Kelly Pawlik dabbled with story writing from a young age. She spent her childhood reading, dressing her beloved cat, Midnight, up in doll clothes and hunting garter snakes in the backyard. Her favourite cartoon as a child was Jem and she is proud to own the full box set of DVDs. Her childhood dream was to be an author and she is proud to be bringing characters to life with the Olympic Vista Chronicles.
Kelly is a tabletop roleplaying game (TTRPG) writer and has released multiple RPG supplements with her husband under their micro-publishing company, Dire Rugrat Publishing. She has also contributed to several best-selling works with Kobold Press.
Kelly lives on Vancouver Island, BC with her husband, their three inquisitive children, and two lazy cats.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
My husband and I are both avid gamers. We play a lot of tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGS). The characters in this book, or at least most of them, have appeared in various forms across a bunch of our campaigns. (This is probably one of my favorite versions of them though!) The Olympic Vista Chronicles are inspired by some time we spent playing the Tales From the Loop RPG, which is a great system set in “the 80s that never was.”
The characters have come to be very real for me, for both of us, and it’s a little scary but also super gratifying to put them out into the world in these novellas so other people can meet them.
So, what’s the deal with “The Link?”
The books are set in this small fictional town called Olympic Vista. (It’s not too far from Olympia, WA.) The whole town sort of formed around this research and development facility. No one talks about exactly what they do there. It’s all pretty secretive. What people do know is that it was started by James Morrison. He ran the place for years, slowly growing it and bringing on more scientists. Dr. Morrison had a theory that everything was connected (or “linked”) and a lot of research stemmed from that. For the most part, the research is contained to the lab, but once in awhile something slips through, or an employee goes rogue, or the area just attracts some unwanted attention.
Some residents attribute weird happenings in town to the facility, but most people just go about their business, happy for the inexpensive houses and proximity to Olympia.
Why the 80s?
My husband and I had been playing the Tales From the Loop RPG, which is set in the 80s (“that never was”), but also, Stranger Things has been such a big influence in the media since its release.
Trends from lots of decades seem to circle back into style, but 80s trends are really coming back in all sort of places from fashion to home décor. I think there’s something about that time period. Even cartoon favorites like My Little Pony just don’t seem to go out of style, even if they’ve had a huge revamp appearance-wise.
I have very fond memories of watching Jem and Lady Lovelylocks, I can remember a collection of the hard sided plastic lunch boxes with images of She-ra or Sesame Street on them, and my brother was super into the Ninja Turtles, so we used to play that a lot. There’s just something about the more simplistic time of the 80s that has this nostalgia to it.
Plus, it’s way easier for kids to get themselves into and out of trouble when there aren’t hovering parents and cell phones!
What are your favorite things about the 80s?
The toys. I remember my Jem doll who didn’t fit any of Barbie’s clothes. She had these huge flat feet! Or the brightly colored toy rotary phone that every kid seemed to have.
Then there’s the cartoons. They are honestly so terrible, but in that nostalgic way. It’s amazing how far cartoons have come.
In truth, I was a bit young for some of the 80s vibes as I’m an 80s baby. (Of course, if you listen to Robin in How I Met Your Mother, the 80s didn’t come to Canada until the early 90s!) I’ve got some fond memories from the later 80s and early 90s though, and the internet is such an amazing thing.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?
A bit of both! I often find the dialogue writes itself. I can’t seem to control everything they say, for better or worse. The characters all have such distinctive personalities to me, their own flaws and hopes and aspirations. So, I have a general idea of where everything is going, but once in awhile they surprise me.
What is your favorite scene in Yesterday’s Gone?
There are so many I love, but I really enjoy the scene in the park after the kids have snuck into the haunted house. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but Darius’ excitement for the whole situation, and his willingness to just go with it, in contrast to the others who are still coming to grips with the discovery, it just makes me smile every time I read it.
What is your favorite scene in Songs from the Wood?
That’s tough. We really see a lot more of the home lives for these kids in book two, and I really like that. Darius’ interactions with his mother give us a better picture of who Darius is. We get to see Adelaide with her mother as well. And we get to meet Tetsu’s mother in book two, and she makes any scene she’s in wonderful. Tetsu has this way about him, but like so many kids, like so many people, it’s a façade. Mrs. Nomura is a no-nonsense woman and she adds this dynamic that I enjoy. There’s a lot of excitement in the woods, of course, but the banter (or lack of) between parent and child really excites me.
Convince us why you feel your book is a must read.
It’s a little bit of everything: snappy dialogue, friendship, 80s nostalgia, a touch of horror and a small pinch of young love. It’s a quick read, so there isn’t a big commitment, but if you love it, there’s so much more to come. It was written to be a great read for busy adults. Pick it up, meet some new friends, and finish the adventure in an afternoon. What have you got to lose?
Who designed your book covers?
