Thursday, May 23, 2013

Author Interview with Cat Winters

If you follow me on Twitter than you know I read IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS last month. You'll also know that I FLIPPIN' LOVED IT. Not only was the story line refreshing and unique, but there's not a whole lots of books that actually creep me out, and this one definitely made me shudder. I even had a difficult time sleeping one night, and THAT is saying a lot.

Also, it doesn't hurt to mention that the main character is named Mary Shelley Black, and I'm quite obsessed with anything Frankenstein related, so that was a major plus to me. Not to mention all the awesome references. I immediately fell in love with Cat's writing from the first page and seriously cannot wait to read more from her. Her writing is dark and beautiful, and right up my alley! Cat was super amazing and agreed, through deadlines and late notices on my part, to interview with Life of Writers. I am so very exited to share it with you. Enjoy!

How did you get the idea for IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS? Did it come from personal experience with ghosts? (Do share!) 

I’ve been fascinated by ghosts since I was about seven or eight, and I grew up reading eerie novels and watching scary movies, like the creepy old Disney film THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS. I was convinced my room was haunted when I was a kid, but looking back, I think my ghosts were the product of a girl with an overactive imaginative.

The historical setting of IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS fell into place before the characters even emerged. In the late-1990s, I stumbled upon the history of Victorian and early-twentieth-century séances, and after learning the history of 1918, I knew I had to write a book about WWI, the Spanish influenza, and Spiritualism. The right story idea didn’t come along until 2009, when a chat with my agent, the discovery of archival spirit photography, and further historical research led to the creation of the novel you see today.

You've really captured the world in which the era was set. How much time did you spend studying the history? Where did you find all of your research?

Thanks! Like I said, I first started studying the history of 1918 back in the 1990s. I took a break while working on other writing projects, but when I revisited the idea of penning a WWI-era book, I dove into the time period even further and found fascinating details about American paranoia and the horrors of the Spanish influenza.

I’ve shared some of my favorite reference books, history-related websites, historical images, and 1918 movies at Other research materials I studied included WWI letters, personal accounts of the Spanish influenza, and literature from the time period. I conducted research all the way up to the final stages of editing to make sure everything stayed as accurate as possible. My historical slang dictionaries became some of my best friends. :)

I have to ask, because you know how much of a fan I am of Frankenstein. Why did you pick Mary Shelley for your character's name? What is it about Frankenstein that you love so much? 

Mary Shelley Black arrived in my head with her name already attached to her. I think it has something to do with the fact that long ago, while attending a writer’s conference, I dreamed that the author Mary Shelley was still alive and trying to publish a FRANKENSTEIN sequel, with no success. I thought about turning the idea into a short story but never did, so I think the name Mary Shelley has been lingering inside my brain all this time.

I added a few other nods to FRANKENSTEIN throughout IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS. One of the reasons I love Mary Shelley’s novel is because she was a nineteenth-century woman who set out to beat a small group of male writers at telling the best horror story, and she did a bang-up job at it.

Have you ever done a seance? What was your experience like? If not, would you ever take part in one? 

I used to try holding séances at slumber parties and in little tents at Girl Scout camps, but no spirits ever came though. I’m currently in talks with another author about potentially hosting a séance to promote our novels, but that would probably be more theatrical in nature. I wouldn’t want anyone like Mary Shelley Black coming along and saying my spirits were flimflam.

What is it you love about writing YA horror? Will you be sticking with the genre throughout your writing career?

I loved Gothic horror novels as a teen, so it all goes back to the books that originally made me passionate about reading. I’m drawn to tales of tragic figures, family secrets, and atmospheric settings. I have a feeling I’ll stick with this genre for at least two more novels, and then I’ll probably set out to write something completely different to stretch my writing muscles.

Can you tell us anything about your next project? We're all dying to know! 

My next novel, THE CURE FOR DREAMING, is coming Fall 2014 from Amulet Books, the same publisher of IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS. It’s the story of a seventeen-year-old girl whose father hires an up-and-coming young hypnotist to cure her of rebellious thoughts...and the treatment doesn’t go quite as expected. I’ve pinned some clues about the novel on a Pinterest board:

Tell us one secret thing about your writing technique. 

When I really need to get away from the distractions of my house to write, I head to my favorite indie coffeehouse and order a cup of hot chocolate with chocolate whipped cream on top. Both the location and the drink are heavenly, and I typically make great progress. 

Cat Winters's critically acclaimed debut novel, IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, is a nominee for YALSA's Best Fiction for Young Adults. Publishers Weekly called this YA historical ghost story/mystery "a masterful debut novel...deliciously creepy" (starred review) and Booklist said it's "unconventional and unflinching" (starred review).

Winters's second novel, THE CURE FOR DREAMING, is coming Fall 2014. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two kids. Visit her online at

2 secret replies:

  1. I love gothic novels! I have always loved the dark Atmosphere and haunting plots. You had me at the namd Mary Shelley Black. I am running out to buy this now!! What a great interview!

  2. Both of these books sound fabulous! I'm amazed at how much research she's done. It's incredible!