Monday, June 23, 2014

Book Nerd Blog Tour: Essence by Lisa Ann O'Kane

The Review

(Summary provided by GoodReads.)
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.

I loved this book from the moment I saw the cover. There was something about the outstretched tightrope reaching into the unknown that I really connected with. And once I began to read, I couldn't put this book down.

Not only is Autumn and realistically flawed character, still reeling from the death of her little brother, but Ryder is a perfect blend of a boy trying to be the man his father wants him to be all the while wanting to be the person he is.

Without being judgmental or preachy, ESSENCE explores the psychological impact of cult life and leaves the reader crossing their fingers that Autumn can discover, for herself, the difference between right and wrong.

For anyone who has ever wanted to break loose and live life on the wild side, this book serves up a great helping of action scenes that will satisfy the literary adrenaline junkie every time.

Overall, ESSENCE is a fun read that leaves the reader both satisfied and begging for more once the book is over.

The Interview

First off, I absolutely loved Essence and especially Autumn! And I am thrilled to be able to interview you on my first Book Nerd Blog Tour! I have a few questions to go along with my tour stop, so here we go. (Awe, thanks so much, Sarah! I really appreciate it, and I’m so glad to hear you liked Autumn! I tried my best to make her flawed and believable, so it’s wonderful to hear you ‘got’ her!)

Sarah: Essence is such a unique book in terms of genre, it's such a perfect blend of a utopian, which we don't see often right now, and a cult story with a pre-dystoian flare. Where did you inspiration for this type of novel come from?

Lisa: Thank you so much! I have always been fascinated by the psychology of cults, particularly by idea that people who are raised in these cultures generally grow up very susceptible to manipulation and control. How tragic—yet logical—for someone to finally stand up for themselves and leave their cult only to accidentally fall into another cult.

I liked this idea of extremes very much. I also liked the idea that Autumn would grow to accept her new Community beliefs just as whole-heartedly as she originally accepted her Centrist beliefs. Although this flip-flop seems strange from an outsider perspective, it makes perfect sense in the context of Autumn’s upbringing. She has never been given the opportunity to think for herself, and this is the core of her struggles in Essence.

Sarah: Autumn is such a passionate character, throwing everything she has behind her convictions, including her love for Ryder. How do you think this helps and challenges her during the story?

Lisa: ‘Passionate’ is a perfect word to describe Autumn. What she lacks in street smarts, she makes up for in determination and loyalty. This is one of her greatest strengths, and it is also one of her biggest weaknesses.

Autumn is very a na├»ve person, so she typically believes everyone around her is looking out for her best interests. She doesn’t think to question other people’s motives, and this ends up being one of her greatest challenges in Essence.

Sarah: Natural disasters are an interesting way to inflict instant problems for characters, but in ESSENCE, the story begins after the country has mostly recovered from the events. What made you pick Yosemite as your setting?

Lisa: I definitely didn’t envision Essence as a post-apocalyptic novel, but I did want the country to be slightly different than it is now, so I figured an earthquake was a great way to shake up California’s social climate. (Haha, wow. That was a pretty terrible pun.)

I also remember the public outcry that ensued in the aftermath of the Northridge Earthquake in 1994. Some groups actually believed the earthquake was a manifestation of God’s anger, and they said San Francisco was targeted because it was a haven for perversity. I wondered what would happen if a group of San Franciscans actually took this message to heart, and the foundation for my story was born.

I chose Yosemite National Park as the hub for my Community counter-cult because I spent the summer of 2004 living in a tent and working for the park’s concessionaire. I have never been more inspired by a setting in my entire life, and it has been begging for a story ever since.

Sarah: How much of your background played into the creation of ESSENCE?

Lisa: Although Autumn and I are very different, we both share a fierce sense of loyalty and a strong desire to please other people. This fidelity sometimes trumps logic—and it often isn’t earned or deserved. I certainly poured this quality into her character, and her vulnerability is all me, too.

As far as the Yosemite setting, I lifted many destinations and occasions (shooting stars, swimming holes, moonbows, secret waterfalls, etc.) from the time I spent living and working in the park. However, the circumstances of the actual events were obviously far different than those portrayed in Essence.

Sarah: As a soon to be debut author, I'm always curious about what the biggest differences of a pre-pub writer’s expectation and the reality of actually being published. What surprised you the most?

Lisa: Congratulations on your debut! How exciting!

As far as my experience goes, I think I have been most surprised by how little has actually changed. I have enjoyed the validation that I haven’t just been wasting my time with my ‘little hobby’ all these years, but beyond that, it’s pretty much business as usual in these parts.

One exception is the introduction of strangers who actually care about what I have written. I’m so used to shrugging off my accomplishments that it’s strange to read a review or speak to a reader who actually ‘gets’ what I’m trying to say and is touched by it. That feeling makes all the struggles worthwhile.

Sarah: For all those writers out there who long to be where you are, can you tell us a little about your publishing journey? You know, how you met your agent, found your publisher, etc.

Lisa: Oh my gosh, my path to publication has been anything but an easy road. I am living proof that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I am also living proof that you should never, ever, give up on your dreams.

I was so affected by my publishing journey that I recently wrote a nine-part blog series called “The Path to Publication.” If you would like to check it out, here’s the link: (This link will go live on 6/9.)

Sarah: Finally, I have my Fast Five!

If you were stranded in a remote part of, let's say a National Park, what one of each of the following would you want to have with you to keep you sane?

Book: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. It’s so insane it just may keep me sane. 
Musical Instrument to learn to play: Bongo drums! I could totally see myself as a naked, hippie drummer (a la Matthew McConaughey).
Craft or Hobby supplies: Journal. Girl’s gotta write!
Comfort Item: I have this fantastic dragonfly quilt a good friend of mine made for me. I would probably wear it as clothes and sleep in it like a tent.
Food that happened to magically arrive when you want it the most: Macaroni and cheese. Every. Single. Time.

Well, that wraps up the interview portion! Lisa, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions and I wish you the best of luck with Essence and every book after this! You are a fantastic writer!

Alright, my lovelies, now it's your turn to show Lisa how amazing you think Essence is: Click either of these links to be directed to Amazon or Barnes and Noble to order ESSENCE!