The Winter Sister
by Megan Collins
Published by: Atria Books
Publication date: February 5, 2019
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
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In this spellbinding and suspenseful debut, a young woman haunted by the past returns home to care for her ailing mother and begins to dig deeper into her sister’s unsolved murder.
Sixteen years ago, Sylvie’s sister Persephone never came home. Out too late with the boyfriend she was forbidden to see, Persephone was missing for three days before her body was found—and years later, her murder remains unsolved.
In the present day, Sylvie returns home to care for her estranged mother, Annie, as she undergoes treatment for cancer. Prone to unexplained “Dark Days” even before Persephone’s death, Annie’s once-close bond with Sylvie dissolved in the weeks after their loss, making for an uncomfortable reunion all these years later. Worse, Persephone’s former boyfriend, Ben, is now a nurse at the cancer center where Annie is being treated. Sylvie’s always believed Ben was responsible for the murder—but she carries her own guilt about that night, guilt that traps her in the past while the world goes on around her.
As she navigates the complicated relationship with her mother, Sylvie begins to uncover the secrets that fill their house—and what really happened the night Persephone died. As it turns out, the truth really will set you free, once you can bear to look at it.
The Winter Sister is a mesmerizing portrayal of the complex bond between sisters, between mothers and daughters alike, and forces us to ask ourselves—how well do we really know the people we love most? It is the release of The Winter Sister by debut author, Megan Collins. And we are having her for today’s Behind the Pages as we talk about her book and how everyone can relate to Sylvie and Annie’s characters.
Also, don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the end of this post for a chance to win a copy of The Winter Sister! Enjoy this interview everyone!
Hi Megan! Welcome here at Tale Out Loud and thank you so much for agreeing to this interview!
Thank you so much for having me!
To start, can you tell us a little something about your main character, Sylvie?
When Sylvie was fourteen years old, her older sister Persephone was murdered. After that, her mother drowned her grief with alcohol and essentially neglected Sylvie, who then had to live with her aunt since her mother was no longer capable of taking care of her. Now, Sylvie’s thirty years old and has long been haunted by what happened to her sister, especially since the case was never solved. She’s recently been laid off from her job as a tattoo artist, and now her aunt is calling her back home to care for her mother, who’s been diagnosed with cancer. Sylvie sees the ghosts of her past everywhere she goes in her hometown, so she’s a bit reluctant to go back, especially to a mother who hurt her so badly with her neglect. In general, Sylvie is lost. She’s grown up but she’s never really moved on from the trauma losses in her family—and now, for the first time in her adult life, she’s being forced to confront the aspects of her past she’d prefer to forget.
THE WINTER SISTER is a story about love—what it gives, what it takes; how it heals, how it breaks—which I think many people will be able to relate to.
The disappearance dust scene in the story sounds poetic to me in a way that it translates to the pain of the events that occurred years after, from Persephone, Sylvie to Annie. Is it something you forethought when you wrote the story?
The disappearance dust was something that was born through the nature of the scene itself. Sylvie is a child when she paints the constellation of Persephone, and as I wrote the scene, I was trying to think of the way a child might look at their older sister and therefore paint her. It seems to me that we sometimes idolize our older siblings, so that’s where the disappearance dust came in; it was Sylvie’s way of making Persephone a little bit magical, a little bit otherworldly. Once I wrote that, however, I realized all the resonance that image would have: Persephone does disappear later on, and the “dust” of that disappearance, the residue of it, continues to live on in Sylvie and Annie’s lives, and it impacts nearly every decision they make.
Persephone and Ben shared a deep connection of longing from their parents that Sylvie didn’t truly understand until later in the story. Would you consider all of them a recipient of both Annie’s and Will’s past mistakes?
I do think that, in some ways, that these characters are legacies of their respective parents’ mistakes. But in the case of Sylvie and Ben, they have an opportunity by the end of the book to break away from old patterns and forge new lives for themselves—especially once they have a true understanding of how their parents have impacted them.
You’ve made Edith Hamilton in your epigraph and knowing for a fact that Demeter longed for Persephone and dealt with a huge amount of grief, do you agree that Annie and Demeter were similar in more ways than we thought?
I definitely wrote Annie to be a contemporary version of Demeter. In the myth, Demeter is so distraught over losing Persephone that she (depending on which version you read) either willfully and spitefully stops food from growing on earth, thus causing people to die, or she is so filled with sorrow that she is physically unable to do her job. Annie is the same way. She becomes so consumed by her grief that she stops being a mother to Sylvie. She can’t see a way beyond her rage and sadness, and it begins to destroy her from the inside out. Unlike Demeter in the myth, though, there’s no respite for Annie. Persephone never comes back, and her inability to manage her grief affects Sylvie’s life in a profound way.
It’s important to never give up. But if you believe in your story, and you believe in your ability to express it, then don’t stop pushing until you get where you want to be…
Art to Sylvie is a part of who she is but brought back painful memories from the past that somehow, it became traumatic to her. Do you think she’ll continue to find her love for art now that she’s starting to move on from everything that happened to her life?
This might be kind of a frustrating answer (sorry!), but I never like to speculate about what happens to my characters once the story ends, because it’s really up for the reader to determine. Some people might read art as something Sylvie needed to break away from entirely in order to fully heal, whereas others might see it as something that can eventually help her heal even further, once she’s able to stop using it as a way to punish herself. I think either interpretation is valid.
In what way do you think readers connect to this story and Sylvie and Annie’s characters?
We’ve all lost someone important to us, someone we’ve loved, so I imagine that readers will be able to connect with that part of Sylvie and Annie’s stories. Sometimes we handle that loss in a healthy way, and other times we don’t, and Sylvie and Annie show us that grief is a spectrum, with no single correct way to experience it. Sylvie and Annie are also both people who are struggling to forgive themselves for mistakes they made in their past, which I think is deeply human and something we all go through at one point or another in our lives. And finally, THE WINTER SISTER is a story about love—what it gives, what it takes; how it heals, how it breaks—which I think many people will be able to relate to.
As someone who went all out without really even knowing what the story is all about than it is being a mystery thriller, because hey! I’m a fan here, how do you want others to remember The Winter Sister?
Well, it is a mystery, so I want people to be drawn in by the story and to be invested in that central question of what happened to Persephone. But I also want readers to think of it as an exploration of the bonds between mothers and daughters, as well as those between sisters and sisters. It’s also a study of the nature of grief and forgiveness—how the two can sometimes get in the way of each other, and keep people from being able to move on.
What are the things you have learned while in the process of writing this book that you want to impart to all young authors and writers?
It’s important to never give up. It sounds so simple, but sometimes, it’s really hard to do. Writing and publishing can be exciting but grueling, and it’s tempting at times to throw in the towel. But if you believe in your story, and you believe in your ability to express it, then don’t stop pushing until you get where you want to be—whether that’s with a finished draft that you’ll cherish on your computer, or a published book on shelves in bookstores.
Thank you so much and congratulations to your debut, Megan!
About The Author:
Megan Collins received her B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, and she holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Boston University, where she was a teaching fellow. She has taught creative writing at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts and Central Connecticut State University, and she is Managing Editor of 3Elements Review.
A Pushcart Prize and two-time Best of the Net nominee, her work has appeared in many prints and online journals, including Compose, Linebreak, Off the Coast, Spillway, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Rattle. She lives in Connecticut.