Today we celebrate the much-anticipated release of THE CURE FOR DREAMING, by our own Cat Winters, available now from Amulet Books, and which Kirkus Reviews calls “[a] gripping, atmospheric story of mind-control and self-determination.” The Corsets, Cutlasses & Candlesticks bloggers interviewed Cat about this, her second YA novel following the stunning IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS.
About the book:
Olivia Mead is a headstrong, independent girl—a suffragist—in an age that prefers its girls to be docile. It’s 1900 in Oregon, and Olivia’s father, concerned that she’s headed for trouble, convinces a stage mesmerist to try to hypnotize the rebellion out of her. But the hypnotist, an intriguing young man named Henri Reverie, gives her a terrible gift instead: she’s able to see people’s true natures, manifesting as visions of darkness and goodness, while also unable to speak her true thoughts out loud.
Interviewer interjects: “Wow! That sounds really, really cool.”
About Cat Winters:
Cat was born and raised in Southern California, near Disneyland, which may explain her love of haunted mansions, bygone eras, and fantasylands. She received degrees in drama and English from the University of California, Irvine, and formerly worked in publishing. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS,Cat lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two kids.
From Jennifer McGowan: THE CURE FOR DREAMING is your second book, but it’s a standalone, so you didn’t have a “built in” world to rely upon. What made you choose this subject as the focus for your second novel, and what was the most challenging part of writing it?
You’re exactly right, Jenn: with standalones you have to start from scratch and build an entirely new world. I began writing THE CURE FOR DREAMING around October 2011, when I was waiting to see if IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS would even sell to a publisher. I didn’t want to put all of my eggs in one basket, so I decided to come up with something entirely new that would still fall into the category of YA Gothic historical fiction.
At the time, I was listening to Kristen Lawrence’s eerie and dreamlike Halloween music (see HalloweenCarols.com), which put me in the mood to write something theatrical and Victorian, with a dash of horror. Erin Morgenstern’s THE NIGHT CIRCUS–a novel about Victorian magicians–was all the rage that fall, so instead of using the same subject matter, I decided to turn my thoughts instead to the idea of a late-nineteenth-century stage hypnotist. For a long while, I had also wanted to write about the suffrage movement in the early twentieth century, and a thought struck me: “What if a man hired a hypnotist to rid his daughter, a budding young suffragist, of her rebellion?”
The most challenging aspect was figuring out how to create the supernatural qualities of the hypnosis itself. I go beyond real hypnosis and allow my character to see the true state of the world and gender roles in 1900 America. I didn’t want to come across as completely anti-man, so I tiptoed on a delicate line, showing that the women’s rights movement has never meant that women hate all men, but still also portraying the stifling restrictions placed upon females in an era when women were treated as second-class citizens.
From Laura Golden: Olivia Mead is a strong and headstrong heroine who strikes me as the type who becomes more determined to fight the status quo the more people tell her she should simply follow the rules. Was there a specific woman who inspired Olivia? What parts of her can you see in yourself?
I’m so glad you asked this question, Laura, because I haven’t yet had a chance to talk about the historical figure who inspired one of Olivia’s pivotal scenes: Nellie Bly. I became intrigued by Bly, a pioneering Victorian-era journalist, as a child when I was given a book about her. When Bly was nineteen, she became enraged over a disparaging column in the PITTSBURGH DISPATCH titled “What Girls Are Good For.” She wrote a rebuttal under the name “Lonely Orphan Girl,” and the editor was so impressed, he ended up seeking her out and hiring her as a writer for the newspaper. I won’t say too much about Olivia’s similar experience in THE CURE FOR DREAMING, but she does read an opinion piece that infuriates her and writes an anonymous rebuttal—despite the fact that she’s been hypnotized into verbally silencing her anger.
I see a great deal of myself in Olivia, especially the Olivia who appears at the beginning of the novel (minus the controlling father and Victorian lifestyle). Like her, in high school I was shy and bookish and extremely awkward around boys. Speaking my mind amid people I didn’t know well sent me crawling into my shell. Olivia’s journey toward gaining confidence and strength is certainly one to which I can relate.
From Sharon Biggs Waller: Hypnosis is such an interesting subject. How much research did you do to learn about it? Actually, what I really want to know: have you ever been hypnotized?
I’ve had two experiences with hypnosis, Sharon. The first occurred in high school when a stage hypnotist performed in our gym. I remember being flabbergasted by the things he was able to make people do, including convincing my sweet and conservatively dressed Spanish teacher to dance like Madonna—and my teacher started unbuttoning her top in front of everyone! The hypnotist stopped her before things went too far, thankfully, but I remember being shocked and astounded.
In college I took a drama class in which a professor used us as guinea pigs for his theory that actors could perform better under hypnosis. I remember the experience being extremely relaxing. I was aware of everything that happened, but my body felt heavy and utterly at peace . . . and I ended up impressing the professor with whichever Greek tragedy monologue we happened to be performing while hypnotized. I used these two experiences, along with a great deal of research into the techniques of hypnotists and early-Victorian mesmerists, to create the hypnosis scenes in THE CURE FOR DREAMING.
