Saturday, August 6, 2011

Author Interview: Catherine Knutsson previews Shadows Cast By Stars

For my spotlight on upcoming dystopian/post apocalyptic fiction series, I interviewed over 20 authors with novels coming out in the genre in 2012/13. These are exclusive first looks at exciting new works. Enjoy!

Today I'm pleased to welcome Debut Author Catherine Knutsson who is previewing her novel SHADOWS CAST BY STARS due out with Atheneum (Simon & Schuster) in 2012.

Here's the summary:

Two hundred years from now, the great cities of the west coast of the United Americas are under water. Blood has become the most valuable commodity on the planet – especially the blood of aboriginal peoples, for it contains antigens that protect them from the plagues that ravage the rest of the world. 
Sixteen year old Cassandra Mecredi might be aboriginal by blood, but without a totem animal, she cannot make sense of her visions or walk the paths of the spirit world. When her family is forced to leave their reservation, they flee east to the Island: a mysterious and idyllic territory free from the depredations of industry and sickness and under the control of the Band, a group of guerrilla warriors. There, Cassandra will become the apprentice to a wise woman, fall in love, and find her destiny when the creatures of spirit claim her as their own. For the spirit world is angry... and they have chosen Cassandra to be their voice and instrument.
And ... I premiered the gorgeous cover last month, so here's it is again in all its glory:

Now let's answer some questions answered, shall we?

Why do you think people are drawn to "dark" stories?
Good question! As an author, I'm intrigued by the shadow side of life, skeletons in the closet, multi-generational wounding and healing, that sort of thing. I think it goes back to OTHELLO, and trying to understand why Iago did what he did or something (in other words, high school is haunting me!).

As a reader, I know that I'm often attracted to dark works because I'm looking for a light at the end of the tunnel, and a sense of hope, and also, I like wondering what I would do if I were placed in, say, Katniss's place - would I make the same choices? Would I do any better? (Probably not!) And there's something about reading about a wounded character healing that I find really moving - the scars we wear shape us, give us our histories. That, to me, is a beautiful thing.

If SHADOWS BY STARS had a theme song, what would it be and why?
I came up with two (hope that's okay!). The first is THE KINGDOM, by Jesca Hoop, because it's sort of symbolic and melancholy and otherworldly and mythic. And it has the lines: "You must go to the battlefield/And follow the cry of men rampaging/And gather the ones that won't heal", which is a large part of Cassandra's journey.

The second song is SONS AND DAUGHTERS, by the Decemberists. This one, I admit, I didn't come up with on my own. My agent is the one who said it reminded her of SHADOWS CAST BY STARS, and I agree - the sense of building a home out of nothing, of turning away from what once was towards something new, something with more hope.

What fictional character from another book would Cassandra chose as her best friend and why?
I'm pretty sure Cassandra would find Ayra Stark from THE GAME OF THRONES, a kindred spirit, and probably Kate, from PLAIN KATE, too. Survivors, characters on the outside, girls who are trying to live authentically in the face of difficult circumstances. I think, if they were ever to meet, they'd find they were sisters of a sort.

What are your top 5 Dystopian lit recs and why?
1. HOW I LIVE NOW - Meg Rosoff: this book! It's gutsy and weird and dark and doesn't shy away from things that are uncomfortable or taboo. It made me want to be a better writer. I should probably read it again....

2. GREEN ANGEL - Alice Hoffman: another book that made me want to be a better writer. So poignant and sad, and such beautiful writing.
3. THE CHRYSALIDS - John Wyndham: I read this in junior high (I think) and I've never forgotten it. That, to me, is the hallmark of a good book, one that stays with you forever.
4. LORD OF THE FLIES - William Golding: another one I read in school. This book is never far from my thoughts when I write. The scene with Simon floating in the water haunts me to this day, and it sneaks into my writing all the time.
5. THE ROAD - Cormac McCarthy: I know this one isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I admire how fearless and relentless and terrible and unflinching it is.

What's at the top of your to-do list before the world ends? (You know, in case it ends next year)
1. Climb the Great Pyramid at Giza.
2. Play a Fazioli piano
3. Ride a Grand Prix dressage test
4. Take a houseboat down the Seine
5. Spend a winter in the Yukon

How does your novel stand out from other dystopian/post-apocalyptic fiction out there?
I guess, what makes SHADOWS CAST BY STARS different is that it was inspired by aboriginal culture, history, and story. About ten years ago, our family learned we were Métis, and for a variety of reasons, all of which are very painful and sad, our heritage had been kept in the shadows. I think that set all of us off on a journey with a steep learning curve, trying to understand what this really meant, and how it affected how we saw ourselves and the world around us. 

My journey brought me to writing SHADOWS CAST BY STARS. Strangely enough, I never intended to write a book infused with First Nations spirituality - in fact, when I originally started the story, I though it was going to be centered on Arthurian mythology (that’s still there, lurking around the edges). But, then I started thinking about blood quantum, and cultural heritage, and the damage people do to each other (among other things), and the book took a turn. Cassandra was going to be a healer, and she would need to walk some dark paths to address these difficult issues. 

That’s when the raven showed up, and not just any old raven, but the raven of First Nations legend, the one who stole the sun, the one who pulled the first humans from a clam shell. And then, some other supernatural creatures decided they had plans for Cassandra too. Often, as I was writing the story, I’d stop and stare at the page, and think, where did that come from? 

But, since SHADOWS CAST BY STARS is set on the Island where I live, (and parallels, in some ways, the journey I’ve been on, learning more about my Métis ancestry and all that entails) the best answer I can come up with is the novel is part of the land, and the supernatural creatures in SHADOWS CAST BY STARS are part of the land too, which is sort of the kernel of this story.

Thanks Catherine!

Add SHADOWS CAST BY STARS to your GoodReads wishlist


Hermana Tiffany Garner said...

Such a cool interview! Sounds like a great story, and very unique. I look forward to getting the chance to read it!

Shari Green said...

Great interview! Thanks, Lenore and Catherine. :)

Zibilee said...

My daughter just picked up Green Angel the other day, and read it in one sitting. Then she told me that it was a must read and that I would love it. Glad to see it was in Catherine's top five. I also find the inspiration for her story to be really interesting as well, and wouldn't mind reading this one when it comes out. Great interview, Lenore and Catherine. Thanks for sharing it!

Diana Stevan said...

Great interview! Very thoughtful and a lot of meat from this writer. Can't wait to read the book!