Q&A with Rena Olsen, author of The Girl Before

I am so thankful to Rena Olsen for accepting to do this author Q&A surrounding her amazing debut novel, The Girl Before.

The Girl Before is a past paced psychological thriller that’s a 2016 must read. I fell in love with the novel from page one. I urge all mystery thriller lovers to get on Amazon or to your local bookstore and purchase this immediately!

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1. What inspired you to write a novel? Has writing always been an interest of yours or was it something that came about suddenly?
I’ve always liked to write, since I was elementary school. Making up stories has always been second nature to me. My dolls and Barbies had epic adventures through jungles and exotic locales, and my daydreams were elaborate and often continuous…where I left off one moment I would pick up the next time I had free time to sit and stare into my own imagination. In third grade, I tried my writing chops and won the short story contest for my grade level in the entire state of Iowa. I won a few other contests as I got older, but honestly didn’t think about trying to write a book until my mid-twenties. My first novel was written after someone told me about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated) and I had to give it a shot, because I’m not one to pass by a challenge, especially one concerning words. After the first one, I wanted to keep going. In all, I’ve written 6 novels. THE GIRL BEFORE was the fourth I wrote.

2. You were really in tune to your characters thoughts and feelings, especially Clara and Glen’s, was this thanks to your creative mind or did you have any real life influences?
I think my creative mind mixed with my therapeutic background helped me to really step into the shoes of my characters. I’ve always had a big imagination, as I said above, and my training in psychology and therapy has helped open my eyes to the way many different groups and people think. Human behavior is fascinating, and I wanted to bring an understanding to the behaviors of my characters, even if they were doing things the reader might not agree with or approve of. None of my characters are based off of any real life people, but I probably do take characteristics from others to fill things out a bit. However, each character reacts in their own unique way based on the combination of attributes they possess.

3. Your book cover was what drew me to your book while browsing through Amazon. I think it’s really unique and an interesting design. So how did you come up with the design for your book cover?
I can’t take credit for anything other than squealing with delight when my publisher sent me the cover image, and then crying when I got the finished copy and realized it was soft and textured and amazing. This was actually my second cover. I liked my first cover, but I ADORE the final cover. The team at Putnam did a remarkable job coming up with something that perfectly matched the tone of the book. It is eye-catching and I believe it’s one that people will pick up solely because of the cover.

4. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors out there on how to keep themselves focused on writing their novels? Did you have a special time or day to write, and how was that time structured?
Set goals. Do writing sprints with other writers. (A writing sprint is where you set a time, usually 20-30 minutes, and write like the wind, then compare notes and take a 5-10 minute break, then repeat.) Find the time that works best for YOU to write, no matter what anyone else says. Some people get up and write for an hour before they start their day. Others, like me, are night owls, and do best creatively at in the middle of the night or the wee hours of the morning. My time is not typically very structured. I start around 9 or 10 at night and write until I’m done for the day, whether that’s by 11 or midnight or 1am. I usually try to set a word count goal ahead of time. 1-2K is pretty typical for me, but I’m a fast drafter and can usually get that done in an hour or two. Basically I’m saying I have no rhyme or reason to how the words flow 😉 I do have a full-time day job, so even if I could write in the middle of the day, it wouldn’t be possible.

5. Are you planning on (or currently) writing another novel in the near future? If so, are you able to spill the beans on what it will be about?
I am currently working on another psychological thriller for Putnam. I haven’t totally worked on my pitch for it, but in the most general terms possible, it’s a reverse fairy tale, where the happily ever after isn’t the end, and the after isn’t so happy.

6. If The Girl Before was ever turned into a movie which actors and actresses could you picture playing the lead roles? (Clara, Glen, Mama Mae, Papa G and Connor)
Honestly, I don’t know who I would pick for most of the cast. I get this question a lot and I haven’t had a chance to really scour the internet for photos of people who might fit the descriptions for most. I’d probably want the roles to go to unknowns (not that I would actually have that power!). HOWEVER, I have dreamcast Theo James as Connor, and I tell everyone to read it with him in mind.

7. Lastly, what is your favourite book, why, and did you take any influences from it?
What are you trying to do, asking me to pick a favorite book? How dare you!! Just kidding. But really. There’s no way to pick. I am a definite Harry Potter fan, those all definitely go near the top. Anything by Ray Bradbury, but particularly Fahrenheit 451. Why? With Harry Potter, what’s NOT to love? Magic and friendships and amazing story-telling that transcends age and generations. From JK Rowling I took great examples of characterization, of each character being its very OWN person. And with as many characters as are in those books, that’s super impressive. No cookie-cutters. And the characters stayed true to themselves throughout the books. That’s very difficult to do, especially when you want them to act a certain way to drive your story. Characters can be pretty oppositional. Same with Bradbury, that characterization. You FEEL for the characters, even the ones who are only in the book for a short time. You KNOW them, no matter how brief their appearance, because Montag (the MC) knows them. Plus, Bradbury’s storytelling makes the social commentary thrown in more that palatable to those who might not otherwise pay attention to his observations. Masters.


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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!

Social media:
Website: renaolsen.com
Twitter: @originallyrena
Facebook: RenaOlsenWriter
Instagram: @rosmiles

3 thoughts on “Q&A with Rena Olsen, author of The Girl Before

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