I had the pleasure of reading Sean Olin’s latest novel, Brother/Sister, a couple of months ago, and loved it. When I asked whether Sean would be interested in being interviewed, he was! The following is the result. I hope you find it interesting!
ThirstforFiction: What motivates you to write these frankly dark and disturbing novels?
Sean Olin: I’m interested in the ways that people deal (or fail to deal) with the hard things that happen in to them. Life can be hard and I don’t think it does people any good to pretend that it’s all flowers and rainbows. What I want to do is take you on an insanely entertaining ride through the darkness and into the maybe calmer place that comes after. If you can imagine your way into disturbed mindsets, and come to understand the motivations that lead people to do the terrible things they do, you become a bigger, a better person, less likely to make snap judgments about others, more likely to have compassion. Or that’s the ideal, anyway.
Also, it’s fun to write about really bad people! They get in a lot of trouble, and trouble is never boring—especially when it’s happening to someone else.
T4F: Who are your influences when you write and how does that affect your writing?
Sean: Well, I write thrillers, so of course, I read a lot of thrillers too. I like both YA and Adult thrillers. Christopher Pike was great at what he did. RL Stein, obviously. Thomas Harris’ Hannibal books (Silence of the Lambs, all that) are crazy good. Stephen King, Peter Straub. I could go on and on.
One of the hardest things to get right with a thriller—and the thing that everything else depends upon—is balancing the pacing with the tone. You have to keep the reader riveted, and to do that you need to come up with just the right turn in the action at just the right time, but you have to do this in a way that doesn’t betray your characters. This can become impossibly complicated, and reading the greats of the genre helps me immensely when I’m stuck.
T4F: Do you enjoy writing novels such as Brother/Sister or is it more of a compulsion?
Sean: I love writing these books. It’s so much fun to race off with my characters into the crazy places where they find themselves.
T4F: How do you go about writing your stories?
Sean: Before I start writing, I map out the plot as completely as I can on a big whiteboard so that I’ve got all the details of the action down. Then, when I know exactly what the story is and how it’s going to work, I begin writing it in prose. This lets me explore the details of the world and the minds of the characters without worrying about where the story is going.
T4F: Recently there’s been a lot of stick in the UK coming from book critics saying that Young Adult literature is becoming darker and darker (sometimes being darker than adult novels), and that this shouldn’t be happening. As an author of some questionable novels, what are your views?
Sean: Well, first, I’m not sure I’d call my novels “questionable.” They’re definitely dark, but that’s on purpose!
Lately, I’ve been really into Skins. I know some people think that show sets a bad example for people, but I think the writers are very brave. They’re examining, in what seems to be an honest way, the reality of contemporary teenage life. If that life is sometimes hard and painful, well, that’s just the way it is. Better to look at what’s really going on than to live in a dream world where you pretend everything’s okay when it isn’t—and demand that everyone else pretend with you. How can life get better for people unless we admit that it’s not so great right now.
T4F: Can you tell us a little about what you’re currently working on?
Sean: I could, but then I’d have to kill you.
Seriously, though, I’m into something new, but I can’t talk about it. It’ll be dark, of course, and there will be crazy murder scenes, but I can’t say much more than that. I don’t want to jinx it.
T4F: What process did you come through before becoming a published author?
Sean: I wrote and wrote! A lot of what I wrote was extremely bad, but eventually I got better.
T4F: Did you always want to be an author?
Sean: Yes! Well, there was a time there when I thought maybe I’d be a comic book artist, but it’s better for everyone that I chose the path I did.