Imagine, one day, you receive a mysterious email from an anonymous organization that promises to help advance your career.
Is it a scam? A cult?
That’s what happened to USA Today and international bestselling novelist Catherine McKenzie in 2019 when she was invited to join a mysterious women’s collective, which described itself as a safe haven for accomplished women professionals among seas of workplace boys’ clubs.
While Catherine turned the offer down, her protagonist in her latest novel, Please Join Us, accepts, and drama ensues.
What was so intriguing for Catherine, a 20-year attorney, about the strange invitation she received and used for inspiration for her latest novel?
And, what might that intrigue say about the state of work and what professional women are still dealing with in male-dominated companies and cultures in the 21st century?
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Dave Ursillo 00:00
Imagine that one day you’re sitting at your computer minding your own business, maybe you’re at work and you receive a rather curious email. It’s directed to you. And you see that it contains a, quote, unusual invitation. You’ve been invited, apparently to become a part of a secret collective, some anonymous organization that promises you big things. You don’t know how they got your personal information, but they claim that someone who knows you recommended you to become a part of this underground group.
Dave Ursillo 00:28
What do you think? Is it a scam? A cult? Something potentially dangerous? Or would you keep reading?
Dave Ursillo 00:35
Now imagine that you’re a professional woman, and attorney of 20 years, in a working world surrounded by men in what feels like an old boys club, you’re feeling reminded of your gender identity, you’re encountering various forms of discrimination, marginalization, harassment, microaggressions, and so forth on a regular basis. And finally, imagine that that email from that anonymous organization says that it has been designed for a professional woman like you to take some power back from that boy’s club and to rewrite the rules of what work can be. Would you answer the call of that email now?
Dave Ursillo 01:13
From The New Story Company, this is The New Story Is a podcast that explores the stories, perceptions and ideas that have come to shape our world today, as we know it. Along the way, we speak to talented guests who are championing the new stories that may shape our collective future for the good. I’m Dave Ursillo. These are some of the big questions that my guest today asked when she much like the protagonist of her new novel, received an email quite like this in real life one day. I’m joined today by Catherine Mackenzie, she’s a USA Today best selling author, and a former attorney who practiced law for 20 years, her new novel is called please join us. And it’s based on the real invitation she received in 2019 to join an unnamed women’s collective that promised to help her career.
Dave Ursillo 01:59
What was so intriguing for Catherine about the strange invitation she received and use for inspiration for her new novel. And what might that intrigue say about the state of work, and what professional women are still dealing with in male dominated companies and cultures in the 21st century? Catherine, welcome to The New Story Is and thank you so much for joining us.
Catherine McKenzie 02:20
Thank you for having me.
Dave Ursillo 02:22
So Catherine, in the opening pages of please join us we meet your protagonist, whose name is Nicole, who is also an attorney like, like you were in real life, and she receives this mysterious email. Can you tell us what it was like for you to receive that similar email in real life? What ran through your head as you read it?
Catherine McKenzie 02:40
You know, it’s a friend of mine had actually been speaking to me about an organization that she was in. And I had also started a women’s networking group in Montreal, where I live and used to practice law. So I wasn’t thinking that it was anything sinister. I was just like, Is this for real? Or is it a scam, I think was more where my brain was going.
Dave Ursillo 03:02
The invitation obviously stuck out enough for you to base your novel on it, even though it didn’t seem in real life to be completely sinister. But what do you what do you think about? Or do you still think about the letter? Or who sent it or her referred you to this day? Or? Or is the mystery, something that you embellished for the story to really have like an interesting launching point of what would the reader do if this happened to them actually elements
Catherine McKenzie 03:23
in it in real life, but I didn’t put in the book, which is, is you know, I did, they did have a website. So I went to the website and and I did write back to the person to say, you know, who recommended me for this, and they sent back were seemed like a set text, but came back to me like, we can’t tell you that. But here’s some things we can tell you. And the formatting was a bit weird like this, the sentence would like go and then go on to another line. And then there’d be like, a hard return. So it was like an oddly formatted email. And their website was pretty basic. And then I was like, oh, like, so it wasn’t, it was an invitation to apply. So it wasn’t actually an invitation to join. So there was an application that I had to fill out. And I started filling it out, like, just out of curiosity, and that I stopped because I was like, What am I doing?
