After reading her upcoming novel The Cure For Dreaming, I decided to approach Cat Winters for an interview. Thankfully, my brazen cheekiness paid off, and Cat was more than happy to be interviewed. The book is coming out in October and is available for purchase here and everyone should buy a copy. The story is about a young suffragette named Olivia Mead. When her father learns of her desire to vote and be anything other than a traditional housewife, he intervenes and hires a young, mysterious hypnotist by the name of Henri Reverie. Olivia’s father wants Henri to cure her of her unladylike rebellion, but instead Henri causes her to see people as they really are … and the true nature of certain people can be a truly terrifying sight. There were so many questions to be asked, but my rarely-exercised self-restraint prompted me to ask only ten questions.
Women Make Waves (WMW) – Your previous book, In the Shadows of Blackbirds, was set in 1918. The Cure For Dreaming is set in 1900. What is it about this time period that interests you?
Cat – I’ve always found it fascinating that during the early 1900s, the rigors of the Victorian era loosened, technology advanced by leaps and bounds, and women obtained crucial victories for equality, namely the right to vote in numerous countries. I think of the time period as a gorgeous powder keg. The clothing, the architecture, the art and the music were absolutely lovely and unique, but the spirit of revolution rumbled beneath the surface of all that grandeur, until the tensions exploded into a world of war, jazz, and massive societal change.
(WMW) – A woman’s right to vote and feminism in general were major aspects of the book. Is feminism something that has always been important to you?
Cat – I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, when Ms. Magazine and working middle-class mothers were still fairly new concepts. When I was young, I was taught to believe that feminists were obnoxious women who were out to destroy men, marriage and family. My parents weren’t fans of Gloria Steinem at all. However, at the same time, they also told me that I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up, and they nurtured my intelligence.
I was always drawn to books about women in history who made an impact on the world—Florence Nightingale, Nellie Bly, Harriet Tubman, etc. Even though I didn’t completely understand what feminism meant, my heroes were women who stood up for themselves in an often unfair world. My eyes weren’t completely opened to the ongoing struggles of women until my late teens and early twenties, when I started viewing what women around me were experiencing in this modern era. I grew furious when I discovered how far we still have to go in terms of helping women who are victims of crimes and/or stuck in destructive relationships. My own writing started reflecting my anger and the themes of women gaining strength and taking control of their own lives continues to play a crucial role in all of my works.
(WMW) – It’s clear that a lot of research has gone into the book. It must have been challenging, knowing what words to use and which to omit because they hadn’t been invented yet! How long did the research take?
Cat – The research was an ongoing process that started before I even sat down to write the book, and it extended all the way to the final stages of edits. The big-picture research came first—poring over information about the novel’s main ideas (the U.S. suffragist movement, Victorian stage hypnotism, and life in 1900 Portland, Oregon). In the middle of writing the book, I dug up all of the little details that would make the book as authentic as possible. What did the Sunday edition of the Portland newspaper look like in November of 1900? What type of artwork appeared on the cover of the first U.S. edition of Dracula? What were American high schools like back then?
By the end of the editing process, I worked closely with a copy editor and proofreaders, as well as my main editor, to weed out any final anachronisms that caught our eyes. I wrote an extensive piece on dealing with the challenges of anachronisms over on a website that I run with nine other authors of historical fiction. Admittedly, the research takes a great deal of time and patience, but I honestly love it. I feel like a detective whenever I’m tracking down historical info.
(WMW) – A lot of writers say that they can’t help but to imbue their heroes and heroines with a little bit of their own personality. How similar do you think you are to Olivia Mead?
Cat – Olivia Mead closely resembles me—or at least the way I was as a teen—probably more so than any other character I’ve ever written. I didn’t grow up in a house in which my mother ran off when I was four and my father crushed my dreams, thankfully, nor did I ever have a relationship with a young hypnotist. However, like Olivia, I never considered myself to be a beauty, but I prided myself on my intelligence and my ability to express my thoughts in writing. Also like her, I’ve always adored losing myself in good books, especially novels containing elements of horror and the paranormal.
As a teen, I was painfully shy around boys. One of Olivia’s lines in Chapter Two perfectly describes my awkwardness and lack of confidence around members of the opposite sex at that age: “Words failed me, however—as they were apt to do around attractive boys. All my imagined questions struck me as either dull or nosy.” Despite my outward shyness, inside I was itching to make my mark on the world. I was brimming with ideas and longing to break out of my shell, which is precisely the case with Olivia Mead.
