Author Interview: Becky Aikman of Saturday Night Widows

Becky Aikman author photo - photo credit Nina Subin
Becky Aikman author photo - photo credit Nina Subin

Becky Aikman Photo by Nina Subin

This upcoming Thursday, our book club members will be discussing our February Selection, Saturday Night Widows: The Adventures of Six Friends Remaking Their Lives by Becky Aikman. As a young widow, Becky was kicked out of her first widow support group. So what does she do? She formed her own widow support group, but with a twist. I’m excited to have Becky answer some of our members’ questions about her book and The Blossoms, the support group she formed.

From Left to Write: We’re going to start with the question that everyone has been asking. It’s fair to say that our members have even become attached to the Blossoms. How do the Blossoms and their families feel about the book?

Becky Aikman: One of the scariest moments for me in the whole process was sending the final manuscript to the other Blossoms.  We had all agreed that we wanted our story to be true, so we held nothing back as we shared the many adventures we encountered in the process of reinventing ourselves.  Still, I knew it might be shocking for them to read such intimate stories from their own lives on the page.  I was delighted when they and their families rallied around the book, teasing each other about some of their quirks, like Lesley’s racy humor and Tara’s penchant for drama.  I had told them I could give any of them aliases in the book if they preferred, but no one did.  Tara said, “I feel completely naked, but also very brave.”

FL2W member Jennifer at MamaWolfe asks: Was it a conscious decision to disband the group, and if so, why?

Becky Aikman: Our original plan was to meet formally for one year, mostly to give a finite ending point for the book, but there was really no stopping us after that.  We still get together often, just not on a schedule.

FL2W member Julia Coney at All About the Pretty asks: How has writing the book changed the way you view the grieving process?

Becky Aikman: When we started, I wondered whether the experiences of the Saturday Night Widows would confirm what I learned about grief from researchers, and it certainly did.  We learned that people are naturally resilient, that it’s good to get out into the world with friends, that humor is strong medicine.  I wish I had known the others sooner.  I think I might have re-engaged with life sooner, too.  While sadness is certainly part of the grieving process, so is starting over with optimism.

The Blossoms from Saturday Night Widows - photo credit

The Blossoms: Becky, Marcia, Tara, Dawn, Lesley, & Denise (L-R) Photo credit:

From FL2W member Marianne Thomas at Writer-Mommy: If I read correctly, you were already remarried when you started this group for widows in hopes of chronicling the year long journey the group would undertake.  What were the challenges you faced, if any, both personally and within the group since you were already at such a further stage (remarried) in moving forward with your life than many of the other women who had lost husbands fairly recently?

Becky Aikman: I thought there might be a bit of a gulf between us because I was already remarried, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.  People tend to think, “Problem solved!” when a widow or divorced person remarries, but the other Blossoms and I still shared many emotions and many questions about how to go forward.  Understanding what we had all gone through in losing the people we loved created a powerful bond.  And on a practical level, we were all reinventing ourselves, so I appreciated their guidance on the many issues I still faced — where to live, how to accommodate a new person in my life, how to interact with his daughter, how to launch this new career writing a book.  They appreciated my perspective on some of the issues I’d already faced — dating again, forging a new identity.  We were all coping with similar dilemmas, and there was plenty for us to learn from each other about all of it.
FL2W blogger SavvyWorkingGal asks: What did you learn about strength and perseverance from your experiences with the Blossoms? Is there anything you or the others did that you felt detracted from strength?

Becky Aikman: I learned that people who don’t consider themselves heroic in any sort of epic way can show real fortitude.  It’s hard to think of anything that detracted from our strength, except perhaps guilt.  We had to fight against feeling guilty when we pursued pleasure, and what a shame that was.  We often wondered what useful purpose guilt served for people in our position.  It can be such an exasperating obstacle to moving ahead.

FL2W member Michelle from Honest & Truly! really wants to know:  Can you share the recipe for the cookies?  I was SO hoping that would be at the end of the book, but no such luck!

