Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What's on My Main Character's Menu? And What's That Pungent Smell?

The theme on the blog this week is "Dinner with our characters: What's on the menu in our books?" Today you're invited to sample a taste of life in Cat Winters's YA historical ghost tale, IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS.

Welcome to the gaslit kitchen of my main character's aunt's house. Have a seat. Make yourself at home...as long as you're not carrying influenza germs.

I apologize if my protagonist says anything snappish or cynical to you. I've made her life miserable lately, and she isn't feeling her best. Plus she's getting tired of the food.

What's on the menu? you ask. Well, I'm sure you're aware we're at war with Germany. No, no, no, this isn't WWII. Go further back—to 1918. WWI. The Great War. We're sending our food overseas to help the starving in Europe, so the Food Administration is asking us to ration our meals.

The government's suggestions:

Sunday - One Meal Wheatless & One Meal Meatless
Monday - All Meals Wheatless & One Meal Meatless
Tuesday - All Meals Meatless & One Meal Wheatless
Wednesday - All Meals Wheatless & One Meal Meatless
Thursday - One Meal Wheatless & One Meal Meatless
Friday - One Meal Wheatless & One Meal Meatless
Saturday - All Meals Porkless, One Meal Wheatless, & One Meal Meatless

It's Tuesday, I see, so let's forgo meat today, and you'll need to put aside your craving for bread for this meal. Sorry about that, but this is war, and we need to be stellar Americans.

What was that you just said? I think I heard you mutter under your breath that you wonder if this family has made its pledge to the Food Administration. Rest assured, my protagonist's aunt has filled out the appropriate form, and you'll find the Food Administration Membership Card hanging in the front window:

Courtesy of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections,
Cornell University Library.

This is a patriotic house—all-American, we swear. No one here wants to impede the war effort.

Yes, I saw the dark, nervous look my protagonist just darted our way at the topic of anti-patriotism. Please ignore that look and let's get back to the menu.

Oh...I see you're glancing at the pot boiling on the stove, wondering about that pungent smell. If you haven't noticed (how could you not?), there's also a lethal flu blazing across America, and most people are resorting to folk remedies to keep themselves alive.

My heroine's aunt isn't cooking that pungent item for you to eat.

She's cooking it for you to wear.

What exactly is it? you ask with widening eyes. What am I going to have to eat or wear to stay alive?

I'm sorry, but you'll have to wait until you get your copy of In the Shadow of Blackbirds to find out what's boiling on that stove.

You didn't really think I'd tell you everything I'm cooking up for my novel before it's available, did you?

Cat Winters was born and raised just a short drive down the freeway from Disneyland, which probably explains her obsession with haunted mansions, bygone eras, and fantasylands. Her debut novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, a young adult WWI-era ghost tale, is coming Spring 2013 from Amulet Books. She lives outside of Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two kids.

Cat's haunts: CatWinters.com, Twitter, and Facebook. In the Shadow of Blackbirds is now on Goodreads.


  1. What is boiling on that stove??? You have me very intrigued! GREAT way to describe your book's world, Cat!

  2. Thanks so much, Megan! I'm happy to hear I've intrigued you. Food has played a major role in my world building...albeit food you might not necessarily want to eat (or wear).

  3. Hmm… I've read about people wearing a certain food item during the great flu epidemic… wonder if it's the same thing?!

    Great post, Cat. Your book sounds absolutely fascinating!

  4. Thanks, Emma!!

    There were quite a few unsavory remedies people tried out to ward off the 1918 flu. Most of the "cures" involved terrible smells and food that probably hurt their stomachs as much as the influenza.