I had the chance to talk with Catherine McKenzie about her debut novel Spin.
Me: The first question I am sure everyone has asked, but is the story fiction or semi-autobiographical?
Catherine McKenzie: Yes, I have been asked that question before and the answer is: no. I have not gone to rehab, undercover or otherwise. The story is fiction, with the exception being of course I was inspired by some real-life celebrities who were going in and out of rehab as the premise for the story. That being said, those guys on the roof—The King and his acolyte—are inspired by two guys I actually met. Oh, yeah.
Me: You made direct reference to two Jane Austen stories, were you reading/watching those two during the writing of this book or are they just some of your personal favorites?
CM: The two references you refer to are Mansfield Park, my least favorite Jane Austen novel, and Persuasion. I wasn’t reading either during the writing of this book, though I have read them both multiple times, but I did see the BBC production Persuasion I refer to while I was writing the book. It was one of those kismet elements that happen when writing sometimes—I had already decided to poke fun at the running that happens in romantic comedies when I saw this production. I screamed in disgust, and then I smiled with glee. I had the perfect place to express my feelings!
Me: I felt the undertone of both stories at different points in the novel (when Henry and Katie are together in the woods while Amber and Connor were covering in the game room, I thought about the scene in Northanger Abby when Morland and Mr. Tilney are chatting while Miss Tilney is courted by her lover)
CM: Interesting. That was really not intentional, but you don’t always know what you’re influenced by.
Me: Katie is in denial for most of the book about her own addiction, what was the deciding factor that prompted you to let her realize she might have a problem after all and that working the program was her best bet?
CM: In my mind Katie isn’t a full-blown alcoholic, just someone who is starting to let alcohol interfere in their life. Others might feel differently (some reviewers for instance), but I thought it was realistic for her to be in denial for a long time, but not for the whole time. Main characters in novels have to arc and learn and change a little (generally) and so this became part of Katie’s arc.
Me: The playlist that you have Katie listening to throughout, was that on purpose (deep emotional response for the characters and readers) or was that what you were listening to when you wrote it? It seemed to me, as if you were trying to express the surrounding characters and environment just that much deeper?
CM: Absolutely, thank you for getting that. Soundtracks are used so often in movies to help express the feel and tone of a scene, but more rarely in books. I wanted to fold in that extra dimension if I could. Really, I was kind of trying to write a musical, if that makes any sense.
Me: You have half your characters without real names, was that to show the level of personal interest Katie had with the other patients, or were you commenting on how many of us go through society? (and the way we communicate through gossip)
CM: I think I was trying to do several things. First, I admit I found it kind of funny and reflective of Katie—she doesn’t take things seriously, even when she should. More practically, in a book with that many characters, it’s really hard to make them all stand out individually—but calling them by their profession automatically gives them some personality.
Me: You used all the elements in modern culture—fashion, music, movies, tv, internet, magazines—as both a backdrop and for a form of communication, were you trying to show simply how obsessed we as a whole have become with escapism or where you expressing (mirroring back to us) how easily we as a whole can be led?
CM: Yes, yes, yes. I was trying to root this in the now, now, now but also to comment (gently) on our fanaticism with celebrity. There are large groups of people who look to and believe celebrities’ opinions on things as serious as autism instead of doctors. Why? How did we get this way? And isn’t it funny?
Me: What inspired you to make Katie a music writer?
CM: I honestly don’t know where that came from. Sometimes details just appear on the page. But I knew I didn’t want Katie to be a girly girl and to me a music obsessive is sort of the opposite of a girly girl.
Me: Hamlet. What I picked up from the use of Hamlet in your story was the underlining idea that things are not always how they seem. Comparing the madness of Hamlet and Ophelia to the drug addictions of both Connor and Amber. And the way their relationship is doomed to the way the lovers in Hamlet’s relationship is doomed, was that your intention?
CM: You are smarter than me. Seriously. I wish I had thought of that.
Me: There is a scene where Katie realizes after she returns home, that her roommate is dating one of her friends. The fact she does not think of it as it is unfolding in front of her, was that to express how quickly things can change/grow or was that to express how self absorbed Katie was before rehab?
CM: Again. You are smarter than me. No, seriously, I was trying to soften Joanne a little and show a transition from her old life to her new.
Me: The character of Candice, I thought was a brilliant move. The idea of a person who could not accept that they had their time in the spotlight and needed to move on, was she based on anyone particular ? What was the underlining reason for having her almost disappear after her “performance”?
CM: She was not based on anyone in particular. She disappears after that because she had served her purpose. It’s just not possible to pursue each and every story line to its conclusions. Unless you’re Stephen King. He can do the 1000 page book. And John Irving.
Me: Thank you so much for your time Catherine.
CM: Thanks for the very thoughtful questions!
Her next book is set to be released early 2011.