Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book clubs and The Taker

I've had the good luck to talk to a few book clubs about The Taker, a few by Skype but mostly in person. For the author it's been a wonderful experience, to meet people who've read your book and to hear the interesting things they've taken away from it. I was a little afraid that given the book's dark nature, people might be shy about discussing it in a group, but that hasn't been the case. On the contrary, the characters do so many controversial things that people seem to want to talk it over with others who have read the book.

There's a reading group guide available on the website, but I thought I'd list some of the topics we've talked about below--and yes, this is a shameless attempt to get you to consider having me speak to your book club. Just drop me an email at alma @ almakatsu.com to set up a date. The trade paperback version of the book is coming out the end of March, the format preferred by book clubs, I hear.


  • Jonathan: He is perfect book club fodder. Readers either love him or hate him. People love to discuss whether he's to blame for Lanny's troubles--did he lead her on?--or whether he was the victim, in a sense. For those who can't see his appeal, I ask if they've ever been in the presence of a man who oozes sex appeal, because if you have, you realize it's not an easy thing to ignore. At one book club, this discussion prompted one woman to confess that she'd once met Jim Morrison of the Doors!
  • How much of the history in The Taker is real? We've had some interesting discussions about Colonial-era history, how novelists do their research, and how much fact is sufficient in fiction. Fact that may surprise you: Jude Van de Meer, the charismatic preacher in The Taker, was based on a real person.
  • The path to publication: There's a long tale behind how The Taker made it into print, including how it started as a short story thirty years ago and how a near-death mysterious illness got me to return to writing fiction. But on top of that story, I'm happy to talk about the writing process and my experiences in the book business.
  • The nature of evil: Many readers have said they feel real evil in Adair, the story's villain, and it's for good reason: I spent years in my career as an intelligent analyst studying genocides and war crimes and the people who commit them. We've had some great discussions about the difference between a "believable" villain and one that really makes your skin crawl.

Happy reading!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Vampire Diaries: Klaus vs. Adair

A reader told me recently that she thought Klaus, the villain in the hit TV show THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, was a lot like Adair, the villain in The Taker. She sent me a link to an interview with the actor, Joseph Morgan, and after watching it and hearing him talk about his character, I have to admit to seeing similarities between the two.

I don't watch--and haven't read--The Vampire Diaries. I haven't seen it because I don't watch much TV. It sounds like lots of fun and, from skimming photos and such, seems to have a lot in common with my book and other books in this genre: the clash of wills between oversized personalities, very attractive people having sex, flashbacks to other periods in time, immortal love: you know, the things that make having an active imagination fun. I'm sure any similarities are pure coincidence; as you'll hear in the video, if you care to watch it, a good villain is not all-evil-all-the-time, so all good villains whether it's Klaus or Adair will share that dimensionality. Whether the similarities go deeper than that, I guess I'll have to watch a few episodes to know. For the record, I'll say that I started writing The Taker in 2000 and have never read TVD books. Adair has started garnering his own fans, and more than one reviewer has said he might be the Best. Villain. Ever. (I'm so proud.) So please, consider challenging your TVD-loving friends to read The Taker, and let me know what they think.

In other news: getting ready to head to Milan in February for the launch of the Italian version of The Taker. Very excited. Longanesi, the publisher, has put out a version of the UK book trailer with Italian subtitles, and you can see it here. Bella!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Inspirations Behind The RECKONING


The second book in The Taker Trilogy, THE RECKONING, doesn't come out until June, but I thought I'd give some hints about what you'll find in the book through this Inspiration Board up at Pinterest. Each photo is captioned to give you an idea of its significance to the story. I'd love to hear what you think...

I just joined Pinterest. I was warned that it's addictive, and it is. In addition to making your own collections of images that interest you, you can spy on other people's collections. Cupcakes continue to be of huge interest in this country, that's all I can say.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

It's not really about knitting. It's about life.

I'm knitting this cowl for a friend (Jennifer Hillier, another author at Gallery Books). Before you think this is some kind of act of kindness, let me assure you that Jennifer is being the kind  one by agreeing to give this little project a home. No one wants something knitted by a beginner. You can't pay someone to take this stuff off your hands. Jennifer is doing me a favor by giving me someone to knit for.

I just took up knitting and I'm teaching myself using YouTube videos. My niece walked me through how to read a knitting pattern and introduced me to some knitting websites, like Ravelry and Knitty. A few years ago I took up quilting, and it was an eye-opening experience. When I was younger, I wasn't a big fan of precision. You cannot be imprecise and be a quilter. You have to cut and sew within specific allowances. I found out that I liked being creative within those boundaries. I eventually got into art quilting. But with the writing business taking off, I haven't had the time to quilt for nearly a  year.

I like to learn something new every 4-5 years or so to keep my brain nimble. If I were really serious about this, I would try to learn a foreign language, but for now I'll settle for textile arts. So recently, I took up knitting.

