parents market my book

Something you should know about my dad: he’s a quiet guy. He generally keeps himself to himself, never raises his voice about anything, whether in excitement or outrage, and just stays generally in the background. My mom has a bit of a reputation for striking up conversations with strangers, but my dad sort of has to be lured with peanut M&Ms into having a conversation.

Smash cut to…

The other night my parents are at the opera. At intermission, they are standing in the lobby, milling through the crowd of other opera goers, all of whom are minding their own business, reading their playbills, speaking in low, sophisticated voices. Probably someone was wearing a monocle.

Then, with no warning, my dad announces, to no one in particular but also everyone around him, “I’m reading the best book right now.”

A few people glance at him. Including my mother, who is surprised, because my dad never talks to strangers. Let alone announces himself to a crowded room of strangers.

“It’s called THIS MONSTROUS THING,” he says, even louder. “I can’t put it down. It’s the best book I’ve ever read.”

It should be noted, he has yet to actually read said novel.

“It’s by new up and coming author Mackenzi Lee,” he continues. Then, just for good measure, throws in, “I hear she’s Harper Lee’s granddaughter.”

That lie apparently got a few people interested. Other opera goers were starting to peer at him through their monocles.

“Harper Lee didn’t have children,” my mom says.

“Oh,” my dad says.

Then my mom adds, “So this Mackenzi Lee must be Harper Lee’s grandniece1.”

My parents, ladies and gentlemen. Guerrilla marketers2.

 

  1. Just to be clear, since there’s been a lot of legal talk surrounding Harper Lee lately, this is not true and I don’t make this claim. My parents are bold-faced liars.
  2. My mom also made her own Pinterest board for my book. Hoping to get some exposure. To all her ten followers. It’s a great compliment to her gourd board. She’s very much enamored with gourds3.
  3. I also feel the need to note that last night on Skype, my mom asked me how many pages are in my novel YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. Why didn’t I think of that title?
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in which some big things happen

I’ve had this post saved in my drafts for about a week labeled “Things I Should Probably Talk About.” Because I am often really good at writing about the weird little stories of no consequence that happen to me, but not always great at hitting the big things, and these last few weeks were chock full of big things.

So here are a few that I felt were worth talking about:

Big Thing #1: I finished my MFA!

Two weeks ago last Friday, I donned a funny looking hat, a wrinkled robe1 and a shroudy hoodish thing that made me feel a bit like a sorcerer, piled into a bus with four thousand of my closest friends and drove to the Bank of America Pavilion which, it turns out, is a terrible place to host anything when it is even remotely cold, and oh man, was it cold. Rainy and grey and the wind off the water was merciless. At one point, the girl I was sitting next to and I realized we could actually see our breath. In May. It was a cold, cold place to be forced to sit still on uncomfortable folding chairs for two hours while name after endless name was read off.

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But in spite of sounding very negative about the whole affair, it was a good time. Graduation ceremonies are a bit silly if you think about them too hard, mostly because of all the pomp and circumstance, but every time I’ve gone to one, I’ve had a genuine moment of pride and coolness when I got to walk up on stage, hear my name read, and get the little fake diploma. So overall the day was enjoyable. And my lovely family came in from Utah for the occasion, so I got to be with them. And, true to our usual classy selves, while everyone else went out to nice fancy dinners afterwards at places with multiple forks and cloth napkins, we went to my favorite eccentric diner and ordered a cookie sheet of onion rings.

So I’m now a master. I expect you all to refer to me as such from now on.

Big Thing #2: We went to Maine!

After a day of graduation and another of doing Boston things3, my family and I packed up our rental car and drove up to Bar Harbor, Maine, where we spent a very enjoyable week doing enjoyable and Maine-ish things, like hiking in Acadia, riding on boats, and tearing apart lobsters with our bare hands2. Maine was lovely and quiet and not anywhere near as cold as graduation, so we spent our time overdressed and marveling at how easy it was to breathe when the hiking trails are level and at a low elevation4.

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Maine was impossibly lovely, and after a rather arduous two years of graduate school, I really enjoyed a week of doing little to nothing that required any brain power5.

