Not only did I have the pleasure to read this awesome book (which you can find the review for HERE) BUT I GOT TO INTERVIEW THE AUTHOR!!! *squeals*
After finishing this book, I came up with some pretty squeezy questions and Katya was so lovely and has some amazing answers for us! Thank you so much, Allen & Unwin, as well for letting me have this great opportunity. I absolutely LOVE interviewing authors, and this one was everything I expected and more. Let’s go!
1. Hi Katya, a huge congratulations on the publishing of your debut novel, What the Woods Keep! How would you describe your experience in becoming a published author?
Hey! Thanks so much! Becoming a published author for the very first time was like alternating between floating peacefully in space and then being dropped into the middle of a whirlpool, and then into the quiet again and then whirlpool again, again and again. It’s taken me some time to get used to the rhythm of publishing—nothing seems to happen for a while (“seems” is the key word here, as lots of things are always happening) and then everything is happening AT ONCE. It’s nothing like I’ve ever experienced before, but I’m incredibly lucky that I have so many amazing people close to me who are there to guide me along the way, calm me down when needed, and share experiences. Among the latest highlights for me were getting messages from readers who really connected with the book (I can NEVER get enough of those, never!), meeting enthusiastic booksellers, and celebrating with my friends as their first (or second, or third!) books come out.
2. This novel had so many interesting concepts that I found fascinating and so much science talk which I personally love. What inspired this awesome thriller/urban fantasy/sci-fi combination that became What the Woods Keep?
What The Woods Keep took me years to write and rewrite, and that’s just my own revisions, before I even got an agent and before the book found its publisher. I wanted my debut to be something different, something I haven’t read before but also it had to be the book of my heart—and my heart loves science and fantasy equally! But one thing that in particular always fascinated me is that fine line between the rational and the unexplained. How do we react when we’re faced with something so bizarre, something so out-of-this-world that we simply fail to come up with any semblance of an explanation? I wanted to place that question at the centre of my book, and then the search for identity and truth that the protagonist experiences formed around it. The combination of different genres happened naturally for me because the protagonist kept trying to explain everything going on around her using the concepts and ideas she knew so well, so I wanted to push that further and further, up to the point when natural physical world as we know it stops being that and becomes something otherworldly and scary.
3. I found it so interesting that you included the strange deaths of the 9 hikers of the Dyatlov Pass in this book (which I learnt from Buzzfeed Unsolved hehe), how did you come about it in your research or was it something that you’ve always wanted to look into?
I found out about the Dyatlov Pass incident completely by accident! My Mom (who lives in Russia) told me about it after she developed a slight obsession with this strange story. Though Dyatlov’s group perished in 1959, there was some renewed interest to this incident in recent years in Russia (and outside it!), so there were books published about it and there was even this bizarre semi-documentary semi-fiction movie that got made in an attempt to reconstruct the events leading up to the deaths of Dyatlov’s group. The books and the movie considered various theories as to what actually happened, but the mystery prevailed. It’s just such a weird, sad and utterly fascinating story—the ultimate unsolved mystery. So when I started working on What The Woods Keep, I just knew I had to include it into the narrative somehow as it’s so perfectly aligned with the overall mood and concept of the book. After all, the protagonist’s Mom (and her strange disappearance) is also a case of an unexplained mystery and I wanted to blend in the fiction of it with real-life facts.
4. In What the Woods Keep, we meet the main character Hayden who seems to go through a pretty intense identity crisis. From my research I see that you studied Anthropology, how did you incorporate that knowledge into creating this book and specifically her character?
Having a background in anthropology was a tremendous help to me when writing my debut (and writing, in general!) I’m a cultural anthologist which means I specialise in the personal, the human aspect of things, specifically asking questions like why we do things we do in the way that we do them?; how are our identities formed?; what shapes our worldviews?; what influences all of that? Is it our upbringing, the way we grew up, our friends, external factors? A big chunk of my undergraduate studies involved different streams of psychology, and that came in particularly handy when writing Hayden’s inner struggles. She grew up with this past trauma always haunting her, but she found a way to move on. And then it all comes back, intensified tenfold! Hayden is a study of a changing worldview amidst the chaos, but also—in my eyes—a study of perseverance, as she manages to stay true to herself and make her own decisions, though she makes lots of mistakes on the way.