Greta Paliulyte. I found her through Fiverr and I loved her style. They are a bit different, maybe not in the usual wheelhouse of this type of book, but I love the sort of 80s vibe they give off, like a book you’d pull off a shelf in your grandma’s dusty basement.
If your book had a candle, what scent would it be?
Oh, that’s a fun question! I suppose it would be those scratch and sniff stickers from the 80s, but mixed with a musty old house.
Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?
I honestly read a lot of YA, especially fantasy YA. I like it, because I like an easy read, but sometimes I wish there was just a bit more to it, or a bit less than some of the books on the fiction market have. As a working parent I found I had less and less time to read and it was frustrating. I’d make it through some YA books now and then, and I enjoyed them, but I still wanted more.
So many people in my life think of me as an avid and voracious reader, but the number of books I was getting through in recent years really diminished. My goal with Olympic Vista Chronicles is to help other people like me, who want to read, who love to read, to feel like they have these bite-sized piece they can get through. The “problem” or adventure in each book is contained to that book, but strung together the series make a bigger and more satisfying story.
Tell us about your main characters- what makes them tick?
Darius, the rich-kid from Boston, has such a curious mind. In some ways, he’s been super sheltered and the idea that he could have this group of friends, that he could go on these adventures, it’s really exhilarating for him.
Adelaide, is a bit different. She’s the glue that holds her circle of friends together, even if she doesn’t realize it. She’s had a tough life. Her mother can’t seem to hold down a job, she burns just about anything she cooks and she has horrible taste in men. Her dad isn’t in the picture at all and there’s been a revolving door of roommates over the years. Adelaide spends more time being the adult than her mother does, and Darius’ arrival in town gives her a chance to be a kid and get in trouble and just live.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
None of the characters are based on anyone I’ve met exactly, but I don’t know if anything can come completely from people’s imagination; everything we do, everything we see, it can affect us. I have no doubt my interactions with various people, things they have said to me or I’ve ever heard, they all play a part in the creation of these characters.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
I might just be working on a few! I have an idea for a short story collection I’d like to put together. The main characters of the novella series won’t feature too prominently, but they’ll be around for parts of the book. Their friends, however… we’ll have to see!
In the meantime, there is a short story available to people who sign up for my newsletter. It’s still set in Olympic Vista, but it has very different characters. It’s much less horror and much more friendship with a touch of sadness. (I only send out a newsletter about once a month, but subscribers will get access to novella updates and behind-the-scenes information!)
There are some unanswered questions throughout the two books. Are the answers coming soon?
I really endeavour to wrap things up in each book, but Olympic Vista is a strange place and we’re following a group of preteens as they investigate the weirdness around them. Sometimes the answers are just out of reach, but don’t worry: a lot of questions will be answered in due time.
Can you, for those who don’t know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I honestly can’t pinpoint when I become an author. I can remember trying to write stories before I could actually write. (I distinctly remember one of my older half-brothers refusing to sit as a captive audience writing down my every word!) And I know I played around with stories and poems through school. Several years ago, I started writing roleplaying game (RPG) supplements, and that just sort of kept evolving. Some of it was really rules based, but other parts were adventures or really descriptive.
As far as my novella fiction work goes, I dabbled a bit with passages of work that could become novels or short stories over the years, but nothing really came of it. Between work and kids, there just isn’t always a lot of time and the idea of actually writing a whole book and figuring out what to do with it was really intimidating.
When COVID hit and everyone tucked themselves away, I saw all these posts on social media about what people were doing with their free time I was a little jealous. I’ve got three kids and, due to a health scare with our youngest a couple of years ago, we decided to homeschool them last year. I felt like I had no time at all, let alone this extra time everyone was talking about!
Still, I felt inspired to take baby steps, so earlier this year I enrolled in an online writing course through the community college. It really pushed me to carve out a bit of time for writing. I wasn’t thrilled with the short story I had at the end of it, but it did reignite my passion for writing. My husband was super supportive and kept encouraging me to write more, and so I did. I ended up with a ton of words and too many ideas, so I sought some help from that instructor and she suggested going with a series of novellas. Now here we are!
Where were you born/grew up at?
I was born in Surrey, BC. I’ve never lived anywhere but Vancouver Island, but my mum was pregnant and went to the mainland for a concert with my father. Apparently, the doctor had said she’d be fine, but a few hours before the show she went into labour. I had to hear for years about how she knew exactly when Jethro Tull last played in the Vancouver area. I actually offered to buy her a ticket when they passed through again in 2011.
What do you enjoy most about writing this series?
I love getting to bring these characters to life, so to speak. They feel like friends to me, and writing out these adventures, instead of just having them in my head, allows other people to meet them, to love them or hate them (or love to hate them!). It is also a lot of fun to dig deeper into the 80s. I have a playlist of songs I play to get me in the mood sometimes, and I’ve been digging out the 80s movies to watch as a family. It’s amazing what was acceptable back then!
