Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Interview with Alma Katsu for The Deep

The Deep

by Alma Katsu
Publisher: Transworld Digital
Release Date: March 10th 2020
Genre: Horror, Historical Fiction, Adult
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Someone, or something, is haunting the Titanic.

This is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the passengers of the ship from the moment they set sail: mysterious disappearances, sudden deaths. Now suspended in an eerie, unsettling twilight zone during the four days of the liner's illustrious maiden voyage, a number of the passengers - including millionaires Madeleine Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim, the maid Annie Hebbley and Mark Fletcher - are convinced that something sinister is going on . . . And then, as the world knows, disaster strikes.

Years later and the world is at war. And a survivor of that fateful night, Annie, is working as a nurse on the sixth voyage of the Titanic's sister ship, the Britannic, now refitted as a hospital ship. Plagued by the demons of her doomed first and near fatal journey across the Atlantic, Annie comes across an unconscious soldier she recognises while doing her rounds. It is the young man Mark. And she is convinced that he did not - could not - have survived the sinking of the Titanic . . .

Can you briefly describe THE DEEP and its characters?

The story centers on Annie Hebbley, a young woman from an Irish family of modest means. She has run away from home and gets a job as a stewardess on the Titanic hoping for a fresh start. There she meets the rich and famous: the Astors and Benjamin Guggenheim and WT Stead, one of the most famous newspapermen of the day. And she finds herself drawn to one of the passengers, Mark Fletcher, and his infant daughter Ondine.

Shortly after the voyage starts, a young boy, servant of Madeleine Astor, dies mysteriously. Maddie Astor, riddled with guilt, is convinced something supernatural is responsible. Strange, unexplained occurrences continue, leading up to the tragic event we’re all familiar with, the fateful last night of the Titanic.

But the story isn’t over. Four years later, Annie signs up to serve as a nurse on the Britannic, Titanic’s sister ship which has been converted into a hospital ship for the war, and Annie is shocked to see Mark brought on as a patient. Somehow, he survived the Titanic. Her feelings for him resurface—as do the mysterious, otherworldly happenings, forcing Annie to confront her part in the tragedies.

Who would you say is your favourite character from the story and why?

The most fun character to write, hands down, was David (“Dai”) Bowen, one of the boxers on the Titanic. He came to me fully formed, which is rare; usually it takes a while for a character to become “real” to me. He’s a wonderful soul, a good man born into difficult circumstances. He’s went into boxing as a way out of poverty but he’s gotten tangled up with Leslie Williams, who’s always on the con. Dai doesn’t want to let Leslie down but he also doesn’t want to lose his morality.

How did the story occur to you? Did you find inspiration anywhere?

I got the initial idea when I saw my husband was watching a documentary on the Britannic, made during the first dive to the wreck since the Cousteau expedition in 1975. I’d never heard that the Titanic had a sister ship, let alone that it had also sank, but I really took notice when I heard there was a woman who had survived both sinkings. I knew there had to be a story in there!

Inspiration definitely came from the era itself. It was a very glamourous time, but the world was on the verge of dramatic change. Europe was descending into war. Women were fighting for their rights: the ability to earn a livelihood, to vote, to own property. A small number of people held most of the wealth, while most people had to struggle to put a roof over their heads and food on their plates.

If your book was going to be made into a movie, who would play your characters?

I’m afraid I’m terrible at this, as I never know actors’ names. There was one character I cast while I was writing, and that was Mark Fletcher. I saw James Marsden’s face every time I thought of Mark. As for the rest of the cast: I could picture Rose Leslie from Game of Thrones as Annie Hebbley. The red hair, I guess! Lily Collins (from The Mortal Instruments) for Maddie Astor, maybe? And as long as we’re dreaming, what about Emily Blunt for Caroline Fletcher?

What drink and place do you think will go with your book to have a perfect book date?

