On the whole, the town of Harmony did its best to live up to its optimistic name. the streets were neatly plowed, the sidewalks free of snow and litter, the storefronts cheerful and labeled with lettered script. The mountain ranges on either side of the valley were snow-peaked and set off by attractive architecture. ~ from Opposite of Frozen
Harmony is a good word to carry around in your front pocket these days. And books are always a great medium with which to promote such good will, whether they provide more information or ways to reason through chaos or if they simply offer reprieve from political dialogue…as in today’s feature, which invites us to indulge in a light-hearted love story.
Jan O’Hara’s debut novel, Opposite of Frozen, weaves humor, love, and light into its pages of mystery and romance with a story that revolves around the lively dynamics of a group of seniors citizens–walkers, canes, and all.
When Oliver Pike takes charge of his brother’s fledgling tour guide business, he anticipates guiding a bus full of aging clients on a easy ride from Edmonton to Los Angeles. But there’s trouble in the luggage compartment, namely Page Maddux, a half-frozen stowaway buried in a pile of discarded clothes. Oliver would have easily passed her on to paramedics, but the group of seniors insists on saving her from imminent death themselves, bringing her into their fold. Then begins a curious tale of stolen backpacks, missing tourists, and two stubborn hearts brought to bay.
I’m thrilled to host Jan today for a Q&A and am offering a free copy of her debut novel for one lucky reader (on Kindle or in paperback). Click HERE to enter the giveaway (deadline is Tuesday, November 22nd at noon).
Now, welcome Jan O’Hara!
Christi Craig (CC): In your novel, you paint a picturesque setting of a tiny town in the Canadian Rockies and–alongside the budding romance of Oliver and Page–slip in a little mystery. Elusive characters, tricky cell phones, and locks that won’t give. While Harmony is a fictional place, is there any truth in the mystique and magic of a small Canadian community?
Jan O’Hara (JO): To some degree, I believe mystique and magic are in the eyes of the beholder. We encounter miracles every day, talk to ordinary heroes in the guise of our teachers, our parents, our grocery store clerks. Speaking for myself, I often fail to appreciate those special moments and people.
But as to the qualities of a small Canadian community, I don’t think they are all that different from their American counterparts, with the exception of the number and prominence of flags on display in residential areas, or the accents you’d overhear at the bank. Or the number of concealed-carry permits. Or the emphasis on football.
Okay. There are some significant differences. (I’ve got tongue planted firmly in cheek, in case that’s not obvious.)
Harmony, though, has a mystical quality I’ve never encountered in a real Canadian community: a benevolent and mischievous spirit. The authors in our series make use of him to varying degrees. In my case, because the overall tone of the book is madcap, he plays a significant and helpful role in pushing my hero and heroine together.
CC: Speaking of community, the “oldsters” (as Page calls them) stick together like a band of heroes to save Page from imminent death at the beginning through a little action and a lot of sass talk (who can ignore the pointed stare from a ninety-five year old with a cane?). And, they set Oliver straight near the end. I love that your romance novel includes such fun, atypical characters like this traveling montage of seniors citizens. As you were writing, did you develop a particular fondness for one in the bunch?
JO: That’s a little like asking a mother to choose a favorite from amongst her children! I appreciate different aspects of each of them. Paul Dubois is fun because he resists the stereotype of the rumpled, sexless senior. Mr. Lee is fun because he resists the stereotype of the inactive senior.
I’m partial to Avis. Of all the seniors, she mostly closely resembles my maternal grandmother with a motto which might be described as “give it a try”. Who couldn’t use a little more of that in their life?
If forced to pick one senior, I would choose Mrs. Horton, mostly because she kept her secrets and personality somewhat hidden until the epilogue. I really enjoyed her voice, when it came to me. It was strong and unexpected, and gave a broader perspective to a story told in a lighthearted tone.
CC: Your book is the second in a series of twelve about the Thurston Hotel, a series that incorporates the work of eleven different authors. In your interview with Sophie Masson on Feathers of the Firebird, you say that, “Without a commitment to the other writers in the group, I’m not sure I’d have pushed through to completion…OoF would not exist in its present form if not for the project’s boundaries and invitations.” Beyond deadlines and outlines that come in working on a collaborative project, what’s the greatest gift in being a part of a tight-knit writing collective?
JO: I’ve been blogging for some time and I read a lot about the publishing industry, so you might be forgiven for thinking I’d be prepared for publication. Not so! At least as pertains to me, there’s a vast gap between reading about something and understanding its application.
With a supportive community, though, when I encountered an obstacle or decision quagmire, there was almost always someone available who had already worked it through and was willing to loan their expertise. As a small example, I had help with distribution choices, formatting, cover design, and title selection. It’s enormously helpful to have a place to go where you can have your good instincts validated and bad instincts corrected, especially for your first book. And honestly? The amount of help I required was far too much for any one person to handle.
CC: What are you reading these days?
JO: For non-fiction, The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel. It’s a fascinating look at the commonalities between New York Times bestsellers as teased out by a text-reading computer program.
For fiction, I’m trying to keep up with my colleagues in the Thurston Hotel Series, which isn’t easy with a new release coming out every week.
That should be enough, but I got sucked into A Man Called Ove. It’s absolutely wonderful. Humorous and profound. It also features one of my favorite types of men: the kind that bristle and shout, but are principled marshmallows on the inside.
CC: Along with publishing Opposite of Frozen, you also have an essay on “The Health and Maintenance of Writers” in the recently released writing guide, Author in Progress (Writer’s Digest Books, 2016). With a debut novel under your belt and several thriving writers’ collectives at your back, what’s next on your docket?
JO: I have five partially completed manuscripts on my hard drive, of which three are a series of linked contemporary romances that revolve around a Texan family. (Don’t ask me why I’m drawn to that part of your wonderful country, but I am.) My daughter, who is an intuitive and helpful beta reader, insists I have to finish the first in that series. She wants to revisit one scene, which she read more than five years ago and still recalls as being “hysterical”. It’s hard to argue with that opinionated opinion, so I won’t, especially since she still lives at home and we get to share a dinner table.
Jan O’Hara lives in Alberta, Canada with her two children and husband (aka the ToolMaster). She writes a regular column for the popular blog, Writer Unboxed. Once obsessed with helping people professionally, she has retired from medicine and now spends her days torturing them on paper. See? Win-win scenarios really do exist. While Opposite of Frozen is Jan’s first published novel, she is hard at work on its successor. Visit her website, follow her on Twitter, like her author page on Facebook.
Don’t forget to enter the giveaway by Nov. 22nd for a chance to win a copy of Opposite of Frozen!