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Big Thing #3: I got a new job!

Okay, job is a relative term. It is an internship. But not just any internship. My dream internship, an internship I have been chasing and applying for over and over basically since I got to Boston. At last, they either got sick of reading my resume or decided I was actually maybe worth considering, because they hired me. I am over the moon about this news, and I feel really lucky to be putting my children’s lit knowledge to use so quickly after graduating from school.

And speaking of children’s lit things…

Big Thing #4: The PEN-New England Susan Bloom Discovery Award Night!

So as you may remember, a few months ago I went nuts with excitement over being one of the winners of the PEN-New England Susan Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award. Last week, there was an official awards ceremony, at which I was invited to read from my winning manuscript. And guys, it was amazing. I polled some friends who came to see if it was actually really that awesome or if I was biased because I was one of the guests of honor, but the general consensus seemed to be that it was genuinely awesome. It was amazing to be surrounded by so many people who were enthusiastic about children’s literature and me as a writer and my possible contribution to the field.

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Myself, Rebecca, and Pamela, this year’s three discoveries.

Everyone deserves the experience of being shepherded around a room full of witty, intelligent people who all tell you how much they love the art you are creating and the things you are doing, which was basically what the whole night was for me. Everyone also deserves the chance to be introduced by someone you really admire and hear them say nice things about your work, which I was also lucky enough to have happen when Lois Lowry introduced me and my manuscript. I did my best to not freak out when this happened.

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Miss Lowry and myself

After Lois’s very generous introduction, parts of which I am considering getting tattooed on my forehead, I got to read from my manuscript6. I am pleased to report that I did not lose my place, drop a page, say “Ingolstadt7” wrong, or pronounce “Frankenstein” the way they do in Young Frankenstein, which I was worried might happen since the MT and I spent the whole week in Maine quoting Young Frankenstein in honor of my impending reading. Then there was a lovely Q&A, where I got to talk very fast8 about Mary Shelley and how cool she was and about the Danny Boyle production of Frankenstein that inspired the whole thing9. And then I ate cookies and talked to more amazing people and showed off my Frankenstein tights and basically just had an amazing night. It was a fairly once in a lifetime experience that I will treasure and carry with me as a badge of courage as I go forward with my writing career.

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Rebecca, Susan (form whom the award is named), Cathie (head of the Simmons program) and me.

And those are the big things worth noting that have happened over the past few weeks. It’s been rather eventful here at Chateau de Lee, and I have enjoyed very much having a few weeks of good news and fun things. I’m bracing myself for real life to set back in again.

 

  1. Because some genius had the idea of making our gowns eco-friendly by crafting them out of recycled plastic bottles, meaning they couldn’t be ironed or else they would melt. To which I say, “A plague upon environmentalism!”
  2. The MT and I got very into naming the lobsters we met/ate. Or maybe that was just me and the MT indulged me. Whatever the case, over the course of the trip we met/ate Aloysius, Randall, Gob the Lob, Buster Bluth (because he was missing a claw), katniss, and Hannibal (because, it turns out, lobsters are cannibals).
  3. Such as treason, living free or dying, and protesting intolerable acts.
  4. Upon completing a particular hike, we were greeted by a sign boasting that we were now 520 feet above sea level. The Utahans, who live their lives at four thousand feet above sea level, were unimpressed.
  5. Though this doing nothing was interrupted by some strange and unexpected distractions, when I shall discuss in big thing number 3…
  6. This is the post modern revisionist steampunk Frankenstein book I have talked about a little bit here. In case you were wondering.
  7. Far and away the hardest and most German word in the manuscript.
  8. “Fast” meaning both briefly and at break neck speed, which I often do when I am nervous or excited, and I was definitely both.
  9. I also very nearly got set up on a date with Benedict Cumberbatch. Really.
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in which the MT goes to college

When I was twelve years old, my birthday present was new paint, furniture, and carpet in my bedroom. After we cleared all the old furniture out and my dad painted, we had one day between the installation of the carpet and the moving in of the new furniture. And I had an empty, empty room.

