Precious McKenzie... Her name is perfectly illustrated by her personality. She writes wonderful stories for children and nonfiction. She is Board of Directors Vice President in This House of Books and Assistant Professor of English at Rocky Mountain College. She teaches freshman writing, literature and the environment, British romantic literature and travel writing. She wrote a dissertation about Victorian women who went overseas and broke barriers. She is really amazing. JBN: When you first started to write? Precious McKenzie: I was probably 5 or 6 years old sitting at home with my mom. She would give me notepads and paper and I would just write stories. And sometimes I would draw animals to go with the stories or my mom would draw characters to go with my stories. I have always been writing something. When I got into high school I gravitated towards the English and literature and humanities classes. Poetry writing and newspaper clubs and things like that as a student. I’ve just always been reading and writing; It’s in my DNA. JBN: So your parents opened a door in books and writing world for you? Precious McKenzie: Absolutely, yes. They always stressed how important education is. That was one of their values. We always had a library card so we could always go to the library. I remember riding my bike to the library and filling my baskets full with every book that they would let me take out of the library and pedaling home and just devouring those books. For a kid I think it was pretty ideal childhood, thanks to a great public library. JBN: What books were your favorite back at school time? Precious McKenzie: So many. When I was very small, in elementary school, probably the Berenstain Bears. I loved those stories with brother and sister bear getting into trouble. I loved the Black Stallion series, Beverly Cleary and her Ramona series. Fun. Misty, Marguerite Henry’s series. Classic kids stories about families and animals. Looking back, I realize that those stories were about compassion and empathy for people and animals. I think they influenced me more than I realized. And then when I got into high school I was still reading everything, Especially if a book was considered banned. I would read it. So I was reading the classics and I was reading anything that was coming out. I went through a Stephen King phase where I read everything he wrote and loved it. At the same time, I was reading Shakespeare, Macbeth and Hamlet in school. Thomas Hardy. Just a wide variety and I would not get stuck into one type of book. JBN: Tell us please about your first publication? Precious McKenzie: My first publication was a book on manatees. And that was for the children's library market. That was back in 2009, I believe. And that book was nonfiction and it was meant to educate students about manatees and their life and their habitat. From there, I just kept writing for the science market. JBN: Are you writing mostly for kids? Precious McKenzie: Mostly, yes, for kids. And I’ve started to branch out into more fiction for kids. At first, I did just nonfiction. So a lot of social studies and science topics. Animals, environment, habitats those types of books. And then I started to write middle-grade nonfiction and fiction for young readers. JBN: I heard that to write for kids is much difficult than to write for adults. What is your secret? Precious McKenzie: I don't know. I think the key is to say what you need to say and say it in a fun way and be done with it. Where a novelist may have 200,000 words, I might have only 100 words that I can use to tell a story. So every word has to count. It's a lot like poetry in that sense. Every word in a poem has to count and every word in a children's book has to count too. Then you think about the reading level for the group that you want to target the story to. Would the kids at that level understand that particular word? Would they need some support in the sentence to sound the word out or understand it? You have to think about how an emergent reader would process that material in his or her hands. Is it appropriate for that age level or not? The publishing companies that I've worked for have reading level experts and they will go through each book and assign a reading level for it. I try my best to get it in that target range. If it's not, they let me know and I revise it. JBN: Do you write every day? Precious McKenzie: It kind of depends on the time of year. I wish I had time to sit and write every day. I don't because I work full time and I have three kids. I teach at Rocky Mountain College so that schedule gives me some flexibility to write. I can write in the evenings after work or on the weekends. I really get most of my writing work done during our breaks - like winter break. I can research and write during the summer break. So that's very helpful. Without those breaks, I could not get nearly as much done. JBN: What is your favorite topic to teach your students? Precious McKenzie: Which one to pick? I think I like teaching Rachel Carson's Silent Spring because it’s one of those books that really wakes students up. They read it and they really start to think about the choices that we make in our own world and how we treat the animals and the environment and how we take care of each other. I like to see them read that book and then come to their own conclusions. Every time I teach environmental lit, I teach that book. That book is a game changer for a lot of people. JBN: You also like horses and horseback riding. Is it for fun or professional? Precious McKenzie: Not professionally. It’s just for fun, my happy place. I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian but