We recently interviewed Cara Rosalie Olsen author of Awakening Foster Kelly. She was just as kind and gracious as her main character and she answered all of our questions with flair. We start off, as always, with five silly questions to get us started. Enjoy the interview.
1) Do you like your coffee hot or iced? Most definitely hot. We – my husband and I – are unabashed coffee connoisseurs. Coffee is the third family member around here. Mr. Olsen has the beans shipped to our home from all sorts of exotic countries and then spends 30 minutes in hula-hoop motion over the stove roasting them. I personally owe much of what I do to coffee. It is that sweet siren call by which I am lured out of bed each morning. In case I don’t say it enough, thank you, Coffee.
2) What is your favorite color? Ooo. I love color; it’s tough to choose only one, but you are demanding it of me so I must. True turquoise. Not blue, not green, but the fervent blend of two tealy tones into one rich, royal hue.
3) Your bio says that you would have taken over as CEO of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory if you were not a writer. What is your favorite candy? Another tough one. Whew, you’re really grilling me! I think . . . Yes. I absolutely must pick two; because there is chocolate, which is a type of candy, and then there is candy candy, which includes an assortment of sweet and sour and gummy and chewy and hard and soft. Twix and Skittles.
4) Do you kill bugs or set them free? Of course I set them free! . . . . . down the drain, the toilet, the sink. I bet there’s a gloriously soggy kingdom reigning in our pipes.
5) If you could travel back in time where would you go and why?Although I would be tempted to pick a completely different time period, something quieter, modest – an era during which people were forced to look one another in the eye when they wanted to have a conversation, I think, honestly, I would go back and speak to myself around age 12. I think it’s the magic age. We are very much still children, dreaming with unfettered hope, of becoming firefighters, actresses, doctors, and astronauts. By the time we reach 18, we are a bit exhausted. Sarcasm and doubt have trickled in, and all our dreams are a touch too wry. If I could, I would speak to 12 year-old Cara and tell her, perhaps, not to listen to the critics or even too closely to the opinions of well-meaning folks, but to pay special attention to the Voice within her heart – the One telling her she is loved no matter what, no exceptions, and the world is hers to explore and claim, but first she must fail on epic proportions, and then decide it was the only way to do it, really. Then, when she reached 25ish, she wouldn’t have worried so much about getting it right, always getting it perfectly right. Because all masterpieces look like messes before they’re finished.
1) Some of the characters in your book have unique names. Did you intend for them to be different or was it a happy accident? I am very intentional about names, so yes, that was planned. In fact, the entire book, which was written in no less than 5 years, began with the idea of writing about a character with a first name for her last and a last name for her first, and the sort of havoc – both funny and detrimental – this might have on a person. From there, Foster Kelly came alive on her own (well mostly; sometimes she was incredibly shy and difficult and we had these very serious chats, but ultimately I decided she needed Emily Donahue).
2) It’s great as a reader to have a mean girl (or boy) in a book to hate but it could be argued that Foster is her own worst enemy. Where did the character Vanya come from? Was she changed by Foster’s courageous intervention? I would completely agree with you that Foster is her worst enemy. I was conscious of not working a “villain” into the story purely for the sake of having one. Vanya – originally Hannah – plays a specific role in Foster’s development; however, and not unlike Foster and really every single one of the characters, she is broken. She is hurting and scared, and by contrast to Foster who is self-deprecating and plagued by shyness, Vanya is fallaciously conceited and attempts to quiet the hateful voices using malice and evil. Vanya is quite envious of Foster; though, if you told Foster that, she would laugh nervously, then blush, then try and sneak out the back door when no one was looking.
I wouldn’t say this book ties up neatly. Neat isn’t really my thing. Contemporary usually deals with people and situations, and in real life we hardly get the pretty red bows. But in my opinion, we get something better. We get scars. And from those scars we witness something intricate and stunning and round. We witness healing. Our own, that of those we love, and also those who have hurt us. As far as Vanya and Foster are concerned, I leave this particular resolution to the reader’s discretion. Me, I like to believe Vanya took a moment or two after being confronted with undeserved grace and love to evaluate her behavior, and where her life is headed if she doesn’t find the strength to forgive and in turn allow herself to be forgiven.
This moment, though, is about Foster. It is about her, infused with wisdom and enlightened perspective after what she has been through; but even more than that, it’s about Foster having the strength to enter into an uncertain situation, with someone not at all safe, and putting fear aside and doing what she must in order to fuse this inveterate wound, to move on, move forward, just move. Truly, I think this is one of the greater, spherical moments in the book, though it’s hardly ever spoken about, as it sort of naturally pales in comparison to Foster and Dominic, our two protagonists.
3) Every reader we know has a picture of what their fantasy library would look like. Bookshelfporn.com exists for a reason. Does the library in the chateaux resemble yours? Oh, my. Well, you know what I’ll be doing when I finish here. What a name! Yes, absolutely. The library in the Kelly’s chateaux is my dream library fully realized.
