(Note: “The Chat” is a new feature on J Schil’s Blog, where we’ll talk to both famous and not-so-famous people about what they do, the science behind what they do, and what they see themselves doing down the line.)
I’m blessed to have four amazing cousins. The one we’re spotlighting here today is Alana Siegel (follow her on Twitter here), who has just written her first book, a young adult fantasy novel called “The Charm: (Olivia Hart and the Gifted Program),” available now on Amazon for $0.99.
This is her first foray into the author world, so I wanted to ask her about writing, this book, and the future of the Olivia Hart series:
J Schil’s Blog: Where did the idea to become an author come from in the first place? Did you read some book as a kid that inspired you? Or was it something else?
As you know, I come from a family of unbelievable storytellers. [Her dad] Rogue and [her brother] Jesse have a natural way with words, and they shine in the spotlight. I began writing THE CHARM because I had my own story to tell, and I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
JSB: What is your favorite part of writing?
Writing is my creative outlet. I love inventing new situations for my characters and analyzing how they will react. All the details have to weave together and enchant the reader. It is both challenging and rewarding.
JSB: You work long hours. Where did you find the time to write this book?
Writing has always been a hobby that was maintained on long train rides in and out of Manhattan between the hours spent at my day job. I wrote the novel, THE CHARM, by writing emails to myself on an iPad. Then, I would piece it all together over the weekends.
JSB: What are the challenges with writing a book on the train?
The environment is not ideal for writing, and there are plenty of distractions on the Long Island Rail Road. The trains are often filled with rowdy fans traveling from the Rangers, Knicks, Yankees, or Mets games. The ride can be bumpy, and it annoys me when one person takes up two seats. However, the worst part is when an idea strikes me as I’m standing in the subway stations, and I’ll want to email it to myself, but there is no wifi!
JSB: You’ve said to me that some of the characters and events in this book may or may not be from your own life. Do you think you risk angering or hurting anyone if it becomes obvious to them that they are in the book, especially if they are cast in a negative light?
It’s true that people in my life inspired the dynamic characters in THE CHARM. I doubt anyone will be upset if they believe I used their personality traits. The characters in the book do things and say things that may not be smart at the time, however, just like people in my life, I see the good in all my characters, and they will make the right decision in the end. Stefan might be the only person who is not happy that his charm and good looks were the basis for one of my characters, but that’s because he likes to fly under the radar.
JSB: I think everyone has positive and negative experiences in their lives and for some writing or talking about them can be kind of cathartic. You don’t have to name specifics, obviously, but did you have that kind of emotion, too, as you relived some things as you wrote the book?
A major part of the high school experience is defining who you are. It can be an identity struggle when you are faced with the pressures of school and friends. Yet, I found it fun to think about my own school days as I detailed Olivia’s, but be forewarned, I might have selective memory.
JSB: This book is aimed at young adults. What do you hope young adults who read this book take from it?
Olivia is transitioning from a meek, insecure girl into a powerful person who has to resist using her Gift in a selfish way. She needs to stay true to who she is, even though she’s still in the process of figuring that out. I hope the message is different for each person who reads the book. Be proud of who you are, take care of your friends, and stand up for what you believe is right.
JSB: What do you think the message is for older adults who read this book?
For adults, I hope they can relive those universal experiences like remembering your locker combination or feeling everyone’s eyes on you as you walk into school or waiting for your best friend before lunch. Not everyone undergoes the same identity struggle that Olivia goes through, but everyone has a family member or friend that they would throw themselves in front of a bullet for. Everyone experiences unrequited love. And everyone wishes they could be more noticeable.
JSB: What character(s) do you relate to the most and why?
I relate the most to Olivia Hart. Just like me, she has always been satisfied living in the shadows of her peers. When she finds out that hiding is no longer an option, she is forced into the spotlight. The way she approaches issues that arise and questions that need to be answered is endearing and relatable.
JSB: What about this fantasy genre interested you?
Reading has always been my passion. I love getting lost in a fantasy adventure with characters who feel like old friends. I cherish books like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Percy Jackson that transport you to another world filled with creative troubles and inventive stories, but are also relatable. I began writing THE CHARM because I had a story of my own. I wanted to extend the reading adventure and share it with others.
JSB: You’ve told a bunch of us that you hope this becomes a trilogy. Were you eying where this story was headed three books down the line when you wrote this one, or will that story come to you more as you start the second and third?
Olivia Hart and the Gifted Program is a series that follows high school kids with special powers as they deal with everyday teenage drama and supernatural plot twists. The good news is that readers don’t have to say goodbye to Olivia and her friends once THE CHARM is over. I have completed a first draft for book two which I hope to release this summer, and a general story arc for book three.
JSB: And last but not least, what is your pitch to try to get people like me, who don’t usually read fiction and especially not the young adult fantasy genre, to read THE CHARM?
The characters are easy to identify with, and they take you back to the days of high school. Everyone made it through the overemotional adolescent years and experienced life changes because of it. Most importantly, Olivia Hart has the ability to compel people with her mind. Imagine how different high school would have been if you had the ability to charm your way out of trouble.