Monday, June 11, 2012

FAST FIVE Author Interview with Elizabeth McKenna

Author Elizabeth McKenna resides in my home state of Wisconsin and shares my enthusiasm for the Green Bay Packers. She is a full time technical writer/editor for a large software company and the author of Cera’s Place. In the Amazon Kindle synopsis of her debut novel, Elizabeth says, “Get lost in a time gone by and fall in love today!” The characters in Cera’s Place, a Civil War era saloon, are all loveable and feisty. Cera is definitely a strong female protagonist.

GAIL: Welcome, Elizabeth, and thank you for visiting today for this interview. Rather than the 140 characters we’ve grown accustomed to on Twitter, can you share with us a more detailed account of the novel and your research for Cera's Place.
ELIZABETH: Thank you so much for inviting me, Gail! I hope you got to see Donald Driver win Dancing with the Stars. Wisconsin is so proud of our Packers - they are all such gentlemen. Anyway, Cera’s Place is set in San Francisco 1869. Cera runs a saloon but, unlike other such businesses of the times, she doesn’t allow prostitution. Over the years, she has helped women escape their terrible lives and become “respectable.” Jake is an ex-soldier haunted by his Civil War experiences. He’s on a mission to find the daughter of a friend who died in battle. Cera and Jake meet when he tracks the daughter to Cera's saloon. One of the subplots of the novel is based on actual events. During this time period, since the majority of the Chinese population in California was male, Asian women were kidnapped and forced into prostitution in America. The Anti-Prostitution Act of 1870 made it illegal to import women for criminal or demoralizing purposes. Cera and Jake team up to fight a gang that is kidnapping Chinese girls for the local brothels. Of course, in the process they fall in love.

My research was quite extensive for the novel. I wanted everything to be as accurate and believable as possible. I truly admire historical authors that wrote before the internet. I can't imagine the hours they must have had to put in to build the settings and plots of their stories. From the comfort of my office, I found old newspapers, maps, histories of cities, court cases - even pictures of the ships that would have brought the Chinese girls to America.

GAIL: While reading Cera’s Place, I wasn’t so sure about Cera and Jake falling in love. Is “the job” the most important part of your protagonist’s life?

ELIZABETH: It is in that it has allowed Cera to help other women get better lives. Before she owned her own saloon, Cera was a "working girl" in a saloon by the wharf. It was a miserable business and she vowed never to make another woman do the things she had to do. She uses her power as a successful business owner to help her friends move on to better things. Even though Cera is young, she's like a mother to her serving girls. Her decisions aren't always the smartest or safest, but she'll do anything to help and protect her girls.

GAIL: The Mystery/Suspense genre is the focus of Fast Five interviews, but what unique twist makes your novel stand out?

ELIZABETH: I'm not sure how to answer this - maybe because my hero looks like Viggo Mortensen in Lord of the Rings? I have a confession to make. Cera's Place is billed as a historical romance, but I haven't read many historical romances. When I decided to finally write a book, I chose this sub-genre because I love research and history, but I'm a big fan of Nora Roberts. I knew I wanted the story to have an exciting plot along with the main romance, but according to several reviews, I have written a unique historical romance with the elements of a modern thriller. Since I'm not that familiar with the sub-genre, I can't tell you why they say Cera's Place is different - I'm just glad it is. And yes, I realize not being familiar with the sub-genre I'm writing in is a big no-no, but I read what I like and I write what I like. Hopefully, the readers also like my stories.

GAIL: What a perfect example for writing what you love, not what others dictate! Historical romance or modern thriller, how does your main character’s profession draw her into suspenseful situations, (murder, for instance?)

ELIZABETH: One of Cera's workers witnesses the beating death of a Chinese man by a gang. In the chaos, she grabs the man's daughter and brings her to Cera for protection. When Cera hears the daughter's tale of murder, kidnapping and prostitution, she vows to set things right. Over the years, she's had to become good with a gun, so she feels she can handle the situation herself. Unfortunately, she finds out the leader of the gang has bribed both the police and the city politicians, so she's going to need strong proof of his crimes - and the help of a certain ex-soldier.

GAIL: I’ve read Cera’s Place so I ask this next question with hopeful fingers crossed. Is this book part of a series, and are you working on a sequel?

ELIZABETH: I didn't plan Cera's Place originally as a series, but I would like to revisit the characters (I miss them). When I was writing it, I found a lot of interesting information on the Chinese Tongs that I didn't use. I have kicked around the idea of a story with Sonya (one of Cera's serving girls) as the main character. In Cera's Place, I hint at Sonya's dark past and I think she would make another excellent and strong heroine. Because of where Sonya ends up in the final chapter, I think I could spin out another believable tale.

GAIL: I won’t be the only reader watching for Sonya. This next isn’t a Fast Five question, more an “if/then” scenario: If Paris is not an option, then where would you most like to spend your time writing and why.

ELIZABETH: A long time ago, I toured Italy with my husband and fell in love with Venice. He didn't think I would like the city because of my OCD/perfectionist personality and Venice is literally crumbling before your eyes, but I loved it. It is so full of romance and history, I would give anything to be able to live there even for a short while. My next novel is set in Venice and I hope I do the city justice.

Thank you so much for letting me share Cera's Place with your readers. It's always great to make new friends.

Links to my sites include:
Twitter:!/ElizaMcKenna @ElizaMcKenna


  1. Cera’s Place sounds like a wonderful read. I love the setting and the characters sound intriguing.

  2. Lynda, the setting is one of the things I especially enjoyed about this novel.


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