Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A 1/2 Dozen for Catherine McKenzie

Bestselling novelist Catherine McKenzie

talks about how a novel first appears in her mind,
when she knows she can't shake it,
and must commit;

how to handle criticism;

and the books we that might
be flying below our radar
but shouldn't be --

as well as a bit on love.


I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

I don't think there was a singular moment of inspiration - my book is about a woman who uses an arranged marriage service - but I do remember the idea popping into my ahead and thinking that it was a good idea for a book (ah, hubris!). That being said, once I had the idea, I had to see if it led anywhere - once I have an idea for a book it usually floats around in my head for a few months. If I can't shake it, if I keep coming up with ideas and characters etc. (and if I can see the ending), then I know I have a "real" book and I start to write it.

Some writers hate to write. Other writers love being engaged in the creative process. How would you describe your relationship with the page?

I think my relationship with the page, like my relationship with many things, is a day-to-day experience. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I curse myself for doing it, sometimes I have to push myself, sometimes it's effortless. I've found I have a general pattern with each book: word 1 to 20,000 = fun. Words 20-60,000 = work. Words 60,000 to the end = hey it's fun again.

What’s your advice to someone who’s fallen in love with a writer?

Expect to be less real to them sometimes than the people who are talking to them in their head. Don't take it personally, they're just a little crazy.

Writing Tip #17 for Aspiring Writers – or #47 or #2. Your pick.

Don't give up too early and head down the self-publishing route. I might be being a little controversial here, but if you really believe in your product, you have to believe that someone else will too. And that someone else - your agent, your editor etc. - will have invaluable suggestions to make to make your work the best it can be.

Criticism. It’s part of the territory. How do you handle it? Is this the way you’ve always handled it?

Obviously nobody likes criticism, but I've found my reaction to it depends on what quarter it comes from. When it's from someone on my "team" - friends who are early readers, my agent, my editor - I take it very seriously. I have a rule - if one of them says to change something, I think about it. If two people say it, I change it immediately; they know something I don't. Criticism in the form of reviews can be challenging; particularly when it feels like the reviewer hasn't read your book very carefully, or you can't understand why it was given to that person to review in the first place. But the paradox is: the more successful you are as a writer, the more criticism you're going to face. Dan Brown probably has had thousands of bad reviews; I've had a fraction of that. I'm not saying I feel bad for the guy, but you need a thick skin in this business for sure. That being said, when people say they never read reviews, I have trouble believing them. I certainly don't have the discipline to look away.

What’s your reading life like? Do you have any current favorites or sleepers that may have flown under our radar?

I am a constant reader. I often have several books on the go and have been trying to discipline myself lately to finish something before I start something new. And funny you should ask about sleepers ... I actually started a Facebook group precisely because of two books that I read and loved by Shawn Klomparens (Jessica Z. and Two Years, No Rain) that I thought weren't getting the attention they deserve. We've got almost 3,500 members now and list of great books to check out: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=113149048727107

Catherine McKenzie was born and raised in Montreal, Canada. A graduate of McGill University (B.A. ‘95 in History (Hons)) and McGill Law School (BCL & LLB ‘99), Catherine practices law in Montreal. Her first novel, SPIN, was published by HarperCollins Canada in January, 2010 and was a national bestseller. Arranged was published in January, 2011 and is also a national bestseller. She is at work on her third novel.