Alma Katsu, Author of The Taker Trilogy – Exclusive Interview
JMW: Hello. This is Jean Marie Ward for BuzzyMag.com. With me today, at One More Page Books, is Alma Katsu, the international best-selling author of the Taker Trilogy. Welcome, Alma.
Alma Katsu: Thank you for having me, Jean Marie.
JMW: My pleasure. The Taker Trilogy is a wonderful mixture of mainstream, romance and fantasy elements. Which came first, the characters or their paranormal world?
Alma Katsu: Well, I’d have to say they probably came together. I want to say the characters came first, because that’s really what drove me to write the series. I got the idea for the main characters, Lenore, the woman who lives for love basically, falls disastrously in love with the wrong man and it ruins her life. And Jonathan, a little cattish man that she falls in love with. But then the story just grew out of there. I think the supernatural part came because I grew up in a very, very spooky little town in Maynard, Massachusetts. Just grew up around cemeteries and, you know, ghost stories and all that sort of thing. And it was bound to seep in to any story that I told.
JMW: You said Massachusetts. That, of course, spooky springs to mind, Salem. Why did you go for alchemy in the trilogy instead of witchcraft?
Alma Katsu: Well, that’s a funny thing. Alchemy, as you read the series, as you go along, alchemy isn’t really even what’s happening here. There’s a magic that runs through the books, but the secret behind the magic isn’t really explained until the very end of all three books. So it was very hard juggling that. But one of the themes of it is that all you know from life are stories. The stories that you sort of even know about yourself. You tell a story to yourself and that sort of makes you who you are. And the villain, who sort of evolves into a hero by the end of the series, the story he tells himself is that he’s an alchemist, that he has these magical abilities because of what he’s learned through alchemy. He considers himself a man of science, not a man of magic. But the things that he does are very magical, and you don’t understand really what’s going on, where he gets his power and why he can do the things he can do until you read the third book, The Defense, which is coming out in January.
JMW: Yes, I was going to ask you isn’t it coming out soon? People will be able to know the secret very, very soon.
Alma Katsu: Right. You have to hang on for all three books to know the secret, which is, I think, it’s a little out of the ordinary. Not too many books are able to sustain such a central element I think until the very end.
JMW: Great. I can’t wait to read it. Did you realize when you were writing, when you started writing The Taker, that you were blurring genre lines?
Alma Katsu: I think I was aware of it, although it’s the kind of story that I enjoy reading, like The Time Traveler’s Wife, you know, some of the early Anne Rice, trying to think of some, you know . . . .
JMW: Yeah, I probably saw it in your so-called villain.
Alma Katsu: [laughs] Right. So, you know, it was the kind of books that I like to read, the ones that sort of have this confabulation of a bunch of different elements. You know, there’s a lot of historical in there, there’s the supernatural element, you know, all these things is what I wanted. I didn’t really realize that that was sort of a difficult thing to sell. I mean, I think a lot of people enjoy reading these kinds of books but they’re hard
to find, they’re hard to describe, they’re certainly hard to market to find, they’re hard to describe, they’re certainly hard to market.
JMW: Yeah, that was going to be my next question. Did the mixture present any particular challenges to you as a writer? And then after it’s over we all know that writing the book, getting it published is only half of the job. There is getting it before the public.
Alma Katsu: It wasn’t a problem writing it. It all seemed to link together just very naturally. I did worry about it as we were trying to find the right publisher for it to make sure that we were putting it in very good hands. The funny thing is, the book has really resonated much more overseas than in America. I’m not exactly sure why that is, if it’s just the sort of thing that maybe foreign audiences are more open to or more willing to accept, or that we’re just not able to hit the right audiences here. You know, maybe we’re having a problem because people are so used to wanting to read in a particular genre. So, for some reason it sort of got pushed to the paranormal romance crowd. It’s certainly not a paranormal romance. So you’re going to find some people who are going to love it and embrace it, and some people who won’t because it’s not the genre they were expecting. I think that’s a little bit of the problem, when people are expecting it to be a particular genre and they find out that it’s not.
JMW: You have a rather high-powered day job.
Alma Katsu: [laughs]
JMW: How did you’re day job influence your characters, because I think, you know, reading The Taker, I kind of think that they were twisty enough that it did.
