Interview with Cat Winters, author of The Cure for Dreaming and In the Shadow of Blackbirds

Interviewed by Bobbye Hernandez, Tillamook Public Library

CatBWOregon author Cat Winters recently had her second YA novel published, The Cure for Dreaming, and she was kind enough to answer some questions about the book as well as some general questions about writing for our newsletter.

 Let’s talk about The Cure for Dreaming. Where/how did you come up with the story?

I was listening to eerie, dreamlike Halloween music during October 2011 and imagined a young woman floating to a ceiling. The experience put me in the mood to write something Gothic, Victorian, and magical, so I turned to the idea of writing about a turn-of-the-twentieth-century stage hypnotist. At the same time, I had also wanted to figure out a way to bring the women’s suffrage movement to life in a novel. An idea struck me: “What would happen if a Victorian man hired a hypnotist to cure his budding suffragist daughter of her rebellious thoughts and dreams?” Thus, The Cure for Dreaming was born.

What made you pair a hypnotist with a suffragist? Also, there are a lot of interesting images and references to early dentistry in the book what made you make Olivia’s father a mad dentist?

Pairing a hypnotist with a suffragist was simply a case of these two different book ideas merging together and turning into one story. I didn’t find any historical examples of people hiring hypnotists to cure suffragists; however, many late-Victorian and early-twentieth-century women were treated for “hysteria,” a catch-all diagnosis that included females behaving in rebellious ways. Extreme cures—hysterectomies, institutionalization, etc.—were used. I wanted to show the dire methods people went to in order to subdue women of the era, but I also chose to incorporate some magical, lighter elements to keep the subject matter from getting too heavy and depressing. CureforDreaming_cover

In the earlier drafts, Olivia’s father was a physician. However, I realized the mother of my In the Shadow of Blackbirds protagonist was a doctor, so I felt I was repeating myself a bit. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be far more interesting and terrifying if Olivia’s father was a Victorian dentist”? My editor loved the choice and encouraged me to go even farther with the squirm-inducing horrors of dentistry of the era.

 Do you ever think that you will follow-up on Olivia or Henry?

I go back and forth on this question, and readers do frequently ask if a sequel is forthcoming. The problem with a sequel is that no significant milestones for the women’s suffrage movement were reached until ten or eleven years after the 1900 setting of The Cure for Dreaming, when western states such as Oregon and California granted women the right to vote. I feel like I’d have to jump ahead about eleven years in order to write a satisfying sequel, which would push the book out of the realm of YA fiction.

Now let’s talk about writing in general, what inspires you to write?

Music, books, movies, places I visit, conversations, emotions I experience, history. In other words, I find inspiration everywhere. I’ve always seen the world through the eyes of a writer, taking everything in as potential scenes for a story.

 Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

The ideas typically start with the discovery of something in history that either intrigues me or upsets me—or both. Oftentimes, I find book ideas from some sort of side research I’ve performed for a previous novel. For example, when writing The Cure for Dreaming, I considered making Olivia’s best friend, Frannie, a quarter Native American. However, when I researched Oregon’s restrictive interracial marriage laws for the 1800s and early 1900s, I discovered I would practically need to write a whole separate novel about Frannie to do justice to this idea. Instead, I turned the information I learned about Oregon’s prejudices of the past into an upcoming YA novel, The Steep and Thorny Way.

What does your writing process look like?

After I’ve formed my initial idea for a book, I let plot ideas marinate inside my head for a bit. I’m a very cerebral writer. Much of my planning and outlining occurs internally instead of on paper. Once I can’t wait another moment to embark upon the story, I sit down and write an opening chapter, which typically helps me figure out the protagonist’s voice and the overall feel of the book. Writing the opening chapter of In the Shadow of Blackbirds immediately helped me figure out the intense setting of the novel, as well as my main character’s no-nonsense way of speaking about her harsh reality.

After I write a first chapter, I usually research and plot some more, and then I dive into the first draft. About halfway through the draft, I print out a calendar for the months and year in which I’m working (October and November 1918 for In the Shadow of Blackbirds) and keep track of all the key moments in the book, leading up to the climax, as if I’m filling out my main character’s day planner. This is the method I’ve used for every single one of my books, and it’s what works for me.

