Author Spotlight Interview: Elle Otero
Today’s interview is with talented self-published author Elle Otero. Elle writes post-apocalyptic fiction that entertains readers from all walks of life. It was an honor to get to know more about her writing style, life outside of writing and the upcoming projects we can look forward to.
HG: How would you describe yourself to somebody who isn’t familiar with your writing yet?
EO: I would describe my current writing as speculative survivalist fiction. The In Caves & Catacombs series began in 2016 as a “what if” scenario about a devastating viral pandemic, and is all about surviving in a drastically changed world. The stakes are high, and the characters respond as reasonably as they can in an unreasonable new reality. I tend to focus on women in my writing, and motherhood is another theme you’ll find in the latest release, The Cave.
HG: Oh, fantastic. Has author always been your dream job? Tell us a bit about your publishing journey.
EO: I have had a lot of “dream jobs” as I’ve developed through my academic and professional career, but being an author was my first. I began writing my first novel at ten years old, and then moved to poetry and other novel attempts through undergrad. Once I entered the workforce, I continued to dream of becoming a writer one day, but lacked the confidence and finances to commit to writing full-time. I pursued and completed my first full-length novel draft in 2015, then took a break to learn about the publishing industry, and realized very quickly that self-publishing was an option. In 2016, I decided to test the waters by publishing The Boat, which was a short story intended as a prequel teaser to the novel I had drafted. I met some success and decided to continue with that storyline, publishing The Grave novella in 2017. In 2020, I published The Road novella which tied together all three works, and now in 2022 am publishing The Cave as a full-length novel, where all of these characters are finally coming together for a grand finale–in theory, anyway. I may end up adding another couple of novels to the series, because there’s a lot of ground to cover between the years 2025 and 2500, when the next series begins.
HG: Thank you for sharing. So, what have been the challenges you’ve faced in your publishing career?
EO: The hardest thing to do is find the time and the motivation to keep going, and although I have been able to produce new work somewhat consistently, it’s still an ongoing challenge. Like so many other self-published authors, I have a family, a day job and am also currently working on my dissertation. Finding time to write is always going to be a challenge for me, but I do value my creative energy and manage to find the time somehow. Finding new readers is a challenge as well. I dedicate very little money to advertising, and I know that’s key in reaching new readers.
HG: Totally understandable. Is there anything you’d do differently? Advice to aspiring authors?
EO: If I had more disposable income, I would consider putting more money into advertising and maybe even hiring a publicist to build my social media presence. I would also spend more time interacting with fans and with other authors in the writing community to build relationships with others that understand how exhausting this lifestyle can be. But the truth is, I have to be realistic with the amount of hours we all have in a day, and I’d rather spend that time writing, editing, or reading–doing everything I can to continue honing that craft.
HG: So true. 24 hours in a day sometimes doesn’t feel like enough! Tell us a little bit about your actual writing process. When and where do you write?
EO: I write consistently, but in inconsistent amounts if that makes sense. For example, sometimes I’ll write for an hour over my lunch break, or I’ll even write on my phone as I’m waiting for a doctor appointment. Other times, I can go into my office once everyone is asleep and write until 2 am. I would classify myself as an opportunistic writer–I don’t really have the luxury of sequestering myself away for a set amount of time on a daily basis.
HG: I get it! Tell us a bit about your In Caves and Catacombs series. What can readers expect?
EO: This series is all about the survivors of a devastating viral pandemic and how they build their new world. It’s set mostly in California and Baja California, from the Monterey coast down through Bahía Asunción. Book 1 is about a woman named Lindsay who is drifting off the Baja California coast in a sailboat she can’t operate, and Valentino, an orphaned boy that she finds. Book 2 is about Damian, a homeless veteran who survives nuclear fallout designed to eradicate the disease in a densely infected area. He survives with his dog and a friend in a small concrete mausoleum in a cemetery, until other survivors make contact. Book 3 is about April, a woman who desperately seeks the son she placed for adoption a decade ago, and Warren, a veteran prepper and carrier of the virus who is mourning the loss of his family.
