Author Guest Post | Kaki Olsen writes about the depth of the human experience in her debut novel “Swan and Shadow” (based on Swan Lake)

Posted Monday, 25 April, 2016 by jorielov , , , , 0 Comments

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I had such a strong connection to the story within Swan and Shadow, I wanted to reach out to the author Ms Olsen to ask if she wanted to be a guest author on my blog – kicking off a week where I celebrate #YALit as this is one branch of literature I have a keen interest in seeking out whilst I find new debut authors to champion each New Year.

The Young Adult market has a wide selection of offerings but each year, I find myself trying to find a particular niche of offerings which are threaded with light and not too darkly underlit to push out the light completely. I appreciate finding stories set in the Contemporary world, the historical past or amongst the genres of Speculative Fiction which have the tendency to carve out new worlds of thought and dimension per each writer’s unique perspective and imagination.

I was quite taken by the level of depth Ms Olsen knitted inside her debut novel, and I wanted to explore those depths with her whilst giving her a chance to flex her wings with guest features which broached a bit deeper than the surface of her writerly inspirations. I definitely wanted to learn more about the supernatural attributes but at the core of the story, there is a coming-of age tale of a girl not quite confident in her own skin whose attempting to sort everything out one step of the way.

Underscored to the Fantasy elements are topics young adults will appreciate seeing in this novel, such as the highlighting of mental health and wellness and the struggle between sisters, of whom love each other dearly but do not always act in the best interests of each other. Olsen owns her story to such a degree of honesty, as to ground you directly inside the lives of her characters whilst giving you this curious story surrounding a shapeshifting swan! The back-story is one that is quite well known but it’s her interpretation of the story’s heart which stands out from the pack!

This Guest Post Feature kicks off my showcasing of Young Adult Literature – a special focus which will be re-occurring on Jorie Loves A Story straight til the start of Summer! I look forward to bringing a variety of stories to my blog, across genres and styles where characters are on the fringes of exiting their childhood but have a bit of growth left in their younger years before they fully embrace their adulthood. It’s a transitional part of our lives which endears me the most to the stories, but also, to the authors who find new ways of talking about this period of growth, discovery and self-awareness which everyone (lad or lass) can relate too.

Happily join me as I converse via:

#IReadYA | #IndieYA (movements of their own)

  Tags to promote these showcases: #JorieLovesIndies | #JorieLovesYA

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Aislin’s curse is the standard fare: swan by day, college student by

Swan and Shadow by Kaki Olsen

night, true love as the only cure. But does true love even exist outside of fairy tales? After having to cover for Aislin during her swan hours, Aislin’s twin, Maeve, is willing to resort to anything from matchmaking to magic to see her sister live happily (and human) ever after.

Will either of them get their wish?

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Topic of Interest: Shadow and Light can metaphorically tackle a wider depth of a human’s journey; how did you seek to define Aislin’s struggle to grow in strength and personal acceptance of her swan / human duality?

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One Saturday afternoon, I was standing in line for a book signing. I’d been a fan of Brandon Sanderson since my friend made me read her writing teacher’s debut novel and this was years before he was an award-winning podcaster, novelist and the man who finished the Wheel of Time series. I’ve always found him to be an approachable and unassuming man, which is what gave me the guts to comment on one of his observations.

The person standing in front of me was having him sign a middle grade book called Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians and said how much her son loved reading something that didn’t have to be homework. Brandon wittily said that he’s never been the type to write books that people would have to write papers on. I immediately piped up that I was presenting an academic paper on leadership in two weeks and had used a chapter from his first book as the foundation for part of it. He blinked, signed the woman’s book and, while signing my copy of Hero of Ages, asked me what I had written it on. I immediately quoted a passage from the book in which a young prince is taught about noble leadership by some well-phrased observations and questions posed by a glowing ball that used to be his constant companion. Brandon responded with something along the lines of, “Well, THAT’S not exactly what I thought that chapter was about” and laughed.

I recently had a similar experience. My one (known) Australian reader finished the book and immediately sent me a message to say, “I loved the fact that as soon as [Aislin] started taking ‘ownership’ of the curse she started being more and more human. It kind of brought the Curse into the modern era, you know, with all the empowerment stuff we go on about!” I admitted immediately that yes, the ownership thing was true, but I had never thought to write that consciously into the story. It was the most confused I’d been about an interpretation since I asked my friend Sarah for advice mid-revision; I told her that a medieval sorcerer wanted to subjugate and destroy a woman because she had little to no choice in who she might marry and Sarah responded that it sounded like a metaphor for the AIDS crisis. In this case, my Aussie expounded that “I wasn’t talking about Female Empowerment (TM) that everyone usually goes on about, more about owning your life* and not letting it control you. Which is a big thing for me.”

