Interview: Melissa F. Olson

      

Images used with author permission.

I had the amazing pleasure to see Melissa F. Olson read from her book DEAD SPOTS and let me tell you, it is a page turner! Olson combines vampires, werewolves, witches, and the main character Scarlett is a null (and you’ll have to read the book to find out the implications of that), to give a fresh and fast paced read. I had a chance to catch up with her afterwards to ask a few questions and below is the resulting interview.

AH: Which supernatural creature did you have the most fun writing in Dead Spots and why?

MO: In this book I had a good time with the vampires. Villains are always fun to write, and I certainly had fun writing Ariadne, who’s like the slutty Goth version of Miss Havershim from Great Expectations. But more evil. I also really enjoy writing Scarlett’s vampire roommate Molly, because she’s so charming and fun, like the witty best friend in a romantic comedy, and then she’ll say or do something that reminds you she’s a bloodsucking fiend.

AH: Your book titles are very straightforward, especially with Trail of Dead as you explain on your website. Is there a specific reason you’ve chosen to title your works in this way and do you think it will change in the future?

MO: Usually I think titles are incredibly difficult to come up with, but both Dead Spots and Trail of Dead just kind of came naturally with the story circumstances: Dead Spots is that novel’s title because Scarlett is a dead space in the supernatural world, and because she stumbles into this clearing of corpses, and, to get a little bit artsy, because she’s pretty much dead inside after the things that happened in her past. I felt really lucky to come up with Dead Spots, and then realized I could piggyback onto a lot of those ideas with Trail of Dead, although I won’t go into detail because it might spoil the end of the first book.

In the future, I’d like to get away from the “dead” motif in my titles, though, because Charlaine Harris is already the queen of that particular list of puns. Maybe I’ll do a new set of puns with the color scarlet. There could be a book where she gets an anonymous death threat through the mail called Scarlett’s Letter, and one where she gets hit by a car called Smear of Scarlett. In yet another sequel she could team up with Justin Bieber to fight crime, and it could be called Scarlett (Bieber) Fever. And so on.

AH: What have been the easiest and hardest parts about being a published author?

MO: The hardest part is probably balancing my family life and my writing, especially before I really had an agent or publisher. At that time, every minute I took to write kind of felt like a minute I was taking away from my family, and there was no guarantee I would ever find any success with it. It felt like ditching the people who needed me so I could go gambling.

In that sense, I’m not sure there’s been an “easiest” part of being a published author; it’s more like a sense of relief, a loosening of pressure. Now that I’ve been published my writing has a new validation to it: I’m not taking time away from my family to play a giant slot machine, I’m taking time away to work at a job that I happen to love.

AH:  If you could visit any country in the world to take a writing vacation, where would you go?

MO: Great question. I’d want to go with somewhere with gorgeous weather (for me, that’s about 70 degrees and no humidity) and lots of beautiful scenery but no specific landmarks or tourist attractions, because then I’d want to go sightseeing instead of working. Maybe somewhere near the mountains in Nepal, or the cliffs in Ireland.

AH: Your adorable dog Max makes a cameo in Dead Spots. What is your opinion on talking animals and can we expect to hear some form of dog speak from Max?

MO: Ah, talking animals. I happen to love when dogs get a voice on paper, if it’s done right. I own the book version of Texts From Dog, and I’ve probably read through it fifty times. There’s a novel called Turning in Circles Before Lying Down about a woman who can suddenly hear her dog’s thoughts, and he’s hysterical (though he makes me glad Max is neutered; that dog can’t stop talking about sex). Harry Dresden’s spookily perceptive dog Mouse is one of the great characters in Jim Butcher’s series, and we get to actually hear what he has to say in one novel. I also like Kevin Hearne’s series about an immortal Druid who has a mind-link with his Irish Wolfhound, Oberon, but I do get awfully skeptical about Oberon’s college-level vocabulary and diverse interests in history and culture. That’s pushing the suspension of disbelief a bit too far for me.

I doubt I’ll ever write Max’s actual voice, unless I found a clever, magically-believable way to insert it, the way Butcher does. But I love putting him in the books, because I think Max is one-of-a-kind. He deserves to be immortalized, and until they perfect pet-cloning, this is the best I can do.

AH: You mentioned that there might be another book after Trail of Dead. What’s next for you after this series?

I hope to keep writing Scarlett books for as long as I find her interesting, and not a moment longer. I have a few different projects to work on during or after that series, though, and they’re all non-supernatural: I’ve been kicking around an idea about the relationship between two sisters for about a year, and my master’s thesis could be expanded to be book-length as soon as I get a chance. At some point I’d like to rewrite the first book I wrote, which is still unpublished, and I’ve also had a screenplay that’s missing an ending sitting on my desk for about four years; it’d be nice to finish that up. I hate having unfinished projects, so ideally I’d like to get all four of those things done before I start thinking about a new idea. Knowing me, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if I get sidetracked. It does tend to happen.

Melissa F. Olson is the author of DEAD SPOTS and the upcoming sequel TRAIL OF DEAD. For more information, please visit her website www.melissafolson.com

And The Oscar Goes To…


Photo Credit: Graham Kingsley

Writing is apparently a useful skill to have. News stories in the past couple of days have highlighted a teacher using it for therapy, Real Housewife of New York Bethenny Frankel releasing a book about being a single mom after her divorce, and just recently, the Inquisitr reported on a story about a wife writing to the staff of Elle Magazine to ask advice about her husband poisoning her.

Talk about a cry for help! Writing a letter to the local police department would probably have been more effective if she was afraid the phones were tapped.

