By C. Lee McKenzie
Crystal: C. Lee McKenzie has stopped by today to celebrate the release of Sudden Secrets. Would you share a little bit about yourself with us today?
C. Lee: Sure. My best time is when I’m outside. I’m never happier than when I’m hiking, and that can be in the mountains or along a beach. I’m borderline OCD and that drives my family nuts because I’m always putting things “where they belong.” They love it when I leave the house to hike. Then things they set down stay there for a while.
Crystal: Do you have a favorite scene you would like to share with us?
C. Lee: I had fun writing this one. I guess because it’s a Halloween scene, and that’s my favorite holiday. The I character is Cleo, my MC. Here it is:
The moon was a bit higher now, but it came at us from behind the house, casting us in the shadow of the roof. I was sorry I was the only one wearing white because even in this shadow I stood out. I glanced across the street to my upstairs window, wishing I were there looking back at where I stood. And then it hit me. When I sat in my room and watched this house, I was easily seen. Even when my room was dark like it was now, I could see inside. The walls were white. My desk was white. Oh my God! I wear a white robe.
Rudy was next to me. I could tell he wanted away from that place as much as I did by his rapid shifting from one foot to the other.
Ethan and Stacy pressed their faces against one window, their hands cupped around their eyes, not moving. Then Ethan quietly crab-walked his way to the front door and grasped the doorknob.
My heart wasn’t pumping blood anymore. It was pumping pure adrenaline, and it was all I could do not to bolt across the street, down the luminary path and into my house. Rudy took my hand, and crunched my knuckles, but I didn’t have the air in my lungs to tell him to ease off.
When Ethan twisted the doorknob the old metal lock ground inside the jamb, but the door didn’t open.
I exhaled, and my breath steamed into the chilled night air.
Stacy came down to be with Rudy and me, but Ethan hopped off the end of the porch where the railing was missing and signaled us to follow him to the back.
I couldn’t believe I was obeying, but on frozen sandaled toes, sandwiched between Lily Munster and a terrified vampire, I was doing just that.
As we came to the back of the house, Ethan was already at the door, trying to open it. It didn’t budge, so again he pressed his face to a window to look inside.
“What’s in there?” Stacy whispered.
He looked back at us, over his shoulder, then stepped to the side. “You gotta see this for yourselves.”
Crystal: Where did you come up with the idea for your current release?
C. Lee: This story came from three separate and totally unrelated notes in my notebook.
One note was about the designer, Balenziaga. I wrote: “Why do [his models] all look dead?
The next note was about a vacant house I stumbled on in one of my walks. I wrote: “What would it be like having to be locked up inside that place?”
The last note came after a tragic accident when a child was killed. “How do you put your life together after such a terrible thing happens to you?”
At some point those came together to make Sudden Secrets.
Crystal: What are you currently working on?
C. Lee: I just started a new YA. I’m kind of stuck with this one because it tends to go dark on me every time I work on it. I want it dark, but I want it to offer more, so I’m struggling that. I’m thinking of calling it Senseless.
Crystal: Do you have any special routine that you follow when you are writing?
C. Lee: Not really. I have routine in all other aspects of my life (I’m on the verge of OCD, remember), but not this one. The closest I can come to a routine is that I write mostly in the early morning. If a story’s really working, I’ll start at 3 to 4AM, take a break, return to the work in the afternoon to read what I wrote in the morning.
Crystal: Did you have to do a lot of research for this book or any other? If so do you have a fascinating fact that you have learned you would like to share with us?
C. Lee: I did some research about the 60’s for Sudden Secrets. It was fun to go back and look at the hairstyles and clothes, especially the haute couture. And I found out why Balenziaga’s models all looked dead. He didn’t allow them to smile or show any expression. He said that would distract from his designs!
The second wave of feminism was a big news item of that era, too with books like Feminine Mystique (1963) and the Single Girl (1962). I checked these out at the library. Interesting.
Crystal: Who are some of your favorite authors that you like to read?
C. Lee: I’m a big fan of S. E. Hinton. Dated as some of her books are, they’re still great at capturing the angst of the teen. For pleasure, I love reading anything by Margaret Atwood and Barbara Kingsolver. There are others, but then you don’t need my whole list.
Crystal: Is there any genre you haven't written that you would like to try?
C. Lee: I think I’d like to go for historical fiction. But that scares me because, while I love to read it, I’m not confident about writing it. I know it would require a lot of research, but I love research. And there’s the problem. I’m afraid I’d get lost in reading “about” a period and never get down to writing the story. Still it’s in the back of my mind.
Thanks for asking these questions. I enjoyed answering them.
Cleo has struggled to heal after her baby sister’s death, but the flashbacks to the accident won’t go away. With the move, she vows to keep her tragedy a secret and avoid pitying looks.
