We’ve fallen in love with so many romantic historical fiction but what about a paranormal historical fiction? How does that sound? It sounds haunting! Cat Winters’ voice creeps out of this interview and into our soul as she talks to us about her debut “IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS”
Tell us something about yourself you haven’t told anyone yet.
When I was twenty-two, I earned a credential to teach high school English in California, but I learned during my months in training as a student teacher that I was terrible at it. I was unprepared and overwhelmed and still looked like a high school student myself. During the chaos, I kept having dreams involving my childhood love of writing, so I came out of that difficult teaching experience admitting that writing, which I always considered just a hobby, was the career I wanted to pursue with all my heart.
Inspiration can hit at any moment, where were you when the idea for IN THE SHADOWS OF BLACKBIRDS came to you?
This isn’t a book that can be traced to one single moment of inspiration. Various influences—an old TV show about phony fairy photographs in the WWI era, a magazine article about spirit communication in the early 1900s, a phone call with my agent—contributed to the creation of IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS.
Why did you choose to write a historical fiction? What is it about that era that’s so alluring?
I’ve been drawn to historical novels ever since I was a child and fell in love with Alice in Wonderland and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s books. The past has always intrigued me with its beauty and its wealth of quirky stories and characters. I’m also a huge fan of ghost stories and really wanted to write about the early-twentieth-century obsession with séances and spirit photography. October 1918, a moment in time when both WWI and the deadly Spanish influenza collided, seemed like the best choice for demonstrating how far people can be driven to find proof of the afterlife.
Has your experience working in publishing affected your writing?
I worked as a proofreader, copy editor, and production editor for Academic Press in San Diego. Fussing over other writers’ grammar and sentence structure definitely helped me polish my own writing. I feel my editing background more than likely gave my work a little extra boost with agents and editors.
How has your intellectual experience in drama made its way into your novel?
You often hear about acting students asking the stereotypical question, “What’s my motivation?” When I was majoring in drama at the University of California, Irvine, we really did need to question our characters’ motivations and figure out what he or she wanted in a scene. The same is true of book characters. In each chapter, every character should want or need something in order to create conflict and keep the plot moving.
My drama training also helped me choreograph my book characters’ movements during dialogue. In real life, people are always fidgeting, crossing their legs, and getting distracted by something across the room when they’re in conversation, not sitting completely still. The same should hold true for characters on the stage and the page.
Some authors collect personalities, some collect sentences people say and some collect characteristics. During your writing journey did you find yourself collecting/compiling anything that helped your writing?
I’m a collector of odd historical facts. I love coming across bizarre fashions, customs, and beliefs from the past and storing them either in the back of my head or on paper. My research books are filled with colorful Post-it notes that bookmark my favorite historical tidbits and images.
I grew up in Orange County, California, and frequently visited Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride, which I think ignited my attraction to and fear of ghosts. I love being scared. Not urgent, life-threatening scared, but I’ve always enjoyed reading ghost stories and watching eerie movies and then wondering if something’s in my room late at night. Maybe it’s because I grew up in that Orange County setting, where everything was modern and new and sometimes a little bland. Ghosts give a place character.
What book being released in 2013 are you looking forward reading most? Why?
Ooh, this is a hard one to answer. I belong to The Lucky 13s, a group of YA and middle-grade authors debuting in 2013, and we have over one-hundred members. If I’m not counting all those debut novels I can’t wait to get my hands on, then I’d go with Ruta Sepetys’s Out of the Easy, which is already sitting on my bookshelf, waiting for me. I loved her first novel, Between Shades of Gray.
Can you share a sentence or two from your current work with us?
“I need to know if something went wrong with our session. Tell me what you see.”
Finally, what would you like to say to your readers before diving into IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS?
I think it’s best not knowing too much about this novel before diving into it. All I’ll say is that early readers who were expecting a typical teen paranormal romance were surprised to find all the other involved layers. This is not a typical ghost story.
Cat Winters was born and raised in Southern California, near Disneyland, which may explain her love of haunted mansions, bygone eras, and fantasylands. She received degrees in drama and English from the University of California, Irvine, and formerly worked in publishing.
Her debut novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds—a YA ghost tale set during the World War I era—is now available from Amulet Books/ABRAMS. She currently lives outside of Portland, Oregon.