Book 4, The Cave, is set to release this summer, and is about how all of these characters come together to build a new world. The Cave revolves around an isolated group of teenage girls who have been placed in a troubled teen program in Baja California. When they escape, they find their old world has ended and try to survive in a cave by the sea, until they make contact with Valentino, April’s long-lost son, along with other survivors that are more dangerous than they ever expected.
HG: Okay, I’m hooked. The Cave, the fourth book in the series, releases at the end of June – congrats! What are readers going to love about this one in particular? Is this the final book in the series or are more planned?
EO: Existing readers of the series will love the way so many previous characters come together and how their storylines merge into one. New readers who enjoy survival fiction will find themselves totally in their element, and may even learn something new. A big theme throughout the series is motherhood, and in The Cave, new and existing readers will see how this theme evolves as a new world is born. Although this is the end of the current series, it is just the beginning of a universe of interconnected stories that are to come.
I also hope that this book’s depiction of the troubled teen industry will bring more awareness to the issue of how children who are placed in these facilities report experiencing abuse. I sincerely hope that readers who have experience with this industry will appreciate the frightening reality of the setting, though I hope it isn’t triggering for them. In many ways, the old world can be just as frightening as the new.
HG: Sounds fantastic. With all that being said, what feeling do you hope readers are left with when they read this series?
EO: I hope my readers are left with an enduring sense of hope after reading this series. I also hope that readers come to a different perspective on what it means to survive world-ending events. There’s a fairly pervasive idea that we can all only survive in isolation, but I don’t think that’s true. It is only in the ways we come together, how we protect and love one another that ensures our survival as a human race.
HG: Beautiful. Now, for fun, if In Caves and Catacombs were turned into a movie or television series, who would you cast as the main characters? I was already starting to picture it when you described each book.
EO: I love this question because I have totally thought about it! My first thought is that I would absolutely die of giddiness to see Rhea Seehorn as April. She is fantastic in her portrayal of Kim Wexler in Better Call Saul and is exactly April: tough, smart, and driven, with a bit of a dark past, to simplify. I think Pedro Pascal from The Mandalorian would make an amazing and very smokin’ Warren, and the way he can totally blank out his emotions would fit really well with that character. I would also love to see Dominic West from The Wire as Damian though he’d have to be roughed up a bit, and Ryan Hurst from Sons of Anarchy would be a terrifying Nathan. I could see Isabela Moner from Dora and the Lost City of Gold as a sweet yet tenacious Maggie, and Raphael Alejandra from Bunk’d as Valentino, Julia Jones from Dexter as Abigail, Xolo Maridueña from Cobra Kai as Raúl… Yeah, I definitely have a Pinterest board with some of these ideas!
HG: Yes! Amazing. Okay, switching gears, what do you enjoy doing when not writing?
EO: I have a very busy life like most self-published authors, so I don’t have too much down time! But when I do have it, I love spending time with my family. We go on lots of little adventures together and I really treasure those moments. We’ll go to the zoo or local Aquarium or play tourist on the Wharf or explore tidepools at the beach. I also love self-sufficiency and permaculture, so you’ll find me outside tending and harvesting things in the garden.
HG: That’s awesome. If you could ask your author idol one question, what would it be?
EO: I absolutely love Margaret Atwood, and I would ask her how she manages to always sound so darn smart and confident in her author interviews!
HG: Good one! For fun, before we wrap up, let’s do a fast five! First one…coffee or tea?
EO: Tea! Chai with cream or Sweet ‘n Spicy.
HG: Bonfire or fireplace?
EO: Depends on the season!
HG: Are you a morning bird or night owl?
EO: I have always been, and continue to be, a night owl. Before I was a parent, I could stay up until 3 in the morning without much of a problem, as long as I could sleep in until 10 or 11. Now, my schedule is more set based on my family. Thankfully, my husband is a morning bird and usually lets me sleep in until 7 or 8 on weekends.
HG: eBook or paperback?
EO: eBook for the 99% of the time I actually spend reading, and a paperback for my daughter to one day discover on the shelves.
HG: Tropical beach or rustic mountains?
EO: Tropical beach, hands down.
HG: For readers that want to find out more about your stories and keep up with you, where should they go to connect or learn more?
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