Not a cruise! I’d want solid ground under my feet. Someplace remote and quiet, maybe a cabin in the woods, with a comfy couch and plenty of pillows, and a great throw to keep you warm. As for drinks, readers might like to try Punch Romaine, which was served on the Titanic the night it sank. It’s a mix of champagne, white wine, white rum, lemon and orange juice with simple syrup and slivered orange peel. Served over plenty of ice.

Can you recommend your readers any other books in case they are left hungry for more once they finish THE DEEP?

If readers want to know more about the Titanic, they should definitely pick up The Ship of Dreams by Gareth Russell. It came out right after all edits were wrapped up for The Deep. The author did a phenomenal research job. I wish it had been available when I was writing the novel! It’s a must-read for anyone interested in the Titanic.

Unfortunately, in fiction, historical horror is a bit of a niche so I’m a little light on recommendations. Danielle Trussoni’s new novel, The Ancestor, combines history, science and a lovely creepy dread that will appeal to anyone who likes Gothic tales. And I recently read a wonderful debut by Constance Sayers, A Witch in Time, that combines history with a sweeping love story.

What would you say is the most difficult part of writing a book?

I tend to enjoy the research stage and the first draft. I find revising and editing to be more difficult, but I’ve learned a lot from working on The Hunger. The revision stage is where you need to get out of your own head, to see where you can make the story bigger and better. To see things that you couldn’t see the first time through, and that’s a tough skill to develop.

As a reader, what is the “one thing” that a mind-blowing story must have, in your opinion?

I’m a forgiving reader. I try not to impose what I want to see when I’m reading, but to accept the author’s intention. Then the question for me is whether or not the author was able to do a great job telling that story. It’s not easy to put aside your judgments, you know, when you’re a writer yourself, because you’re analysing how the author accomplished certain things. It’s hard to let go of the desire to control, in other words, and to just enjoy.

What makes a story mind-blowing, to me, is whether it did an exceptional job in the telling. That it wasn’t ordinary or predictable but was an example of the storyteller’s art.

What’s next for you?

The next novel is set during World War II. It will take the story of fu-go (fire balloons), a little-known attempt by the Japanese to spread terror in the mainland United States, and combine it with the internment of Japanese Americans. It’s going to include some references to Japanese folklore, in the same way that The Hunger referenced Native American beliefs. It’s a very personal story to me as my mother was a teenager in Japan during World War II, and so I grew up hearing about the terrors of living in a country that’s being devastated by war. My in-laws’ family was interned and so I learned a lot about this complicated episode in U.S. history.

I also have a book coming out in a completely new genre: spy thrillers. Coming in 2021, Red Widow is a contemporary spy novel about the choices—and sacrifices—you make when you work in intelligence. It gave me the opportunity to combine my love with storytelling with my 30-plus years working in U.S. intelligence to create a story that’s both a propulsive thriller and gives the reader an idea what it’s like to work at CIA.

Alma Katsu is the author of The Hunger, a reimagining of the story of the Donner Party with a horror twist. The Hunger made NPR’s list of the 100 Best Horror Stories, was named one of the best novels of 2018 by the Observer, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books (and more), and was nominated for a Stoker and Locus Award for best horror novel.

The Taker, her debut novel, has been compared to the early works of Anne Rice and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander for combining historical, the supernatural, and fantasy into one story. The Taker was named a Top Ten Debut Novel of 2011 by Booklist, was nominated for a Goodreads Readers Choice award, and has been published in over 10 languages. It is the first in an award-winning trilogy that includes The Reckoning and The Descent.
Ms. Katsu lives outside of Washington DC with her husband, musician Bruce Katsu. In addition to her novels, she has been a signature reviewer for Publishers Weekly, and a contributor to the Huffington Post. She is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Program and Brandeis University, where she studied with novelist John Irving. She also is an alumni of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.

Prior to publication of her first novel, Ms. Katsu had a long career in intelligence, working for several US agencies and a think tank. She currently is a consultant on emerging technologies. Additional information can be found on Wikipedia and in this interview with Ozy.com.

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