interview: catherine knutsson + giveaway

06 July 2012

Hi everyone! Another fantastic author has stopped by, and she's written Shadows Cast by Stars. Even though it's set two hundred years in the future, the story takes place in a rustic, Old fashioned place full of magic and mythology. I'd like to welcome Catherine Knutsson to Pages! She's really friendly and easygoing, so I've definitely enjoyed this interview! I hope you do :)

1. First off, what was your inspiration for Shadows Cast By Stars? Blood being a commodity is really an intriguing idea, as is “blood harvesting” ~shudder~

When I started writing what would become SHADOWS CAST BY STARS, I thought I was going to be writing a retelling of the legend of King Arthur, but it didn't take me too long to realize that wasn't what the story wanted to be. I'm not entirely sure how the leap from King Arthur to a Métis girl living in the future happened (oh, the mysteries of the subconscious!), but I do know that the blood element arrived after a visit to my local museum. They have an exhibit about the smallpox epidemic that hit Vancouver Island in the late nineteenth century. At the time, about 800,000 First Nations people lived on Vancouver Island, and by the time the epidemic had run its course, only 80,000 First Nations people remained - pretty staggering, huh? That got me to thinking about what blood is - I mean, what a fascinating thing to be running through our veins, carrying nutrients and oxygen and so much information about who we are and where we came from, let alone antibodies and natural immunity. I spent a lot of time thinking about how that works - why are some people (or peoples!) immune to one virus, and not to another? How does that happen? I mean, I know how it happens on a biological level, but how does it come to apss on an evolutionary scale? All of that is a pretty convoluted answer, but that's sort of how my mind works!

2. The summary of the book has mentioned the Spirit World and then the plague-ridden rest of the world. Is this parallelism to any other concepts today, and if so, what?

I think so. Something that I don't talk about a lot is that I've done some of my own studies in healing. In fact, when I graduated from high school, I actually thought I was going to be a doctor! Though I didn't follow that path to completion, I've always been fascinated by medicine, and alternate modes of healing in particular: herbalism, acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine, folk medicine - that sort of thing. And, one of the themes I constantly came across in my studies and my reading is that many healing traditions believe physical illness has equally important spiritual and emotional components that aren't always acknowledged by traditional western medicine. So, if a person can be ill in mind, body, and spirit, could a society? A civilization? A world? And if that's the case, how would healing happen? I don't have answers - I'm a question person - but I do think about this a lot (and then, turn off the news!).

3. Writing dystopian has many challenges, like coming up with a “history”, new terminology and slang, futuristic technology and so on. What did you find most difficult about writing Shadows Cast by Stars?

Well, I cheated a bit in terms of dystopian jargon by setting the story in a place I knew really, really well: the place where I grew up. So, aside from a few technology things (Searches, etherstream, datachips), I tried to steer clear of the jargon minefield. Some of the terms I did use might be unfamiliar to some, but all of them are "real". Dzoonokwa, for example, is the wild woman of the woods of Pacific Northwest First People's stories. Sisiutl is as well. Oolichan is an oily little fish that flourishes around Vancouver Island (it's also called candle fish, because it's so oily than once dried, it can be burned as a candle!) and salal is a plant that's growing right outside my backdoor.

The most difficult thing I experienced when writing SHADOWS CAST BY STARS wasn't the setting or the technology. It was getting Cassandra out on to the page. I knew who she was inside my head, but making sure the real essence of her was getting through into the story was a real challenge.

4. The cover is absolutely enchanting, but some authors have images of covers in their heads while writing. What did you first envision your cover looking like?

I'm so glad you like the cover as much as I do! Actually, I didn't really envision my cover while writing, but I did hope it would be true to the story. And then, one day, it magically arrived in my inbox with a note from my editor saying "I hope you like it!", and it was perfect!

5. The Plague seems to be the root issue here: is it the Bubonic Plague re-discovered, or an entirely different disease?

Well, the bubonic plague was a starting point in my mind, but I think this is a difference disease - one that affects both body and spirit, I think. But maybe all diseases do that, really, depending on one's theory of thought!

