Author Interview: Colleen Winter
Colleen Winter was born and raised in the mining town of Sudbury, in Northern Ontario, Canada. The city’s claim to fame includes being the sight of a meteor impact 1.8 billion years ago but also, and more importantly, includes 52 freshwater lakes.
Colleen spent the first part of her working life as an electrical engineer and the second as a freelance journalist. Easily bored, she has moved onto a third career, where she combines the two through her own communications business.
Throughout her life, she has been fascinated by power and energy. It underpins our world, and the hidden influence it exerts informs her speculative fiction. Particularly, THE GATHERER (2019), a near future thriller which was called ‘menacing and memorable’ and ‘an eloquently written dystopian debut,’ and the follow-up novel, THE DISRUPTORS, (2021) called ‘intense and riveting’ and ‘fans of Blake Crouch should read this book.’
When she isn’t working or writing, Colleen can be found hiking or climbing the beautiful places of the world or sneaking out for early morning swims in whatever freshwater lake is nearby. She lives in Ontario with her husband Ron in their empty nest with their loveable, psychotic, reactive dog Kira.
Colleen has graciously agreed to answer a few questions.
MB: Give us a quick introduction to The Gatherer Series.
CW: It’s been three years since Storm Freeman released the Gatherer, a device that brought free, infinite energy to the world. The initial reverence has receded from the world changing invention as people are afflicted with a strange, inexplicable disease. Afflicted herself, Freeman has retreated to the Yukon, to hide out from the world. When Maria Kowalski arrives, the woman who first tried to stop her from releasing the Gatherer, Storm has to make a choice: stay hidden or return to the world and destroy what she created.
MB: From the series, which is your favorite minor character and why?
CW: My favorite minor character is Amanda. She arrived unexpectedly at the beginning of the second book and is a tough, sarcastic, no BS character who provides great comic relief but also a reality check for Maria, the main protagonist of the second book. Amanda is the kind of female character that I love to read so I was happy when she turned up at the perfect time to add a new dimension to the series.
MB: What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) did you face while bringing your books to life?
CW: One of the main writing challenges was that I didn’t know that the book would be a trilogy when I was writing the first book. It wasn’t until the end, when I realized that there was still more to happen in Storm and Maria’s story that I understood that I was writing a series and not a standalone. This also contributed to the challenge of finishing the third book. It was immensely difficult to do justice to the multiple character arcs and to wrap up the narrative in a satisfying and ultimately compelling way when I hadn’t necessarily set out to create a three-book series. In the end, I am extremely pleased with how it turned out but did write almost two full books by the time I finally had a finished draft of the third installment.
Another challenge had more to do with the publishing industry and some of the consequences of the pandemic. My original publisher for the series cancelled the imprint (or department) that was publishing their science fiction books, mid-way through the pandemic. At the time, we were at the halfway point of publishing the trilogy and I wasn’t sure what would happen to the series. I kept writing, but it took me the better part of a year to recover from the impact of having lost my publisher.
Since I work in the electrical industry, I didn’t have a huge amount of research to do, except around Electromagnetic Sensitivity. This is a very real condition, and I spent a lot of time researching individuals who are unable to live in our modern world since we are surrounded by electromagnetic fields. Some of the stories were unbelievably sad, and it really opened my eyes to a condition that up until very recently has been a phantom condition or simply ‘all in the head’ of the sufferer.
MB: When you first begin writing a new book, do you primarily focus on the characters or the plot?
CW: I start a book with what my writing coach calls a ‘sacred image.’ This is the one image or scene or feeling or setting that is central to the book. I start writing from this point and let the characters and the plot evolve from that point in the story. I can’t really say that I focus on characters or plot, since they ultimately develop simultaneously as I am discovering the story.
MB: Do your characters sometimes surprise you with their behavior? Or do you always have
CW: My characters surprise me all the time. Because of the way I write, which is to follow the story wherever it leads, I am continually surprised by what my characters choose to do and the elements of the story that arise. I’ve tried before to plot the novel beforehand but I’m not the kind of writer that has the entire novel outlined before they begin. Since I am trained as an engineer, I always thought that I would be a plotter, and spent the first few years as a writer trying to do that. It wasn’t until I let that go and embraced this new method that I saw any success at all as an author.
MB: What do you think makes a good story?
CW: I need a character that shows me a different perspective of the world and also one that can draw me in emotionally so that I see and feel the world from their point of view. It’s one of the reasons I prefer speculative fiction since it asks the ‘what if’ question and then places a character in that situation and we get to experience this new world through their eyes. I also like to learn, so I want a story that teaches me something I didn’t know before, and hopefully helps me understand life and the universe (whether it’s our current world or one in the future) in a new way. And the final element must be humor. I always love a story that makes me laugh.
MB: Let’s finish this up with something a bit offbeat. As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
CW: Initially I thought I would say my spirit animal would be a Water Buffalo because why not? In reality, since I spent my childhood roaming the vast forests of Northern Ontario, it is the lone figure of the wolf that I feel the most connection with.
Thank you for taking time to talk with me. The third book in The Gatherer series, THE STORM, is coming in April of 2023
To learn more about Colleen and her books, you can visit her website at colleenwinter.ca. You can also follow Colleen on Facebook at facebook.com/ColleenWinterAuthor, on Twitter at twitter.com/colleenwinter3, and on Instagram at instagram.com/winter_colleen.
You can purchase her books at these retailers.