Becky Aikman: What a good idea!  Maybe I should put it in the paperback.  Lauren Groveman, the cookbook author and teacher who led our cooking class, has the recipe for the cookies on her website.  Look at your own risk — they are irresistable:

FL2W member Amy of Using Our Words asks: Did you think this group was more successful because you didn’t know each other with spouses? Or do you think friends could start something similar?

Becky Aikman: Such an interesting question — I can’t really know.  In some ways, it was easy to open up about what we were facing heading into the future by bonding with people who didn’t know us in the past.  Perhaps it made us freer to think creatively about what to do next.  On the other hand, who wouldn’t benefit from having great fun with great friends?  I think anyone in any situation in life — married, widowed, single — could benefit from a Saturday Night adventure plan, any day of the week.

Saturday Night Widows by Becky Aikman

FL2W: Several members have requested an update on the Blossoms. What is the work, life, family, etc update for them? How long ago did they leave the group?

Becky Aikman: We stopped meeting officially once a month in January 2011, but we still see each other constantly, sometimes in twos or threes, or often with the whole group.  In a flash we fall back into our usual ways, sharing all our personal secrets.  A few weeks ago, the others threw a surprise party for me to celebrate the book publication, with a hilarious cake that depicted me popping out of a lotus blossom.  I put pictures of it on my facebook page.  And they even chipped in to bring our guide from Morocco, Saida, to the US for the first time.  She stayed with Tara and Marcia, and we showed her everything.  This time we were the guides.

Spoiler Alert!  I’m reluctant to give too much of an update on everyone — so stop reading if you haven’t finished the book yet.  For the rest of you, here goes: My husband, Bob Spitz, and I both had our books published in the last few months (he wrote Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, a New York Times bestseller!)  My stepdaughter is in college now and looking forward to living here in Brooklyn this summer.  Dawn is planning a wedding.  Denise edited a current bestselling book — Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini.  Marcia is still thriving at work and planning ever more adventurous travel.  Lesley and Tara are happily involved with men they met during the course of the book.  Those two Blossoms have moved to homes a few blocks apart and see each other often.  Jealous!

FL2W: Is there anything else you’d like to let our readers know?

Becky Aikman: Just how grateful I am to the other Saturday Night Widows for sharing their stories — by turns  bittersweet, inspiring, instructive, touching and hilarious — with readers, and with me.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us!

Come back this Thursday, February 14 and join our book club discussion of Saturday Night Widows. In the meantime, you can find more of Becky on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

If you don’t want to miss out on our discussion on Thursday, make sure you subscribe to our RSS feed.

Author Interview: Margot Berwin of Scent of Darkness

Scent of Darkness by Margot Berwin

Margot Berwin author of Scent of Darkness-Heashot

After reading Scent of Darkness a couple of weeks ago,  I’m thrilled to have the chance to interview author Margot Berwin.  In case you missed my review,  I loved the novel.  (Go ahead, read the review. I’ll wait.) Margot let me pester her in a format outside of Twitter and answered a few questions about Scent of Darkness.

From Left to Write: You mentioned on Twitter that your first draft of Scent of Darkness was written in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Did you already know you wanted to set the novel in New Orleans before you arrived? How did your writing location influence the story?

Margo Berwin: I did write the book in the French Quarter and that was a bit of a happy accident. I was freelancing, writing websites for an ad agency, bitching about how I couldn’t find a quiet place to write in NYC, when a co-worker and a friend offered me his flat in NOLA. He was swamped at work and couldn’t leave NYC so he handed me the keys to his apartment and just like that, a month later I was living in New Orleans! I had never been there before and fell immediately and completely in love with it.

I got one of my characters into medical school at Tulane (he was originally supposed to go to Columbia med) and then placed the second half of the book in the French Quarter. I can’t wait to go back down there on my book tour and read in the beautiful Garden District Book Shop!

New Orleans had a profound effect on my story. A city like NOLA can’t possibly NOT have an effect. From the people, to the food, to the music and the plant life, every minute of it impacts the senses. And when it comes to a story about scent, the senses are everything.

