FAQ with Gregg Olsen
- What inspired you to write for teenagers?
- How did you adapt your writing for a younger audience? Envy is a dark story and doesn't spare young readers gory details. Why is it important to write so candidly?
- Why did you decide to base the Empty Coffin stories on real life cases?
- Hayley and Taylor are terrific central characters—very real! How much did you draw from your own twin daughters?
- Where did the inspiration for Hayley and Taylor's psychic ability come from?
- The geographical setting of the novel is important. Why did you choose this particular location?
- What were your favorite books as a teenager?
- Thriller writer John Connolly says that his children's books continue themes contained in his adult novels. Have you returned to favorite themes in the Empty Coffin series?
- What else do you want readers to know?
- Who designed EmptyCoffinSeries.com?
What inspired you to write for teenagers?
I’m fascinated by that moment when we define ourselves, plan our futures, and make the moves to get us where we think we want to go when the world is nothing but possibilities. Teenagers do that every day (sometimes multiple times). There is so much promise, beauty, and hope in youth, but there is also the other side–the missed connections, the growing pains that come from lack of experience. There is nothing with greater promise than a teen as he or she faces the future. I feel inspired by the light and dark that comes with The Moment that Everything Changed.
I’ve thought about that a lot. Do I write a book that feels authentic, or do I sugarcoat it so that it is a softer side of reality? I think young people today have seen it all—in real life and certainly on TV. While I don’t want to glamorize violence, I do think it is necessary to give the readers the real thing–as close as I can make it, anyway. The other day someone asked me about the autopsy scene, how uncomfortable it made them feel as they read it. My initial thought, was that well, you should feel a little uncomfortable. No one likes the idea of having their body violated to determine a cause of death. Yet it must be done. Finding the truth is a little uncomfortable, isn’t it? And maybe it should be. What would it say about us if we never turned away from something horrific?
Many adult crime novels start with a real crime. Think about it. You know it is based in reality, but the author spins that into story with new directions, different nuances. I like pointing to a story similar to the plot line of each book in the series. It gives resonance and provides readers with a chance to talk about the “what ifs” of a storyline in a more relevant way. Something like that did happen. . . so, yes it could happen again. You can’t really do that with werewolves, of course. But it works for storylines rooted in reality. I chose cyber-bullying as a component of this story because the subject is very, very important. Untold numbers of young people are being victimized by others in a public way–without any real recourse. In my day, someone would threaten to beat you up at recess (though they almost never did). Today they’ll post revolting messages and photographs to cause great hurt and then laugh about it. Because they can. That’s very disturbing. I hope my young readers will enjoy the book for its characters and storyline but also think a little about the insidious nature of the online world. How anyone can say anything without the fear of reprisal is very dangerous. Don’t get me wrong; I believe in free speech. But I also believe in responsibility and respect.
There is a fair amount of stealing from my poor daughters and their experiences in the series. Not so much in the specifics (though there is some of that too) , but in the special conflict that comes from being born at the same time. Not that my girls are carbon copies of each other (they aren’t at all), but they shared the same experiences at the same time and often had completely different outcomes. I’ve witnessed the song and dance that comes from the unfairness of situations . . . when everyone is always trying to be fair and equal. My girls are close, but also rivals in a way, too. They’ve never known a time when they didn’t have to compete for attention. Hayley and Taylor in the series know that all too well.
A moment ago, I mentioned how I liked storylines rooted in reality, right? But the truth is that I do think there are things we don’t understand–the depth of own abilities, for example. Call [them] psychic or whatever, I do believe that some people have a gift that allows them to catch whatever it is that isn’t apparent to others. The mind is more powerful than really any one of us knows. Some people can literally see what others do not. Taylor and Hayley are two of those people. One more thing: as a writer of true crime myself, I have to say that I do think that places and things can be imprinted with emotions and the experiences of others. Tragedy lingers. Sometimes you really can feel it.
There is something dark and beautiful about the Pacific Northwest–but that goes beyond the rain, of course. We seem to have an overabundance of serial killers out here–so many, in fact, sometimes I wonder if they have a secret convention in Washington. I chose Port Gamble for a number of reasons: the proximity to the water (I love storms on the coast), its charming historical setting (unusual because most of our really old stuff just rots with the rain!), and because Port Gamble is pretty on the outside, but under that shiny, sparkling skin, something dark is lurking. That’s fun, creepy stuff.
I was enthralled by Stephen King’s books, of course. Dean Koontz, too. Even though they dealt with otherworldly issues and possibilities, I loved Stephen’s books mostly because he wrote young people so well. Carrie and Christine come to mind. I also started reading a lot of true crime in my later teen and early adult years. The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule was scary because Ted Bundy’s crimes happened right here. . . . It was that first taste that evil lurks all around you that got me really interested in crime stories–real or fiction. You just don’t see evil. When I think about it, I’m sure that those early reads had a tremendous impact on the kinds of books I’ve written. I’ve always said that if I read gardening books, I’d be a master gardener writing about plants and landscape. I was drawn to crime.
Absolutely. What works in an adult novel, works in YA. I’m always fascinated by the observer of evil–the mom, the neighbor, the best friend–as much as the perpetrator of the crime. Being caught up in dire circumstances and trying to figure their way out of them is a tried-and-true theme. When it gets down to it, all of my books are really about relationships, not crimes. Sure, there are crimes driving the plot, but what I’m most interested in as a writer is how people react, what they do, the lengths they will go to save themselves or someone they love.
While I have written a couple of adult thrillers with continuing characters, this is the first real series that I’ve taken on. I’m very excited about writing about characters as they grow, cope with amazing events in the kind of experiences that all teens have, yet dealing with the scourges of crime. No teenagers ever had such responsibility! And yet, as I look at the series and what’s ahead, I think Hayley and Taylor Ryan are up for the challenge.
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