Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Monica Olsen to the blog.
Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.
I’ve always loved writing. I was probably the only student in my classes in high school and college to look forward to writing the term’s research paper. For instance, in my Abnormal Psych class in college, I wrote a fifty-five page research paper on eating disorders. I even found two patients and included Q & A interviews as an exhibit to the paper. I’ve always loved to read so writing stories, I believed, would have come naturally to me. Turns out it didn’t. I started trying to write a novel in my late teens. Everything I wrote sounded hokey and contrived. Then I wrote a short children’s story and sent it in to Highlights magazine. A few months later I received a rejection letter with a list of twenty-seven suggestions for improving the story. Dejected, I shelved the book writing, finished college and now work as a claim examiner for a small third party administrator in Pennsylvania where, until recently, I was limited to report writing.
Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing?
I currently have four pets: two dogs and two cats. Thunder is a shi tzu mix and Romeo is a Maltese mix. We adopted them three years ago from the animal shelter on the same day. Both were older dogs at the time and have been such a blessing to our home. We also have two American shorthair cats, Miley and Bailey. All four of them could easily serve as the basis of more than a few stories. Our dog Thunder was the inspiration for my second book, Hair O’ the Dog.
Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories.
Thunder is the sweetest dog we have ever met. He is very laid back and sleeps a lot, compared to Romeo, who is very feisty, likes to wrestle. and is often up for anything. But where Romeo came to us trained and understanding simple commands, this was not the case with Thunder. We could take him out for a thirty-minute walk and he’d come inside and do his business right on the spot. Yelling at him and even crating him didn’t seem to work. I was torn between relinquishing him back to the shelter, where he’d almost certainly be euthanized (we found out shortly after we adopted him that he was closer to ten years old than six or seven the shelter told us he was), and giving him away. One day, I was shopping at Walmart and saw that the store carried ‘doggy diapers’. Sold! I had found a solution that was a win-win. They were very pricey and didn’t always fit properly, so I eventually switched to real life baby diapers, which fit the bill remarkably well.Thunder and my daughter have been inseparable since the day we brought him home. When she’s not home, we usually find him in her room, curled up and sound asleep on a sweatshirt or pair of sneakers she has left on the floor. It’s really quite endearing. My parents had abruptly given away our first dog when I was five years old and I did not want my daughter to experience the same. No kid should have to experience that heartbreak.
Hair O’ the Dog is geared towards the eight to eleven year old reader. It is about a young boy, Graham Cupps, who moves from Canada back to the US and has trouble making friends. His parents get him a dog, which seems to ease his loneliness. Although their hearts were in the right place, when the dog, who is also incidentally named Thunder, proves to hard to potty train, they look to find him another home. It is up to Graham to save his best friend. I hope that the readers feel Graham’s worry and despair and that these feelings inspire the readers to look for alternatives to relinquishing animals to shelters or worse, abandoning them to the streets or unsuitable homes.
What are you reading now?
The Black and The Blue, by Matthew Horace. It is essentially about policing in the US.
What writing projects are you currently working on?
I just finished editing my latest middle grade fiction novel, The Piper Boy. I have also started another middle grade chapter book which I would love to adapt to a screenplay at some point. But first thing’s first. I have to actually finish the manuscript. I am about eight chapters in.
Who is your favorite author and why?
I can’t say I really have any ‘favorite’ authors. I am drawn to a few different genres: romance, historical romance, mysteries, period pieces. If I really like an author, I tend to binge on everything they’ve written. Some of my favorites have been Anita Shreve, Jodi Piccoult, Syndey Sheldon, Robert Ludlum, Mary Higgins Clark and Tatiana DeRosnay. I also love Gillian Flynn, but boy is she dark!
Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them.
I did. My first dog was Cindy, a small black and white spaniel. She was very sweet but very energetic. One day just before Christmas she pulled the Christmas tree down and made quite a mess. I came home shortly thereafter and learned that my parents had given her away. Several years later, when I was a teenager, we adopted a tiny Corgi puppy from the animal shelter named Stormy. She loved to smile and swim. And when we’d had her for a few years we adopted another black and white pointer with the sharpest hearing and vision I’ve ever seen.
Why do you include animals in your writing?
I like to include pets in my stories because, to me, it makes my characters more human.