What is your least favorite part of the publishing / writing process?

The waiting. Every single stage of the publishing process requires extreme patience. You wait to see if your book will get published; you wait to receive edits from your editor; you wait to see the cover for the book; and you wait 18 to 24 months from the point when you sold the book to the day the book actually releases.  However, at the same time, I’m extremely thankful the process isn’t a rushed one. A book grows stronger when care and patience are utilized.

Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Ex: Love? Action? Racy?

For me, the hardest scenes are the transitional ones that don’t contain heated action or emotions. It’s far trickier making the smaller moments in a book come to life, even though such scenes are necessary to balance the pace of the book and give characters and readers a breather. Racier love scenes and action scenes are much easier, in my opinion.

Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it? Why?

Child kidnapping. I have two kids of my own, and when my daughter was two years old, we experienced a murder/kidnapping in our neighborhood that made national headlines. Police helicopters flew over our house nonstop, search dogs investigated every single one of our homes in the area, and updates about the missing seven-year-old girl aired on our TV until long after her body was found. The man eventually convicted for her murder lived in our neighborhood, and we’d walk past his house and say “hi” to him before any of this happened. It was a horrifying experience that disgusts me to this day, and I can’t even read books about kidnapped children because of it.

Thank you for sharing that with us, it is a very powerful story. What are you working on now? What is your next project?

Shadow of blackbirdsI’m actually lucky enough to have quite a few projects in the works at the moment. My adult fiction debut, The Uninvited (my second ghost story set in WWI-era America), will release August 11, 2015, from HarperCollins. I’m also in the midst of edits for a short story that will be appearing in the YA horror anthology Slasher Girls & Monster Boys, coming August 18, 2015 from Penguin. In addition, I’m working on my aforementioned third YA novel, The Steep and Thorny Way, a Hamlet-inspired 1920s tale about a biracial girl in Oregon.  Amulet Books, the publisher of my other YA novels, acquired that one, and it will be releasing Spring 2016.

What is your favorite genre to read?

Historical fiction, especially if a mystery or ghosts are involved. I suppose that’s not too surprising, considering the types of books I write.

Lastly, what is your favorite young adult novel?

The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak. He wrote the novel in such a creative and powerful style, and I thought his use of Death of the narrator was absolutely brilliant. It also opened my eyes to the experiences of German civilians in Nazi-occupied Germany. I always highly recommend the book to any reader, young or old, male or female.

For more information about Cat Winters you can visit her website at


Hunger Games for the First Time

By Elvira Sanchez Kisser, Woodburn Public Library

Hunger Games for the First Time

HGGeneral2Everyone has a first time for everything and for the Woodburn Public Library the Hunger Games Party was their first book-themed party for teens. I had brought up the idea a few times with teens and interest was mild, but this time due to the Mockingjay movie coming up, we hoped it would help in selling the idea. My first response was to do a search to see what activities everyone else had done for their parties through the OYAN blog and Teen librarian Toolbox ( At this time we do not have a Teen Council, so I roped all our teen volunteers together and presented the ideas I found for the party. Many of them said they wanted to structure it more like a game with challenges. We ended up designing a game where teens were sorted into teams and presented with five challenges.  The team with the highest score was declared the winner and got to divvy up a bag of chocolates between them.
ScheduleWhen the teens arrived, they were randomly assigned a district number using a bingo spinner. They then were given a Hunger Games name tag where they wrote their name and district number.

While all the teens were arriving we set up the room with different practice stations:

  • Wild Food Survival Station: Detailed which foods are poisonous and safe
  • Knot Tying Station-  Instructed how to create 6 different knots
  • Make Over Station- Temporary tattoos, face paint, and hair chalk
  • Weapon Making Station – Create their own indoor sling shoot (
  • Shooting Range Station – Practice shooting at Capital and Rebel hanging signs.

To top it off there was pizza and drinks and Catching Fire playing on a large TV.HGGeneral1

After everyone had arrived and had a bit of food, we separated the group into even teams. Each team was handed a schedule card and they had to come up with a team name. (The schedule cards had a list of the challenges randomly mixed for each card in order to have multiple challenges going at once in the hopes of a big crowd and a place for their score). Then we began the challenges.