Scent of Darkness by Margot Berwin

FL2W: What were your favorite things about New Orleans? What type of “on location” research did you do during your visit?

Margot: I did visit Tulane Medical School. Not that interesting but I needed to see it and get a feel for it. I spoke to a few of the students but like medical students everywhere, their heads were so far into the books, they barely noticed what city they were in.

I lived on St. Louis near Chartres, which was also near Paul Prudhomme’s restaurant K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen. The smells coming from there were often impossible to resist and I’ll admit to adding on a few lbs, which by the way, is totally unavoidable in that city! I also went to an unforgettable crawfish boil in Mid-City. But I digress…it’s hard to get off of the topic of food when discussing New Orleans.

(FL2W: I have to jump in and say that the food in New Orleans is part of the experience! In Louisiana, eating is more than feeding your stomach, it’s how we socialize and bond.)

One of my favorite things about the French Quarter are the many used book stores. I mean they’re just incredible. Packed with the most wonderful books imaginable. I spent hours in Dauphine Street books, probably days. I picked up the Dylan Chronicles there. In the book he talks about recording his first album in a studio in New Orleans. I took that as a very good sign!

FL2W: In your novel Evangeline has become irresistible to everyone around her, thanks to her grandmother’s gift. I imagine that many people have wished for a similar power. Why do you think people are so drawn to that kind of power?

Margot: People want to be wanted. To have their flaws overlooked. Evangeline’s gift is similar to being born beautiful. There is a power in that even though we often don’t want to admit it. And also, it’s easy. There is no work involved, it simply…is. I think people imagine their life would be much easier with such a gift.

FL2W: As someone who grew up in southern Louisiana, I enjoyed the parallels between Scent of Darkness and Longfellow’s Evangeline. We previously chatted about this and you revealed to never reading Longfellow’s (long) poem before. I confess I haven’t read it either. How has your view of Eva’s journey changed now that you’re aware of Longfellow’s poem?

Margot Berwin author of Scent of Darkness

Margot: I’m still shocked. Particularly by the use of names. Longfellow’s Evangeline is the story of an Acadian girl, Evangeline, who is searching for her lost love Gabriel. In Scent of Darkness the two main characters are also Gabriel and Evangeline. And they too are lovers who become separated, although for very different reasons than in the Longfellow poem. Still the parallels are eerie considering the fact that I had never read the poem.

I chose the name of my protagonist from Evangeline Lilly who played the Kate Austen character on LOST. I fell in love with her name somehow. It happens to us writers upon occasion. And Gabriel I got from the Archangel Gabriel. I took both male leads in my novel, Michael and Gabriel, from the Archangels and based their characters on the qualities those angels possessed.

FL2W: This book has received great reviews from YA readers. What do you think makes it appealing to both young adults and and adults?

Margot: I don’t know but it makes me very happy. Many books are cross generational these days-there is actually a whole new category called “new adult fiction”, which are basically YA books that skew a bit older.

FL2W: In the movie version of Scent of Darkness, who would you cast to play Evangeline, Michael, and Gabriel?

Margot: Dakota Fanning [for Evangeline]. Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Pattinson, or Ryan Gosling as Michael. And maybe Topher Grace or Jake Gyllenhaal as Gabriel. But I’m not as sure about him. Any suggestions?

FL2W: Any hints about your next book?

Margot: If Scent of Darkness does well enough…I would love to write a sequel. It would of course involve the return of Michael.

FL2W: Is there anything else you would like to add or share with our readers?

Margot: I want to add that I am thrilled that you like this book particularly because you are from Louisiana. I was very nervous writing about such a great and unusual city as New Orleans. I really wanted to get it right because I know how the people from NOLA really deeply love their city. I worked very hard to capture what I thought was a certain essence of place. So I was excited (and also relieved) to hear that I didn’t cause any pain in my descriptions!!

