Author Interview | Getting into the heart of sequel author Kaki Olsen’s writerly mind! Author of “Swan and Shadow” a re-telling of ‘Swan Lake’!

Posted Saturday, 30 April, 2016 by jorielov , , , , 0 Comments

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As soon as I put down my copy of Swan and Shadow, my head was swirling with creative thoughts and plausible ways in which Ms Olsen approached writing her after canon sequel on behalf of ‘Swan Lake’! I knew I wanted to work with the author directly to bring special guest features to Jorie Loves A Story, because her thought-provoking story deserved a special highlighting on the world-building and the manner in which she brought forward the original canon whilst giving it her own unique perspective on how best to tell Aislin’s story!

As you will note from our conversation, we differed a bit on what can be drawn out of the story’s context, which is something I noticed more than one reader is struggling with resolving, as revealled on her Guest Post which ran earlier this week, as I kicked off a focus on ‘Young Adult Lit’. I think the margin of error on behalf of readers like me who see a connection which may or may not have directly been the conscience choice to include by Olsen, proves that for each story we conceive as a writer, the same story can be seen through a different spectrum of probabilities by the readers who drink in the story through their own interpretations. This is one subject that is quite actively blogged about in the book blogosphere by my fellow book bloggers as well as readily explored through the twitterverse! I think it speaks to the layer of depth novels can etch out of their central core of narrative inasmuch as how individual reading and writing becomes per each person who picks up a story – either from the creation of it or from the after effect of reading it.

What inspired me to move forward with two guest features is to allow Ms Olsen the blessing of granting new readers the chance to become familiar with her writing style and her approach to granting new license of thought on behalf of a canonical piece which has resonated with fans of ‘Swan Lake’.

Enjoy her personal reflections on on Swan and Shadow!

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What I respected the most about how the story unfolds is the raw honesty – the muddling of how life can become when your trying to sort everything out all at once: school, relationships,

time commitments, everyday emergencies and family connections. Even fitting in an honest

Swan and Shadow by Kaki Olsen

relationship with your twin is hard when your both moving out of adolescence and shifting into adulthood. Olsen gives such a good footing of where Aislin is right now in her ‘living story’ to inspire the readers who will pick up the novel and find a bit of hope by the time the last chapter concludes. Hope is worth everything in the end.

Olsen is writing young adult fiction for the generation who celebrates this genre on a yearly basis – she’s writing realistic story-lines and giving honest to the point dialogue about how a character whose still sorting out their life is going to talk, react and perceive their world. It’s refreshing because this isn’t Upper YA nor is it more adult with leanings of YA; this is straight-up brilliant YA because it hones in on what is beautiful about #YALit.

quoted from my review of Swan and Shadow

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In the original “Swan Lake”, the Black Swan represented the origin of Odette’s curse to live as a White swan. In your re-telling of the story within “Swan and Shadow” you’ve separated Aislin and Maeve by colour coding them: Aislin is White, Maeve is Black. Was this meant to be a nod to the canon or a greater hint towards the overall story?

Olsen responds: If you take it at face value, this was inspired by the fact that Jodi Picoult writes her books from specific perspectives and puts the names at the beginning of chapters. I didn’t want it to be page after page of Maeve…Aislin…Aislin…Maeve. The original intention of the two codes is to plant a seed of doubt.

In both the canon and the book, the black swan and white swan are separate entities and rather than use the black swan as a force of evil, I used her as an antagonist. This means that at times, Maeve will do something that works against Aislin’s intentions and plans and it varies whether or not she has any remorse for it. I could cite several examples, but in the interest of not giving away too much, I’ll point out that Maeve goes behind her sister’s back at one point to take the SATs for her and Aislin takes it as a major drama because it is something she would have never asked for or wished for. She sees it not as a betrayal, but an unacceptable kindness that she can’t reciprocate. This is one of the most minor ways to have someone be antagonistic.

Does it make Maeve the evil twin? Absolutely not. One of the defining characteristics of this story is that the black swan, while working against her twin, is trying to make things work out for the best.

Aislin’s characteristics as a swan are quite brilliantly accurate, especially as she describes how she feels being feathered. What did you do to gain insight into flight and the personality of a swan?

