Elisabeth Elo understands the dark side of cold climes! Her stunning debut was set North of Boston and with her long-awaited second book, which Publishers Weekly calls a “gripping thriller,” she shows us a side of Siberia that I know I’d never even thought of . Finding Katarina M. comes out next month, when winter draws to a close, but I can’t wait to go back into the deep dark with Elisabeth…
How does a book start for you?
My first two novels started with a fully formed character, but this one started with a place, Siberia, and the feeling that I had to go there to confront something. Like a lot of westerners, I thought of Siberia as cold and dark, a region where history’s nightmares were stored. I was wrong, of course: modern Siberia is vibrant and constantly evolving, with a really diverse population. It’s part of Russia, but it also has its own identity. In the end, I realized that what the protagonist had to confront and triumph over was a certain darkness in herself.
Who in your latest book surprised you most – and why?
That’s easy—the protagonist, Natalie. At first I didn’t have a strong sense of who she was and, since I’d had such certainty about my protagonists before, I worried that the novel would never get off the ground. As I continued to write I realized that, even though Natalie wasn’t as flamboyant as my other characters, she had an inner strength that made her perfectly capable of directing events. This is her story—her ordeal—and she owns every bit of it, just as she should.
Where is your latest book set, and is there a story behind that setting?
On a trip to Siberia, I visited a Sakha village about a five-hour van ride east of Yakutsk. My hosts had a lot of questions for me. One of the first things they asked was “What really happened with Bush v. Gore in 2000?” I was pretty surprised, until I realized that what they were really asking was, Does democracy work? They follow American politics very closely. We really are a beacon of hope to people around the world.
What are you working on now?
A WWII spy book featuring a mid-twenties British woman from an upper-class family who goes undercover in Paris in 1943 to help organize the Resistance in preparation for the Allied invasion. The fact that I can write that sentence is an accomplishment, considering the paltry level of knowledge I started with.
Which question didn’t I ask that I should have?
What did you learn from writing this novel? Answer: How to keep opening up the story. How to avoid the impulse to keep running back to the beginning, looking for answers in what went before. Sounds deep, doesn’t it? Really, it’s just another way of saying that I got more confident about plot.
Elisabeth Elo is the author of FINDING KATARINA M., coming in March from Polis Books. Her previous suspense novel, NORTH OF BOSTON, was chosen by Booklist as a Best Crime Novel Debut: 2014 and was published in six countries. Elisabeth grew up in Boston, attended Brown University, and earned a PhD in English from Brandeis. She worked as a children’s magazine editor, a high-tech marketer and product manager, and a halfway house counselor before starting to write fiction. To learn more, visit www.elisabethelo.com.