Friday, June 8, 2012

Feature Friday: Catherine Knutsson

Today we've got Catherine Knutsson interviewing all the way from Canada!  Her debut novel, SHADOWS CAST BY STARS, just released and it looks awesome!  Catherine Knutsson, like Cassandra Mercredi in SHADOWS CAST BY STARS, is a member of the Métis nation.  She lives on Vancouver Island, on which the fictional Island of her novel is based, and divides her time between working with horses, singing, and writing.  

Interview:
A.L.:
What piece of advice would you give to a budding author? 

Catherine:
Only one?  Gosh, there are so many things I wished I had known when I was starting out!  I definitely think it's important for new writers to remember that reading is part of the job description, and not just reading in a writer's chosen genre.  And, I think the other thing is to remember that writing is a craft AND an art form, and honing a craft or an art takes time, so don't rush.  Allow yourself time to learn and grow before you start submitting.  Looking back, I think I rushed into trying to sell my work far too soon, when I should have been working on my writing skills instead. 

A.L.:
What’s your favorite book and why? 

Catherine:
My absolute favorite book is AN EQUAL MUSIC by Vikram Seth.  On the surface, it's a story about a violinist in a quartet and his relationship with music, a former lover, and himself.  But, on a deeper level, this book is about madness and obsession and talent, of losing yourself in your art, of losing yourself TO your art, and of losing yourself in love in the worst way possible.  And then, the long, slow climb of healing.  I first came across this book when I was in music school and was really struggling with what it meant to face giants like Bach and Mozart on a daily basis, when my own instrument (my voice) and talent seemed so flawed and inadequate in comparison, and the almost surreal challenge of losing yourself in the euphoria of performance, and then having to leave the concert hall and enter the real world with real people who didn't care a fig about the magic you were just part of.  I'm probably not doing a very good job of explaining myself here, but...for me, AN EQUAL MUSIC is a book that speaks to my heart and soul, and no matter how many times I've read it, I always am moved to tears.
 
A.L.:
The premise for Shadow Cast by Stars is so intriguing!  Can you tell me a little bit about its inception?

Catherine:
Sure!  Way back when, I remember thinking about the epitaph from King Arthur's supposed grave marker - "Here lies Arthur, the once and future king", and the promise that one day, he'll return in the time of his country's greatest need.  So, I wrote an opening to a novel with that in mind, read it, and thought, "I have no idea what this is."  All I knew was that the story needed telling, but I didn't have the skills to tell it yet.  So, after letting it sit for a good long while, I came back to it and decided that it wasn't really about King Arthur, but more about a future world in great need, and how, sometimes, we have to become the heroes in our own myths.  I was also thinking about how much the world has changed for aboriginal peoples in the last hundred years, and how much more it might change in another two hundred years, and how where we come from affects how we see the world.  A lot of that came from my own explorations of my heritage, for I didn't grow up knowing I was Métis, which led me to thinking about how the stories we're told, or the stories that are kept from us, affect how we move in the world. 

A.L.: 
Aboriginal people feature heavily in your book, and you yourself are Métis like your main character.  Can you tell us when you found out about this exciting heritage?  Did it factor into your decision to write from the aboriginal standpoint?

Catherine:
Like I mentioned above, I didn't grow up knowing I was Métis.  My aunt, who has a real talent for genealogical research, was tracing our family tree and discovered that my grandmother was Métis.  There were some pretty powerful and painful reasons why my grandmother kept this secret (she's since passed on), but once my aunt made the discovery, it explained a lot (I apologize for being somewhat vague here, but some of this involves other family members, and I need to respect their privacy and such).  I admit that I probably struggled with this discovery more than some of my other relatives, and writing SHADOWS CAST BY STARS was a way to explore some of those struggles, questions I had about blood quantum, and community, and stories, and cultural heritage--and, how much damage was done to First Nations and Métis families by the mandate of "taking the Indian out of the Indian".  I wanted to write about what it means when your history is taken from you, and how those scars affect multiple generations, and how no one can really heal in isolation - that we all have scars that need healing, and some of those scars are spiritual and environmental as well as emotional and physical.

A.L.:
What are you currently working on?  Something new or the sequel?

Catherine:
I've got a few things simmering away!  I'm just putting the finished touches on a middle-grade book that has the potential to become a series, and I'm about halfway through another YA novel set in a quasi-Arabian Nights world.  I'm pretty excited about both of them! 