Olsen responds: This was a fantastically fun part of writing the book. Before writing a single swan scene, I binge-researched some of the most random things I could think of to do with the bird. I often reference my roommate/proofreader/friend Katey on my blog because she was the first person I told about this crazy idea I had for Swan Lake and was there for all of the nitty-gritty development as well as the rewrites. I remarked one night that I only knew of one work of fiction from the perspective of a swan and it was the movement of Carmina Burana told from the perspective of a swan roasting over a fire and wishing it were going for a swim instead. (Look it up. “Olim lacus colueram” or “Once I swam in lakes.” It’s one of the weirdest songs ever written, but it left an indelible impression when I heard it in 10th grade.)

Admitting that it wouldn’t be a helpful resource at all, I looked for other things that could get me into the head. Katey helped with that, but also found me a Roman recipe for roast swan that made me glower at her. I don’t know if anyone else has spent as much time as I have watching videos of swans taking flight, running after each other or landing. I hunted down recordings of different species of swan to figure out what they would sound like and looked up what kind of swan Aislin turns into. (Mute swan or cygnus olor for any interested parties.)

I specifically chose the “mute swan” because its largest concentrations are in the former Soviet Union, which is the region where the original curse was placed. In talking about story development, I always say that you develop pages of backstory for a paragraph at times. This is an example of that. I based the prologue on how far a mute swan could fly in daylight on the longest day of the year. In an Interlude that had to be cut for reasons of pacing, I talked about the fact that swan aerodynamics make no sense to a biped. In that, Maeve convinces Aislin that she would be able to fly if she left it to instinct. Aislin breaks her foot falling off the roof. I hated removing it because it made me giggle a lot whenever I read it.

Maeve struggles to allow her parents to take a lead role in guiding Aislin. In many ways, she’s her twin’s shadow – is this what inspired the title?

Olsen responds: The original title that I worked with and which even appears on the publishing contract is Wingspan. It was my best friend’s idea and it fit perfectly into this idea of someone growing up and discovering their own power as a young woman in the modern world. The problem was that there are a number of books called Wingspan and the marketing department wanted something that stood out more. I agreed that they had a very good point and went in search of a new title.

Friends suggested anything from Feathers and Fenway to Swan Harbor, which I insisted on pronouncing Swawn Hahbuh in my thickest version of a Southie accent. Then I was reading “Yarrow Unvisited,” a poem about appreciating the simplicity of life. It observed, “The swan on still St. Mary’s Lake Float double, swan and shadow!”

In this poem, it’s envisioning an idyllic scene as one where both swan and shadow can exist in peace and I immediately sent the title of “Swan and Shadow” to my editor. She loved it as much as I did. So that answers what inspired the title. But I picked that phrase because both Aislin and Maeve are the shadow at different points in the story. Most of the time, Maeve is the shadow, but consider this: She is the physical presence in the wider world while Aislin is sometimes nothing more than a rumor.

Mental health is becoming more visual in literature, especially in Young Adult Lit. The way in which you inserted Aislin’s sessions brings to focus we all need a sounding board to better ourselves and understand how to grow. How important was it to show Aislin taking an interest in her own self-improvement and why was her therapist suddenly dropped out of the story-line?

Olsen responds: I’m glad you brought this up. The therapist himself, who is named after my nephew, is in there because the inevitable outcome of the plea bargain was for Aislin to have some court-mandated counseling. She stops seeing him, not because he’s unnecessary, but because her term is up and she doesn’t know how long she can go without telling him the truth. Another reason for introducing this relationship was one of giving a part of myself to the readers.

I have had clinical depression since ninth grade and post-traumatic stress disorder since 2004-2005, when I survived months of domestic violence before getting the help to escape. It’s very cathartic for me to write people getting help in my stories because I feel it’s a way to give them the healing that I still feel in need of. It also makes me feel that I’m not holding things back about the human experience from the readers, which is one of my goals as an author.

In the original ending, which had to be changed to get the compromise of an ending that my editor and I agreed on, everything falls apart. Not to the degree that it does in the ballet where all is lost and the white swan is killed or commits suicide as a result of it in some versions, but with no hope for resolution of the curse immediately apparent. What Maeve’s intentions are at the end of that are the same as in the finished book, but it dealt with Aislin having to face the possibility of never finding love after she’s intentionally walked away from someone who could have broken the curse. I basically wrote that section from the part of my mind that still has nightmares about someone who professed to love me and from the part that is still very lonely eleven years of singledom later.

I think that’s why my original proofreader admits that she cried through the epilogue. But during that section, they talk about resuming the sessions with Dr. Reed and holding nothing back. I would have liked to take that somewhere.

Twins have a very distinctive pattern of speech, behaviour and personality. Their kinetic relationship is quite a unique one. How did you research twins in order to give such a realistic impression? Did anything surprise you?

Olsen responds: I sort of did this backwards. I wrote the sisters the way I felt people with such a desperate need to understand each other and who would be each others best confidants would interact, as well as the ways that it would make them clash. Then I sort of reverse-engineered it to see if anything in their habits or behaviors seemed to not make sense for the twin bond.

I read this question aloud to a friend and when I said, “I don’t know how to respond! The only twins I regularly wrote were Skywalkers and I explained it using the Force!” She rolled her eyes at that. If anything, I feel as though I could have done better. Amusingly enough, one of my best resources is a book called Three Black Swans by Caroline B. Cooney about sisters separated at birth.

Relationships are tricky at any age – how did you want to highlight those initial first steps towards finding your own balance in the dating world?

Olsen responds: This is one of the most hands-on elements of writing this story. No, I don’t mean that I got myself an experimental boyfriend. Or maybe I did. I drew on years of being the cautious romantic in the family. My older sister was, for me, the example of great, passionate love. She had a boyfriend my father didn’t approve of and that the rest of my family adored. I remember sitting in the back yard on a warm summer’s night and watching them cling to each other while dancing to “Love Will Keep Us Alive.”

Naturally, she’s married happily to a guy she met years later, but my teenage ideas of what love should be like came not from Rose and Jack (I was 15 when Titanic came out), but Claire and John. If Maeve, the black swan, were in charge of the romance in this story, it would have been that kind of love, the kind you can’t live without and that hurts physically. I knew that this would be told with the intentions and the perspectives of Aislin, who couldn’t invest herself in something that could hurt her that deeply, which both protected and prohibited her.

In that sense, she is a tiny bit like me. I had my first boyfriend Roger in 6th-7th grade and two summer boyfriends at orchestra camp. Then I was on the receiving end of a crush where Josh, my classmate, sang me Broadway love songs and made me mix tapes of klezmer music; he was my junior prom date and my mother still thinks we were perfectly matched. But between eighth and eleventh grade, I had too much emotional trauma (this was when I was getting acquainted with clinical depression for one thing) to really want something like romance. Yes, I had boyfriends for short periods of times, but it took until my early 20’s for me to stop being terrified of my emotional vulnerability and I even denied that emotions were something that I could use. Obviously, that’s past.

Since you have a knack for shapeshifting characters – do you think you will re-explore this in the future? If so, what would you like to explore next?

Olsen responds: I’m not trying to be faux-humble here, but I’m startled by this question. I think I am on the early intermediate level of writing a shape-shifter, the writing equivalent of “I know four songs on the piano and only one of them is worth listening to, but I’ll play all of them for you!” If the book does well, Sweetwater has the plans for the sequel in their inboxes (I sent it to my editor to explain why I needed to keep certain parts of the story).

I’m hoping to finish this story because my gosh, it has a great second act. Only one of my 55 novel ideas so far has anything to do with shape-shifting and it’s one that my best friend pitched to me during the 2014 Olympics: Swan Lake, the ballet story, told from the perspective of the black swan. In it, we go back to Odile being the daughter of the sorcerer and he persuades her to seduce the prince because he is what she deserves and she has lived in the shadow of her father’s crimes for too long. She has grown up knowing that he is forced to take maidens prisoner to force their parent’s hands and has tried to befriend them. She is the only female at that lake who does not become a swan, but every time she leaves her home, her father transforms her. You see it first as a game between them, then as a protective measure so she’s not in danger and finally, as comeuppance for the years of her not being able to have the life that she deserves.

What inspired you to write a re-telling on behalf of a beloved ballet? How did you decide to change it to make it your own?

Olsen responds: I am addicted to Gillian Murphy’s interpretation of Odette/Odile with the American Ballet Theater. I was watching the DVD of that and at the point where the prince happens to be hunting fowl in the forest at dusk and runs into the future love of his life, I thought, “Well, that’s convenient. It would never work if the only people she ever met were at all-night convenience stores.” And then, as it so often happens when I get a book idea, I thought, “Oh, no…now I CAN’T stop thinking about that.”