Big thanks again to Margot Berwin for her time. You can chat with her on Twitter after you read her book Scent of Darkness. Or before you read it. She won’t bite.

If you’ve read the book, which actors would you cast in those roles?

Photos courtesy of the author.

Q&A: Sarah Pinneo Author of Julia’s Child

Sarah Pinneo Chives

Sarah Pinneo KitchenA couple of weeks ago, our book club members read and discussed Julia’s Child by Sarah Pinneo. We pestered Sarah with some questions and she took the time to answer them.  So without further ado, here’s Sarah!

From Left to Write: As a food writer and journalist, what inspired you to write a novel? What was the inspiration behind Julia’s Child?Sarah Pinneo: I had my first child in 2003, and by the time he was a toddler, the mothers around me were entrenched in a loud debate about what children should eat. There is a lovely line at the end of Sue Miller’s The Senator’s Wife which reads: “motherhood forces you to take a stand on everything.” On the park bench, truer words were never spoken.As a journalist, my food research has only made me more sympathetic toward the organic and local foods. But at the same time, I feel that mothers bear a comical load of food angst. I wanted to write something whereby a mother’s neuroses could poke out like porcupine quills. I tried to capture all the pressure that mothers put on themselves.

FL2W: Did you base Julia’s character from someone you know?

Sarah: I interviewed more than a dozen moms (and a couple dads!) who started food companies. They did all manner of crazy things to get their businesses off the ground. They filled orders in their basements, they maxed out their credit cards. They went into labor during meetings. When you’re writing a comedy, you make decisions on every page. Is this too much? Do I need that protest rally standing between my main character and her TV interview? But every time I had the pleasure of interviewing another amazing mompreneur, I knew that comedy was just the right form to tell this story.

For example, LaVerne Lesznik, whose company Cottage Hill Farm makes organic baking mixes, once put a chocolate cake she’d baked for a potential buyer into the backseat of her car. On the other side, she strapped her one year-old granddaughter. The little girl somehow got into that cake and smeared it all over the seat.

Julia's Child by Sarah Pinneo
FL2W: Julia’s passion for her business consumes her and keeps her away from her family. How do you keep a “work-life balance”? Any tips?
Everywhere I turned, I found comedy.

Sarah: I might be just as bad as Julia at work-life balance. The trouble with working from home is that, by definition, you’re always at work. The lines I draw between “work time” and “family time” must seem terribly arbitrary to my kindergartener. I will say that writing comedy is one concession to work life balance. You don’t want to be in the depths of some dark and brutal piece of fiction if you’re going to be clapping along with Elmo an hour later.

FL2W: Cooking with her children kept Julia grounded. What foods do you like to cook with your kids? Did they help you test the recipes from the novel?

Sarah: The picky eaters in my book are pure fiction. My own two sons will eat anything at all. (I can’t take credit for this, it’s just how they are.) And at 6 and 8, my two are excellent sous chefs. They do a lot of kitchen prep, like peeling vegetables and fetching ingredients. I have been known to hand scissors out the back door with a request for a few fresh herbs to be clipped.


Sarah Pinneo Chives

I like to make compound butter from my own herbs, and keep it in the freezer. To a stick of softened butter, I add a healthy dose of minced shallots, minced parsley and a bit of rosemary. I combine this and then roll it back into a log. (Actually, my boys like to help with this process. It’s fun to smush butter.) This gets frozen in waxed paper. Then, when I’ve sauteed a few pork chops or chicken breasts, I can drop a pat of the compound butter on the cooked meat. It melts and makes an instant sauce.

Writing the muffet recipes for the novel was more of a challenge than I expected. I needed them to taste very good, but to be very low in sugar. It turns out that sugar has a big role in baked goods, not only for flavor but for texture. After quite a few flops, I finally found ways to make everything go well together. The apple cheddar muffets rely on a bit of cornmeal for their crumbly texture. And the squash muffets have chopped raisins in them, for a slightly gooey mouthfeel.

