When The Hunger Games and The Handmaid’s Tale Collide: Barbara Winkes talks about her Dystopian tale, Cypher

Cyphercover1 (2)SR: What’s your new book about?

BW: Cypher is a dystopian novel in which some citizens have signed many of their rights to the “City” government. They give up their names, and become numbers instead, which puts them at the mercy of the Identity Agency. Ami went into the program after being pressured by people close to her, and her fate worsens from there. Katlena, who is an inspector with the Identity Agency, still believes in the system, and she thinks that if she rises through the ranks, she can help change it to the better. Both of them have secrets they guard closely. Mutual attraction might put them at risk, and it’s unclear whether they can trust each other—or who the enemy really is.

SR: Was there a specific issue or incident that really motivated you to write this particular story? What was the prompt?

BW: Part of it was that The Hunger Games, many years after I’d read The Handmaid’s Tale, got me back into reading dystopian fiction. I always add suspense and romance to my books, not matter the main genre. Finally, I looked back on my own experience of being unemployed for a while, and the toll it took at times. It’s not hard to feel like a number—even though my life, of course, was far from Ami’s.

SR: How do you think your protagonist would respond if aliens landed in the center of town on page 57?

BW: Both Ami and Katlena have seen strange things in their lives, but I’m sure that would freak them out on a deeper level. Page 57, it’s the morning after, and Katlena wakes from a nightmare. That would be an interesting time to add aliens…

SR:  Your protagonist has to flee the country. Where are they headed to and why that location?

BW: Mexico perhaps. If I believe HGTV, they could get affordable housing close to the beach, and I think they’d be able to go there with the funds they have.

SR:  What conspiracy theory is your protagonist most likely to believe in? Roswell? JFK? Princess Diana? What about you? Any conspiracy theories that you think might have some truth to them?

BW: These days, I’m extra careful, because there’s so much of it out there and online, sometimes you have to remind yourself that there is still an objective reality. I try to check myself and not fall for something that’s too easy or too good to be true.

SR:  Is your protagonist more likely to go insane or end up in prison?

BW: Since they are working to change the system, and their opponents aren’t happy about it, prison is a likely prospect if they don’t succeed.

SR: What’s your protagonist’s greatest fear? Why?

BW: In the beginning, the greatest fear for both of them would be related to their individual stories—how events could affect their life plans. Later on, it’s the fear of losing each other.

SR: Is there something you hope the reader carries away with them after they’re done reading? An insight or philosophy that you wanted to come through in your work?

BW: All of my works have women coming together to work toward a common goal, if it’s cops hunting a serial killer or characters of a different background hoping to change society to the better (in the case of Cypher, undo some of the cruel reality that is part of their world). I even did it with vampires and witches in RISE. It’s important to me to convey that vision, even if it doesn’t always happen in the real world. I’d like to think that most women and men would prefer equality, but I focus on women(-loving women) protagonists in my books.

SR:  Cage match between you and your protagonist. It’s a fight to the death. Which one of you will be left standing, and why.

BW: I’d like to think we’d both turn on the villain that organized the match—though I’d have to admit that the majority of my characters would be better equipped to fight said villain.

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

BW: I think every book I loved, or left me with a strong emotional reaction, has shaped that desire. It’s a rush to experience those reactions while writing and creating a world out of nothing, and it’s even more of a rush when readers “buy it”—pun intended. When a reader tells me they couldn’t put the book down, it makes me completely giddy—because I know how that feels.

SR:  What’s the best thing about writing?

BW: Writing.

SR:  What’s the worst thing about writing?

BW: Not writing (for whatever reason).

SR: Are you drawn to things that are really popular or wary of them? Do you find it helps you to market your work if you’re familiar with what’s currently selling or do you ignore all of that and focus on what you’re interested in?

BW: Sometimes I take a look, sometimes I don’t—it’s often a spur of the moment decision. Sometimes I’m far behind the trend and quickly have to finish the books, because the movie is coming out in a couple of weeks…As for marketing, not all mainstream trends apply to lesbian fiction (where all genres co-exist under that one roof). For example, romance is always the biggest seller here and there. However, when a friend mentioned domestic suspense on social media—often a female protagonist finding out her husband might or might not have some dark secrets—I realized I hadn’t come across any stories of the kind in F/F fiction. Of course, equal marriage written into law isn’t that old, so we have a lot of catching up to do on HEAs first.

SR: What movie or TV world do you wish you could live in? Why?

BW: Ocean’s Eight. How much fun would that be?

SR: You strike it rich. What charity are you going to create or support?

BW: I would love to give a ton of money to organizations that care for women who have experienced violence, be it random, in the home or in a war zone. I think you need to build a good, free society from the ground up, and that includes the eradication of child “marriage,” expanding choice and so many other things. LGBT organizations. Invest in science and also conveying to the public why it matters…how much money are we talking again? I’d also love to go beyond and be able to produce media, increase the representation of lesbian characters in all genres. I have many ideas.

SR: What factors influence you when you’re choosing a book to read?

BW: The blurb, most of all. If the characters sound compelling and I want to know more about them, I’ll want to check out the book.

SR: Where can people catch up with you?

BW: Come talk to me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/barbarawinkes) or Facebook  (www.facebook.com/AuthorBarbaraWinkes), or follow me on BookBub (www.bookbub.com/profile/barbara-winkes) to stay up to date with new releases and sales.


Barbara Winkes has visited us to talk about Secrets, done Secrets casting call, chatted about The Amnesia Project and talked about The Amnesia Project’s soundtrack.

Barbara Winkes writes suspense and romance with lesbian characters at the center. She has always loved stories in which women persevere and lift each other up. Expect high drama and happy endings.

Discover a variety of genres, serial and standalone. Women loving women always take the lead.