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Blog Tour: Interview with Lisa O'Kane, the Author of ESSENCE (Out Today!)

We're excited to take part in the blog tour for author Lisa O'Kane! Her adventuresome debut YA novel, ESSENCE, is available from Strange Chemistry today.

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Displaying Essence-144dpi.jpg Autumn escaped a cult, but now she realizes she's fallen into another.

Growing up in San Francisco’s Centrist Movement, sixteen year-old Autumn Grace has always believed emotions—adrenaline, endorphins, even happiness—drain your Essence and lead to an early death. But her younger brother’s passing and a run-in with a group of Outsiders casts her faith into question.

Ryder Stone, the sexy, rebellious leader of the Outsiders, claims Essence drain is nothing more than a Centrist scare tactic -- and he can prove it.

Autumn follows Ryder to his Community of adrenaline junkies and free spirits in Yosemite National Park, and they introduce her to a life of adventure, romance, sex, drugs and freedom. But as she discovers dark secrets beneath the Community’s perfect exterior, she realizes the more she risks in search of the perfect rush, the further she has to fall.

~ Autumn, the MC of ESSENCE, comes from a cult that believes "expressing emotions leads to Essence drain and premature death." What was your inspiration for the Centrist cult and Essence itself? 

I have always been intrigued by the psychology of cults, so I jumped at the chance to create a main character whose entire upbringing was shaped by one. I picked San Francisco as the hub for my Centrist cult because I remember the public outcry that ensued in the aftermath of the Northridge Earthquake in 1994. Some groups actually believed the earthquake was a manifestation of God’s anger, and they said San Francisco was targeted because it was a haven for perversity.
I wondered what would happen if a group of San Franciscans actually took this message to heart. I drew from Theravada Buddhism and the concepts of the Four Noble Truths, and I created the Centrist cult and its Essence theory—which advocates living a life of neutrality and warns that your emotions have a finite limit. Once you use yours up, they’re gone. You’re gone.

I tried to imagine how scary it would be to believe you might run out of Essence and drop dead at any moment. I also wondered how liberated you would feel when you finally broke free from that fear. That’s what my main character Autumn faces when she finally decides to forsake her Centrist upbringing and join the Community in Yosemite.

~ Another of your inspirations for ESSENCE was the time you camped out in Yosemite National Park for an entire summer. What's your favorite memory from that trip? 

My summer in Yosemite was definitely one of the most defining periods of my life. It cemented my passion for nature and conservation, and it also taught me how little “stuff” I actually needed to be happy. I showed up with only a beat-up cowboy hat and a backpack, and I shared a 10’x10’ tent cabin with a roommate. The simplicity of this, and the ridiculous, spontaneous, soul mate friendship I developed with my roommate Mary Siner, were hands-down the highlights of the summer.

~ ESSENCE's adrenaline junkie characters sample a number of extreme outdoor adventures. What are some of the most extreme outdoor activities you've tried? 

I am nowhere as brave—nor talented—as most of ESSENCE’s characters, but I have attempted many of their adventures. Specifically, I also learned how to slackline and rock climb during my summer in Yosemite (but I thankfully left highlining to the pros).

Other life adventures have included skydiving, bungee jumping, surfing, snowboarding, paddleboarding and scuba diving. I’m itching to get into circus arts, and someday, I would love to learn how to kite board.

~ What are your favorite adrenaline-laced thrillers, YA and otherwise? 

If I had to pick, I would say I am especially a fan of Nevada Barr’s “Anna Pigeon” series, particularly WINTER STUDY and HIGH COUNTRY. Her thrillers aren’t always exactly ‘adrenaline-laced,’ but they are always set in gorgeous national parks and wild spaces. I am particularly drawn to her sense of place and her behind-the-scenes details. It is clear she has done her homework, and her credibility makes her novels so much more authentic and addictive to read.

~ Why did you decide to write books for teens? 

I have always been drawn to the teen and young adult experience, because I love writing about all the personal growth, uncertainty and insecurities that come along with it. As a teen, I certainly didn’t know who I was yet, so I sought validation from everywhere. I also felt things with a passion and recklessness I could never (and would never) hope to recreate in my life today. It’s nice to be able to revisit the intensity of those feelings in my novels.

~ What's your best writing advice for aspiring authors? 

As best as you can, please don’t take criticism or rejections personally. If you decide this is what you want to do, please don’t let anyone ever talk you out of it.

I have considered myself an aspiring author for the past five years, and I am finally beginning to see the publishing industry for what it is: an industry. When I first started this journey, I pinned all my self-worth on the success of my novel. If an agent or editor liked it, that meant I was a good writer. If they didn’t, I questioned my entire identity.

Nowadays (thanks to time, experience, and many, many rejections), I understand that agents and editors can like my work—sometimes even love my work—and still reject it. Maybe it isn’t a good fit for their list, or maybe they already have a similar novel. Maybe the market is saturated, or maybe it isn’t saturated enough. Maybe they love my novel but realize it doesn’t have mass appeal, or maybe they just don’t love it enough to stake their reputation on it.

Regardless, rejections are often far less personal—and far more subjective—than I would have ever imagined. This is good news, and it’s bad news. When agents and editors say, “It’s not you, it’s me,” they usually really mean it.


Displaying LisaAnnOKane.jpgLisa Ann O'Kane is a young adult author and former vagabond who once camped out in Yosemite National Park for an entire summer, an experience that inspired her debut novel ESSENCE. Her background is in zookeeping and environmental education, and she has been kicked, cornered, bitten and chased by nearly every animal she has ever loved. She currently resides in Florida, and she is now a huge fan of shooting stars, indoor plumbing and keeping both her feet planted firmly on the trail.Website:

Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

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  1. Thanks for the great advice, Lisa. Rejections are never personal. They only feel that way.
    I enjoyed the interview. Blessings


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Item Reviewed: Blog Tour: Interview with Lisa O'Kane, the Author of ESSENCE (Out Today!) Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard