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Author Spotlight: Olive J. Kelley

Welcome to the third Author Spotlight of 2023! In this blog series, I showcase an indie author and interview them to find out more about their writing life.

This month, the author in the spotlight is Olive J. Kelley! Olive and I connected on Instagram, and I had the privilege of reading an eARC of their novel JUNKER SEVEN. It's a fantastic sapphic sci-fi adventure that embodies so many things I adore: queer love, queer joy, thoughtful representation, and standing up for queer rights.

Bio: I’m Olive J. Kelley, or Ollie! I’m a non-binary lesbian author of hopeful queer stories and speculative romance. I live in Colorado in the United States with my wife, three cats, and dog, where I work full time as a barista and spend what’s left writing or playing video games. I’m especially fond of Star Wars, The Legend of Zelda, and quiet little indie games with sharp plots and lovingly crafted characters. JUNKER SEVEN is my debut!

Q: How did you get into writing?

A: Honestly, I’ve been writing—or at least telling stories—for as long as I can remember. I started my first “novel” (three one-page chapters of a sci-fi dystopian romance in a spiral notebook) in 2011 and finished my first full draft (a 50k fantasy I’d rather strip for parts than ever reread) in 2015. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words of fanfiction—an excellent warm-up or writing exercise—and I got a degree in Creative Writing in 2021. I’ve never had any other dream than becoming an author, so releasing JUNKER SEVEN is a bit of a full circle moment for me.

Q: Can you tell readers about your latest release, JUNKER SEVEN?

A: JUNKER SEVEN is an adult/new adult science fiction novel about Castor Quasar, a scrapper and bounty hunter surviving off jobs from the gig economy, and Juno Marcus, a wanted transgender influencer who needs to hitch a ride across the galaxy. The pay Juno offers Cas is too high for them to refuse, so the two of them end up on a whirlwind trip from the city-planet they start on to the distant, “safe” planet of Adrestia. It’s a book about my current complex feelings about being trans in America, about the laws passed and overturned in the last few years, and my love for the queer community.

Q: Castor and Juno are both strong characters with distinct personalities. As I was reading, it was so easy to think of them as real people. How did you develop these characters?

A: Honestly, both of them kind of came to me fully formed. Cas came first—a disabled, butch junker with chronic pain and a desperate, tired apathy—and then Juno followed as their mirror. I wanted to show someone who is optimistic to a fault, so hopeful about the future it makes them almost naive, transposed against someone who has seen so much pain and loss that they don’t believe the galaxy will ever change.

I break it down into “pessimist x optimist” in a lot of my marketing, but it’s a lot more than that: Juno is optimistic to a fault, while Castor is so bitter they won’t even give out their name for fear of losing anyone else. I also thought it would be fun to make Juno essentially a famous YouTuber who has used her platform to be outspokenly trans and speak out against the current Galactic Government, which also conveniently foiled Castor’s loner persona.

Q: This book is set in the 2290s. How did you decide what technologies to include and how to represent society that far in the future?

A: The background for JUNKER SEVEN is one of the first things that came to me honestly—a galactic government that bloomed out of the remnants of a climate-change ravaged America. From there, I tried to find the balance between realistic technological advances (high-tech prosthetics, biodomes on uninhabitable planets) and just cool (artificial gravity fields contained to a single spaceship, there’s a goldfish, hover carts for hauling goods). As for society, I honestly just wanted to write a semi-escapist version of modern America in a desperate attempt to feel hopeful about the future again.

Q: Pollux is one of my favorite minor characters. What was the inspiration behind this adorable little goldfish?

A: I wanted Castor to have a little friend :) I think they start the book pretty harsh and abrasive, and if you’ve read the writer’s bible Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, you know the key piece of advice behind the title: if you want to make a protagonist likable, have them save a cat in their opening scene. For me, I thought giving Cas an extremely inconvenient yet deeply cared for pet on their sparsely decorated spaceship would show a little bit of their arc to come—allowing themself to care again even if there’s no personal gain. Also, Castor and Pollux is a fun duo name.

Q: Why did you choose the self-publishing route?

A: JUNKER SEVEN is a bit of a hard sell, I think. It’s not quite an “issues” book, but it’s also deeply about the current fight for trans rights. It’s not entirely optimistic about our real future, as it’s set in a galaxy far far away, and Castor as a protagonist is complicated in ways a lot of traditional routes don’t prioritize. They’re a transmasculine nonbinary lesbian who is also physically disabled, autistic, and traumatized by their past—a lot of their actions are morally… Iffy.

I did seek out traditional publishing for a while, but after the feedback I got on Castor’s relatability, as well as a lot of trends I’ve seen in modern media (not just publishing) concerning lesbians and autistic characters, I wanted full control over Cas & Juno’s story. I had done a lot of research into self-publishing previously, so I wasn’t going in blind, which made the decision a little easier as well.

Q: What advice would you give authors who are looking into self-publishing?