5. I absolutely loved the spooky vibes and eerie atmosphere the town of Promise had in the novel, did you have a specific place that inspired you when creating this setting?
Thanks so much! I agonised over whether to set this book in a real town or in a fictional one, but settled on the latter in the end. I wanted more freedom in how the town was organised and how it felt being there, and there’s always that danger of inauthenticity when describing a real place in a book, even if you’ve lived there—because everyone’s experience with and perception of a place is so subjectively different. I can’t say there’s a specific town that inspired Promise, though I did lots of research into Colorado and have read travelogues and histories of various small towns in that state. I also looked into local myths and lore—and there’s lots of spooky things associated with Colorado, so in the end it felt like a perfect setting. The woods, however, were inspired by the specific forest in the Russian Northwest where I used to spend my summers with my paternal grandparents. I’ve written about this inspiration here.
Designer Tracy has entered the chat. ( ^_^)／
6. One of my first impressions from the cover was how cool and ancient those symbols within the letters looked. Were these symbols something you specified to include on the cover or envisioned for it, and is that how you imagined the runes from the story would look like?
No one ever asked me this before! Thank you! I love this question. So the very first version of the cover that I’ve seen didn’t include the runes in the letters, but I think our designer was already playing with different ideas of runic interpretation on the cover. The plan was to hint at a runic language but in a very subtle way. My publisher asked me to brief them on various meanings and shapes of different runic alphabets and I actually did a lot of research into it—I might publish it one day on my blog or maybe in a newsletter. It’s fascinating! The three runes that made it to the cover are directly related to Hayden’s story, their meaning (roughly) can be translated as a ‘valuable gift of knowledge’ as the runes in the order of their appearance on the cover mean just that: value, gift, and knowledge. These are the runes I imagined on things like the Manor’s door or the mysterious box that Ella’s left for Hayden.
7. There is a lot that readers can learn from this book, specifically some of the interesting scientific theories and laws to do with physics and more. What was your favourite out of all those laws or theories mentioned?
It’s tough to pick the one, but I think the one that resonated with me a lot when I first learned about (and it seems to resonate with many readers now) is the concept of uncanny. It’s just so weird how our perception of reality can be shaken and turned on its head by something that’s just a tiny bit out of place, how something small and at first glance insignificant can propel us into a panic mode or cause nightmares!
8. For some of the aspiring writers out there hoping to get their novels finished and published, what is a 5-word sentence you can give them as a piece of advice?
Cultivate thick skin. Keep going!
9. As a reader that was yearning for more answers at the end of this novel, will we ever get those answers or will they always remain a mystery? Have you got any more books planned for this universe?
I know, I know… I left a few things unsaid LOL. (Sorry!) I’d love to return to this universe one day and write a sequel (or more books), though this depends on my publisher’s interest and whether there’s a demand for another book. I’ll see what I can do! In terms of other things, I’ve written a short story called Smoke and Mirrors and it was one of my digital extras sent as gifts to those who pre-ordered the book, but I’m definitely going to publish this story for everyone to see at some stage. Most likely, it’ll just be on my blog and/or newsletter when I get around to setting one up. This story is an in-depth look into Del’s life before Promise and relates to a certain scene in What The Woods Keep when Del first mentions her sister and what happened to her. I love Del so much and want her to have more of a spotlight in some way, so writing a short story about her is something that I always wanted to do.
10. What’s next for you?
I have another book coming in 2019! I’m VERY excited about this book. It’s called Oasis. It’s a supernatural thriller standalone, and also a genre-bender like my debut. I’ll be revealing the cover and description of Oasis on November 1st but readers can already add it on Goodreads here.
How good were those answers? Be sure to pick up What the Woods Keep & Oasis if a genre-bender sounds great to you, and let me know what you think! I’m personally stoked to find out what the cover will look like in a few weeks 😀
Until next time,
Katya de Becerra
Katya de Becerra wanted to be an Egyptologist when she grew up. Instead, she became a cultural anthropologist – not the type who goes away to faraway locales but the one who sticks to the urban and the familiar and attempts to view it through a stranger’s lens. She immigrated to Australia in 2006, after having lived in Russia, USA and Peru, and now writes young adult fiction set in some peculiar place with a mercurial atmosphere where strange things go bump in the night.
You can find her debut novel What the Woods Keep here or at any bookish retailers near you. Look out for her next novel Oasis, to be released in 2019, with its cover being unveiled on November 1st 2018.