Today it is my pleasure to welcome romance author Alma Katsu to HJ!
Hi Alma, welcome to HJ!
For all of HJ’s readers who may not be familiar with your work, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your books?
I’ve written The Taker Trilogy, which are mainstream fiction with elements of historical, romance, and fantasy. Think mash-up between The Time Traveler’s Wifeand early Anne Rice, like The Mayfair Witches or Interview With The Vampire. The trilogy tells the story of a young woman, born over 200 years ago, who—in the pursuit of love—ends up getting pulled into an amazing (though at times dark) adventure.
I started my writing career late, after spending what feels like a lifetime working in the intelligence business. Yes, I worked for the big three-letter agencies and now work as a researcher for a think tank. I live with my husband in the Washington DC area with our two whippets.
If you had a chance to be immortal, what being would you choose to be and why?
I might be in the minority here, but I’m squarely in the camp that thinks eternal life would be a curse and not a gift. Maybe it comes from spending so much time thinking about what characters have to do to make ends meet: how do you pass property on to your new identity? What happens when you run into someone you knew earlier in life and you haven’t aged? Does this mean you have to travel constantly? Imagine the mess in theinternet age, when all your online photos and Facebook posts from your previous lives will follow you around forever? Besides, they say that man is the only creature that is aware of his own mortality, and because we know that it’s all going to end one day that we find something to live for.
I might change my mind if part of the bargain was that I didn’t have to age. It’s no fun having my eyesight fade and my hair turn grey.
Let’s talk about your newest release: The Descent
If you had to summarize the book ‘The Descent’ for the readers here…
By the time we get to The Descent, Lanny(the protagonist) has been trying to make peace with the fact that she will never be with one man she loves (Jonathan) and that she should be happy with the good man who loves her very much. She is hoping, however, that there is still a great love out there waiting for her. She finds out that Jonathan is being held in the next world as the consort of the Queen of the Underworldand Lanny knows of only one person who can help her get to him: Adair, the man she fears more than anything, the man with the mysterious magical powers who made her immortal and condemned her to life without Jonathan.
Please tell us about the characters in your book
The main character is Lanore (Lanny)McIlvrae, a headstrong young woman who was born in a remote Maine outpost in 1797. She had the misfortune to fall in love with Jonathan St. Andrew, the town’s favorite son and heir to a timber fortune, but Jonathan was a playboy who—though very fond of her—did not want to give his heart to just one woman. Her ill-fated love for Jonathan gets her cast out of town and into the life of Adair, who makes her immortal. If she is going to life forever, she wants Jonathan with her and this is where she makes a terrible mistake, because she ends up setting Adair, who is powerful and merciless, against Jonathan, whom she loves unconditionally. Once she’s made Jonathan immortal, she realizes too that he doesn’t want to live forever (he was an exceptional man his entire life; he wants to be normal) and it’s up to her to make things right.
As you wrote your protagonist was there anything about them that surprised you?
I was surprised at how much of myself went into her! That may sound naïve, but I thought at the beginning that we were very different but it turned out not to be the case at all. She is a girl growing up in a small town who longs for something more out of life. She doesn’t think of herself as adventurous but ends up having one of the greatest adventures possible: she is exposed to a world of magic that is hidden from most people, she lives forever, she has to survive by her wits, she learns that she is loved more than she ever imagined. She learns to be compassionate and forgiving and in the end, gets her heart’s desire.
What scene did you most enjoy writing? Why?
I really looked forward to writing the scene where Adair sends Lanny to the underworld, even though neither of them knows what will be waiting for her or if they’ll ever see each other again. Like most people, I’m intrigued by the question of what happens when we die. It is the big question, isn’t it, and so it was fun to get to explore what this really meant to me. I’ll just give a bit at the tail end as there’s a bit of a spoiler earlier in the scene:
“ ‘I’m a little scared,’ I admitted.
‘I’ll be right here. I won’t leave your side. Don’t forget: the vial. Release it and I will bring you back in a heartbeat.’ He ran a fingertip over my forehead, brushing a lock of hair aside in a tender moment of concern, my last image of him as I felt myself falling for real, halfway inside another world, with the world I knew galloping away from me. Adair disappeared from my view and I saw nothing but blackness, walls of blackness falling away from me. I held on to consciousness a moment longer, enough to realize that this didn’t feel like the transformation at all. There was no pain, only the feeling of being pulled along at an incredible speed through utter darkness—where was the night everyone talked about seeing as they were dying? And then, just as suddenly, there was nothing. No reassuring presence at my side, no vial in my hand, no lingering taste of vanilla on my lips. No blackness of the rush of wind on my face as I fell. Nothing at all.
What scene was the hardest to write? Why?
