Back at the beginning of October, we were lucky enough to have Mackenzi Lee visit the store! She was an absolute delight! We chatted about history, how to get published, Frankenstein, and what she’d like to write in the Star Wars universe. We played Never-Have-I-Ever with audience-submitted topics. We laughed a lot.
We also followed up with her via email to grab some more specific answers to questions so that even if you missed the event, you can still have part of the full Mackenzi Lee experience!
1. Both Gentleman’sand Lady’s Guide are globe-trotting (or at least, European-continent-trotting) tales of adventure. Have you traveled anywhere that inspired or influenced Monty and Felicity’s adventures?
Yes! When I was first plotting Gentleman’s Guide, I picked their itinerary based on my favorite cities I visited during my gap year in Europe. I’ve been so lucky that I have the means and ability to travel, and I find so much inspiration in the places I go. I never leave a place without an idea for a story set there.
2. Both the Guides have drawn a lot of (positive, deserved) attention for their representation, particularly in the queer department. What drew you to writing about queer characters and issues? Was it an intentional decision, or did it happen more organically?
The driving philosophy of my writing is that history changes but people don’t. There are universalities of the human experience that stretch across centuries—like, for example, the desire to travel when you’re young to find yourself, which is embodied in The Grand Tour and in our modern gap years. Just like today, everywhere in history that we talk about white straight men doing things, women and queer people and people of color were doing the same things, we just don’t always tell those stories. I became very interested in queer history when I was in college both because I was figuring out my own sexuality and also because of how absent it had been from my general education. The fact that queer people existed before the Stonewall Riots was a revelation I had embarrassingly late in the game. When I set out to write the Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, my idea was to write an adventure novel—my favorite genre—but give the narrative tropes to characters who historically haven’t been part of those narratives.
3. You’ve done a lot of research for these books (the notes at the back of them are so fascinating!), and a lot of the history between the romance, magic, and shenanigans is true. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever found yourself researching? The strangest Wikipedia spiral you’ve fallen into?
Oh man, too many weird things to count. History is so weird. I think one of my favorite facts is that the pirate word “mate” comes from matelage, which was a form of pirate marriage at sea. It was a civil partnership that was often done to arrange for how plunder would be shared and divided, but some of these partnerships contained intimacy clauses, and many pirates treated these matelages like marriages. There were whole fleets where gay pirates were totally okay with everyone.
4. Are there any other periods of history you’d like to dive into and make a little more fantastical? What’s your favorite period of history, and what magical essence would love to inject into it?
Literally everything. Every new place or time I learn about, I want to write about. I’ve had a long fascination with Chicago at the turn of the century (specifically the World’s Fair in 1893, thanks to Devil in the White City). I don’t know what magic would end up there—I’d have to write it to see!
5. Is there anything you can tease about any upcoming projects?
I’m writing a series for Marvel right now, which I can’t talk much about yet, but they’re going to be awesome. I also have another historical fiction novel coming out next fall, set during the 1630s Dutch tulipomania, which is one of my favorite periods of history.
6. What author, dead or a live, would you most like to have dinner with and why?
Mary Shelley. She wrote Frankenstein when she was a 19 year old unmarried mother who was a tabloid obsession and had been ostracized by her family. She’s such a metal badass, I’m obsessed with both her writing and her strength of character.
7. What is your quirkiest writing habit?
I can’t edit in my master document—I have to copy and paste whatever I’m editing into another document, edit it there, then put it back in the master doc when it’s cleaned up. Which means I end up with way too many little documents for every book.
Thank you so, so much, Mackenzi! We can’t help but fall a little in love with history the way you write it, and your love for it really comes across in everything you write. We’re glad you get to do what you love and share that passion with us!
You can grab any or all of Mackenzi’s books online here, or call the store to reserve one (we still have signed copies on hand)!