Sweet Sixteener Jessica Cluess recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener Mackenzi Lee about her YA fantasy debut novel, THIS MONSTROUS THING (September 22, 2015 from Katherine Tegen Books/Harper Collins).
Mackenzi Lee holds a BA in history and an MFA from Simmons College in writing for children and young adults. She loves Diet Coke, sweater weather, and Star Wars. On a perfect day, she can be found enjoying all three. She currently lives in Boston, where she works as a bookseller and almost never reanimates corpses. Almost.
In 1818 Geneva, men built with clockwork parts live hidden away from society, cared for only by illegal mechanics called Shadow Boys. Two years ago, Shadow Boy Alasdair Finch’s life shattered to bits. His brother, Oliver—dead. His sweetheart, Mary—gone. His chance to break free of Geneva—lost. Heart-broken and desperate, Alasdair does the unthinkable: He brings Oliver back from the dead. But putting back together a broken life is more difficult than mending bones and adding clockwork pieces. Oliver returns more monster than man, and Alasdair’s horror further damages the already troubled relationship. Then comes the publication of Frankenstein and the city intensifies its search for Shadow Boys, aiming to discover the real life doctor and his monster. Alasdair finds refuge with his idol, the brilliant Dr. Geisler, who may offer him a way to escape the dangerous present and his guilt-ridden past, but at a horrible price only Oliver can pay…
Jessica: The idea of a steampunk Frankenstein retelling with two brothers is INCREDIBLE. What inspired this idea?
Mackenzi: My books never have a single “aha!” inception moment, so THIS MONSTROUS THING was the product of a lot of things fusing together in my brain like hot metal. It was inspired partly by my first exposure to FRANKENSTEIN as a stage production at the National Theater; partly from hearing FRANKENSTEIN misidentified as a steampunk novel; partly from a trip I took to Germany at Christmastime; and partly from an entire life of being the older sibling to a stoic, scientific little sister.
Jessica: I loved that the clockwork science seemed plausible, which is a difficult feat to pull off! What kind of research did you do, both scientifically and historically?
Mackenzi: I read a lot about clocks, that’s for sure, so I’m glad I fooled you into thinking it was plausible! I read very widely while researching this book, and on a lot of subjects—daily life in the early nineteenth century, the lives of the Romantics, the Year without Summer, Switzerland, steampunk, embalming, FRANKENSTEIN, Mary Shelley, clockwork, German food, to name just a few—though a lot of that research got twisted or disregarded entirely because of the alternate nature of my history. But research is basically my Christmas—you have to really love supplemental reading if you’re going to write historical fiction, and to me, it’s like a treasure hunt. Nothing makes me happier than digging up little details to season a book.
Jessica: Which of your characters do you most relate to?
Mackenzi: Definitely Oliver, the resident monster of THIS MONSTROUS THING. Oliver and I are both heart-driven people, a little bit contrary, and pretty reactionary. We’re also both the volatile older half of a sibling pair.
Jessica: Tell us about your journey to publication.
Mackenzi: I started writing seriously about five years ago, and last year, exactly two weeks before THIS MONSTROUS THING sold to HarperCollins, I graduated with an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Simmons College in Boston. About halfway through my MFA, I signed with my outstanding agent Rebecca Podos on another novel entirely, which was on submission for a while but never sold. But while on sub with that book, I wrote THIS MONSTROUS THING as part of my thesis. I had great support on it from my school, my professors, my peers, and several different literary organizations in the New England area, which was very encouraging. And when it went on sub, the process was much, much faster—within a month, we had an offer.
Lightning Round Questions:
Favorite Frankenstein adaptation?
Favorite writing snack?
Oreos and Diet Coke
Favorite writing music?
The Mountain Goats (the band, not the animal)
Hot or cold?
Cold. Sweater weather all the way.
Sweet or sour?
Would you rather be a logical scientist or a passionate monster?
About the Interviewer:
Her debut YA fantasy, A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING (Random House, Fall 2016) tells the story of a young girl who is selected as the first-ever female sorcerer, the Chosen One who must save the empire. But the glamour of her new life hides enemies who would love to know her dark secret—that she might not be the Chosen One after all.