Catherine McKenzie 04:16
And, but then I got this email the next day, that was like, you started filling out an application and didn’t finish. Yeah. And I’m like, Okay, that’s a bit creepy. And I had talked to him about it to my husband. And, you know, he had a similar reaction to Nicole’s husband in the book, which is like, this is obviously a cult like, This is crazy. You’re not going, but in real life, I was like, well, I could get a book out of it. You never know. You know, I think authors sometimes do things that they wouldn’t normally do, just because they contain potential book ideas. And, and I was like, okay, like, I’m not going this is silly, but I did. They did email me two or three more times. Like, are you sure you don’t want to feel like Your application I got it was like an it felt automated. So I think that’s why it’s stuck with me. Because it wasn’t just this one interaction, it was probably four or five emails, and I deleted it. And, and then, you know, six months later when I thought about it for the book idea, I was like, Maybe I should just go see if I can find this thing. So I didn’t even remember what it was called or, and I couldn’t find the email, in my email. So I mean, they were deleted, whatever, you know, so. So that’s all I know about the organization. I don’t know.
Catherine McKenzie 05:33
And oddly, I never asked the woman who had talked to me about going or being invited to this semi secretive organization. If that was the one. I don’t know why I didn’t write her and say, Is this when you were talking to me about? So So then maybe it was because I already kind of had in my head that I was going to be leaving my job? I don’t know. But But I think that’s why it’s stuck with me, because I did interact with whatever it was many times and I think just as a writer, you know, we’re always looking for things that we can turn into stories. And so that did stick with me. But like I said, probably more because of elements that I left out of the book, then the elements that I put in?
Dave Ursillo 06:20
Yeah, well, you there’s two interesting threads to that, Catherine, which is like one there’s, there’s the intrigue based in your identity, and you’re in your profession, as a writer, as an author as a storyteller that was like, oh, maybe this is something that I would explore, just to kind of see what what it is, like the natural curiosity that a lot of like writers and authors and storytellers not only have but require to be to be proficient and are prolific, even storytellers. I wonder in the context of the conversation you were having with that friend, who mentioned something about a group.
Dave Ursillo 06:57
And in, in the email that you received, you know, I always feel like the things that stand out that catch our attention, the things that marketers try to do, right? Like, it sounds like this, this group might have been using those tactics of like, if somebody clicks the link, then send them a follow up email, the things that really catch our attention, sometimes they can just be insistent, you know, and repetitious or aggressive. Sometimes they can really, though speak to our own psychology or emotional world in a moment of like, when we’re looking for something, or we or we have a problem that we want to be solved.
Dave Ursillo 07:31
And I’m curious if in the scope of where you are in your career at the time, if the appeal of a group or collective or retreat, had had something attached to it that made you feel like there was a promise or potential there? And if not for you, can you see what the the appeal or potential could be for professional woman like you were and continue to be, but it specifically in the, in the, in the law? In a law culture?
Catherine McKenzie 08:00
Yeah. Well, I mean, I think, in the culture that I was in, as a litigator, or a partner in a firm, there is definitely pressure to produce, which is the most of we didn’t have lots of institutional clients. So lots of big companies with tons and tons of litigation, we had more sort of one off files. And so you’re always looking for your next client, your next referral from another lawyer, and there’s a certain amount of pressure to that. So for sure, that played into it, as you know, when, and part of why I formed my own women’s networking crew was because, you know, most of the work of my former firm was referrals from other lawyers, and I had noticed time and again, that men, but even women, sometimes were referring files, you know, not to me, even though we were friends, or I gone to law school together, or whatever, but to the male, seem more senior partners in the firm. And, and that was one thing when I was like, 30 years old, and only working for a couple years.
