April 20, 2011

Made It Moment: Alexandra MacKenzie

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:00 am

Immortal Quest

Alexandra MacKenzie offers a philosophy for success that resonated so thoroughly for me, I immediately asked her to write an entry for this forum. Plus she’s been where I have. Where so many of us have. Now read on, and if Alexandra’s Moment knocks you down with its acuity, don’t forget to get back up again…

She’d want you to.

Alexandra MacKenzie

I’ve been down the road of rejection many times, and I hit my lowest low after years and years of struggle when an editor at a major house called me to say she loved my book, and so did the marketing department, but she had to get the publisher’s okay. I was thrilled– and then I waited and waited, for well over six months, only to hear that the publisher nixed it because they’d lost too much money on first novels that year. I wondered if I’d ever pull myself up from that discouraging experience.

A friend of mine who is a black-belt in karate gave me her training maxim: “Seven times down, eight times up.” I took it to heart, though in my case it was more like “799 times down, 800 times up.” And then I went out and found another passion to focus on that would never disappoint (birdwatching), and that helped me to let go of all of the emotional baggage surrounding writing. Watching birds gives me great joy, and there are no expectations or demands! I became immersed in it, heart and soul. I also paint, and one day out in the field while sketching, another birder admired my work and said, “I’m writing a book of nature essays focused on birds. Would you like to illustrate it?”

That was my first “Made It Moment”, but not the last. Not long after I illustrated the book, and feeling more encouraged from that experience, I returned to my lifelong love of telling stories. This time I tried small presses instead of the big ones, without an agent, and finally found a home for my work.

Alexandra has a B.A. in Art History (Western Washington University) and a Certificate in Scientific Illustration (University of Washington). In 2009, she illustrated a book of nature essays (In My Nature: A Birder’s Year at the Montlake Fill by Constance Sidles, Constancy Press.) with 30 watercolor paintings. In 2010 her fantasy novel, Immortal Quest: The Trouble with Mages was published by Edge SF (Canada). Alexandra’s book Seattle Sleuth will be released by Rhemalda Publishing in Spring 2012.


  1. Alexandra, I love this story. I love the way you tell it, and the way you so firmly put your many rejections exactly where they should be – behind you. You found joy and contenment in something else, something natural, and thus opened the way for your future success.
    It is possible to try too hard. Everything should be kept in perspective. There is always joy and happiness to be found elsewhere, and everything happens when its ready. Now is your time and I’m very pleased for you!

    Comment by Cas Peace — April 20, 2011 @ 12:20 pm

  2. Thanks, Cas! It truly was an amazing year when I discovered the joy of birding, and the contentment it brought me. I never worried whether I was good at birding, or successful — all I had to do was show up, and the birds showed up, and I got to be a silent witness to wondrous things. After I found that passion for something outside myself, everything else in my life seemed to fall into its proper place.

    No matter what happens in my writing career, the birds will always be there. Last September when my fantasy novel came out, in the space of one week I got my author comp copies (first ever!), had the book-launch reading (my first ever!), and saw a rare (for this area) Acorn Woodpecker (my first ever!), and a friend asked, “So which of those three things was the best experience for you?” Without hesitation, I replied, “The Acorn Woodpecker!”

    Though the books and the reading were pretty darn cool, too.

    Comment by Alex MacKenzie — April 20, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

  3. This is such a great story. Small presses are a great alternative to the Big Six publishing meat grinder.

    Comment by Anne R. Allen — April 20, 2011 @ 1:30 pm

  4. The book that I illustrated was also small press — actually, the author and her husband decided to form their own company to publish it. When I first heard this, I’ll admit that I worried about its reception, that it was essentially a self-published work that people might view warily. It turned out that they did a fabulous job (the author had tons of publication experience, and her husband had tons of computer know-how), the book was gorgeous, and it got a very good reception. That experience changed my mind about what small presses can accomplish with the right people at the helm.

    Comment by Alex MacKenzie — April 20, 2011 @ 1:46 pm

  5. I love success stories like these! The lows are so, so low but the highs….awesome!

    Comment by Judy — April 20, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

  6. Alexandra and Jenny: I really enjoyed this story. Being a former martial artist myself, I especially liked the “seven times down, eight up” advice. I was also glad to see another Nor’wester here. I think I’ll look you up now, Alexandra,and FB you (if you’re open to it; if not, not biggie).

    Comment by Juanita — April 20, 2011 @ 9:01 pm

  7. This is such a lovely, inspiring post, Alex. I’ve heard your story about the birds before, and it still amazes me. It’s something I remember all the time now, I will admit. I find it really exciting that we can find so much pleasure in the smallest things. My greatest successes in writing haven’t come from publication, but from a place deep inside me. I think that might be a place you reached with the birds.

    I’m so excited to share a publisher with you. I can’t wait to read your book, and I can’t wait to see any more that you have to share down the road. :)

    Comment by Michelle Davidson Argyle — April 21, 2011 @ 9:24 pm

  8. Hey, this is a great write-up. I love your perserverance. I know you have many more books to come. Keep up the great work and enjoy those birds!!

    Comment by Lynne Forest — April 22, 2011 @ 7:39 pm

  9. An Acorn Woodpecker! I’m jealous! (But not really–I have Pileateds to watch in my back yard.) Success comes from within.

    Comment by Sara — April 22, 2011 @ 8:18 pm

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