Nancy Ohlin's recent novel, Consent, tackles complicated ideas and topics, most notable being the relationship between a teacher and student. This novel presents readers with a controversial topic, introduces a realistic situation, then leaves the reader to make their own decisions regarding right and wrong - I was left contemplating the novel for days.
I'm thrilled to welcome Nancy Ohlin to the blog today to talk a bit about her approach to the story within Consent, as well as some lighter topics!
Consent is about a relationship between a teen and her teacher. I felt like you did a beautiful job of telling Bea’s story in such a way that readers will connect with the characters, but did not feel like they are being pushed toward feeling a specific way about the events of the novel. Can you share a bit about your decision to write a novel that focused on teacher-student relationships? And, if applicable, share your feelings about writing about controversial topics and how you approach them as a writer.
Teacher-student relationships happen all the time. I had one when I was a teen, and it did not end well. For me, such relationships epitomize what can go wrong—sometimes terribly wrong—when adults and minors get together romantically or sexually (or both).Tell me a little bit about your writing process: Do you outline? Start at the beginning? The middle? The end?
Consent was supposed to be a cautionary tale, a morality tale. When I first started writing, the teacher character, Dane Rossi, was a bad guy, pure and simple. But as I continued writing, Dane evolved into a more complicated person. It really scared me, letting him be human and letting Bea be human, too. But once I surrendered to the fear and allowed myself to explore their story from every angle, Consent took off and became really, really interesting.
Because the issue of consent isn’t straightforward. Legally, it kind of is; state laws define who can consent to sex and under what circumstances. But from the perspective of the people involved, especially teens, it can feel a whole lot murkier. For example, why can a sixteen year old consent to sex in the state of New Jersey, but in California, she has to wait until she’s eighteen? What right does the government have to tell a high school senior that he’s not allowed to have sex with his sophomore girlfriend or boyfriend?
I knew that I was risking serious controversy with Consent. But controversial is good; it means readers will hate the book, love the book, have passionate debates about the book. Consent is one of the most important and most talked-about issues of our time, with the new “yes means yes” affirmative consent policies and Title IX and the epidemic of sexual assaults, especially on college campuses. I hope Consent will add to the discussion.
Once I have a book idea, I craft a synopsis, basically jacket copy (i.e., the description of the book that you see on the cover), so I can have a shiny, thrilling description of what I’m aiming for. Then I spend a long time writing and rewriting the first chapter just to find my main characters and their voices and the general mood of the story. Then I outline, because I need that road map, although I tend to go off the map once I’m well into the first draft. I write the last chapter very early in the process. With Consent, I wrote the last chapter after I finished the first chapter; it gave me a beacon of light (so to speak) to look toward. If I get stalled in the drafting process, I start writing chapters out of order, especially chapters that I’m really excited about (like a love scene or a big conflict scene).What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing or provided inspiration?
I’ve been a freelance writer for most of my professional life. I started out ghostwriting for a popular children’s mystery series, which led to more ghostwriting gigs, which led to writing my own novels under my own name. Ghostwriting those first books taught me that being a writer is all about hard work and discipline … not sitting around and waiting dreamily for the muses to appear (well, maybe a little of that, too). My goal each day is to show up to my desk and to put words on the page. Or, as Jane Yolen put it, BIC: “butt in chair.”If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why?
I have lots of favorite words, and they rotate often. Right now, one of my favorite words is “serendipity.” It’s such a happy word, and it sounds so pretty!My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Name a notable book that provided you with a hiding spot.
When I was a teen, books literally were my hiding spots. Weird drama could be happening around my house, and I’d sit in a chair with a book in front of my face and tune out everything (and everyone) else. One of my favorites was a book called Désirée by Annemarie Selinko, based on the true story of Napoleon’s first love. Désirée was such a great character—smart, brave, passionate—and I really wanted to be her. Oh … and I’ve been escaping into the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace since forever.What can readers look forward to next?
I’m percolating a few ideas. There’s a mystery set in Alaska, a dystopian fantasy inspired by Chernobyl and Fukushima, and another, kind-of-dystopian fantasy about monsters. I’ll keep you posted!
About the Author
More About the Book
In this sexy and intriguing novel, an intense—and passionate—bond between a high school senior and her music teacher becomes a public scandal that threatens the reputation of both.
Bea has a secret.
Actually, she has more than one. There’s her dream for the future that she can’t tell anyone—not her father and not even her best friend, Plum.
And now there’s Dane Rossi. Dane is hot, he shares Bea’s love of piano, and he believes in her.
He’s also Bea’s teacher.
When their passion for music crosses into passion for each other, Bea finds herself falling completely for Dane. She’s never felt so wanted, so understood, so known to her core. But the risk of discovery carries unexpected surprises that could shake Bea entirely. Bea must piece together what is and isn’t true about Dane, herself, and the most intense relationship she’s ever experienced in this absorbing novel from Nancy Ohlin, the author of Beauty.
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