North Texas Daily

Kayla Olson shares her own story

Kayla Olson shares her own story

February 12
13:40 2017

The sun rose slowly, its red-orange glow setting in the sky, as the world started waking up to start the day. One computer screen, however, continued glaring on. The sound of the keyboard reverberated throughout the one bedroom apartment, its individual keys bringing a story to life.

The sunlight slowly began illuminating the room, acting as a catalyst for UNT alumni Kayla Olson as she accelerated her typing, her thoughts racing as ideas flooded her mind.  Incessantly, she wrote on, taking momentarily breaks to take a sip of a steaming cup of coffee. She paid no attention to the outside world as she created her own universe with the written word.

A quick idea in Olson’s head brought about an abrupt jolt of the keyboard as the title of her work hit her at full force — The Sandcastle Empire.

That was four years ago. Now, Olson regularly visits her favorite coffee shops around town as she continues working on new projects. But The Sandcastle Empire has presented new opportunities to Olson that many authors dream of. The novel is scheduled to debut in June and has already been optioned to become a film.

“It’s so surreal, that finally, after working for so many years, it’s coming out,” Olson said.

Olson’s debut novel, The Sandcastle Empire, is a dystopian-based novel. It is centered around the main protagonist, Eden, who must struggle to make it to “Sanctuary Island” after floods and environmental factors have destroyed her home.

Along the way, she meets foes and friends as they struggle to survive the new harsh environment they are living in now.

“I was inspired by the recent floods in Austin, seeing [the] recovery for one single minor flood and what would happen if 15 cities were going through that at the same time,” Olson said. “[I wanted to portray] how those minor floods would affect social issues.”

Not wanting to come from a purely social or environmental perspective, Olson chose to focus on the effect such environmental issues would bring up, such as if these disasters could lead to a war on resources.

Olson’s desire to tackle on an issue that was more timely rather than in the future, unexpectedly, led to a movie deal.

“I got a call from my agents about the book offer on a Monday in October,” Olson said. “The next day they called and said ‘your film agent sent the manuscript out to some producers and Leonardo DiCaprio and his production company are interested in taking it to some studios.’”

Because she found out about this potential movie deal the day right after her book deal, she could not talk about it at first. Within a month, they had a deal with Paramount.

It was not lost on Olson how unusual this turn of events was, but she said she was grateful for all that came about because of The Sandcastle Empire.

“All those ‘no’s’ made me appreciate when I got a deal,” Olson said.

The descent into becoming the writer she is today involved a lot of internal reflection and hard work. Olson never had her life figured out. She had an ear for music, as she knew how to play the guitar, piano and sang at her church.

As a kid, Olson wanted to go more toward a journalism route. She wrote for her town’s newspaper, was the high school yearbook editor and wrote throughout college, but the idea of becoming a writer never settled in mind.

When she graduated UNT with an international studies degree, Olson continued this path and worked in a series of customer service jobs for Starbucks, Chick-fil-A and Bank of America, but she did not feel creatively satisfied.

“One day I sat down and decided that I wanted to become a writer,” Olson said.

The Sandcastle Empire was her fourth project and came out of a period of submission while waiting for publishers to pick up the novels she had already sent out.

“I worked through a lot of emotions, good and bad, that time during submission,” Olson said. “I knew I had no control there. That’s when I learned to write for myself and when Sandcastle came out, we had an offer in two to three weeks. It made me more grateful.”

Throughout this entire time, her husband was by her side.

“I am proud and excited for Kayla,” Andrew Olson, Kayla’s husband, and a software engineer said. “I’ve known for some time that she has the talent, passion, and discipline to be an author. I think it’s really cool that she’ll now be able to share her stories with the world.”

His support allowed Olson to continue her career as an author full steam even before Olson had her heart set on it.

While working at the bank, their friends recommended them to base their lives on a one-person income just in case someone got injured or wanted to work for home. After much thought, they decided to give it a try.

“We put off buying a house and lived in a one-bedroom apartment,” Olson said. “We weren’t living extravagantly. It’s going to be 10 years since our wedding anniversary and we just bought our house last year.”

It required a lot of sacrifices, but it gave Olson the freedom to pursue it wholeheartedly without feeling pressured.

Eight years ago, Olson may not have known what she wanted to do but now she can’t imagine her life without telling stories, creating worlds and sharing her craft.

Now, eight years later, Olson is already working on new projects while she awaits for The Sandcastle Empire to hit shelves June 6.

“It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do,” Olson said. “I’ve never really attempted something this big. It’s really cool that so much work will finally be tangible on a shelf somewhere.”

Featured image: Courtesy | Kayla Olson

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Sadia Saeed

Sadia Saeed

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