We’re all for literary escapism, but we wouldn’t exactly call the world of Kayla Olson’s The Sandcastle Empire a dream destination — and that’s precisely what makes it such a thrilling read. Set 32 years in the future, when climate change has ravaged the Earth and a corrupt political group has taken control, Olson’s novel follows Eden as she journeys to find sanctuary and uncover secrets that might just save the world. It’s a novel so addictive, Leonardo DiCaprio snapped up film rights and is attached to produce the movie. This read totally deserves to hit the big screen. We caught up with Olson and chatted creativity, her lady heroes, and more. Scroll on to glean some wisdom from this brilliant author!
Brit + Co: Describe your book in six words or less.
Kayla Olson: Survival — but at what cost?
B+C: Where/when do you do your best writing?
KO: I do my best writing when tucked away in my office, most often in the morning. Before my son was in school, my best writing hours were in the 6-8am window. It’s wonderful to have regular, predictable, non-break-of-dawn work hours these days, but I sometimes miss writing during those early morning hours! There was always something magical about sitting down at the desk while the whole world felt dark and still.
B+C: What’s your go-to cure for when you’re stuck in a creativity rut?
KO: Several years back, a friend shared a NaNoWriMo pep talk that John Green had given. I always come back to the heart of that talk when I feel stuck, which was a spin on a Robert Frost quote: The only way out is through.
When my plan feels ambiguous, or when a draft/revision seems unwieldy and daunting, I sometimes feel like I’ve been tasked with tunneling through a mountain with a plastic spoon. But then I come back to that quote, that the only way out is through, and it helps me to sit down and start tunneling through that mountain, one tiny scoop at a time.
In practical terms, that usually looks like organizing all the information I can about an idea, re-reading what I’ve written, then journaling about it. Nine times out of 10, that will spark some new idea that helps me get going again. I’m also a big fan of giving myself permission to take a day off if my attempts to focus are fruitless; I’ve been doing this long enough now that I know the focus will come back, and that it’s okay — sometimes even beneficial — to take a day off and come back fresh the next day.
B+C: What two lady heroes do you turn to for inspiration, and why?
KO: JK Rowling, for one. I didn’t read the Harry Potter series until after college, but when I did, I binged all seven books — I was blown away by her brilliance and her creativity in creating such an incredible world and story. More than that, though, when I learned of her background, and how much persistence and heart she poured into her work when she was a single mother at rock bottom, I thought it was the most beautiful thing. So many people have read and loved her books, and the books have fostered empathy and imagination in so many minds, young and old. It’s inspiring what impact one person’s ideas can have on the world, and how hard she worked to bring those ideas to life. (Photo via Getty/Ian Gavan)
My other inspiration is my Nana, my maternal grandmother. She’s suffered more physical ailments in her lifetime than anyone I’ve ever known, yet has maintained the strongest, most unwavering faith — and a consistently joyful perspective — throughout everything she’s lived through. She’s wonderful and brilliant in every sense of the word.
B+C: What’s your latest Instagram obsession?
KO: My latest Instagram obsession is Brady Black’s @SeriousCreatures! He has such a distinct style, and everything he makes gives me serious heart-eyes. I absolutely love his perspective, and the whimsy and creativity in his art. I particularly love his #SCdrawover series, where he’ll overlay an image of his own creation on top of actual photos submitted to the account.
B+C: Can you name a book that you think deserves a little more love + recognition?
KO: I adored Claire Legrand’s Some Kind of Happiness. It’s brilliant and subtle and powerful, and I read it in a single sitting — which is extremely rare for me!
B+C: What’s next on your to-read pile?
KO: Next on my to-read list is Katie Cotugno’s Fireworks, and I’m so excited for it! I adored Katie’s debut, How to Love, and flew through her sophomore book, 99 Days. I already know I love Katie’s work, so when I heard the description for this new one (it’s “all about boy bands, girl bands, best friends, and first love” and is set in 1990s Orlando), it quickly took a place at the top of my to-read list.
B+C: What advice do you have for aspiring creative ladies?
KO: My best advice is to make a practice of finishing what you start, but also to not be afraid to shift your focus if what you’ve started feels like it seriously isn’t working. Forcing a project leads to misery, but on the flip side, if you’re constantly chasing the new and the shiny, you’ll ultimately end up unfulfilled and feeling like you’ve spent a lot of years working with not a lot to show for it.
I think it’s worth seeking out that sweet spot — the thing that feels like only you can create it, with only your voice and your perspective — and to finish that. Finishing is empowering, and it’s motivating. Each project you see all the way through will feed the next.
Who is your favorite YA author? Tweet us @BritandCo and let us know!
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(Featured photo via Jared Rey)