Author Interview: Cat Winters

Cat Winters has written an astonishing number of novels. Do visit her website to learn more and to discover where to purchase her different types of books. A review of one of her many books will be posted tomorrow. Meanwhile, enjoy a chat with her here!

-How would your advice for new writers differ from advice you would offer writers who have been in the game for a while?

Honestly, my advice wouldn’t differ between the two. It took me nearly two decades of serious writing before a publisher ever offered me a contract. I would give the version of myself who was starting off back in 1994 the same advice that I would have told the version who was on the brink of giving up in 2011: If writing is what your heart and soul tells you to do, do not give up.

Writing is never a waste of time—don’t ever tell yourself that it is, even when you find yourself at a point in which you need to file a book (or books) away and move on to something new. Write the stories that grab you by the shoulders and refuse to let you go. Do not write for trends or scrap beloved ideas in favor of ones you think might make a bestseller. Readers will be able to feel your passion (or lack of passion), and so will the agents and editors who serve as the gateway between you and those readers.

Seek honest feedback from critique partners whom you trust, and LISTEN to that feedback, especially when everyone is pointing to the same areas that require a bit of work. Make your books, short stories, etc., as strong as they can possibly be before sending them out the door. A writing career takes diligence, patience, love, and luck, and the writers who make it are typically the ones who stick with it, even after countless rejections and other setbacks.

-When you take a break from writing, is it a full and total break or is your mind constantly parsing the world for fodder? What does that parsing look like? How does it make you feel as an artist? As a human being?

These past three years I’ve had so many back-to-back books due that I haven’t been able to take much of a break from writing at all. In December, however, I managed to find myself with a couple of weeks that didn’t involve any pressing deadlines, so I put myself on a full writing vacation to spend much-needed time with family.

No matter how much I tried to avoid thinking about my books, though, I found myself mentally plotting and planning and drawing inspiration from the world around me—a process I believe to be one of the most important stages of writing. Often writers need to walk away from their computers and let the ideas marinate.

As both an artist and a human being, I love that my mind turns everything around me into something meaningful; the entire world speaks to my imagination. It’s a fascinating way of looking at life.

-From your perspective as an author, what do you feel is the biggest challenge to the publishing industry today? 

I feel that the biggest challenge is the lack of diversity. Because my young adult novels started appearing in print a couple years before my adult novel debuted, I’m much more aware of the state of the YA publishing industry.

In the world of kidlit, groups such as #WeNeedDiverseBooks are now encouraging publishers to acquire and promote books written by a wider variety of authors. A push for publishers to hire diverse employees is also in the works, as evidenced by the recent PublishersWeekly.com article “AAP, UNCF Partner to Improve Diversity Hiring in Book Biz,” by Calvin Reid (Jan. 14, 2016).

I also believe that we need to work harder to ensure that student writers of all racial and ethnic backgrounds—and at all income levels—receive access to educational opportunities in creative writing.

-What books are you currently reading?

I’m reading Daniel Kraus’s entertaining historical epic, The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch. Plus I’m making my way through several research books for the YA novel that I’m currently writing. A favorite of those books is American Monsters: A History of Monster Lore, Legends, and Sightings in America, by Linda S. Godfrey.

-Which authors do you think are underappreciated in the current market, and why? (The authors do not have to be living.)

Going back to what I said about the publishing industry’s need for greater diversity, I would say that many writers of color continue to be unfairly underappreciated. Sherri L. Smith’s excellent WWII-set novel, Flygirl, is a book that I learned about through word of mouth, and it was so eye-opening and moving, I felt I should have been made aware of it through bigger publishing campaigns and stronger Internet buzz.

One of the books I most want to read at the moment is Ashley Hope Pérez’s Out of Darkness, which involves a racially divided town on the Texas-Mexico border in 1936. I just learned of the novel because it was named a 2016 Printz Honor Book, but before I read the list of winners, I had, sadly, never heard of it.

Granted, historical fiction is a genre that itself is often underappreciated, but historical fiction about marginalized groups tends to slip under the radar all the more. I hope future changes in the publishing industry will remedy this issue.

-Which new writers do you find most interesting, and why?

My busy schedule has kept me from reading as much as I’d like in the past couple of years, but I would say to keep an eye on Amy Lukavics, a young horror novelist. I blurbed her debut novel, Daughters Unto Devils, of which I said, “Imagine Stephen King writing Little House on the Prairie.” I love when authors experiment with the historical fiction genre and do something completely unexpected with it.

-Which “get writing” techniques are most effective for you?

I write when my kids are in school, so there are very specific hours in the day when I need to plop myself down into a chair and get the work done. In order to make the transition from my mom life to my writer life, I typically listen to a song that connects me to my work-in-progress. I compile lists of go-to inspirational music for each one of my books, and when I sit in my chair, close my eyes, and absorb that music, inevitably I’m put into the writing mindset.

In the middle of the workday, when I grow restless or find writer’s block setting in, I get up and take a long walk outside, if the weather cooperates (I live in Oregon). Afterward, I almost always return to my computer refreshed and ready to go.

-Can you give us a sneak peek into your current project?

I’m getting ready to release my next young adult novel, The Steep and Thorny Way, a retelling of Hamlet that centers on a biracial teenage girl in 1920s Oregon. That book releases from Abrams on March 8, 2016.

The novel that I’m actively revising at the moment is my second adult novel, Yesternight, which HarperCollins will release in October 2016. It involves a female school psychologist who, in 1925, finds herself dealing with the baffling case of a seven-year-old girl who claims to have lived a past life in the late 1800s. It’s a historical psychological thriller, and I’m greatly looking forward to celebrating its publication just in time for Halloween.

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