Although we live geographically close, I met Quenby Olson through an international Facebook group, 10 Minute Novelists. The more I read her work, the more impressed I am with her writing ability. I’m grateful she took the time to answer some questions for me!
Your published books and short story are so diverse. I get the sense both from your writer’s voice and your stylistic choices such as tense and point of view, that you read very widely. Am I correct, and what genre do you most enjoy reading?
I do read very widely! I remember in school (I was homeschooled) reading everything from Little Women to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to the latest John Grisham thriller. I also have a tendency to go through obsessive periods of reading all about a certain point in history, or the entire catalog of a single author. My favorite is probably historical, and that could be romance, non-fiction, mystery, etc. I think it’s the draw of being pulled into another time, not only another place, that I find so attractive and keeps me coming back for more.
The Half Killed take places as Spiritualism is falling out of favor in London society. Dorothea isn’t necessarily a proponent of it, but given her abilities, she’s been pressured into it since her childhood. I found it curious in the book that séances began with Christian prayer. In your research, did you learn anything about Spiritualism that surprised you?
The aspect of prayer that you mentioned was certainly surprising to me. I think we have an idea that all Spiritualists and psychics are wearing beaded shawls and gold bangles and decked out in heavy black eyeliner while they read their crystal balls, but there was a great deal of religious ceremony to it in many cases throughout its heyday in the nineteenth century. Hymns were sometimes sung, the mediums often came from upstanding families and did not lead lives – at least to the outside world – full of scandal or tawdry rumor, and it was also one of the few “professions” in that era that women could pursue without soiling their reputation. It was respectable, which is not something you think of today after decades of psychic hotlines and shops advertising palm and tarot readings with neon signs.
Both your contemporary novel Knotted and The Half-Killed, while very different, evoke the same feeling of classic literature. Using subtle detail and the smallest nuance, the reader is drawn into something much deeper and more expansive that leaves a lingering impression on the reader. What have been your biggest influences, writing-wise?
Dickens was – and is – a huge influence. He showed both the light and the dark of so many situations, so many characters, and in so doing succeeded in embedding those characters and the very feel of his settings (the griminess of London and the pervasiveness of the poverty at that time) in our popular culture well over a century later. I know that some readers don’t care for him because of his meandering, paid-by-the-word style, but I like the view his work gives us into the world at that time, even if that view is an exaggerated one in some cases. Many female authors from the nineteenth century were also a tremendous influence. The Bronte sisters, Mary Shelley, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Jane Austen . . . It’s fantastic that we have a window into the world at that time from a feminine perspective, especially a time period when we are told that women didn’t have much of a voice. It was something that truly influenced me while writing The Half Killed, and without even trying, I ended up writing a story with a wide cast of female characters who had their own world sketched out for them, with the male characters taking on the supporting roles.
You are a fellow 10 Minute Novelist, and I know you’re a busy woman. How do you juggle your writing with family and other commitments?
Haha! Very carefully, I would say. Honestly, it’s something I’ve had to learn to do. I began writing more seriously before I was married and before children, so it’s been a tremendous learning curve in striving to carve out time to write (and research, and edit, and market, and so on). Some days, it has to go on the to-do list. “Edit one chapter.” “Write for twenty minutes.” “Look up when ‘serviette’ was used more than the word ‘napkin’.” I’ve also had to switch my writing time from late at night, which was my pre-children routine, to after breakfast, which is probably the only time during the day that my brain is firing on . . . well, not ALL cylinders, but most of them. If I tried to write late at night now, I’d probably just pass out and drool on my laptop.
How do you work around – or through – all the curves life throws at you (family emergencies, loss, new babies, etc.)?
As you know, my family suffered several losses over the last year. I lost a baby, my father passed away . . . and now? Now I’m over five months pregnant (with three kids already running around the house). After the miscarriage, I found a great deal of comfort in shutting out the world around me and writing for hours on end. Words poured out of me as fast as my fingers could type them. But when my father died, my mind went a different route. I had no desire to write, to read, to create. I didn’t want to disappear into my head, because it was too much. Staying out in the noise with my husband and my mom and kids was much, much easier. Now, with another baby on the way, there’s a drive pushing me forward to complete as many projects as possible since I know that in a few more months I’ll most likely fall off the face of the earth again, managing only a few hours of sleep and possibly a few meals of questionably nutritious content getting me through each day. I’ve made no concrete plans to write or complete any stories for the second half of this year. If the muse hits at three o’clock in the morning when I’m nursing a newborn and watching a marathon of “Parks and Recreation,” great! And if I accomplish nothing more than showering once or twice a week and making certain my kids are properly fed and watered, that will be great, too!
What project(s) are you working on now?
So many. Almost all of them are historical, except for a very rough outline for the sequel to my first novel, Knotted. I’d like to have about six new works published over the course of the next year and a half, and almost all of those will run along the lines of historical mystery or historical romance. It just seems to be where my head is taking me right now.
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/QuenbyOlson/
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