Challenge 1: Cornucopia Trivia: Groups battled for cheat devices to help with the upcoming challenges by answering trivia questions.

Cheats included: bags of marshmallows, flashlights, Avox card, “2 at a time”card; and a spile card.

Challenge 2: Rebel Attack: Each team had one minute to shoot as many Capital signs hidden in the library stacks without hitting any rebel signs. Teens could only shoot from the edges of the stacks and could not retrieve shot marshmallows.

Scoring: Capital sign +5 pts, Rebel sign -5 pts, and bonus President Snow sign (white Capital sign)+10 pts.HGTarget-2

Cheats: Bags of marshmallows

The teens liked this challenge so much we gave each team two tries. I will say that the indoor sling shot is not easy to control, so an easier challenge would be to create a grid of the signs and place them on a wall and have teens try and hit as many signs from a certain distance.

Challenge 3: Knot Tying: Teams had to see how many knots they could tie in one minute. Only one team member could try at a time, but other team members could tag them out. The knot instructions were taped on a table with six lines of yarn for knot tying.

Cheats:  “2 at a time” card: teams with this card could have two members try at a time.

Scoring: 5 pts per knot tied

This challenge was harder for the groups. Many got frustrated with following the cards, while other teams learned to switch out more often when they got frustrated.

Challenge 4: Food Scavenging: Located in the Children’s Area we scattered bottles of water and standing images of different wild foods. Teams were IMG_3343challenged to find and gather enough safe food for their group within one minute and return to the front of the room. Each member needed to gather at least +20 pts of food and water.

Cheats: Spile card: give all team members 1 water.

Scoring: Safe foods +5 pts; unsafe food -5pts; water +10pts/ -10pts no water.

This was more of a let’s run around the library time and teen had fun trying to find as many food images as possible not really caring about if they were poisonous or not.

HGMazeChallenge 5: Tunnel Escape:  Each team chose a Mentor to guide them through the tunnels using voice commands only in a dark room with a maze taped on the floor. The Mentor can only stand on the edges of the maze during the challenge. All other team members must wear blind folds. The goal is to lead your team through the maze in the shortest possible time.

Cheats: Flashlight card: the Mentor may use a flashlight to see.

Avox card: Teams chose a person to be an Avox, one who can guide without a blindfold but cannot talk.

Scoring: fastest time +10 pts

Next time, I would make a harder maze the, but overall the teens had fun doing this challenge. They also found out that if the Mentor gave bad commands and the Avox didn’t understand them the team could easily be led astray.

Overall the teens attending had a great time. After the winners were announced and the last piece of pizza consumed, the teens helped clean up the remaining rooms. After each challenge I did have the teams reset the challenges for the next team and clean up any mess. The teens that attended had fun and were impressed how everything turned out. The teens that volunteered were inspired and asked when the next meeting was and started making suggestions for another party. I have been watching these teens slowly build a repertoire at each meeting with each other and hope they can eventually be turned into our first teen council.HGGeneral3

Filling the Gap: Downtown Bend Public Library’s new Teen Writing Group

by  April Witteveen, Deschutes Public Library

penandinkIn late spring 2014, Central Oregon heard the sad news that a beloved literature and writing non-profit, The Nature of Words (NOW), would be closing its doors.   NOW offered a variety of programming for all ages, including a teen writing group called the Storefront Project.  In the wake of NOW’s closure, word started to spread that Deschutes Public Library would be working to address the new gap in creative programming for our area.  The past several months have seen DPL staff brainstorming ways to bring more literary and creative writing options to our customers and greater community.  I started a new year with my teen advisory board in the fall, and much to my happiness one of the main things they wanted to see at the library was a teen writing group—hooray for the fortuitousness!

We worked together to plan our first event; I would be the program facilitator for now, with plans to reach out to the local institutes of higher education, local authors, and previous Storefront Project adult volunteers to bring in new faces.  We talked about what would make our writing group attractive to teens, given a few limitations to our library space and furnishings (I will be putting in a budget proposal for multiple bean bag chairs!)   On December 12 we had our initial meeting, complete with snacks and a nice classical soundtrack for background ambiance.  We primarily worked with writing prompts and kicked off our session with some six word memoirs (   We had modest attendance with 7 teens, but the size felt appropriate to allow everyone time to share.  My hope is to grow the group to at least 12 regular attendees.  A student who attended my group had been a regular with the Storefront Project, and he recommended the size—anything approaching 20 or more teens felt a little too big, he said.

