Posts Tagged ‘research’

What’s up, Followers of Fear and other assorted humans? Recently, at the start of my self-isolation, I read a historical fiction novel with supernatural overtones called The Deep, which I thoroughly enjoyed (see my full review here). Having spoken with the author of The Deep, Alma Katsu, a few times over Twitter, I thought I’d ask if she’d like to be interviewed. She agreed, and the following interview resulted. Ladies, gentlemen, and non-binary gentility, allow me to introduce the author of The Deep and The Hunger (which is on my TBR list), Alma Katsu!

Rami Ungar: Welcome to the blog, Ms. Katsu. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your work.

Alma Katsu: My name is Alma Katsu and I’m the author of five novels, all historical with some element of horror or the supernatural. My most recent book is THE DEEP, a reimagining of the sinking of the Titanic and its sister ship the Britannic. My previous novel was THE HUNGER, a reimagining of the story of the Donner Party. I was very lucky with THE HUNGER, as the book made a number of best books of the year lists and was nominated for several awards, including from Locus magazine and the Bram Stoker Awards.

RU: Please tell us about The Hunger and The Deep, what inspired them and what the writing process for them was like.

AK: Both books are similar, in that they use a historical event as a springboard for a story, but different, too. THE HUNGER is a more of a dystopian—some people have compared it to Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD, and Dan Simmons’ THE TERROR. But both books are reflections of the eras in which they took place, which means THE DEEP is a more romantic story, very much of the Edwardian era, with its love of occultism and spiritualism. I tend to write character-driven stories, which might make for a slower pace than some fans of thrillers prefer, but I think it will hit the spot for people looking for a richer read.

 

My writing process for these books might seem a bit heretical, depending on what you’ve heard from other writers of historical fiction but I keep a very tight schedule doing the research. I was a professional researcher for over 30 years, so I have the benefit of a lot of trial and error and learning what works for me. I do a lot of on-the-spot research along the way, of course. Generally it takes 4-6 months to write the first draft, and then there are rounds of edits, some of which can end up changing the story quite a bit. Writing a novel is definitely a marathon, not a sprint!

RU: Or several marathons, sometimes. Continuing on the topic of historical fiction, obviously you have to take some creative liberties when it comes to famous events in history for the sake of the story. How do you decide what changes to make and how do you go about making them?

AK: Historical fiction is quite a big tent. Some books strive to be reproductions of historical fact with a thin veneer of fiction on top, but that’s not me. I use the historical event as the basis of another story, a different story, usually centered around a theme. The idea behind the THE DEEP has to do with women’s rights, which was a huge issue of the day. In the novel, you see a range of women, poor and very, very rich, struggling with the confines placed on their lives by society. On one end you have Annie Hebbley, the main character, a poor Irish girl who has come to work on the Titanic, and on the other, Madeline Astor, new second wife of JJ Astor, the richest man in America. In between you have a woman doctor (a rarity of the day), an aristocrat who earned her living running a high fashion house, and other poor women with few choices. There’s also the issue of class, and I can think of few settings better to explore this issue than the Titanic!

The changes I make to the historical record are in order to tell the story I’m trying to tell. As long as readers understand that, and are willing to give me a chance to tell them an entertaining and (hopefully) enlightening story, I don’t think there’s an issue.

RU: I have to ask, how hard was it to resist making a snarky reference to the movie Titanic in The Deep? Because the temptation would’ve killed me if I resisted.

AK: I hadn’t seen the movie until I went to write the book, because the movie is what most people today think of when they hear “Titanic,” and I wanted to know what their expectations would be. So, while it wasn’t my favorite movie of all time, I can see why it was popular, and what chords to strike with some people.

RU: You also host a podcast called “Damned History,” about the history behind the stories you write. Can you tell us a little more about that, and the writing process for each individual episode?

AK: The idea for the podcast came from the talks I gave on tour. Audiences told me they got a lot from the talks that enhanced their understanding of my books, but there are only so many people who are going to make it to a live event, so I thought podcasts were the perfect medium to make them available to anyone, anywhere. So, the material in the podcasts for THE HUNGER come from my book tour.

 

For the episodes for THE DEEP, they’re more on what I think people might find interesting, or what the questions so far have been about, so there’s one episode on Titanic conspiracy theories, and another on some of the real people on the Titanic.

RU: Are you working on anything new right now? And are there any historical events you would like to write about stories about someday?