My brain hijacks itself this way a lot, which is why I have so many novel and series ideas running around in my head. In the first novel that I wrote, which I’m currently querying, I set it in Philadelphia and with a character who is 80% extrovert. I saw nothing of myself in her. For this, I set it in Boston, home of the swan boats and my hometown. I went to high school in the Back Bay and played in the New England Conservatory youth orchestras, so my sister postulates that I’m more Bostonian than the rest of the family because I am so at home there. I played around with the advantages that the city would give a night owl and how she would have to work around them. But as Nate says in the book, Swan Lake is a crummy story for everyone. The prince is duped, the swan maiden is betrayed, the sorcerer is defeated…and that’s just looking at the principal dancers, not the court who have this disaster thrust upon them.

Writing equivalent disasters in the modern world was challenging, but I remember having a side story idea that Aislin has this fear of something disastrous happening during the day, like a school shooting or a terrorist attack. When I originally thought about that, I recalled that she would have been about six years old when 9/11 happened and therefore not yet under the curse. But that idea got sidelined when someone did attack Boston in 2013. I no longer had any desire to wonder what she would do if her dad had been working the finish line during the Boston Marathon, but I used a closer-to-home catalyst for her deciding that breaking the curse was an immediate need.

There is a curious biofeedback element inside “Swan and Shadow” as it interplays between Aislin and Maeve inasmuch as it connects Aislin and Nate. Did you use this element as an extension of the curse to connect Aislin and Maeve’s ancestral history? As it only fully comes into view towards the latter half of the novel.

Olsen responds: This is a hard question to answer, since I feel like you’re reading more into it than I wrote and that’s both flattering and confusing, but I’ll try to give it a shot. The biofeedback element in which relationships physically alter the people started as something where I desperately needed a more concrete thing to bring in a certain plot development. Namely, I didn’t want people to constantly second-guess the perceptions of the main characters, so I made it physically impossible for the effect of love to be denied. It also became a litmus test for depth of love and a bit of a metaphor for love itself.

In Book 2, Maeve assesses Aislin’s romantic history like this: “Whatever you felt about him, did he ever give you back a single hour of your humanity?” This is a reference to the idea that the curse can be broken by true love and it’s altered by love in Swan and Shadow. But I can think of many relationships where I gauge how beneficial they were by asking myself if that person has ever restored to me something I felt was lost. And gosh darn it, I just realized that there’s a possible Picture of Dorian Gray reference in here somewhere, but I’m going to stop talking about it now.

Aislin receives a precognitive clue about her relationships and the choices she needs to make inside them. Is this part of a seedling left behind for readers to pick up on the interest of a sequel you might be considering to write? There were other small clues as well, but this one turns the coin on who or whom might be Aislin’s true love.

Olsen responds: Oh, there is a whole missing element in this. In the book, there is a bit about the tarot readings that the twins have done on their 17th birthday, but I have the full reading for each of the twins saved to my computer. My friend who does tarot tells me that tarot is a conversation with multiple possible interpretations. I remember her doing a reading where my question was “Should I move to a new city” and at the end of the reading, she said with a flourish, “So it’s not the time to quit your job!”

Yes, the cards pointed towards that sort of conclusion if that had been my question, but I was looking for a different meaning. The psychic is actually named for her because she was the one who introduced me to tarot and educated me on ways to interpret it. I don’t mean to make fun of it, but it’s very interesting how card-reading can have unexpected results. So, yes, there is a precognitive clue for Aislin and there are some major hints about what factors affect her story, but the conclusion is possibly not what you’re thinking. And I’ve known from 40 pages in who she ends up with and several readers have caught it, but I’ll be curious as to who it takes off-guard in book 2.

There is one aspect of this story that was only mentioned in a cursory way – the original person who caused the grief of generations of Aislin’s women who suffered a fate due to the original love triangle. If you were to write a sequel (or create a duology where there are two installments to the story) would you bring the back-story fully forward to anchour Aislin’s plight against the past?

Olsen responds: I have always intended this original conflict to be a distant thing. It’s infuriating because there is no way to haggle the curse. I remember a reader proposed his first crossover, in which Aislin meets the Doctor from Doctor Who and he takes her back in time to meet the original sorcerer. He announced that she would force him or ask him to change the curse and that is exactly where I stopped him for commentary.

Certainly, Aislin wishes that generations of her family would have not had this tragedy happen, but it’s too much a part of her for her to want it to be cut out except by her breaking the curse. I think that story is interesting, but the greater conflict here is the fact that it’s untouchable. In one version of my plot, I planned Nate to be a descendant of the sorcerer and having that being a deal-breaker so that she has to love him in spite of his family’s role in her misery, but I cut that out before I ever wrote the book. I’m going to leave the original players in the conflict anonymous and I want her to make peace with the fact that she can’t ever change that. At least that’s the current plan.

