She’s one of the rising stars of urban fantasy, a fellow 47North author who shares my love of Joss Whedon, and a writer with the most inventive take on vampires since Bela Lugosi. Melissa Olson — author of Dead Spots and Trail of the Dead — graciously took time out of her hectic schedule to let me interview her. We talked about her books, her path to publication, and her Road Warrior days in LA (among other things). Please read the interview and visit her website, melissafolson.com for more about this Amazon Bestselling Author.
RC: Can you tell us a little about your books and your main character, Scarlett Bernard?
MFO: Sure! My protagonist, Scarlett Bernard, is a young woman in Los Angeles with a very specialized ability: she’s one of the rare humans who nullifies supernatural forces. So within about ten feet of her, vampires, werewolves, and witches all become human again.
RC: Like me, you have written books in genres that some people consider overdone (Me: zombies, You: vampires, etc). How do you defend yourself from this sort of accusation?
MFO: I get comments or complaints about the oversaturation of the genre all the time, always from people who HAVEN’T read the books yet. Everyone assumes I’m either raking in the dough because “that’s big right now,” or I just chew up and spit out clichés to earn a buck. Or both. But I just tell them the truth: I always said I wasn’t going to write an urban fantasy unless I thought of something I hadn’t seen done before. When I came up with the idea of the null, I finally felt like I had something original to say. This is my favorite genre to read, and the amazing thing about it is that people keep coming up with fresh approaches.
RC: How long did it take to get published? How did it feel?
MFO: It took about a year of shopping Dead Spots around before my agent sold it to 47North. I found out a few days before Christmas, 2011, and nobody could top that present. (I think my second-best gift was a Kindle.) It felt very vindicating. Deciding to be a writer is like slowly edging out farther and farther out into a fog. There’s no guaranty you’ll get anywhere. I felt like the years of struggling to grab as much time as I could for writing were finally worth it.
RC: When someone is driving slow in the passing lane and you’re in a hurry, how do you react?
MFO: It takes a lot for me to get really upset by someone’s bad driving. If the slow lane is clear, I just shrug and go around. I can’t even say I did things differently when I lived in LA, because during my first week at USC, they told us that one third of LA drivers keep a gun in the car. I still don’t know if that was true, but it sure makes you think twice about using that horn.
RC: Are there any particular themes that you like to explore in your books?
MFO: A writer named Daryl Gregory once said at a conference that he always thinks he’s being so creative and original, and then he realizes he’s bringing many of the same themes and histories to each new work. That happens to me, too. Dead Spots was the second novel that I completed, and by the time I started Trail of Dead it occurred to me that my heroines always think they know exactly where their lives are going, and then their paths take a sudden sharp turn. Just like me – I got a degree in film, and was planning to be a TV showrunner in LA. Then, suddenly sharp turn. So I like to look at what people become when they can’t be who they planned.
RC: What authors have influenced you most?
MFO: Jim Butcher and Joss Whedon come to mind first. Laurel K. Hamilton when I was young, before the Anita Blake books got so…er…explicit. I read the first five or so Anita books at a formative age, and they blew my mind.
RC: Coffee or Coke?
MFO: DIET Coke. I have a problem. It’s been confirmed by medical professionals. I drink tea in the morning, too (coffee makes me yak), but it’s just so I can pretend I don’t have a problem. I’m not fooling anyone.
RC: You’re a Wisconsin girl who went to LA. Can you tell us a little about that and talk about the differences between the two?
MFO: What difference? I don’t know what you’re talking about. No, I moved from a small town (13,000 people) in northern Wisconsin to LA for school when I was 18. It really defined the whole concept of “culture shock.” My upbringing was very sheltered and safe, which was great in one sense, but then LA kind of knocked me for a loop. I ended up loving it while I was there, but I’m not sure I could go back now that I have kids. Madison, Wisconsin is a happy medium because it’s a small city where I can see indie movies, get decent sushi, and afford a house with a backyard. I visit both my hometown and Los Angeles whenever I can, though. I’m always happy to go, and always happy to come back.
RC: Twizzlers or Chocolate?
MFO: Chocolate. I hate being the stereotypical woman who loves chocolate, but what are you gonna do. I also don’t know anything about cars and I have a history of bursting into tears when yelled at by an authority figure (which is why I no longer recognize any authority figures). But hey, spending too much time worrying about not being a stereotype is just letting the people who care about such things win.
RC: What advice do you have for writers trying to publish their first book?
MFO: Never sit down at a table that you can’t walk away from. First-time authors have choices now. At the same time, no matter where you are in the industry, be prepared to market the hell out of yourself. For me, writing is necessary – I feel itchy if I go too long without doing it. But marketing is a job. That I sometimes enjoy.
RC: Paper or plastic?
MFO: Paper. I’ve come to reluctantly accept that my four-year-old likes crafts.
RC: How do you find time to write with children and a full-time job?
MFO: Well, now that I’m on book three, I can get a babysitter to come a couple of afternoons a week. I also have a loving, gracious spouse who wants to read the books faster than I can write them. Excellent babysitter and book-loving spouse, those are the keys to any success I have.
RC: When the zombies rise up, what is your plan of action?
Surrender? I would not survive the zombpocalypse; I have too many health problems. I am literally incapable of running, for example. So I’d probably just do whatever I could to make sure my kids were safe, and that someone was helping my husband raise them. I have two girls, so he’s definitely going to need some advice in the teenage years. Maybe I could quick set him up with a track star before my inevitable demise. Sarah Polly did that in My Life Without Me AND she starred in Dawn of the Dead, so there you go.
Melissa Olson was born and raised in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and studied film and literature at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. After graduation, and a brief stint bouncing around the Hollywood studio system, Melissa proved too broke for LA and moved to Madison, WI, where she eventually acquired a master’s degree from UW-Milwaukee, a husband, a mortgage, a teaching gig, two kids, and two comically oversized dogs, not at all in that order. She loves Madison, but still dreams of the food in LA. Literally. There are dreams. Learn more about Melissa, her work, and her dog at www.MelissaFOlson.com.