Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

A.B. Westrick, author of Brotherhood (Viking/Putnam, Fall 2013), tagged me in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop—a meme involving a set of questions for writers about what they’re working on. Because details about my work-in-progress are being kept under wraps, I'll answer the questions based on my April 2013 release, In the Shadow of Blackbirds.

What is your working title of your book (or story)?

The working title was Blackbirds; the final title is In the Shadow of Blackbirds.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In 1918 San Diego, sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black must face a world war, the deadly Spanish influenza, and the ghost of her first love.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

The earliest seeds for this story were planted way back when I was twelve. I watched an episode of the TV show Ripley's Believe It or Not and learned that during the World War I period two girls in Cottingley, England, claimed to photograph fairies in the countryside. Adults who were devastated by the war wholeheartedly believed the photos were genuine, including scholars and expert photographers. That struck me as a sad yet fascinating nugget of history.

It took nearly three decades, a couple manuscript attempts, and a conversation with my agent, Barbara Poelle, before the plot of In the Shadow of Blackbirds fell into place, but that show about those phony fairy photos and the widespread grief during the WWI time period is where everything first began.

What genre does your book fall under?

It's a YA historical, paranormal, apocalyptic, romantic, coming-of-age mystery/horror story. Is that a genre yet?

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Hailee Steinfeld
First of all, let me clarify that no movie rights have yet been optioned. But if we're talking pure fantasy casting, I'd probably pick Hailee Steinfeld from True Grit to play Mary Shelley Black. I watched that movie after I finished the first drafts of the novel and felt that Steinfeld's ability to handle an articulate, precocious character at such a young age would work well for my Mary Shelley.

I don't have any suggestions for the love interest, Stephen Embers (a young, dark-haired, budding photographer who enlists for war when he's seventeen), or his older brother, Julius (a troublemaking fellow who claims to photograph the spirits of his customers' loved ones). For Mary Shelley's aunt Eva, I sort of imagine a cross between Michelle Williams and the teacher Miss Wilder from the old Little House on the Prairie TV series.
Michelle Williams +
Eliza Jane Wilder (Lucy Lee Flippin) =
Aunt Eva
And I always picture a character named Mr. Darning, a man who exposes fake spirit photographers, as looking like a cross between Jude Law in Sherlock Holmes and Michael Fassbender in A Dangerous Method.

Jude Law +
Michael Fassbender =
Mr. Aloysius Darning
 Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, and In the Shadow of Blackbirds will be published by Amulet Books/ABRAMS. My editor there is Maggie Lehrman.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About six to seven months. However, I had thoroughly researched the time period for other potential book plots before I even started writing this novel.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

After I finished writing In the Shadow of Blackbirds, I discovered Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown's Picture the Dead, a YA novel that deals with the spirit photography craze during the Civil War (mine deals with the WWI version of the craze). Other books with themes in common with In the Shadow of Blackbirds include Markus Zusak's The Book Thief, Libba Bray's The Diviners, Teri Brown's upcoming Born of Illusion, and even Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The more I researched 1918 America, the more similarities I found with our modern, post-9/11 world. It's often hard reassuring my own kids that we're living in a country that's safe and good, and I really feel for today's youth, who are subjected to images of terrorism, random acts of violence, and fear all the time. One of my driving forces for writing this book was to show teens that young people have been surviving and overcoming the world's darkest moments throughout the ages.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The book contains actual photographs from the time periodimages that are both haunting and mesmerizing.

I included the pictures for three reasons: (1) Photography plays an enormous role in this plot. (2) The history of 1918 (the fear and paranoia from the war, the lethal flu pandemic, and the desperate search for spirits through séances and photographs) is so surreal and stranger-than-fiction that I felt the need to prove that I wasn't making up those particular details. (3) I want to invite readers to step completely inside this dark and incredibly fascinating era.
For a future Next Big Thing post, I'm tagging Sharon Biggs Waller, a fellow member of Corsets, Cutlasses, & Candlesticks and the author of A Mad, Wicked Folly.


Anonymous said...

Oooooh, the more I hear about this the more I cannot WAIT for its release!

Cat Winters said...

Thanks so much, Kip! I appreciate your enthusiasm!

Emma Pass said...

"It's a YA historical, paranormal, apocalyptic, romantic, coming-of-age mystery/horror story. Is that a genre yet?" I love this answer! IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS sounds sooooo good, I can't wait to read it, or to see the photos. Thanks for sharing a bit more about it, Cat!

Cat Winters said...

Thanks so much, Emma! I've always been a genre-bending author, which is the main reason I had trouble getting my adult fiction published. I'm finding YA fiction to be far more freeing as a writer.

none said...

I am BEYOND intrigued and amazed by all the research that went into this. I can't wait to read this!

Cat Winters said...

Thanks so much, Maurene! I'm really looking forward to SINCE YOU ASKED...