Author Interview: Alma Katsu

Alma Katsu Author Photo_credit Steve Parke Photography

Today I am interviewing Alma Katsu, author of the new horror novel, The Fervor.

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DJ: Hi Alma! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview! 

For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?

Alma Katsu: I’ve written seven novels. Most are in the historical horror/supernatural fantasy vein, with the most recent being The Fervor. I also had a spy thriller, Red Widow, come out in 2021, with a second in the series coming in 2023. I’ve been putting out novels for over ten years but had a whole career in intelligence (hence the spy novels), retiring a few years ago.

DJ: What is The Fervor about?

jacket THE FERVOR Alma: On one level, it’s about the lives of four characters during the waning days of WWII: Meiko, the Japanese wife of a U.S. fighter pilot imprisoned at one of the Japanese internment camps; Archie Mitchell, whose wife is killed at the opening of the book when a fu-go, or fire balloon, explodes near Bly, Oregon; Fran Gurstwold, a reporter intent on writing up the dangerous and mysterious fire balloon incidents; and Aiko, Meiko’s daughter, who escapes from camp and makes a dangerous solo journey back to Seattle when she’s told her mother has died. On another level, though, it’s an exploration of racism.

DJ: What were some of your influences for The Fervor? 

Alma: My previous historical horror novels (The Hunger and The Deep) were influences, in that I’d learned a lot about writing this sub-genre from them, from how closely to hew to history (or not), and what people seem to want from this kind of novel. The Fervor, while employing the same techniques as the previous books (multiple POVs, a grounding in history), is fairly different in that most of the characters are completely made up and it isn’t a close retelling of a specific historical event. It’s more of an allegory. 

DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them? 

Alma: Since I’ve already described the four POV characters, I’ll just add that what makes them all relatable and interesting is that all four are good people in bad circumstances (Meiko is a Japanese woman living on her own in a country at war with Japan; Archie, a preacher, finds himself sympathizing with white nationalists after his wife is killed, though he knows he shouldn’t; Fran is trying to find the story that will enable her to leave the newspaper’s “women’s pages” ghetto; and Aiko, suddenly orphaned, trying to reunite with her father) searching for the truth. 

DJ: Aside from the main characters in the story, who is a favorite side character or a character with a smaller role in the story? Why? 

Alma: Meiko’s father Wasaburo Oishi is a neat character and was also a real person, the scientist who discovered the jet stream. It remained unknown to the rest of the world, however, because the European and American scientific communities didn’t pay attention to the work of Asian scientists. Years later, his discovery would enable the fire balloons to reach the West Coast of the United States, which Westerners didn’t think possible.

DJ: What is the world and setting of The Fervor like?

Alma: The world is the American west and midwest during the last months of WWII. Executive Order 9066, which created the internment camps and authorized incarceration of people of Japanese descent, had already been overturned by the Supreme Court but internees were reluctant to leave because of violence back home. I tried to faithfully capture the 1940s, which is a world away from the world we have now. Cars were in short supply because they weren’t being produced during the war. Many households didn’t have telephones. The midwest and Pacific Northeast were emptier and lonelier than they are now. 

DJ: There are many different definitions of horror in genre, so I’m curious, when you write “horror”, how is it that you try to scare your readers? Do you go for gore? Shock? Maybe build up tense moments? Or perhaps it is the unknown?

Alma: What kind of writing qualifies as horror is definitely open to interpretation. My stories tend to be suspenseful and character-driven. The goal is less about scaring or shocking readers with gore and violence than pulling back the curtain to show the horror in everyday existence. That’s what we’re afraid of: death and dying, being rejected or abandoned, losing a loved one, never experiencing happiness. 

DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Fervor

Alma: It was eye-opening writing a main character with my ethnicity. I’d never done that, and it was surprising how freeing it was. I could write about things that I’ve felt but never been able to say out loud. It’s not that I assume a persona when I write white characters–I’m half white, so my experiences are authentic–but I hadn’t had the opportunity to give voice to my experiences as an Asian.

DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?

Alma: The overt racism of an earlier America. For instance, the language in the fliers passed around by the white nationalist group in the novel were taken from actual documents from groups active at the time. I remember as a kid hearing people openly say that Asians were untrustworthy and sneaky–the kind of propaganda circulated in the years prior to WWII that made Americans believe Japanese living on the West Coast would spy for Japan. All unfounded nonsense, and yet this kind of fear and hatred of Asians in America persists to this day.

DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began writing The Fervor? Was there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?

Alma: Even though it’s set in the waning days of WWII, The Fervor is meant to reflect what’s going on in America right now. It’s something I’ve learned writing novels based on actual history: the bad parts will keep repeating themselves if we refuse to learn from them. When you think about how we’re currently experiencing an epidemic of violence against Asians in America today, instigated by the crass politicization of the origins of COVID, you realize that the evils of 80 years ago are still with us.

DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from The Fervor that you can share with us?

Alma: There’s one that sticks in my head because it has the same tone as a movie from the 40s: Call Marjorie Elling, it read. Fran’s comrade-in-arms at the Star. She’d asked Marjorie to keep an eye on the wires in case another story came in about strange objects falling from the sky. Look for parachutes or balloons. Sure, Marjorie had said in her typical wise-cracking way. Who doesn’t like balloons?

DJ: Now that The Fervor is released, what is next for you?

Alma:  I just turned in the second spy book, Red London, which follows the protagonist Lyndsey Duncan to her next assignment, which has her trying to turn the wife of a Russian oligarch into a spy for CIA and MI6. With the invasion of Ukraine, it’s ended up being very, very timely. I also have stories in a couple anthologies: Dark Stars, publishing May 10, and Other Terrors, out in July.

DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?  

Amazon Author Page:

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DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions! 

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***The Fervor is published by G.P. Putnam Sons and is available TODAY!!!***

Buy the Book: 

Amazon | Goodreads

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About the Book:

From the acclaimed and award-winning author of The Hunger and The Deep comes a new psychological and supernatural twist on the horrors of the Japanese American internment camps in World War II.

1944: As World War II rages on, the threat has come to the home front. In a remote corner of Idaho, Meiko Briggs and her daughter, Aiko, are desperate to return home. Following Meiko’s husband’s enlistment as an air force pilot in the Pacific months prior, Meiko and Aiko were taken from their home in Seattle and sent to one of the internment camps in the Midwest. It didn’t matter that Aiko was American-born: They were Japanese, and therefore considered a threat by the American government.

Mother and daughter attempt to hold on to elements of their old life in the camp when a mysterious disease begins to spread among those interned. What starts as a minor cold quickly becomes spontaneous fits of violence and aggression, even death. And when a disconcerting team of doctors arrive, nearly more threatening than the illness itself, Meiko and her daughter team up with a newspaper reporter and widowed missionary to investigate, and it becomes clear to them that something more sinister is afoot, a demon from the stories of Meiko’s childhood, hell-bent on infiltrating their already strange world. 

Inspired by the Japanese yokai and the jorogumo spider demon, The Fervor explores a supernatural threat beyond what anyone saw coming; the danger of demonization, a mysterious contagion, and the search to stop its spread before it’s too late.

Alma Katsu Author Photo_credit Steve Parke Photography

 About the Author:

Alma Katsu’s books have received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal, been featured in the NY Times and Washington Post, been nominated and won multiple prestigous awards, and appeared on numerous Best Books lists including NPR, the Observer, Barnes and Noble, Apple Books, Goodreads, and Amazon.

RED WIDOW is her first spy novel, the logical marriage of her love of storytelling with her 30+ year career in intelligence. As an intelligence officer, Ms. Katsu worked at several federal agencies as a senior analyst where she advised policymakers and military commanders on issues of national security. The last third of her government career was spent in emerging technologies and technology forecasting. She was also a senior technology policy analyst for the RAND Corporation and continues as an independent consultant and technology futurist, advising clients in government and private industry.

Ms. Katsu also writes novels that combine historical fiction with supernatural and horror elements. THE HUNGER (2018), a reimagining of the story of the Donner Party, was named one of NPR’s 100 favorite horror stories, was on numerous Best Books of the Year lists, and continues to be honored as a new classic in horror. Her first book, THE TAKER (2011), was named one of the top ten debut novels of 2011 by Booklist.

Ms. Katsu has relocated from the Washington, DC area to the mountains of West Virginia, where she lives with her musician husband Bruce and their two dogs, Nick and Ash.

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