FL2W: I noticed on your blog how proactive you are about reaching out to food manufacturers about their products, BPA, etc.  You even publish your correspondence on your blog. What effect do you think your correspondence and blog have with the food companies?

Sarah: There’s a joke in Julia’s Child that the days of selling consumers on a “secret sauce” are over. Things need to swing the other direction–consumers want more information, not less.

My blog sometimes reflects my loss of patience with a few food companies for the way they handle ingredient selection, consumer interaction and packaging. (Luckily, there are also many companies who do these things well.) I don’t want to be a jerk about it, but if a company’s actions don’t make sense to me, I’m not afraid to reach out to them and ask for clarification. I learn a lot by the tone and caliber of the responses that I receive back. Putting correspondence on the blog is the most succinct way of telling the story.

FL2W: What are your favorite foods? What is growing your garden this summer?Sarah: Here on the Vermont / New Hampshire border, the growing season is short. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. This year we’ve planted: corn, squash, peas, beans, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes and melon. I also have an herb garden, and wild blackberries which I try every year to tame.
FL2W: Thank you so much Sarah! Check out her blog. Don’t forget to grab a copy of Julia’s Child for your summer reading.
[Photos courtesy of Sarah Pinneo: chives, with Moose Mountain in the distance. And blackberry blossoms.]
Stonyfield logoFor this book club selection, From Left to Write is proud to partner with Stonyfield a company that offers certified organic yogurt, smoothies, milk and much  more.  Stonyfield advocates that healthy food can only come from a healthy planet and is engaged in educating people on eating healthy.

Author Q&A: Natalie Taylor of Signs of Life


 After reading Signs of Life, our book club members wanted to know more about author Natalie Taylor. We’re excited to have Natalie tackle their questions.

Book club members Brenda and Amy H: We’re very curious to know if Natalie’s relationship with her in-laws survived the publication of this book. She’s pretty hard on them. She says in the “thank yous” concerning her in-laws, “Please don’t hate me.” Yikes!

Natalie Taylor: Hi Brenda and Amy, yes my relationship with my in-laws has survived the book.  Both my mother-in-law and sister-in-law were incredibly gracious about the book.  As I say by the end of the book, it was me who had to come full circle to see where they were coming from.  My initial reaction to their presence in my life after losing Josh is not something that I am proud of, but with my level of anger, frustration, all of those things, I just didn’t know where else for all of that to go.  Obviously, just as the books notes, I was the one that had to do the most changing.  They are both amazing people who have helped me immensely.  Since the book, all has been well.  

From Lisa: A lot of the book focuses on Natalie’s emotional journey, but she doesn’t touch on her day to day survival of paying bills, etc. Knowing that very few young families have the forethought to get life insurance, I wondered if they had. What would her advice be to young families getting started in case a tragedy were to strike?

Natalie: In terms of life insurance, this is a tough question.  I really don’t know, I think each family needs to know what is best for them.  I do think long term planning is something that all families should do in the way that works for them.  It’s hard because in one sense I think it is so important to live life in the moment—take vacations together, build the house of your dreams—but on the other hand, we all have to inevitably plan for an unknown future.  I just think all families should do what is best for them and their needs, both short and long term.

From Robin: If Natalie were to write a postscript describing life right now, which book or poem would she reference?

Natalie: Hi Robin!  This is an amazing question!  This year I am teaching Advanced Placement Literature for the first time and I have a brand new syllabus this year.  I remember reading “Song of Myself” [by Walt Whitman] in high school and really not enjoying or understanding it, but rereading it and teaching it this year gave me a whole new perspective.  The entire poem is really this wonderful idea of how we’re all connected, we’re really not all that different from each other and every day holds these wonderful new discoveries for us.  That is really how I see my life now—finding joy in things like bedtime reading, flying a kite on a windy day, or sharing a meal with my family and friends.  My favorite lines are, “Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the /earth much? 
Have you practis’d so long to learn to read? /Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Signs of Life by Natalie TaylorFrom Jennifer B: I’m wondering how Natalie talks to her son about his dad. In the book she talks about knowing that someday he will understand that he lost his father. He may be close to that age now, and I wonder how she approaches this topic.

