C. Lee McKenzie
Contemporary Teen w/Romantic Elements
Sixteen-year-old Hutchinson McQueen is a big time loser. Trapped between an abusive mother and an absentee father, his one thought is escape, but everything he does to get away lands him in trouble.
Shackled by poor reading skills, he squeaks through classes with his talent for eavesdropping and memorizing what he hears. When he shoplifts and lands in juvenile detention, the court sentences him to a county youth program. There he meets the priest and Maggie, a retired teacher. They’re determined to set Hutch on a path leading away from trouble. Hutch is determined not to cooperate.
It isn’t until he’s facing serious charges that he confronts the truth—his own bad choices are trapping him. When he’s offered the freedom he craves, all he has to do is take it.
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Kranski’s office might as well be home. I spend more time with him than I do with Dee Dee, and for good reason: the principal’s friendlier than my mom.
I ease into the familiar hot seat across from him and face the shiny nameplate on his desk.
“See this?” he says, holding up the plate in front of my face. “It says, ‘Principal Noah Kranski.’ That means you’re supposed to follow my rules as long as you’re in this school.”
I roll my eyes.
“Dump the attitude, Hutch.”
He shakes his head and slams a thick file down in front of him. “This makes seven times this year you’ve cut Mr. Diakos’s class, and it’s only September.” He writes something at the bottom of a page. When he finishes, he looks up. “Did I miss any?”
“I’m not counting.” That ain’t true. I count every day I can escape that stupid class, just like I count every day I wake up in Larkston. But I’m not going to be trapped here much longer.
Kranski jabs his pen into a “World’s Best Dad” cup, and leans back with his hands behind his head. This is what he always does before he sentences me. “You get to think about changing your ways for the rest of the week. When you come back, you’re still responsible for all the class work and the tests, just like always.”
“Just like always.” I repeat the words so I got something to say that don’t sound like I’m a smart mouth. Last time I left saying, “Thanks,” and Kranski told me to cut the sarcasm. Who gives a rat’s ass about what Kranski says? I’m free, for four days.
I’m almost at the door when the secretary pops her head inside. “Sorry, Mr. Kranski, but there’s an emergency in the gym. They need you right away.”
He’s out before me, a gimpy old guy running on bad feet.
I plug into my iPod, pull up The Rockets’ newest hit, and strike out across campus. Blaze’ll be at the Smoking Tree. I follow the hard-packed foot trail that leads from the back of the school, around the curve of the hillside and up the slope. The tree’s just far enough away to keep under Kranski’s radar, yet near enough to drop in for a few tokes when I need them to get through Deek the Greek’s English class, or face going back to Palm Street and Dee Dee.
Blaze is there, talking on his cell and dealing with some kid with slicked-back hair. Blaze jerks around, pockets the phone, and then relaxes when he sees me. “Yo, thought you was the cops for a minute. You get suspended again?”
“Rest of the week.” I take my ear bud out, drop my backpack and plop onto the shady ground. “I need a joint.”
“Where’d you get that?” He points to my iPod.
“Can’t remember. It sort of appeared.”
“Right.” He smirks and tosses me a joint along with a lighter.
The kid with the greased hair ducks under a limb, and walks in the direction of the school. “Hope you got cash, man. I’m outta credit here,” Blaze says.
I dig into my pocket and pull out a ten.
He laughs. “With what you already owe me, for that ten,” he coughs, “you get a few”––another cough––“hits, man.” He holds out a roach clip with a smoking joint. “Give me that one back.”
I hand him the joint, settle against the tree trunk and roll my lips over the small brown tube. Closing my eyes, I suck the warm fog into my lungs and hold my breath. The weed winds its way through my blood and into my brain. Kranski turns into a cartoon of a cup with World’s Best Dad wrapped around his middle. Dee Dee stretches into a giant beer bottle and rolls across the kitchen linoleum. The sky turns soft and blue, with the Smoking Tree splashing crazy shapes over my jeans.
“So, how are you breaking the news to Dee Dee this time?” Blaze reaches out and grabs his joint. “She said she was bouncing your butt the next time Kranski suspended you.”
My mom don’t care what I do, but Kranski makes her life hell when he calls her in to see him. These trips to his office take away from her social life and shake her out of bed before noon. I laugh. “Guess I’ll have to move in with you, dude.”