Catherine McKenzie 09:02
But you know, I was in my late 40s, and, you know, mid to late 40s, and had been doing it forever. And there was no point reason for that other than I think are sort of gendered expectations of, you know, who we should send work to, and, and things like that. So I think, you know, for sure, that was part of the reason why I clicked it was, oh, maybe these people can help me bring in clients that I need to bring in. So
Dave Ursillo 09:29
yeah, yeah. With the with the networking group that you started. How long were you into your career when you began that and were you finding or hearing similar stories and experiences because obviously, I’m speaking from from a male identity from a male point of view, but with with many women with whom I work and with them on, like, biologically related, this is a common theme. It’s a common refrain, right? This isn’t. This isn’t groundbreaking news to say that there’s a lot of like systemic gender based discrimination overlooking of
Dave Ursillo 09:59
Certain people prefer like preferring based on social and cultural values, one gender group to another especially in like, these like high powered environments where you think, or are told that a certain type of demeanor, a certain type of like aggression or alpha maleness is necessarily better or stronger or more productive, or whatever the case may be. It’s like it’s entrenched in everything. Were you finding that, in your personal experiences, especially among the networking group that you started, that this was a common refrain? And a common issue that was affecting a lot of work? For sure. For sure, for sure.
Catherine McKenzie 10:35
I mean, you know, one of the sort of catchphrases in that profession is an excuse for why they want the old male lawyer is you know, what we want, we want the gray hair, like the experience, and it’s like, yeah, but women don’t let their hair go gray, or aren’t allowed to let their hair go gray. So that’s just code for man.
Dave Ursillo 10:53
Catherine McKenzie 10:55
And, you know, I’m actually approaching 50. And this is my natural hair color. Like, it’s not great yet. So why should I was I supposed to dye my hair gray, so people, you know, if I just look young, I just look young. So, um, for sure that was so there. And, in a way, you know, things are obviously different than they were 40 years ago, but like, so much discrimination. It just gets more covert. You know, like, what they may be used to say, like, we’re not going to, we’re firing you because you’re pregnant, you know that that used to be allowed, right? No one would say that now. But we’re not going to Whoa, you’re leaving on maternity leave in nine months. So we’re not going to give you that file? Like does that happen? Of course it does. And many, many, many other examples. I mean, many times where many, many times people assumed I was lawyers in my offices assistant. I had a male assistant people assumed he was the lawyer and I was, you know, I mean, just stuff like that, which is it just, it eats away at you over time, right?
Catherine McKenzie 12:03
It’s it’s not any individual incident, any individual incident can be laughed off, and like, Oh, whatever. It’s no big deal. But I think you know, the way many people women fell with me to which it wasn’t just the horrifying stories that were coming out, it was the way we started reflecting on our own experiences, and our own me twos, and the accumulation of the just, sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, sometimes yearly, or whatever, just the accumulation of those events, over a lifetime that you were told to push away and shove down. And don’t be difficult. And, you know, don’t bring it up, don’t wait, don’t rock the boat, blah, blah, blah.
Catherine McKenzie 12:42
So, and I think that I don’t want to equate that experience to people who went through some like, extremely traumatic things. But the accumulation of small incidents like that can also wear you down. And for sure, I mean, when we recruited people to this organization, we will start my my law partner, and I would start by going to lunch, and it was a two hours of stories, always the same. Everyone, and I’m, you know, I often say that #MeToo, hasn’t come to the law, and it hasn’t come to many industries. But it’s not because there aren’t stories, like we all have stories. And those guys are still around and still valued. And people still look the other way, because they make a lot of money.