All right, so I admit that the ownership thing was involuntary and Rebecca (the reader) became the first person to officially read too much into the book. But her second statement was absolutely a conscious effort. I will tell two stories here to illustrate what I mean.

I know someone who ran away from home before she finished high school, became a teenage mother and went through a lot of strife before making the life she now lives successfully. While she was gone, a lot of people asked about what she was currently doing. Because we didn’t want to pass judgment or spread rumors, we would respond that “Oh, she’s taking some time off.” Rather than people expressing their opinion on drop-out rates or extra-marital sex, the response was generally “Good for her!” I’m not sure how many people, to this day, know what her friends and family went through during that time.

The second story is my own. As I mentioned in my interview, I have struggled for a long time with mental illness. I didn’t talk about it because I felt as if it would bring down upon me the judgment I feared. My father, when I was first diagnosed, asked me which sins I had committed and it took nearly twenty years before we had an honest and productive conversation about living with mental illness. It has had a lot to do with why I have struggled with loneliness and anger and everything in between over the years. I have, however, started to come close to over-sharing about my emotional state. It’s more than complaining about my crappy day on Facebook.

One year after one of my darkest nights, I posted about how it happened the Friday before I found out that someone wanted to publish my book. While many people I met ten years ago didn’t know that I had been in an abusive relationship, many of them know a lot of the details now. I recently posted about “The Account,” in which I explain that my emotional well-being can be visualized as a bank account and that some days, I have 37 cents with no hope of a direct deposit in sight, and some days, I have thousands of dollars to spare.

I spent nearly twenty years terrified of what things ran around in my brain, but I was told when I was 18 that one of the reasons for my hardship was that other people would need to know about them in order to find their own way. This has led me to being the only person who understood why a friend of mine had to call off her engagement to an emotionally abusive man. It is why, when a friend came to me in hysterics because of the way she felt, I was able to urge her to see someone about her depression. Another friend with a PhD in Human Development told me that she has used my posts to understand how to help me and that they sometimes kept her from feeling alone.

So, what do these things have to do with Swan and Shadow? Precisely what Rebecca talked about in her second statement. The greatest character growth had to do with Aislin’s ability to come to terms with her own tragedy and not letting it control her. No, Aislin doesn’t deal with the scope of what I described in these two stories, but her strengths and weaknesses are both defined by her response to something she cannot control. She believes that by slogging through, she is earning the life that she lives. On the other hand, she’s not willing to always accept help because it requires her to be dependent on others’ benevolence. It reminds me of an advisor I had in college, who encouraged me to use the counseling center because “otherwise, it would be something like being confined to a wheelchair and refusing to use the handicapped ramps.”

Once I realized that crucial element of Aislin’s character, every decision was something that I could relate back to Aislin’s need to struggle through her lot in life. It also clarified Maeve’s antagonism of sorts and absolutely gave context to many of the efforts she makes on her sister’s behalf. In an episode of one of my favorite TV shows, “How I Met Your Mother,” an orchestra teacher asks The Mother what she wants to do with her life. When she answers that she wants to end poverty, he tells her that every decision she should make from there on out should be in service of that goal. It’s a scene in a late episode of the ninth and final season, but it says more about characterization than many books on the subject that I’ve read.

So, if you’d like some advice on characterization from all of this, remember that a character must have a purpose and every decision should be made in service of it. The tragedies come when the decisions derail that goal, but that’s another essay to write.

About Kaki Olsen

Kaki Olsen

Kaki Olsen regularly contributes academic papers on zombies or wizards to Life, the Universe and Everything, a sci-fi/fantasy symposium originated at her alma mater, Brigham Young University.

Her published works have appeared in such magazines as Voices and AuthorsPublish.

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I admit, I did not know Ms Olsen suffered with mental illness – as I went into reading Swan and Shadow a bit blind in regards to her website and blog. It was one of those stories I decided to just jump-dive inside and not overly look up the author beforehand. I vacillate at times whether to know a bit more about the writer first or to enjoy that part of my journey with a book afterwards.

