Double Negative 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.
Sometimes when I have to cut scenes, it’s like chopping a piece of myself out, but when I go back and read how I’ve incorporated the same information, but differently, I’m always pleased. The decision to take out something is hard, but I’ve learned to let my instincts lead the way.
Here’s a scene between Father Tim Kerry and his friend, Mac, the sheriff. Father Kerry’s trying to keep Hutch, the kid he believes is worth saving, from going to jail. The only way to do that is to convince Mac to put the boy back into the special Intervention Program. Father Kerry’s in the sheriff’s office. He and the sheriff, Mac, are good friends. Father Kerry speaks first.
“I want Hutch back.”
Mac shook his head and took off his glasses. “You’re are one pushy—”
“Remember you’re talking to a priest, Mac.”
“Sure you can. You the boss, remember?”
Mac leaned back in his chair, making the springs complain under him. “What I got from the police report is there’s nobody to take responsibility for him if I let him out.” Mac set his glasses back on the end of his nose and peered over the top.
“Damn it, Tim.” Mac slammed his hands on his desk and pushed himself up. He paced to the window and back. On his third turn he stopped and stood looking down at the priest. “Give me one good reason this kid gets another chance when the others didn’t.”
Father Kerry stood to look Mac in the eye. “Because if someone hadn’t given me that last chance I’d be up at Attica.”
Mac returned to the window as if there was an answer outside waiting for him. When he turned back to face the priest, he said, “Once more. That’s it. If he doesn’t stay clean this time, I won’t do anything to help him. Are we clear?”
In the final version, this scene never happened, but when Hutch is in the courtroom, I knew it had taken place, and I wrote the new scene with the old one in mind. All the reader knows is somehow Hutch is given this second chance, and that’s all that Hutch knows, too. I’m the only one who knows how it happened, at least until later. That’s one of the privileges of being the writer.
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.