Author Interview With Alma Katsu
Paranormal author Alma Katsu debuted last year with the much discussed series starter The Taker. This year's follow up, The Reckoning, earned a Top Pick! from RT reviewer Terri Dukes. The trilogy follows Lanny, a very special woman who once called upon dark magic to save her one true love. Lanore (aka Lanny) has attracted the attention of Dr. Luke Findley, who is instantly drawn to her. But Lanny's lure doesn't stop with a intriguing doctor, her magic also puts her on the radar of the dangerous supernatural ruler, Adair. We asked the author to bring new readers up to speed on her trilogy, just in time for The Reckoning's release.
RT BOOK REVIEWS: June’s The Reckoning received an RT Top Pick and the high praise, “It’s one of this reviewer’s favorites so far this year.” But you broke out of the pack with your debut novel 2011’s The Taker. Your heroine Lanore is at the center of this paranormal series and we have to ask, why do you think that readers have responded so positively to her?
Alma Katsu: Being selected a Top Pick was a huge surprise and a great honor, so let me first thank Terri Dukes for her vote of confidence. As for Lanore, I think there’s a lot about her that readers can relate to. We meet her when she’s very young and trying to make a life for herself as an adult. She tries to win the man she loves, a rich boy who is not deserving of her. She is pushed out of the small town she grew up in and has make sense of the big wide world, which is a good deal more wicked than she bargained for. Readers probably have at least one friend like Lanore, a woman who is adventurous but headstrong, and sometimes makes bad choices. Some readers might even see a bit of themselves in Lanny.
RT: The Taker is full of dark magic and darker motivations. How did you go about crafting this story’s forbidding tone?
AK: The dark, mystical tone of The Taker came from an early love of all things Gothic and magical. I was fascinated with the occult when I was young and read every book of magic I could find. I knew so many spells that I could’ve gone to Hogwarts. (As I went to a Catholic school, this didn’t go over very well with the nuns, as you can imagine.) Gothic literature and movies were very popular when I was a kid, too — I’m part of the Dark Shadows generation — and I think these elements brewed inside me for decades before surfacing in The Taker.
RT: These days, Lanny is not alone, she has the companionship of Luke, a human who becomes part of her existence. What has prepared Luke to enter the paranormal world that he suddenly finds himself in?
AK: Luke wants very much to please Lanny, so much so that he’s joined her magical world. But he’s a doctor, a man of science, and he tends to be ruthlessly practical, and so Lanny’s world doesn’t make sense to him. He tries to see things from her perspective but when Lanny warns him that the most horrible evil is about to descend on them, he has trouble believing her. He hasn’t experienced it for himself, and he’s about to have his world turned upside down — for a second time.
RT: Lanny has also attracted the attention of Adair, the cunning and powerful leader of the high court of Lanny’s supernatural world. If you had to explain his character in a tweet, 140 characters, what would it be?
AK: I’m going to have to steal what Lady Caroline Lamb famously said about Lord Byron: “Mad, bad and dangerous to know.” He’s the ultimate Byronic character, with a little Heathcliff and Lestat thrown in: handsome, seductive, but terribly volatile. His only redeeming characteristic is that he’s willing to make himself vulnerable to the right woman and it’s Lanny (mis)fortune to be that woman.
RT: The Taker recounts the story of a love that spans time. Which era was the easiest for you to write and which was the most difficult and why?
AK: I found the modern scenes to be the most difficult to write. The characters had lived a long time by that point in the story and had been through a lot emotionally — love, longing, loss — and their mental state had to reflect that. The easiest part to write was Adair’s story, which is a long flashback in the medieval period explaining how he obtained his magical powers. As mentioned, I already knew a lot about the occult and, for a previous project, had learned a good deal about everyday life in medieval times, so I didn’t need to do much research. Plus, I wanted that part of the novel to be like an old fairy tale, so I’d already given myself permission to make it fantastical. The combination of the two made these chapters a lot of fun to write.
RT: If someone hasn’t read the first book in the series, what are the three facts that they must know before diving into The Reckoning?
