Interview with Rena Olsen, Author of With You Always

Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Most people who know me know how much I love thrillers and psychological suspense novels (Gillian Flynn? Paula Hawkins? Lauren Oliver? I'm there!) So when I was offered the opportunity to interview author Rena Olsen, whose latest novel With You Always was released on Aug. 7, I didn't hesitate! It was a pleasure learning all about her writing journey up to this point and the inspiration behind the novel that I couldn't put down.

As a bonus, check back on Aug. 27 for a review of the book!

About the Book:
Rena Olsen's 2016 debut novel, The Girl Before, was named a Booklist top mystery debut, a BookPage Best Mystery of 2016, and one of Wall Street Journal's Killer Thrillers of 2016. Her latest novel, With You Always, is a picture-perfect love story gone terribly wrong.

Fresh out of a painful breakup and trying to prove herself at work, Julia is overwhelmed and unsure of which direction to turn, but that all changes when she meets Bryce Covington. A charming and successful lawyer with traditional values and a strong dedication to his family and faith, Bryce becomes a guiding light for Julia to find her place in the world again.

Romantic dinners, helicopter rides, and promises of a wonderful future together quickly win Julia over, despite the concerns of her sister and her best friend. Charmed by his caring nature and touched by his dedication to his church, she believes Bryce is "the one" and is quickly swept off her feet. Julia finds herself being pulled further and further away from her old life, slowly transformed into the ideal wife Bryce and the leaders of his church want her to be. Unfortunately, all is not as it seems, and Julia begins to wonder if her perfect life is actually a cage. Then one day everything changes . . . and Julia is faced with no choice but to find a way out.

About the Author:
Rena Olsen grew up moving around every few years, following her minister father from church to church, and her exposure to so many different people and environments sparked an interest in human nature. She earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in marriage and family therapy. A licensed therapist, she works in Des Moines, Iowa. Learn more at

Find Rena online:

Twitter: @originallyrena


Instagram: @rosmiles

----------Interview by Renee Roberson

WOW: Welcome, Rena, and congratulations on the publication of your latest novel! We know your agent is the fabulous Sharon Pelletier of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC. We'd love to hear what your process in finding her was like.

Rena: She is fabulous, isn't she? I connected with Sharon after I had completed an R&R for another agent. I was in the waiting period and decided to throw my hat in the ring for the #pitmad event on Twitter. (If you haven't heard of these events, they're great for connecting with other writers, even if there's not much agent response.) I didn't know who Sharon was when she liked my tweet, but as soon as I did my research I was convinced she was the agent for me. She offered, I accepted, and I've never looked back.

WOW: Thanks for highlighting how important being active on social media as an author can be! With You Always is a psychological thriller, as was your debut novel, The Girl Before. Are thrillers something you've always gravitated toward in your writing, and do you also enjoy reading them by other authors?

Rena: The funny thing is that I never planned to write thrillers. I always considered myself a YA author, either contemporary or sci-fi. I have always loved reading thrillers and suspenseful novels, but it had never occurred to me to write one until I started putting The Girl Before on paper. Even then, I wasn't sure what it was until it was finished. I've enjoyed delving deeper into the world of thrillers though, and discovering authors I might never have picked up without stepping into the genre.

WOW: Where did the inspiration for With You Always come from?

Rena: As with most books, I would imagine, it was a variety of sources that inspired With You Always A few years ago, my cousin Dana told me she had an idea for a story about a woman in a bathtub, and she wanted me to write it. She let me take it where I wanted from there, but it's probably one of my favorite short stories I've ever written, due in large part to the twist at the end. When it came time to write another book, this story came back to mind, and I contemplated ways to expand it into a full-length novel. I'm clearly very interested in relationships and how perceptions can be twisted especially in the context of a relationship, so I decided on a reverse fairy tale approach, where all seems perfect, but it's not happily ever after. The story grew from there.

WOW: Oh, that bathtub scene is something else, too! I won't give anything else away so I don't spoil anything by accident! When writing, are you a planner or a pantser? Do you have any favorite resources on the writing craft you can share with our readers (books, blogs, webinars, writing classes, etc.)

