An Interview with Catherine McKenzie

This week, we kick off our guest author series with an interview with Catherine McKenzie.

Catherine was born and raised in Montreal, where she now works as a lawyer. Her first novel, Spin, was a national bestseller in Canada. Arranged is her second novel.

PLC: Thanks for being our guest author this week. Will you share with us the best and/or worst writing advice you ever received?

CM: Don’t show your work to anyone until it’s finished. I know some people work that way, but I just can’t. I get a few people involved early on; it’s what keeps me going and what keeps me going completely off the rails.

PLC: Do you have any strategies to keep going when the writing gets hard?

CM: I’ve tried different things at different times, but mainly, you just have to keep plugging away. Sometimes I’ll step away for a little bit, or try listening to some new music. Some time reading a great book help. Everyone has to find what works for them.

PLC: Tell us about your path to publication.

CM: When I finished my first, semi-autobiographical “practice” novel, I showed it to some people, briefly considered getting an agent for it and put it in a drawer. Then I wrote ARRANGED. When I had a good draft (not my first draft) I began querying agents – I read some websites about writing a query letter, researched agents in my genre, and then made sure that I sent a query email that matched that individual agent’s requirements. It took me about 4 months to find an agent. I then went through a round of edits with her. She then tried to sell the book for a year and a half. In the meantime, I wrote SPIN. That’s the book I got my two-book deal with, with HarperCollins Canada. They later decided to publish ARRANGED as my second novel.

PLC: When did you know you wanted to be an author?

CM: I don’t think it was a conscious decision. I always wrote (poetry mostly), and then one day I had an idea for a book that wouldn’t go away. So I wrote it. Another idea came, and I wrote that. Repeat.

PLC: If you were to tell an aspiring author one thing, what would it be?

CM: Don’t self-publish. This may be a controversial position, but I truly believe in the traditional publishing process. I’m not saying that mistakes don’t happen – of course great books get overlooked. And every once in a while, a great book gets self-published. And sometimes they are even successful. But what I know for sure is that my books are the best they can be because of the input of the professionals I’ve worked with, professionals I wouldn’t have had access to if I self-published.

PLC: Are you a plotter or pantser? What is your process?

CM: Pantser all the way. I wish I wasn’t though. My “process” is: a concept pops into my head. I think about it for a while and see if it goes anywhere. I ask myself a lot of questions and I have to send the end of it. If I can’t see the end, I drop it. Then I start a file on my computer with a title – finding a title at the beginning is important to me for some reason – and I start putting notes in there. Chapter ideas, character snippets. Then I start writing. And the wild ride begins!

PLC: What is one thing you struggled with in your latest project, and how did you overcome that obstacle?

CM: As I mentioned above, I wrote ARRANGED several years ago. When Harper decided that it would be my second book, I hadn’t worked on it or read it in at least a year. In the meantime, I’d written two other books. So the biggest obstacle was getting back into the main characters head so the editorial changes I had to make were seamless.

Thank you for sharing your time and wisdom with us, Catherine!

Anne Blythe has a great life: a good job, good friends, and a potential book deal for her first novel. When it comes to finding someone to share it with, however, she just can’t seem to get it right.

After yet another relationship ends, Anne comes across a business card for what she thinks is a dating service, and she pockets it just in case. When her best friend, Sarah, announces she’s engaged, Anne can’t help feeling envious. On an impulse, she decides to give the service a try because maybe she could use a little assistance in finding the right man. But Anne soon discovers the company isn’t a dating service; it’s an exclusive, and pricey, arranged marriage service. She initially rejects the idea, but the more she thinks about it-and the company’s success rate-the more it appeals to her. After all, arranged marriages are the norm for millions of women around the world, so why wouldn’t it work for her?

A few months later, Anne is travelling to a Mexican resort, where in one short weekend she will meet and marry Jack. And against all odds, it seems to be working out-until Anne learns that Jack, and the company that arranged their marriage, are not what they seem at all.

ARRANGED can be purchased at or (or in CDN bookstores).