I did this for a couple reasons. My mother wouldn't teach me when I was young because I'm a lefty and she thought it would be too hard for me to learn. I always resented this a little, but I'm old enough to stop being resentful and to teach my own damn self if it's that important to me. Secondly, yarn started looking really good. Irresistible, in fact. It seemed silly to buy yarn with absolutely no intention of doing something with it, so I had no excuse not to learn to knit.

And lastly, I had fallen in love with a knitting blog. I've been reading the Mason-Dixon blog for years now. It is literally ONE OF THE BEST THINGS ON THE INTERNET. It is the perfect blend of smart/funny, and reading it was a nice thing to do for myself at the end of a hard day at my soul-crushing job even though I didn't knit and had no idea what they were talking about half the time. It's written by Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner, authors of the Mason-Dixon knitting books. At first, it was a portal into a world I'd never known. There are a whole bunch of women out there who as crafters, are very serious about craft but also happen to have very smart outlooks on life. I have never had a smart outlook on life. I am a quintessential Washingtonian: dead serious about everything. Reading the Mason-Dixon blog was like eavesdropping (at first) on a group of magical wise women in the forest, envying them their charm, their grace. Eventually I started posting comments, too (mine always started with "I'm the one who's not a knitter...") and lo and behold, I wasn't chased away in a flurry of knitting needles, a non-belonger.

Eventually, I wrote to Ann Shayne about something. Book-related, I'm sure. We've corresponded to the point where I feel like Ann is my friend. I feel very privileged about this. I'm bringing this up because Ann generously mentioned my book on her blog this past week. After reading the blog for years, I cannot tell you how this makes me feel! Like being in Time or Newsweek, I tell you! I feel like I've arrived.

I will post a picture of Jennifer's cowl when it's done. Don't hold your breath: I've had to rip it out and start all over three times now. But I love that it's finally starting to look like the one in the photo. It's so nice to be on the path of discovery, again.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

You Tell Me: The Perfect Writer's Bag



Writing is not the only thing occupying my days lately. I find that I must live several months in advance, thinking ahead to the next release, whether it’s another edition of The Taker, or the next new book. With a release comes the question of promotion: what kind of events are appropriate? Store events, book festivals, an appearance at a writer’s conference? Promotional material must be designed, approved and sent to the printer.

One detail is nagging at me. It’s a subject near and dear to most women’s hearts. I need to find a new tote bag to take with me on the road this year.

Ah, the eternal quest for the perfect bag. As much as we know there is no such thing—any more than there is a perfect haircut—still we persist in the search. We have our criteria. This year, mine are: big enough to carry my laptop in a pinch yet not so big that it visually overpowers a short person; holds items securely yet is not so restrictive that I have to unlock three deadbolts to get to my cell phone; is of a style that can go from an event in Milan to a writer’s conference (where the average ensemble is a polo shirt over jeans.)

In other words, what I want is a bundle of contradictions. No wonder I have yet to find what I want.

Which is why I’m asking for your suggestions. Do you have the perfect writer’s bag? If so, please help a sister out. Send me a picture, or a link, and tell me why you love it.

Next up: finding the perfect pair of shoes.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

US Trade Paperback Cover Revealed

Here's the cover for the trade paperback edition of The Taker, which is due out March 27th. What do you think?

Odds and ends:

  • Ray Garraty is the winner of UNDER THE POPPY. Congratulations, Ray!
  • The Taker has had the good fortune to be named to eleven book bloggers' Best of 2011 lists, and was mentioned by Melissa Marr (author Wicked Lovely, among others) as one of her favorite books of the year.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

January Giveaway: Magpie's Delight

Is there a better way to welcome the New Year than with prizes? As you may know, I give away a prize each month to someone on my mailing list. For January, I've dipped into the collection of items I've collected during my book tour travels this year, to come up with a wonderful bounty I'm calling Magpie's Delight, sure to delight any book lover.

First, a tee-shirt from West Coast booksellers Mysterious Galaxy! Black, size XL, with the charming Mysterious Galaxy logo on the front, "Will Work For Books" proudly plastered across the back.What book addict would not want this shirt? Second, to carry your precious tomes, the Wonderstruck tote given away by Scholastic Books at BEA this past May. (Written by Brian Selznick, of The Invention of Hugo Cabret fame.)
Lastly--because this is the mailing list for The Taker, after all--I'll include one of these delightfully naughty pins by Caitlin Philips of Rebound Design. These wooden pins featured a risque phrase snipped from an actual book, lacquered on a bar, and ready to wear on the lapel of your favorite jacket or sweater--if you dare!!! I met Caitlin at the Baltimore Book Festival, where she sells her handmade treasures, all book-related.

I'm sure you agree that this is a fabulously fun way to start off 2012. Now, what do you have to do to win? First, you must join my mailing list. If you're already on the list, no worries--you're automatically entered for each monthly contest. (I won't flood you with email, and of course I would never share your email address with anyone.) This month's contest is limited to the US, please (though not all of them are). The drawing will be on January 31st.

Btw, the winner of Under the Poppy (see post, below) has been notified. Thank you to everyone who left a comment.