Natalie:Dear Jennifer B: Talking to Kai about his dad is challenging, but it is really important to me.  Kai is now four, but his concept of permanence has changed over time.  It is becoming clearer to him that his dad was here, but now he’s  not.  When Kai was younger (around three), he would always ask, “But mom, where is heaven?  Can we get there?  What about a space ship?  Or a jet pack?”  These conversations were so painful, but so necessary.  We talk about these ideas a lot mostly because Kai is very interested.  Kai is a very curious guy and I always want to make sure I create a home where he can ask anything, especially about his dad.

From Left to Write: Have your students read your book? What has been their reaction to it?

Natalie: Some of my students have read the book, some have not.  Honestly, I have no idea who has and has not read it.  When I go to school, it’s business as usual.  For those who have read it and have talked to me about it, they are incredibly respectful about it.  They say nice things and they usually say that they didn’t know I used the F-word so much.

FL2W: Your love of literature is prevalent in your memoir. Many high school students might not feel the same way. How does your students’ views on literature and how it relates to their lives change during the course of your class?

Natalie: Indeed, many high school students do not share my love of literature.  As a teacher, I try to be as enthusiastic as possible about what we read and I always do something to bring the text to the twenty-first century.  After a while, the students start to do it themselves.  Just in reading Mrs. Dalloway, one student noted in one of her responses that Clarissa feels about Peter very much how teenage girls feel about teenage boys—she adores him and is frustrated by him at the exact same time.  What girl hasn’t felt that?  They know these books are about the human experience; sometimes you’ve just got to dig through some pretty difficult prose to find it.  

FL2W: Now that your son is older and keeps you busier (I have a 6yo and a 2 yo, so I’m there right now), how do you find time to write? Do you have another book in the works?

Natalie: Writing is a part of my life just like going for a jog or vacuuming the living room.  (All three of those activities, actually, I wished happened more often). I make it a priority and it happens.  I am very busy but after Kai goes to bed, it’s just me in this house and writing has been the thing that has kept me company all of these years.  I still love to sit down in a quiet house and type with absolutely no regard to the clock.  

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Natalie: Thank you so much for choosing Signs of Life!  I am honored to be a part of such a great group!

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions Natalie!

If you missed our book club discussion, please take some time to read our bloggers’ reactions to Signs of Life  During the fifth month of her pregnancy of her first child she is devastated by the sudden death of her husband. In her memoir,  English teacher Natalie Taylor shares her grief journey in her memoir Signs of Life.

Visit Natalie Taylor’s website or follow her blog Signs of (real) Life. She’s also on Twitter and Facebook.

Photo courtesy of Natalie’s website.

Q & A with The Taker’s Alma Katsu

The Taker by Alma Katsu

The Taker by Alma KatsuOne 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.

You’ve been very active on social media and have embraced book bloggers. From an author’s perspective, how do you think social media will affect the book publishing industry?Author Alma Katsu

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!

The Taker is published by Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster. Don’t forget about her book launch party this Thursday!

You can visit Alma Katsu’s website as well as her blog Endpaper Notes. She’s happily  hanging out on Twitter as well.

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.



Author Christi Grab Answers Your Questions About Unexpected Circumnavigation

Thank you for everyone who answered our call for questions for Christi Grab. We already heard from our club members and their stories inspired by  The Unexpected Circumnavigation: Unusual Boat, Unusual People Part I. Christi took some time to answer your  questions about her adventure around the world with her husband.  (Keep reading till the end, we have another book giveaway for you!)

You wrote a lot about the foods and meals you consumed while on your journey. Are there any French Polynesian dishes that you prepare and eat at home now? And after eating so many bananas, do you still eat them? From Michele of Wife and Mommy

Yes, we still eat bananas! Eric and I got used to eating different foods every day as we constantly tried different local dishes. Now that we’re back in land life, we rarely eat out, but I try to cook a big variety of exotic dishes to keep that variety of foods up.

