Last year, I was lucky enough to get to interview Catherine McKenzie about her debut novel Spin. I am pleased to say she was able to spare some time to grant me another interview, this time to talk about her new novel Arranged
KH: - Arranged is your second offering, how much harder was it writing on such a short schedule? Does it hamper the creative flow or help to push it along?
Catherine McKenzie: I’m actually very lucky that, although Arranged is being published only a year after Spin, I’d already written the book when I got my book deal. In fact, I wrote Arranged before Spin and so I only had to go through the editorial process in the last year (edits from my editors, line editing and copy editing) rather than starting from scratch or an outline. I know from other writer friends that writing on that kind of deadline can be very difficult, especially when – like most of us – you still have a day job.
KH: - I devoured Spin when I was given the chance to read it last year, and still recommend it to people when I am talking about books. I noticed a slight nod to one of the characters from Spin (celebrity Amber on the gossip show) near the beginning of Arranged, was that meant as a wink for your previous fans, or was Arranged originally meant as a sequel?
CM: Thank you! That was definitely meant as a wink to the fans – something I added in the editorial process. A funny anecdote: the copy editor – who, among other things, checks to make sure that cultural references are correct – queried who Amber Sheppard was because she hadn’t been able to find her in an extensive internet search. She hadn’t read Spin J.
KH:- Anne Blythe, is a 30-something writer who has a bad string of heartbreaks, with lovely red hair and a desire for the perfect man. I think I was 30 pages into Arranged when I was hit with a blast of emotions. You very easily could have been describing me. You've hit your target audience to a bullet point. How much of "Anne" came from your friends and from yourself and how much came from research?
CM: Again, thank you. I don’t generally research characters – other than those who have a specific job, like Anne’s therapist or the marriage broker she meets. On the other hand, I also work hard not to base characters in my books on my friends. Every once in a while, someone around me will utter a great line of dialogue and I’ll ask if it’s okay for me to use it in a book. As to whether Anne is based on myself, I think, inevitably, any author who writes first person narratives has to be ready to have people assume that the main character is them. Example: Katie, the main character in Spin, goes to rehab. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve been asked whether I went to rehab since the book came out. Since I look a bit like Anne – we have the same colouring anyway – I’m sure this assumption will rear it’s head again, but while we might have some similar opinions, I really try not to be the main character in my books. I’m in there somewhere, though.
KH:- I've been waiting to hold off on the question that I know everyone must have asked, but what was the first inspiration for the whole novel?
CM: Actually, the first question most people ask is whether or not Anne is ethnic – i.e. not a white girl from North America. That being said, it’s hard to pinpoint one thing that led to that “aha” moment. I do know a few people who’ve had arranged marriages, and have watched my share of The Bachelor etc. This kind of information – and questioning of who would undertake either – was floating around my brain hopper and Arranged is what it spat out.
KH:- Therapy, has made an appearance in both your novels, as part of the narration. Do you feel that in modern society we rely too much on what others think of us and how easily led some of us can become?
CM:Deep question. I use therapy for two different purposes in the books. In Spin, she had to be in therapy since a large part of the book is set in rehab. Since this was the case, I used it as a device to let us know more about Katie. In Arranged, I added the therapy aspect as a way for Anne to talk out the idea of going through with an arranged marriage without it all being in her head. I’m also not sure that therapy is about what others think of us, but rather, how to overcome caring about that, if that’s holding you back in your life.
KH:- Another series of stories plays more then a few notes in Arranged, that being Anne of Green Gables. What made you decide to pick that as a backdrop for the mother?
CM:So many books these days are based on or have a nod to the works of Jane Austen. I love Jane Austen, but that has been done – literally in some instances – to death. I thought it would be fun to work in another favourite author. Julie Buxbaum also does this with The Secret Garden in her book After You (Another book I’d recommend). I also wanted to explore the whole consequence of believing that your life should turn out like the books you read. I think too many of us grow up expecting that perfect ending, and end up disapointed when it doesn’t materialize.
KH:- In your first novel Spin, you used music to decorate the story, I noticed in Arranged you used other books in the same way. (On The Road really sets the foreshadowing for Jack) Was there a conscious decision to do this?
CM:There certainly was in Spin; I always envisioned that book as a musical, if that makes any sense. I think it was less consciously done in Arranged, other than the fact that since Jack and Anne are both writers, it’s natural for them to be interested in – and to discuss – books that are important to them.
KH:- Margaret is this fabulous minor character who is just so rounded and full of colour. She manages to sweep you along in her scenes making you forget she's just a character in the book. She's also the opposite of Anne. Did you create her just for that balance ?
CM:Thank you. And pretty much. Anne is so full of doubts, so self-questioning, that I thought it was important to have someone who took the opposite approach. Plus she was really fun to write.
KH:- To me, the philosophy in Arranged is that without a strong series of friendships, nothing solid in life can really be obtained. Do you feel that in our society people are forgetting what truly matters?
CM: I think what I was trying to get across – within the boundaries of something that is supposed to be, ultimately, a little bit of fun fantasy – is that believing that there is only one person out there for everyone – a soulmate – can be limiting. I think that we choose to go in certain directions in our romantic lives, but those are choices. I guess I don’t believe in predestination when it comes to love.
KH:- Without giving away the ending, I have to say I was not expecting it to end in the tone it did. There almost seemed to be a moment when I thought either the characters of Richard and William would have a stronger role. What made you decide to leave them as minor elements?
CM: Again, within the boundaries of what I was writing, I wanted to keep people guessing how it would end until the end. So, I’m glad you were not expecting it to end the way it does. Not sure I can say more without revealing too much.