Please welcome Lisa Ann O’Kane to the blog as part of her blog tour for her debut novel, ESSENCE (out June 3rd)! Lisa Ann was kind enough to answer a few of my question about the book, and more!
You mention on your website that a summer-long campout at Yosemite National Park inspired you to write your new book, ESSENCE. Will you tell us a little more about that?
My pleasure! I accepted a sight-unseen job at the park’s concessionaire, Delaware North Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, and I showed up in April 2004 with a cowboy hat, a backpack, and no idea what I would actually be doing that summer. Human Resources assigned me a front desk job at one of the park’s hotels, and they told me I would be sharing a 10’x10’ tent cabin with a roommate for the next four and a half months.
Lucky for me, that roommate ended up becoming one of my very best friends (and the real-life inspiration for my Essence character Kadence). We also had such an amazing time that summer that it was easy for us to forget how few possessions we actually owned.
You have a background zookeeping and environmental education, but have you always wanted to write a book?
Absolutely. My mother would tell you I have been ‘writing’ since before I could write: scrawling complicated picture books and reciting them verbatim to anyone and everyone who would listen. I wrote recreationally through elementary and middle school, but I put writing on the back burner until I completed college.
In the meantime, I pursued a many of other interests, including zookeeping and environmental education. When I finally came up with the concept for my first (shelved) novel in 2009—a YA paranormal mystery filled with beluga whale research, poachers and a serious nature bent—I realized I had figured out a way to combine everything I love into one passion.
Will you tell us more about your protagonist, Autumn Grace? Why do you think readers will connect with her?
Autumn was a very interesting character for me to write, because she grew up believing she needed to repress her emotions or risk literally dropping dead at any moment. During Essence, she is presented with the opportunity to not only begin embracing her emotions, but to amplify them by pushing herself further than she’s ever believed possible.
I hope readers will connect with Autumn’s insecurities and fears as she attempts to figure out who she is when she takes away the constraints of who she thinks she is supposed to be. Naturally, she doesn’t always handle her transition with grace, but she wants nothing more than to be a good person and to make the people she cares about proud.
What kind of research did you do for the book, and what was one of the most interesting things you learned?
I did a lot of cult research to get ideas for the Centrist Movement’s treatment of its followers. I also researched Theravada Buddhism and Taoism to formulate the foundation for the Movement’s beliefs.
My most surprising discovery was the fact that ‘shunning’—or completely ostracizing someone to keep them in line—still exists in many alternative communities to this day. I can’t imagine having my entire support system turn its back on me for some (often trivial) discretion. What’s worse, the culprit’s family is often shunned, too.
Fear tactics are so scary. What a terrible and effective way to keep your followers in line.
What do you hope readers will take away from ESSENCE?
Essence is all about literal and metaphorical balance: the balance between right and wrong, between safety and freedom, between too little and too much. Autumn’s dual fears of tight spaces and heights also speak to this, and she struggles to find her inner balance throughout most of the novel.
My hope for Essence is that readers will understand that they alone are responsible for finding their own balance and moderation. They cannot simply trust that the people around them are looking out for their best interests.
What books or authors have inspired you the most in your writing?
I found The Beach by Alex Garland particularly inspiring while I wrote Essence. Although our novels don’t have much in common on the surface, they both feature idyllic communities that become poisoned by human greed and poor choices. I like the idea that you can’t run from your problems, and you need to remain true to your own moral compass.
What are you currently reading?
I am right in the middle of Dare Me by Eric Devine. Eric is a good friend of mine, and I am a HUGE fan of the gritty, honest way he writes. His characters aren’t perfect, and he doesn’t shy away from highlighting their flaws. He also doesn’t shy away from tough language or uncomfortable situations. I have SO much respect for this.
What’s one of the first things that you can remember writing?
I wrote my first legit story in second or third grade. It was called “Target,” and it was about a park ranger with a pet coyote who saved a bald eagle from a bunch of poachers. Or maybe he had a pet bald eagle and saved a coyote from a bunch of poachers? Regardless, I have been a hippie conservationist ever since. 😉
When you’re not writing, how do enjoy spending your free time?
Most of my favorite non-writing activities center around the outdoors: paddleboarding, scuba diving, hiking, camping, backpacking, snowboarding, etc. I am also a huge fan of live music and microbreweries, and I am seldom without my German Shepherd mix, Lexi.
What’s next for you?
I am always scheming for something new! Right now, I am particularly excited about potentially shifting into the New Adult genre for a little while. I have been drawn to college-aged characters for years, and I am so excited New Adult is finally beginning to gain momentum and credibility in the marketplace.
Autumn escaped a cult, but now she realizes she’s fallen into another.
Growing up in San Francisco’s Centrist Movement, sixteen year-old Autumn Grace has always believed emotions—adrenaline, endorphins, even happiness—drain your Essence and lead to an early death. But her younger brother’s passing and a run-in with a group of Outsiders casts her faith into question.
Ryder Stone, the sexy, rebellious leader of the Outsiders, claims Essence drain is nothing more than a Centrist scare tactic — and he can prove it.
Autumn follows Ryder to his Community of adrenaline junkies and free spirits in Yosemite National Park, and they introduce her to a life of adventure, romance, sex, drugs and freedom. But as she discovers dark secrets beneath the Community’s perfect exterior, she realizes the more she risks in search of the perfect rush, the further she has to fall.