Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Catherine McKenzie on the hard work and luck it takes to be a successful writer

The author of The Good Liar answers eight questions from eight fellow writers.
Catherine McKenzie is a Montreal lawyer and author of The Good Liar. (Catherine McKenzie)

Catherine McKenzie is a Montreal lawyer and author of six bestselling books, including the thrillers Forgotten, Hidden and Smoke. Her seventh novel, The Good Liar, tells the interconnected stories of three women dealing with the aftermath of a horrible accident, and explores the lengths some will go to protect their secrets.

Below, McKenzie takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight questions from eight of her fellow authors. 

1. Molly Peacock asks, "Do you examine your motives as a writer? Do you want to know why you have taken a certain subject or why you've avoided one or would you rather remain ignorant of your inner prompts?"

I prefer to remain mostly ignorant. I like to let my subconscious work on the problems that I've created for my characters so that the result is more organic than forced. 

2. Xue Yiwei asks, "How much, according to your experience, does a writer's fame rely on luck instead of diligence?"

It is impossible to quantify this and of course, all successful writers have "imposter syndrome" to some degree (don't they), and so I feel that luck played a large part. Conversely, when you don't succeed you feel as if luck is all against you. Like most things, it's probably a combination of diligence and luck, but if you are not diligent you are unlikely to be lucky.

3. Elisabeth de Mariaffi asks, "Are you a dreamer? Do you remember your dreams — and if so, are they notions or vivid with detail? Do you have a recurring dream?"

I am a dreamer and I do remember my dreams when I wake though they soon fade. I do have a recurring anxiety dream: it is my last semester of college and there is a course I signed up for that I forgot about and have to write a paper for. Each time the dream picks up where I left it last, only I am even angrier at myself that I didn't get that paper done. "You promised me last time that you'd write it!"

4. Russell Smith asks, "What is the musical soundtrack to your latest book?"

According to iTunes I was listening to a lot of songs from Nashville.

5. Sharon Butala asks, "As a woman writer I am fascinated by the concept of the muse. But what is a woman artist to take as her muse?"

Other great women writers?

6. Shani Mootoo asks, "Do you find that you are influenced in any aspect of your writing by other art forms? If so, which and how. If not, why not?"

Yes, certainly. Great films and great TV shows are other examples of writing and they can definitely influence me (and do). Music also is an influence — I want to capture the feeling of a song in certain parts of my novels.

7. Will Ferguson asks, "How much thought/meaning do you put into the naming of your characters?"

It depends. Usually the first name comes to me and then I scramble around for a last name. I've sometimes used names to convey the race or the background of a character.

8. Cecilia Ekbäck asks, "Did you ever create a character that you were devastated to leave behind when the story was over? Did you give in to the urge and use that character again in another book?"

No. For me, I know a book is done when I'm no longer interested in the characters. I've learned all I want to about them and left them where I wanted. That being said, I did explore one character again in a novella, but it wasn't the main character of the original novel.


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