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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A Plethora of Prompts

There are a million reasons why I love my writing group, The Wicked Wordsmiths of the West, – their assorted, wild personalities; the hard work and dedication with which they approach a project; the never-a-dull-moment meetings – but most of all, I love the way they recharge my batteries. Our meetings are once a month, and often fall on a day when I’m having the worst case of Mondays and the idea of staying two and a half hours after work fills me with dread, BUT the second I enter the meeting room, everything changes. These people pep me up and get me excited about writing. Even when I’m feeling like a talentless hack and, like lately, haven’t been able to churn out anything worthwhile… by the time I leave the meeting, I’m racing home to write because I feel the drive and inspiration.

That was especially true in February’s meeting. Three of us presented writing prompt activities that covered a variety of topics but also included an element of fun. Knowing how much those prompt activities helped pull me out of a writing rut, I decided it would be a good idea to share them here and maybe inspire someone else who might be struggling to get their pen moving.

PROMPT #1
This was a short and simple prompt that I presented. It was right after the Oscars, so drawing on that, I had the Wordsmiths construct their Oscar-style acceptance speech for winning Best Book of the Year. Most all of the Wordsmiths have a project that is either close to being ready for publication or a project that they are working continuously on, so the catch was that, in their acceptance speech, besides thanking their family, God, publisher, etc., they also had to draw out details that actually described what their “Best Book of the Year” was about. This helps us be concise when summarizing. Not many of us actually like reading our writing out loud, but this prompt seems to have been the exception. We had quite the mix of hilarious, dramatic readings and those who gave sage advice about writing as an art (that I swear sounded like they could’ve been quoting Neil Gaiman…they were just that good!).

PROMPT #2
This activity came from Stacy Atkins (Check her out over at The Peculiar Cookie). She said that often when rereading some of her work she would find that she would mention a person, place, or thing, but not describe it sufficiently. As an exercise to improve this, Stacy went through dozens of real estate listings (some of which you would never believe to actually be on the market), and she printed off pictures of the houses. These were homes all over the world, in every architectural style, from secluded cabins to thoroughly modern, geometric homes. We randomly selected two photos without looking at them first, and then had 15 minutes per house to come up with a description that would adequately tell the reader all about the house without seeing the picture. For example, here are the two houses I received:

Nice, right? The one on the left was easy because my first thought was that it reminded me of an abandoned library, and really who WOULDN’T want to live in a library? The one on the right, however, proved that I would have to get creative because nowhere in my vocabulary could I find specific terms for Victorian architecture. At the very least, I did compare it to a gingerbread house, but this one was especially challenging. It definitely made for good practice when writing what you don’t actually know. After each person read a description, they would pass around the photo they’d been working from. 99% of the time, I could see the houses vividly in my mind before the photo arrived in my hands.

PROMPT #3
This is our take-home prompt presented to us by Brent McGuffin (go give him a like!), and we have until the next meeting to complete it. I’m rather giddy about just how fun this one sounds. Brent said that some of the requirements he snatched from a newsletter that he receives, and some of them he added himself. Everything listed has to be included in a story that should hopefully come in at around 2,000 words. Here’s the full list if you’d like to try it out yourself:

1. To find the first sentence of your story: Take the third book from the left off of your book shelf. On page forty-two, seventh sentence from the top, is the first sentence of your story. (If it is a blank page, keep going until you find a page with words.)

2. The leftovers in your fridge is what the main character ate for breakfast. (If there are no leftovers, your character has to eat leftover pizza or the most common dish in your world.)

3. The conflict in the story is what is under your bed. If you are one of those organized minimalist people and don’t store anything under your bed, then here’s your other option: your protagonist wants the last item you purchased.

4. Your protagonist is wearing what is hanging in your closet, second item from the right. I will give you another option if you hate what is hanging second from the right. Your character may wear whatever clothes you left on the floor last night. If there are only your white socks that you didn’t put in the clothes hamper on the floor, here is a terry-cloth robe and a pair of pajamas for you.

5. The protagonist’s hair color is the color of your dog, or your cat, or your neighbor’s dog or cat. If both of your neighbors have pets, go with the neighbor on your right.

6. The protagonist will use whatever is in your pockets to win their conflict.

7. Please, please, please use this word at least once in your story, “bacon”. I said, please, please, please, so I didn’t sound so bossy. (To be nice, I will give you a choice of three words to choose from. One of these words has to be in your story.)
a) bacon        b) cat        c) page seventy-four in your dictionary, left hand column, fifth word from the top

8. The Antagonist, the person trying to keep the protagonist from getting what they want, has the same name as the person you had a crush on in second grade. (If you didn’t have a crush on anyone in second grade, use the name of your best friend in second grade.)

9. The location is where you spent your last vacation.

 

10. You will get help to resolve your conflict from a brown paper bag.

There you go! Three different prompts to get you going, now get to it! Happy writing!