This coming April 30 marks the release date of Sketchy, Olivia Samms’ debut novel starring a spunky seventeen year old girl just out of rehab named Bea. I read this book a few weeks ago and absolutely loved it. It has a thrilling plot, an engaging cast of characters, and is full of promise! I’m definitely a fan and cannot wait to read more of Bea’s adventures with her new-found power. You can read my review of it HERE.
Since I appreciated the book so much, Olivia Samms has given me this lovely opportunity to sit down and talk to her about her life as well as her book. Relax, sit down, have a cup of tea or coffee, and join me as I interview the person behind Sketchy!
Hi, Ms. Samms! It’s such a lovely opportunity to talk about you and your book. Thanks for stopping by!
Thank you for inviting me, and for your interest in SKETCHY!
I’d like to get to know more about you first. Would you please give a short bio of yourself?
I grew up in a small town in Southern Michigan (not far from where Bea lives). After graduating from Cornell University, I took on the streets of New York as an actress and singer (bit parts on soap operas, regional theatre, and off-off Broadway shows). I now live in Los Angeles with my husband and two children, and I write! And when I’m not writing? I hike.
How long have you been writing? Have you always known you’d be a writer?
I don’t remember a moment, a point in time when I thought, gee, I going to try to write. Even though I pursued acting as my profession, I’ve always carried around a journal and was writing all along, making up stories, jotting down observations, developing the backstory of the current role I was playing on some dusty stage somewhere in the middle of the country. As my acting career waned and family grew, the journal eventually morphed into something more, and I found myself boldly sitting in front of the computer. And it’s amazing what a little encouragement can do—the power of words: I remember the day I found the guts and asked an established writer to read a novel that I was tinkering with. I can’t recall his notes, (because the manuscript was pretty lame), but what I do remember are the words, “You can write, Olivia. Keep going.” There was no stopping me after that.
Is there anyone – author, family, friend – that inspired or influenced you to take on this career?
I would have to say my daughter. She’s an avid reader, and when she hit her teens she was gobbling up every Y/A book she could get her hands on, and then would share them with me. I don’t know if this is true for every reader, but I believe great books engage every sense, being a complete visceral experience. I can remember where I was, what I was wearing, the time of year, the smell in the air, visualize the words on the page when I read Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK. And then, after finishing the last page, I carried around this gnawing feeling in my gut—like an itch I couldn’t reach—it was unnerving, and I knew I needed to say something to someone about it. It was like I was playing the game telephone and had to whisper in the ear of the person next to me, telling someone what I just heard. I felt the same way after reading Jerry Spinelli’s STARGIRL, (handed to me by my daughter, again). I found that the only way to scratch the itch was to start writing myself. If it weren’t for my daughter I probably never would’ve read SPEAK, which honestly, now that I think about it, really did kick start my career.
What are you looking forward to the most in this career? Is there something that you also dread from it?
The thing I look forward to the most is not only the opportunity to continue to write, but to have an audience! (The actress in me is ever-present, hovering like a hawk). And although I can’t hear the applause, boos, see the pages turn with smiles, tears, or ripped out and flung across the room out of anger (gee, I hope that doesn’t happen) it gives me great pleasure to know that there is an audience out there reading my words—hopefully feeling my words. And to actually hear from you, and those who have read? Hands down the best curtain call I’ve ever experienced!
There are things I don’t look forward to, and things I fret about. I worry every day before I sit down to write that I won’t have anything of interest to say and it’ll just be a lot of “blah, blah, blah . . .” And that does happen sometimes—that’s when I hike. I’m also a little apprehensive about the social media scene—having had never done it before—so a special thank you goes to you, Faye, for flinging me out there into cyberspace!
Why did you decide to write a book directed towards the Young Adult demographic? Do you have any plans to branch out eventually?
I never made a calculated decision to go Y/A. I guess Bea decided that for me. Her character was “sketched” out on a page in my journal waiting in the carpool lane for my son. I followed her lead, her voice, she called the shots, who she was speaking to, the messes she found herself in. And honestly, I don’t really see a distinct difference between Y/A and adult books—it’s more like a fuzzy line in most instances. I could be mistaken, but LOVELY BONES, CHILD OF MY HEART, THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, were not written under a Y/A imprint, and yet are enjoyed by all ages.