Catherine McKenzie 13:31
So yeah, this definitely still goes on. And, and and it’s harder to write, it’s harder when it’s not that such the avert example, like, how do you I was just having a conversation with my husband about how when I meet people, and I tell them, I’m a novelist, 90% of the time, the assumption is that I self publish. And there’s nothing wrong with self publishing. But what like, why is that the assumption when I was a lawyer, no one was like, Oh, so you got your degree online? You know, right. People, people are like, oh, yeah, you’re a lawyer. You work in a law firm. Yeah. And I think it’s gendered. Like, I don’t think that most of my male author friends get that as a first response. I think it’s more like, Oh, who’s your publisher? Or have I heard of you? And, you know, it’s, it’s, but I don’t have do I have proof that it’s gendered? I don’t have a scientific study to prove it, but it feels gendered.
Dave Ursillo 14:28
Yeah, I’m sure a scientific study would validate it. Because. Right, yeah, I’m sure I’m sure. And the reason why I can say I say from my point of view, I’m sure is because so what I what I hear you reflecting on Catherine, and that answer is, there’s this element of like the coded language, right? And language is always moving and evolving. So people, you know, even not being intentionally malicious, but their subconscious biases which reflect the culture in which they were raised, you know, the culture in which they live. of how they were raised gender norms in a given in a given culture, social values, like all these different things do do get expressed in different ways. And there’s an adaptive, adaptive quality to like the language changing, like you said, not saying you’re fired because you’re pregnant.
Dave Ursillo 15:18
But saying, well, you’re going to be on maternity leave anyway. So we’re going to give this work to somebody else. And the different ways in which, like you said, the assumption that you are a self published author, which is not a denigrating thing, but it does have some sort of, like, there’s a story to it, right? Like it does assign a certain idea, expectation, assumption belief that, like you said, this is something I’ve heard a lot of our guests on the show over the months, this this internalization of certain other rings and expectations that get placed upon us, especially diminishing
Catherine McKenzie 15:51
too, right, right? Yes. Because it’s like, oh, that’s, that’s like your little hobby. That’s so cute. You know. And I think another thing that many of my female writer friends, and this happens to me all the time, too, is that people also think that I write my books about me. And which, which to me is like, Oh, you couldn’t possibly have an imagination. You know, like, nobody asked Stephen King, if he actually met it, or the Tommyknockers. Or, like, went through the stand, right? Everyone accepts that. That’s. But when you’re writing contemporary fiction, and I think in particular, when you’re a woman writing contemporary fiction, they just think that you’re writing about yourself, which I think, again, and I agree with you, it’s not malicious, but it is sort of like, it is a way of diminishing women’s work, you know, around accomplishments, it’s like, oh, it’s somehow not, if you’re just writing about yourself, it’s not the same as if you created this whole other thing.
Catherine McKenzie 16:54
And, and, and, you know, it’s the way that a lot of men don’t read books, written by women, it’s like, oh, well, those aren’t my stories, you know, and it’s like, I don’t think women think about who the author of the books are, that they pick up at men do. And marketing, Book Marketing leans into that, by making covers of books written by women, almost with a message to men like this isn’t for you. And, you know, I remember a couple years ago, somebody else’s podcast that I was on, not yours. But but a male podcaster said to me, oh, you know, I read your book, and I really enjoyed it. Are you surprised that I a man liked your book? And I was like, Do you ask the male writers on your podcast? If they’re surprised that women like their books? Like, yeah, I’m not answering that question.
Dave Ursillo 17:51
Either he was, he was like, both? It was. I don’t know. I mean, it’s, it’s a strange thing to say. It was. Like, it was a compliment. That was like,
Catherine McKenzie 18:01
a man actually liked your book, a little lady, you know, like, I don’t know. So I just think we have to be more. You know, and I think, as I express in the book, at one point, you know, early on, Nicole goes on a little rant, and she’s says something like, If men want to know why women’s were so angry all the time, this might be a good place to start, you know, and it’s just like, we’re tired. And we’re tired of always having to be the ones who bring it up and point it out. And right. Yeah, the emotional labor and it makes us the difficult ones and, and it’s, you know, assumptions.