Part of the shifting requires Aislin to be fully nude and resourceful enough to have caches of clothes spread across her hometown and outside surroundings. I picked up on this as being in homage of “The Time Travellers Wife” and Sherlock Holmes; what motivated you to take this route?

Olsen responds: Good catch with “The Time Traveller’s Wife.” In Twilight, the werewolves have clothes strapped to their legs so they don’t have this problem. In TTTW, it’s the ultimate case of “You can’t take it with you.” I intended the nudity thing to be an homage to that element, but also add an element of unnecessary teenage humiliation that a lot of her life revolves around. I felt that, deprived of a normal school and social life, this would be an interesting way to make her more like a normal teenager–she has a fear of being unprepared for public exposure, no pun intended.

The first stash is actually down this back alley that I know very well because my mother discovered one day that, while you can pay up to $11 an hour for parking in Boston, if you sneak your minivan into the loading dock of the YWCA on a Saturday morning, you can park there for free. It saved us hundreds of dollars on Saturdays because she was the only way for me to get to my 7 a.m. orchestra rehearsals at New England Conservatory until I reached 11th grade and was accepted into an orchestra that met at 10. But my roommate/editor/best friend is the one who asked if she ever gets out of reach of her clothing stashes and that is why the book opens with her stranded naked in the Canadian wilderness.

What renews your spirit outside of writing and researching your stories?

Olsen responds: I am one of the craziest travelers you will ever know. Last year, I spent my birthday in Barcelona before getting on a cruise that took me to Portugal, Morocco and back to Spain. I’ve also walked from one continent to another, thanks to a bridge in Istanbul. This year, I’m going “low-key” and going to a musicians’ retreat at Lake Tahoe, performing in a concert back in Boston and visiting my sister in Virginia for Christmas, but next year, I’m planning to walk a trail from one coast of England to the other.

I plan years in advance, which means I know I’m going to Ireland in 2020 and want to visit the Westmann Islands where my Icelandic ancestors lived in 2019. In 2027, I’m going to New Zealand.

As you might guess from my frequent references to NEC, I’m a musician, so I destress by playing music (some of it from Swan Lake at the moment). I play violin, viola, piano, organ and handbells and am working on learning the cello. And of course, as a true Bostonian, the thing that inspires my spirit most is Major League Baseball. You will rarely hear me speak with a Boston accent that you’re expecting, but turn on a Sox-Yankees game and I can only yell at the game in an accent. It just happens that way.

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Converse via: #SwandAndShadow

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 want to thank Ms Olsen for giving all of us so much to contemplate whilst hearing her ‘behind-the-book’ revelations on behalf of ‘Swan and Shadow’! I loved how she gave her heart to this conversation and allowed us to learn more about the genesis of creativity behind how she approached telling Aislin’s story! She rocks!

I am seriously itching to read where the sequel takes us, but I know Ms Olsen is working on a story she’s been tinkering with for awhile – wherever her writerly heart takes her next is going to be a lovely discovery for those of us who enjoy reading her stories! At least we know the ending is not the ‘end’ for Aislin’s journey!

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This Blog Tour Stop is courtesy of Cedar Fort, Inc:

Cedar Fort Publishing & Media

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

Previously I revealled my review on behalf of ‘Swan and Shadow’. The author’s Guest Post Feature wherein Olsen writes a personal response to my topic will be featured on the 25th of April. This interview concludes my participation on the Swan and Shadow blog tour – as the two guest features were coordinated independent of the tour itself as I worked with the author directly.

Swan and Shadow blog tour via Cedar Fort Publishing and MediaFun Stuff for Your Blog via pureimaginationblog.comI look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary! Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it. I appreciate hearing different points of view especially amongst bloggers who picked up the same story to read.

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Ever wonder what goes on behind-the-#book of #YALit? Read this #interview feat. @KakiOlsenBooks 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. Conversations with the Bookish badge created by Jorie in Canva Post dividers 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 Saturday, 30 April, 2016 by jorielov in After the Canon, Author Interview, Blog Tour Host, Bookish Discussions, Cedar Fort Publishing & Media, Coming-Of Age, Fantasy Fiction, Inspired by Stories, Re-Told Tales, Shapeshifters, Supernatural Creatures & Beings, Supernatural Fiction, Young Adult Fiction

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