Olalla best-selling author Gregg Olsen will make an appearance Saturday, April 2 at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Silverdale. He will appear at the store at 2 p.m. Olsen will talk about his latest book, set in Port Orchard, called “The Girl On The Run.”
Rylee is a Port Orchard teenager from a family burdened by shady lies, deceit and a hazy past. While the girl has a tenuous grasp of reality, she still wonders: “What is real?”
Her confusion is real. Rylee’s family members have changed the rules about who they are and where they come from.
As Rylee comes home after a day at high school, she discovers her stepfather’s lifeless body. He’s been murdered, killed with a knife through his heart.
Amidst the turmoil, the girl frantically searches for her mother. She’s nowhere to be found. Her purse, left on the counter, is overshadowed by a bloody message scrawled on the floor: “Get out.”
That’s the premise laid out by Olalla resident and best-selling author Gregg Olsen in his new young-adult novel “The Girl On The Run.” He’s better known as a writer of true-crime thrillers and fascinating non-fiction works such as “The Deep Dark,” the riveting account of a deadly silver-mine disaster in Kellogg, Idaho, and “If Loving You Is Wrong,” the disturbing retelling of Burien schoolteacher Mary Kay Letourneau’s obsessive relationship with a 13-year-old boy.
But for South Kitsap readers, Olsen’s newest fictional novel offers familiar, local settings. The book is set in the Salmonberry enclave of South Kitsap.
The protagonist is wise beyond her years and, like her stepfather, mother and brother, has become adept at altering stories about her background when it fits her needs. So, why the deceit? It’s her means of survival.
The fast-paced book demands that readers hang on for the ride as it follows Rylee’s journey to find her missing mother.
Olsen said the story also is a literary analysis of a family that has reinvented itself to escape from a shadowy past. In varying degrees, he says every family member engages is their own bit of subterfuge.
“We all have things we find out about ourselves and our family as we get older, things we didn’t know about, some of it disturbing,” Olsen says.
Many of the 58-year-old author’s books are a study in unveiling layers of family histories that ultimately unveil truthful realities.
One of Olsen’s top-selling true crime books, called “Starvation Heights”, is about an Olalla doctor, Linda Burfield Hazzard, who operated a sanitarium that housed patients and provided what was called “revolutionary” fasting treatments. Two wealthy British sisters, Dora and Claire Williamson, visited the sanitarium in 1911 during a holiday excursion. Just a few months later, the sisters were starved, tortured and robbed of their inheritance — all at the hands of Dr. Hazzard. In chilling detail, Olsen recreates the events leading up to the death of Claire and sister Dora’s harrowing escape.
Perhaps Olsen’s best-known books are “The Deep Dark,” a true story of the devastating mine disaster in Kellogg, Idaho that took the lives of 91 miners in 1972, and “If Loving You Is Wrong,” another true-life tale about Burien schoolteacher Mary Kay Letourneau and her affair with a 13-year-old student in 1996 that grabbed national headlines.
Olsen said the book on Letourneau, a New York Times bestseller, led to a number of national news media interviews, including a recent talk with television icon Barbara Walters that aired in December.
The lead-up to that interview, he said, was as fascinating as the sit-down talk.
“Barbara Walter’s limousine driver drove her into the building elevator where the interview was taped,” Olsen said. “They went to the fourth floor, where he drove the limo into the studio.”
The 58-year-old author grew up in Bellevue and moved to Kitsap County 24 years ago. He’s here to stay.
“I was in my mid-thirties living on the Eastside, married with twin girls,” he said. “I knew that if I didn’t move then, I’d be on the Eastside for the rest of my life.”
When he relocated to Kitsap County — settling for a short time at a beach home in South Colby — Olsen had just begun his career as an author. Prior to his move, he had written his first book on killer Charles Rodman Campbell, who viciously took the lives of two women and a child in Snohomish County. Despite that story’s compelling trail of events, Olsen’s book was rejected by an editor at Warner Books, who called it “too local.”
Some months later after he had started a second book, “Abandoned Prayers,” the same editor queried Olsen’s agent about his latest work. Olsen sent the book to the editor and later in the day, he sold it for publication.
“I always tell people that the first book you write might not be the first one you get published,” he said. “I tell aspiring authors, ‘If you get rejected, don’t stop writing!’”
While he’s known mainly for his best-selling true crime and thriller novels, Olsen also has created a niche for himself as a creator of young-adult books, of which “The Girl On The Run” is his latest.
“I’ve found something in writing these books that I’ve never experienced before — this unique group of young readers,” Olsen said. “Adult readers may think to themselves that, ‘I like this book,’ but young readers really get into them.
“They read them, they draw pictures, they send me stuff, they write songs — it’s much more of a two-way communication than it is with adults. And that woke me up.”
That youthful enthusiasm was demonstrated when Olsen was on a world tour for “The Empty Coffin” book series, set in Port Gamble. “I did a tour and was in Hong Kong, Manila and London to support the book. I spent a lot of time interacting with the kids. It was the most fun I’ve ever had in my entire life. It was just a whole different experience than from writing for adults.”
While Olsen’s young-adult titles are geared for the teenaged set, he emphasized that the books are just as enjoyable for adults to read. He said they’re “relatable, there’s emotion and more action in the stories, and the books are fast-moving.”
So what’s next for the homegrown author? Olsen said he has a second book that is to be released later this year called “The Boy She Left Behind.” It’s a sequel to “The Girl On The Run” and will become part of his Avenger series of books.
While it’s fair to say Olsen is a prolific writer — he once wrote a book in eight days — he shies away from that characterization. “‘Prolific’ to me connotes ‘hack,’ he laughed.
Because he’s a busy writer, Olsen said he must keep on pace to meet his publisher-imposed deadlines.
“I have a deadline and a contract,” he said. “That’s enough to motivate me. Since I’m a procrastinator, I need that hard deadline to get the work done. People say it must be so much fun to write. But the little secret is that it’s work.”
How many more books are in Olsen’s future? He’s been pondering that question lately. “Will I write five books, will it be 10 or will it be two? You don’t know.”
But ideas, well, he has plenty of those. “I have way more ideas than I’ll ever get to write about. I write them down and I know it will be a great book. Sometimes I feel sad about that.”
Fans of Olsen, meanwhile, will still be able to enjoy a few more books that are in the publishing pipeline. Sure to grab readers’ attention will be a book to be released in July that examines an Amish community love triangle.