Catherine Knutsson’s dystopian YA, SHADOWS CAST BY STARS, released earlier this year.
Old ways are pitted against new horrors in this compellingly crafted dystopian tale about a girl who is both healer and seer.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.
You can read the first chapter at Catherine’s website: www.catherineknutsson.com
Catherine was kind enough to give me an interview back around the time of the book’s release, and now you get to read it!
Hi Catherine, and congratulations on the release of SHADOWS CAST BY STARS. I really enjoyed reading it, and found myself racing from chapter to chapter to see what happened next.
The world of SHADOWS CAST BY STARS is a world of myths and magic, but it’s so richly detailed that it somehow feels real. How much research and/or worldbuilding did you have to do for this book?
Well, I spent a great deal of time researching traditional healing modalities - not just those of the First Nations, but of cultures all over the world. Since the Island society in SHADOWS CAST BY STARS is composed of a variety of peoples, I thought Cassandra's studies would need to blended, too, especially since healing traditions vary so widely from one First Nations people to the next. What was interesting, however, is how prevalent the body-mind-spirit connection is in traditional healing methods (I mean, I knew this, but my research really drove it home.) A book that reinforced that for me was THE SPIRIT CATCHES YOU AND YOU FALL DOWN, by Anne Fadiman, which is about a Hmong family and the collision between their beliefs on healing and illness with those of the western medical community. It was a reminder to me that no one lives in isolation, and that it's much better to learn from each other than to shut each other out.
As for the setting and mythology, the Island community is based on where I grew up on Vancouver Island, though a fictionalized, futuristic version of that place. Vancouver Island is heavily steeped in myth and legend (we have regular sightings of our our own versions of the Loch Ness monster, and we're a hotbed for Sasquatch activity, for example), and one of the mountains overlooking the community where I grew up is called Forbidden Plateau--is that ominous or what? Most of those stories I knew already, either from learning them in school or picking them up from listening to my parents and their friends talk about it. The classical and Arthurian mythology was already in my brain as well, for I trained as a classical singer, and it's pretty hard to sing anything from Baroque opera without bumping into a myth or three or four!
In SHADOWS CAST BY STARS, what was the hardest scene to write, or the most difficult thing to convey?
I will admit that Cassandra gave me a really tough time. I knew who she was, but getting her on to the page? Not so easy! Another real challenge was making sure I was treating the stories and traditions I was drawing with respect. First Nations peoples have really suffered from cultural misappropriation in a tragic way, and even though my own heritage is Métis, I didn't think that gave me license to do whatever I wanted. So, sometimes, my editor would make a suggestion, and I'd have to find a really creative solution that would allow me to address that suggestion in a way that still respected and honored the traditions I was drawing upon. That was a lot trickier than I ever imagined, and I hope I succeeded.
What was the most fun?
My favorite part of the whole process was revisiting the natural world I know so well. Every summer, my husband and I try to spend as much time as possible hiking the wilds on Vancouver Island, and it was a real joy exploring those places through the lense of this story. Every physical place in SHADOWS CAST BY STARS is a place I've actually been, though reinvented for the story's purpose. In many ways, SHADOWS CAST BY STARS is a lovesong to the wild places of the world, especially since they are disappearing at such a rapid pace, and should readers feel inspired to take a walk in a place with old trees and old shadows, well, I would be very pleased!
SHADOWS CAST BY STARS is your debut novel. Tell us a bit about how it came to be published.
Well, it's a bit of a long story! I started writing SHADOWS in 2006, and quickly realized I didn't have the skills I needed to tell the story I wanted to tell. So, I set it aside, spent a lot of time working on my craft (an ongoing process!), and then, completed the draft in late 2007/early 2008 (I think!). By April 2008 I had an agent, and by December 2008, I had an interested publisher. Before long, I had two interested publishers, which I learned on Boxing Day, 2008, while sitting in a hospital waiting to find out if a beloved family member was about to have brain surgery. The fact that SHADOWS was going to auction didn't even register, to tell you the truth, because of everything else that was going on! By January 2009, the deal was finalized and then, it was on to edits! So, a long process - much longer than I ever imagined - but because of that, I've really developed a lot of patience and perseverance, which, to my mind, are two of the most important skills a writer can have. At least, that's what I tell myself on the days when the words aren't cooperating!
Finally, in the spirit of The Lucky 13s, do you have a favorite superstition?
I have a few! I always stir my coffee/tea/soup/whatever clockwise (because if you stir widdershins, you're stirring the luck out!), and if I spill salt, I always toss a bit over both shoulders, since I'm left-handed and always mix up my lefts and rights. I figure it never hurts to cover all your bases!
Catherine Knutsson lives in Nanaimo, B.C., home of the famous Nanaimo bar, with her ultra-supportive husband, Mikel, and their two cats, who are frequently featured on Catherine’s blog.
When she’s not writing, she runs, rides horses, hikes, gardens, takes photographs, and bakes bread.
You can buy SHADOWS CAST BY STARS from these sites:
Barnes & Noble
This interview was conducted by Lucky 13s member Imogen Howson as part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Apocalypsies – YA, MG, and children’s book authors debuting in 2012.