There were tons of early '90's snowboarding legends there, and I was struck by how poorly many of them had aged. Some had mobility issues—thanks to the beatings they put on their bodies—some had substance abuse withdrawal issues, and many others just seemed ‘different.’ I turned to my friends at one point and said, "It's weird. It's almost like these guys were given a certain allotment of life, and they've already used theirs up."
BAM. The rest of my story came to me like lightning.
I inserted Yosemite National Park, Theravada Buddhism and hippies-gone-wrong in San Francisco, and then off I went. The only problem was that this was the winter of 2011, and literary agents and publishers were already beginning to tire of dystopian novels.
But this ISN’T a dystopian novel! I would insist. It’s a novel about cults! And although cults inherently have dystopian qualities, I want to tell a coming-of-age story about a girl who escapes from one cult only to end up accidentally joining another cult!
It didn’t matter. My fabulous agent (Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates) understood what I was trying to say, but many of the publishers we initially submitted ESSENCE to didn’t. And the ones who rejected us typically came back and said ESSENCE was either “too dystopian” or it “wasn’t dystopian enough.” Others said they loved it, but they just didn’t know where in the market they should place it.
Hannah and I were heartbroken. We tried finessing the cult elements in one direction or the other, but every time we tried to make significant changes, we found they never sat right with us.
ESSENCE was a story about cults. And it needed to stay a story about cults, even if that meant we could never find a home for it.
Of course, we did find a home for ESSENCE. The fabulous folks at Strange Chemistry welcomed us with open arms even when ESSENCE didn’t neatly fit into any of their usual genres. It definitely wasn’t fantasy, it wasn’t very speculative… It read more like a YA contemporary than anything else, but it also possessed those dystopian-like, cult qualities. Oh, and it took place in the near-future. Science fiction, maybe?
Regardless, the Strange Chemistry team understood what we were trying to say, and they believed in the story enough to take it under their collective wing. For that, I will be forever grateful.
So where does this leave me today? Truth be told, I sometimes still worry readers will expect ESSENCE to be a huge-scale dystopian thriller and will be let down when they realize it isn’t. I also worry readers who would appreciate its intimate character portrayals and coming-of-age messages won’t even know to pick it up.
But that’s what happens when you put anything you love out into the world, I guess. You can shape and coddle and care for it up to a point, and then the time comes when you need to set it free.
That time has come now.
And I hope you enjoy my… ahem… cult book, ESSENCE. ;)
About Lisa Ann O'Kane -
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.