Book Talk with Author Elyn Oaksmith

Elyn Oaksmith in her own words Ellyn Oaksmith author

I graduated from Smith College and have a very expensive MFA from The American Film Institute. Some writers will tell you that their MFA was a waste of money. I won’t. It gave me great editorial skills and colorful, crazy experiences working as a screenwriter in LA.

Cooking on fishing boats in Alaska paid my tuition. Screenwriting and working in the middle of the Bering Sea have a lot in common: hard work, unpredictability and occasionally both make you want to scream.

Besides my family and friends, I love rescue dogs, cats, cooking, baking, open water swimming, kayaking and reading, reading, reading, reading. Did I mention reading?

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How do you stay motivated?

By constantly coming up with fresh ways to tell stories. Every book should be better or explore a vastly different territory than the last one. Chasing Nirvana is my first young adult book and my first LGBTQ book.

Writing a romance between two women was initially challenging because it was new. Now I’m working on my first historical romance. There are trains and tunnels and dodging the law. Re-writing is like putting together a complicated puzzle. It’s tedious but ultimately rewarding.

What has been your biggest obstacle while writing and how did you overcome it?

The two big roadblocks in my career were changing from a screenwriter to a novelist and finding my voice. My career began as a screenwriter in Hollywood but when I returned to Seattle and began a family, it didn’t work well with a Los Angeles based career.

After much agonizing, I wrote a book. Finding my voice was trial and error. Somewhere along the way, I realized that families, friendships, and funny situations are my sweet spots. Sure, there’s tragedy but that is the flip side of comedy.

Why did you write this book?

In the 1990’s I read a newspaper article about a gay girl who was nominated for prom queen in rural Washington State. The parents and students who objected organized an alternate prom. I loved the idea of a school and a town divided on such a symbolic night. The story wouldn’t go away until I puzzled together a plot.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

That perseverance and staying true to your values and goals is its own reward. That art can be a refuge and salvation. Kurt Cobain dealt with depression and stress by writing and performing songs. My main character Fran uses photography. I write.

How long did it take you to write this book?

Forever! From the moment I read that newspaper article in the 1990’s the idea would not go away. But the actual pen to paper was probably two years total.

What’s next for you?

I’m re-writing a book called Stealing Baby X set in 1927 inspired by my 19-year-old Canadian Nana kidnapping an orphaned baby from a Catholic hospital. He was going to be adopted for farm labor.

I’m drafting a young adult series called Holly Parker Goes to Prom about an Asian American teen in such a hurry to grow up she ends up faking her age to take a job at Google her senior year.

The second book, Nick’s Gap Year, follows Holly and her boyfriend to Liberia as he goes on a quest to find his birth parents. The final book follows Holly to New York City after her younger sister runs away from boarding school to become a model.

Holly is a female Ferris Bueller if you know that movie. She leads a double life: half worldly sophisticate and half scared little kid. I’m so looking forward to writing this series.

What genres do you read?

I’ll read almost anything if it’s really good, including sci-fi which I don’t gravitate towards naturally. I love crime if it’s Jo Nesbo or someone else of that caliber. I read a lot of literary fiction and autobiographies and biographies. I enjoy history. The Boys in the Boat was wonderful. I enjoy a lot of young adult like John Green and Rainbow Rowell. I loved The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. Also, The Art of Racing in the Rain.

Chasing Nirvana book coverTitle: Chasing Nirvana by Elyn Oaksmith
Genre: YA Coming of Age Romance/LGBTQ
Release Date: October 2017


Fran Worth is just another girl trying to make it through senior year at Weatherwax High in Aberdeen, Washington. But it’s 1993 and Fran is gay. Her comfortably off the radar life turns vividly public when a student nominates Fran for prom queen. When confronted by angry parents Fran refuses to back down, promising to deliver her hometown heroes in hopes of winning prom queen votes.

Fran heads out on a 24-hour road trip to Daily City, California with four friends, including her crush who may or may not be gay.  Their plan? To sneak backstage to ask Kurt Cobain and Nirvana to come home and play prom. No problem. Unless something goes wrong.

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