Dream Big: My Thoughts on Meeting Cat Winters

Somewhere in the depths of my drafts folder is my original review of The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters. It’s nothing like the review I wrote that was printed in the local newspaper, which detailed many of the reasons why I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but did not discuss the plethora of personal reasons behind those feelings. My original review delved into the severe depression I’d been stuck in for some time and how I’d lost sight of myself and my passions, including reading. It was deeply personal, raw, and in the end, too uncomfortable for me to share with the world. I talked about why I found hope in Olivia Mead’s strength and resilience, her desire to be herself despite the backlash from others. I took in every word of The Cure for Dreaming slowly, carefully, as if it could help piece me back together, and in a way, I believe it did. Reading The Cure for Dreaming was the first time in a long while that I felt like a little piece of myself was restored, and I was able to block out all of the chaos happening in my life at that time and just enjoy reading. It spoke to me, told me not to let the monsters overpower my sense of self worth, and for that reason, it will always remain one of my favorite books. It took some time to put myself back together, but I treasure The Cure for Dreaming as one of the catalysts to that recovery.

The Cure for Dreaming wasn’t my first book read from Cat Winters. I discovered her thanks to her debut young adult novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds. I fell in love with her haunting and mysterious takes on historical fiction. Her work was inspiring, a style so fresh and unique that my most common remark was that I wished more than anything that I could write like her.

Every two years, my library hosts the Ohio River Festival of Books. When they started planning the 2016 festival, my boss asked for suggestions of authors we might want to try to contact about speaking at the festival. I don’t think she even got to finish her sentence before I was throwing out Cat Winters’s name. In all honesty, I never thought it would happen. I knew Cat lived all the way in Portland, and I didn’t think she’d want to make the trip all the way to little ol’ Huntington, West Virginia, but I thought it was worth a shot. Dreams can come true sometimes, right?

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It happened. It really, REALLY happened. October 1st, I had the pleasure of meeting Cat Winters at the Ohio River Festival of Books. I had already sort of built up in my head what she would be like just from our brief interactions on Twitter and such, but I can tell you this – She is everything I thought she would be, and so much more!

Cat talked at length about how she’d spent her entire life writing, and the struggles she faced in her journey towards publication. She’d fortunately always had the support of her family, and to further illustrate that, she introduced the audience to her parents. They had driven several hours from northern Ohio to be able to see her speak at our book festival. Her mom and dad were just as sweet and kind as their daughter, even asking for a photo of Cat and me together. Her mother was especially beaming with pride as she watched the presentation and when she later spoke with the local news about the festival. Seeing them all together made me very thankful that my family has never discouraged my interest in writing…now, if only I could stop discouraging myself!

Cat read from each of her books, discussed the history behind them, and even bribed some audience members (myself included) with chocolate from Oregon to act out two parallel scenes from Hamlet and The Steep and Thorny Way.

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Photo credit goes to my lovely cousin, Traci, who was in attendance to make sure I didn’t pass out from fangirling too hard.

After her presentation, Cat did a signing. I consider myself a pretty lucky girl because my boyfriend had taken the reviews I wrote for the local paper for The Cure for Dreaming and The Steep and Thorny Way and had them matted and framed. I love that I was able to have Cat sign this, as well as my copy of The Cure for Dreaming, where she wrote, “Dream big”. That phrase has been in my mind since meeting her, which was a big dream of mine in the first place, but now I’m consumed by other big dreams. Mostly, I dream of actually publishing a book of my own, to finally have my name on the cover of something I have created, to have a space on the bookshelf where anyone can find it. These are big dreams, and to make them come true, first I will actually have to finish a project. I know that my life is beyond hectic this year (see the note at the end of this post), but it will also be my fifth year as a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison for my local region. I love National Novel Writing Month and the motivation and urge to create it sparks. While I know the likelihood of me actually busting out 50,000 words in probably my busiest month so far this year isn’t very high, I currently have two young adult projects that I’ve been going back and forth between. Hopefully, with the extra motivation from all of my local Wrimos, I’ll be able to make a considerable dent in working towards my dream.

Julie Kagawa tweeted last month saying, “Tell a writer whose book you loved that you loved it. A kind word means the world to us. #EncourageAwriter”. There was an outpouring of author-love all over Twitter, and I took this time to tell a few of my favorites what an inspiration they’ve been to me. Cat Winters was one author who I felt truly needed recognized. Open any of her books and you’ll find a wealth of research, genuine talent, and truly immersive stories. I really encourage anyone and everyone to read her books. It just might change your life. 🙂

You can find out more about Cat Winters by visiting her website: www.catwinters.com

One last thing…

You may have noticed that there’s been a pretty long stretch of time between me getting to meet Cat Winters and finally posting this (not to mention, a long time between this and my last blog post). I promise, there’s a real reason behind it, and it’s not that I’ve just been lazy.
I am incredibly thrilled to say that I’ve accepted a new job as a branch manager for one of the libraries in our system! It’s very exciting and, at the same time, very bittersweet, since I’ll be leaving behind my incredible work family in Youth Services. BUT this is definitely something I’ve dreamed of since beginning my career in libraries, and I will still be working with all of the same wonderful people, just in a different capacity! I’ve been pretty busy transitioning between the two locations and also balancing my life at home, in grad school, and my writing time, so I promise I’ll be getting back to posting regularly. I’ve been granted early access to some popular upcoming YA titles, and I can’t wait to tell you all about them! Until then, dream big!

