Olivia Abtahi

Growing up in the DC area, Olivia devoured books and hid in empty classrooms during school to finish them. Her debut novel, Perfectly Parvin, will be published with Penguin Random House Putnam Books For Young Readers. She currently lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband and daughter.
How do you weave your culture(s) into your book(s)? How do(es) your culture(s) influence your writing?

A mentor in my graduate program told me I should always treat my heritage as an “added bonus,” and not to mention it in my work, and I really struggled with that. For years I wrote white characters because I was terrified of sharing my culture. It wasn’t until I saw other people sharing the Iranian-American experience that I figured I would give it a shot.

Now, I can’t imagine writing apart from my heritage. All my characters have some blend of my different ethnicities, and it helps me solidify their place in the world. My identities help with everything, from world building, to characters arcs, to details like food and manners. Culture feels like the key to my books, honestly. No wonder I struggled when I didn’t include it!

What is your writing process like?

These days it’s pretty rushed. I wake up at 6:45am, feed my baby, then hand her off to my husband. Then I write in my pajamas with an unwashed face while eating breakfast in front of the computer. I have until my kid wakes up, which is when I feed her and wait for her next nap to write some more. If she’s unconscious, I can write. And these days that has to be good enough until we’re vaccinated.

What are you currently reading?

A Pho Love Story by Loan Le!

What is your writing style in a few words?

Voice-driven, plain, funny

What’s your favorite part of the writing process? Your least favorite part? Why?

My favorite part is drafting. My least favorite is revising. It’s just so tough for me. Revising has always been hard- from video editing to drafting, I am definitely more of a rough cut/first draft person. I think it’s because I have such a clear idea of the book in my head that it’s tough to deviate and pick it apart. But I know all my work needs it!

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

I would say about 6 months for the first draft. Revisions take me much longer.

How do you deal with critiques of your work?

Gratefully, always gratefully. Some kid gave me one star on Perfectly Parvin, which hadn’t been released yet, and it still gave me a weird thrill. I had to work so hard to find people to read my book in the first place that people who have constructive feedback for me feels like a dream come true.