then I took some high school chemistry classes and didn't do so well. And I didn't do well in upper-level math classes. I'm not a mathematical person. So vet school was not in the plan for me. I've always had a menagerie of animals. I now have 3 dogs and 2 cats. People find a stray animal and bring it to my doorstep. We got a chicken that way. They think this animal will get fed and taken care of. JBN: Tell us please more about This house of books. I just love that book's store. The best I ever saw. Precious McKenzie: I'm on board as the vice president right now. And we started this about 3 years ago. Some of us in the community got some of our friends and colleagues together. We felt we needed an independent bookstore in downtown Billings. There was nowhere for book lovers to gather or have community events for authors so we decided “maybe we should seriously think about building a bookstore.” All of us were working full time. None of us were ready to quit our jobs to take a big risk. But if we worked together, we could make it happen. Chuck Tooley, the former mayor of Billings, proposed the idea to do a cooperative model where we sell stocks in the company with a board and general manager and run it like that. Make it truly a community books store rather than one individual’s bookstore. We said ok and we did all the research. We didn't know the details about a cooperative. Our team just divided up the research and just took it piece by piece. We like to support our local, regional authors and our member-owners who are authors. We definitely carry their books and try to promote their books. Gustavo Belotta, our general manager, is always scouting the New York Times bestsellers list.. Because we are so small, we don't have a tremendous inventory yet. We are always open to special orders. If you come in and we don't have it on our book shelves, you can place your order here. It takes maybe a week for special orders to come to the store. JBN: What is the conception of This house of book? Precious McKenzie: We decided to focus on new books because there are really good used bookstores in Billings and we have a fantastic public library just down the block. We wanted to just be a key partner with all of those entities. We want to work with the public library and support any events that they might do. If an author is coming through Montana, all they have to do is give us a call to set up a book signing. We try to really send out a lot of emails and ask authors if they have time to stop by for a signing. We have an incredible volunteer base. We have some very loyal volunteers who put in a tremendous amount of hours. They reach out to authors and community organizations to put on events at the store. We have been very lucky with our volunteers. They are amazing. JBN: Do you have favorite personage from your own books? Precious McKenzie: From my books? Well, right now I'm working on a nonfiction narrative on the horse racing industry. I'm really kind of falling in love with the main character. It’s a very sad, tragic story but when I was drafting the story, it gave me shivers. I've never had that feeling before so we will see where this goes. I will let you know what happens with this book. JBN: Is it possible that sometimes your characters live their own life. I mean that you want them to act in one way but you realize that they wouldn't Precious McKenzie: I've been working on another story about a yeti. It's for kids. I have been working on this yeti story for probably 3 years and I couldn't get the ending right. I've tried so many different endings; it wasn't working. I set it aside for probably six months and I took it out again and rewrote the ending. I still didn't like the ending. I rewrote it again and I still didn't like the ending . I couldn't figure out how it should end. Just a few weeks ago, I discovered the right ending for my yeti...I thought, ‘of course this is what she wants.’ It was an a-ha moment. I changed the ending and now I'm happy with it. I sent it out to a book publishing company so we will see what they think of it. I'm much happier with it. JBN: Do you write only for children? Precious McKenzie: I dabble in poetry and I have had some poems published. It’s such a difficult art though. I don't know if I'm any good at it, but I try. I've written some short stories. I really enjoy the short story form. Novels seem very intimidating to write. So many words I love to read them but to write them is intimidating to me. I like short stories, specially short stories that are intertwined so that they almost feel like a novel but they are really separate short stories. Laura Pritchett has some really good short stories. Elizabeth Strout is another writer who does that form very well. I admire both of them. As part of my job at Rocky Mountain College, I research and write academic pieces and articles. My interests are in gender studies and Victorian travel writers. When I started my dissertation, I was interested in these Victorian women who went overseas. They left England, and when they left they were doing things that they weren't allowed to do at home. They were canoeing and climbing mountains. They were acting like wild women. Things that were not allowed in Victorian England. I wondered why they were doing those activities when they left England. That was really interesting so I started researching social history—the women’s movement. That led into this field of sports and leisure and how the movement of sport and leisure impacted some women's movement, dress reform, and suffrage. That was really fascinating to me: how these women broke barriers and encouraged other women to do so too.