6. Now to you ! You’ve mentioned on your bio that you’re Métis, which means you’re part of aboriginal Canada. Can you explain further? And is the language, Michif, something you speak decently? (I hear you’re still learning) :D

Métis flag photo credit

Sure! The Métis are one of the three officially-recognized aboriginal peoples of Canada (the other two being First Nations (or native Indian) and the Inuit.) The word "métis" means "mixed", and that's what Meéis people are: descended from First Nations women and their European fur trader (usually Scottish or French) husbands. Since I didn't grow up knowing I was Metis (my grandmother kept it a secret, and sadly, since she's now passed on, our family will never know why. But, we suspect her reasons were rooted in difficulty and pain), I had to apply for Métis citizenship, which is lengthy process where you have to provide documentation for five generations of your heritage, including scrips and baptismal certificates of your ancestors who were either First Nations or Métis. My aunt had already done most of this work, so that was great, and seeing copies of these old documents of my ancestors was really surreal, and very cool!
As for Michif, I'm just in the beginning of the learning process. Michif is a hybrid language, combining Cree and French, so the French part I'm okay with (I used to speak French pretty fluently, but I'm out of practice these days). But the Cree part is a lot more difficult! But, I'm learning - slowly but surely!

Quick Questions!

1. Celebrity crush and why?

Without a doubt: Tom Hiddleston. Tall, handsome, intelligent, witty - what's not to like?

K: Oh my gosh....I know! He's my celebrity crush too! Ahh! 

2. Sunny days or rainy days?

Cold, clear, windy, sunny days are my favorite sort of days! Or, snow! We so seldom get snow where I live 

3. Old book smell or new book smell (or Kindle/Nook smell :D)?

Definitely old book smell! (The first thing I did when SHADOWS CAST BY STARS arrive was smell it....)

4. Favourite food dish?

Pizza, in my opinion, is the king o' food...though I'm a foodie, so as long as it's not liver or mayonnaise, I'm good...

K: Yuck, I hate liver too!

5. Muffins or cupcakes?

Both! Though, now that I think about it, cupcakes have icing, and well, it's hard to go wrong with icing...

6. How was your short time in Iran? (this can be longer, I guess :D)

I was very young when I lived in Iran, but I think living there was one of the most important experiences in my life. The first non-English language I encountered was Farsi, and even now, I can still say a few words! Memories of my family's time there are etched in my mind, and it was a thrill when I learned that a fellow debut author was Iranian, because I then pestered her for recipes of Barbary bread (which I can still taste and smell, even though I lived in Iran over thirty years ago) and the amazing Iranian rice. I'd really like to go back one day, but until then, I've contented myself by working on a novel that's set in an Iranian-esque world


7 thoughts:

  1. Awesome giveaway and interview! I've just entered - thanks so much for hosting it! :D xxx

    By the way, I think the cover for Shadows Cast by Stars is beautiful too!

  2. This is on my wishlist and I can't wait until I can get my hands on it!

    It's definetly a very intriguing and unusual concept so I am very excited to see what I think about it! And pizza is definetly the best food ever! Plus the cover is GORGEOUS! Shimmery too! :P

    Great interview - both questions and answers! Is the giveaway international? I just want to make sure before I enter anything! :D

  3. I've this book on my wishlist and I'm dying to read it!

    I love pizza too and the cover is very beautiful*_*

    Thank you very much for this interview and for the giveaway:)

  4. Terrific interview! Catherine's comments about healing traditions and about all diseases maybe affecting both body and spirit are thoughts I can relate to. They are mulling around in my head even more now...wonder if they'll turn into a story? ;)

    Interesting how things like "oolichan" and "salal" may be so foreign to a lot of readers. Growing up on Vancouver Island, the setting of SHADOWS CAST BY STARS had a familiarity to me (except for the Sisiutl -- haven't run into him!).

    For those of you who are dying to read this, just wanted to let you know the writing is just as gorgeous as the cover. You'll love it!

  5. Great interview... thought the part about reconnecting with your Métis heritage is wonderful. And best of luck with Cree! :)

    And yes, Tom Hiddleston does have a certain appeal, I'll admit.

    Thank you for the interview and giveaway! :)

  6. I love how this book sounds. Looks amazing!!
    Great interview! I loved it!! The idea of the plague is... wow!

  7. Can't wait to read this book! Thank you for the interview!


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