Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
Catherine McKenzie Interview
2/16/2010 9:09:06 AM
Interview with rising star in Canadian publishing!
Catherine McKenzie Interview:
I’m so pleased to introduce you to today’s guest blogger; a fellow Canadian writer, debut author Catherine McKenzie. This up and coming literary star has a novel that is climbing up the Canadian bestsellers charts and I’m so pleased she made time to joy us before she gets totally swamped with interview requests as her new novel, ‘Spin’ gains in popularity.
I’d like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers.
You have been practicing law for over thirteen years and you are now a partner at a law firm. You seem very happy with this career, and yet, in 2006 you began writing. What brought this about? Was becoming a published author a life long dream?
CM: I’d have to say that becoming a published author – as in fiction author – was not a lifelong dream. I was hoping, and tried, to get my book of poetry published many times, to no avail, and long before I started writing fiction. As to why I began writing novels, I had to this idea that I literally couldn’t get out of my head. I didn’t sit down to write a full-length novel, just to dump the words out of my head onto the page so maybe they would leave me alone. Turns out that didn’t work. Good thing.
I understand your debut novel; ‘Spin’ is your second attempt at novel writing. What is the inspiration behind this story and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist, Katie Sandford?
CM: ‘Spin’ is actually the fourth novel I wrote (novels 1 & 3 are sitting in a drawer and unlikely to see the light of day). Novel 2 (Arranged) will be coming out this time next year. Anyway, ‘Spin’ is about a journalist that goes to rehab undercover to get the inside scoop on a celebrity. The inspiration for this story came to me one day while I was reading a website I shouldn’t have been about some celebrity’s time in rehab. I wondered to myself why the website had never tried to get inside rehab rather than hanging around outside and the beginning of ‘Spin’ was born. Katie Sandford is the journalist who takes the assignment. Why would she do this? Well, she has this dream you see and … (see the answer to the next question).
You’ve been receiving wonderful reviews for your novel and I found the very first line of the first chapter was quite the hook, sure to draw the reader in. Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the reader when they crack open ‘Spin’?
CM: Thanks. Yes, I’ve been really lucky. The book seems to be connecting with (most) reviewers and, most importantly, readers. It’s funny because taking a novel from first draft to publication means that almost every word has been rewritten or tweaked in some way (at least it does for me), but that line (“This is how I lose my dream job”) was the first line from the first draft. Essentially, ‘Spin’, is about Katie’s quest for her dream job, and the lengths she’ll go (or won’t) to get it.
The road to publication is difficult at the best of times. Was it difficult for you to land an agent? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with the author struggling to find representation?
CM: The road to publication is difficult, and remains so. It took me about three or four months to find an agent, and I found her with Arranged. It then took a year and half for her to get me a book deal, and even then, I only sold the Canadian rights to my books (still looking for that US publisher!). I think my two pieces of advice are (1) to find someone who will give you a real appraisal of your work (i.e. preferably someone you do not know, or at the very least someone who has no social skills and will tell you the truth), and (2) if you are offered representation, to ask a lot of questions to make sure it’s a good fit. This is the person who is going to be speaking for you about your book. You literally have to trust them with one of your most prized possessions. This kind of relationship requires a lot of trust.
Excellent advice, Catherine! Becoming a published author is truly a difficult road to travel, so we’re always pleased when a fellow writer is plucked from relative obscurity to land a book deal. Can you share that moment when your agent, April Eberhardt told you she sold your story to HarperCollins Canada?
CM: I can remember it exactly. I was at home on Canada Day. I was kind of down in the dumps, writing wise, because it felt like we’d been told “no” by everyone there was to ask. I didn’t check my email or phone for a couple of hours and when I did I had an email and a phone message from my agent. I knew it was something big. When I called her (shaking like a leaf) she said, “You’re going to be a published author!” I believe a happy dance ensued.
I’m curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?
CM: I definitely try to be disciplined. It was one of the things I learned early on. Waiting for inspiration to strike is how to write poetry, and probably explains my mediocre output over the years. Finishing a novel (or several) requires learning how to write even when you don’t feel inspired – you can always fix it later. When I’m in a writing phase, I try to write every day and write 750-1000 words. That’s harder to achieve on weekdays, easier on weekends. I also think it’s important to set a first draft deadline. I usually give myself six months. I don’t always make it, but it keeps the pressure on to finish.
Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your story line in great detail or if your writing is more organic with the characters and events unfolding as you write.
CM: My writing style is definitely more organic – probably too organic. When I start out I have the general premise, two or three main characters, and the ending. I might also have some specific ideas for chapters, settings, plot twists, but I don’t plot out the individual chapters at all.
With ‘Spin’ in print and your second novel, ‘Arranged’ scheduled for release in the winter of 2011, is this story a sequel to first and will we be reading more about Katie Sandford’s adventures in journalism?
CM: No, ‘Arranged’ is not a sequel to ‘Spin’. I sort of feel like I should add the words “unfortunately” since several readers have asked this question. I don’t rule out writing a sequel to ‘Spin’ (I have a good idea for a title), but until I have a good idea for a story, I don’t think there will be one. Suggestions welcome.
Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?
CM: I don’t mediate or drink coffee (I’m not a health nut, I just don’t like the taste), but I do often listen to music when I write. I go through different phases really – sometimes I write to the TV, sometimes to music, sometimes I work in silence. It’s better when I don’t have access to the distractions of the Internet, though it’s very useful whenever I need to spell something or look up a cultural reference.
At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
CM: I don’t think I’ve really experienced writer’s block, though I have sometimes experienced story block (the consequence of being an organic writer). I have had days where it’s just not happening, but never a time when I was totally blocked, unable to write for days or weeks. Not yet, anyway. When I’m feeling story block, or I’m having a tough time, I might give myself a day off or switch up my routine.
Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
CM: I have many favourite authors, but other than Jane Austen, I wouldn’t say any of them have influenced my choice of genre. The stories I think of seem to do that. Here’s an example. I’ve probably read more detective fiction that anything else in my life, but I don’t really have any affinity with writing detective fiction. As to writing style, I find that’s something I really have to guard against. If I’ve read something that really affects me, that’s written really well, I have to fight to keep that person’s voice out of my head and find my own voice again. I was reading the ‘Time Traveler’s Wife’ when I was writing the first draft of ‘Spin’, and I actually had to stop writing because I felt like my style was morphing into hers.
What is the most profound discovery you’ve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?
CM: I’m not sure it’s profound, but I was having lunch with a friend the other day who had just read ‘Spin’, and she told me that she’d laughed out loud more than once. That kind of made my day.
When your words can move someone to laugh aloud, I’d say that’s pretty profound! And what is the most important lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication?
CM: You’ve got to toughen up. The road to publication is paved with lots and lots of rejection.
What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
CM: I’m reading ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ because my friend, Marc, told me that I had to read it.
What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out into other genres or focus your energies on your career as a lawyer?
CM: That’s a big question! If you’d told me five years ago that I was going to have a bestselling novel I would have shoved you in the chest and said “Shut up!” So, all I can say is, who the hell knows? I’m trying to live in the present, at the moment, and enjoy it.
Thank you for taking the time to share some great advice as well as your adventures in writing, Catherine. I wish you continued success and eagerly look forward to your next novel.
CM: Thanks for the thought provoking questions!
For more information about Catherine McKenzie and her novel ‘Spin’ check out:
Follow her on Twitter: .CEMcKenzie1
Where to buy the book: www.amazon.ca
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