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UNT alumna lands movie deal with debut dystopian novel

UNT alumna lands movie deal with debut dystopian novel

UNT alumna lands movie deal with debut dystopian novel
November 17
19:09 2017

Gone are the days of serving frappuccinos and regulating bank deposits for UNT alumna Kayla Olson.

Instead, she now spends her time typing away on her computer to transform her thoughts into novels, gaining the attention of publishers and producers.

After working a series of minimum-wage jobs for places like Starbucks and Bank of America, Olson eventually quit her life of customer service and pursued her passion for writing.

“I was not feeling very creatively fulfilled, so one day, I just had an idea and started writing, and I never really looked back,” Olson said.

Her debut novel, The Sandcastle Empire, earned her a two-book deal with Harper Collins and attracted the attention of Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company, Appian Way, as well as Paramount Studios.

“The day after I got a book offer from Harper Collins, my agents called me and said, ‘You might want to sit down, we have some news,’” Olson said. “They told me Leonardo DiCaprio’s company was interested in getting something going with the book. Then a month later, we had an offer from Paramount for the rights to the film.”

Olson’s excitement at hearing this news before her book had even been published was overwhelming, especially since she had to keep it under wraps a few months after making the film deal.

“It was unbelievable,” Olson said. “I never thought something like that would happen. It felt so surreal to just sit on this giant secret until everything was official, and it took four months before we could announce it.”

The Sandcastle Empire is set in the year 2049 and focuses on a young woman named Eden who flees to Sanctuary Island to escape the Wolfpack, a ruthless group that has overthrown the government. However, once she arrives, she encounters an unexpected danger that may be worse than what she left behind.

Olson had trouble getting this novel published because she finished writing after the wave of dystopian books like The Hunger Games and Divergent made the genre popular. When initially showing her book to her agents, they deemed it “too dystopian to sell.”

“At the time I wrote The Sandcastle Empire, dystopian books had become so popular that publishers were receiving too many of them,” Olson said. “If a book had even a tiny bit of a dystopian feel to it, they would reject it.”

Since she had such high hopes for this novel, hearing so many publishers turn it away made Olson contemplate quitting, but she fortunately chose to continue her passion.

“I eventually decided that I was going to keep writing because I loved it, not because I wanted people to love me for it,” Olson said. “I realized I could control what I made, I couldn’t control if others liked it, and my goal simply needed to be that I was proud of what I made.”

Instead of giving up, she revised The Sandcastle Empire until she felt she improved enough to send to more publishers. Her edited version sold quickly and paved the way for great success in her career.

“I definitely had some setbacks and disappointments along the way, but that just made it so much sweeter to finally hear a yes,” Olson said.

When Olson began writing, she read countless books and blogs about how to write and how to get published. Although her first novel was not profitable, she utilized the lessons she gained from this attempt and her research in her later works, finally succeeding with The Sandcastle Empire.

“I worked on my first book for two years because I really had no idea what I was doing,” Olson said. “I think of it as my ‘practice book,’ which is now in a drawer. Over the years, I wanted to apply what I learned from all my reading to every project I tried.”

Olson’s literary agents, Holly Root and Taylor Haggerty, are proud of how far Olson has come with her writing and are impressed with how dedicated she is to her work.

“We were drawn to Kayla’s novels because she writes fast-paced, compelling, atmospheric page-turners that simultaneously reflect the emotional intensity of the teen experience,” Root said. “She also has a gift for tackling timely and important issues in a really smart, nuanced way, and we think that will keep readers turning the pages on her work for years to come.”

Alison Cherry, a fellow writer who also has Root as her agent, met Olson in 2014. The two began critiquing each other’s manuscripts, becoming close friends in the process.

“Kayla’s a beautiful writer,” Cherry said. “Her books are always action-packed, and every sentence is lyrical, lovingly crafted and full of emotional detail in a way I rarely see in speculative fiction. I’m so proud of all she’s accomplished!”

Olson’s second book, This Splintered Silence, is scheduled to come out November 2018 and will be a standalone novel unrelated to The Sandcastle Empire.

“I have another young adult science-fiction book called This Splintered Silence that will come out next fall, and I am very anxious to see what the response to this one will be,” Olson said.

Work on the film production of The Sandcastle Empire is currently in development, and the novel is in the process of getting translated into 16 languages — four of which have already hit the shelves. Olson hopes that her future novels will receive the same positive reactions as her debut book and intends to work hard to ensure they do.

Featured Image: The Sandcastle Empire. Courtesy | Kayla Olson

About Author

Ashlee Winters

Ashlee Winters

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