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Take Five: Jan O’Hara and Opposite of Frozen


We are thrilled to introduce you to long-time WU contributor Jan O’Hara’s debut novel Opposite of Frozen [1], made available to readers on October 3rd. For those of you who don’t know Jan, she is, according to her bio, “a former family doctor who once prided herself on delivering birth-to-death healthcare, Jan now spends her days torturing people on paper. She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband (aka the ToolMaster) and two children.”

Jan joins us today for an interview about Opposite of Frozen.

“Trapped in a small mountain town with a busload of feisty retirees and a commitment-phobic stowaway, a retired athlete realizes that he’s become more frail and fossilized than his charges.”

Q1: What is the premise of your new book? 

Jan: Shepherd fifty-one seniors on a multinational bus tour, including a ninety-five-year-old with a lethal cane?

To preserve his sick brother’s travel business, retired pro athlete, Oliver Pike, would do far more. But then weather intervenes, forcing the tour bus off-route into the small mountain town of Harmony, Alberta.

In the hold of the bus, amid the walkers and luggage, lies a half-frozen stowaway. Page Maddux is commitment-averse and obviously lacking in common sense. Once revived, she’s also the person Oliver must depend upon to help him keep the “oldsters,” as she calls them, out of harm’s way.

When their week together is over, will Harmony recovery from the group’s escapades? And what of Oliver’s heart?

Q2: What would you like people to know about the story itself?

Jan: It’s a love story, featuring a large cast and an over-the-top tone, like a Katharine Hepburn/Cary Grant movie.

It’s also a story about healing, in that it follows two damaged people as they reconnect to the world. (That mixture of humor and pathos probably won’t surprise anyone who has read my Writer Unboxed posts.)

Lastly, while it is a standalone contemporary romance, it can also be read as part of a 12-book multi-author series.

In short, the Thurston Hotel series is the brainchild of romance writer, Brenda Sinclair. She invented the fictional town of Harmony, populated it with citizens, then offered to share that world with ten other writers. We each claimed one month in the town’s year for our own primary romance. At the same time, we layered our books with foreshadowing and clues for future plotlines. (For more on the series, go to www.ThurstonHotelBooks.com [2].)

Q3: What do your characters have to overcome in the story?

Jan: My co-protagonists come from different worlds, and are both damaged by grief. They must cope with weather events, which can be a big deal in Canada. They face problematic town denizens. The seniors provide a whole host of challenges, of course.

I don’t want to create spoilers, but in a midpoint scene, the heroine struggles with a major embarrassment. I credit my internalized Donald Maass for “going there.” When I hesitated over the scene’s inclusion, I heard his voice in my head, saying, “Make it worse.”

The things you learn at WU, right?

Q4: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?

Jan: My first hurdle was finding the time and mental space to be creative. While in the process of writing about retirees, my personal life was chock-full of eldercare, including the loss of my mother-in-law.

Also, I had no trust in my ability to complete book-length fiction on a deadline.

As a result of these two things, while I diligently puttered on this novel from day one, most of its composition took place in a compressed period of time. More compressed than I would have liked!

In a way, that was a gift. I learned to make decisions. Also, the fictive dream was intense, and I think the storyline is stronger for that immersion.

Lastly, I discovered how much fear I was carrying over the prospect of publication. Rather than claim my work, I nearly used a pseudonym, nearly declined the opportunity to do this interview. Isn’t that crazy? I mean, I know many WUers would like an opportunity to celebrate with me. I guess in order to draw near, I had to allow myself some distance.

Q5: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?

Jan: The epilogue.

I don’t mean that in a glib, “thank goodness I’m done with this sucker” kind of way, though. I discovered I like what this wee novel says about life.

According to Robert McKee, you can’t know your fiction’s theme until you write your story’s conclusion. Before that moment, you are presenting competing theses on how the world works. The winning viewpoint establishes your story’s meaning.

In my mind, OoF was a lighthearted romp. I had no thought of making a thematic statement. But when I finished the epilogue, which is written from the point of view of one of the senior citizens, I looked at it and thought, Dang, girl, that is something to  get behind.

My hope is that a few readers will arrive at the same place. That would be fantastic. But at one level, the book’s reception doesn’t matter. I am still warmed by that epilogue, which is great, because we’re on the cusp of another winter, and I spent the summer in a cold basement, writing a February book.

Jan, thank you so much for not only taking the time to answer our interview questions today, but also allowing us the gift of celebrating the release of your debut novel with you. What a gift to readers, particularly WUers who’ve followed your journey and learned much from it and you!

Readers, you can find out more about Opposite of Frozen [1] and Jan O’Hara at her website here [3].

About [4]

Writer Unboxed began as a collaboration between Therese Walsh [5] and Kathleen Bolton [6] in 2006. Since then the site has grown to include ~50 regular contributors--including bestselling authors and industry leaders--and frequent guests. In 2014, the first Writer Unboxed UnConference (part UNtraditional conference, part intensive craft event, part networking affair) [7] was held in Salem, MA. Learn more about our 2019 event, ESCAPE TO WuNDERLAND, on Eventbrite. [8] In 2016, the Writer Unboxed team published a book with Writer's Digest. AUTHOR IN PROGRESS: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published [9] has been well-received by readers who seek help in overcoming the hurdles faced at every step of the novel-writing process--from setting goals, researching, and drafting to giving and receiving critiques, polishing prose, and seeking publication. James Scott Bell has said of the guide, "Nourishment for the writer's soul and motivation for the writer's heart." You can follow Writer Unboxed on Twitter [10], and join our thriving Facebook community [11].