A: Don’t be afraid to ask other self-published and indie authors their experiences! I wouldn’t have been able to make JUNKER SEVEN happen without the help of a few extremely generous peers that have allowed me to pick their brains, ask silly questions, and gauge the legitimacy of a lot of things. My DMs are always open to authors with questions about self-publishing.

Additionally—find your people. If you can find a loving, welcoming community of other self-pub and indie authors who are willing to answer the thousand questions you’ll have over the course of your first release, whose books you can read and love, who will help you promote your book even when marketing starts to feel repetitive and dull, everything will get a lot easier.

Q: Although Junker Seven is primarily sci-fi, there is a romantic subplot in it. What advice would you give authors about writing romantic relationships?

A: Write an AU for your characters. Put them in a coffee shop, or in space. Write fanfiction about pre-existing characters you think have great chemistry. Don’t ever forget to ask what each character is missing, and how the other character can help them fill that gap. If the relationship feels off, make sure each character is well-fleshed out before you try to push them together. Each character needs a compelling arc outside of the other, as well as an arc that involves their partner.

Q: Do you have any writing rituals? (e.g., lighting a candle before you write, meditating before you write, going for a walk to get ideas)

A: I wrote most of JUNKER SEVEN (and all of this interview) sitting in the exact same spot on my couch with my laptop propped up on a lap desk in the exact same way. I always fill my cup (tragically I collect reusable Starbucks venti cups) with ice and water and some kind of flavoring so I have a huge drink ready to go. I like to listen to music, but that’s not always required.

When I get inspired to write a scene out of order, I write it into the notes app on my phone (more specifically, Google Keep), but if I’m writing a scene in order, I just throw it straight into the document. This way, when I get to the scenes I’ve already written, I can just grab them straight from Keep and add them to the document. It also helps my word count jump 2-3k in one sitting without having to write very much (copying scenes I wrote weeks ago into the main document), but who’s counting?

Q: What does your research process look like for your writing, if there is one?

A: For someone writing a genre with “science” in the name, I did very little research. I did, however, watch all of Star Wars: Rebels as well as The Mandalorian right around the time I was drafting J7, and that is definitely a major influence on the book. The few things I did research (the fourteen warning signs of early fascism for the chapter titles, elliptical orbits, the composition of a breathable atmosphere) I did minimally and made up the rest. What? It’s called fiction for a reason!

Q: Do you have any specific authors or books you’ve learned from on your writing journey?

A: Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, as referenced above, is genuinely a game changer when it comes to bare-bones outlining a story. Freydis Moon, Quinton Li, Siggy Chambers, and Jessica Salina are all indie authors I’ve been able to glean some valuable wisdom from. Additionally, the Monster Manor book club discord server has been an extremely valuable resource and group of supportive self-pub authors that I’m very grateful for. My friends Kal, Bethany, Cass, CJ, Miriam, Rose, Birdie, Emily, and Liana (and more!) have given me so much support and also shown me what it means to truly be an author time and time again, making moves and excelling in their own right, and I wouldn’t be here without them.

Q: What’s your number one tip for tackling imposter syndrome?

A: That’s a great question. No idea. Next?

Actually—reread things you’ve written that you know you like. Ask a friend if they’re willing to read a chapter, or check out a character bio. Participate in Twitter prompts posted by people like @cassbeewrites or @chamomeriam—This is also a good way to make friends, find your audience, and reach those interested in your work. Honestly, without the love I’ve been shown by people on Twitter and Instagram, I don’t know if I’d have a book out right now. Allow yourself to feel pride in your accomplishments. You’re writing! That’s enough.

Q: How do you refill your creative well?

A: I watch TV or movies, play video games, or read books that inspire me! Some big ones I’ve ingested to feel rejuvenated lately are Star Wars: Rebels (of course), Vesuvius by my friend Cass Biehn, Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Jedi: Survivor, and This Gilded Abyss by Rebecca Thorne. I also played through all of Dredge recently, a cozy little eldritch horror fishing game, and came away feeling more creatively inspired than I’ve been in ages. Highly recommend.

Q: You’re currently working on a couple of other stories, right? Can you tell readers anything about those?

A: I sure am :) I chronically have about six projects going on at any given point in time because I am exceedingly normal and good at focusing. This is what I can share right now:

D3 is going to be my next release. It’s an adult sci-fi novella spanning the time jump between JUNKER SEVEN and book two in the Twin Suns duology, REBEL RISING. It focuses on a new character that isn’t from J7, but a few familiar faces pop up throughout. It’s spicy and violent and I can’t wait to share it with y’all. I don’t have a release date yet, but it’ll be coming out before RR!

REBEL RISING is the big one: the JUNKER SEVEN sequel. I’ll tell you this: Six months have passed, and things have changed significantly for the rebels since the end of J7. This one still follows Castor & Juno, and will wrap up the plot threads from J7 & D3. It’s slated for release in summer 2024, and I can’t say much else right now other than I am hard at work!!

If you'd like to follow Olive J. Kelley on their writing journey or find out more about their stories, this is where you can find them:

Instagram: @olivejkelley

Twitter: @olivejkelley


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