As far as branching out, hopefully, if THE BEA CATCHER CHRONICLES continue, Bea will grow, graduate high school (we hope) and my dreams are that the series will leach through the Y/A demographic and hold hands with adult readers. That would be cool, right? I have a lot of other ideas up my sleeve too!
What are your favorite Young Adult books? Any recommendations for the readers?
I have so many favorites, but the immediate standouts are:
SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson
STARGIRL by Jerry Spinelli
CHILD OF MY HEART by Alice McDermott (not technically Y/A)
THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zusak
Everything that ELLEN HOPKINS writes!
And . . .I was honored to attend the ALA conference in Seattle this past January and met Leslie Stella, who wrote the most incredible book, PERMANENT RECORD. Again, the book passed my litmus test, engaged every one of my senses, and grabbed a hold of my heart. I would highly recommend this book!
We all know that getting published is a bit difficult, especially with so many talented writers out there waiting for their chances to shine. How did your book get its chance to be published? What lengths did you take in order to make that happen?
I had to flesh Bea out, or maybe Bea had to have me flesh her out—she’s pretty bossy and had to be heard. So I guess passion played a major role in my journey. I wrote five sample chapters and a synopsis, and sent it around any way I could. Probably to people I had no business sending it to, and I’m sure it was promptly tossed in the trash—if it got that far. But, I was fortunate to land an amazing, tenacious agent, Lisa Gallagher. OMG, she’s been incredible! Her notes were spot on, and with her second set of eyes I pounded out the story. It took a while, for sure, but I’m a firm believer that things happen at the right time and with the right people. I don’t have any point of reference, being a debut author, but I can’t imagine working with a better team than Amazon Publishing.
Bea, your book’s heroine, has a really interesting power. Where did you get this idea from?
When I first started writing out Bea’s story, her ability was not paranormal. She could draw the truth out of people, but not “literally”. I was reading a fascinating book at the time, THE HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON, by Dr. Elaine Aron. Some HSP’s are considered to have a sixth sense—an ability to pick up on things. I knew Bea was an artist, always drawing, and I knew she was sensitive, a good listener, and noticed things others didn’t see. This was one of the reasons she hid behind alcohol and drugs—being overly sensitive can definitely take a toll on a person, can be a burden, and many find the need to dull their senses. But with her sobriety, Bea’s ability to “draw the truth” found its supernatural power on the page, as I found myself type the word, “literally”, one day, and her “power” took off.
Okay, the title of your book is Sketchy. Is there a hidden meaning to this? Why did you decide to use this? I’m thinking it must stem from the fact Bea draws the images, but just in case there’s also another reason why!
Originally the title was LET IT BEA. I got a few comments from people that they didn’t like it much—thought it should stand alone, be a catchier one-word title. I wasn’t too happy with changing it, and wrestled with ideas for weeks. And then my son, as he was drawing in his sketchbook one day, looked up at me and said “You should name it SKETCHY. Bea sketches, she’s sketchy, and all the situations she gets herself into are sketchy.” Hah! It made so much sense.
Who’s your favorite character in the book? (I especially love Bea – she has a lot of spunk and wit!)
Thank you! I have to agree with you, Bea is my favorite character too. (If I didn’t say that, she’d kick my butt!)
Is there a character you had difficulty writing about? Who’s your least favorite character?
It wasn’t a character that I had difficulty writing about—it was the high school setting. Everything seemed so typical, so clichéd within the high school walls—we’ve read it all before, right? I struggled with that, would skip over those scenes, and spend my time hanging with Bea outside the school. I discussed this dilemma with my husband over a pizza one night, and he said, “Olivia, teens are in high school, most of their time is spent within those confines, those walls. Of course you have to write about it. Get over it!” He was right. I guess, like most seniors, I wanted to get the hell out of school. But just like Bea, I had to trudge through the halls, and drag myself through the day, tolerating the posers, stoners, jocks, jerks and bros. I realized that I, Olivia, had senioritis—it must have tapped something, a memory in me, maybe, so I accepted the discomfort, and used it.