How has your travel changed your perspective on life- from your overall priorities to your pace of life. Also, what did you learn from your trip? From Michelle of Honest and Truly

In a lot of ways, we’ve come back different people. We’ve realized every culture is different. Each culture has aspects that are both better and worse that ours. Every culture has its problems; there is no such thing as a utopia. Most cultures value personal relationships more and live at a slower pace than Americans do; those are priorities we’re trying to hold on to.

 Would you ever do this again? What was the most interesting thing they learned from another culture? One thing they would have done differently? From  Amy at oh what a life

1. We are trying to figure out how to pull it off again! 2. We learned that 99% of the people in the world are kind and helpful. Everyone wants the same thing: to be happy and have healthy children. While cultural values varied, human nature does not. 3. We try not to second guess ourselves; we did the best we could at the time. What will be different next time around really will depend on time and money.

 What sort of additional preparation or training would you suggest to someone who is about to follow in your footsteps? Or rather, are you both satisfied with your preparation and would not have done anything different? From Adrian Douglas

We did the best training we could with the little time we had. It was enough for Eric — he was totally prepared. I probably could have used some more courses, but I had enough training to be adequately prepared and learned the rest as I went.

What was your transition back to life on land like? From Robin at Not Ever Still
It was tough. I got used to a slower life, higher quality food, and spending tons of time with my husband. It took six months and a lot of tears before I felt like I could function in regular society again.

Were you and your husband able to find jobs once you returned? From Melanie at Tales From the Crib

My husband was on sabbatical, so he went back to his same job. I was a mortgage broker, so my job was gone for good.

 What did you learn about yourself or your husband while on this adventure  and how did that change the dynamics of your relationship? From Elaine  of Connor and Helen Grow Up

Couples: In regular life, it was easy for us to sweep our issues under the rug. But locked up in a small boat together, we had no choice but to work out our problems. 93% of couples come back from cruising more happily married. The other 7% get divorced. There is no in between. Self: We were both super busy in land life. Then, suddenly, we had long stretches of empty time while at sea during which we realized who “we” were versus who “society” made us be. It was actually a huge surprise to realize I wasn’t really the person I thought I was.

What is it you love the most about your *Nordhavn 43 #18, “Kosmos”? From  Snappy Clam

Not too small to live on full time, not too big to do all the maintenance ourselves and small enough to manhandle if needed. She is solidly built and we feel safe.

How often do you use the boat now? From Robin at Not Ever Still

We still live on it full time and generally take it out every other weekend for a day trip around San Diego. Once in a while we do a longer trip, like Mexico or LA. Next month we’re going to take a trip to San Francisco.

 If you had the opportunity to go around again, where would you aim to go this time round? Ie. would you take a different route (Cape Horn, South Africa, Northern Europe, etc)? From Adrian Douglas

We picked the shortest route possible because we had such little time. What route we choose next time will depend on how much time we have. We’d happily do the same route, though.

What was your process for writing the book? How was the self publishing experience for you and would you recommend it? From Lisa of Hannemaniacs

I took our existing blog and turned it into more of a flowing story, adding in details that we chose to omit at the time for various reasons. Self-publishing can be overwhelming, but I picked that option because I felt like traditional publishing wasn’t the right avenue for me. I think the second book will be a lot easier than the first.

What would you like your readers to take away from your book?

Don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone and try new things. Yes, you risk lows, but without being willing to deal with the lows, you never get to experience the amazing highs.

Thank for taking letting us pick your brain, Christi! You can pick up your copy of The Unexpected Circumnavigation: Unusual Boat, Unusual People Part I from Amazon. You can follow her adventures on her website.

Christi has also graciously offered a copy of book to a lucky reader.  To enter, leave a comment what luxury you would pack on your boat trip around the world.

For additional entries do any of the following and leave a comment for each item:

A winner will be chosen via on July 29.