Sunday, 1 March 2015

A Notepad and a Dream - Rena Olsen

In a new series I'm calling 'A Notepad and a Dream', I'll be interviewing up-and-coming authors about their books, their writing process and their future plans.  If you have a book shortly due for release and would like to take part, or know someone else who would, please let me know via the 'Contact Me' page above.

In the first 'A Notepad and a Dream' episode, we'll be meeting American author Rena Olsen.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your novel?

I’m really quite boring. I live in the heartland of America, central Iowa, where we do, in fact, have indoor plumbing AND the internet. I work as a therapist with children in an inner city elementary school, which basically means I get to talk about cartoons and play games all day. My book, THE GIRL BEFORE, is about a woman who discovers the family she’s always known isn’t quite what they’ve claimed to be. It explores the world of human trafficking, but from a unique perspective. There isn’t a firm release date yet, but it should be available late 2016 from Putnam.

What made you want to write this book?

A few years ago, a friend introduced me to the End It movement, a push to raise awareness and end human trafficking. Honestly at that point I wasn’t even aware of what a huge problem modern day slavery is in the world. In my city! I started researching and read a lot of stories, and it got me to thinking about what it would be like to grow up in that world. From that, Clara, my main character, was born.

What are the central themes of your novel, and why did you choose these?

Wow, what a fancy question! Clearly, human trafficking is a big piece of the novel, but the main focus is Clara’s own perception of her world and her life, and how that changes as she is introduced to new facts and circumstances. I really strive to make all my characters multidimensional, and their circumstances believable. I’m not sure if you would call it a “theme,” but the psychological aspect of each character is super important. In simple terms, the themes that stand out most for me are love, truth, and redemption.

What would you say are your main influences?

This is the question where I’m supposed to impress with my big name influences, yes? It would be impossible to list all of them. I read close to 200 books a year, and each author adds to my own prowess as a writer. I try to capture the whimsy of authors like JK Rowling, CS Lewis, and JRR Tolkien, along with the ever-present wisdom they bury within an entertaining narrative. My biggest influence is Ray Bradbury. The way he is able to tell a story and still accurately capture the climate of various social and political issues is nothing short of magic. He is a master.

What would you say is your particular strength as an author?

As mentioned above, I really pay attention to the psychological aspects of each character. Strengths and weaknesses, likable and unlikable characteristics of each player. Because of that, my characters tend to be very distinct in their voice and actions. I’ve always loved dialogue, partially because the characters are always so opinionated on how they speak and what they say. Getting to write them playing off each other is probably the most fun I have when writing.

What are your future plans?

Well, I just received my edit letter from my editor today, so after I finish panicking, I’ll dive into revisions on THE GIRL BEFORE. The deal with Putnam was for two books, so after revisions are finished, I’ll pluck one of the many ideas from my brain and get to work on book 2. These books are for an adult audience, but I would like to be able to share some of my young adult writing with the world someday. Beyond that, I just hope to be able to keep writing for as long as the stories come to me. Most of all, I plan to keep dreaming.

This entry will be updated with links when THE GIRL BEFORE is available to purchase.


  1. Great interview!!!

  2. Congratulations, Rena! I can't wait to read it!

  3. Great interview! <3 Dreams come true!