AK: I’m working on the next historical novel right now, which will deal with World War II, and gearing up for the release of my first spy novel next year, RED WIDOW. This is a first for me, drawing on my career in intelligence, and I hope readers will give it a try.

RU: I’ll check them out, especially the WWII novel. That was the focus of my history major in college, after all. So, when you’re not writing, researching or podcasting, what do you do with your time?

AK: Working! I may retired from government but am still a consultant. There’s a lot of juggling going on in my life right now.

RU: I know what that’s like. What is some advice you would give other authors, regardless of background or experience?

AK: Write and read. Read a lot, read outside of your genre. And try to write every day, write through problems in your story, because writing is like a muscle.

RU: Finally, if you were stuck on a desert island for a while and could only bring three books with you until you were picked up, which would you bring with you?

AK: That’s tough. I’m not one of those writers who worships a particular book, and I like to use my reading to study how other writers have handled a particular issue in writing. I’d definitely have a Sandor Marai book among them, because I love the way he unfolds these terribly complex stories. Right now, I’m enjoying good mystery writing, particularly those of Laura Lippmann and Denise Mina. I like old Barbara Vine mysteries, too.

RU: All are excellent choices. Thanks for coming on the blog, Ms. Katsu. I hope you come by again with your next book.

 

Both The Deep and The Hunger are available from most book retailers. If you would like to check out Ms. Katsu’s podcast Damned History, you can find it on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Soundcloud. And you can find more about Ms. Katsu herself on her website Alma Katsu Books, as well as on Twitter.

If you would like to see more interviews I’ve done with authors, check out my Interviews page.

And if you’re an author who will be releasing a book soon or just released a new one and would like to be interviewed, send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. If I’m available, we’ll make some magic happen.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If you’re celebrating a holiday this weekend, I hope you’re finding it spiritually satisfying. Until next time, stay safe, be healthy, and pleasant nightmares!

You know, I feel like I should’ve written a post like this a while ago. Like, at least a month ago. Oh well, better late than never. I’ve been thinking for a while of what I want to do in terms of writing for 2020. Which is unusual, because while I’m a huge plotter for my stories, I don’t usually plan out goals for an entire year. But I feel like, with a book published and a short story included in an anthology last year, I feel like I should try some new strategies to keep the momentum going. So without further ado, let’s talk my writing goals of 2020.

Finish Toyland

Of course, this was on here. Luckily, I’m already on my way there: as of a few days ago, I’m only six chapters away from finishing Toyland, the Gothic horror novel I’ve been working on since November. Depending on how things play out this year, I’ll probably edit it at some point. After that, perhaps I’ll find a publisher for it. Fingers crossed it goes well (and that a novel approaching ninety thousand words doesn’t intimidate anyone).

Complete the short story collection

Before November and NaNoWriMo, I was putting together a collection of short stories. As of now, there are twelve stories in the as-yet unnamed collection. Being a horror writer though, I want thirteen stories. Good thing I’m already making strides on that goal: I’ve been doing a lot of research for a story I want to write after Toyland‘s done. I think it’ll be somewhere between the length of a novelette and a novella, or ten thousand to sixty thousand words. Hopefully writing it goes well, once I hammer out the plot details.

After that, I’ll hopefully be able to find a publisher who can help me get the stories in tip-top shape. Or maybe I’ll self-publish again. We’ll see how things develop.

Write at least ten short(er) stories

Including the last story for the collection, I want to write at minimum ten stories shorter than a novel. Preferably, they’ll all be short stories, but I know that a few of them will be novelette or novella length (depends on the story, obviously). I would also like to edit most of them within a year, and get at least three or four published in some form or another. Getting a short story in The Binge-Watching Cure II last year was an amazing experience, so I want to see if I can do it again.

And of course, it’s always a good idea to polish your short fiction-writing skills.

Maybe start a new novel

I’ve known for a while what novel I’d like to write after Toyland. However, I think I’ll wait a good while until I write it. Novels are a huge commitment of time and energy, so I want to make sure I’m ready before I try my hand at a new one (and maybe get one or two others edited and/or published).

Grow my audience

I’ve been lucky to grow an audience over 8.5 years of blogging, Facebooking, tweeting, Instagramming, and occasional YouTube videos. But I’m always hoping to grow my audience just a bit more. And while I don’t have any particular numbers I want to reach, I want to draw more people in and maybe get them hooked on my particular brand of weirdness. Especially my fiction.

