Alma Katsu has embarked on a journey that began way back in her childhood. Sure she’s spent a part of her life doing something different and without a doubt non-fictional, but Katsu has never given up on her passion to delve into the world of fantasy.
Katsu’s debut novel, ‘The Taker‘, has stolen the hearts of many avid readers, including myself. Her decision to write about the dark side of love, lust and power was quite a bold move, as only a few taking on the Gothic genre has ever really made any lasting impression. However, Alma’s novel leaves you hungry for more, and a sequel is very much appreciated and accepted. The day of ‘reckoning‘ shall surely come.
Check out our exclusive interview with the author below and be sure to pick up a copy of The Taker if you haven’t already and start reading today:
EY: Great to have you. Let’s get right into it. Where are you from originally and what inspired you to become an author?
AK: I was born in Alaska but grew up in Massachusetts. I’ve lived most of my adult life in Washington DC area after moving down to work first for the Defense Department and later for the CIA. I didn’t start out expecting to go into intelligence work. I’d always wanted to write novels.
I grew up a reader, one of those kids who always had her nose in a book. From there it’s pretty natural to want to become a writer, I think. I wanted to be able to do the same thing that had given me so much pleasure: tell stories. It wasn’t until after I went to college and saw that becoming a novelist wasn’t something likely to happen overnight that I decided to do other things in the hope of gathering experiences that might make for a good story one day. That’s how I ended up taking a long detour working as an intelligence analyst.
EY: Who are some of your biggest influences from the book world?
AK: There are so many that it’s hard to come up with a short list, but I’d have to say fairy tales (the dark old kind, not the Disney kind), Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Hardy, Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice, John Barth, Edgar Allan Poe, Sandor Marai.
EY: What was the transition like from working as an intelligence analyst to becoming an author?
AK: I’d been writing while holding down a job for a long time so I was used to working at it every day. Still, once I resigned from the Agency and took up writing full time, I saw how different it is. Now I work for myself and it’s a business, and this has taken away some of the pure joy I used to feel when I was writing (but not much).
EY: Why dark, Gothic novels?
AK: When I was growing up, Gothic was very popular in books and films, and there was Dark Shadows on television. I just have that Gothic mentality: I understand the appeal of the things we don’t understand, the unknown and the supernatural. The Taker very much draws on the Gothic tradition: a heroine being drawn into the world of the supernatural, bound to her master in this realm who, like most Gothic archetypes, is seductive and powerful yet also dangerous. In The Taker, we have the element of immortality, but it is a curse bestowed on the wicked as punishment for their sins. I think that metaphysical element that has made so many people compare The Taker to Anne Rice’s novels, the question of the nature of good and evil.
EY: Congratulations on your debut, ‘The Taker.’ The novel has received positive feedback. For the unaware, could you please tell us a bit about the story?
AK: The Taker is the story of a young woman, Lanore, growing up in an isolated village in Maine in the 1800s. She falls in love with a young man, Jonathan. He’s the eldest son of the family that owns the town: he’s wealthy and, more than that, he’s preternaturally, irresistibly beautiful. She knows that if she gives her heart to him, she’s in for nothing but heartache, but she can’t help herself. Lanore becomes pregnant by Jonathan and is sent by her family to Boston to have the baby in secret, but Lanore runs away and ends up being taken in by Adair, a mysterious man with otherworldly powers. He has the power to grant eternal life—but there’s a catch. You can live forever, but you will be bound to the person who has made you immortal, and only that person can break the spell. In other words, only the person who gave you eternal life can take it away from you.
Now bound to Adair, Lanore decides to use this power to keep Jonathan with her forever. It’s not until she’s done this that she realizes she’s made a terrible mistake: they are now both tethered to Adair, who is much more dangerous than she imagined, and it’s up to her to save both Jonathan and herself from an eternity of torment.
EY: How much research went into developing the plot and creating characters that would intrigue readers?
AK: The Taker took ten years to write. I rewrote it countless times, struggling to make all the jumping back and forth in time work seamlessly in the reader’s mind; trying to get the voice right, particularly to give it the sense of being told by a person who grew up two hundred years ago without being so authentically “old-timey” that it would be impossible for modern readers to enjoy. And there’s nothing like spending every day for ten years with the same characters to get to know them really well. I feel as though I know how Jonathan, Lanny and Adair would react in any situation, anything at all, no matter how unlikely. When they’re like real people to the author, hopefully that means they’re like real people to the readers.
EY: What were you hoping to accomplish with this tale of love and power?