What do you consider is the best scene in the book? What particular scene did you struggle the most?
When thinking about this question, I could make a case for a lot of the scenes, for all different reasons, but honestly, the first scene that came to mind is with Bea and her parents, (*spoiler alert *) when Bea’s mom finds something suspicious in her purse. The contrasting, convoluted emotions and the intense love mixed up with rage, fear, anger is the ultimate example of “tough love”. The dynamics between a parent and teen is complicated and messy even in the best of situations—and sometimes it boils down to keeping your kid alive, at all costs, period.
As I mentioned above, the struggles I had happened in the scenes at Packard High. Willa infuriated me at times, and writing in first person didn’t lend itself for the reader, or me, to see her point of view. It was very important for me not to judge or villain-ize a character. Everyone is flawed. So I used Bea’s eyes as a mirror into Willa’s soul. She understood Willa. She saw herself in Willa.
I really appreciate that you incorporated a parent-child relationship in Sketchy. To be honest, they’re especially lacking in most YA titles these days, and I’m always on a hunt for them. Did you encounter any difficulty writing such a relationship?
Thank you for noticing that! As Bea says, (in book 2, btw) “sometimes bad stuff happens to good people.” That’s so important to me—pointing that out. I’ve found that if there is “bad stuff” happening to a kid, the parents are the first to be blamed (in books and in real life). No one wants their dirty laundry hanging out on the clothes line, so consequently there’s a lot swept under the rug—not talked about, ignored. Giving Bea, and her parents (especially her mom) big voices, it was nearly impossible to ignore anything going on in that house—they say what they think, so no, it wasn’t difficult. It was actually fun to write about a dysfunctional functional family. I mean really, don’t you think that describes every family?
I also love how you stalled the romance in the end, and even then, the romance was really subtle, leaving a lot of possibilities in the future books. Are we going to see more of it in the next book? Any hints of further development?
What romance? Haha. I’ve gotten some criticism with the age difference (again, don’t want to spoil for those who haven’t read it), but that’s real life, and real life tends to gets messy. Sometimes dreams and expectations are hijacked—yanked out from underneath you. What is “suppose to happen”, all the rules and “shoulds” in your life can suddenly disappear, be trampled on, with a simple glance at a pair of green eyes sitting across from you at a table.
As far as the next book goes? The readers will get to celebrate Bea’s eighteenth birthday, and maybe with a special someone?
Okay, quick question – if you had Bea’s power, which famous person would you want to draw the truth from and why?
Hah, great question! We know so little about the brain, how it works, why people do certain things that they do. And yet we are so quick to judge. We all make mistakes, do things we regret. I think everyday that I write about Bea, I am attempting to draw the truth out of her . . . but she’s not famous.
I guess I would love to draw the truth out of any politician. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?
Last, but not the least: what’s the most important message in Sketchy do you want readers to learn from?
Somebody said this, I don’t remember who, “everyone cries the same color tears.” It’s so true. I wanted Bea to be literally, every-girl with a hell of a lot of crap plopped on her shoulders. Teens of different ethnicities, sexual orientation, socio-economic status—they all deal with the same pain, same joy, same fears, just express themselves in different ways, and often not in healthy ways. Being in Los Angeles, and I’m sure all over the world, the temptations to escape from those feelings are a fingertip, a swallow, a snort, an injection, a breath away. But mistakes, missteps happen and do not define. Sometimes bad stuff does happen to good people, yes, but judgment from others, especially adults, sucks big time, and shame on them.
Thank you so much for the time, Ms. Samms! I’m looking forward to your next book, so I hope you don’t keep us waiting! :D
Thank you, Faye!!! Fabulous questions! It’s been a pleasure and honor. Book 2 of THE BEA CATCHER CHRONICLES will be out spring ’14. My thanks to all your readers (as I take a bow)
Be sure to check out my website: oliviasamms.com –let me know what you’re thinking!
GET A CHANCE TO WIN A SIGNED COPY OF SKETCHY! (INT)
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