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Take 5: Catherine McKenzie and SMOKE

Smoke Cover-2 [1]We’re thrilled to have frequent contributor Catherine McKenzie [2] here today with her fifth novel, Smoke [1], releasing on October 20. A graduate of McGill University in History and Law, Catherine practices law in Montreal, where she was born and raised. Her first four novels, Spin, Arranged, Forgotten, and Hidden, are all international bestsellers and have been translated into numerous languages. She also is the author of Spun–a novella sequel to her first novel, Spin.

Here’s what Booklist has to say:

“A fiery, suspenseful story […] McKenzie’s fifth novel assesses the flame resistance of bonds shared by family, friends, and community. Pages keep on turning, questions keep on burning, as Smoke wafts up from between the covers to consume readers.”

Take 5: Catherine McKenzie and SMOKE

Q1: What’s the premise of your new book?

After a decadelong career combating wildfires, Elizabeth has traded in her former life for a quieter one with her husband. Now she works as the local arson investigator in a beautiful, quaint town in the Rockies. But that tranquil life vanishes when she and her husband agree to divorce and a fire in nearby Cooper Basin begins to spread rapidly. For Elizabeth, containing a raging wildfire is easier than accepting that her marriage has failed.

For Elizabeth’s ex-friend Mindy, who feels disconnected from her husband and teenage children, the fire represents a chance to find a new purpose: helping a man who has lost his home to the blaze. But her faith is shattered by a shocking accusation.

As the encroaching inferno threatens the town’s residents, Elizabeth and Mindy must discover what will be lost in the fire, and what will be saved.

Q2: What would you like people to know about the story itself?

It’s the first book I’ve written that takes places in a small town and over a six day time frame. I chose a small town because I wanted to explore how unique an experience that can be – when everyone knows your name, or your business, or thinks they do. The six day time frame was to keep the tension up.

Q3: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?

At the beginning of the book, Elizabeth’s marriage is falling apart and she’s kind of lost. She also has to figure out who started the fire and why. So she has lots of challenges to overcome! The other main character, Mindy, is also struggling, but in a different way. She feels like she doesn’t have a purpose. And then, when her son comes under suspicion for starting the fire, she has a whole different battle to fight.

Q4: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?

With every book I write, I try to push myself in a different way. With this book, the whole story – in my mind anyway – hinges on one pivotal scene on the fifth day (the whole book takes place over six days). If I couldn’t pull that scene off, the book wouldn’t work. Hopefully I did!

Q5: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?

I should not write this down, but writing this book did feel kind of effortless. It might be because I thought about it for 2 years before I wrote it. I wrote the bulk of it in 5 months, which is about the fastest I’ve ever written a book; my previous book had taken 18 months. Oh, now I’ve jinxed myself for sure!

About [3]

Writer Unboxed began as a collaboration between Therese Walsh [4] and Kathleen Bolton [5] in 2006. Since then the site has grown to include ~50 regular contributors--including bestselling authors and industry leaders--and frequent guests. In 2014, the first Writer Unboxed UnConference (part UNtraditional conference, part intensive craft event, part networking affair) [6] was held in Salem, MA. Learn more about our 2019 event, ESCAPE TO WuNDERLAND, on Eventbrite. [7] In 2016, the Writer Unboxed team published a book with Writer's Digest. AUTHOR IN PROGRESS: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published [8] has been well-received by readers who seek help in overcoming the hurdles faced at every step of the novel-writing process--from setting goals, researching, and drafting to giving and receiving critiques, polishing prose, and seeking publication. James Scott Bell has said of the guide, "Nourishment for the writer's soul and motivation for the writer's heart." You can follow Writer Unboxed on Twitter [9], and join our thriving Facebook community [10].