Interview with Quenby Olson (THE HALF KILLED)
Quenby Olson lives in Central Pennsylvania where she spends most of her time writing, glaring at baskets of unfolded laundry, and chasing the cat off the kitchen counters. She lives with her husband and two daughters, who do nothing to dampen her love of classical ballet, geeky crochet, and staying up late to watch old episodes of Doctor Who.
Hi Quenby, welcome back to the Hive.
How many WiPs are you currently juggling? Tell us a little about them and what readers can expect!
Right now, only about two (though that doesn’t count other WIPs sitting around on my computer, collecting dust.) The first is Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide (to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons) which is… a bit of Elizabeth Gaskell, and a maybe a touch of Pratchett, and possibly half of the characters could be played by Judi Dench in a Netflix adaptation.
The second is Dust and Silver, which is a Victorian-era soap opera with werewolves and witches and Frankenstein-ian shenanigans, which I’ll be jumping back to as soon as Miss Percy is all wrapped up.
You’re quite a prolific writer. Have there been any books that were particularly hardest to write? What has been the toughest aspect of writing? Is it the plot, characters, dialogue or action scenes?
The hardest was The Half Killed. It was one of the first books I wrote, it took seven years (more off than on) to write, and underwent a lot of changes through its various versions. Sometime I think it might have been a bit too ambitious of a project to tackle for a baby writer!
The toughest aspect for me is pacing, keeping things moving along at a flow that will keep the reader turning the pages. I’m already invested because it’s my creation, but I have to be able to pull strangers into that world and make them want to stay there for several hundred pages.
What are your favourite kind of female characters to write?
If I say “strong” I know some people are going to assume I mean “butt-kicking with swords!” or something along those lines. But I most enjoy writing characters who have had to endure so much… crap along the way. And either they haven’t lost themselves through all of that, or better yet, the struggle is what they need to slough away the outer layers and discover who they really are.
You write horror and romance; is it always easy to see at first which genre a book is going to be? Do you have an affinity? for a specific genre?
I generally keep them pretty separate, so I can very clearly see how a story will be (Light and fluffy! Stab, monster, stab!) from the first page or so.
As for an affinity? Jeez, it’s like you’re asking me which of my children I love the most. There is so much each genre has to offer, I really cannot choose, especially since I tend to write by mood.
(Oh, and it’s the kid who remembers to put their dirty underpants in the hamper that I love the most.)
We love great world-building at the Hive, what’s the process behind your worldbuilding?
Pro-cess? I do not know what this word means.
Ha! Fair enough Quen!
You seem to have found a strong writing community on social media with far-flung fellow writers you may not have ever met irl. How important is that community to what can be a very solitary job?
I find it to be extraordinarily important to find a group of people you can trust, who you can talk to about things that only other writers will “get.” Especially during the current pandemic, being able to communicate with others, to talk about how our world has changed, to talk about our children and our struggles when we can’t always leave the house is an absolute lifesaver, in so many ways.
What are your favourite mythological creatures? What would you ride gloriously into battle upon?
Dragons. Dragons. Dragons.
And turtles. Oh, mythological? Um, magic turtles.
During these current uncertain times, have you found yourself with more time to write or less? Did it help as writing motivation, or was it more of a hindrance?
My time honestly hasn’t changed much, as I was already a work-from-home homeschool mom who tended towards an introvert’s life. I will say that the anxiety of everything pushed me to write a bit more and a bit faster than usual, mostly because putting my head into another world gave me a break from this one.
You’ve talked in the past about being influenced by some of the greatest female authors in the fantasy canon: Le Guin, Wynne Jones, and Shelley. Are there any modern female authors whose work you find particularly inspiring or influential for our time?
I actually had to skip this one and come back to it, because I wanted the time to think and I didn’t want to rush into it and forget someone who really deserved to be named. So I’m just going to throw out some names of authors whose work I think will stand the test of time, because they just know how to tell brilliant stories: Tasha Suri, Shannon Chakraborty, Naomi Novik, Zen Cho, Alix Harrow, K.S. Villoso, Madeline Miller, um… my brain, there it goes…
History has always marginalised women, with so many amazing women’s stories being left untold. Whose stories would you most like to see shared?
Older women. Mothers. Those who have been most often told their time is over because they’re no longer young, because their lives belong to their home and their children. Women who have lived a bit and yet still have so much life left in them.
You’re throwing a dinner party and can invite any female fictional characters: who do you invite and why?
Matilda, because she’s amazing. Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle, because ditto. And probably half the cast of Cranford.
Finally, what’s the one thing you hope readers take away from your stories?
I hope they can find something relatable in my stories, something that makes them feel seen, as if a part of their story has now been told. And if not that, then I at least hope they’re entertained along the way.
That’s brilliant Quenby, thank you so much for joining us today!