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Author discusses new fictional book on Donner Party

March 23, 2018
Toni Milbourne - For the Chronicle , Shepherdstown Chronicle

Author Alma Katsu made her way to Four Seasons Books last Sunday to share thoughts on her recently released book, "The Hunger."

"The Hunger," which went on sale March 6, offers a re-imagining of the travels of the Donner Party as they head to California in the winter of 1846. A fictionalized account, the story also draws on facts researched by Katsu as she weaves together the lives of individuals who met one another only because they were seeking a new life.

"This was a wagon train of strangers," Katsu told a crowd of approximately 25 people Sunday. "The jumping off place was Independence, Missouri, and that's where like-minded folks met to join wagon trains west."

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Toni Milbourne/Chronicle
Author Alma Katsu signed copies of her new book, “The Hunger,” following a discussion of the book Sunday at Four Season Books in Shepherdstown.

Speaking of the Donner Party, Katsu said a book like "The Hunger" is a challenge. People believe they know how it ends, so why read it?

"The ending is not what you expect," she said, being careful to avoid any spoilers.

Katsu explained she didn't know a lot about the Donner Party when she was contacted by two people with Glasstown Entertainment who asked her to write the book.

"One reason I was interested is that this company has a high success rate with selling film rights," Katsu said.

The rights, in fact, have been sold to the well-known film producer Ridley Scott.

Katsu also said renowned horror writer Stephen King had tweeted about her book-a fact that was incredibly exciting for her.

The story, told through various narrators, tells about the trip west with an element of mystery and horror thrown in.

Katsu, who said she firmly believes that every person has a potential for good or evil, said sometimes people do really bad things.

She said that the story touches on bigger themes than just the story of the Donner Party, who were trapped in the mountains, with only some of them surviving. Katsu sees the details of the story as a reflection of what was happening in the country at the time.

"Manifest destiny-that God had blessed Americans and they were destined to own land from coast to coast-was popular," Katsu said. "But there were people living in those lands-Mexicans and Native Americans already lived there."

The story outlines a time when people were facing difficult times. Instead of banding together, they took the path of "every family for themselves," Katsu said. Katsu plays on that storyline, as well as adding in a supernatural element intended to keep the reader turning the pages.

During Sunday's gathering in Shepherdstown, Katsu explained that she does her own research and even traveled the path taken by the Donner Party, at least to the extent that it's still there today.

"The Bonneville Salt Flats were part of the route," she said. "That was 400 miles of nothing, and we traveled in a car. A wagon could only go about 20 miles on a good day." It is through those miles and miles of nothing that "The Hunger" takes the reader, as each of the story's characters are exposed, reaching a surprise ending.

Katsu is the author of three additional books: "The Taker," "The Reckoning" and "The Descent." A graduate of the master's writing program at Johns Hopkins University, she received her bachelor's degree from Brandeis University. She is a retired senior intelligence analyst and lives in Columbia, Maryland.

"The Hunger" is available at Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown, as well on Amazon and in other major book stores.

 
 
 

 

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