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
So much! And sometimes it’s the small things. I’m from Canada, but I try to ensure the characters refer to things as they would in the US, so soda (not pop). I discovered that Bits-n-Bites are Canadian, so I had to swap them out for Chex Mix. Also, I’ve always called it Kraft Dinner, but I learned that in the US it’s called Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Who knew, right?
You’ve published two books now, both in the same series. Do you have a favorite, and if so, why?
The second book for sure. Yesterday’s Gone, the first book, has a lot of set up in it. I think that’s difficult to avoid in the first book in the series. Songs from the Wood has a lot more about the characters and their interactions with each other. There are more musical references and, I think, an even better feeling of the 80s. If you are on the fence with book one, I really recommend checking out book two. There’s a lot of fun in those pages, including a party!
Why did you decide to write YA?
I’m not sure I did, honestly. I set out to write this series with the intention of providing a great story to adults who were nostalgic for the 80s and wanted a fun, quick read. I often feel like I don’t have enough time to read anymore, and so when I do sit down with a book, I want to be able to get into it easily, to fall into the pages and feel like I’m right there, a part of the story.
I kind of tried avoid the idea of a YA novella, but here we are! I was surprised to learn that (according to different reports) between 55-70% of YA book sales are adults. It sounds like lots of adults love their YA fiction.
If you could spend time with a character from your book whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?
So many of them. Honestly. Just for different reasons. I’d be so nervous hanging out with Tetsu because of all the trouble he’d probably get us in, but he’s got a certain charm to him and it would be a day to never forget. I doubt I’d get to decide what we did though! Darius is just so enthusiastic it would be hard to not want to spend time with him. We could bike around or swim in his pool. And sweet little Kurt… I’d want to take him out of his house and let him go wild in the bookstore. Adelaide, well, I’d love to hear her deepest fears and promise her I’ll keep them a secret, then eat a big meal and hand her a packet of leftovers. Andy, and he doesn’t make much of an appearance yet, he’d be fun to spend time with. We’d go for a hike and get ice cream afterward, then maybe watch Indiana Jones or James Bond in the evening.
How to find time to write as a parent?
Oh my gosh, that’s difficult! Some days are way more successful than others. My kids are 7, 9 and 11. Sometimes they all want to play video games and I try to seize that opportunity to write in peace, but they usually end up fighting about whatever game they are playing. Sometimes my husband runs interference, but he’s got a job as well, so sometime I have to just give up.
I read this trick once about setting a schedule for writing where you have these zones: red zone means no writing; yellow zone is good for editing and review; green zone means you have no distractions and should be dedicated writing time. I often feel like I live in the red and yellow zones!
That said, my mum lives in town and she takes them for a sleepover now and then so I try to blitz through some words while they are out of the house.
What do your children think about you being an author? Are they supportive of your writing?
My kids are pretty happy for me to be doing something I want to do. I really had to explain how important my writing time was for them to understand how difficult it is when I’m interrupted. I try to make it up to them with visits to fun places, playing games (my son has a magnetic dart board and loves our daily games on it), and freezies.
I still get interrupted now and then, but they do their best. They were so excited for me when book one, Yesterday’s Gone, arrived in print at our house. Out of the blue sometimes one of them will say something like “I hope you sell a thousand copies of your book.” I love it. I love them.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
Mother, RPG lover, mediocre gardener
What can we expect from you in the future?
More of this! I’m really excited about the Olympic Vista Chronicles series, so I’m working away on those. The first book was released in July and the second in September. The drafts for book three and book four are in various states, so it’s a great time to get into the series – there should be more books coming really soon!
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from other genders?
I don’t know what’s going on in their heads! I (mostly) understand pre-teen and teen girls, but boys? My eldest isn’t quite that old yet, though he’s getting close, so I don’t have a lot of experience with that, and I didn’t have a lot of male friends when I was younger. I think it’s because the few there were kept breaking my toys and so I didn’t want them around! I do my best, work with how I feel the characters are, then look to my beta-readers. They’ve been really great at pointing out flaws. They tried to make suggestions with the girls though and I had to go back to my other beta-readers who assured me I’d captured the girls just fine.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
I did, but I’m not sure I do now. I think you can be a position to write better or worse, as in some writing may require a much heavier editing hand, but I don’t think there’s a problem you can’t get past by just writing. You may have to skip further forward and then go back and fill in the blanks, but the best way through is to just write.
What are you currently reading?
I have about seven books on the go. It’s way too many! I’m at various points of An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, Becoming by Michelle Obama, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, and the Dead of Night by John Marsden (that last one is a re-read). I hope to finish some of them up soon, but I keep getting distracted.
I actually added another one to my pile, Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fiction and Illusions. I’ve been much more diligent about reading it. He has this whimsical horror to his work that I love.
What makes a good story?
A good story makes you feel something. You feel what the characters do or you feel for the characters, or both. A story that makes you keep reading, makes you wonder what happens next, that’s a good story. A good story makes you invest yourself in it. It makes you care.
Would you like a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card? Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!