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Interview With Alma Katsu

If you are anything like me, then when you really love a book you want everyone to check it out.  You might be on Taker overload, but I’m going to hit you one more time this week.

What I loved most about The Taker is the darkness that is explored, how easy it is to be led astray when you think your life has changed inexorably, and what it means to love.  Love is a tricky emotion, particularly when you are obsessed with the object of that love.

What’s even better than loving the book, is adoring the author behind the book.  Alma Katsu is adorable, fun, and so intelligent, it hurts.  I was lucky enough to get her to answer a few interview questions via email, and I’m here to share them with you.  Of course, if you are looking for yet another entry to my ARC giveaway, please leave a comment below.

Without further ado, please welcome Alma.

The Taker is about love and immortals, but not vampires or werewolves. You may have been asked this question before, but why not vampires since they seem to be so popular right now?

When I started writing The Taker over ten years ago, the horror genre was languishing. Nobody wanted anything new that was ‘horror’, whether it was a vampire or a werewolf or something completely different. You’ve probably heard The Taker being compared to early Anne Rice; well, I remember at the very first agent consultation I had for The Taker, a well-known agent told me that no one wanted a vampire story, and there was room for only one Anne Rice in the business, so I should hang it up.

To be fair to the agent, my writing was pretty bad then, and maybe he thought he was doing a favor to the industry by trying to discourage me so very thoroughly. It just goes to show, though, that no one really knows what’s going to be popular in publishing (and again, to be fair to publishers, they admit this themselves.)

The atmosphere in your novel is rather ominous throughout, was it hard to ensure that condition endured through the entire book? Were there moments that were edited out that would have lightened the mood? If so, why did you eliminate them?

No, if anything, previous versions were darker! I think during my formative years as a reader, fiction tended to be darker and, in general, different from what modern readers have come to expect. And I have a fairly dark outlook on life, so the story it didn’t seem unusual to me.

(I would have loved to read the darker versions!)

You mentioned during the Novel Places event for The Taker that you admire Shirley Jackson and particularly, The Lottery. Did you have other influences as a reader and writer, and what about their style influenced you and can you see those influences in your work (i.e. feel free to provide an example of style from another writer in The Taker if you like)?

Speaking of writers of melancholy stories—Thomas Hardy was an influence (Hardy and not Dickens, that should give you some idea.) Patricia Highsmith, the crime and mystery writer. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Also, novels such as Fanny Hill or Moll Flanders—or their modern counterparts, Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue or Fanny by Erica Jong—that told the story of a woman trying to survive and making her way in the world during inopportune times.

I noticed a bit of a nod to Edgar Allan Poe in The Taker. Was that intentional? Have you read Poe? Which of his works would be a favorite?

I read a lot of Poe when I was very young. I admire his ability to create such original, yet deeply macabre, stories. He was not afraid to dwell on the dark thoughts that most of us occasionally have, and investigate them fully in order to find the story in them. Many writers toy at darkness and mimic what they’re read elsewhere, but Poe was willing to really understand darkness.

As a writer do you have any obsession and/or habits while writing, or music or how-to writing manual preferences? And can you offer advice as to whether an MFA is necessary for an amateur writer to get their book published or if the degree is worthwhile?

I went to a graduate writing program—Johns Hopkins—and while I got a lot out of that experience, I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone. It’s definitely a personal decision. Most programs won’t necessarily open doors to the publishing industry—only certain schools are well-connected enough to merit special treatment from a few agents or publishers. The only way to get the interest of an agent and publisher is to have written a darned good book or have an irresistible platform (for instance, you’re a big television star.)

I don’t think I have any obsessions but I try to have good habits: I work at writing every day, try to grow as a writer and produce better material today than I did yesterday.

Thanks, Alma, for sharing your thoughts on writing and writers.  If you are up in New England over the next week or so, Alma will be out and about signing books.  Pop by to see her, and please tell her I sent you.

Oct. 23 at Concord, Mass., Festival of Authors on the New Literary Voices panel at 3 p.m.

Oct. 27 at Longfellow Books in Portland, ME (This works well with her recent mention in Down East magazine and a short story in Portland magazine)

Oct. 28 at Jabberwocky Books in Newburyport, Mass. at 7 p.m.

This is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since Katsu has worked in Washington, D.C., and now resides in Virginia.

  • Sounds good, and I was also intrigued by the Poe thing. Because I do know his work and any comparison is a good thing

  • Na S.

    I really like that it explores the dark side of immortality. It’s different and refreshing and doesn’t feature vampires -a common choice. Thanks for another chance to win it.

  • Bummer no The Monk by Matthew Lewis at the library!

    • That is a bummer! And it is called The Monk, so at least I didn’t mess that up. I also wonder if Wilkie Collins might be a good dark/moody fix.

      • Wilkie is not my friend…I tried to read Woman in White (I think that’s the name) and couldn’t get into it…but could’ve been my mood.

  • Great interview! I wasn’t wild about the book but enjoyed Laney’s back story (since I love all kinds of New England fiction!) and I can so see the melancholy influences in her writing. Having finished my first Hardy earlier this year, the wild abandon of his landscapes are definitely echoed in Katsu’s narrative, too. I loved her use of the Pinocchio story, too, as a springboard — this book is a perfect beach-y read for when it’s too cold to go to the beach!

    • Audra, LOL perfect beachy read for when its too cold to go to the beach! Love that. I’ve missed darker books…I love Poe. I must read Hardy, since he’s been recommended more than once to me.

      • I love Poe too!! So good — all his stuff. Amazing. Hardy was fantastic — at least, my first Hardy — so I recommend him for sure. If you like dark, have you read Matthew Lewis’ The Monk? (I’m pretty sure that’s what it’s called.) It’s this lurid, over-the-top Gothic novel that is ridiculous/fun.

        • No Lewis?! I’ll have to check that out. Which Hardy did you read? Should I read that one?

          • I read Far From the Madding Crowd which was amazing — totally delish & divine. Not dark, exactly, not the way The Taker and Poe is dark, but it is very savage, very wild. I’m trying to fit in another Hardy this year if I can!

  • Great post! I’m really looking forward to reading this novel.

    • I hope you get to it…It really is rich and dark, like some great 85% Cacao chocolate!

  • Ti

    I think it’s easier to take the vampire route these days. Vampires are not especially deep or complex (IMO). What she’s created in her book sounds much more appealing.

    Speaking of vamps..did you hear that Stephen King is writing a sequel to The Shining? He said it will have vamps, but ones that suck psychic abilities…not blood. He is revamping the vamp. I had to get that in there 🙂

    • I did know he was writing a sequel to The Shining, but I’m not sure about the vamp angle, but I’m willing to check it out. Revamping the Vamp. LOL 😉

  • Terrific interview. Like you, I’d be curious to read the earlier versions if they were darker. This was a pretty dark book.

    • Oh, good, I’m not the only one?!

  • I snagged a copy of this at the library the other day. I hope I get time to read it before it has to go back. Great interview!

    • I hope you do check this out…its really great.

  • You make the book sound so dark – it’s hard to believe that came from the mind of such a sweet person! Great interview!

    • Right! But I adore dark stories…so I wonder what that says about me.

  • I’m intrigued by the comparison to Poe. I enjoy dark books, too. Maybe I’ll borrow your copy at some point.

    • I noticed the Poe, but was glad she mentioned the Pinocchio backbone to the story — I probably would not have noticed that. You can borrow it if you take good care of it!

  • I loved reading what both you and the author had to say about The Taker. It sounds like a different reading experience. Hope I get a chance to read this one at some point.

    • It was definitely a different reading experience…and some will enjoy it more than others.