Catherine McKenzie 18:34
Stuff often takes place, like right in front of other men who are not bad men, and who wouldn’t act like this, but they don’t stand up and say, like, Hey, what the hell are you saying, like, stop that, you know, it always follows us. And, and that’s exhausting. And it’s why women don’t like all the way up to why they don’t report sexual assaults, but even why they don’t report smaller things because it’s the motion as you say, the emotional labor of having to do it and the consequences and then like you’re the one that gets to, you know, labeled extreme example, you know, the Johnny Depp trial with Amber her trial, like, there was already a trial in England like this was all found to be true. And what even in the headlines when the verdict came out, like she was awarded money to so like this, even this jury that was very tainted by his very one sided media campaign, found that he had defamed her which means that when she said he was abusive, she was telling the truth. That doesn’t really get covered. It was like Johnny Depp wins. It’s like, well, wait a second. No, no, no, no, no. You know, so. And you have to think about what those messages are that’s sending down the road, right?
Catherine McKenzie 19:46
Like, this is a rich white woman who you know is so her name trends like everyday on Twitter with death threats and insanity and imagine You know, people don’t have access to that kind of privilege and resources and what they have to go through. So, you know, like all that to say my book is not meant to be this polemic like you know firebrand feminist thing, but but I think it’s important to have themes in books. And, you know, that’s definitely a theme in that book for sure.
Dave Ursillo 20:20
Yeah. It’s why it’s in your right. It’s, it’s there’s what we’re talking about is not like explicitly all a part of the story for your new novel, like, it’s, it’s a really fun read. It’s a it’s a great page turner. It’s a really intriguing story. And I think that just that reading your book planted these ideas in my head from like, what I’m pulling what I’m seeing what I’m sensing in society and in the culture, I think is part of what what is really powerful about stories, right, even when they’re, they’re fiction stories, and they’re maybe not the most melodramatic there is quite a bit of drama. I’ll say in your story, as any good thriller and suspense book does contain Catherine, your journey of being a former attorney turned into a best selling novelist, reminded me of another author, who’s who’s another best selling novelist who wrote some very popular books that also became movies. John Grisham. So curious about what is it about attorneys? Do you think becoming authors? Is there something specific that you think comes in hand with being an attorney in terms of like storytelling, maybe given the importance of something like persuasion in law? And of course, I’m taking like you, John Grisham. And there’s I mean, there’s probably others, but not to overblow the connection between law and creative writing because my father is an attorney?
Catherine McKenzie 21:43
There’s a lot of right. No, there is there is a lot of lawyers and ex lawyers who are attorneys. I mean, I’ve thought about it. I mean, I’ve been asked this question before, obviously, and I thought about it, I think there’s a there’s several reasons, I think why that’s true. I think just in general, law is a lot of writing the people and on TV and movies, obviously spoken component that gets emphasized. But it is storytelling, because every lawsuit begins with the recitation of facts and in, in a document where you recite the facts that lead to the lawsuit. And, and you’re telling a story, and and you have to craft the narrative, through trial, through witnesses, and through your closing argument to a judge or jury, or both of you know, why you should find for your client. And you are restricted to the truth, obviously, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a storytelling aspect to it, and that things can’t be shaped and shaded. And so I think that’s one aspect. I think there’s also a lot of writing in law, like I said, and you have to learn, you know, to be a good lawyer is not just to be a good verbal communicator, but to be a good written communicator, so that you are, your arguments are clear and crisp, and people understand them and your language is good.
