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 www.catwinters.com.