The time it was about The Steep and Thorny Way

Posted February 29, 2016 by Stacee in Blog Tours, Giveaways, Interviews | 12 Comments

I saw Cat Winters a few months ago and she talked about her newest book The Steep and Thorny Way.  As soon as I heard it was a Hamlet retelling, I was instantly sold and when I saw the blog tour, I couldn’t sign up fast enough.


Before we get to Cat’s interview, let’s check out the book.

11A 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.

Sounds good, right?


1. Please give the elevator pitch for The Steep and Thorny Way.

A reimagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which a biracial girl investigates the secrets surrounding her father’s death in a racially charged 1920s Oregon.

2. Where did the idea come from?

Years ago, when my husband and I were driving on a country road in San Diego to buy pumpkins one Halloween, I imagined a story involving a girl whose father was rumored to be a ghost that roamed a rural road. I put that idea aside for almost two decades but always found it intriguing.

We later moved to the Pacific Northwest, and in 2013 I stumbled upon the history of the KKK’s takeover of Oregon in the early 1920s, as well as the state’s exclusion laws, which banned African Americans from coming to Oregon to reside, own property, and make contracts. The laws were written into the 1857 state constitution and weren’t repealed until 1926! Most of my novels originate with a passionate reaction to a little-known aspect of U.S. history, and that’s exactly what I experienced when my eyes were opened to Oregon’s racist past—a past that clearly affected the state’s lack of racial diversity that exists to this day.

I wasn’t sure how to incorporate the history into a novel until, out of the blue, I considered using Hamlet as the inspiration for the plot. In Hamlet, a Danish prince learns that the watchmen at his castle have witnessed his father’s ghost—and that his father has a message for him regarding the truth behind his death. Going back to my old idea about a ghost roaming a country road, I decided that my Hamlet character, a half-black/half-white sixteen-year-old girl named Hanalee Denney, would learn from townsfolks that the ghost of her father is wandering the main highway at night—and he has a message for Hanalee.

3. Why do you love Hanalee and why should we root for her?

Hanalee is ticked off at what’s currently happening in her life, and when the novel starts, you see her right at the point where she’s reached the last straw and makes a dangerous, rash decision. What I love about her most is that her initial response to a situation is to react completely out of emotion instead of stopping to contemplate what she’s doing, but there’s another side of her—a budding lawyer side—that’s slowly learning to stop and ask questions of people and think things through before making costly mistakes. I enjoyed showing her mature throughout the novel. She’s a fighter, and I hope readers will respond to her compassion and fortitude and root for her as she tackles some terrifying obstacles.

4. What was the weirdest thing you googled while doing research?

I’ve googled some pretty strange items in my career as a novelist, but I mainly remember googling things that were more unpleasant or interesting than weird for this book. The search that stands out in my mind the most is when I hunted for images of broken noses. I carefully studied dozens of graphic, bloody photographs and agonized over the dilemma of whether the skin on the bridge of my injured character’s nose should be split open and bleeding, or if blood should be spilling out of the nostrils alone. I went for the split-open bridge of the nose option.

5. Without spoilers, what was your favorite scene to write?

The entire section in which two of my characters escape into the woods was my absolute favorite part to create. In Hamlet, the main character’s stepfather sends him to England to be killed, so I decided to mirror that plot point by having Hanalee run away from a heated moment with her own stepfather and end up at a place called Engle Creek. Most of my novels don’t contain action scenes, so it was an absolute blast for me to actually show people running. Also, the relationship between Hanalee and the character who joins her during the escape dramatically changes in the woods. They realize how much they’re alike and how urgently they need to depend on each other. I loved developing them as characters and as comrades and absolutely enjoyed every moment of writing this section. It flowed easily.

Speed [ish] round:

1. You get the call/email/letter that says you’re being published for the first time. Describe the next 5 minutes.

I still remember the date: October 26, 2011. I had just dropped off my son at school, and my daughter, who was twelve at the time, opened the door from the garage to the house to say that the phone was ringing and it was my agent, Barbara Poelle, calling. Barbara told me we received an offer for In the Shadow of Blackbirds, which was the eighth novel I’d ever completed, the third to be submitted to publishers by an agent, and the first one to ever receive an offer for a publishing contract. When I hung up the phone, my daughter and I shrieked with so much excitement that our poor dog at the time started shaking with fear. I also remember collapsing against the kitchen counter because my legs weren’t working quite right.