Something’s strange about the abandoned house across the street—flashes of light late at night and small flickers of movement that only someone looking for them would see.
Everyone says the house is deserted, but Cleo is sure it isn’t, and she’s sure whoever is inside is watching her.
In one night, Belleza’s life changes forever. So famous, her only choice is to hide her secret from the world so she can silence small town bigotry.
Then Cleo happens.
YA Romantic Suspense, 62k words
Released Dec. 19, Evernight Teen
Buy Links: Evernight Teen Amazon Buy in Print
It had been a terrible and very long journey from that tragic Christmas to now, and I couldn’t think about losing another one of us. We’d each done all we could to live without Aziza.
Dad went as far away as possible from where the accident happened. Mom sold our house and moved us to a new town. Still, we weren’t over that December day.
Mom buried herself in her work for long hours.
Grandpa pulled into himself, wearing that glazed look he’d adopted before the funeral.
I was almost sure he’d wear that look for the rest of his life. He loved Aziza. And what wasn’t there to love? Beautiful golden girl, my mom called her, forever poking her four-year-old nose around the corner daring any of us to chase her. Teasing, begging for attention, which we gave because we couldn’t resist her…
Grandpa loved my sister a lot. I was afraid he loved me very little now.
I wasn’t so fond of myself, either. I shut out all of my Buena Vista friends and started running alone.
From the window over the kitchen sink I watched Nefertiti as she sat on the step, preening in a sunny spot around the back of the house. I went out to sit with her, stroking her fur and surveying the weedy backyard that Mom hadn’t had time to think about. She kept saying she planned to hire a gardener, but there was always something that derailed that plan. In September, it was the new show at the museum that she had to set up by October. She was in charge of staging the Egyptian pieces coming on loan, but she was shorthanded and putting in extra time to make up for only having two assistants. It was going to be a while before the toilet and other debris disappeared.
It was all too depressing to look at, so I walked around to the front and for a minute glanced at the windows of the house across the street. I almost expected to see someone staring out at me. I couldn’t shake the creeped out feeling I got every time I looked at that place.
I knelt to check my laces, and then I was racing down the street, hoping to shed old fears, old thoughts . . . at least for a while. I was at the end of the block, deciding which way to turn, when I spotted Grandpa. I went in the opposite direction, so neither one of us had to pretend that everything was all right since that letter from Dad.
The high school was only four blocks away––one of the reasons, Mom said, she chose this location. It also had one of the best academic ratings in the valley. Another reason she told me she zeroed in on our cozy cul-de-sac.
When I reached the school, I stared up at the two-storied building where I’d spend my last two years of high school. Then what? Junior college, or a job at K-Mart? I worried that I’d bomb on my SAT’s. I’d bombed on almost everything, hadn’t I? My grades, my friends––being a sister.
I walked up the stone path, leading to the main doors, imagining that first day here, my stomach balling up with worry just on the edge of dread. That first day was going to be the worst.
Off to my right, a thick oak sheltered tables with benches, so I jogged across the lawn and sat on the wooden slats and thought about how it was going to be when school started. Everything new. Everything different. The stares all newbies get. Nobody would know who I was or why I was here. They wouldn’t know my mom was famous for her books on Egypt, or that my dad was an archeologist—the one people called when they dug up important ancientanything in the Middle East. But they’d know something was different about me the minute they heard my name. Cleopatra wasn’t on any baby name list they’d ever read. Neither was Aziza, but she was too little for her name to embarrass her. She’d only just learned what it meant. Precious. And she was that. She was.
A breeze brushed my cheek and I shivered. I thought I’d gotten over feeling that chill, but the healing process wasn’t just slow, it was uneven, too. Sometimes Aziza was only a whisper inside me, and then her image would spring from around the corner just like she used to, full of mischief and giggles. Then there would be that moment when the memory of the chilled air of our old entryway blasted across my face.
I jumped to my feet and jogged to the track behind the high school as fast as I could. I didn’t have a devil at my back, but I had a tiny ghost that shadowed me when I stayed still for very long.
About the Author:
C. Lee McKenzie is a native Californian who grew up in a lot of different places; then landed in the Santa Cruz Mountains where she lives with her family and miscellaneous pets—usually strays that find her rather than the other way around. She writes most of the time, gardens and hikes and does yoga a lot, and then travels whenever she can. Her favorite destinations are Turkey and Nicaragua, but because she had family in England, Switzerland, and Spain she goes there when she can.
She takes on modern issues that today's teens face in their daily lives. Her first young adult novel, Sliding on the Edge, which dealt with cutting and suicide was published in 2009. Her second, titled The Princess of Las Pulgas, dealing with a family who loses everything and must rebuild their lives came out in 2010. She just published her first middle grade novel titled Alligators Overhead.
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