There were a lot of hard scenes to write in this book because it’s all pretty magical: envisioning the underworld, whether it would be like the Greek version or more in keeping with a religious vision, whether Hindu or Christian… Underneath it all is the moral question: why was Lanny chosen to live forever, was there something she was supposed to learn from it or was she being punished for her betrayal of Jonathan all those years earlier? There was a lot of ground to cover.
At one point, Lanny meets up again with Sophia, a woman whom she’d wronged in the town of her childhood. Sophia had been having an affair with Jonathan and became pregnant by him, and Lanny had convinced Jonathan to leave her. Sophia ends up drowning herself. At the end of the scene with Sophia, Lanny learns that her former rival has been given an eternal punishment:
Sophia shifted the bundle she was carrying one more time, bracing it against her hip. Ah, the baby. This was something in her favor: at least she’d had her baby with her for eternity—mine had been taken from me. I felt a pang of envy as I watched her…but then it occurred to me that something was wrong. I’d not heard the baby once this whole time. Not a burble, not a cry, not a sneeze. The child was very still.
Who would you cast in the role of your characters if your book were optioned for a movie?
This has proved to be a really hard question. How would you cast Jonathan, for example, who is supposed to be the most handsome man who has ever lived (well, someone has to be, right? And the reason is actually explained at the end of The Descent.) You can see where this would lead to a lot of debate.
I’m so bad at this question (because I don’t watch many movies) that I’ve thrown it open to my readers. We even have Pinterestboards where they nominate actors for certain roles! [http://www.pinterest.com/almakatsu/] Anyone can join in the fun.
If you could have given your characters one piece of advice before the opening pages of the book, what would it be and why?
The advice I would give them—which I would also give to readers—is that nothing is as it appears.
What are you currently working on? What other releases do you have planned for 2014?
I’m working on a brand new stand alone historical right now, set in Georgian England, about a pair of highwaymen and a down-on-her-luck serving girl. I’m afraid I’m a fairly slow writer and don’t have any other releases scheduled for 2014.
Where can readers get in touch with you?
I’m pretty active on Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alma-Katsu-author/152469558105584] and less so on Twitter [@almakatsu]. If they want to stay up on new releases I’d suggest joining the mailing list [http://www.almakatsu.com/contact.php#mailing-list] (as a matter of fact I’d love it if they joined the mailing list!). They can visit my website at www.almakatsu.com and they can always write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
GIVEAWAY: 2 print copies of THE DESCENT
To enter Giveaway: Please complete the Rafflecopter form and post a comment to this Q: In The Descent, Lanny goes to the underworld to save the person dearest to her in the entire world. For whom would you go to the underworld? Why?
Adair stood at the foot of Lanny’s bed, close to bursting with impatience. She’d been asleep for months, the vial cradled securely in her hand. He’d never guessed, when he agreed to help her, that she’d be away this long. It seemed a cruel trick and he wondered for the thousandth time if she had done it on purpose. He itched to call her back, and yet honor kept him from doing so—honor! He’d certainly never been an honorable man before and was not oblivious to the irony. For centuries, he’d happily lived by his own code, his allegiance worm to knowledge and discovery. Now it was Lanore’s idea of honor that bound him. He thought of the things he’d done in his life that would horrify her, beyond lying and stealing and cheating. She had a notion of these deeds from his past, of course, but if she knew them all, rally knew what he was capable of, he feared she could never love him, never trust him. He might be too corrupt to deserve love, his sins too horrible to be forgiven—this recognition of his unworthiness alone was a measure of how much he’d changed, but would it be enough to ultimately win over Lanore?
“He was tired of living in suspense. Come back to me, he thought, rapping his knuckles impatiently against the rail at the foot on the bed. She might come back if she knew how much I wanted her, he thought as he closed his eyes, stoking the warm glow deep in his heart.Surely you can feel how desperately I want you here with me.
“She might come back if everything was beautiful and at the ready for her, he decided. The idea of beauty floated over the island like pollen on the wind, and tiny seedlings began to sprout instantly where there had been only hard black rock, and from the seedlings, stems shot skyward, leaves unfurled and spread. Buds appeared—pale pink, lavender, indigo,white—then blossomed in the full light of the sun. A carpet of flowers spread across the island from shore to shore, covering rock, moss, and black pebble beach…The island was covered in a riot of pastel color; vines crept to the fortress walls and soon petunias and morning glories twined around the iron bars over the windows. It was awash in scent, too, the subtle perfume of hundreds and thousands of blooms.
“Wake up, he thought, climbing into bed beside her. Can a heart that feels love this deeply and can create such beauty be entirely bad? he wanted to ask her. Will you believe now that I have repented for you? That you can trust me with your heart?