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Off the Shelf: A Review of The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

On the day that the news broke about the shooting in Orlando, I thought about the state of the world that we live in, and my heart wanted to break. I picked up The Steep and Thorny Way and delved into the last few chapters I had remaining. Usually, reading serves as an escape for me, a way to leave the horrors and tragedies of this world behind me just for awhile and run away to someplace new. But I didn’t pick up The Steep and Thorny Way to take me someplace new. It’s not that kind of book. This book is a reminder that atrocities such as racism and homophobia are not just an embarrassing part of our past that can be swept under the rug of history. The cruelty that stems from these ideas still exists, and our society must constantly combat them with beliefs rooted in equality and love. We’re making progress, but we still have so much further to go.

As usual, Cat Winters delivers a narrative that not only focuses on social injustices, but also transports the reader back in time to experience these issues through the eyes of the characters. The Steep and Thorny Way gives us Hanalee Denney, a biracial girl in Prohibition-era Oregon, who is trying to seek justice for her murdered father, Hank Denney, whose ghost now haunts the street where he was killed. Joe Adder, a teen boy convicted of accidentally killing Hank, also knows what it’s like to be “different” in their town of Elston. Joe claims that it wasn’t him that killed Hanalee’s father, and that the true criminal is now married to Hanalee’s mother. “Uncle Clyde” has plenty of secrets to hide, and when the story of Hank Denney’s death starts to unravel, Hanalee and Joe have to protect themselves from the prejudices propagated in their small town by the Ku Klux Klan.

Readers of Shakespeare’s Hamlet will be delighted to draw together all of the parallels in this retelling, but they will also find that this story has a unique twist and will keep you guessing until the very end. Certainly, writing about the kinds of prejudices faced by the characters in this book had to be tricky, but their story is one that needs told, especially in this day and age when hate is still prevalent. Winters does a masterful job and bestows upon her readers the ingredients for overcoming hate: bravery, hope, and love.

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“Hate doesn’t even begin to describe what’s happening. (…) People in this state are controlling who can and can’t breed, Hanalee. They’re eradicating those of us who aren’t white, Protestant, American-born, or sexually normal in their eyes. They’re ‘purifying’ Oregon.”

Summary (via Goodreads)

Scene: Oregon, 1923.

Dramatis personae:

Hanalee Denney, daughter of a white woman and an African American man

Hank Denney, her father—a ghost

Greta Koning, Hanalee’s mother

Clyde Konig, doctor who treated Hank Denney the night he died, now Hanalee’s stepfather

Joe Adder, teenage boy convicted of accidentally killing Hank Denney

Members of the Ku Klux Klan

Townspeople of Elston, Oregon

Question: Was Hank Denney’s death an accident…or was it murder most foul?

A thrilling reimagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Steep and Thorny Way tells the story of a murder most foul and the mighty power of love and acceptance in a state gone terribly rotten.

1920s Oregon is not a welcoming place for Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and an African-American man. She has almost no rights by law, and the Ku Klux Klan breeds fear and hatred in even Hanalee’s oldest friendships. Plus, her father, Hank Denney, died a year ago, hit by a drunk-driving teenager. Now her father’s killer is out of jail and back in town, and he claims that Hanalee’s father wasn’t killed by the accident at all but, instead, was poisoned by the doctor who looked after him—who happens to be Hanalee’s new stepfather.

The only way for Hanalee to get the answers she needs is to ask Hank himself, a “haint” wandering the roads at night.

Things I Liked:

I did something with this book that I’ve never done before. Five pages into reading it, I sat the book down, picked up my phone, and texted all of my reader friends that THIS was a book that they needed to get their hands on. Seriously – five pages. That’s all it took, and I was hooked.

Everything about this book feels authentic, from the setting and the characters right down to the language. Cat Winters does make mention in her author’s note that she had to tread a delicate line when it came to authentic yet offensive terms and labels, but that she really wanted to reflect how people from the 1920’s would have actually described Hanalee and Joe. “There are some words, however, whose power to hurt and belittle goes beyond the need for historical accuracy,” she says, and those words are not included in The Steep and Thorny Way. I don’t think anyone should shy away from this book due to the offensive terms because if you or your child are uncomfortable with the terms used, then likely it’s because you don’t agree with the terminology and can therefore converse about why terms like that are considered offensive and shouldn’t be used.

