This interview originally appeared on HEA on August 30, 2016
Joyce: Welcome to HEA, Ella! Please tell us a bit about your new release,Root, Petal, Thorn.
Ella: Root, Petal, Thorn is my debut and you could say the book of my heart. In the novel, five women (over the course of a century) each call the same historic bungalow in Salt Lake City, Utah, their home.
The present-day character, Ivy Baygren, has recently lost her husband in an unexpected accident. Though heartbroken, she knows she can’t mourn forever, so she continues the home-improvement projects they started together. As she works, she discovers clues from past occupants hidden in the walls of her home. The loves and lives of five, very different, women entwine within the pages of the novel.
As in real life, each of the five women faces challenges: from a young Mormon woman torn between her anti-polygamist beliefs and her heart, to the Greek immigrant during WWII who can’t bear to send her son to war, to the 1960s cover girl who suffers from bipolar. But in the midst of loss, there is always love.
Joyce: What inspires your book ideas?
Ella: This is my favorite question because Root, Petal, Thorn draws heavily from my own home, my neighborhood and my family history. The characters are entirely fictional (their lives are much more interesting than mine), but the story takes place in my neighborhood — a sweet historic suburb called Sugar House. Like my characters, I live in a century-old bungalow on a street lined with enormous ash trees. And, I’m not gonna lie, as with many old families in Salt Lake City, I have relatives who were polygamists. It’s fascinating history.
Joyce: What do you do when you get stuck?
Ella: I go for a hike. I live minutes away from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. I find the rhythm of my feet hitting the earth helps to untangle tricky plot points. And it’s gorgeous. Plus, my dogs love it!
Joyce: Would you like to share a favorite moment from your writing career?
Ella: So far my biggest brag is that Root, Petal, Thorn earned 4.5 stars from RT Book Reviews and is a TOP PICK!
Do you have a pet that hangs out with you while you’re working?
George. Who could resist those puppy-dog eyes?
Ella: This little mutt, George, sits in my lap while I write (until my leg falls asleep and I have to set him back on the floor). Here’s the best part: He doesn’t talk constantly and he’s super soft. In this pic you can see how he sucks on an old blanket like a pacifier. He’s so freaking cute I even dedicated my book to him.
What would be your dream vacation?
Ella: I’m crazy about cities — especially historic ones — so let’s say Paris. It would be sunny but not hot. I’d wear a fantastic scarf, skinny jeans and sunglasses like Jackie O. I’d nibble a baguette while pondering the history of a thousand years and the amazing people who have made Paris their home.
Joyce: I don’t suppose you’d want to share a picture of you with your ’80s or ’90s hair or perhaps a prom picture?
Ella Joy Olsen at her wedding 26 years ago.
Ella: I’m going to include my big hair/pouf sleeve wedding picture because our marriage, well, that’s a real-life happily-ever-after story. Twenty-six years, baby!
Joyce: Ha! Thanks for sharing!
What are you working on now?
Ella: I’m so glad you asked! I’m in the thick of book two, so I’ll reveal. The title is Where the Sweet Bird Sings, and it will publish about this time next year. It’s a companion (not a sequel) to Root, Petal, Thorn and is told by the great-granddaughter of one of the characters.
Here’s the teaser: Though she has a loving husband, Emma Hazelton is adrift, struggling to rebuild her life after a tragedy. But one day, a simple question and an old black-and-white photograph prompt her to untangle the branches of her family tree, where she discovers a legacy of secrets. What connects us to one another? Is it shared history? Is it ancestry? Or is it love?
Joyce: Thanks, Ella!