Catherine McKenzie 22:58
So I think there’s that part of it. And then I think also, the type of people who are successful lawyers are organized and get things done. And, you know, all that stuff. And I think lots of people, I mean, I meet people all the time are like, oh, I want to write a novel. And I’m, like, Good, go write it, you know. And I think, I think personality wise, were the, we’re often goal oriented and goal setting. And so we’ll actually do it, we won’t just say we’re gonna do it, we’ll do it. And then when we do do it, then we seek out a way of, we figure out, Oh, can I get published? And what do I have to do? And so I think, you know, that’s a lot of it, to be honest. And I think it’s, you know, it’s a creative. Again, I think that people who are drawn to that profession, not because they like forced to go to law school, because they wanted to go to law school, which I did is that they are drawn to the performative aspects of it also, because being a trial lawyer is also being an actor. So, you know, there is a creative bent to it, and sort of, you know, my two choices at 19 were like, do I try and become an actress? Or do I go to law school, and I was like, Well, I don’t want to be in a profession where I can’t control outcomes ever. You know, like, I knew in law, I could work hard. And if I had an affinity for it, I could succeed. Whereas in acting, you could be an amazing actor, and nothing could ever happen for you for any number of reasons that are outside of your control. And then ironically, ended up back in the arts anyway, so haha, I mean, but yeah, that’s, that’s what I think why I think there’s a correlation.
Catherine McKenzie 24:42
And for sure, I have a friend who went to a conference in Vermont years ago for lawyers who were thinking of becoming writers and there were 200 people at this conference. So there are a lot of I know a lot of X lawyers who are writers, for sure. It’s really,
Dave Ursillo 24:56
really interesting. I was gonna say when I was asking the question, In the My father is an attorney of 40 years and that would be that prize, but also thrilled if he one day I was just like I wrote a novel. I can’t imagine what it would contain. But we can dream right? We can dream I’m gonna give, I’m gonna listen, let him listen to this interview and, and give him some encouragement. Maybe maybe in his retirement, you’ll
Catherine McKenzie 25:19
do it, just do it. You know, I mean, I you just do it, you have to do it. If you don’t do it, then you never did it. Right.
Dave Ursillo 25:25
That’s, that’s right. So back to your novel. Your protagonist does sound a bit like you. You mentioned the the assumption that some people make that you’re like, literally writing stories about yourself and don’t like perhaps lack the imagination. But but your protagonist is an attorney. She She was I think Nicole was 39. And the story. She receives an email like you did, but what I’m curious for your readers, what is important to know about where you and your experiences and and we’re, the fictionalizing begins, especially for a story like this.
Catherine McKenzie 26:00
I mean, they’re, you know, for sure I like obviously, I have access into what being a lawyer in a big firm is, or in a firm is like, what the litigator is like. And so those aspects are things that I’ve experienced. So it’s a different jurisdiction. So I had to go research, the rules, and even some of the legal points of New York because I practice in Quebec, and I was like, this needs to actually make sense in a New York law perspective. So, but yeah, I mean, I’m not Nicole, my husband is not Dan, I don’t live in New York City. And I actually didn’t work in a huge firm, I was a partner, in a smaller firm that I worked in, when it started as a student, there was two lawyers, when I started there, and I helped, you know, grow the firm, so very different, dynamic. And just personality wise, I think, you know, Nicole is very, like mono focused on her career, and to the exclusion of almost everything. She’s kept her husband, but she hasn’t, she doesn’t really have any friends and, and she’s just sort of sacrificed everything to her career, which is really not like me, I took my career seriously, I worked hard, but like, my friends are also super important to me. And I have a big group of friends and a social life.
Catherine McKenzie 27:24
And I also had this artistic life outside of LA for a long time, too, because I did both for 10 years. So and, you know, like, have I had experiences like Nicole? Yeah, of course. But I think all women have I was trying to universalize that experience, and I want it to be like, I think what you were saying in your introduction, which is, you know, women read in, they’re nodding their heads, like, oh, yeah, that’s happened to me, or something like that’s happened to me. And, you know, I’m like John Grisham.
