21 February 2007

Author Answers with Gregg Olsen

Author Answers this week is trying to get you excited for a new book release. Gregg Olsen's debut novel A Wicked Snow comes out soon. Olsen's written true crime books, but this is his first venture into making it all up.

WN: Your first novel comes out soon; why should readers pick the book up?
OLSEN: Kind of a tricky question. I hope people pick it up because they are curious about what a true crime writer can do with fiction. It is such a huge switch. I'd like to think that the story of Hannah Griffin's search for her mother, keeps them glued to the pages.

WN: What's the transition been like from switching from true crime to writing fiction?
OLSEN: I hate to say it, because it will make me sound silly, but it is so much easier to write fiction. Let me explain. With true crime writing, I have to be so mindful of every word on the page. All of it must be true or I could wind up in court. I?m also dealing with real people's lives and they are quite messy. With fiction I can sew up the edges in a nice neat package. No loose ends. That's kind of fun for a writer who had spent his whole life dealing with the loose ends of real crime cases.

WN: Is it harder than you thought it would be?
OLSEN: Easier in some ways. But to be fair, I?d have to say it is much harder to make the switch from a publishing perspective. Publishers never want a writer to change genres because they can never be sure that readers will follow. I hope they do with A WICKED SNOW.

WN: How do you pick the subjects for your true crime books?
OLSEN: The litmus test for me is: Am I willing to spend a couple of years with the people central to the crime? Is there a social issue worth tackling? With Mary Kay Letourneau, the whole idea of a teacher raping a student was such an unheard of story that I just had to do it. With Abandoned Prayers, I wanted to know more about how the Amish lived in today's world.

WN: Once you have a subject, what's the research/writing process like?
OLSEN: For me, it is all about the research. I interview every single person associated with the case, at least every one that will talk to me. I NEVER rely on the court testimony, except as a back up for my own research and questions. I start from the outside of a case, and work inside.

WN: What's the best part of being a writer to you?
OLSEN: As a true crime writer, the best part is that I have a passport into other people's lives, other words. My own life is pretty mundane, but the people I write about are extraordinary in some way.

WN: What's the most challenging part of writing for you?
OLSEN: It really isn't the writing. It is the knowing when to buck up and get it done. Stop the research. Stop the procrastination and start typing.
Knowing that I'll never have all the answers and living with that is the hardest part.

WN: How did you feel when you first saw your name on the cover of a book?
OLSEN: The truth is the publishing process is so long that by the time the book comes out, much of the thrill is gone. You are already on to another project. My biggest thrill came completely unexpected. In 2003, a reissue of my first book hit number 7 on the New York Times paperback list. It just happened. No warning. No one was trying. That was awesome.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
OLSEN: For my true crime, it was Small Sacrifices by Ann Rule and Son by Jack Olsen. I read those books and thought, hmmmm, I want to do that. And I did. Both Ann and Jack were mentors of mine. For fiction, as a writer, it was the early Patricia Cornwell books. I read those and thought, hmmm, I want to do that.

WN: What is your favorite word and why?
OLSEN: This one stumps me. I could say hope or faith, but that seems like I'm just trying too hard. My favorite word at this moment is chocolate. My wife made some homemade brownies tonight and I'm still thinking, chocolate.

WN: What piece of advice helped you out the most as a writer?
OLSEN: Write something every day. Even if you think you have nothing to say. I tell everyone starting out, that's the key.

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