Thursday, August 30, 2012

Author Interview: Cat Winters previews In the Shadow of Blackbirds

For my spotlight on upcoming dystopian/post apocalyptic fiction series, I interview authors with novels coming out in the genre in 2012/13. These are exclusive first looks at exciting new works. Enjoy!

Today I have Cat Winters on the blog to preview her historical dystopian IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS. It releases from Amulet Books in Spring 2013. I am definitely excited to read this one as it is a scary yet fascinating period in American history.

The summary:

A teen girl mourns the loss of her first love in 1918 California, where a flu has turned deadlier than a world war, disloyalty is forbidden, and spirit communication has become a dark and dangerous obsession.
ETA the cover:

And the interview:

Why do you think people are drawn to "dark" stories?

I think we enjoy dark tales because we want to see how other people survive the absolute worst situations the world can offer. I would never want to go through the terrifying, grueling experiences my favorite characters endure, but it always gives me a tremendous rush of hope to watch them overcome the darkness bearing down on them.

I think society as a whole is especially drawn to tales of young people overcoming the darkness. Not only do children and teens represent the possibilities of a new future, but they tend to be more honest about the cruelty and ridiculousness of overwhelming situations.

If your book had a theme song, what would it be and why?
"Doomsday Serenade" by Jill Tracy ( a ragtime-influenced love song set during the Apocalypse. It's perfect for my two main characters, who desperately try to remain together during a moment in time when the world truly did feel like it was ending. I won't even get into the fact that one of those characters happens to be dead.

What fictional character from another book would your main character chose as his/her
best friend and why?

Hmm…that's a hard one. I suppose my main character would get along well with Lina from Ruta Sepetys's BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, another dark historical novel that almost feels like it's set in a dystopian world (at least, I wish that world had only been imaginary and not a real place). Both girls are fighting for survival under dire circumstances they can't control, and they're both smart girls with potential who watch their chances for a bright future crumble around them. My protagonist would certainly be empathetic to Lina's experiences.

What are your top 5 Dystopian lit recs and why?

NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR by George Orwell - It was my first introduction to dystopian literature, and the Big Brother concept definitely influenced my portrayal of IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS's overbearing 1918 setting. My main character is the daughter of a man who's beaten and arrested for thinking the wrong ideas, and she's constantly reminded that people could be listening and watching for her signs of betrayal to the government.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood - I was blown away by the intensity of this book. I remember being a little freaked out because shortly after I read the novel in college in the early nineties, we all started using credit cards to buy groceries, gas, etc., just like in THE HANDMAID'S TALE. Before then, we were mainly using cash and checks, so it was disconcerting to move one step closer to Atwood's fictional world.

FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury - The idea of burning even one book makes me shudder. The concept of a society that burns ALL books is pure dystopian horror. I've been a Bradbury fan since childhood.

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins - I read this book as I was starting to write IN THE SHADOW ON BLACKBIRDS, and it made me stop and realize, "You're writing about a period
in history that was a true dystopian society. Portray it that way." Something about Collins's novel and the juxtaposition between The Capitol and Panem's citizens allowed me to start seeing my own book's setting as something that could have emerged from science fiction. My two central teen characters are even science fiction fans, which seemed appropriate for a young couple immersed in a bizarre dystopian reality.

LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding - I know there's some debate over whether or not this is truly a dystopian novel, but this book is the epitome of how fear and chaos can create a nightmare society. The fact that children are involved in creating that society makes the book all the more chilling.

What's on the top of your to-do list before the world ends?
Visiting as much of the world as I can. When I was nineteen, I had the opportunity to study theater in London for five weeks, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but that's the only time I've left North America. I'd love to see more of what's out there.

How does your novel stand out from others in the genre?
IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS is historical fiction, a genre not typically associated with dystopian literature, mainly because dystopians are usually defined as having purely fictional settings. As I mentioned above, however, a Big Brother/apocalyptic mood pervades the entire novel.

I'm guessing many people unfamiliar with the history of 1918 may even believe I created the monster flu at the center of the story, as well as the book's oppressive U.S. society, which at times resembles Nazi Germany and paranoid Cold War nations. I think readers will see from the very opening scene they're in store for a historical American world that feels unfamiliar, unsettling, and definitely dark.

Thank you Cat!

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Mardel said...

My dad, being born in the 30's, grew up hearing about that flue - and studied it during his medical training (psych tech). It was pretty brutal.

Interesting interview - and the novel sound great. It's an interesting pick - to write about the early 1900's. especially a dystopian novel in the early 1900's. I feel like it's a fresh idea - so congrats on that. I'm interested in reading this novel now. :)

Zibilee said...

I also am interested in how this book transcends genres, and would love to read it. I have read some about the epidemic, but not enough, and I am sure that this book would capture my attention from the very start. Great interview today, Lenore!

Sarah Skilton said...

I can't properly express how excited I am to read this book! I don't know anything about the time period in which it's set, but everything discussed in the interview has got me curious...

Cat Winters said...

Thanks so much for all the kind comments! I'm looking forward to sharing the strange world of 1918 America with everyone through this novel. I'm currently working on an upcoming IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS website that will include some great video clips and photographs from the time period... plus the book itself will be illustrated with 1918 images. It was a truly bizarre and frightening moment in history.