20 Questions is a Q&A interview series with musicians, authors, and everyone in between, celebrating experiences both shared and individual in the messy game of being human.
“When I read, I learn not only more about the world around me, but also about myself.” Olivia Swindler knew from the time she was a child that she was going to be a writer, as she believes that there is something magical about picking up a book and allowing it to transport you someplace new. She believes that, through fiction, we can learn and grow from one another. With Cynthia Starts a Band, her debut novel, she hopes to create and foster hard, real-life conversations. Growing up in Washington state and moving to France after college, Swindler spends most of her spare time wandering through the mountains and eating her weight in bread.
I got to know Olivia for this week’s edition of 20 Questions, where she explained what inspired her first novel, what she loves most about writing books, why story brings us together like few other things can, and more.
Growing up, did you always want to be a writer? Did you consider any other career paths?
When I was 6 or 7, my dad took me to our local community college to hear an author do a reading from his newest children’s book. He shared about his experience getting published and what it was like to be an author. From that moment, I truly knew that, when I grew up, I wanted to be a writer. I love stories, and I think that there are multiple ways to express experience. I am also a graphic designer, and I love that the pieces I create also help to tell a story.
What inspired you to want to write books?
I love the way fiction brings people together and helps them unite through a common story. I think it is such a powerful tool to give alternate words to our experiences. When I read, I learn not only more about the world around me, but also about myself.
If you could pick one author that’s inspired you the most, who would it be and why?
Madeleine L’Engle. A Wrinkle in Time is the first book I remember reading as a kid, and it was after reading it that I fell in love with books!
Favorite book of all-time?
This is such a difficult question! Non-fiction would be David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell and fiction would be Beartown by Fredrik Backman.
What’s one piece of advice that you would give to your younger self?
You can do it! I was such a timid kid, and never felt capable. I would wish to encourage and remind myself that I can do hard things and that I am enough.
What inspired the creative process for your debut novel, Cynthia Starts a Band?
I have had a life-long fantasy of being in a band. During lockdown I was brainstorming different plot ideas, and I came up with one about a woman who gets proposed to on stage. The whole book came together from there. I had tried to tell Eleanor’s story before, but it never felt right until this book.
One movie that will always make you cry?
Draft Day. I LOVE sports, and everything just falls together perfectly in that movie. (I am also very aware that I am probably the only person who cries at Draft Day…)
The last series you binge-watched?
Only Murders in the Building! So funny!
If you could have one writer, dead or alive, to compose your obituary, who would it be and why?
David Sedaris. I want someone to bring some realistic comedy to my death!
The best book you’ve read in the last year?
The Nix. I know I am behind the ball on that one, but it blew me away! Highly recommend it!
One song that you will never be sick of?
Carla Bruni’s version of “You Belong to Me.”
Favorite thing to do on a rainy day?
Read! Preferably with a glass of tea.
What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
Adding descriptions! It’s easy for me to see the story playing out in my head, so it wasn’t until I worked with my editor that I realized that I was not conveying my inner vision as well as I could be.
You’re stuck on a long flight. Which world-famous musician would you want sitting next to you and why?
Dolly Parton! I think talking with her would make the time fly by!
As a writer and artist, what would you say is the best way to rest or decompress?
I love being in nature, whether hiking or biking, because I am most relaxed when outside.
Favorite social media app?
Does Goodreads count? If not, I like Instagram.
How would you describe the importance of storytelling, especially in an age of social isolation?
Story brings us together like few other things can. I think that, as we become more isolated, we can lose our ability to empathize with those whose experiences are different from our own. One of the great things about story is that it allows us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and increases our ability to empathize.
If you had the chance, what’s one superpower you would give yourself?
I would love to be omnilingual. I live in a really diverse community and I would love to be able to speak to everyone around me in their native tongue. You can learn so much about someone when you speak to them in their heart language.
One thing that has been keeping you sane throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?
Reading! In France we had a 7PM curfew for a few months and my roommate and I would spend our evenings reading. It kept us from totally losing it!
What can we expect to see next from you? Are you working on anything in particular?
I love writing women’s fiction and I just finished another manuscript for which I am currently seeking representation. Hopefully more about that soon!