Johnson’s Billings News
Hosted by Johnson Computing
They are read.  We are Quoted!!!
Precious McKenzie: I like to write. It’s what I do. Some people play golf. I don't play golf. I write.
Interview
Precious McKenzie... Her name is perfectly illustrated by her personality. She writes wonderful stories for children and nonfiction. She is Board of Directors Vice President in This House of Books and Assistant Professor of English at Rocky Mountain College. She teaches freshman writing, literature and the environment, British romantic literature and travel writing. She wrote a dissertation about Victorian women who went overseas and broke barriers. She is really amazing. JBN: When you first started to write? Precious McKenzie: I was probably 5 or 6 years old sitting at home with my mom. She would give me notepads and paper and I would just write stories. And sometimes I would draw animals to go with the stories or my mom would draw characters to go with my stories. I have always been writing something. When I got into high school I gravitated towards the English and literature and humanities classes. Poetry writing and newspaper clubs and things like that as a student. I’ve just always been reading and writing; It’s in my DNA. JBN: So your parents opened a door in books and writing world for you? Precious McKenzie: Absolutely, yes. They always stressed how important education is. That was one of their values. We always had a library card so we could always go to the library. I remember riding my bike to the library and filling my baskets full with every book that they would let me take out of the library and pedaling home and just devouring those books. For a kid I think it was pretty ideal childhood, thanks to a great public library. JBN: What books were your favorite back at school time? Precious McKenzie: So many. When I was very small, in elementary school, probably the Berenstain Bears. I loved those stories with brother and sister bear getting into trouble. I loved the Black Stallion series, Beverly Cleary and her Ramona series. Fun. Misty, Marguerite Henry’s series. Classic kids stories about families and animals. Looking back, I realize that those stories were about compassion and empathy for people and animals. I think they influenced me more than I realized. And then when I got into high school I was still reading everything, Especially if a book was considered banned. I would read it. So I was reading the classics and I was reading anything that was coming out. I went through a Stephen King phase where I read everything he wrote and loved it. At the same time, I was reading Shakespeare, Macbeth and Hamlet in school. Thomas Hardy. Just a wide variety and I would not get stuck into one type of book. JBN: Tell us please about your first publication? Precious McKenzie: My first publication was a book on manatees. And that was for the children's library market. That was back in 2009, I believe. And that book was nonfiction and it was meant to educate students about manatees and their life and their habitat. From there, I just kept writing for the science market. JBN: Are you writing mostly for kids? Precious McKenzie: Mostly, yes, for kids. And I’ve started to branch out into more fiction for kids. At first, I did just nonfiction. So a lot of social studies and science topics. Animals, environment, habitats those types of books. And then I started to write middle-grade nonfiction and fiction for young readers. JBN: I heard that to write for kids is much difficult than to write for adults. What is your secret? Precious McKenzie: I don't know. I think the key is to say what you need to say and say it in a fun way and be done with it. Where a novelist may have 200,000 words, I might have only 100 words that I can use to tell a story. So every word has to count. It's a lot like poetry in that sense. Every word in a poem has to count and every word in a children's book has to count too. Then you think about the reading level for the group that you want to target the story to. Would the kids at that level understand that particular word? Would they need some support in the sentence to sound the word out or understand it? You have to think about how an emergent reader would process that material in his or her hands. Is it appropriate for that age level or not? The publishing companies that I've worked for have reading level experts and they will go through each book and assign a reading level for it. I try my best to get it in that target range. If it's not, they let me know and I revise it. JBN: Do you write every day? Precious McKenzie: It kind of depends on the time of year. I wish I had time to sit and write every day. I don't because I work full time and I have three kids. I teach at Rocky Mountain College so that schedule gives me some flexibility to write. I can write in the evenings after work or on the weekends. I really get most of my writing work done during our breaks - like winter break. I can research and write during the summer break. So that's very helpful. Without those breaks, I could not get nearly as much done. JBN: What is your favorite topic to teach your students? Precious McKenzie: Which one to pick? I think I like teaching