I used to be a total pantser. I knew how a story started and usually some elements of how it ended (although the last line of The Girl Before was one of the first I wrote and never changed throughout the editing process), but the journey to get there was always a mystery, unfolding as I wrote it. As I've matured as a writer and especially in exploring the world of thrillers, I've done more planning to bring together complicated story elements. I now refer to myself as a "pantyliner." (I think I scandalized some older women during a library event when I said that!)

WOW: The pantyliner! That's hilarious! I hope those women weren't too traumatized, ha ha! Speaking of funny, you have a story in an anthology called A Pizza My Heart. Please tell us more!

Rena: From the brilliant mind of Jolene Haley, a pizza anthology was born. It was more a fun project than anything, a group of like-minded individuals writing stories about pizza. Mine was about teenage pizza assassins. The stories are a lot of fun, and I'm proud to be part of it. Maybe someday you'll see a full-length teenage pizza assassin novel. You know, after I finish my other twenty projects floating around my brain.

WOW: Can you describe some of the highs and lows of your publishing journey up to this point (we've all been there!)

Rena: For sure, every writer could talk for hours about highs and lows. Of course, signing with Sharon and then signing my first book deal were highs. And my second book deal! I do try to celebrate every achievement, every positive publication review, every gushy email I receive. It's important to celebrate those things to contend with the lows, the bad reviews, the glacial pace at which everything in publishing moves. My lowest low probably came when my publisher decided that the second book I'd written for my contract wasn't the right follow-up for The Girl Before. I cried for a day and then emailed my agent and editor the next morning with ideas for a different book. With You Always was among those ideas. It was tough, but an opportunity for growth, and I really learned what an incredibly supportive team I have at DG&B as well as at Putnam. I've been very blessed.

WOW: Good for you for jumping back in with new ideas after disappointment and not letting it discourage you. Obviously you had a winner with With You Always! What are some marketing tactics you've used to help generate publicity and buzz for your two novels, especially in places like social media?

Rena: Giveaways are always a great way to get things moving. Thankfully I get a nice supply of ARCs and copies of my book to allow me to do some giveaways fairly regularly. I try to keep them interesting. I also give my friends and family handfuls of bookmarks to hand out to coworkers, neighbors, and strangers in the grocery store. You never know where you might find a new reader!

WOW: That's right! I know we have plenty of readers who follow this blog who will be happy to check out your work as well! Working full-time as a school therapist, how do you prioritize time for your writing?

Rena: I'll let you know when I figure that out! I actually supervise our school-based therapy team, and it is definitely a struggle at times. For example, during release week, I have three radio interviews and two big book events among a few other smaller commitments (signing stock and the like), but for my day job we have ten new therapists starting that I need to help train and get going in their positions. Thankfully my job is very flexible and very supportive of my writing habit. I also take days off when deadlines are looming, and I have started spending weekends at a hotel in the area to get me away from distractions to get solid writing time in. I am definitely not able to write every day, sometimes because of time constraints, and sometimes because I am too mentally drained. It always works out though. Eventually :)

WOW: Rena, thank you again for this interview, and for letting me review an advance copy of With You Always. I can't wait to share my review with our readers on Aug. 27!


Angela Mackintosh said...

Fantastic interview, ladies!

Rena: I love books that have a twist ending, and that's so interesting you took a short story and expanded it into a novel. With You Always sounds like exactly the kind of book I love to read. "Pantyliner" is hilarious! I may borrow that. ;) And I think it's so great you found Sharon from participating in the #pitmad event. That's the dream! It sounds like you have a busy schedule with promoting your book. Good luck, and I hope you enjoy your hotel time! Thanks for the interview. :)

Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--Great interview. Thanks for sharing your fondness for the book, along with the interview.

Rena--I love the possibility of being a "pantyliner." I used to think of myself as a pantser but lately, I almost think I've gone Commando.

Because of Renee's gushing, I guess I need to snag a copy of your book and read it. It sounds like a must-read.

Good luck with your future WIPs. Also, good luck with your book-signings and book sales and book reviews--it's all gravy.

Margo Dill said...

You sound like an author I would love. I enjoy the same types of books that Renee does. I'm so glad she had the opportunity to interview you and introduce us to your work!


Joanne said...

Renee--Fun to read interview! I came to it as a result of your review of the book today. I'm going to look for this book.

Rena--Love your comment about being a "pantyliner." Looking forward to reading your book!

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