Nature of Words also held writing competitions and produced anthologies; I hope to work these aspects of creative writing programming into our own plan over the next couple of years.  Prior to NOW’s closure, DPL hadn’t done much with this type of programming, but now we are eagerly looking for other ways to fill the gap and keep these experiences accessible to area teens

The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi

reviewed by Elvira Sanchez Kisser, Woodburn Public Library

doubtfactoryAlix Banks lives a privileged teenager’s life: she goes to a premiere private school, she is a top student, she spends her time going shopping and talking about boys with her friends, watching after her mischievous brother, while her father works too much and mother worries too little. Then a mysterious intense activist, Moses, steps into her life and accuses her father of killing others through his company and her life gets turned upside down. Alix must discover the truth about her father, Moses, and the world she lives in.

A contemporary thriller that is filled with conspiracy facts based on headlines, action sequences, hacking intrigue, security dodging and even a bit of romance. The most notable scene from a librarian’s perspective is when Alix begins to do her own research in order to make up her mind and at first sees nothing unusual when she does a cursory search. Then she begins to dive in deeper in verifying the sources of the information and the web of intrigue grows.

The story is fast paced and focused on exposing the reader to the idea of how misinformation is used in our society.  At times the narrative stalls while information is laid on the reader all at once and could have been handled better by incorporating the information throughout the novel. On the other had I liked the use of real companies and situations that can be easily verified with a bit of research.  As for the characters, they are shallow and stereotypical so as not to lose focus on the plot. Overall an entertaining way of looking at a heavy and controversial subject

The Swap by Meagan Shull

reviewed by Sonja Somerville, Salem Public Library

The SwapThe Facts

400 pages; published  August 2014

The Basics

Ellie is a seventh grader slowly sliding off the bottom rung of the social ladder after her best friend turns mean girl over the summer. Jack is a boys’ boy in a family of boys’ boys obsessed with hockey, workouts and winning. Both battling some private demons and public humiliation, they end up in the nurse’s office on the first day of school, each feeling the other must have it so easy. A wish, a few words from the mysterious nurse, and BAM! They’ve switched lives just in time to go home for the weekend and find out.


I was leery of this book because I’ve seen Freaky Friday a bunch of times and feared the story would be overly familiar. Granted, it is the same general idea, but so well done and entertaining. It was sort of Freaky Friday meets Strangers on a Train. The characters who swap lives and bodies don’t really know each other. They live in radically different households and occupy decidedly different rungs on the social ladder of their middle school. This story isn’t about understanding each other. It’s about Ellie and Jack each using their unique strengths to force change in the other’s life. It’s that great combination of funny and touching that I am a total sucker for. It’s good, clean fun for middle grade readers with enough substance to also appeal to the high school crowd.

Random Thoughts

  • I adored Jack’s three burly, boisterous brothers who – despite the boyish smells and odd fitness rituals – were truly good guys.
  • Sometimes, you get so fixated on trying to make the wrong person like you that you miss the fact that you have true, blue friends that are more worthwhile.

I’ll Recommend This To

  • Boys and girls alike
  • Teens feeling like they want a time out from life
  • Fans of realistic fiction
  • Readers looking for a story for something light and clean

Sonja also blogs about young adult books at

Awesome OYAN Preconference Opportunity!!!

by Sonja Somerville, Salem Public Library

movie-147123_640Filmmaking for Library Types

9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Wednesday, April 15

OLA Preconference,Eugene, Oregon

Fee: $70

A finished product on YouTube looks so easy, but a lot goes into creating a tightly woven, engaging video to highlight a library or library service. Experienced professionals from Salem’s CCTV will go over the general principles (and pitfalls) of filmmaking before letting attendees loose in teams to give it a try – using easily accessible tools (Flip cameras, cell phones, and Windows Movie Maker) to plan, create, and rough edit 60-90 second book trailers. The day will also include a discussion of the pros and cons of various video distribution platforms.

We’d love to see you for this excellent pre-conference and at the OLA Conference Thursday, April 16 and Friday, April 17!