Alma Katsu: Well, it’s so funny because, so I’ll explain for people who don’t know me. I had a 30 year career in intelligence as a senior intelligence analyst for some of those organizations that don’t like to talk about themselves for the federal government. And then I went on and am now a senior researcher for a think tank. When we sold The Taker, which is, as we described, this historical, supernatural, epic, kind of dark love story, has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence work or anything like that. I felt very sure that there was no link between my day job, the world I knew, and the book. I was at lunch with a bunch of executives with Simon and Schuster shortly after the book sold, and an editor, not my editor but an editor, talked to me and she said, ‘You know, do you think there’s any connection?’ She asked the question, and I said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ And she said, ‘Really? Because you have the most manipulative, deceiving characters in your book, and I was just wondering.’ And I looked at her and I thought, you know, you’re absolutely right. I do think I that’s the case, because, you know, I spent most of my adult life in the intelligence business, and there’s some wonderful things about it, but it really is sort of the dark arts and there’s a lot, things are not what they appear to be. Nothing is straightforward in the intelligence business. And after 30 years, that just permeates your consciousness I think. So now I notice, my characters are all pretty deceptive. But aren’t characters in most books? You don’t just march into a situation and sort of spill your guts, right? It’s the writers art to sort of weave the story. So I think it’s all for the good. But if you want a lesson in manipulatievness, you might want to look at these books.
Check out More Alma Katsu Fiction!
JMW: Cool, cool. We’ve mentioned that The Descent will be coming out in January 2014, and it’s the last of the trilogy. Can your fans expect any other stories in the world of The Taker trilogy?
Alma Katsu: Well, I’ll tell you, when I was working on the second book, delivered it in at over 400 pages, my editor came back and said, ‘There’s just too much history in this, you have to take that out. You know, I want a much more straightforward book.’ I thought that the fans would want to know what happened. You know, there was this element of immortality, so the villain, Adair, has lived for about 1000 years and other key characters lived for about 200, 250 years. So I think characters would want to know, what happens in the back story, and all the little empty pockets that were discussed in the first two books. So I tried to tuck a lot of that in and it all got cut for this. There’s a little bit of Adair’s back story in this, but the rest of it got cut. So there’s a chance that maybe some of those cut scenes will come out. They’re all about 50 page clumps, so maybe a few develop. But the next book I’m working on is a stand alone and although it has a lot of the same elements, it has historical in it, it has supernatural, there’s this incredibly epic love story in it, it is not part of The Taker myth. There’s no connection between the two stories.
JMW: And that’s what you’re working on now. That’s what you’ve just revived.
Alma Katsu: Right, right.
JMW: Yeah. And we all know production cycles. Unfortunately it could take a long time before we can see it. Can you tell us a little bit more about it thought, because it will take forever to see it.
Alma Katsu: Right. Well, I hope it . . .
JMW: Is it the same kind of genre blending?
Alma Katsu: It is. I mean, it’s got a lot of the same elements. There’s a present day frame. It’s mostly set in the present day and you go into the character’s back story. It’s the story of a man and a woman who have lived for about 500 years. And they have, their way to immortality however, is to jump with their soul from body to body. So in order to live, somebody else has to die. And so what’s, you see them struggling with that morally in their way. But you get their whole back story and you find out why they’re doing this and what drives them. And then they run into this problem. The male character, Nicodemus jumps into this new body and he finds out that he can’t die, that the body’s immortal and they have no idea why. And that’s sort of the opening of the back story.
Alma Katsu: I have to say, I am the worst person in the world for describing a book.
JMW: I don’t know, that sounded pretty good to me.
Alma Katsu: Oh, well thanks. I had to switch agents, so this will be the first book with my new agent and he’s very excited about it, as a matter of fact. I think he’s almost sold it to a movie production company already.
JMW: Ooh, cool.
Alma Katsu: And we don’t even have a publisher for it yet so, we’ve got our fingers crossed on this one.
JMW: Well, if you get a movie deal, you’ll get a publisher. Trust that. Anything you’d like to add?
Alma Katsu: Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate it. We met at Cap Clave, had a great time. That was my first time at Cap Clave. You made me feel very welcome, felt very appreciated. So thank you so much for this.
Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.