Things I Didn’t Like:

You’re not going to find me complaining about anything here. This book is too important to nitpick at little details.

Overall Rating:

It’s a hard concept to comprehend – a person wanting to harm someone based simply on his/her skin color, religious beliefs, sexual preferences, etc. – if you’ve never been the victim of it yourself. The world can be a brutal, horrific, violent place for those that are deemed “different” from the norm. Hanalee provides the reader with a realistic outlook on the cruelty she and so many like her have experienced. I’m sure many of us would like to believe that this time period is vastly different from our own, but we still see so many crimes against humanity committed by those filled with evil and hate in their hearts. The Steep and Thorny Way will push readers out of their comfort zones, awaken a thirst for justice, and inspire the fight against discrimination. Prepare yourself to feel ENRAGED while reading. Take note of WHY you feel that way. Then, always remember Laurence’s words to Hanalee – “Don’t ever let them make you feel small.”

Cat Winters is masterful at her craft, blending history, mystery, and a dash of supernatural into every story. The Steep and Thorny Way will replay in your head long after you’ve closed the covers, and with a message as important as this one, that’s a good thing. This book receives a perfect score, 5/5, from me for being a beacon of hope in a really dark time. I hope I live to see a world that one day puts hate behind us and embraces equality for all.

Also, I look forward to shaking her hand and thanking Cat Winters for this book at this year’s Ohio River Festival of Books, the book festival presented by the Cabell County Public Library. Yet another reason why I love my job is getting to be involved in this fantastic event that highlights both national and local authors, and I’ve been ecstatic ever since I found out that I will get to meet the woman who has had such a profound impact on my love of both reading and writing young adult fiction.

“Do you hope to get married someday?” he asked.

“As long as I don’t fall in love with a man the wrong color.”

He exhaled a steady stream of air through his nostrils. “I think love and wrong are two deeply unrelated words that should never be thrown into the same sentence together. Like dessert and broccoli.”

 

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Check out my Waiting on Wednesday post for The Steep and Thorny Way prior to publication

Waiting on Wednesday #5

I have some pretty exciting personal news to reveal…

Later this year, I will actually get to meet one of my idols – Cat Winters! Every other year, the library I work for hosts the Ohio River Festival of Book (ohioriverbooks.org), which is a free event that connects the public with some pretty amazing authors. In the planning stages, I had suggested Cat for the young adult audience, and you can’t even begin to imagine my excitement when this actually panned out. October 1st, I’ll actually get to meet her and see her speak, and you better believe I’m counting down the days.

Another thing I’m counting down the days till is the release of this week’s featured Waiting on Wednesday read…

The Steep and Thorny Way

By Cat Winters

Publication Date: March 8, 2016

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Synopsis (via Goodreads)
A thrilling reimagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Steep and Thorny Way tells the story of a murder most foul and the mighty power of love and acceptance in a state gone terribly rotten.

1920s Oregon is not a welcoming place for Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and an African-American man. She has almost no rights by law, and the Ku Klux Klan breeds fear and hatred in even Hanalee’s oldest friendships. Plus, her father, Hank Denney, died a year ago, hit by a drunk-driving teenager. Now her father’s killer is out of jail and back in town, and he claims that Hanalee’s father wasn’t killed by the accident at all but, instead, was poisoned by the doctor who looked after him—who happens to be Hanalee’s new stepfather.

The only way for Hanalee to get the answers she needs is to ask Hank himself, a “haint” wandering the roads at night.

Why I’m Waiting

If you’ve never read one of Cat Winters’s books before, prepare for mass amounts of mystery mixed with heaps of history and a dash of mysticism. If In the Shadow of Blackbirds and The Cure for Dreaming are any indication of just how talented Cat Winters is, The Steep and Thorny Way is going to be the one book this year that you DO NOT want to miss!
We all know I’m a sucker for retellings, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen anyone in the YA game approach Shakespeare with a new look. BUT this is exactly the kind of innovated idea that I expect from the author. I read the summary aloud, and then had to shout, “WHERE does she come up with this? I want to have such brilliant ideas!”
The Cure for Dreaming made such a lasting impression on me that, when asked to write a book review for the local newspaper last year, it was a clear choice what book I needed to tell the public all about.

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It’s a fabulous book, and one all of you should check out.

Oh, and before I forget…Cat Winters currently resides in the cultural and creative epicenter of America – Portland,  Oregon. Portland also happens to be home to one of the coolest book stores in the world, Powell’s, where Cat will be doing a signing on March 10th. Know what the coolest part is though? You can preorder one of her signed copies directly from Powell’s – which of course, I did.
 Have I mentioned she’s really receptive to talking to fans on Twitter? Cause she is. I can’t wait to meet this incredible woman! Hopefully, she’ll have a tip or two for writing YA fiction for me.

Add The Steep and Thorny Way to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads
Pre-Order via Amazon
Pre-Order via Barnes & Noble