 

Well, those are my writing goals. Here’s to them going well in the 11.5 months we have left of 2020. I hope you’ll continue to support me during that time, and maybe even read/review my published work if you can.

Until next time, Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares and WHO LET THE MONSTER KNOWN AS THE DEAD MAN’S STRUGGLE INTO MY BUILDING?! Now I have to either kill it or seal it away. Either way, the cleanup’s going to be exhausting.

What are your writing goals for 2020? Have you made any progress with them so far?

Part of my research for my thesis/new novel Rose was that I had to look into the life of a sociology grad student, because my protagonist Rose Taggert is one. Well, was one. I mentioned when I first announced what I was working on that Rose died and was resurrected by her stalker, didn’t I?

Anyway, since my knowledge of sociology was limited to the introductory course I took last year, I decided to contact the sociology department at Ohio State to see if they could maybe help me. After first heading to their main office, and then getting redirected to their undergraduate advising office, I talked over email with one of the advisers, who then told me to email their graduate adviser Kelly Hopkins (boy, was that a little roundabout). After a couple of emails to determine when was a good time to meet, we finally agreed to meet at nine this morning, and I made the trip onto campus. Once back in the same office I started in, I was taken to Ms. Hopkins room (no idea if she’s married, so I’ll just go with “Ms.” for now), where she was all too happy to give me an explanation of what the sociology grad program was like after I explained to her about my protagonist Rose.

We spoke for a little under a half hour, Ms. Hopkins doing most of the talking while I asked a question here and there. Turns out that sociology grads at Ohio State spend their first two years earning their Masters degrees, after which they take very intense candidacy exams to enter the PhD program. At that point they start taking specialized courses for PhD students, as well as taking specialized courses for their area of specialization and working on their dissertation. The grad students spend a lot of time together in classes and in their offices together, usually becoming lifelong friends by the time they graduate. They also develop close relationship with their faculty advisers, and many of them have the chance to teach during their tenure as grads.

Based on this information, I was able to get a clearer picture of who Rose will be and what her grad life was like prior to the events of the novel. She’s probably in her third year of grad school, so she’s about six months into the PhD program. She is specializing in criminology and community studies, particularly studies involving gun violence, and was probably either a GTA working underneath a professor in an introductory course or already a PhD student teaching a class of her own when she met the student who would become her stalker, depending on how long ago I end up wanting them to meet and the latter becoming fixated on her.

I’m glad I was able to meet with Ms. Hopkins and speak with her today. I know Rose’s life as a grad student isn’t the most important part of the novel, but it’s one I wanted to seem authentic to readers. Besides, it’d be a little bit embarrassing if a sociologist or sociology student read Rose when it came out and was like, “What the heck sort of program is this girl in?” Always glad to have the details right.

I also learned something interesting from Ms. Hopkins: when I told her that my work was heavily influenced by Stephen King, she mentioned that she had a friend who was a make-up artist for horror movies and had worked on a few Stephen King adaptations of King’s work, including The Shining, and knew King personally. Apparently King’s a very nice, sweet guy in person (doesn’t surprise me; we horror authors usually are, though at one point I thought I needed to be a little bit creepier in order to be a better author). I ended up handing Ms. Hopkins two of my business cards so that she could pass them onto her friend (and maybe even King. Do I dare dream of it?). Hopefully at least one of them will go online and check out my work.

Well, that’s all for now. I’m going to do some more work on my thesis outline later today. At this point I think I might be done by the end of the week, with about thirty or so chapters. I’m still not sure where eactly this novel is going, but so far I like what I’ve come up with and I think my adviser might as well. I’ll keep you guys updated.

Have a great day, everyone!

Spy novels and espionage novels are not my forte. I never attempted in my youth to write a James Bond story. Never even imagined one. And now I know why: it’s a lot of work, involving plenty of research and detective work. Just today, I looked up dates for the year 2017, the US Intelligence Community, and what causes embolisms. Makes me wonder why I made Laura Horn an espionage novel, even though it started out as a story about a girl and sexual assault victim who comes to terms with her past and her trauma through events forced upon her.

Oh wait, now I remember why I did that! I thought it would be cool to have a story that took place in Washington DC. And even better, why not make it involve the White House? That could work. It’ll involve a lot of research and guesswork, but what the hey? It’s good for the story.

