Author Interview: Nancy Ohlin on Consent

Nancy Ohlin author photoI’m very excited to have Nancy Ohlin here on the blog as part of the Consent blog tour. Nancy is answering some questions about her latest novel today. Be sure to check the bottom of this post for links to the other tour stops. You can also enter my giveaway for a copy of Consent thanks to Simon & Schuster.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Nancy Ohlin (NO): I was writing stories from the time I was six or seven. My mom saved a bunch of “books” that I wrote (in Japanese, which is my native language) and illustrated with manga ­style princesses and cute, smiley pets.

In college, I majored in English and creative writing. In my late twenties, a publishing friend took a chance on me and hired me to ghostwrite for a popular children’s mystery series.  That led to more ghostwriting, and eventually, to writing my own novels under my own name.

After all these years, I’m still astonished and grateful that I actually get to tell stories for a living.

MP: What was the inspiration for Consent?

NO: I originally wanted to write a YA novel about sexual assault. I’d had a bad experience with a teacher in high school, and I needed to recycle that experience into something healing and helpful: a book, a cautionary tale.

But a few chapters into the first draft, my characters—the “bad guy” and the “victim”—kind of went rogue. They had their own ideas about where the story should go.  In the end, Consent became what it was meant to be: a complicated, no­-easy-­answers novel about a very important and very controversial subject. I’m hoping that it will spark a lot of debate and discussion.

MP: Bea is a reluctant piano prodigy at the beginning of the novel and her musicality is a big part of the story. Do you play the piano? Is this aspect of Bea’s character based at all on your own experience with music?

NO: I do play the piano, and for a while, I thought I was going to pursue a career as a musician. I started lessons in Japan at age five; after I moved to the U.S., I continued studying with my American grandmother, who was a piano teacher in Ohio, and with a concert pianist named Olga Kuehl.

But I wasn’t talented or committed enough to stay on that path, and besides, my true passion was writing. Still, classical music was and is a huge part of my life. Also, my son, who is the real musician in the family, is a piano performance major at Juilliard.

MP: Bea is a bit unreliable in certain aspects of her narration. Did you always plan for her to be a semi-unreliable narrator?

NO: Yes! Bea lies to herself and to the people around her because it keeps her from having to deal with difficult truths. So it made sense to me that she would lie—or try to lie—to the reader.

MP: One of the interesting things in Consent is the push and pull between what is perceived and what is true about Bea and Mr. Rossi’s relationship. How did you go about writing a story that operates in such a grey area?

NO: Having a semi­-unreliable narrator is part of that. The reader has to sift through Bea’s narrative and pick out the truths from the untruths, just as Bea has to figure out what’s real and what’s not about her relationship with Mr. Rossi.

Consent is all about grey areas—romantic grey areas, legal grey areas, moral grey areas.  In writing it, I had to make myself pull back from my characters and not judge them. My job was to tell their story, even if the story got very uncomfortable sometimes.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

NO: I’m working on a bunch of things, including a mystery set in Alaska, a dystopian fantasy inspired by Chernobyl and Fukushima, and another, equally dark fantasy about monsters and medical procedures.  Also some chapter books for younger readers. Never a dull moment!

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

NO: I always tell aspiring authors the same thing I tell myself, which is: Just show up. Show up to your computer or notebook every day, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes, and put down some words. Also, stay with your page. Many writers have that experience where they sit down and type a couple of sentences, and they’re not sure where to go next … and so their minds start wandering, and pretty soon they’re berating themselves: This sucks, I can’t write, I’ll never be a writer. Just stay with your page. Stare down those awkward sentences. Make yourself write the next sentence and the sentence after that.  Have faith in the process, and in yourself.

As far as getting published goes: There are so many good websites about how to submit work to agents and editors. Some of my favorites include: Pub(lishing) Crawl (http://www.publishingcrawl.com/) and Fiction University (http://blog.janicehardy.com/).

Thank you for having me on your blog!

Thanks again to Nancy for this awesome interview.

You can see more about Nancy and her books on her website.

You can also check out my review of Consent.

Consent: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Consent by Nancy OhlinBetween all of the lies she tells at school about her non-existent piano teacher and her supposedly okay home life, Beatrice Kim has a lot of secrets even before starting her senior year at Andrew Jackson High School.

Then Bea meets her music history teacher. Mr. Rossi is young, good-looking, and completely believes in Bea’s potential as a professional pianist–something Bea hasn’t ever allowed herself to consider.

When their shared passion for music turns into something else, Bea and Rossi begin a sexual relationship that could ruin them both. Bea thinks she knows what she is doing and what she wants. She thinks Rossi understands her and loves her. But with the threat of discovery looming, Bea will have to confront uncomfortable truths about herself and her relationship with Rossi in Consent (2015) by Nancy Ohlin.

Consent delivers two stories in one slim volume. One, reminiscent of Sara Zarr’s The Lucy Variations, explores how Bea lost her love for the piano and how she can reclaim it; the other is an often uncomfortable examination of a relationship that never should have happened.

Despite the problems Bea hints at in her home life and the lies she tells, everything comes very easily to Bea in Consent. She is at the top of her class despite having no real interest in college. She is a piano prodigy with perfect pitch although she has never had formal lessons. She is also, conveniently, at a recently rebranded  “Campus for Baccalaureate and Performing Arts” despite having a nearly pathological desire to avoid the piano at the beginning of the novel. Readers who can get past these contrivances will be rewarded with a layered and thoughtful contemporary novel.

The push and pull between what is perceived and what is true throughout Consent adds another dimension to Bea’s often unreliable first person narration as readers, and Bea herself, contemplate Rossi’s agenda.  Despite some heavy-handed moments, Ohlin delivers an open-ended novel ripe for discussion as readers follow the plot’s twists and turns.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, With Malice by Eileen Cook, The Graces by Laure Eve, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, Teach Me by R. A. Nelson, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten, The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the September 2015 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen on various sites online*

You can also read my review with Nancy Ohlin starting November 12.