So the MT and I did what any two kids would do. We took our Star Wars action figures, separated them between good guys and bad guys on opposite sides of the room, and had the Epic Action Figure Battle of the Century.

It was our longest Star Wars game ever, which is saying a lot. We played for hours. I think my parents actually consented to delay moving in the furniture so we could keep playing1.And towards the end of it all, I remember lying on the floor in the center of the room, me with Anakin and the MT with Yoda, listening to our voices echo against the empty walls and come back to us. And the MT said, “Can we do this forever?”

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Look at the little MT and the little Mackenzi Lee.This is probably the cutest we ever were. Also the last time we touched each other.

But we didn’t. The next morning, the new furniture got moved in. The Star Wars game ended. And we didn’t play with the action figures too much after that. I got older, and pretty soon the MT did too. We put the action figures in the basement, and we grew up.

This past week, the MT and I were driving around Cottonwood Heights doing some last minute shopping to prelude her move to Logan, Utah, where she’s going to be starting college on Monday. We were talking about dumb stuff2. But as we drove down Fort Union, I looked over her and all I wanted to say was, “Can we do this forever?”

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The MT is my only sister. There really hasn’t been a time when we weren’t close. For the past eighteen years, I have never been in our house without her. Even when I’ve gone away, I could always count on her being there when I came back, sprawled in the green Lazy boy, sketching with her big blue headphones and her grunge band t-shirts. She would look up at me and say, “Oh, you’re here.” And then go back to her drawing like I’d never left.

But on Saturday, the MT packed her life in our Subaru, and she drove to Logan. And in all likelihood, the MT and I will never be in the same place at the same time again for a summer or a year. The most we’ll have is spotty weeks of vacation and Christmas. We’ll grow up, we’ll move away, we’ll have our own lives separate from each other.

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This was a while ago. The MT was still a blonde. And those sunglasses died years ago.

It’s very rare in life that we know something is the last time. We don’t know the last time we’re going to see someone or the last time we’re ever going to visit a place. Usually things just disappear without warning. But last week, I was so acutely aware of the fact that the MT and I were living out the last days of our lives thus far.

I was pretty blue about it on Sunday. I kept saying things like, “If the MT were here…”

But I realized sad is the wrong thing to be. Sad is a waste of time, and totally misplaced. Because there are so many amazing and cool things that are about to happen to the MT, and too me too, I suppose, and this is just a step on the path towards them. And it’s funny how sometimes you can’t imagine things changing, but as soon as they do, you can’t imagine ever going back to how they were before. Mostly because it’s just time to be different.

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So here’s to the MT. Here’s to all the things she’s done and a whole new set of adventures ahead of her. Here’s to the things she’ll learn and the people she’ll meet, to the totally wonderful things that will happen to her and the really sucky things too, and to how she’ll deal with them—with grace and courage and kindness. I know she will, because she’s my sister, the only person I know as well as myself, and I know that she is extraordinary.

I don’t always know what to believe in, but I know I believe in her.

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Our relationship in a picture.

Good luck at college, MT. And whatever you do, be good or be good at it.

  1. My dad joined us at one point to be all the bad guys, and pulled what is maybe the sneakiest move in the history of Star Wars action figures. He took this random snowman figure from our doll house and sent him as a representative from the bad guys to parlay with the MT and my good guys. As the snowman walked across no man’s land, he said, “Don’t hurt me! I’m just a snowman!” So the MT and I called a cease fire. Then the snowman whipped out a machine gun and massacred us. Nefarious.
  2. We mostly we communicate in Doctor Who quotes and trivia.
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in which i still play with dolls

When I was a child, I had but one dream1: to go to the American Girl Place in Chicago.

My youth was spent rotating through obsessions, but the American Girls was one of the more long-standing ones. For the better part of my adolescence and now into adulthood, I have loved American Girl. I love the dolls because they are just so gosh darn cute. I love their clothes. I love the books. I love that they teach girls history and self-esteem and to dream big. I love that the MT and I used to use ours to create epic murder mystery themed escapades. Each Christmas morning, I would dash up to the tree in hopes that there would be a large red box with a white star waiting for me. Each month, I eagerly waited by the mailbox for the catalog2. I subscribed to the magazine too. And wrote in several letters. Which were never published.

