This is Halloween, this is Halloween!
Hello my dear Night of Passion readers! It is time for my FAVORITE holiday. To celebrate this amazing week of contests, please welcome my friend and guest, psychological thriller author Rena Olsen! At the bottom of the blog, you’ll find directions on how to win her book!
Rena Olsen is a writer, therapist, teacher, sometimes singer, and eternal optimist. By day she tries to save the world as a school therapist, and at night she creates new worlds in her writing. Her debut novel, THE GIRL BEFORE, is now available from Putnam! Represented by Sharon Pelletier of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.
Tell us about yourself!
That is a loaded question. I was born on a cold January afternoon, almost 33 years ago. I came early, and a blizzard hit on my due date, so even then I liked to plan ahead, and some would say that was the beginning of my psychic abilities…
Skipping ahead…I live in a suburb of Des Moines, IA. I work as a supervisor for the school-based therapy outreach program at the community mental health agency for children in Des Moines. I have a team of 16 therapists in around 20 schools that I supervise, and I love my job. I live with two plants, both of which I have kept alive for quite some time now, though there have been some touch and go moments. I have six nieces and nephews that I love to spoil, two of which live just a mile from me. I’m a former pastor’s kid, or theologian’s offspring, so I moved around a lot growing up. I’ve lived in the same town for 8 years, which is the longest I’ve lived anywhere. I would love to share my library with you, but it’s only been a year since I moved into my house, so I’m not completely unpacked yet. I don’t like to rush things. I write at night and on weekends, and The Girl Before is my first published book, but the fourth book I completed.
I am holding in my hands your debut book The Girl Before! Tell us about the book.
Blurb: In this powerful psychological suspense debut, when a woman’s life is shattered, she is faced with a devastating question: What if everything she thought was normal and good and true . . . wasn’t?
Clara Lawson is torn from her life in an instant. Without warning, her home is invaded by armed men, and she finds herself separated from her beloved husband and daughters. The last thing her husband yells to her is to say nothing.
In chapters that alternate between past and present, the novel slowly unpeels the layers of Clara’s fractured life. We see her growing up, raised with her sisters by the stern Mama and Papa G, becoming a poised and educated young woman, falling desperately in love with the forbidden son of her adoptive parents. We see her now, sequestered in an institution, questioned by men and women who call her a different name—Diana—and who accuse her husband of unspeakable crimes. As recollections of her past collide with new revelations, Clara must question everything she thought she knew, to come to terms with the truth of her history and to summon the strength to navigate her future.
Reviews: “I couldn’t put it down. The novel is compelling, perplexing, and ultimately uplifting! The unusual structure is a perfect match for the magnetic voice of the central character. I predict this daring debut novel will make Rena Olsen “the girl ahead” among psychological suspense authors.”—Karen Harper, New York Times bestselling author of Upon a Winter’s Night
“A disturbing story, haunting and important.”—Alexandra Burt, author of Remember Mia
“Daring, harrowing, and absolutely riveting.”—Sandra Block, author of Little Black Lies
It also received two starred reviews on Booklist from two separate reviewers.
That sounds brilliant! I cannot wait to sink my teeth into it! (Halloween pun very intended). How do you do your research?
I read. A LOT. For this book I read numerous personal accounts of human trafficking. I also watched the documentary Nefarious, and went to several speakers who spoke about the topic, both those who have been pulled into the world of human trafficking and the agencies who are working to end it. A21.com, enditmovement.com, and Polaris.com were my go-to sources, but I had many others.
Does your research/ your writing ever give you nightmares? Human Trafficking is terrifying.
Honestly, it doesn’t, and I think it’s more because for me writing about dark stuff is cathartic. As a therapist working with kids, I hear a lot of horrific stories. None of them are used in my writing, obviously, but the feelings they evoke fuel some of the darker parts. I always know there is going to be a shred of hope somewhere in the story as well, even when I’m writing the scariest parts, and that helps me through it. My dreams remain mostly random and weird, just the way I like them.
Do you prefer football or hockey? Beer or wine? Chocolate or vanilla?
Hockey, but only if I’m actually there.
Wine, definitely, light and fruity, not dry.
What is wrong with you? Why would you make me choose?? Chocolate cake, vanilla ice cream.
What are some of your favorite songs to write to?
I don’t have music when I write unless it’s instrumental, and even that is rare. If I listen to music, I sing along. If I sing along, the lyrics make it onto the page, or no words make it onto the page because I’ve abandoned my computer to dance around and sing into my hairbrush. I basically need it to be pretty quiet, although I can usually do pretty well writing in a coffee shop or other public area.
Who are some authors you love to read when you find time?
So many. How can I pick? I love finding new authors to read. I love reading things by people I know. I love Maureen Johnson, Maggie Stiefvater, Victoria Schwab, Susan Dennard. Ray Bradbury is an old and always favorite. J.K. Rowling, of course. Rick Riordan. How much space do you have?
(Readers, can I point out that Rena’s and my mutual love for Maggie Stiefvater is a defining friendship characteristic?)
Scariest or silliest Halloween costume you’ve ever had?
This is maybe a bad place to mention that I’ve never been terribly into Halloween. It’s not that I don’t like it, it was just never a thing. I lived next to an old country church when I was little, and my parents didn’t want to drive us into town to go trick-or-treating, so they bought us candy and we just hung out on Halloween. When we moved to town, I went a couple years, but I was getting too old. I’ve been a princess and a bear. My friends and I once dressed as the “Pussy Cat Dolls” which was pretty much just us in cat ears.
One thing that was a little weird about the town I lived in for a while was that every year you had to be careful because of high schoolers out “flouring.” Did you guys ever do that? There was a ban on teens buying flour, toilet paper, and eggs for several weeks before Halloween, and on the night they would get in the backs of trucks and throw baggies of flour at unsuspecting trick-or-treaters, or have all-out flour fights between trucks. The next day the town was covered in broken bags of flour. If the people preparing the bags were really big jerks, they’d add water to the bags. I got bruised from one of those.
I have never heard of flouring – how crazy!
Are you planning on dress up this year? If so, what are you going to be?
I’m a really lazy costumer. So, I would wear cloud pajamas and carry a water bottle and when someone asks what I am, I would spray them and say, “Cloudy with a chance of showers.” I don’t know if I’ve ever had an “official” costume. I was a “graduate” once, and I wore my mom’s college graduation gown. I was a “street dancer,” so I wore hip-hop gear. I was a hobo one year, so just old clothes. Last year I was Lazy Hermione, so all I did was braid my hair to make it kinky, wear a Gryffindor scarf, and carry a wand.
What is up next for you?
Lunch. Maybe a nap.
JK that’s probably not what you meant. I’m currently working on my next book for Putnam. It’s another psychological thriller that I hope everyone will love. Beyond that, I have many ideas, but I’m not sure which direction I’ll go. Stay tuned!
How to haunt Rena:
Rena, thank you so much for your very amusing and fun interview! If you’d like to win an autographed copy of Rena’s book The Girl Before, simply post a bad halloween joke in the comments. Please make sure you are signed in. Anonymous comments will be disqualified. There will be one winner and one runner up. Runner up will get an autographed copy of my paranormal romance novella Hunting Witch Hazel.
Contest open to United States only, winners randomly chosen. Contest ends October 31st at 11:59pm. Winners will be announced in the comments on November 1st. Contest is void where prohibited by law.
On this day in 1954 – The first Walt Disney television show “Disneyland” premiered on ABC.
Hunting Witch Hazel: Now available
Threat of Raine: 2016
Rosemary for Remembrance: 2016