Catherine McKenzie 28:01
Most of my books are not set in the law world. You know, I’ve, I’ve had the study my 13 published novel, and I think three of them have been set in the law world, but they’re, they’re not usually. So. You know, often, the choices that people make in my books I led deliberately pick the opposite choice of what I would do is like, I didn’t go on the retreat, right?
Dave Ursillo 28:25
That’s a big departure.
Catherine McKenzie 28:28
No, and she’s way more trusting than I am. I mean, you know, like, I’m also not I’m not she’s very attached to these giving anything away. Really, it’s up front in the book, but they’re very attached to this department. And I’m actually not that attached to things. And places like it almost excites me to think like being forced to look for somewhere new to live. Whereas Nicole’s like, like, very focused on on certain touchstones in her life that make her very insecure if they’re taken away. So I think I think we’re quite different in that way. And I don’t think I want to say I wouldn’t have fallen for Panthera Leo. I didn’t.
Dave Ursillo 29:11
Right. Yeah. To get there. Leo is the name of the women’s collective that women’s organization Yeah, and ends up ends up becoming a part of she goes on the retreat. Things happen. So we don’t want to give away anything in the story.
Catherine McKenzie 29:25
Things happen well, the beginning of the story the prologue so it’s not really giving anything always that Nicole is showing up at one of these women’s apartments and finds her like shaking in a bathtub that has blood in it so you know things like something things are gonna go downhill. Something’s not right here, right? So absolutely. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I mean, it’s a thriller.
Dave Ursillo 29:49
Gonna be some there’s gotta be something that’s happened. That’s
Catherine McKenzie 29:52
right. Some drama. Yeah, yes.
Dave Ursillo 29:55
Yeah, and, and Catherine, you also I noticed in the soy, soy device in the book for the women’s organization in the book Panthera Leo use this construct called the pride. So they’re borrowing that language from the animal kingdom of like lionesses inner pride. It’s a form like these little groups. But in the dedication of your book, you also dedicate your book to the women in your pride. And I’m curious, I’m curious about even without, like naming names, or mentioning individuals, that what the the women that that constitute what you consider to be your pride, like your, your group, your your team. What what do they mean to you? And what have they meant to and supporting your journey as an attorney and as an author?
Catherine McKenzie 30:45
Yeah, I mean, I think there was really referring specifically to a group of women that, you know, I’ve always been close to, but during the pandemic, I think our social circles all contracted, right, because we weren’t gonna go to parties, well, I wasn’t going to parties with 20 people anymore, or whatever. And so there really were sort of two core groups of women, for me during the pandemic of my my runners group. So, for women that I are three other women that I had run with, off and on for years, including one of them is my former law partner who I started that women’s organization with, and, but, but particularly during the first months of the pandemic, like we got really systematic about it, you know, we were running four or five times a week and, and it was a way of like, keeping sane in the totally insane world that was 2020.
Catherine McKenzie 31:35
And it’s so a little insane now, so, and then a wider group of girlfriends that include people, like my best friend that I’ve known my entire life, and other women that have come over into my life over time. And so, yeah, I think it’s just a supportive group of women kind of the opposite of the way women are often portrayed, and TV and media, which is Catty, and backstabby. And not supporting each other. You know, we’re just we’re not like that. And I actually don’t think most women are like that. Another way of diminishing women, right? It’s like, we’re, I think, I think that honestly, is a side note that comes from the fact that like, there used to only be placed for one woman. Right? And so if there was another woman there, she was coming to take your place, and that pits women against each other. But I think men feel competitive like that, because they’re like, well, obviously, we take all the places
Dave Ursillo 32:26
like, I’m great. Everywhere.
