Author Crush Friday with Kayla Olson
Glitter girls, you have pressing questions for your favorite authors and we have their answers. Welcome to our weekly segment, Author Crush Fridays.
We love asking questions and we love the answers from some of our favorite authors. Today we’re talking to Kayla Olson, the author of the near-future sci-fi YA, The Sandcastle Empire (June 6, 2017; HarperTeen), which has already been optioned by Paramount. Thank you for talking to us today, Kayla! We’re honored!
GLITTER: Tell us five random facts about yourself.
KAYLA: 1: I spent two summers living in Shanghai, China, and would love to go back!
2: I’ve had more traumatic haircuts than anyone I know, so if you ask…be prepared for a very long story that includes phrases such as “Medusa hair” and “hair ripped out by giant drill” and “stylist left in tears”…
3: The only movie I can quote is Waiting for Guffman (and I can basically do the entire movie).
4: I once auditioned for Survivor, and would go on The Amazing Race in a heartbeat—my sister would have to do all the heights challenges, though. And any challenges involving snakes, because no.
5: When I was eleven, I attempted to knit a turtleneck sweater for my cat. It did not go over well.
GLITTER: Tell us about your journey to become a writer.
KAYLA: While I’ve always been a big reader, and have written in journals since approximately fourth grade, I didn’t pursue fiction until after college. I clearly remember working as a Starbucks barista, feeling grateful for the job but not creatively fulfilled. Around the same time, I read the entire Harry Potter series and binged four seasons of Lost episodes—I was blown away by the creativity in both, and something just clicked. I felt this pressing need to create something intricate, something intriguing. Once I had a decent idea to work with, I sat down at my desk and never looked back. That first idea was eight years and several projects ago, so it’s hardly been a short road—or an easy one—but each idea I pursue brings something new and challenging. The act of creating these projects is so satisfying for me, and I’m thrilled to finally have one hitting bookstore shelves!
GLITTER: Did our current political climate help shape some of what happens in the book?
KAYLA: The first spark of the idea for The Sandcastle Empire came to me in late 2013, and I wrote the bulk of the book over the next year and a half—though some aspects of the book feel eerily relevant to our current political climate, they weren’t shaped by it in any specific way.
GLITTER: We know film rights have been sold to Paramount, will you be involved with the script writing?
KAYLA: While I’ve always wanted to try my hand at writing a screenplay, I’d love to start out by writing something low-pressure instead of going straight to this—I’m super excited to see how someone with solid screenwriting experience approaches it!
GLITTER: Describe The Sandcastle Empire in 160 characters or less.
KAYLA: Survival—but at what cost?
GLITTER: Did you always want to be an author? Did you ever feel like giving up? Did you receive rejection letters in the beginning? How did you get over them?
KAYLA: Once I set my heart on being an author, it definitely felt like the most perfect thing I could be doing for who I am—but I also knew I couldn’t control much of anything along the way. I remember thinking, before I started querying literary agents, that while I had worked incredibly hard to create a book I was pleased with and proud of, I had no control over if it would land with the right agent at the right time, or if they’d connect with it enough to take it on.
The querying process for that book wasn’t bad for me—this was not Sandcastle, but the book I wrote right before it. That book landed with the perfect agents, and I love them dearly! When we sent it out to editors, though, it was not such a smooth process. We got so many “we love the writing, please send us whatever she’s working on next!” responses; those were incredibly encouraging…and incredibly heartbreaking.
Rather than giving up, I threw all my hope into that next thing, an idea I’d kept at the back of my mind for a while. There was a point along the way while revising that new project where I wondered whether it was worth it to spend so much time, and give so much heart, without knowing if anyone would ever want to publish it—but in the end, I realized I loved the process no matter what. I loved the act of creating, of putting together the puzzle of a story, and I don’t think I would’ve been happy if I’d just…stopped. That was the year I learned to write because I love it, not just because someone else wanted what I was putting out there—and I’m very glad I pressed on, because that project ended up becoming The Sandcastle Empire.
GLITTER: Do you have any crazy writing rituals?
KAYLA: I often write in coffee shops, but am easily distracted by music or loud conversations. In order to drown all that out, I started listening to a thunderstorm track whenever I needed to concentrate. Now, five or six years later, it is by far the most played track I own, and whenever I turn it on, it puts me in a focused headspace. I’m listening to it right now, actually!
GLITTER: One thing you can’t write without?
KAYLA: Scrivener!! I use the Scrivener software for every step of my process—their full-screen blackout mode is wonderful for drafting, and they have so many useful features that make my revision process organized and efficient! I’ve converted many a writer to using it, because it’s just that great.
GLITTER: What is one thing you are most passionate about in life?
KAYLA: BREAKFAST TACOS!! I could easily give an entire talk about how you can’t just throw eggs and potatoes and cheese into a tortilla and expect it to be amazing—I have very specific preferences when it comes to breakfast tacos, I’m finding! (Favorites: Austin Java and Tacodeli, both in Austin, Texas) On a more serious note, I’m quite passionate about the most wonderful little guy my husband and I get to raise—he’s brilliant and kind, and it’s a joy to watch him grow.
GLITTER: What are you currently working on?
KAYLA: I’m currently revising the project that will become my Fall 2018 book! I can’t say too much about it just yet, but I will say that it feels very me, despite being quite different on the surface from The Sandcastle Empire—it’s another survival story, with another tight-knit ensemble cast. I’ll share more on my social media channels as soon as I can! (Instagram: @authorkaylaolson / Twitter: @olsonkayla)
Once upon a time, I was the girl who made your latte at the Starbucks drive-thru. And your bank teller. And the girl who handed you your chicken biscuit at the local Chick-Fil-A. I was the girl whose drawer was always balanced down to the penny, the girl who tucked her massive curls under mandatory hats, the girl who learned how to keep a smile on her face for customer after customer because, really, one smile can make a huge difference in someone’s day.
Those jobs were important, and I was grateful for them. At the end of monotonous days, though, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something out there that used more of me than just my smile, or my patience, or my ability to balance a drawer.
I’ve always loved to create, and at that point in time, I’d been neglecting that side of myself for a while. I realized I had a strong desire to imagine worlds and characters, to find the precise words to convey them, to arrange my ideas on the page in just the right way. I’ve always loved puzzles, and the challenge of being disciplined, perseverant, and patient until I get them right. One day, it occurred to me that writing a novel would require all of those things and more. Bonus: I could do it from my desk at home, and I didn’t need much—except time and determination—to get started.
So I sat down one day and got to work, inspired by the huge worlds of Harry Potter and Lost. I never looked back.
Fast forward (several) years later: on this website, you’ll see only the tip of the iceberg. You won’t see the quiet, early mornings or the late, bleary-eyed nights. You won’t see the dirty coffee mugs, the journals filled with revision notes, the manuscripts set aside for now (or forever), the headaches and heartbreaks, the string of no that led to a life-changing yes.
If you pick up The Sandcastle Empire, if you read it—and I don’t take for granted that you will—thank you. And if you’re a writer currently in the midst of a string of no, hang in there. Only you can write that book, and I’m rooting for you.