2. What three things would you take to a desert island?

Practical answer: A boat, a solar-powered phone, and a survivalist.

Fun answer: Sunscreen, a good book, and a cooler stocked with water and chocolates.

3. You can only read one book for the rest of your life. What is it?

Oh, man, this is a HARD one!!! I guess I’ll go with Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s the book I’ve read the most often in my life, and I feel like I learn new things from it every time I dive into it.

4. Who is your favorite book boyfriend and book BFF?

You know, it’s been a while since I’ve fallen passionately in love with a book boyfriend. As a teen I really loved dark, moody, mysterious, Gothic characters like Mr. Rochester from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Max de Winter from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. Nowadays, however, I realize moody isn’t fun to be around, so I prefer book boyfriends more along the lines of Augustus Waters from John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

My favorite book BFF is Queenie (aka Julie) from Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity. I love that girl.

5. What is the one thing about publishing you wish someone would have told you?

Now that I’ve had books out for three years, I realize that I wish I’d known that major advances, movie deals from the get-go, and major promotional buzz from publishers does not necessarily equate to book success and longevity in the business. When I first signed with a publisher, it seemed that so many other authors around me were receiving six-figure deals and an astounding amount of hype for their novels, whereas my advance was on the smaller side and no one was hanging up giant posters for the book at trade shows or talking about it like it could be a bestseller. I’ve now heard numerous stories of authors whose books didn’t meet the astronomical expectations placed upon them, and those authors are now struggling to remain published. However, I’m still puttering along. I’d rather take my more modest route and keep going than to work for years to overcome the stigma of a mega-hyped book that’s deemed a “failure.” I really feel for authors who are put under that pressure. I think it’s a part of publishing that doesn’t often get discussed, but it happens all of the time.

6. You wake up and discover you are Bella in Twilight. You know how it plays out. What do you do differently? {Huge thanks to Bookish Broads for letting me use this question}

Remain single. ;)


CatBWCat Winters’s critically acclaimed debut novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, was named a 2014 Morris Award Finalist, a 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults pick, a 2013 Bram Stoker Award Nominee, and a School Library Journal Best Book of 2013.

Her upcoming novels include The Cure for Dreaming (Amulet Books/Oct. 2014) and The Uninvited (William Morrow/2015), and she’s a contributor to the 2015 YA horror anthology Slasher Girls & Monster Boys. She lives in Portland, Oregon.


Huge thanks to the ladies at Rockstar Book Tours for the invite and to Cat for taking the time.  Make sure you’re checking out Cat’s website, following her on Twitter, liking her Facebook page, and adding all of her books to your Goodreads TBR.

Definitely check out the rest of the tour stops for all sorts of awesome and keep scrolling for a giveaway!

**Good Luck!!**

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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12 responses to “The time it was about The Steep and Thorny Way

  1. Sigh. <3 This blog tour post is SO AMAZING. Thank you for sharing Stacee and Cat :D I LOVE Cat the very most. <3 And this book is so so so good. Eeee. I read it a few months ago, but shall re-read it in a little bit :) Can't wait. I loved it so much. Sigh. Anyway. This interview is so amazing :) Love it. <3

    Carina Olsen recently posted: In My Mailbox #226
  2. danielle hammelef

    This plot sounds so unique! I can’t believe the laws weren’t repealed until 1926 in Oregon! Unbelievable to me. I can’t wait to read this book!

  3. Wow! I am so happy I stopped by to read this interview. I had no idea this was a retelling of Hamlet (my favorite Shakespearean play), and I am ultra-impressed with all the great research Cat did. Brava, because authors taking the time to do in-depth research seems to be in short supply lately. The subject the storyline is based on is stellar. I wasn’t considering this book before because of my K2 sized ARC pile, which makes personal reading a rarity, but this story needs to be read by me! And To Kill a Mockingbird, yes, it is my all time fave read, too. Thanks so much for this wonderful interview, Stacee, because I learned a lot about both the book and the author. Thank-you also for the contest! :)

    La La in the Library recently posted: THE SUNDAY POST #48
  4. Autumn

    I totally agree with your desert island answer, except I would want a cooler full of rum instead of water. :)

  5. Bri Collins

    I can’t wait for this book! I’m really interested in discovering what kind of commentary it will bring to the conversation of race, but also, what the story will say about the character’s life and how she lives in her skin

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