Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Guest Post with Ella Joy Olsen, Author of Root, Petal, Thorn + Giveaway!!

I am so excited to welcome author Ella Joy Olsen to A Literary Vacation today! My review of her debut novel, Root, Petal, Thorn will go live in two days and I am so excited to share it with you! In the meantime, please enjoy Ms. Olsen's guest post below. And be sure to read on after the post for more information about the book, the author, and how you can enter to win a copy of Root, Petal, Thorn for yourself!

Forging Fiction via Family Folklore

By: Ella Joy Olsen

Like many authors, I pick up bits and pieces of my fictional stories from real life, like the “pretty” rocks my son collected when he was five. Eventually he collected so many tiny, beautiful stones he had to continually carry a backpack. And inevitably that pack became so heavy I was forced to carry it every time we went out. But that’s another story.

While writing my debut novel, Root, Petal, Thorn, I collected a variety of story pebbles from a treasure trove of family lore, and used them to build the foundation of the book. It’s far from a memoir, but many of my story nuggets came from time spent with my grandparents, and though my grandma wouldn’t tell me much about her own life, she loved to talk about her mother (my great-grandmother and namesake). If I was asked to describe Great-Grandma Ella’s life, the first thing I would do is pare it down to a series of noteworthy events. 

1) When she was seven years old, everyone in her church class (except her) died of diphtheria.

2) Her mom died in childbirth when Ella was eleven, leaving her an only child who was then raised by her father and her maternal grandmother.

3) That grandmother (who was my great-great-great grandma) was the third wife to her best friend’s father. In other words, she was an unenthusiastic polygamist wife. She bore him eleven children. One of them was Ella’s mother, who died.

4) Great-grandma Ella married and became pregnant right before her husband left for WWI. He died in France from influenza and never met his daughter (my grandma).
As an impressionable child, I considered each of these life-changing circumstances with no small amount of hand-wringing. I was named after my great-grandma; might I not also suffer her fate? In fact, after learning exactly what diphtheria was, I tried more than once to convince my mom I could feel my throat constricting, even going so far as to gasp helplessly for a doctor before collapsing onto my bed. She didn’t buy it.

Decades later (having barely survived diphtheria), I put my hands to the keyboard and wove many of these legends in to narrative lore. While I wrote, I got to thinking: Why do readers seek out traumatic events in the stories they read? And why am I, myself, most interested in exploring the bleaker parts of a story?

According to a study conducted by The Ohio State University (2012), “People seem to use [narrative] tragedies as a way to reflect on the important relationships in their own lives – to count their blessings – which helps explain why tragedies are so popular with audiences. Despite the sadness they induce; [narrative tragedies] result in an overall increase in happiness.” Case in point: In the bestselling novel by Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale, both sisters suffer tremendous loss, yet at the end (no spoilers…don’t worry) the reader is overcome with the continuity of their love, come what may. I wiped a tear after finishing this traumatic tale and closed it with a satisfied sigh.
Here’s the beauty of fictionalizing harrowing family history and embarrassing secrets. I love family stories, but my collected stones were un-cut gems, because most events are like the list above: fact-filled. Perhaps distressing to learn about, but they lack emotional context. The end of many a true story is dreadful or, even worse for the teller-of-stories, boring. But the fiction author is free to expand upon their tidbits of ancestry and explore possible consequences using a range of emotional details. The author is free to ask, “What if?”

So how to get away with it? The intent is not to harm, obviously, but to expand. In mixing up the events, changing the names, throwing in a few more characters, and altering the most-telling of details, the truth and consequences (so to speak) can be explored and no one can cry foul. You can explore your family history and have your happy ending (or your disastrous one) and no one can sue for slander. No one can say you didn’t get the story right. Because, of course, you didn’t. You wrote a fictional story. This, for me, is so much more fun than writing a memoir.

I challenge you to read Root, Petal, Thorn, or any of your other favorite novels. Then take a closer look at the author bio or acknowledgments. See if you can find a little fact in the fiction. Because no matter how implausible the story, there is always a whisper of truth.