“Anytime. I told you, man.” Blaze inhales, coughs, and then inhales again to replace the gray smoke he’s wasted in the air.
I plug back into some tunes and hang with Blaze under the Smoking Tree through three more sales. He rewards me with a few hits for acting as lookout, something I can do while I get a story together for why I’m bounced for four days. The weed and the Rockets take the edge off what’s going down later. I’m in for ‘Destruction by Dee Dee’ no matter what I say. I roll over on my right side and trace the white line from my wrist to my elbow—one of her nicer moves with a broken glass.
Stretching out on the lawn, I stare up through the tree branches. How’d it be to fly straight into those clouds, poke my head inside and stay until I wind up on the other side of the world? Goodbye, Larkston. Goodbye, Dee Dee.
I must doze off because when I open my eyes the shadows from the tree have shifted from my right side to my left. I squint at my watch. It’s after three. My ride! Hope Eddie didn’t take off without me. I hate that walk, halfway across town to Palm Street. I grab my books. “I’m out of here.”
Welcome Lee! Please start off by telling us a little about yourself.
I’m a native Californian who grew up in a lot of different places; then landed in the Santa Cruz Mountains where I live with my family and miscellaneous pets—usually strays that find me rather than the other way around. I write most of the time, garden and hike and do yoga a lot.
I taught at San Jose State University and my field was Linguistics and Inter-cultural Communication which carried me to a lot of places in the world to explore different cultures and languages. I’m proud to say I know how to ask, “Where’s the toilet?” and scream “I’m lost!” in at least five languages and two dialects.
Is Double Negative a single title, or part of a series?
I don’t write series as a rule. I made an exception for my middle grade story, Alligators Overhead, but that’s the only one. There are a couple of YA characters I still hold close to my heart, and I’ve considered expanding their fictional lives, but I haven’t don’t it yet.
What were your inspirations for the story?
I have two answers.
A couple of things started me thinking about this story. I was reading about illiteracy, and I suddenly asked myself the question, “What if I couldn’t read?” The answer made me ill. I couldn’t imagine a world without access to all the books I love, let alone not being able to follow simple written directions. Then one day a friend asked me what I loved to do most when I had down time. My answer—next to hiking— was I love to read. And that did it. I knew I’d write about someone who struggled to read.
Please share your setting for Double Negative. Have you ever lived or visited there? If so, what did you like most?
Larkston is purely fiction. I just used what I knew would be a relatively small town with different socio-economic districts, a downtown with a single movie theater and a cafe that still had vinyl covered booths and regulars. I knew Larkston High enrolled about 1,700 students and had a diverse population. I do like this kind of town. Small. Near a larger city. Something of a dark underbelly, but basically filled with good people, people trying to make a go of it.
When did the writing bug first bite?
I think I was ten, and I wrote some spectacularly awful poems. My mother kept them. Now I pull them out to see if I’ve improved over the years. Sometimes I think yes. Sometimes I’m not as confident.
Who are you favorite authors, book/series?
S.E. Hinton is among my top favorites. I love her stories. I’m a Margaret Atwood and Barbara Kingsolver fan. Their prose is star-studded. There are others, but then I seem to love a lot of authors.
If you could have an author roundtable discussion with any authors, who would you invite?
Definitely, S. E. Hinton. Then Atwood and Kingsolver would have to be there. I’d toss in Stephen King because he’s stir the conversational pot. If Hemingway or Steinbeck would come, they’d be welcome, too. Oh, and Bradbury. I’ve always loved how his mind crafted stories.
Do you have any hobbies or special things you like to do in your spare time?
I’m a hiking nut. I love to do that whenever I can, but it’s hard to plan long hikes anymore with the book business. I need to take a break and go on a long hike soon.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve heard or seen?
I guess that would have to be the Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco. If you haven’t seen one of those, you haven’t seen strange. Great place for authors to lurk. There are hundreds of characters and stories just there for the taking.
Thanks so much, Harlie, for asking such interesting questions. I really appreciate it when interviewers make me dig a bit.
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. She writes most of the time, gardens and hikes and does yoga a lot, and then travels whenever 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. Her short story,Premeditated Cat, appears in the anthology, The First Time, and her Into the Sea of Dew is part of a collection, Two and Twenty Dark Tales. In 2012, her first middle grade novel, Alligators Overhead, came out.Double Negative is her third young adult novel.
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