Irregardless, I stand by what I had said on my review in this regard:

One of the more interesting developing sub-focuses of the novel is the time spent with a therapist where Aislin attempts to talk about her thoughts and opinions. The therapist is good for her in one critical way – she’s much too willing to do what is expected of her than to think for herself and walk her own path. In some ways, I was thinking to myself as I read her therapy sessions this might have what prompted her initial rebellious act to begin with as a ‘flight or fight’ moment of instinct to simply ‘get away’ doing something out of the blue different from her norm. It’s a positive highlighting on mental health and a teenager struggling to understand her self-identity and have better confidence in her own choices. The only surprising turn for me was noticing her therapist disappeared – several chapters later, I realised it was because Aislin was gaining growth out of her own motivation to move forward but without needing the counseling. I do admit, I missed those sessions because she was thinking of things she generally did not allow herself to contemplate.

Pro-positive representations of mental health and wellness, especially in Young Adult Lit is a welcome sight because it’s still a taboo topic for most to even converse about or being open about having this struggle in their lives. I have personally known friends who have have overcome their mental illness through therapy and others, who still find it a constant battle to find a way back to where they can see and believe the positives of their lives. Everyone has a walk to live but if your dealing with a health concern that is hidden or tries to be hidden from sight by society, it adds an extra burden on your spirit that you do not need.

I agree – to a certain extent – readers do read a level of depth inside the stories they read. Whether this depth of insight is warranted or unfounded isn’t really debatable completely because for each story that resides inside of the mind, heart and imagination of a reader, the story alters from the one the writer penned originally. I think this speaks directly to what Olsen was talking about ‘conscience vs accidental inclusion’ in regards to the talking points her Australian reader was mentioning to her after she read Swan and Shadow. Even on my own behalf I was finding things inside the story’s heart that Olsen may or may not have realised were able to be seen and flushed out. This comes out in our conversation which runs lateron this week.

I can relate to how our life moments and experiences do not always register as to a direct ‘why’ until a moment arrives and the reason is ‘revealled’. I could speak loads about my school girl years and how I realise now, those struggles I had in traditional education were a blueprint towards understanding foster children who do not (always) have an advocate on their behalf to go to bat for them in that setting where faculty and teachers have more influence than the child. For each of the experiences we’re blessed to have – there is a turning point, where the full of our lives comes full circle and helps us in the future; sometimes in small ways, other times in larger ways. The point is to remain open to where we’re being guided forward and how the paths we cross might provide an opportunity to pass forward something we know to help another in need.

I applaud this openly beautiful response by Ms Olsen and for the thought-provoking nature of the essay in which she’s given us something quite wicked to contemplate! I hope this essay has inspired you to leave the author a comment or a reaction in the threads below as I am sure she would love for this to develop into a discussion where your thoughts can be heard.

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This author guest feature is courtesy of 

Cedar Fort, Inc and the author Kaki Oslen!

Cedar Fort Publishing & Media

Follow the Virtual Road Map by visiting the blog tour route:

Previously, I shared my review on behalf of Swan and Shadow!

Swan and Shadow blog tour via Cedar Fort Publishing and MediaFun Stuff for Your Blog via pureimaginationblog.comKindly leave your comments and questions for Ms Olsen!

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Read this inspiring #guestpost by @KakiOlsenBooks debut #YALit author! #IndieBooksBeSeen Click To Tweet

{SOURCES: Book Cover Art for “Swan and Shadow” and author photo were provided by the author Kaki Olsen and used with permission. Author biography, book synopsis, blog tour badge and the badge for Cedar Fort Publishing & Media were provided by Cedar Fort Publishing & Media and used with permission. Author Guest Post Banner created by Jorie in Canva. Post dividers and My Thoughts badge by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Comment banner created by Jorie in Canva. Tweets are embedded due to codes via Twitter.}

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Monday, 25 April, 2016 by jorielov in After the Canon, Ballet, Bits & Bobbles of Jorie, Blog Tour Host, Cedar Fort Publishing & Media, Chronicles of a Prospective Adoptive Mum, Coming-Of Age, Debut Author, Equality In Literature, Fairy Tale Fiction, Folklore and Mythology, Indie Author, Inspired by Stories, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Methodology of Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy, Musical Fiction | Non-Fiction, Re-Told Tales, Reader Submitted Guest Post (Topic) for Author, Realistic Fiction, Shapeshifters, Supernatural Fiction, The Writers Life, Trauma | Abuse & Recovery, Urban Fantasy, Writing Advice & Tips, Writing Style & Voice, YA Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

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