Catherine McKenzie 32:30
Yeah, great, you know, so I think that that is gender to have that was also created these This competition was created by feeling like there couldn’t be another person that looked like you sitting at the table, you know. And it’s actually a theme that another author explores in the other black girl. I don’t know if you’ve read that book, but you know, she’s the only black girl in publishing and then another black crush has happened. And you know, It pits them against each other so but yeah, I just think it’s, it’s, it’s my group of female friends that I know I can turn to, you know, no matter what. Maybe the Hydra dead body. Yeah, that’s never come up. But
Dave Ursillo 33:12
you never know. You never know when you’re gonna need ever
Catherine McKenzie 33:14
now. You never know. Yeah, yeah.
Dave Ursillo 33:17
So my final question for you the this afternoon. So you’re, you’re a novelist, you’re a storyteller. You also mentioned being in the arts, as you are now, but also the interest that you had and professionally dedicating yourself as an actor. What do you consider to be the role or function of novels? In this kind of like fiction based storytelling, as well as acting in society today from from like a cultural point of view? Besides entertainment, which I think is like more than enough? What do you value? Or what value do you place on stories like the ones that you write? What do you think stories like these provide to readers who engage in them?
Catherine McKenzie 33:58
Well, I think they’re time capsules of the time that we live in, which is important. I think it’s contemporaneous snapshots, you know, like, this book could only have been written post 2016. A different version could have been written before, but I think so. I think is important to live in the now I’m, I’m a big consumer of popular culture. I watch a lot of TV, you know, I try to watch as many of the big shows as I can and read the current books and listen to current music. I grew up with parents who were like, stop listening to music in like 1968 or something. Right. And so I think it’s important to live in the now and I I want my books to feel like the now but also to have a timelessness to them. So it’s they’re not so now that you couldn’t pick it up five years from now, and be like, Oh, no, you know, the says feels out of touch. So I think that’s one of the roles I think. I think the the arts are also people have platforms. And it’s important to speak out, which I do on Twitter and Instagram.
Catherine McKenzie 35:15
And I don’t do so much in my novels, not the kind of novel that I write. But I’m not, I’m not not doing that in my novels. To not alienate people. That’s a lot of nuts. But I don’t care if people don’t like my politics, and don’t read my books, because they don’t like my politics. I don’t care about that. And I don’t exclude politics from my books for that reason. But I just, I don’t think that’s the kind of book that I write. But I do use my platform, such as it is, to hopefully fight for the right side of history in a public forum. And that is also what I did, as a lawyer, I was involved in a lot of human rights cases, and freedom of expression and things like that. And that’s important to me. So, you know, different people in the arts, take different positions about that, for different reasons, and I get it. But I think, ultimately, like, we’re all part of the world that we live in. And if you don’t stand up for the things that you believe in, then you are a part of the problem.
Catherine McKenzie 36:16
You know, I live in Canada, and at many times, in the last five or six years, there’s always this, like, I’m moving to Canada, you know, when things are not going well in America, and I mean, beyond the fact that like, we don’t have room for y’all, so you know. You know, my joke is like, Hey, we’re not like the backyard, you get to go to when you’ve screwed up your front yard, you know, like, you do have to solve your own problems, right. And I have dual citizenship. So I have a stake in the game also, but like, it’s not a solution to just run away from the problem. You know, it’s like, it’s, it’s, the solution is that if the majority people feel a certain way, then they can change things. They just have to act. And so I think, in whatever way that you can do that in your life that feels comfortable. I think it’s important.
Dave Ursillo 37:09
Catherine McKenzie is the international best selling author of many books. Her latest is called please join us. Catherine, thank you so much for joining us on The New Story Is it was a pleasure to speak with you about your writing your new novel and your experiences in the workplace. Thank you. And thank you for listening to this episode of The New Story Is We hope you enjoyed our conversation. If you have feedback, drop me an email. The address is Hello at the new story is.ai s we’d love to hear from you.
Dave Ursillo 37:41
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Dave Ursillo 38:03
Until next time, I’m Dave Ursillo. This has been The New Story Is bye for now.