From J. Anderson Coats: Both IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS and THE CURE FOR DREAMING have a delightful undercurrent of the supernatural running through them. What tips do you have for integrating supernatural elements into historical narratives without one overpowering the other?
I love this question, Jillian. I use two key methods for integrating supernatural elements into my historical narratives:
1. I start with a heightened version of reality that already involves fear. A ghost doesn’t appear in IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS until a hundred or so pages into the novel, but my protagonist, Mary Shelley Black, is already coping with a paranoid world that’s suffering from the strain of a world war, the terror of a lethal flu pandemic, and a growing obsession with spirit photography and séances. Even if my ghost never made his way into the novel, my protagonist would still be frightened. Readers are already expecting to be scared.
The same is true with THE CURE FOR DREAMING. The book opens in a theater on Halloween night in the year 1900. Olivia—a fan of horror novels, especially DRACULA—experiences a hypnotism show on a grand stage filled with glowing jack-o-lanterns, organ music, smoke, and magical young performers dressed in glamorous attire. Her imagination is stirred, even before she’s ever hypnotized. By setting up the scene of an imaginative girl spooked and entranced by the theatrics of a Halloween night, I can then easily walk my readers into my more supernatural scenes.
2. I give plausible explanations to my supernatural elements. My characters typically aren’t born with otherworldly powers. They’re regular people from bygone eras, but something happens to them that triggers the paranormal in their lives. With IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, Mary Shelley gets struck by lightning and endures a near-death experience that awakens an ability to communicate with spirits (a phenomenon that some real-life near-death experiencers have claimed to have encountered).
In THE CURE FOR DREAMING, Olivia is hypnotized into seeing the world the way it truly is and people for who they really are. In my mind, she’s already a girl who can figure out people’s true natures, but before she’s hypnotized, she doesn’t pay close attention to—or she chooses to ignore—the ugliness and other hard-to-swallow realities around her. The hypnotism holds up a surreal magnifying glass to what she probably already knows to be true. My young hypnotist character, Henri Reverie, uses genuine hypnotism commands and methods, grounding the book in reality, but the result goes a step beyond normal hypnotherapy.
From Katherine Longshore: As a person who loves great titles but finds it impossible to think of one, I have to ask—where did THE CURE FOR DREAMING come from? And can you tell us a little about how it applies to Olivia’s story?
Oh, thank you, Katy. I’m glad you like the title! I started off calling the book THE MESMERIST, but, as my agent and I both agreed, it seemed like we could try for something with a little more pizzazz. When I first sent the proposal to my agent, I included this sentence: “I’m currently calling the book THE CURE FOR DREAMING, but I’ve been compiling a list of other potential titles, such as MESMERIZING, HEAR ONLY ME, WHEN YOU AWAKEN, and THE AWAKENING OF OLIVIA MEAD.” She liked THE CURE FOR DREAMING the best.
The name came to me in the middle of one of my title-creating brainstorming sessions. I realized the main issue in the book is that a man is trying to cure his daughter of her “unladylike” dreams of voting and receiving a higher education, and it hit me: why not call the novel THE CURE FOR DREAMING? I immediately ran the title past my sister, who loved it, partly because she’s a big fan of the band The Cure. 🙂
From Jessica Spotswood: What’s the most interesting bit of research you found for THE CURE FOR DREAMING?
Ooh, Jess, that’s a hard one for me to decide. I found so many fascinating details about women’s suffrage and stage hypnotism, but I will say I particularly loved diving into all the gory details about Victorian dentistry. Originally, I made Olivia’s overbearing father a doctor, but I realized how much creepier he’d be if he were a dentist—and how his fondness of extracting patients’ teeth would correlate well with his desire to remove his daughter’s rebellion from her head. My starting point was a book called THE EXCRUCIATING HISTORY OF DENTISTRY: TOOTHSOME TALES & ORAL ODDITIES FROM BABYLON TO BRACES, by James Wynbrandt (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2000). Some of my favorite finds made their way into the novel, such as the tendency of dentists to use leeches on patients’ inflamed gums to suck out the blood.
From Susan Hill Long: Cat, the wraparound cover of THE CURE FOR DREAMING– gorgeous and evocative! Can you tell us a little bit about what went into the making of it?
I’m glad you love the dust jacket as much as I do, Sue! The scene on the front cover is a photograph of an actual hypnotized Victorian girl. I found the image when I first researched late-nineteenth-century stage hypnotism, and I included the photo inside the manuscript, right before the opening chapter. My Amulet Books editor, Maggie Lehrman, and designer, Maria T. Middleton, liked the image so much, they decided to use it on the cover.
I love how Maria chose to place only half of the image on the cover. It looks like the young woman is floating off the chair. When you look at the dust jacket on the hardcover, however, you’ll see, as you just said, that the image wraps around to the back. In some ways, I think the full image, which includes ropes tied around the young woman’s legs, is even more shocking than the idea of her levitating.
You can see the full photograph—minus the color and the spooky wallpaper created by Maria—in the novel’s book trailer:
Thank you for chatting with me, ladies!