AK: Far from thinking I was writing a great love story, I thought I was writing an anti-romance, to be honest. I wrote it in reaction to seeing girls I knew in relationships that weren’t working, but they wouldn’t leave because they didn’t want to be without a man. I feel society puts a lot of pressure on women to be matched up, and we often repress our true selves in order to be more appealing to a man. That is the problem of Lanny, the heroine in the story: at the outset, she’s a girl in a rush to grow up. For her era, that meant being married. Your life wasn’t your own until you were wed. She thought that once she married Jonathan her life would fall into place.
As I got older, I came to understand more about relationships. I watched my friends and neighbors go through very trying personal times. It makes you wonder how any love relationship can survive. I feel the Taker books are love stories in the truest sense, in that they examine love in all its aspects, it heights and its depths. But it’s not a romance. It’s not just about the courtship and then assuming the couple lives happily-ever-after. Any two people can fall in love. It’s staying true to each other that’s the hard part.
EY: The second in the trilogy will be out in June 2012. I’m very excited about that. Briefly share some info about ‘The Reckoning,’ in regards to the direction you’re taking Lanore in.
AK: The second novel, The Reckoning, takes up where The Taker left off: Adair is freed from his prison of two hundred years and goes after Lanny, seeking revenge. But in the process he learns that he really wants something entirely different than what he thought he wanted. Similarly, Lanny comes to see that she’s been chasing the wrong dream, but even now that she understands herself better, she cannot accept her heart’s true desires.
In The Descent, the final book, we address all the unanswered questions: where do Adair’s magical powers really come from? Will Lanny ever find the love she’s looking for? And hopefully, we answer them in a way that will surprise and amaze readers.
EY: You’ve integrated Edgar Allan Poe into the novella ‘The Devil’s Scribe.’ How challenging was it to incorporate his work into yours?
AK: I realized early on there were bits in The Taker that were homages to Poe: the Cask of Amontillado reference towards the end, even the heroine’s name, a variation on the famous Lenore. So when I had Lanny heading back to Boston to make sure Adair hadn’t escaped from his prison, I felt it only natural that she run into Mr. Poe.
Putting real people into stories is something I usually abhor. It seemed like a cheap trick, a shortcut to gain an audience. Now that I’ve done it, I have to say that I enjoyed it. It was a challenge trying to be true to Poe’s spirit, and his writing style, and not have it be just a plot device.
The Devil’s Scribe Synopsis:
After decades of running from her past, Lanore McIlvrae returns to America for the first time in 20 years to confront the source of her fear. The year is 1846 and Lanore—Lanny—has just landed in Baltimore after a long transatlantic crossing. That very night, she meets an “unattractive man with a high forehead and sunken eyes, and a tiny, pinched mouth like a parrot’s beak” who claims to write stories so dark and unsettling that he could be the Devil’s Scribe. His name? Edgar Allan Poe. Has Lanny finally met her match in this macabre man…or is it the other way around?
EY: Why did you decide to release this novella, is it somewhat of an intro to the trilogy?
AK: I’m not a born writer of short stories, so on one hand it was a bit of an exercise. I’d been thinking I should have a few short stories on hand to submit to anthologies but then the opportunity came up to publish it in conjunction with the release of the US trade paperback version of The Taker. It seemed a way for people to sample the Taker story and see if they liked it enough to invest the time and money in the entire book.
EY: Many compare The Taker to Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, though both differ in several ways from each other. Still, how does that make you feel?
AK: I’m flattered to have the book compared to Interview With the Vampire. I feel that book made a huge mark on popular culture, not just vampire literature. It changed how people thought about the vampire myth, which in turn caused this huge interest in paranormal fiction, movies, television. Many writers owe Anne Rice a debt of gratitude for expanding how we think about paranormal literature.
EY: If you weren’t writing these electrifying novels, what would you be doing instead?
AK: Since this is my second career, I’m pretty happy and grateful to have the chance to do this. I like to travel and I wish I had the money to do this more often. I’d love to travel the length of the old Silk Road and really want to go to Mongolia some day.
EY: Aside from your upcoming release, any other projects in the works?
AK: I’m working on the third book in the trilogy, The Descent. But I’m also working on a YA thriller. I’m trying something different in that I’m trying to get the first draft out as quickly as possible. I’ve written about 15,000 words in two days and that’s a tremendous amount for me. I hope to have a first draft done in a week (YA novels usually run 40,000-60,000 words).
EY: Thank you for taking the time. Any tips for aspiring writers.
AK: Write every day. Read every day. Read widely, not just the kind of books you know you’re going to enjoy. Analyze the books that you love the most: what made them work? Learn from everything you do.
Find more info on www.almakatsu.com