Guys, did you hear that?
Yes, it could have been early fireworks, lit by people who just can't wait till July 4th, but I'm sure that they were for me. Cause... wait for it...
Today is my birthday! (but I already told you that in the title of this post...)
I'm a quarter of a century old today, so that's kinda weird. I remember when I thought 25 was old, but here I am, and it doesn't seem so old now. (Okay, it still kinda does) But it doesn't matter, because I LOVE birthdays! So much! They are some of the coolest things out there, in my opinion!
But enough about me already. Since none of you will be able to attend my party tonight I figured that I'd throw one on here, one that we can all get excited about and I even invited a special guest! Cause we all know that parties are cooler when you have a special guest, right? I can't tell you how much I've come to love book blogging. This little blog started in February and it just keeps bringing the coolest books and people into my life! So thanks for rocking so much! Oh yeah, back to the special guest!
Introducing: Cat Winters (author of In the Shadow of Blackbirds and my favorite read of 2013... so far)
(CM) First thank you Cat for stopping by on my birthday! It's great to have you here! So let's start this off. In the Shadow of Blackbirds is set during World War I, what made you pick that War as part of your setting?
(Cat) First of all, happy birthday! Thank you so much for inviting me to be here to help you celebrate.
I picked World War I because I was extremely fascinated by the history of Spiritualism in the United States. The U.S. Civil War and WWI were two moments in time when séances and spirit photography flourished due to widespread grief. I'm more interested in early-twentieth-century history than the 1860s, so I opted to portray the resurgence of Spiritualism in 1918.
(CM) I didn't really know much about The Spanish Flu, but it plays a large role in your book, what made you want to add that element of doom into the mix?
(Cat) When I dug into 1918 history, the flu emerged as a major factor in people's lives...and it added another explanation for the séance and spirit photography craze of the era. When the average life expectancy suddenly drops to the age of 39 in a year, it makes sense that people would have been desperate for comfort. The more I wrote, the more the flu became almost a character in the novel, breathing down my protagonist's neck. When I read personal accounts of 1918, I noticed people were frustrated that this killer flu sprang up right when they were already worrying about the war, so I wanted to portray the disease as a bully that came out of nowhere and made an already bad situation so much worse.
(CM) Spiritualism also has a huge role in In the Shadow of Blackbirds. What was your favorite part about researching spirit photographers and the like?
(Cat) Researching Spiritualism was both entertaining and heartbreaking. During the WWI era, fraudulent spirit mediums and photographers who claimed to capture the images of departed loved ones were basically illusionists who were out to capitalize on grief. When we look back at the photographs of "spirits" from back then, it's hard to understand how people could have been fooled by these obviously faked photos of paper-cutout ghosts and people hiding beneath sheets. It's easy to chuckle at their gullibility, but it's also extremely sad to think that mourners were genuinely fooled into believing they were viewing photographs of their deceased relatives. My favorite part of the research was learning the tricks the photographers employed long before the age of Photoshop, but at the back of my head, my heart was always hurting for their victims.
(Cat) That's a hard question to answer. I've been a fan of both ghost tales and historical fiction since childhood. I fell in love with ghost stories around the age of eight, and when I was about nine, I read my first favorite historical novel: Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess. I'm drawn to reading books that blend history and ghosts, so I suppose it was natural for me to want to write such a novel.
(CM) Mary Shelley Black! How'd you come up with adding literature and German culture into the story with a simple name?
(Cat) Mary Shelley Black showed up in my head with her name intact. I don't know why, but that's what she insisted on being called, and it's not always easy to argue with her. Before I even sat down to write the novel, I had been studying the violence and prejudice against German-Americans during WWI, and I learned about the frenzied drive to remove German culture and the German language from the United States. I realized a girl who had been named after the author of Frankenstein--a book with a Swiss German title--would have to be careful about her own name if she discussed its origin out loud. I also felt it would be interesting to give her a family of Swiss German origin. As described in the novel, Swiss immigrants like Mary Shelley's family truly did run dairy farms in the western hills of Portland, Oregon, and anyone with a heritage remotely German would have needed to go the extra mile to prove they were "100% American."
I included a few other nods to Frankenstein throughout In the Shadow of Blackbirds. The book is by no means a retelling of the classic horror novel, but Mary Shelley Black's life is definitely intertwined with Shelley's tale of reanimated life and science.
(CM) In all of your research I'm sure you came across a favorite ghost story from WWI, can you tell us about it?
(Cat) Actually, I didn't come across any ghost tales during my WWI research, although the accounts of haunted human beings who experienced the war were far more chilling than any ghost story. I did a quick check of WWI ghost legends after reading your question, and there are indeed several tales of haunted battle sites and WWI cemeteries in France. I've heard firsthand accounts of people feeling a sense of eeriness at Gettysburg here in the U.S., so I suppose the same would be true at other battlefields across the world, especially ones involving a massive loss of lives.
(CM) Out of all of the characters in your book, which one was your favorite to write?
(Cat) Mary Shelley Black, without a doubt. This book would have been extremely difficult and depressing to write if I didn't pick the right narrator, but seeing this dark, horrific world though Mary Shelley's scientific, optimistic, brutally honest eyes transformed the entire story into something almost magical. I have a soft spot for Stephen, of course, and hope he forgives me for what I put him through in this book. I also thoroughly enjoyed writing Jones and Carlos, two side characters who didn't show up in the novel until a later draft. But if I had to pick just one person, I'd say Mary Shelley is definitely my girl.
(CM) Thank you so much for stopping by and helping us celebrate today Cat!
And now, a GIVEAWAY!!!
Seriously, if you haven't read In the Shadow of Blackbirds, you need to go and get your hands on a copy. Or you can try your luck at winning one here! That's right, I'm giving away a beautiful hardback copy of In the Shadow of Blackbirds to one of you lucky guys! I wish I could give you all a copy, but that takes lots of the money...
The giveaway is international, just make sure that The Book Depository ships to you, before you enter.a Rafflecopter giveaway
Till next year,