Rachel Carson's Silent Spring because it’s one of those books that really wakes students up. They read it and they really start to think about the choices that we make in our own world and how we treat the animals and the environment and how we take care of each other. I like to see them read that book and then come to their own conclusions. Every time I teach environmental lit, I teach that book. That book is a game changer for a lot of people. JBN: You also like horses and horseback riding. Is it for fun or professional? Precious McKenzie: Not professionally. It’s just for fun, my happy place. I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian but then I took some high school chemistry classes and didn't do so well. And I didn't do well in upper-level math classes. I'm not a mathematical person. So vet school was not in the plan for me. I've always had a menagerie of animals. I now have 3 dogs and 2 cats. People find a stray animal and bring it to my doorstep. We got a chicken that way. They think this animal will get fed and taken care of. JBN: Tell us please more about This house of books. I just love that book's store. The best I ever saw. Precious McKenzie: I'm on board as the vice president right now. And we started this about 3 years ago. Some of us in the community got some of our friends and colleagues together. We felt we needed an independent bookstore in downtown Billings. There was nowhere for book lovers to gather or have community events for authors so we decided “maybe we should seriously think about building a bookstore.” All of us were working full time. None of us were ready to quit our jobs to take a big risk. But if we worked together, we could make it happen. Chuck Tooley, the former mayor of Billings, proposed the idea to do a cooperative model where we sell stocks in the company with a board and general manager and run it like that. Make it truly a community books store rather than one individual’s bookstore. We said ok and we did all the research. We didn't know the details about a cooperative. Our team just divided up the research and just took it piece by piece. We like to support our local, regional authors and our member-owners who are authors. We definitely carry their books and try to promote their books. Gustavo Belotta, our general manager, is always scouting the New York Times bestsellers list.. Because we are so small, we don't have a tremendous inventory yet. We are always open to special orders. If you come in and we don't have it on our book shelves, you can place your order here. It takes maybe a week for special orders to come to the store. JBN: What is the conception of This house of book? Precious McKenzie: We decided to focus on new books because there are really good used bookstores in Billings and we have a fantastic public library just down the block. We wanted to just be a key partner with all of those entities. We want to work with the public library and support any events that they might do. If an author is coming through Montana, all they have to do is give us a call to set up a book signing. We try to really send out a lot of emails and ask authors if they have time to stop by for a signing. We have an incredible volunteer base. We have some very loyal volunteers who put in a tremendous amount of hours. They reach out to authors and community organizations to put on events at the store. We have been very lucky with our volunteers. They are amazing. JBN: Do you have favorite personage from your own books? Precious McKenzie: From my books? Well, right now I'm working on a nonfiction narrative on the horse racing industry. I'm really kind of falling in love with the main character. It’s a very sad, tragic story but when I was drafting the story, it gave me shivers. I've never had that feeling before so we will see where this goes. I will let you know what happens with this book. JBN: Is it possible that sometimes your characters live their own life. I mean that you want them to act in one way but you realize that they wouldn't Precious McKenzie: I've been working on another story about a yeti. It's for kids. I have been working on this yeti story for probably 3 years and I couldn't get the ending right. I've tried so many different endings; it wasn't working. I set it aside for probably six months and I took it out again and rewrote the ending. I still didn't like the ending. I rewrote it again and I still didn't like the ending . I couldn't figure out how it should end. Just a few weeks ago, I discovered the right ending for my yeti...I thought, ‘of course this is what she wants.’ It was an a-ha moment. I changed the ending and now I'm happy with it. I sent it out to a book publishing company so we will see what they think of it. I'm much happier with it. JBN: Do you write only for children? Precious McKenzie: I dabble in poetry and I have had some poems published. It’s such a difficult art though. I don't know if I'm any good at it, but I try. I've written some short stories. I really
Johnson’s Billings News
Interview
Hosted by Johnson Computing
They are read.  We are Quoted!!!
Precious McKenzie: I like to write. It’s what I do. Some people play golf. I don't play golf. I write.