One of the first person I met at Book Blogger Conference was Alma Katsu. I went to the conference feeling like a book blogger newbie and her welcoming smile beckoned me to sit next to her for breakfast that morning. During our introductions, Alma laughed as I described my I’m Not the Nanny blog to her. Turns out, she’s Hapa, just like my kids! (Hapa is anyone of mixed Asian or Pacific Island ancestry).
Alma Katsu’s debut novel The Taker is available for sale today! The Taker is a dark and lusty (read lots of sex) novel about Lanny whose mysterious self-healing powers amazes Dr. Luke Findley. As Lanny shares her past with him, Dr. Findley can’t tear himself away even though Lanny is accused of murder.
If you’re in the DC metro area, join Alma for her book launch party this Thursday, September 8 at One More Page Books in Arlington, VA. For her other book signings, visit Alma’s website. Now with out further ado, here’s our interview with Alma Katsu.
When we first met at Book Blogger Con, we immediately connected because of our Asian-American heritage. How has your mixed ethnicity influenced your writing?
Alma Katsu: It’s probably made me more sensitive to characters who are outsiders, and the challenges they face. This tends to apply to protagonists because they usually view themselves as outsiders or as being apart from other in some way, whether it’s because they’re disadvantaged in some way, or an orphan: the hero’s journey involves overcoming adversity, and it’s hard to do this if you’re privileged and never suffered a day in your life. Of course, I think everyone tends to see themselves as an outsider to a degree because of our intrinsic apartness from one another (i.e., you never can really know what it’s like to be someone else) so maybe you should just scratch everything I’ve just said.
Because The Taker is predominantly set in New England of the early 1800s, there are no Asian characters. There is a piece of the backstory for the main character, Lanore (or Lanny, as she’s called) from the time of the Boxer Rebellion, when she lived in China with British expatriates. I keep trying to slip more about this period in the novels, but I haven’t found the right fit yet. For some reason, I’m drawn to right about Silk Road countries, too, and there’s a bit of this in the second book, The Reckoning.
AK: I can go on about this subject all day because my last job (and one I might return to) was about interpreting the impact of participatory media on the way societies communicate. My days were spent pouring over social media analytics, understanding the best ways to bound online communities of interest and determine key influencers within a network. I firmly believe that social media is part of a fundamental shift in the way we exchange ideas, and its properties are quite different from the way we communicated before the social media revolution. The tricky part is that we’re still in a time of intense change, with new platforms created every six months, and users constantly finding new applications for existing platforms. It’s really tough for the industry to react nimbly—for any entrenched industry to react quickly to change, for that matter.
Regarding how any author should embrace social media, that’s a highly personal decision. It comes down to comfort, because being unauthentic on social media might be worse than not being there at all. Part of the reason I enjoy it is because I’m getting to put into practice things about which I’d only theorized before, or measured using raw metadata. Sounds totally geeky, right? Hey, I was an analyst for thirty years; it’s not going to go away over night.
Print books or ebooks? Which do you personally prefer to read? Why?
AK: Believe it or not, I have yet to read an ebook! I even bought an iPad so as not to be left behind with this particular technology, but I have yet to download my first book. I think it’s because I love paper, and I love beautiful book covers.
How long did it take you to write The Taker?
AK: Forever. No, wait—it just felt like forever. I wrote and rewrote it many times over ten years, though it wasn’t the only book I worked on during that time. I would work on it until I got stuck, then I’d put it away and write another novel, think about The Taker again, take it out and try to make it work. Repeat, repeat. I was working full-time for the government, sometimes crazy hours like after 9/11 and during the Iraq War, but I wrote every day. And I didn’t think I would ever get published. I just wanted to see if I could figure out how to write a novel. I must’ve been crazy.
You describe The Taker as dark and lusty. After reading it, I definitely agree. I thought that the lusty parts of the novel was befitting of the story. Was that an element you planned on including from the very inception of the novel?
AK: I think books must’ve been dirtier during my formative reading years. I’m not talking about purposefully smutty books; John Barth’s The Sotweed Factor springs to mind, anything by Vladimir Nabokov. Mainstream fiction these days seem to be more, um, prudish. Cautious. Or maybe I’m reading the wrong books.
Also, it seems that sex is usually a factor when adults do bad things. If you listen to anthropologists, it’s probably the motivation behind most of our behavior. We want money, notoriety, whatever to make us more attractive to potential mates. And the worst punishment—without giving too much away—involves sexual humiliation. Those psychological scars are almost impossible to heal.
On your website, you mention that The Taker was inspired by the fairy tale Pinocchio. Did you pull inspiration from any other fairy tales for your book?
AK: From sexual humiliation to Pinocchio! This is what you’d call a wide-ranging discussion. I’d say there’s a little Sleeping Beauty in The Taker, with Jonathan as the Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast. That’s the inspiration for the second book in the trilogy, The Reckoning, by the way. Obviously, these are not the Disney versions of those stories. No singing candelabras in The Reckoning.
You’ve been very busy speaking at writing and book conferences. What have expertise have you shared at the conferences? What can you share for aspiring authors?
AK: I’ve been lucky in that my publisher is really behind the book and they’ve gotten me placed on panels at great book events, with many more to come. I don’t know that I’ve shared much expertise at these events, being a newbie, but I’ve learned a lot from the other authors, who have been so so generous, sharing their experiences. Because publishing seems like a closed industry before you’ve sold a book. You’re standing on the outside looking in and even if you’d heard a few things about how it all works, you don’t really know until you get there. At this stage, I’m consumed with worry: what happens if the book doesn’t sell well? Will I be dropped by my publisher? Will those terrible, snarky, ankle-biting reviews sink my book? It helps to hear from a best-selling author that they were dropped by two publishers before they had a major hit, or that no, nobody pays attention to the really mean reviews.
Now that The Taker is ready to hit the shelves, you have the next two books in the works. How do you stay focused on your writing?
AK: Sheer terror and a desire not to go back to working for the government.
Alma, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions!
Photo of Alma Katsu via her website.
I received a galley of The Taker at Book Blogger Con and finished it on my train ride home. No compensation was received for this post. Affiliate links are included in this post.