A.L.:
Who is your favorite character in Shadows Cast by Stars and why?

Catherine:
Oh wow.  This isn't an easy question to answer, because I love all the characters--even the difficult ones!  I really have a soft spot for Helen, who is Cassandra's best friend, because Helen is a gentle, kind soul despite despite some terrible experiences she endured.  And, I also really love Cassandra's dad, who is a real salt-of-the-earth sort, and how he loves his kids more than anything in the world. 

A.L.:
So, you’ve got two cats.  We have to know, what’s the most absolute awesome name a cat can have?

Catherine:
Ahaha!  I think, if you asked my cats, "His/Her Most Royal Highness" would be the names they'd choose!  But, I think my absolute favorite name for a cat is Tissue, which is a name my mother suggested I give my first cat when I said I wanted to call him Toilet Paper (I was five at the time, so who knows what I was thinking!). 

A.L.:
Did you run into any issues when writing Shadows Cast by Stars?  How did you overcome them?

Catherine:
I think the biggest issue for me was coming to terms with the fact that I'm a drafter.  It can take me a really long time to find the story I need to tell, and then, even longer to pare away the flesh around the story to find its most essential form.  I can't tell you how many drafts I did for SHADOWS - several on my own (and each draft, for me, means going through the story about five or six times), and several for my agent, and then four for my editor, not counting copy edits & first-pass pages.  (And for anyone who says that editors no longer edit, I'm here to tell you that's not true at all!)  I realize now that this is just part of the way I work, but accepting that was hard when other debut authors were only having to do one revision before getting sent on to copyedits.  What really helped me come to terms with this was reading a lovely book called THE WAND IN THE WORDS, which contains a series of interviews with established writers of fantasy, and learning that all of them are drafters!  It made me feel a lot less alone, and also helped me realize that there really are many roads to Rome.  My road might be long and winding, but it will get me there eventually! (The scenic route!)

A.L.: 
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey into becoming a writer and getting published?

Catherine:
Well, I have to admit I never intended to be a writer.  I mean, I wrote, but it was always for school.  I had always planned on being a musician and taught singing (and did some solo work) after I finished my music studies, but I had been living with back pain for some time, and long days at the piano (I accompanied my students) aggravated it to the point I couldn't function.  No matter what I did, I couldn't find a way to manage the pain.  So, that forced my hand, and since writing was something I could do without having to go back to school, I just did it, and discovered, pretty quickly, that I really enjoyed it.  I started by working on short stories, and then, after having some success there, branched out into the novel-length form.  Soon enough, I found a fantastic agent, and then, about six months later, we had a publishing contract, and I haven't looked back since!

A.L.:
Is Cassandra a character that was easy for you to write or did she take a little bit of work on your part?

Catherine:
I had a really good idea of who she was in my head, but it took some work getting her onto the page, and that wasn't easy! Fortunately, my editor and agent were both great sounding boards--I'm not sure I could have gotten Cass out onto the page as I did without their help!

The Giveaway:
Catherine has offered to send one lucky winner a signed copy of SHADOWS CAST BY STARS.  I'm totally jealous of you, future winner...
Shadows Cast by Stars: Two hundred years from now, blood has become the most valuable commodity on the planet—especially the blood of aboriginal peoples, for it contains antibodies that protect them from the Plague ravaging the rest of the world.

Sixteen-year-old Cassandra Mercredi might be immune to Plague, but that doesn’t mean she’s safe—government forces are searching for those of aboriginal heritage to harvest their blood. When a search threatens Cassandra and her family, they flee to the Island: a mysterious and idyllic territory protected by the Band, a group of guerilla warriors—and by an enigmatic energy barrier that keeps outsiders out and the spirit world in. And though the village healer has taken her under her wing, and the tribal leader’s son into his heart, the creatures of the spirit world are angry, and they have chosen Cassandra to be their voice and instrument…

Incorporating the traditions of the First Peoples as well as the more familiar stories of Greek mythology and Arthurian legend, Shadows Cast by Stars is a haunting, beautifully written story that breathes new life into ancient customs.


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How to Enter:
Enter the giveaway using Rafflecopter.  Hit the green "Do It" buttons, follow the prompts, and hit the green enter buttons when you're done. (You may have to log in using Facebook to do this). There will be one winner (selected by Rafflecopter). I will contact the winner via email. This contest is open to international entrants.

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