When I first learned there was an American Girl superstore in Chicago, I was probably ten or eleven. And I begged. I begged and begged. I wanted to go there so badly, to take my doll to the hair salon, buy her and I matching dresses, and then have lunch in the café where there are special chairs just for your doll.

Sadly, because I have oppressively cruel parents who denied me my every dream, it never came true. I never saw the American Girl Place in Chicago.

Until Friday.

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Friday, I walked the Millennium Mile. I dressed up really cute, did my hair, and tried to look like I was rich so I wouldn’t be looked at quite as strangely when I walked into Burberry and Coach.

But first, I had to take a detour. First into the Lego store. Then into the Disney store3.

Then to the American Girl Place, to live a childhood dream.

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And no joke, I basically started crying when I walked in. Maybe because it was so darling. Mostly because it just made me feel ten again, sitting in the basement with the MT, playing ridiculous games with dolls that helped me pick my major.

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Thank you, American Girl, for teaching me to love the past, and that stories can span centuries. Thank you for teaching me that dreams are worth having, and worth reaching for, and that every girl is a star in her own right.

And thank you for teaching me that American Girl dolls can comfortably double as newsboys, Star Wars characters, and people from Jupiter in the basement with the MT.

Thanks American Girl, for all those times with my sister.

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  1. Though that dream changed daily, there was usually just one at a time.
  2. And still do.
  3. Really, how old am I?
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in which i am surrounded by corn and stillness

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A long time ago, I saw a play with my family called “The Curious Savage1.” You might have heard of it, because it’s pretty great and mildly well known. I don’t actually remember much about the play itself, other than generally enjoying it, and this one particularly line, which has been quoted in my family ever since;

“People say ‘I love you’ all the time – when they say, ‘Take an umbrella, it’s raining,’ or ‘Hurry back,’ or even ‘Watch out, you’ll break your neck.’ There are hundreds of ways of wording it — you just have to listen for it.”

This past weekend, I was told “I love you” more times than I could count.

Do you need an extra blanket on the bed, my grandma wants to know.

Did you have enough to eat, my uncle asks after every meal.

You can pick what we watch2, my aunt tells me.

We worry when you take the four-wheeler out, says grandma.

Will you play goblins with me, begs my seven-year-old cousin3.

If you remember from the last time we spoke, I spent this past weekend at my grandparent’s farm in rural Iowa. We did the math, and discovered that I haven’t been there since 2003. And yet, it was like I never left. Sure, the kids are all a foot taller, the adults are all a little paunchier, and there’s new tile in the bathroom, but the things that matter, like the underlying theme of every interaction I have with my family, hasn’t changed.

The Iowa where my grandparent’s farm is located is about as far from a Chicago atmosphere as you can get. It’s so remote that the silence rings4. My dad, who grew up there, went to a one room school house5, and lived his first eighteen years without running water. When my grandma and I were driving to the cemetery, we passed a guy on a motorcycle. As we drove away, my grandma commented, “He must have been from out of town – he didn’t wave.”

And, while I love living in a city that never stops moving, it was nice to be part of stillness for a few days. To have a horizon with a vanishing point. To listen to the corn whisper.

To be surrounded by people who love you, even if they don’t always know how to say it. They don’t have to.

Passing around polaroids and telling stories on the living room floor says it all.

  1. Yes, I get it, pretty much every blog post so far is based upon unoriginal thought, or references some play or book or something. I promise I am capable of coming up with my own ideas!
  2. I chose Masterpiece Mystery, the best hour and a half of television every week. The program this week may have been the least frightening police drama in the history of police dramas and yet it still scared me to the point of sleeping with the light on.
  3. She also told me, when I asked her where she wanted to run away to, “Chicago to be with you!” And I just about died of cuteness.
  4. And, as it occurred to me after watching the aforementioned unscary British police show, it is the kind of remote that is the ideal setting for a horror film.
  5. Not a joke.  A straight-up Little House on the Prairie style one room school house. I visited it on Sunday, since it’s now a museum. It looks like this.

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