by C. Lee McKenzie
Published by: Evernight Teen
Publication date: July 25th 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
“My life was going, going, gone, and I hadn’t been laid yet. I couldn’t go into the slammer before that happened.” Hutch McQueen.
Sixteen-year-old Hutchinson McQueen is trapped between an abusive mother and an absentee father. Shackled by poor vision and poor reading skills, he squeaks through classes with his talent for eavesdropping and memorizing what he hears. After another suspension from school and suffering through one of his mother’s violent attacks, he escapes to a friend’s house that turns out to be a meth lab. The lab is raided and Hutch lands in juvenile detention. When the court sentences him to six months in a new juvenile program, he meets a teacher with Alzheimer’s who will change his life and hers.
In my other life--the one before I began writing for teens and younger readers--I was a teacher and administrator at California State University, San Jose. My field of Linguistics and Inter-cultural Communication has carried me to a lot of places in the world to explore different cultures and languages. I can say, “Where’s the toilet?” and “I’m lost!” in at least five languages and two dialects. Go ahead. Pat me on the back.
My idea of a perfect day is one or all of the following: starting a new novel, finishing writing a blockbuster novel, hiking on a misty morning trail in the Santa Cruz Mountains, saying Namaste after a great yoga practice, sipping a cappuccino topped at a bustling café, reading in front of a fire with snow outside, swimming in an ocean someplace.
I've just set out my perfect life. Day after day after day.
The Story I Want to Write. . .
but can’t seem to.
Why? I can write young adult that is realistic, contemporary and middle grade fantasy-adventure. I can even write stories for beginning readers. I’ve written and published non-fiction, so what’s stopping me from writing one story I really want to see come to the page?
I wish I knew, but I’ve thought long and hard about that question. You see the story is really my dad’s. It’s the one about his life as a boy who grew up in hardship and cruelty. It tells about his struggle to leave behind a terrible boyhood and make a good life for himself. It tells about his years at the university on a scholarship, his marriage, his war years.
Maybe that’s the reason I can’t finish it. Maybe I feel he should have written it, then it would be right.
When he was alive, I worried what he’d say if he read how I set down the events I’d heard about as a young girl. I imagined him being disappointed that I hadn’t really captured his stories as they happened or perhaps that I’d put them in the wrong order.
Since he’s gone, I hesitate to put the words onto the page because I think, well, he’s not here to correct me. I’m writing his life through my filter, and it could be all wrong.
I’ve obviously gone around and around on this issue, and I think I’ve finally decided that I will write it more as a biography, rather than a fictionalize account of his life. I have no plans for publishing it, but I think it will be a good record to leave for his grandchildren and future generations. Sort of the dash, fully fleshed out with the stories he told me over the years we shared.
Now my job is to learn a bit about writing biographies because, while I enjoy reading them, I know little about how to make them interesting enough to read.