Today we have a real treat on The Midnight Society: an interview with Mackenzi Lee, the author of the upcoming Frankenstein reimagining, THIS MONSTROUS THING. I actually decided to start calling this post series “Frankenlove”after talking with her on twitter. She’s fun, she’s knowledgeable, and she loves Frankenstein! So here we go…
Do you remember first falling in love with Frankenstein? What drew you to the story?
You never forget your first time, do you?
My first exposure to Frankenstein came in high school, when it was one of our optional summer reading books. Being the good student I am, I put off my summer reading until the last possible minute, then called my best friend and asked her which book I should read. “Don’t read Frankenstein,” she told me. “It was stupid and boring.” So I read King Lear instead, and carried around the misconception that Frankenstein was boring and stupid for many years. (It should be noted she and I are still best friends. I eventually forgave her for keeping me from Frankenstein for all these years.) Then I got the chance to see a stage adaptation of Frankenstein done by the National Theater in London, which I only went to because Benedict Cumberbatch was in it, but ended up being way more interested in Frankenstein than I was in Benedict Cumberbatch. The adaptation inspired me to pick up the novel and then I fell in love.
Right away, I was drawn to the novel’s central question of what makes us human–it’s the main theme that I carried over from Frankenstein into my reimagining of it–and whether any of us are born to be one thing or another. I also love that it reflects the time period in which it was written. You can clearly see Mary Shelley grappling with the enlightenment era anxieties of the changing world around her. The fantasy elements are equally as compelling as their historical roots.
I love that your twitter bio says to ask you about Mary Shelley. What are your favorite things about her?
First of all, Mary Shelley is freaking amazing. I just need to say that up front.
I think my favorite thing about Mary is that she wrote a book that changed literature when she was nineteen years old. As a writer primarily of books for teenagers, I’m always frustrated by our societal devaluation of young people and their ability to think deeply and evaluate the world around them. Mary disproves this. Not only did her small, brilliant novel kickstart the genre of science fiction, but the science fiction novel she wrote is a great example of a young woman looking critically at the world around her and trying to make sense of it in a thoughtful, articulate way that we so often tell teenagers they are not capable of.
I also love that she kept her husband’s calcified heart in a drawer after he died. So spooky.
What is/are your favorite retelling(s)?
There are so many good ones! If I had to pick a favorite, I’d choose Gris Grimly’s graphic novel version of Frankenstein. The art is so beautiful and matches the tone of the original novel so well, while also bring a new aesthetic to it. It’s a little spooky, a little Tim Burton, and a little steampunk. And Grimly only uses Mary Shelley’s original text in the book, which is so cool. It’s the version I point people toward when they sheepishly admit they couldn’t get through Frankenstein.
And then there’s my perennial favorite, Young Frankenstein. Nothing quite compares to its awesome.
There are never enough Frankenstein stories, so I’m of course stoked for your novel (out in September 2015!) THIS MONSTROUS THING. How does THIS MONSTROUS THING handle the Frankenstein tale?
THIS MONSTROUS THING came from wanting to write both a Frankenstein reimagining and an alternate history version of how the novel itself came to be written. So in the world of THIS MONSTROUS THING, Frankenstein exists. But it’s an alternate history, so there are also steampunk cyborgs and the creature in the novel is a cyborg-like man with augmented mechanical pieces that brought him back from the dead. I’ve been pitching the book as a steampunk-lite reimaginging of Frankenstein. Another element I added for my reimagining is that the Victor Frankenstein character and his creature are brothers. The only thing I love more than Frankenstein retellings are sibling stories so I’m so happy I got to do both!
What genre would you most like to see mashed up with Frankenstein? (steampunk, space opera, epic fantasy?)
I want to see a Wes Anderson’s Frankenstein. I’d go bananas for that.
About THIS MONSTROUS THING
In 1818 Geneva, men built with clockwork parts live hidden away from society, cared for only by illegal mechanics called Shadow Boys. Two years ago, Shadow Boy Alasdair Finch’s life shattered to bits.
His brother, Oliver—dead.
His sweetheart, Mary—gone.
His chance to break free of Geneva—lost.
Heart-broken and desperate, Alasdair does the unthinkable: He brings Oliver back from the dead.
But putting back together a broken life is more difficult than mending bones and adding clockwork pieces. Oliver returns more monster than man, and Alasdair’s horror further damages the already troubled relationship.
Then comes the publication of Frankenstein and the city intensifies its search for Shadow Boys, aiming to discover the real life doctor and his monster. Alasdair finds refuge with his idol, the brilliant Dr. Geisler, who may offer him a way to escape the dangerous present and his guilt-ridden past, but at a horrible price only Oliver can pay…
About Mackenzi Lee
Mackenzi Lee is a reader, writer, bookseller, unapologetic fangirl, and fast talker. She holds an MFA from Simmons College in writing for children and young adults, and her short fiction for children and teens has appeared in Inaccurate Realities, The Friend, and The Newport Review. Her young adult historical fantasy novel, THIS MONSTROUS THING, which won the PEN-New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award, as well as an Emerging Artist Grant from the St. Botolph Club Foundation, will be published September 22, 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. She loves Diet Coke, sweater weather, and Star Wars. On a perfect day, she can be found enjoying all three. She currently calls Boston home.
You can preorder THIS MONSTROUS THING at the following locations:
Porter Square Books (My place of employment and also the spot to get signed preorders):
Amazon (the most terrible terrible)
Wasn’t that great, guys? I’m sure we’ll be posting about this book again once it’s out, but you’ll want to be sure to check out the links above to keep up with what she’s up to.
She answered above, why don’t you tell me in the comments! What would you most like to see mashed up with a Frankenstein retelling?
‘Til next week,