Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Ted Kelsey

Ted Kelsey

I’d like to welcome, B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Ted Kelsey today to talk with me about his book, OLGA. Ted lives in Peekskill, NY with his wife, daughter and 3 cats. He is the author of the novel OLGA, which was a 5 Star “Top Pick for 2015” by the Underground Book Review, a New Apple Literary Official Selection, and a recipient of a B.R.A.G. Medallion for quality in indie books.  His articles on language and culture have been featured in Metropolis and English Teaching Professional magazines.

He works full time in an international school as a teacher and administrator. He does most of his writing early in the morning on the train.

His second book, Shasha and Wally Watson Versus The Faker, will be released early 2016.

Ted, how did you discover indieBRAG?

First I found “Awesome Indies” whose author services (editing, manuscript review) I’ve begun using for my next book, a mystery novel about a teen-ager who uses her little brother’s special brain to find a missing girl. And through Awesome Indies, I found B.R.A.G.

Please tell me about your book, OLGA.

OLGA with a capital O, L, G, and A. Thanks for that. It’s no abbreviation. But it’s about a bigger than life adventure with a bigger than life figure, Olga herself — drop caps for a moment here so that I don’t fall into the sin of digitally shouting her name. OLGA the book. Olga the girl, the terrible and lonely daughter of the cloud giant.

This is a novel for children. I’m hesitant to call it a children’s book, because that implies something quite different, and unfortunately, in many cases, something quite unfair to children. It’s a golden age, I heard recently, for literature for children and young adults, for books that speak to their interests without talking down to them. Everything I write when I manage to be a bit genuine is addressed to some version of myself. So there is that. And I’m sure that I’m not the first to note it. And so, OLGA, was again, for me. Me at the age of 8. And my brilliant daughter, who first read it at that age.

It’s a weird and woolly “fairytale fantasy”. That’s the genre C.S. Lewis declared that he wrote in, and I wish the term were so widely kindled that it needed no explanation. Something fantastic. But moral. An elemental working out of issues like fear, courage, friendship, and lies… without being as pedantic and saccharine as a book that starts with a moral in mind. And also an adventure. It’s a book about magic talking moths, shrill and shrimpy giants no more than 3 stories tall, and full-sized terrible giants who eat children at their worst and merely steal toys from our world at their best.

Interiority and intensity. That’s what we should call childlike. That’s the true nature of childhood. OLGA is illustrated by Dillon Samuelson, and I’m fortunate for that. He captured the sense, probably better than I could, of dread and comfort, of big terrible monsters lumbering in the ready familiar world of a fairytale.

How neat that your story is a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk Fairytale. What lead you to write this story?

Lots of things go into the story. Is this a question about inspiration? It’s difficult to nail down. I remember the day I started writing very clearly. I took the day off work to attend a meeting at a school that my nephew was attending in New York. There was a feeling of being diligent and grown up, but after-all I was a little freer than usual. I was authorized to be playing hooky.

It was one of those early nearly rainy days when it rains earnestly in the morning but forgets to keep it up. I was waiting for a train. The station was right on the front between rain and sun so that a drizzle was driving me under the station awning, but better weather had reached the far shore of the Hudson River. A cotton dab of cloud there looked like it had snagged on the mountain. And I wanted to write a story. Badly. I’d stalled on one project and was ready to start something new. I was going on vacation in about two months. I had an idea that maybe I could manage to write something for the kids, my daughter and her cousins, who would be sharing a house with us.

I didn’t finish it in time. The book did come to be for my daughter. When I was about three-quarters through the hand-written draft, I started to read it to her. And get her advice.

In fact, I’d told her versions of Jack and Beanstalk for years. Jack was her neighbor, and the giant had a lonely daughter named Olga. It was a cuter version of the story that I would write in OLGA, but the elements were there: hide-and-seek, a pet white tiger, a princess caught in a glass ball.

But there is always more. For example, I was stepping out of my house to go the playground one Sunday… I think it was a week before I started to write but it could have been days after. I saw a butterfly, one of the first of the season. I had an idea about another garden somewhere. A moonlight garden. It was a place with moths instead of butterflies and white flowers that blossomed to the moon instead of the sun.


Tell me about, OLGA.

Olga, the character, is a giant girl, about 6-7 stories tall with blue-black skin and a pile of silver hair on her head almost as tall as herself. She is cruel, but she comes from a cruel family. She lies and traps Jack. But she also needs his help. She has a secret she is afraid of the other giants finding.

How long did it take to write your story?

The bulk of the story took about 3 months to write. And about 3 years to finish. But that’s a little disingenuous. During those 3 years, I would work on it, then go away and come back.

Will you be writing another story that is a retelling of a fairytale?

I’ve written a draft of another book that I think I would like to publish someday which is a retelling of an old Celtic legend about 2 brothers. One good, one bad, but in my version, the bad one is tortured and confused, and the good is careless and manipulative. Needless to say, if it goes to print, it is more in the YA territory.

I don’t want to rewrite fairytales as a niche. But I’m in good company finding inspiration in them. I often cite other books too. For whatever reason, there are often nods to other books in my novels. And really good writers hanging over my shoulder like the proverbial Christmas ghosts, admonishing and encouraging in equal measure.

I’m going to put this out into the universe, just in case there is some truth to the oft-cited and tragically misleading law of attraction. I want to write additional books. I need the support. I have a few in that first draft state. So I pray for the support of the traditional publishing world. An insightful agent who could guide me a bit on where to focus my energies. Maybe an editor who could see the horizon when a book is filled with branching ways. Until then, and after if I hit the writer lottery, I will keep writing, and pushing and moving the books I’ve written. It’s the only avenue where I feel free to be excellent in my own way.

What is the setting and Period of story?

This is a contemporary story, set in a town called “Chilton”, and in a fantastic cloud realm.

How did you come up with the title for your book?

Although I played with many titles, I’d been calling the book OLGA for months. For me, the story is very much defined by Olga’s struggle to understand her secret heart (something that the other giants would like to take away if they knew about). I had pages of possible titles, and my nephew, who is a musician, said to me that sometimes things pick their own names. Later, my father suggested that I give it a subtitle. A subtitle would make it more marketable and make the genre more immediate and apparent. However, the train had left the station. No subtitle, just OLGA. As an indie, I still get to be a bit odd.

Who designed your book cover?

My book is an illustrated novel. The cover was designed by the same incredible artist who did the interior illustrations, Dillon Samuelson.


Author Website

A Message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Ted Kelsey who is the author of, OLGA, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, OLGA, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.




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