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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | Crouching Cats and Sudden Secrets

Crouching Cats and Sudden Secrets

Lee20_250Today I have a guest post from C. Lee McKenzie discussing the inspiration behind her new book, Sudden Secrets, published by Evernight Teen.


Every book I write surprises me. They’re like cats behind the couch. I can feel them wriggling their backsides getting ready to pounce, keeping me on alert, but waiting until my guard’s down before they leap out with a loud “Surprise!”

With Sudden Secrets those cats played their game forever. In fact, I had to go back and reconstruct when I began to think about this story. My first note was in March of 2011. I was at the de Young Museum in San Francisco where they had a special exhibit of Balenciaga, the master of haute couture for decades, including the 50’s and 60’s.

 In the exhibit they played a video of a ’60’s fashion show in New York. After seeing it, here’s what I wrote, and I don’t even remember writing it. “Why do they [the models] all look dead?”

 Later I found out why.  Balenciaga told them to. He didn’t want any smiles or expressions to compete with his design perfection.

I tucked that bit away, and as I said, forgot about it.

suddensecretsSometime in 2013 an old Victorian about to be torn down caught my attention. I slipped under the yellow tape and crept up to the house to look in one of the broken windows. This was a perfect place for a ghost to hide. I thought about that, then decided it might be more interesting to have someone who was alive living there—someone who never came out.

 “Why would someone lock themselves away?” That was a second note, but it was unrelated to that first one.

So I had these totally unrelated notes in different notebooks when I read about a tragic accident. A small child had been hit by a car and killed. I can think of nothing worse than that, and it stuck in my mind. So sad for the loss of that child’s life. So sad for the family. And then there was the person who was driving the car when the child darted out into the street. What of him?

My third note later formed one key theme in Sudden Secrets: “How does someone continue to live an ordinary life after accidentally killing a child? What does the family do to recover from their loss?”

Somehow those three notes knitted together and when the cats yelled, “Surprise!” the story about Cleo Brown and Belleza began.


Sounds fascinating! I’m not sure I agree that directing your models to be so expressionless they look like corpses will actually accentuate the perfection of your design, but then what do I know about haute  couture? I’m fascinated to see how this ties in with the other elements of the story! Thanks, Lee, for being here today.

You can find Lee at the links below — and Sudden Secrets at the following locations:

Twitter: @cleemckenzie

45 Responses to Crouching Cats and Sudden Secrets

  1. Congrats on your new book, Lee! So interesting how those random different things sparked the idea for your book. I think that’s one of the fun things about being a writer-getting ideas from random things in our life.

  2. Congrats on your new book, Lee! Awesome how these random things you wondered about inspired your book.

  3. Proof that you have to be aware of the world around you as ideas are everywhere. Congratulations, Lee.

  4. ChemistKen says:

    It’s amazing how ideas come together to form a book. Everybody’s method is so unique.

  5. Tiana Smith says:

    Sounds intriguing! And slightly sad 🙁

  6. Loved reading how the bits and pieces of your story came together and pounced on you like a cat. (great image!)
    That sounds similar to how my stories come together – from all over the place and all at once, with lots of questions in the middle.
    And the modeling thing? Well, my kids went to classes for that, and most models are expected to put on an act and do one of four main expressions: wooden/dead, smirk, smoulder, or smile. The younger kids are just expected to smile, thankfully. And my girls are too short to do runway . . . which doesn’t make me sad.

  7. I love it! Surprises are the best…the good kind anyway. Huge congrats, Lee!

  8. Hi Crystal. Appreciate your stopping by to say hello.

  9. C. Lee keeps pumping these books out. Incredibly awesome! 🙂

  10. Sheri Larsen says:

    The cat analogy is spot on, CLee! (Even though I’m new to cats and we’ve only had our two kitties just over a year, I totally get it.)

    I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – so happy for you about this book. I simply adore the premise.

  11. Mary Pax says:

    My cat just surprised me by jumping out from under my desk. So I accidentally kicked her and now she’s miffed. I have sucking up to do…

    Anyway, I love when different ideas laces themeselves together like this. I need to read your amazing story, Lee.

    Happy New Year, Diane.

    • Oh, yes. Go find that kitty and sooth the ruffled fur. She’ll find ways of paying you back otherwise.

      If you do read Sudden Secrets, hope you like it. There’s nothing outter spacey about it, but I’m working on a sci-fi sorta story for kids. Maybe I’ll join in your fun and write some space travel tales one day.

  12. Cynthia says:

    Congratulations, C. Lee, on your new book. It’s always insightful to see the various places where artists can draw their inspiration from.

  13. Hi, Lee, Hi, Dianne,

    I really enjoyed the recap, Lee. Amazing how much thought goes into the process with writing certain stories. It always intrigues me on what stimulates a story in a writer’s mind.

    ALL the best with your newest book!

  14. J.Q. Rose says:

    I can totally picture that surprise when the cat hops out from behind the couch. I miss having a cat, but easier since we are on the go all the time now. It was fun learning the story behind your story. And what a story it is! Great premise. Best wishes.

  15. That was totally interesting how you story was sparked by separate things that you jotted down.

  16. Angela Brown says:

    Sometimes, the story behind the story can add so much extra intrigue to a novel. My interest was already piqued, be even more so now.

    Congrats on the release, C. Lee and wishing it great success.

  17. Hilary says:

    Hi Lee – the fun thing about ideas is how they so often cross-refer and those threads that really are ancient cobwebs materialise into life again .. I only blog – but I find it so ..

    The stories you’re writing will give us much creative thought too .. good luck and loved the post with Dianne .. cheers Hilary

  18. Great guest post. C. Lee, CONGRATS on your new book release!

  19. I definitely hear you on this one. Some of the best story ideas I’ve had came from combining a few random thoughts or plot bits that seemed completely unrelated. ^_^ Good to see I’m not the only one who does this, and glad it worked out so well for you.

  20. As I type this, one of my cats is lounging between me and the computer monitor, and the other is sprawled across my lap. Now, if only I could teach them to write…

    This sounds like a terrific book, and as so many others have said, it’s fascinating to hear how your different thought stimuli came together to form a cohesive project. Good luck with it, Lee! I hope it’s a big success.

    Happy weekend, y’all.

  21. I love the way the story evolved, layering on different ideas. Congratulations on the new release, Lee.

  22. Robin says:

    I’m so behind. I really need to check in with Lee. This is the first I’ve read about this book, and it sounds wonderful!!!!

  23. Lexa Cain says:

    That’s the most fascinating story behind a book I ever heard. So sad and powerful. Wishing Lee huge success!

  24. Steven Symes says:

    Interesting how some stories take a long time to flesh out in your mind. From my experience they are much more layered and complex that way, which makes them much more enjoyable to read.