GETTIN’ LUCKY: An Interview with Cat Winters, Author of IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS

Today we’re talking to Cat Winters, author of IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, a deliciously twisty, decidedly creepy, insanely good read. Trust me, you guys, you need to check this one out!

BlackbirdsCoverFinal_SmIn a city filled with the dead and dying, while a nightmarish war rages halfway across the world, the grieving look for answers in séances and photographs.

It’s 1918. San Diego. And a girl who doesn’t believe in spirits steps off the train and into a new life…

“Winters’s masterful debut novel is an impressively researched marriage of the tragedies of wartime, the 1918 flu epidemic, the contemporaneous Spiritualism craze, and a chilling love story and mystery… Deliciously creepy.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Thanks for joining us today, Cat! IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS takes place in 1918, but it has a lot of parallels to the world today—bloody wars, virus outbreaks, a general sense of unease, to name a few. Did you have this in mind when you wrote the book? (Or, I guess, did the events of the present inspire this story in any way?)

When I was conducting research and working on the manuscript, I definitely saw parallels between 1918 America and the modern-day U.S.: hate crimes against immigrants during times of war, freedom of speech debates, political division, anti-violence protests, mental health misunderstandings, etc. Fear and paranoia gripped the world back then, and I think we all feel that same sense of unease whenever we read the news or head through airport security. The events of the present didn’t serve as inspiration—the history came first when I was writing—but I definitely poured my frustrations about our modern world into the scenes involving the same issues that haunt us today.

One of my favorite things about this book is the addition of all the early 20th Century photographs (and especially the spirit photography pictures—creepy!) Can you tell me a little bit about how they came to be included? Your idea? Publisher’s idea? 

Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. Their inclusion was my idea. I spent almost two decades struggling to find a publisher and receiving rejection letters that told me new historical fiction authors were too risky to publish. I really wanted to give this book a little extra oomph to make it stand out. Photography plays an enormous role in the plot, so the obvious choice was to add images to the novel. At least one early reader thought I had made up the lethal 1918 Spanish flu, so I also wanted archival photos to appear in the book as proof that this dark historical atmosphere truly existed.

(Side note from Meredith: Cat’s gorgeous cover features a modern day recreation of spirit photography. You can check out how they made the cover here. It’s really cool!)

You mentioned it took nearly two decades to find a publisher. Wow! That’s persistence! Can you tell us a little more about what was your road to publication like?

It was an incredibly long and challenging journey. I’ve been writing since I was a child, and I decided to seriously write for publication in the fall of 1994. In 1998, I signed with my first agent, and in 1999 I learned how difficult selling a historical novel would be. The historical fiction market was declared dead back then.

I kept on writing, gave birth to two kids, and in 2007 I signed with my current agent, Barbara Poelle. In 2008, after still finding it difficult to land a publishing contract, I revisited an old manuscript of mine that dealt with Spiritualism during the WWI era, and I started rewriting it… but it didn’t quite feel right. In 2009, after a talk with Barbara, I decided to start from scratch and write an entirely new WWI-era novel, one geared toward a YA audience, and In the Shadow of Blackbirds was born. We sold the novel to Amulet Books two years after I first started working on it. If you only look at the YA portion of my writing career, I almost sound like an overnight success story. 🙂

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a new Gothic historical YA novel. Details forthcoming.

Details forthcoming soon, I hope! Any big release day plans?

On the day of the release, I’ll probably just hang out on my computer, answering emails, tweeting about the book, and working on my new novel. I’ll more than likely make a couple bookstore runs to look for In the Shadow of Blackbirds in the wild, but the real celebrating will begin during the following days. My mom and sister will be flying in from Ohio and California, respectively, and joining me at my launch party at Powell’s Books in Beaverton, Oregon (April 6, 2013, 4:00 pm).

And finally, as this community is All for One and OneFour KidLit, we’d like to know what two or three books inspired you as a kid.

My favorite books when I was a kid—the ones that wholly captured my imagination—were A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I read them both when I was in the fourth grade. I suppose you could say they each sparked my love of historical fiction, and I’m grateful they were a part of my early life.

Thanks so much for having me here on OneFour KidLit today!

And thanks so much to Cat for joining us! You find out more about Cat and IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS on her website or on the book site.  You’ll also find Cat on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads. And make sure to check out the book trailer here!

CatWintersBW_webCat 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 coming April 2, 2013, from Amulet Books/ABRAMS. She currently lives outside of Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two kids.

Meredith McCardle is a recovered lawyer who lives in South Florida with her husband and two young daughters. Like her main character, she has a fondness for strong coffee, comfortable pants, and jumping to the wrong conclusions. Unlike her main character, she cannot travel through time. Sadly. Her debut, THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN, will be published by Skyscape/Amazon Children’s in Spring 2014. You can find her on Twitter.
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