AK: One: Lanny grew up in a remote, hard-scrabble Maine settlement in the early 1800s, a time when women’s prospects were quite limited. Her "sin" was that she wanted more from life than what was open to her, and this led to her to make some bad choices. For that she was cursed to suffer for two hundred years, including losing Jonathan, the man for whom she had given up everything.
Two: Adair has the ability to make you immortal via a magic elixir. But there’s a catch, the person who is given eternal life is bound forever to the one who gave him the potion. This is because immortality is punishment for the wicked, who are forced to spend eternity with the ruthless Adair. But Lanny doesn’t know this when she steals the elixir and binds Jonathan to her — and when she finds out, it’s up to her to free them both.
Three: Nothing is as it seems.
RT: As The Reckoning opens, Lanny and Luke are in Paris, trying to start over. Is there something in their life together that always makes the couple smile?
AK: They are both trying to learn to live in the present moment: Lanny is trying to move on from the past while Luke is learning to enjoy life again after a painful episode, and each is a good influence on the other. Knowing that they are good for each other, despite their tremendous differences, makes them smile. Also, Lanny — who is unable to have children — gets a taste of parenthood by being a stepmother to Luke’s daughters. Thinking about the girls, and knowing what a good father Luke is, makes her happy.
RT: Because this is an Alma Katsu story, things don’t stay easy for long, and when Lanny feels Adair’s prison open, she runs. What are the things that she finds essential for living while she’s fleeing from Adair’s revenge?
AK: You can’t be on the lam without money, and the more you have the easier it is to keep moving. In order to outrun Adair, Lanny needs to change her identity, and buying fake passports and the like requires a lot of money. Luckily she has money, but she can’t have what she really wants at this point in her life, which is stability. She’s been forced to leave the man who loves her so that he won’t be in jeopardy. She can’t go home, where she keeps the few things that bring her joy (a portrait of Jonathan, mementos of past lives) because that’s the first place Adair will look for her. She has very few old friends she can turn to for help. She quickly sees that life on the run may not be worth living, but being immortal, her only options are to let Adair catch her or hope he tires of the chase.
RT: Okay, let’s talk Alma. You were born in Alaska, grew up outside of Boston, live in DC and worked as a senior intelligence analyst. You have had a pretty fantastic life. How has your travels and career influenced your series?
AK: It’s crazier than that: I was also a music journalist for a while in the 1980s, interviewing rock stars. So, yes, all in all I have had a really interesting time and I wouldn’t have predicted any of it when I was growing up in a small town, listening to the nuns and wondering what my life would be like.
I think everything you experience has the potential to come out in fiction, because writing is an exercise in tapping your subconscious. I didn’t believe this at first; I thought I’d kept my subconscious in check and it wasn’t until afterwards that I realized my neuroses had spilled out all over the page. Hopefully they’re well camouflaged.
The Taker was influenced by my career in intelligence, though I didn’t realize it right away. Someone at the publishing house pointed out that the one trait the characters share is that they’re all pretty manipulative and deceptive, and she asked if this had anything to do with having worked at CIA. Once she brought it up I saw the connection clearly, but it didn’t register earlier because I’d spent so much time in that environment that I didn’t see how unusual it was. To me, that was normal behavior.
There have been positive influences too, such as having an interest in world culture. For instance, I’m fascinated with the countries of the old Silk Road: it’s a region that’s exotic and diverse, richly cultured and primitive at the same time. To this day, there are some parts that are still frontier, the last places on earth where you can escape modernity. I’d even set a few chapters in Mongolia and eastern Turkey in an earlier version of The Reckoning. They didn’t survive the final edit, but a long chapter about Lanny’s time in China may turn up in the last book in the trilogy, The Descent.
RT BOOK REVIEWS: Can readers get ready for more of Lanny’s story? What can we expect next?
Alma Katsu: Like everyone else, Lanny wants to find love. She has been loved by several wonderful men over the course of her two hundred years, but she continues to hope for that one spectacular love, the one that gives meaning to her life. In The Reckoning, ultimately she has to choose between two men. She makes her choice, but as we’ll see in the final book, The Descent, fate is not finished with her. Lanny must make a perilous journey of discovery, where she learns not only about herself but of the truth behind Adair’s magical powers, and her reward is greater than she could ever imagine.
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