I have to give major brownie points to Brazil. Though the following is about reading and they have recently been in the news for the mass death at a nightclub, (Gawker recently did an article about the girl who used her last breath to post a Facebook status asking for help in the burning club), they have committed to expanding the horizons of prisoners.

Called “Redemption Through Reading” Brazilian inmates will be able to read up to 12 works of literature, philosophy, science or classics to trim a maximum 48 days off their sentence each year. Prisoners have no more than four weeks to read a book and write an essay, which must “make correct use of paragraphs, be free of corrections, use margins and legible joined-up writing”.

It sounds like an amazing idea, and while it will be reserved for the prisons’ more notorious inmates, for some reason I don’t think the night club owner will be able to apply for the program.

Awards season is upon us, and I’m not talking about the SAG Awards. I’m talking about the Young Adult Literature Awards which are basically the superbowl for young adult literature.

For entertainment value, and in honor of the great literature showcased at the Young Adult Literature Awards today, the following is a list of ten books that I found particularly interesting.

Writing can also bring prestige, a loyal tribe numbering in the thousands of (sometimes fanatic) followers, and mega financial stability—but only if your name is or resembles John Grisham, J.K. Rowling, or is listed below.

1. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
“Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common.” I really wanted to read a book about two young Latino boys and how they change each other’s lives. I think there needs to be more positive books with teenage male protagonists

2.  The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

A first person account of a gorilla, Ivan, a baby elephant Ruby, and how he grows to see his surroundings differently

3. Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schultz
Set in Victorian London 1860, the story follows a puppeteer and a young girl Clara who is spellbound by his craft.
4. Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
“Full of wisdom, humor, and grit, this timeless yarn will melt the heart of even the sternest Yankee” according to Goodreads, and I was sold at that.
5. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Historical fiction about two girls from completely different circles becoming best friends while fighting in World War II? Don’t mind if I do.
6. Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by James Dean
This just sounds like it could be by new favorite picture book—a cool cat who is completely nonchalant about his style.
7. Dodger by Terry Pratchett
The book contains lots of historical cameos and apparently Charles Dickens living vicariously through Pratchett.
8. The White Bicycle by Beverley Brenna
A few words made me take a second look at this book: Asperger’s Syndrome, Taylor Jane’s travels to the south of France and babysitting for the Phoenix family.
9. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
A story about a cancer patient, who was diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 13 and preparing to die—sounds absolutely haunting.
10. In Darkness by Nick Lake
The aftermath of a Haitian earthquake involves a boy named Shorty, whispers of Toussaint L’Ouverture, and gangsters. I’m intrigued.

If I’m in luck, my bookshelf will forgive me in a couple of years for adding sweet goodness to its bloated system.

When Words Are Born on Book Birthdays


Used with the permission of Harris Synergy Press

December means birthday month in my family. My brother’s is three days before Christmas, my father’s is three days after Christmas, and my late grandmother’s was December 13 (and nothing horrible ever happened to her when it happened to land on a Friday).  This also requires members of our family to do a precarious etiquette dance every year. To cosset my brother via capitalism love, we had to make sure he didn’t feel cheated just because he was born in the “Christmas Week Window.”

We experimented—double presents, huge parties with close friends when he was younger, buying him the same amount of presents but splitting them, making one present more expensive than the other…the list went on. We still haven’t quite figured out how to do it right but finally settled on the tradition of family birthday dinners and a present.

Thankfully, my brother has grown up unscathed and we breathe a collective sigh of relief each year when he graciously accepts his gifts sans the entitled attitude so often found in the Children of Capitalism.

Seeing as December has already received the birthday month crown, I must have been out of my mind when I decided that I wanted to include squeeze in one more birthday—my first book birthday.

I was a proud parent when my literary baby finally went out into the world last Monday. He weighed a lovely 5.5 x 8.5 inches and his firm spine was shiny and smooth when I held him. He was dressed sharply in a bright colored cover, and contained the ink blood, sweat, and yes, tears, of a frantic mother who wanted to do the best she could for him. The save the dates and press releases had been sent, the book trailer announcement prepared, and everyone was waiting for this little guy to make an appearance.

The aftershock is still hitting me—I’ve published a book through my own imprint. People have asked after my emotions and autographs and I’m still unsure about the first part. Tired, relieved, sleep deprived, hopeful, and proud could all describe the first question. The second question made me scramble to perfect an appropriate John Hancock and wonder if there were any taboos of book signings.

Fortunately and unfortunately, the work doesn’t end there. My Gerber-like book marketing plan for the next couple of years should help him to grow into a healthy, adolescent. At least until his other siblings get here, then I have to worry about (and welcome) sibling rivalry.

As I’ve reflected on this, it is amazing to look at how far I’ve come since I was fifteen jotting down scribbles in my room and how far I still need to go. I am now a brand and the book is a part of that brand. Book marketing is a tricky business because you have to completely separate yourself from your writing persona. For the past three months, I’ve been in full marketing mode. I’ve made sure my branding images are corresponding with my message, networked, and scoured the Internet for tips and tricks of book marketing. For the most part, I’m ready with a multi-year plan to make sure I’m not a one-hit-wonder.

But as I prepare to start on the sequel to The Golden Ashfruit today, I brush all that to the back of my mind and sit down to a place of quiet peace.

I remember the way a pen feels in my hand, the way black ink makes waves on white open spaces, and the sharp and clean smell of paper. I remember where words come from and how they pour onto paper like rain just when I need relief.

I remember myself. And know deep down why I am a writer.