Publisher: Kensington Publishing
Pub. Date: August 30th, 2016
Pages: 320 pages

In this beautifully written and powerful debut novel, Ella Joy Olsen traces the stories of five fascinating women who inhabit the same historic home over the course of a century—braided stories of love, heartbreak and courage connect the women, even across generations.

Ivy Baygren has two great loves in her life: her husband, Adam, and the bungalow they buy together in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Salt Lake City, Utah. From the moment she and Adam lay eyes on the home, Ivy is captivated by its quaint details—the old porch swing, ornate tiles, and especially an heirloom rose bush bursting with snowy white blossoms. Called the Emmeline Rose for the home’s original owner, it seems yet another sign that this place will be Ivy’s happily-ever-after…Until her dreams are shattered by Adam’s unexpected death.

 Striving to be strong for her two children, Ivy decides to tackle the home-improvement projects she and Adam once planned. Day by day, as she attempts to rebuild her house and her resolve, she uncovers clues about previous inhabitants, from a half-embroidered sampler to buried wine bottles. And as Ivy learns about the women who came before her—the young Mormon torn between her heart and anti-polygamist beliefs, the Greek immigrant during World War II, a troubled single mother in the 1960s—she begins to uncover the lessons of her own journey. For every story has its sadness, but there is also the possibility of blooming again, even stronger and more resilient than before…

Advanced Praise

"Five women. Five complicated lives. One house where they all live over a period of one hundred years. In this story, the walls talk. Wonderful, compelling saga."-- Cathy Lamb, author of My Very Best Friend 

"Root, Petal, Thorn is the perfect addition to a librar-ian’s toolkit of recommended reads for book clubs looking for a lively discussion."-- Deborah Ehrman, Librarian and Deputy Director, Salt Lake City Public Library System. 

"Olsen is an emerging voice to watch for in historical and contemporary women’s fiction." -- Aimie K. Runyan, author of Promised to the Crown

Buy the Book


About the Author

Ella Joy Olsen lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, in a century old brick bungalow with her husband and
three children. She spent nearly a decade on the Board of Directors for the Salt Lake City Public Library system (and even more years browsing the stacks), and is a member of Women's Fiction Writers and the best book club ever, (SLC Bibliophiles).

Learn more about Ms. Olsen and her writing on her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


It's Giveaway Time!!

Thanks to Lulu at Kensington Publishing I have one copy of Root, Petal, Thorn to giveaway (open to US/CAN only)! All you have to do is enter your name and email address on the giveaway form HERE. Please be sure to leave both your name and your email on the form so I can contact you if you are my winner (no email address, no entry!). For extra entries you can follow the blog in various ways (links are on the right hand sidebar) and leave the name/email you follow with on the form. That's it!

Please Note: When verifying the extra entries I've noticed that some people are saying they follow me in certain ways that they, in fact, do not. I want to give extra entries to those that are actually taking the time to follow my blog, so please double check that you are in fact following me before saying you do. This verification is becoming a time consuming process so I will begin to remove all extra entries for those that I find are not being honest.

I'll use a random number generator to pick a winner on August 30th, 2016 and will announce the winner here as well as email the winner. The winner will have 48 hours to respond to my email with their mailing address. If you have already won this giveaway on another site please let me know so I can pick a new winner and give someone else a chance to win a copy of this great book.


  1. This one has been on my TBR list for awhile now! Would love to read it. Thanks for the chance!!

    1. My pleasure, Letty, it's really good!! Good luck in the giveaway!

  2. Like I told you on Goodreads, Colleen, I am SO excited about this book! Jennifer

    1. Yay!! Well good luck in the giveaway...it is really good!!

  3. Wonderful post -- fiction is so important! I had to smile at this bit -- I was named after my great-grandma; might I not also suffer her fate? because oh, I know that angst -- I was overly imaginative myself as a young girl. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Thanks Audra! And I TOTALLY agree...fiction is so important! You get so much more emotion and connection with a fiction piece and, for me, that makes me connect with those stories more deeply. And in most fiction there is fact, so everyone can relate!