Friday, May 24

Q&A: UCLA Extension professor speaks on new novel ‘Olivay,’ perseverance


UCLA Extension professor Deborah Reed authored "Olivay," a novel set against a backdrop of the Los Angeles Marathon. In the book, bombs detonate across the city and trap Olivay and her one-night stand inside her loft, forcing them to experience the aftermath of the bombing with each other. (Courtesy of Andrew Reed)

UCLA Extension professor Deborah Reed authored "Olivay," a novel set against a backdrop of the Los Angeles Marathon. In the book, bombs detonate across the city and trap Olivay and her one-night stand inside her loft, forcing them to experience the aftermath of the bombing with each other. (Courtesy of Andrew Reed)


Deborah Reed started writing in 2011 under the pen name Audrey Braun to avoid the genre writer label.

The UCLA Extension professor felt authors that wrote thrillers or science fiction novels, like her, were stigmatized as lesser kinds of writers than those that wrote literary fiction. Thus she used the last name Braun, the German counterpart to her birth name, Brown.

Reed, who has since co-directed Black Forest Writing Seminars at the University of Freiburg in Germany, said she now embraces both literary and genre fiction and considers herself an author of both.

Reed described her newest novel, “Olivay” as a literary fiction and psychological thriller, set against a backdrop of the Los Angeles Marathon. In the novel, released in July, bombs detonate across the city and trap Olivay and her one-night stand inside her loft, forcing them to experience the aftermath of the bombing with each other.

READ MORE: Book Review: ‘Olivay’

Daily Bruin: What was the inspiration for “Olivay”?

Deborah Reed: The inspiration for that actually came from a real life incident that happened during the Boston Marathon bombing. There was a guy who had gone home – it’s my understanding of how I read it – that he went home with this woman. They were just thinking it was going to be a one-night stand, and then the lockdown happened down the city and he was stuck at her house … They didn’t know each other, and he started live tweeting what it was like being in her house, and it got up by Huffington Post and that’s where I saw it.

And then, of course living in Los Angeles, I put the Los Angeles Marathon in there instead, and then just reimagined all of it as if it were happening in Los Angeles.

DB: How has working at UCLA and being familiar with Los Angeles shaped the book?

DR: That’s where I live. I was right there in Westwood, so it was just easy to imagine it all happening there. And I think it’s also a good place to be, an easy place to be trapped because if the 405 is blocked and Wilshire is blocked, you can’t get anywhere.

I should mention that water main breaking on campus also influenced the book. That’s where I actually got the idea for the water main break, is that the bomb went off on the street where one of those fragile water mains was underneath and it would easily crack it. And so that’s how I did the flooding, it was actually taken directly from (the UCLA flood).

DB: Both “Olivay” and your novel “Things We Set on Fire” include a sense of being trapped. “Olivay” has two characters stuck inside a apartment, but what inspired you to use this sense of claustrophobia to tell the story?

DR: Pitting two characters against each other in a scenario where they can’t escape, it forces a story. It forces a solution to come out. Because you’ve got the setting that there’s the conflict of them being trapped, so that’s one conflict to help with the storyline. And then you’ve got the flow unfolding of these characters’ own personal story and how each story is going to intermingle with the other, which is inevitably going to create more conflict with everyday life.

(Claustrophobia is) a good device to force something to happen. You can’t force two people with the backdrop of a crisis going on and expect that nothing will happen.

DB: What advice do you hope to pass onto your students?

DR: I would say, probably first and foremost, tenacity. I mean, I hope they already have it. But novel writing in particular, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul, and the thing that I really impress upon my students is, you’ve got to write through all the bad stuff to get to the good stuff. Because people give up too quickly … what I impress upon them is that even the most seasoned writers sit down and the first thing that comes out isn’t what’s going to stay on the page.

You have to write, and rewrite, and rewrite and hone it down to the essence of what it is here you’re trying to do or get at, what your vision is for it. And it only comes through constant practice and revision.

Compiled by Jessica Cariaga, A&E contributor.

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