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Interview with Kay Oliver

By Carin Chea

Just like her books, Kay Oliver is uplifting, direct, and easy to connect with. Having had a successful career as a writer and editor in the entertainment industry, Oliver made a seamless transition into writing novels.

The changeover was so seamless, in fact, that her colleagues were incredulous after reading her first book, mainly because it read like it came from a seasoned novelist. And, within the span of a few novels, Oliver has quickly established herself as an award-winning author.

Her newest novel, Road to Elysium, is inspired by true events and addresses topics relevant in today’s social and political atmosphere.

Unpretentious and refreshing, Kay Oliver is proof that the written word can spark positive change, one reader at a time.

Road to Elysium by Kay Oliver

I have to ask: What was working with Steven Spielberg like?

He’s a very down-to-earth person, very giving. He’s a marketing genius. I enjoy working for him. [Jeffrey] Katzenberg is also big on innovation and improving the way motion pictures are done.

You’ve actually worked in Hollywood for decades. How did that come about?

I graduated from Cal State Fullerton and was in Radio, TV, and Film. I immediately went to work at Universal. I didn’t even know what my job was when they hired me. I did some interviews and they simply said: Show up on this day.

Are you still working in the industry these days?

I’m still part of the TV academy, helping friends write or work on their podcasts. I also help younger people with their films. For instance, I recently associate produced a film for a UC Santa Barbara graduate.

What made you transition from Hollywood to writing fictional novels?

Writing was the first love of my life. I started writing in 6th grade. That was when I entered a writing contest and was told it was too good. I was told my parents must’ve done it, which was far from the truth. I was flabbergasted.

Anyway, the difference [between Hollywood and writing novels] is that you have more control when you write your own books.

I always include strong female characters. When I was in Hollywood, I wrote strong female lead characters as well, and DreamWorks said that wouldn’t sell. That was then.

Now, women are starting their own production companies. Charlie’s Angels wouldn’t have been re-made into a movie when I was there. Now you have shows like Bridgerton, which are definitely written for women-led casts.

Tell us about Road to Elysium.

It took me about 8 months to write.

When writing, I know that I don’t put too much definition into my characters. I want to give readers free range to use their imagination. My books are more story-based and less descriptive. You don’t need a dictionary to read my book. I write in a style where people can easily follow along.

The story is about a man named Ken Hines who’s around his late 40s. Ken is lost and has been through a major tragedy. He’s sitting in his living room in the dark, as he does every night, when two young men decide to rob his house because they think no one's home.

Ken grabs his gun and heads to the kitchen where the sound came from. One of them shoots at him, he returns fire, and he pins down the second intruder.

Anyway, the burglary haunts him because he’s wondering: “Why did these young men want to do this and other young men don’t? Can I help these young men somehow?” he starts to wonder.

He gets info from the arresting police officer, and goes into the neighborhood the young boys live in. When a young boy taps on his window and says, “Excuse me sir can you teach me how to throw a ball?” And Ken’s automatic response changes the course of Ken’s life.

You mean a random boy just knocks on his car window?


Kay Oliver

What exactly inspired you to write this book?

It's inspired by one of those uplifting news stories at the end of a newscast. I searched for more information on the story, but nobody had written more than that one little paragraph. I thought that story should be told.

For me I think to myself, “How gutsy for that young boy to approach someone he does not know and for Ken to say yes?”

The book is like The Blind Side with Sandra Bullock meets It’s a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart.

I also appreciate that you are minimal on character descriptions. The protagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be a white male. The readers are allowed to decide.


What do you want your readers to feel after they read your works?

I’d like to take them on an intelligent adventure, but in regards to the book in particular: Your quickest decisions can change everything. That whole incident changes Ken’s life.

Charity is a big part of the book as well, because he eventually meets a woman who runs her own charity foundation that Ken gets involved in.

Who would play the protagonist if Road to Elysium were made into a movie?

Maybe Jeremy Renner or Robert Downey Jr. or Adam Sandler. It’s more of an Adam Sandler film.

Tell us about your writing process. Do you have any advice for those who want to transition into writing fiction?

I always write on through. I have an idea for the book, I know where it’s going, and I keep going. I just started writing. Shonda Rhimes does that too.

My girlfriend who was tutoring me was telling me I needed to outline and plan. I don’t do that. My process is not that at all. I have found a number of authors who don’t use a process.

I write like crazy. I just write. The book really is made during the editing process. I don’t worry about anything when I start my first draft. The hardest thing is to just start, to make that time in your day, even if it’s just for 15 minutes a day.

Typos, storyline or everything else, can be fixed afterwards. That’s where people get hung up. You don’t need to do anything except get your idea on paper. I do one pass on editing and then let an editor do their magic.

That’s amazing. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?

I have not had writer’s block. The beauty of the pen is you don’t have to stick to what you think it should be. You can do whatever you want. Don’t box yourself in.

Once you start writing, you’re a writer. Once you’re published, you’re a published writer. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

You might be one of my newest heroes. Who are your heroes?

One of my heroes is Charlie Chaplin. They were doing a movie about once a week and he wrote the music for his movies as well. He was groundbreaking in his time.

The way I direct is fast and quick. I’ve met Clint Eastwood and that’s how he directs. You hear of directors who shoot and reshoot a scene, right? Clint doesn’t do that. He has several sets ready to go and if he gets it in 2 or 3 takes, he’s ready to go on to the next one.

Are there any upcoming projects you’d like us to know about?

I’m working on a book that takes place around 1870 centered around five strong women who are traveling teachers. I will also probably start doing a sequel to Sisters in Cold Blood when I finish the western.

And here’s a little bit of trivia: My main characters in my books all have names that start with the letter K in their names.

For more information, please visit KayAOliver.com.

Hollywood, CA

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