Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is very happy to shine our Friday spotlight on historical fiction and thriller author Alma Katsu. Alma, can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing? How would you like us to introduce you?
I’ve written six novels. I’m proud to say that my first book was published when I was 50, as I was wrapping up a long career elsewhere. That book is The Taker and it was a Booklist top ten debut of the year. I’m mostly known for writing historical fiction with elements of horror or fantasy, but my most recent book is a spy thriller.
Where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)
You can find my books just about everywhere, and if you find a store that doesn’t carry them—ask!
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
My website is almakatsubooks.com. There is a ton of information there. Use the pop-up to subscribe to my newsletter: that’s the best way to hear the latest news and when books go on sale.
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from your books?
My novels tend to combine historical events with a horror or supernatural element. My most well-known book is probably THE HUNGER, which is a reimagining of the story of the Donner Party. It was named one of NPR’s 100 favorite horror novels and was an international award-winner. The next historical horror, THE FERVOR, comes out April 2022, and is about the Japanese internment.
My most recent book is RED WIDOW, a spy novel. I drew on a 30+ year career in intelligence, working at CIA and NSA to write this book. I’m really proud of Red Widow as I think it addresses stuff about the career that doesn’t come up in most spy novels such as what it’s like for women in the field. It’s gotten great reviews, been a NYT Editors’ Choice, and is in development at FOX for a TV series.
What kind of research went into Red Widow? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
As you can imagine, when you’re writing about the Donner Party or the sinking of the Titanic, you have to do a lot of research. Luckily, I was basically a researcher for 30 years for my day job as an intelligence analyst, so I love research. No matter how well you think you know a famous incident, there are always new things to discover that will amaze or surprise you. For instance, I read thumbnail biographies of all 2300 passengers and crew on the Titanic while preparing for The Deep and came away with a deeper appreciation for that era.
What was the biggest challenge in writing and putting out Red Widow? How did you overcome that challenge?
The challenge with RED WIDOW has less to do with writing and more to do with the business end of things. I’d established myself in horror/supernatural and, for various reasons, decided not to use a pseudonym for Red Widow. Would readers follow me to a new genre? When you’re known for one genre, how do you attract readers from a completely different one? Would it be confusing for new readers? While I’ve been pretty lucky so far with my base, it’s still a challenge that I haven’t quite cracked yet.
How important has the New England setting been to your writing?
New England played a big role in my first three books, The Taker Trilogy. That story’s timeline starts in the late 1700s. I grew up near Concord, Massachusetts, around all those Colonial-era houses, and I think I underestimated how much the history seeped into my subconscious. I’ve lived in the Washington, DC area for nearly 40 years now but try to get back to New England as often as possible.
Are there any groups, clubs, or organizations that you would recommend to other writers that have helped you in your career?
If you write horror, you should join the Horror Writers Association (horror.org). You won’t find a nicer, more supportive group of people anywhere, honestly. There are regional chapters, too, if you’re looking for a more in-person experience.
If you write stories about espionage, you should consider Mystery Writers of America (mysterywriters.org) and International Thriller Writers (thrillerwriters.org). Both are great, supportive organizations for the writer who’s just starting out. International Thriller Writers is best known for their annual conference, Thrillerfest, which is held in NYC and is considered a must-attend for everyone in the field.
Thanks so much, Alma, for taking the time to answer our questions for us!