(WMW) – The timing of this book’s publication is eerily perfect! Earlier on this summer there was a massive online uproar when a number of women gathered to declare that they didn’t need feminism. This book does the important job of reminding us of the fights women have gone through and how far we have come. What is your opinion on this summer’s anti-feminist movement?
Cat – I think it goes to show that the term “feminism” is still a source of confusion for people. Being a feminist does not mean that you have to give up loving men or raising children or even wearing the color pink. It doesn’t mean you think you’re superior to men. It simply means that you believe women should be treated as human beings, not as second-class citizens. I think the modern-day “anti-feminist” women, like their historical counterparts, are completely missing the point of feminism. If they want to live in a world in which they feel safe and heard (clearly, they want to be heard, from the passion they demonstrate in their posts), they’re going to be feminists, whether they like that word or not. Honestly, I think that throughout the years “feminism” has been turned into a dirtier F word than the actual F word, but it all goes back to the long history of women causing controversy whenever they spoke up for themselves.
(WMW) – A survey carried out in 2012 showed that 55% of young-adult books are bought by people aged eighteen or older, with the largest segment (28%) aged 30-44. Why do you think adults are so drawn to young adult literature?
Cat – Because young adult literature is often extraordinarily good! The competition to become a published YA author is fierce. Publishers’ expectations are extremely high, and the books that they do acquire undergo rigorous editing processes.
Also, youth is such a fascinating, confusing, wonderful, emotional, and terrible time for everyone. Adults who pick up YA fiction automatically relate to the intensity of teen life, because no one can completely forget their teen years. That moment in our lives tends to stick with us—and sometimes even haunt us—no matter how old we become.
(WMW) – Writers tend to have their quirks; Virginia Woolf wrote standing up, Mark Twain wrote lying down and Stephen Pressfield apparently has to wear a special sweater with a lucky nametag. Can you write anywhere, anytime or are there certain methods or creature comforts you need to prompt the creativity?
Cat – I’ve always had to be extremely flexible with my writing schedule and locations, because I write while also raising kids. I haven’t had much time for quirks because I pretty much plop myself down in front of my computer whenever the kids are off at school or in bed, and I just write, write, write. I do really enjoy writing at my local indie coffeehouse. I’m not a coffee fan, but a big cup of delicious hot chocolate, the smell of freshly brewed coffee, and the gentle music and conversations surrounding me often lead to my most productive moments. In fact, I just wrote a crucial, climactic scene in my work-in-progress while sitting in a coffeehouse the other night.
(WMW) – Do you remember when you first wanted to be a writer?
Cat – I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I could first string letters together to make words. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing or inventing stories in my head. It’s simply how I was born.
(WMW) – What were your favourite books when you were little and have they influenced your writing style?
Cat – Oh, there are so many. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess and The Secret Garden made me fall in love with books set in the past—books that reflected both the loveliness and the sadness of eras long gone. Two ghostly books that I adored as a kid—The Ghost Next Door, by Wylly Folk St. John, and Thirteen Ghostly Tales, edited by Freya Littledale–inspired my love for paranormal literature. I read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time when I was nine, and it showed me how humor and innocence, combined with injustice and tragedy, could make for one powerful novel. I was also extremely moved by Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl when I was young. I wasn’t afraid to face books that put me deep in touch with my fears and emotions. Those are the types of books I strive to write now that I’m an adult.
(WMW) – The publishing industry is a wicked, unforgiving terrain these days. What advice do you have for young, aspiring writers?
Don’t measure yourself by the successes of others. If writing is your passion and you know it’s the journey meant for you, make your work as strong as it can possibly be, obtain feedback from others, and keep persevering. Don’t get discouraged when you see a writer newer than you signing a major book deal while you’re still struggling to find a literary agent. The competition out there is brutal, but keep your main focus your own, particular literary path. Commiserate and celebrate with other writers, but remember, at the end of the day, your books have nothing to do with anyone else’s publishing story. Your most important job is to write as well as you can possibly write—and to enjoy writing.
I would like to thank Cat Winters for her time, her responses and for being so kind to a shameless young writer. You can visit her website here.