2017 Debut Authors Bash: Interview with Kayla Olson (The Sandcastle Empire)

Hey everyone! Today I'm super excited to take part in the 2017 Debut Authors Bash hosted by YAReads! This wonderful event celebrates all of the amazing YA authors that debuted this year, and I'm beyond THRILLED to host one of my favorite authors: Kayla Olson, author of The Sandcastle Empire! Check out the fun Q&A I had with her about The Sandcastle Empire (and a bit about her upcoming 2018 book), and don't forget to add The Sandcastle Empire to your TBR! Enjoy ♥
The Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson
June 6th, 2017 from HarperTeen
YA Dystopian
When all hope is gone, how do you survive? 

Before the war, Eden’s life was easy—air conditioning, ice cream, long days at the beach. Then the revolution happened, and everything changed.

Now a powerful group called the Wolfpack controls the earth and its resources. Eden has lost everything to them. They killed her family and her friends, destroyed her home, and imprisoned her. But Eden refuses to die by their hands. She knows the coordinates to the only neutral ground left in the world, a place called Sanctuary Island, and she is desperate to escape to its shores.

Eden finally reaches the island and meets others resistant to the Wolves—but the solace is short-lived when one of Eden’s new friends goes missing. Braving the jungle in search of their lost ally, they quickly discover Sanctuary is filled with lethal traps and an enemy they never expected. 

This island might be deadlier than the world Eden left behind, but surviving it is the only thing that stands between her and freedom.

Interview with Kayla Olson

- How would you describe The Sandcastle Empire in GIF form?

- If you were suddenly thrown inside your book, what survival skill do you think would serve you most to know?
On Survivor, it’s always beneficial for the contestants to know how to build fire and shelter, so I’d definitely start there! Also…running. I’ve never been much of a runner, let alone a fast runner—it’s possible I would not survive my own first chapter.

- I love your writing style (so unique!) and how so many scenes made me feel deeply, but I want to know, which one took the most emotional effort to write?
Oooh, great question—and thank you! There are several that come to mind that were super emotional for me to write, but to avoid spoiling those (because most of them fall in the back half of the book), I’ll mention one that falls closer to the halfway point. There’s a scene where Eden and Lonan are sitting on top of a cave together, and it’s really the first time either of them open up—they both have a lot of pain in their pasts, and they live in a world where they have to be constantly on-guard. Neither has truly been able to trust another person in over two years; it was emotional for me to dig into those back stories, and to have them test those waters of trust even though they really don’t know for sure that the other person can be trusted. It’s a moment of vulnerability and risk, and it pulled at my heart to put them through the pain of taking those first steps of faith—especially knowing it could be a huge, huge mistake for them to trust each other.

- Do you have some photo inspiration for your characters?
I do, for most of my characters— but I’m hesitant to share it for fear of compromising the images readers already have in their heads. I will say, though, I found this photo of Cara DeLevigne after writing my first draft, and it felt so Eden to me (minus the giant Burberry bag, ha!).

- Are there any extra scenes cut from the final version that we should know about?
I tend to add in revision, so I didn’t delete any scenes from this iteration of the story! However, this iteration of the story has a very different ending from the first few drafts I ever wrote—there was a giant subplot about Eden having to rescue her mother! I ended up taking the mother out completely so that there’d be more weight focused on how much she missed her father. In the published version, her mother has been gone since Eden was quite young, so before the war, Eden was already so, so close with her father. To have him be her everything—and then to have him ripped away from her in the war—made that loss so much more significant in her life.

- What unusual thing did you have to spend some time researching for The Sandcastle Empire?
My favorite things to research for The Sandcastle Empire had to do with silk technology and with architecture that regrows itself using protocell technology. I stumbled on TEDTalks dealing with both subjects—Fiorenzo Omanetti’s and Rachel Armstrong’s (and you should definitely watch them both!)—and I thought, wow, these ideas could have fascinating effects on the world, for both better and worse, if they caught fire.

- What's the most surreal thing about having a book you wrote out in the world?
I think the most surreal thing about it is seeing readers make things with my quotes—tote bags, coffee mugs, even just posting pictures of the quote itself on instagram. When people pull quotes from the book and make art with them, it’s often because they want to be reminded of it for some reason or another, for some day in the future when they need to hear it most. It makes me feel like I’ve connected emotionally with a reader’s real, actual life, just through a story that started as a seed in my mind—and that is so surreal to think about.

- What songs would perfectly describe the plot of your book?
AHHH, I’m so glad you asked! A friend sent me a message shortly after reading my book, and was like, “YOU HAVE TO LISTEN TO THIS SONG. THIS SONG IS YOUR BOOK!” I listened, and yes, YES, she was totally right. Please, do yourself a favor and download “Hell or High Water” by The Rescues rightthissecond. It perfectly captures the feeling of The Sandcastle Empire for me.

- If your characters could be friends with any other YA characters from other books, who would they be?
My main character, Eden, would most definitely relate well with Ruby from Gray Wolf Island (by Tracey Neithercott), Aila from The Disappearances (by Emily Bain Murphy), and Catarina from This Mortal Coil (by Emily Suvada)! They’d be a fierce, thoughtful squad to be reckoned with.

- In what places do you find yourself writing most of the time?
I am a creature of habit and almost always write at one of two places: my favorite local coffee shop, West Oak Coffee, or at the desk in my office. If I’m struggling to get into a draft, my office is the best place because there aren’t a lot of distractions; if I’m revising, the coffee shop is great because I can spread out (assuming I can get one of their coveted not-tiny tables) with easy access to coffee and snacks!

- What are the perfect snacks to read your book with?
A few slices of Brie cheese, sliced pear, honey drizzled all over it, and some freshly ground salt and pepper on top! (Slice of freshly baked bread optional.) This is the snack my main character, Eden, craves from before the war—and I pulled this snack directly from my own life, because it’s one of my favorites! (Snack with caution so as not to get honey all over your book, lol.)

- Can you give us a hint on what your next book will be about? GIFs are allowed ;)
My next book is another YA survival story called This Splintered Silence—without giving away too many specifics, since we haven’t shared the official synopsis yet, it's about a girl who's in way over her head, and she feels like the weight of the entire world is on her shoulders. In a lot of ways, it is. She never feels like enough, and she fears she'll drop the ball in a way that has awful, irreversible consequences. So much of the book is about how she learns to deal with the pressure even when she feels paralyzed by the fear of failure, and when she feels like she's all alone with no support system. It’s also about shifting relationships in a tight-knit group of friends whose world has just been turned upside down. I can’t wait to share more! For now, have this series of GIFs! xo

I AM ALL KINDS OF EXCITED FOR YOUR NEXT BOOK, KAYLA! And thank you for all the awesome answers about The Sandcastle Empire, I seriously love learning more about this wonderful story. ♥  (People, you seriously need to read her book!!!! Check out my review here.)
About Kayla Olson
Kayla Olson lives in Texas, and can usually be found in near proximity to black coffee, the darkest chocolate, Scrivener, and an army of Sharpie highlighters. 

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Now go check out the rest of the 2017 Debut Authors Bash HERE!!


  1. I still need to read this book!!!! I'm going to plan on reading it in January, I've been holding off way too long!!