C.E. McKenna is a writer and historian from Colorado. She has history theses in the libraries of Reed College and Oklahoma State, and her short stories have found awards and publication with Writing by Writers, Desperate Literature, Quarterly West, Northwest Review, and Shift. In 2022, she completed AWP’s 17th Writer to Writer Mentorship Program, and in 2024 was invited to the Chateau d'Orquevaux for a 4-week writing residency.
Most of C.E. McKenna's work focuses on the untold stories of the American West. Her short fiction and research often deals with the dangers of western environments—particularly wildland fire. Her long-form work combines deft historical research with speculative fiction, resulting in vivid, thrilling pageturners. Her debut novel, The Primary Source, is about the murderous origins of Stanford University.
She lives in Boulder, Colorado, where she works as a software developer and spends her free time traipsing local hiking trails, attempting to avoid moose.
“We didn’t burn the house down with newspaper, crumpled, and wood. Fire didn’t erupt from the hearth, belching glowing ash onto the rug. It didn’t smolder, burn, and catch flame to the paperback I left splayed open on the coffee table."
“It’s Wednesday morning and I flinch when I look at my computer. I can’t even open it to quit my terminal, exit the tabs, and slack my boss I’m sick.
I’m not sick, anyway.
I’m sick and tired, which is much different."
“The dining hall thunders like a July storm over the Flatirons.
You lead nine guys in palomino linen shirts through the standing ovation that started in the bar and unfurled like a signal flare all the way to the kitchen. Cooks emerge to join in."
“I had heard of “The Fire” all through my childhood. It was incorporated into stories of Gold Hill in passing, as in, “And then, of course there was ‘The Fire,’ which nearly wiped out the town.” Any time someone relayed the town’s history, they used this phrase. Children in the two-room schoolhouse, visitors to the small museum, or friends sitting in the the living room of one of the town’s log cabins heard about “The Fire.” It referenced an event that took place over a century ago, a wildland fire that never even touched the town proper, but was an indelible piece of the Gold Hill narrative. Then, 105 years and 10 months later, the phrase changed over the course of a few hours, and suddenly referenced something modern and immediate."
“On May 6, 1938, over three hundred horsemen rode down the Santa Ynez Valley in Southern California. The men—and the group was made up of all men—were dressed as if they had stepped out of a Western film. In cowboy hats and spurs, with handkerchiefs tied ‘round their necks, they rode on Paints, Quarter horses, and Palominos. Some men drove surreys, others stagecoaches. In a long line they paraded through the chaparral, laughing and joking with one another."
“The Victorian endowed public schools were some of the most paradoxical institutions in Britain. Though they were called public, they were private and extremely exclusive. Though they claimed to provide “education for young gentlemen,” many of their methods were questionable, and they were commonly associated with beatings, bullies and barbaric athletics."
THE PRIMARY SOURCE is about the murderous origins of Stanford University. It follows Lydia Struan, a History Ph.D. student and the black sheep of an old-money family, who is bent on proving that Jane Lathrop Stanford was the real power behind the prestigious California school’s success. But to truly understand Jane’s legacy, Lydia must tackle the mystery of the co-founder’s century-old unsolved poisoning. When she accidentally summons the ghost of her prime suspect, she discovers that her own family is intricately tied to the murder — and that there is still a killer on the loose.
Lisette Dubois has lived in Stillwater, Oklahoma for only three days when she decides she wants a dog.
She wakes up with the feeling, wakes with her forehead touching Brennan’s on the damp pillow. She turns and smiles at the popcorn ceiling of her first adult house. No parents, no roommates, just her and the man she loves in a four-room cottage with a one-car garage and an overgrown backyard.
“Do you know how to count in binary?” says Dad. He’s sitting at the butcher-block countertop in my kitchen, sipping PG Tips. The discarded, soggy tea bag and canister of sugar crowd his laptop. I worry when he tilts the screen, he’ll knock something over and I’ll need to clean it up.
Get in touch with C.E. McKenna by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org