There is a dog which I introduce at the end of my first book, I Am Lily, Hear Me Roar. It probably wasn’t necessary to do so but it brought the character such joy. It was like I rewarded her for being such a good friend to Lily.
Do you have any working or service animals in your stories? Tell us about them.
Not yet, but I hope to in the future. I have a co-worker with a severely disabled son. She has previously complained that there are so few children’s books featuring disabled kids as main characters or geared towards disabled kids. So I’d like to write a book or two to help fill that gap.
What’s your favorite book or movie that had an animal as a central character? Why?
I would have to say that one of my favorites early on was Disney’s Fox and the Hound. I just loved the relationship between Todd and Copper. I think I was ten when I saw it. I remember it really touched something deep inside me, even at that age. Free Willy and A Dolphin’s Tale are amongst some of my favorites too. I love the sea and its exotic animals. Who doesn’t? I think animals help us better identify ‘teachable moments’ to kids, such as identifying and making sense of the senseless, protecting the earth’s resources and wildlife, etc.
What’s your real-life funniest pet story?
Thunder is a constant source of amusement for us. Not only have we noticed that he cannot hear, but he has pretty bad cataracts which cause him to not be able to see, especially at night or when navigating the steps. Unless, that is, he hears his food bag opening. Then, no matter where he is that boy can hear the bag open and can make it down to the kitchen in record time.
When did you know you were a writer? And how did you know?
I always remember wanting to be a writer. When I was six, I wrote a play in our basement and made my sisters act it out. (They have no recollection of this.) I didn’t actually publish a book until recently. After receiving the rejection letter years ago, I never seriously tried again to write with the intent on becoming a published writer. I would write little stories here and there, most of the time never finishing them. One day last year I was at lunch with a group of colleagues and I mentioned that I have always wanted to write a book. One of my colleagues convinced me to try again and now I am two books in with two more on the way. It is such an exciting time for me!
What’s the number one item on your bucket list and why?
Writing a book was number one on my bucket list. During the process I learned that my aunt, who is now deceased, wrote a play in her late teens or early twenties that was produced. Infuriatingly frustrating, my father is unable to recall any details as to when it was produced, where, by whom or the title! Whatever this drive is, it appears to be in the genes.
What do your pets do when you are writing?
I often find a little corner in a cafe and do my writing there. My pets are at home during this time.
What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now? And how many TBR piles do you have?
As soon as I started writing seriously, I went online and found a few really good Facebook groups dedicated to authors and publishers. I’ve come across some really interesting finds, such as the book I’m reading now, The Black and The Blue by Matthew Horace.
Some others I intend to pick up are:
The Cold Cold Sea by Linda Huber
Proof of Lies by Diana Rodriguez Wallach
Lies that Bind by Diana Rodriguez Wallach
Hazel House by Oby Aligwekwe
The Rain Watcher by Tatiana DeRosnay
These are just a few. Sadly, my free time is limited, and I haven’t been doing much reading while I have been writing. I hope to get back to it soon.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
First, just write.
Second, it’s a process. I once read an interview with novelist Danielle Steel, whom I idolized in my teens. First, I wanted to be Judy Blume. Then I wanted to be Danielle Steel. In the interview it mentioned that she once locked herself in her bedroom and wrote a book in twenty-three hours (or something like that). Myself, I find I can write for two hours max. Many times, I’ve sat in front of my computer and have written five words. I don’t ever feel like I am wasting time. Because writing is a process.
Third, don’t lose those great ideas. I have close to an hour drive to and from work, which is when I tend to get my best ideas. I obviously can’t write them down at that point, so I dictate them into the Notes app of my cellphone. Always have something to record your thoughts. I often go back to the notes if I can’t retain the words or story line when I have time to sit and write later.
And fourth, never give up. If writing is what you want to do, then just do it. I have read many books over the years. Some I liked and some I didn’t. My friends and I sometimes disagreed on whether a book was good or not. Sometimes what I find really good another might not, and vice versa. Your readers are out there. You’ll find them.
Monica Olsen is the author of two middle grade fiction books: Hair O’ the Dog (2018, Amazon) and I Am Lily, Hear Me Roar (2018, Covenant Books). She earned a BA in Law/Justice from Rowan University and an Associate in Arts from Gloucester County Community College. She lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia with her family and four pets.