Up Close: Catherine McKenzie

Be Careful What You Wish For

By Dawn Ius

The Old Boys’ Club still exists—and women are tired of fighting it. Author Catherine McKenzie says she for sure is. And that’s one of the messages she’d love readers to take away from her propulsive new thriller PLEASE JOIN US.

In it, lawyer Nicole Mueller feels her world slipping away from her when she is invited to an exclusive women’s networking club. Panthera Leo sounds like the perfect fix for her current life slump—a chance to connect with powerful, successful, and inspirational women. The opportunity to revive her career.

At Panthera Leo’s Colorado retreat, Nicole meets the women who will make up her pride—an actress, a CEO, a finance guru, and a congresswoman. Impressive—and powerful.

At first, everything seems to be going to plan. But Nicole is not prepared for the club’s true mandate, or the ways she will be required to contribute to its cause.

Here, McKenzie takes time out of her busy launch-week schedule to answer a few questions for The Big Thrill about the inspiration for her page-turning new release, PLEASE JOIN US.

Catherine McKenzie
Photo credit: Fany Ducharme

In PLEASE JOIN US, Nicole Mueller joins a women’s networking group with the hope it will help her get her life back on track. But of course, Panthera Leo is not quite what she expected. I’d love to hear more about the inspiration for this book. 

Years ago, I received an invitation to a secretive women’s networking group that I’d been recommended to anonymously. I didn’t join, but I always wondered about it. The path not taken!

To create this group—which sounds innocent enough and certainly authentic—what kind of research was required, and was there anything that surprised you in the research?

I didn’t do any specific research for it other than the name—Panthera Leo—which is the scientific name for lions. But generally, I was inspired by a lot of self-help movements/cults etc. which I’ve been fascinated with for a long time.

In addition to the narrator, Nicole, readers are introduced to a powerhouse of women—Connie, Heather, and Athena being the most prominent. Who was the most difficult character to develop and why?

I think Heather was a bit of an enigma to me through several drafts for some reason, though I’m not sure why. It happens in drafts like that sometimes.

“I love to travel and dip my toes in the water wherever I go,” McKenzie says. Pictured above: McKenzie in Santa Monica.

I know that you practice law in Montreal. (Hello, fellow Canadian!) What was the catalyst for transitioning into writing fiction? How does your work as a lawyer help—or hinder—your novel writing?

Hello! I wrote fiction at the same time as practicing law for 15 years. Ultimately, I had stories in my head that I wanted to tell. I think being a lawyer—I’ve retired now—helps in that it’s a lot of writing, planning, getting things done—all skills that translate into writing.

PLEASE JOIN US weaves an intricate web of twists and turns, creating a truly engaging mystery while still embodying the key elements of a thriller. What’s your strategy for making sure those twists land? Plotter? Pantser? Hybrid?

Thank you! I am a hybrid. I always know what the end is before I start and some of the big twists. Then I start writing. For PLEASE JOIN US specifically, I actually had a different ending in mind for the book (though not a different solution), and I realized about two thirds of the way through that it wasn’t big enough. Thankfully, the solution was in the book.

Not to get too much into process, but what would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I can and do write anywhere, and I usually have music or the TV on.

McKenzie skates on a frozen lake in Mammoth Lakes, California.

Although this is first and foremost a great read, I love that you’ve shone a bit of a spotlight on the rungs of the corporate ladder here—a bit of revenge against the good Old Boys’ Club, if you will. What do you hope readers take away from this novel, aside from one hell of a great story?

Great story, for sure, but yes, the Boys’ Club still exists, and women are tired of fighting it. This woman is.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received on one of your books?

“I read it in one sitting.”

I read that when you’re not writing or practicing law, you love to run, watch TV, and read. In that spirit, what’s the most challenging run you’ve completed? What are you currently binge-watching? What book would we find on your nightstand? 

I’ve run two marathons and completed one, so that was the biggest for sure. I’m loving Season 2 of Only Murders in the Building. And I just started reading Every Summer After by Carly Fortune.

What can you share about what you’re working on next?

I’m editing it right now! It’s called Have You Seen Her and it’s about a search and rescue worker who gets involved in the disappearance of a couple.

Dawn Ius
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