Mackenzi Lee writes historical fiction novels that focus on characters that are regularly underrepresented in that genre. She has a B.A. in history and uses that knowledge to create exciting and intriguing YA novels. She is also a nonfiction writer and is currently creating for Marvel.
We were thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with Mackenzi Lee ourselves! We learned all about her love for dogs, how her life changed (or didn’t change) when she became a New York Times Bestseller, and her lack of a writing process. Read all about it here:
Q&A with Mackenzi Lee
Tell us a bit about yourself! What do you do?
I’m an author, bookseller, and professional dress wearer and big dog haver. I write historical fiction and nonfiction featuring familiar tropes but helmed by characters you may not typically find in historical narratives.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is one of your most popular novels. What is it about and why were you inspired to write it?
It was a combination of learning about the concept of the Grand Tour, my love of tropey adventure novels, and my frustration with the fact that both western historical narratives and said tropey adventure stories were mostly populated by straight white cis people because of “historical accuracy,” even though so many true stories I found in my research as a history student contradicted this. So, I decided to write the exact kind of book I’d want to read, but with characters that are usually left out of historical fiction narratives.
The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy was released shortly after. Can you tell us a bit about that novel?
Lady’s Guide is a companion novel to Gentleman’s Guide. It’s set a year and a half after Gentleman’s Guide and narrated by Felicity, the little sister of Monty (the narrator of Gentleman’s’ Guide). Felicity is a supporting character in the first book, but she takes the reins in the second, and joins up with a gang of intrepid girls from across Europe to undertake a journey of science and piracy.
Do you have any other novels?
I only have one other novel, This Monstrous Thing, which is a steampunk reimagining of Frankenstein set in a hyper-industrialized 1818 Switzerland. My other book is a nonfiction book called Bygone Badass Broads, which is a collection of short essays about amazing women in history you probably don’t know about but definitely should.
What sort of plans do you have for future projects right now?
I’m writing a series for Marvel right now about the origin stories of anti-heroes in the Marvel universe. I also have a nonfiction book coming out this fall called The History of the World in 50 Dogs, which is exactly what it sounds like, and another novel coming in 2020 called Semper Augustus, which is about first love and identity during the Dutch tulipmania in 1637.
What was it like when you first became a New York Times Bestseller?
It was weird how little my life changed. I still woke up with a zit the next morning, when I was very much under the impression that once I became a New York Times bestseller, I would have clear skin and perfect hair forever. But it’s certainly a cool thing to put on my resume.
You have a BA in history. How does your knowledge of history help in your writing?
All of my writing has been informed by history, and the skills I developed as both a researcher and a writer in my undergrad have been invaluable. Working on my history degree is also where I started thinking about writing fiction. One of my professors told me my papers read more like novels than academic work, which changed my career trajectory.
Can you tell us a bit about your writing process and how you create your novels?
Honestly, I really don’t have a writing process. It’s different for every novel, and every time I start a new novel, it’s always so hard and feels so daunting and impossible I become convinced I’ve never done this before.
What has been the biggest struggle for you as a writer?
Having confidence in myself as both a writer and a human being. I constantly struggle with imposter syndrome and feeling like everyone else deserves their success except me. I also struggle with learning how to let the negative comments go instead of internalizing them. I could win the Nobel Prize and yet I would still be haunted by that one person on Goodreads who didn’t like my book.
Is there a fun fact about yourself, unrelated to books and writing, that might surprise our readers if you were to share it with them?
My first job in high school was working as a blacksmith at a historical reenactment park. Though if you’ve read my books, that’s probably not that surprising.
What advice would you give to struggling writers out there who are trying to accomplish their dreams?
Persistence. The business side of writing has so little to do with talent and so much more to do with who doesn’t quit when it gets tough – and it will get tough. The rejection never ends.
What do you want readers to gain the most from your novels?
I hope that my readers – particularly my readers who don’t always feel like they have a place in history – know that people like them have not only always existed, but thrived and done incredible things and had lives that were beyond their marginalization.
Your career seems like it has only just begun! Where do you see yourself going from here?
I have no idea, honestly! But I definitely feel like I’m at the start. I want to write everything–screenplays, musicals, picture books, essays, adult fiction, graphic novels. I think writing, or at least storytelling, will always be involved in everything I do, but right now, the world is very vast and thrilling.
Do you have any final words of wisdom that you would like to share with our readers?
Buy my books in bulk.