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.
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.