Saturday, September 18, 2021

Interview: Author Mackenzi Lee on Her New Emotional Rollercoaster ‘Gamora and Nebula: Sisters in Arms’ [EXCLUSIVE]

Marvel fans are more than familiar with the Daughters of Thanos — Gamora and Nebula — but have you ever craved more from their tumultuous sister relationship? Author Mackenzi Lee has taken a deep dive into the teenage lives of Gamora and Nebula, long before their days betraying their father and teaming up with Guardians of the Galaxy.

Disney Publishing Worldwide

Gamora and Nebula: Sisters in Arms takes you on a journey through the Wild Space West as the pair heads out to complete a task … more like a competition.

But the closer they get to the heart of the planet—and to each other—
the closer they get to uncovering the truth of what brought them there
and the role they may unknowingly be playing in a twisted
competition with galactic consequences. A competition they can never win … unless they learn to trust each other.

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Read on to see what Mackenzi Lee had to say about creating this emotional, yet action-packed novel and check out our review of the book here as well!

Nerds and Beyond: First of all congrats on this novel, it’s certainly an emotional read! Can you tell us a little bit about the research and planning you did prior to writing?

Mackenzi Lee: So much planning! Because it’s Marvel and there are so many creators working with these characters and their timelines concurrently, you have to be a little more meticulous about outlining ahead of time so they can keep track of what everyone is doing. I’m not naturally an outliner, so instead of going into the pitch with a story in mind, I went in with a mood. I talked about space westerns, about the old west and the exploitation involved in the myth of the American frontiersman. I also talked about where I wanted the book to end (no spoilers, but you know what I mean if you’ve read it) though I wasn’t totally sure how to get there. In response, the team I work with at Marvel came back with incredibly helpful feedback! They sent me comics and other Gamora and Nebula and Thanos stories that helped me orient mine in their timelines, and they suggested characters and organizations that already existed within the Marvel Universe that I could maybe use. The collaboration process was so exciting and so truly collaborative in a way I didn’t expect that it really made the planning process, however intense, a joy, and it made the actual writing process go so much smoother.   

Nerds and Beyond: Did you create the planet of Torndune for this story? If so, what inspired that dystopian, nightmarish world?

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Mackenzi Lee: I did! It’s a nightmare, isn’t it? I have never written straight sci-fi before, so when I presented the pitch to Marvel, I came in with a lot of my favorite sci-fi references — things like Dune, Mad Max, Firefly, and also a few of my current obsessions like the musical Hadestown, in which the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is reimagined so that hell is a Dust Bowl-esque mining town. I also grew up in the west, with a lot of red rock and ghost towns and abandoned mines and the communities that had popped up around them. I’ve been fascinated by the old west since I was a kid, and become more fascinated as I’ve realized how much of our cultural ideas about the old west is a myth. The reality was more brutal, exploitative, and only a certain kind of people benefited from it. 

Nerds and Beyond: This fits so nicely into the world of the MCU, particularly with Thanos and everything in the final chapters, was it important to have that link to the films?

Mackenzi Lee: The book stands alone from the films, but the current iterations of Gamora and Nebula that most people know exist because of the films and the retooling of those characters and their backstories that happened because of the films. I wanted to pay homage to this fact while also creating a book that could stand on its own as a sci-fi story. 

Nerds and Beyond: This story has just as much action as it does emotional turmoil, how difficult was it striking this perfect balance?

Mackenzi Lee: My favorite kinds of stories are ones with adventure and fun and action and a fast pace that have a real emotional core, so that’s always my goal with my books. I think too often one gets dropped to service the other, and I don’t think that’s ever necessary. Both can exist within a story. It’s definitely not an easy balance to write, but I’ve practiced it a lot, and had a lot of incredible pieces of fiction I’ve modeled my own style after. I also have a great team at Marvel who give me feedback — particularly my brilliant editor. 

Nerds and Beyond: Who was your favorite character to write?

Mackenzi Lee: The Grand Master, because he has no filter and no real sense of morality. 

Nerds and Beyond: You’ve also written for Loki, who is also in a tumultuous sibling relationship, is it coincidence or were you particularly drawn to these characters and these relationships?

Mackenzi Lee: That’s kind of becoming a theme, isn’t it? I have yet to write a book without a tumultuous sibling relationship. I have a sister, with whom I don’t have a particularly tumultuous relationship, but she’s always been a very important part of my life. Particularly when I was a young adult, so I think the dynamics of family have always been inexorably linked to young adulthood in my mind. When you’re a teen, you’re starting to see your family as people rather than idealized people, and starting to recognize they have lives beyond you. This includes parents and siblings. I think that shifting family dynamic and the general push and pull that often comes between teenagers and their own individuality versus their family and the expectations of who they should be is a defining conflict for most of us.  

Nerds and Beyond: Gamora and Nebula are about as different as can be personality and character wise, was one easier to write over the other?

Mackenzi Lee: Not really. One of the most interesting things about them is that they have very unique, very similar damage — they’re displaced survivors of genocide raised in this abusive, high pressure environment by a megalomaniac who gaslit them into thinking everything he did for them was for their own benefit. But they’ve both processed and taken on this trauma in such different ways. Mapping the different routes they’ve taken and strategies they’ve used to survive their own lives and process their trauma was one of the ways I managed to get into both their heads.  

Nerds and Beyond: Okay, I have to ask, how fun was it to write The Grandmaster? Those scenes with him were so perfect.

Mackenzi Lee: See above—but yes, he’s a delight because of how off the wall his personality is, but with a little edge of danger to him. He can be goobery and weird and say whatever he wants because he’s also incredibly powerful and acts almost entirely in his own self interest. I wrote a lot of jokes for him in the book that I assumed were going to get cut because they were too silly … but then nobody ever took them out! 

Nerds and Beyond: What do you hope readers take away from the book?

Mackenzi Lee: I never really hope people take a particular message or theme from my books. I think of books like community pantries — take what you need, leave what you can. Mostly, I want people to have a good time reading it. I hope they enjoy a fast-paced, space western that then breaks their heart. 

Gamora and Nebula: Sisters in Arms is currently available where books are sold!

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Kaity
Kaity started with Harry Potter in second grade and it’s been a losing battle ever since, or maybe a winning one ... She lives in New England with a small herd of cats, two dogs, three chinchillas, and one daughter. Her main fandoms are Marvel, The Umbrella Academy, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings, with special emphasis on one vibranium shield-wielding Super Soldier. Contact: kaity@nerdsandbeyond.com

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