So that’s why I decided Laura Horn should find herself while taking on the power struggles of DC. And it’s going to be a tough job. I’m not familiar with the workings of the US Intelligence community, or Washington DC for that matter. Let’s face it, there’s only so much you can learn from high school government classes and The Daily Show. But if I can get this novel written and do it with all the elements I want it to have–the 2016 election, the NSA scandal, a few other items that are hot right about now–I could end up writing a damn good story.

And isn’t that the point? I think Laura could be a great character, a character plenty of people could identify with, but I have to give her a great story first. And for that, I need to do a lot of work to make sure the details are right. It’s not going to be easy, but I plan to pull it off somehow and right a damn good story.

So let’s see what happens. I bet by the time I’m done researching and writing the outline, this’ll be an entirely different story than when I first thought of it. But it’ll be a story I’m damn proud of, and that’s important enough that I’ll research till the cows come home.

Wish me luck! I’ve got more work to do tomorrow morning.

Oh, before I go, the photo above of the monarch butterfly deserves an explanation. When I envision Laura Horn, I see her as an angel that’s been forced down to earth by evil forces and cries over it. Unfortunately, there’s only so many photos and illustration that feature that sort of subject material in the theme I’m looking for. So I’m doing things that are similar to my angle theme: butterflies, flowers, birds, and yes, angels. But first a butterfly, a metaphor for transformation. This story is going through a transformation and so is the main character. I hope that by the end, the transformations of both will result in something beautiful.

Yeah, you heard it here first, folks; the poll is over and the winner for what novel I’ll be writing over the course of summer vacation (and probably beyond) has been decided. Of the 6 votes, 4 went to Idea #1. I don’t know how many of you are/were Math majors, but I’m pretty sure that’s the majority. And as having the most points gets you the win, Idea #1 is the winner! Somebody drop confetti from the ceiling!

Alright, for those of you just tuning into the Rami Ungar the Writer program, I’ve already written one novel–part of a trilogy–that I’m trying to market to book agents. However while I’m doing that, I’d like to be kept busy writing-wise. I don’t have short story ideas always on hand, and I don’t want to work on my novel’s sequel until after it’s been picked up by an agent. So instead, I decided I’d work on a different, unrelated novel over the summer. Problem is, couldn’t choose between 2 very good ideas, so I left it up to my readers to decide for me. The readers spoke, and I’ve got my summer assignment (lucky for me being a college student, I can decide whether or not I have summer assignments).

I already said in the post where I announced the poll, “Writing in Summer: What to Do” what the ideas were about, but I’ll give you guys a recap on the idea, with a little more information added in as a bonus. The working title is Snake and it’s about a serial killer killing off members of a certain Mafia family in New York City (if anyone reading this post is or knows someone in the mafia, I’d just like to say this is all fictional, none of the families I’ve created for this story are real, so PLEASE DON”T BE MAD!!!). The interesting thing is, you want to root for this serial killer, but why? And for what reason does he kill (don’t say psychopath, I can garauntee you that’s not it)?

Over the course of the research and writing process, I’ll be posting about the progress of Snake and even throwing in a short exerpt or two. Perhaps a literary agent or an editor in a publishing house will happen across this blog, get interesting in Snake–and my other novel, Reborn City, I hope–and get interested enough. Oh God, I hope that happens.

Alright, now that I’ve announced the winner, I think my first little present to you, my friendly readers, bloggers, and people-who-happen-upon-this-blog-through-sheer-random-websurfing-and-have-stayed-more-than-five-seconds-and-gotten-interested-enough-to-read, shall be a list of things I will research and who/what I might consult for this research (if you have any suggestions, let me know!):

1. An FBI profile of the serial killer (I think I’ll consult some professors versed in clinical psychology at OSU and other colleges; I don’t think the FBI BAU would like me sending them a fake profile, and I’m afraid my knowledge of my killer might get in the way of writing the chapters involving the investigation)

2. Streets/places/homes/apartments in New York City and the Hamptons (I’ll probably talk to a real estate or travel agent, they’d know more about this than I would)

3. The structure and history of various mafia syndicates (there’s gotta be a book on that somewhere, someone’s got to have gone to the trouble)

Actually, that’s it for now, if there’s something else I might insert in a post later. Gotta go now, it’s my brithday today, and I plan on writing a post about it after I’ve had my birthday fun. By the way, woo-hoo! I’m 19! I still can’t legally drink in the US, but it’s still awesome.