Alma Katsu is the author of THE TAKER and THE RECKONING (Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster), the first two novels in a trilogy about desire, obsession and the dark things we sometimes do for love. The Taker, which has been widely compared to the early work of Anne Rice, was selected by ALA/Booklist as one of the top ten debut novels of 2011 and translation rights have been sold in 14 languages. The third book in The Taker Trilogy, THE DESCENT, just came out on Jan. 7th!
Alma was kind enough to chat with me about the new book, closing out a trilogy, and more!
Kristin Centorcelli: The third novel in your Taker Trilogy, THE DESCENT, just came out! Will you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? What inspired you to start writing the Taker Trilogy?
Alma Katsu: I’m one of those people who wanted to be a writer from a very early age. I was an avid reader from age eight. To show you how much time I spent in a library, as a kid they offered me a job as a page. I might as well; I was always there anyway. My degrees are in writing but somehow I had the opportunity to work in the intelligence business and ended up having a complete career doing very technical work, but the furthest thing from the kind of books I write. Now I work at a think tank working on policy issues, mostly technology policy.
The Taker novel came from a short story I wrote when I was in my early twenties, which was a heck of a long time ago. It sat festering in my head until I decided at 40 to try writing fiction again. From the day I picked up the pen to when the novel sold was 10 years, writing every day. I must have been insane.
AK: When The Descent opens, 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 she has 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 Underworld and 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.
I know that makes it sound like a romance but it really isn’t. All three books in the trilogy are different. The Taker is very dark and Gothic-y; The Reckoning is a chase book, with the protagonist being chased by the antagonist bent on revenge; and The Descent is like a fairy tale. Readers have told me they like that it changes; it keeps them from being bored.
KC: Is it bittersweet for you to be concluding the trilogy? Do you have plans for any more books in the Taker world?
AK: To be honest, I feel like I need a break for it. It’s a demanding world to write, what with all the running back and forth in time and around the globe, trying to keep track of what-happened-the-last-time-we-saw-Mr. X. You start to live in the dread fear that you’re forgetting that you gave so-and-so a limp back in book two or something. I have no plans for another Taker book at the moment but never say never, eh? I have a couple hundred pages of historical backstory that got culled from the manuscripts that I wouldn’t mind see end up as a collection of short stories.
AK: I like that she acts like a real person. At the beginning of the series, it’s the early 1800s and she’s a child navigating her way to the mysterious land of adulthood. She discovers that she can have more than she ever thought possible (having grown up in an isolated little village where everyone has descended from Puritans). She discovers she likes sex (Puritans, remember). She comes up against someone much stronger than her, someone who is determined to have things his way, and she figures out how to get the better of him but that means he will be trying to get his revenge for all of eternity. For a story with magic running through it, the characters are pretty realistic, I think. Adult, complex, conflicted, sometimes duplicitous, often maddening. Human.
KC: What is your writing process like? Are you a meticulous plotter or a seat-of-your-pants writer?
AK: I am one of the hybrid plot-pantsers. I love when all this stuff I didn’t plan for happens organically and for me, that’s usually during the first draft. Then in the revision process, out come the spreadsheets so I can keep track of plot points and characters’ comings-and-goings, color-coding etc. (satisfying the analyst in me).
KC: What are a few books, or authors, that you would say have influenced your writing the most?
AK: Shirley Jackson. Probably Audrey Niffenegger’s Time Traveler’s Wife, which is such a magnificent being of engineering that I’ve always been in awe of it. Anne Rice’s Interview With The Vampire, another amazing book that managed to change how we think about monsters. Nathaniel Hawthorne. The story of Beauty and the Beast: what a head trip for little girls. And the movie Orlando was a huge influence on The Taker, the lushness of it.
AK: I’m researching my WIP, is a historical set in the Georgian period in England. I’m up to my navel in history books. But I’m also rereading—or rather, finishing—The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber to sort of “tune up” my voice for the novel.
KC: When you’re not working on your next project, how do you like to spend your free time?
AK: What is this ‘free time’ you speak of?
KC: What’s next for you?
AK: Hopefully this historical I’m working on will go somewhere but I’ve just started it, and these things are quite a crapshoot, as you know. So, I guess I’m crossing my fingers and hope that in a year I’ll have something.