It’s Sunday! And that means we’ve got another amazing author here at #BeyondTheBio. Today, I’m joined by the hilarious history nerd Mackenzi Lee, whose book The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice And Virtue is the most fun I’ve ever had with historical fiction. It’s been a New York Times bestseller and for good reason! It’s amazing, as is Mackenzi. Let’s get to today’s interview, and don’t forget to stick around to the end, where you can enter to win your own copy of Mackenzi's book!
James: Hey Mackenzi! So glad you were able to chat with me today! Your new book, The Gentleman's Guide To Vice And Virtue, is one of the most delightful books of the year. Can you tell our readers a bit about what they can expect?
Mackenzi: They can expect an 18th century road trip novel about two best friends who are a little bit in love with each other and whose last hurrah tour of Europe goes incredibly off track. It’s a very tropey, self-aware historical novel with a lot of contemporary conversations and references, narrated by a smart-ass dumpster fire of a human learning to face his privilege and also love himself. It’s the most fun book you’ll ever read about alcoholism, abuse, chronic illness, and homophobia!
James: One of my favorite things about your book was the way you dealt with Monty's bisexuality. It was so refreshing to read a work of historical fiction that featured queer characters. Why was this important to you?
Mackenzi: Because I want my readers—particularly my teen readers, and even more particularly my queer teen readers—to know in no uncertain terms that queer people have existed as long as there have been people, and that they have been more than tragic subplots in BBC period dramas. They have lived and loved and thrived and had happy, full lives. They’ve carved out spaces for themselves and found people they loved and made history. There’s something very validating in knowing not only that other people like you exist—I think that’s one of the greatest things about books, knowing you are not alone in your feelings—but that people like you always have.
James: I don't think I've ever used the rollicking before, but, forgive me my exuberance, Monty's adventures are seriously a rollicking good time! I hear you had your own grand tour of Europe. I'm guessing you never ran through the streets of Paris naked, but did any of your adventures make their way into the novel?
Mackenzi: A lady never tells what she gets up to in the Parisian streets.
There aren’t many of my own travel experiences that made it into the book (though I did my share of staying in dodgy lodgings), but I designed the itinerary of the trio’s romp to include all of my favorite cities in Europe. It was fun to vicariously revisit all my favorite places and write about the places I loved so much (and revisit all my questionable fashion decisions in my old travel photos). So while none of my experiences are in the book (thank God I never encountered highwaymen!) a lot of Monty’s feelings toward the places he visits are very close to mine—I too fell in immediate passionate love with Venice.
James: Alchemy played a big role in The Gentleman's Guide To Vice And Virtue. How did you first get interested in alchemy?
Mackenzi: I didn’t know anything about alchemy when I started working on the book, and I came across it while researching medical treatments and beliefs of the time period. I knew the emotional arc Monty needed to go through in terms of the book, and the arc Monty and Percy went through together in their relationship, and the alchemical element just happened to fit really well. I love it when history works in my favor like that.
James: Alright, Mackenzi, what's your greatest vice?
Mackenzi: Diet Coke. Ho boy, I drink so much Diet Coke and I just can’t quit it.
James: And your greatest virtue?
Mackenzi: I’m very loyal, and I take care of my people. I also have a lot of passion and enthusiasm for the things and people that I love, which can be both a virtue and a vice—I get really worked up for both better and for worse.
James: There’s a sequel coming out next year, and it’s going to be narrated by Felicity. She’s such a kick ass character! I don’t think I could be more excited. Could you tell me a little about what we can expect?
Mackenzi: I can’t say much about it right now, but it’s another travel adventure story, but this time the trio is comprised of three girls from very different places in Europe who come together to do science and piracy.
James: One last question, so let's make it a fun one... I know you're a Star Wars nerd. Which Star Wars character is the most like you?
Mackenzi: WHY YES I AM. I could go deep cut expanded universe and say Siri Tachi, which is probably the most accurate answer, but in terms of the films, I’m probably most like Anakin pre-Darth Vader. We’re both pretty impulsive and a little hot headed but those emotions usually come from a place of deep compassion. Caring too much, that’s me and Anakin. Though I will say, I’m a way better actor than Hayden Christensen.
That’s it for today’s interview with Mackenzi, but don’t leave just yet. We’re teaming up with Mackenzi and our friends at Harper Collins to give away a hardcover of The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice And Virtue. Just click on the image below and enter to win a copy for your bookshelf or classroom. The contest ends on Tuesday, October 31st, and the winner must live in the United States. Good luck!