4) When I go back and think about the book I realized there was at least one instance that I should have known something was up. Did you leave us any clues to the amazing ending? I am smiling. Because, yes. Absolutely I did. I do a little jump and heel-clap every time readers’ send me a note after finishing, letting me know how everything, now, makes so much sense. The reader, having been utterly confused for the majority of the book, feels an overwhelming achievement at the newfound clarity, and I just adore this. If I had to choose one thing I love most about Awakening Foster Kelly as a whole, it is that there is almost more for the reader reading it the second time around. Which, at 672 pages, I know is asking a lot.
5) Did you know the ending was going to be the ending the whole time you were writing the book? No. And this was probably the most tragic, burdensome, maddening epiphany I have ever had. I almost wanted to forget I thought it. Just pretend it never happened.Poof! Gone. My husband is largely responsible for cultivating what is inarguably the most talked about aspect of the book. Further, he is wholly responsible for my not chucking the idea out the window along with some choice words. I mourned. I railed. There were times when I thought “I can’t. I just can’t do that to my readers. It’s the worst, ever. Ever-ever-ever-EVER.” But then . . . the more I thought about it, the more I allowed myself to embrace the journey as a whole, let go of my control, and accept Foster for Who She Is, the more I realized how beautiful and perfect it was. It made the most sense of anything I had written. Those who love this book are either devastated by the ending or enchanted by it. And I love that, because whether this negatively or positively affects the review, I can take solace in that the reader was moved to feel passionate; they felt rescued or pitched off the side of a cliff. Readers, I love you either way!
6) Can you tell us about your next book Much As Funny Loves A Laugh? I must confess to you: I am absolutely dreadful at summarizing my books. I LOVE writing book reviews, but my own, well, it’s like my tongue shrivels up and every word flicks out of a wrinkle like a dead fingernail. Not pretty. So I’ve pasted the blurb below for you, which is the result after days (weeks) of thinking and editing and thinking and more editing. Then, more editing.
It’s Valentine’s Day. Raegan Delaney Morrison is eagerly preparing to give her ten year-old heart away in the form of pink and red construction paper, Elmer’s glue, and a sequin for every thought she’s ever had about Christopher; he is the boy next door, and he’s been Raegan’s best friend since they were old enough to grab sand and make a meal of it.
With confidence, Raegan declares her love, certain Christopher must feel what she feels: tingles in his toes, butterflies in his stomach, and this magnificent all over sickness that sort of feels like the flu. And Raegan knows that once their ardency is out in the open, the sooner they can get to the good stuff: holding hands at school, sharing pudding, discussing who they’ll invite to their zoo-themed wedding . . . there’s only one small problem.
When does anything in life ever go according to plan?
A bewildered Raegan is left to confront the first of—what will inevitably be many—life’s cruelties. But perhaps not all on her own.
When Raegan meets Sue for the first time, she doesn’t comprehend the rarity sitting before her, disguised in dirty flesh and bones; all she knows for certain is there is something very different about Sue. What appears to be written and resolute to minds awakened by judgment, remains clean and potential to a child’s uncluttered eyes. Raegan is drawn to Sue; into her world without walls.
7. Who is your favorite literary character? Schmendrick the Magician, from The Last Unicorn. He is wildly inept and audacious, floundering through life with a gentle sense of humor that completely absolves him of any flaws. He is also kind and noble and slightly ornery, and there is nothing he wouldn’t do for his friends. For these reasons he is one hundred percent awesome. If you have not read this book, oh goodness, I can’t even. I can’t. Just. Go.
8. What is your favorite book of all time? Well . . . but in addition toThe Last Unicorn, Outlander is a very close second. Diana Gabaldon’s cast is compromised of the richest, most fleshy characters I have ever come across. They literally leap off the page into my mind. That is not hyperbole. I dream about them. I imagine what it might be like to know Jamie and Claire, to have them as friends. I think my husband and I would get along famously with them. We might never cease laughing. And the writing, the writing is so flawlessly beautiful, sometimes I have no choice but to lay the book on my abdomen, close my eyes, and thank God for creating people devoted to making art with their words. When I read Diana’s art, I am transported.
9. Who inspires you?Sometimes I feel like I might explode from all the inspiration. Nature, music, books, animals – these all inspire me. I am inspired by the soldiers defending our country. I am inspired by my dog’s unconditional, unwavering loyalty. I am inspired mothers forsaking every comforting liberty, all in the same of raising healthy, intelligent, kind human beings. I am inspired by my husband, who spends his days helping children with special needs function in system not built for their hearts and heads. Mostly I am inspired by Jesus. By His love. That He came as a needy infant, then spread His body on a cross and died the most excruciating death known to man, so I and everyone else could be set free from this brutal life which would otherwise keep me frightened and paralyzed and unable to love myself and love people. I am in awe of my Savior.
10) Is there anything you would like to share with our readers?Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you! And I would love to meet you. Please don’t hesitate to drop me a note on Goodreads. I hang out there a lot.
And thank you, Lynn, for having me, for writing up such lovely, thoughtful, in depth questions, and for all the cheek-crimsoning accolades for Awakening Foster Kelly. I am honored to be here and so pleased to have met you!
**** The first 10 chapters of Awakening Foster Kelly are available for free on Noise Trade.**** http://books.noisetrade.com/cararosalieolsen/awakening-foster-kelly-excerpt
If you missed our review of Awakening Foster Kelly you can find ithere.