The Big Idea: Alma Katsu

Inspiration comes from anywhere… and sometimes that inspiration is not directly obvious even to the author. When Alma Katsu set down to write The Taker, she discovered in the process that a classic bit of literature was informing the story that she was building on the pages. What classic? The surprising answer awaits you.

ALMA KATSU:

When I started writing The Taker, first and foremost I wanted it to be the kind of book I enjoyed reading. That meant it had to be big and sweeping, with dark characters that—despite your better instincts—could make shivers of delight run up your spine. It would be set in a time in which women wore long skirts and men wore frock coats, and would be full of delightful period details and flourishes. It would have magical bits, scary bits, and sexy bits, sort of one part old-fashioned fairy tale to two parts early Anne Rice.

The story opens in the early 1800s, in the Maine territory. In that time, childhood lasted until around age six, after which children are treated as little adults and expected to shoulder their share of household duties. Lanore is a young girl from a poor family, in a rush to grow up before she even knows what that really means. She falls in love with Jonathan, the son of the town’s founder and the most desirable boy in town. He is drawn to her, too, but they both know she would not be a suitable match in the eyes of his family. Nevertheless, they act on their feelings, and this leads to Lanny’s disgrace and banishment from town.

In Boston, Lanore meets Adair, a man of great wealth and otherworldly powers, and under Adair’s tutelage, Lanore is introduced to the mysteries of adulthood. She learns about the pleasure and power of sex. No longer subject to her parents’ dictates, she forms her own tastes and preferences, experiences independence for the first time, and takes her first steps toward adulthood—though perhaps on the wrong path.

When Adair offers Lanore the power to bind Jonathan to her forever, she faces a moral dilemma. The life she can give Jonathan is one he would enjoy—it would be filled with pleasure, and enable him to escape his responsibilities at home—but it comes at a price. She could argue too, that Jonathan is in her debt, since he had a role in her downfall. The question facing Lanore is whether she will put her own wishes before those of Jonathan, whether she has made the transition to adulthood, or if she still is as selfish as a child.

If the story seems a bit familiar, it’s because it’s loosely based on the folktale of Pinocchio. Lanore wants to become a woman, just as Pinocchio wanted to become a real boy, but in order to reach her goal, she must deal with temptation. The stakes are higher in The Taker than in Pinocchio, however, and the characters’ guilt or innocence is not easy to determine. Nor is there a Blue Fairy hovering in the wings, ready to set everything right. It will be up to Lanore to fix any wrongs she commits.  And it’s not just Lanore who is tested: all the characters are challenged to take responsibility for things they did in their past and for their current wicked ways. The selfish and wicked aren’t turned into donkeys: they’re given the ‘gift’ of immortality, only to learn that immortality is not what they’d imagined.

When I started working on The Taker, I didn’t realize it was based on Pinocchio. Since novels come from the writer’s subconscious, I suppose this means that the themes from Pinocchio are stuck in the murky dreck in the back of my mind. But I hope it also means that The Taker explores the same universal anxieties addressed by fairy tales and folk tales: what makes us human? Am I worthy of love? If I do bad things, does that make me a bad person? These are the questions I tried to explore in The Taker, albeit wrapped up in a lush, dark, mystical story, and I hope that if this sounds like your kind of novel, you will give The Taker a try.

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The Taker: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (pdf). Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

5 thoughts on “The Big Idea: Alma Katsu

  1. (This will be a bit random.)

    What is pulling me into The Taker, despite my usual aversion to most romance/period fiction, is a combination of a few things, but one of the main things is the frame story — a present tense (she says, not she said) modern hospital setting where a mysterious suspect/patient is brought in to tell her story. (This is the sample chapter 1 PDF.) So this gives me a little bit of a story I can sink my teeth into, and I have to confess to a bit of a sucker for a frame story for a couple of reasons. (1) obviously the speaker is still alive so I have some idea of the dramatic arc bringing her to this eventual destination, like a kind of storytelling gravity, allowing a dark sense of fate to permeate the novel and (2) Patrick Rothfuss, Saving Private Ryan, Frankenstein, …

    I’m actually not that sold on the Pinocchio comparison, but you can’t really argue with it coming from the author herself! I see a lot of Mary Shelley here actually, from the frame story to the dark powers of fate and love and rejection, of the choice of power and the consequences and implications.

  2. I would add to what #1 said, that just based on the author’s own description of her work, and her own allusion to “early Anne Rice”, the story sounds less like Pinocchio and more like Interview With the Vampire, with some elements of the (unfortunately brief) TV series “Moonlight” thrown in. Which is to say, that there’s an awful lot of moral ambiguity in being a vampire. Do you “turn” someone solely because you must “feed”? Do you “turn” an earthly love, because of their desire to spend immortality with you, even if you don’t think it’s a wise choice for either you or your loved one to make?

    “The selfish and wicked aren’t turned into donkeys: they’re given the ‘gift’ of immortality, only to learn that immortality is not what they’d imagined.”

  3. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Katsu at the Decatur Book Festival this last weekend and not only is she delightful, she’s really smart. The book is solid and sweeping. And a bit creepy and fun.

  4. I have to say, a lot of Big Idea posts send me straight to Amazon to sample the book, but this is one of the best-written ones, in my opinion. It gives me a tantalizing sense of the character, her problem, and the world she lives in… more than enough to make me want to read it, and if there were any aspects I disliked, I would know enough not to buy it. Plus, I’m a sucker for a fairy tale comparison.

  5. A friend sent me over to your site, s I shamefully admit that this is my first time reading The Big Idea, but wow. What a great initiation. The Taker sounds amazing. I’m definitely adding it to my TBR list.

    I’ll be following your posts from here on out!

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