Today it’s my privilege to welcome McKenzie McCann as my guest. McKenzie is not only a junior in high school, but a writer as well. She has been blogging since February of this year, and has also written her first novel. Welcome, McKenzie
Alice: You must have begun writing at a very early age, McKenzie. What is it about writing that makes/keeps you engaged?
McKenzie: Writing is more of a hobby than anything else. I got serious about writing poetry when I was eleven, but the idea of writing for publication didn’t come around until 8th grade. I’m something of a psychology nerd, and being able to create unique characters opens my perspective of how people work, what makes them the same, what makes them different
Alice: What trends or genres seem to be the most popular with teen audiences today?
McKenzie: Most kids in my class like palette cleanser books and fantasy. Very few read for the intent of finding themes or to learn anything. They just want a good story with a lot of sex. I don’t know much about the people who read fantasy, but I know Leviathan is very popular right now. Most of them don’t understand the point of reading classics like The Odyssey or Macbeth.
Alice: I’m unfamiliar with the term “palette cleanser books.” Could you explain exactly what they are?
McKenzie: Basically, a palette cleanser is a light read. You don’t have to worry about a happy ending and the content isn’t controversial or difficult. Night by Elie Wiesel is not a palette cleanser, but Anna And The French Kiss by Stephine Perkins would be.
Alice: In view of that explanation, do you think teens read fiction mainly for entertainment, rather than to see different ways of coping with modern conflicts and issues?
McKenzie: We’re in something The Maintainer (my best friend, her epithet makes more sense if you follow my blog) and I coined as ‘intellectual decay.’ Younger people are losing the ability to think deeply because school does not ask them to do so. We’re encouraged to only make observations, but analysis is becoming a dying art. If you think teens are consciously reading a book because they think it’s helping them in some way, you are very wrong. They may subconsciously like a book because it relates to them, but ask people why they like a book, and you’ll get a blank stare and a ‘because it’s good.’
Alice: Are teens, in your opinion, reading more, reading less, or reading differently than earlier generations?
McKenzie: I think about half of teens read for fun and the other half read because they are forced to. I’ve heard that the ebooks trend has resulted in more teens reading, but maybe ten of the two hundred kids in my school actually have ereaders. Most of the ones that do were already avid readers to begin with.
Alice: They say a good cover can sell a book. What kind of cover would be most likely to attract today’s teen?
McKenzie: I can’t speak for everyone, but personally, I like covers that pose a question. I do judge books by their covers. I think it’s a good indicator of how much thought went into the story. As odd as it may sound, I’ve noticed a lot of popular books don’t have an actual full face on them, such as Forever… by Judy Bloom, Such a Pretty Face by Cathy Lamb, Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner, or even the Twilight series. They may have half of the face, the back of the head, the face turned so we only see the cheek, but never a full face. Other body parts might be on the cover, such as legs, feet, or hands. I don’t know if this appeals to teens more or less, but that’s what’s being read.
Alice: What important thing should adult writers of YA fiction remember?
McKenzie: Teenagers are so loud. Actually, let me correct that. TEENAGERS ARE REALLY, REALLY LOUD. Every single day I come to school a group of people are often shouting about something. It’s as if they have no idea other people might be inconvenienced. I think that’s something adult authors should keep in mind, most teens act without a single thought of the future and without consideration for one another. And do it loudly and in the worst possible manner. In our high school lunch room, you often can’t hear the person sitting next to you, and there are only about twenty people in there on any given day.
Alice: You’ve recently signed a contract with Puddletown Publishing Group for your book Perfecting Perfection. Tell us a little about the process of submission and whether you were asked to do any revisions or edits before the final acceptance.
McKenzie: My mom and Renee, one of the founders, knew each other from going to Women in The Woods, which is basically like summer camp for adults. My mom heard from Renee that she was starting a publishing company, so I submitted. I got a reply right away and Renee said she liked it, but was going to hand it off to Lisa Nowak, who was in charge of the YA branch. It was the longest two weeks of my entire life. Mind you, my life hasn’t been very long, so two weeks was absolute agony. Lisa did like it and gave me some edits, asking to resubmit after the edits had been applied. I did all of that, got some beta readers, and sent it back. By then Lisa had quit, so Renee looked it over, gave it to someone they called a ‘marketing editor.’ In July, I learned the marketing editor liked it and I was offered a contract. I did not receive the contract until mid-October.
Alice: What inspired you to write this particular novel? And can you tell something about it?
McKenzie: Basically, I got the flu and wrote this to preoccupy my mind. One of my friends often says ‘my brain is smarter than me!’ and that’s how I feel about this book. I was delirious with a fever and the whole thing just spilled out. It started with Riley, my main character, and I just loved him so much, I had to make him into a story. I knew he was the lead singer of a successful band and the fame was tiring him out. That sounded really intriguing to me, and that was how I knew people would read it. I am a teenager, no matter how much I detest it, and it’s helpful for writing a marketable story. Perfecting Perfection is kind of like a high-minded YA romance novel. There is plenty of deeper meaning, but the story does not rely on it.
Alice: What are your plans after high school graduation?
McKenzie: College, naturally, I am dying to go to Reed in Portland, Oregon. I want to study either psychology or creative writing. It depends on what will happen with my novel in the next eighteen months. If I can make it as a full-time writer, I will. If not, well, I do love psychology, but it’s not my passion
Alice: You’ve grown up in the computer age, but do you ever have moments when you feel that technology is out pacing your learning curve? Too many gadgets, too many apps, and too many social networks?
McKenzie: I hate Facebook. I got one because on the way home from my first week of Outdoor School, all of the other counselors on the bus essentially yelled at me for not having one. I figured I had resisted long enough, and besides, I barely use it. Technology gives people an excuse not to talk to one another, and that’s just sad. What would life be without true human-to-human interaction?
Alice: Do you have a date for the publication of your book, Perfecting Perfection? And how can interested readers get in touch with you?
McKenzie: I pushed for a date, but Puddletown refused to add one to the contract. They said there were too many factors to even settle on a time frame. In July they said they were aiming for November/December, but I will be very impressed if it’s out by then. Readers can find me on my blog at The Ubiquitous Perspective and my email firstname.lastname@example.org.
McKenzie, thank you for your thoughtful responses and for a peek into the world of teenagers as seen by one of their own.