Writing Their Future

Kayla Olson ('04) (Photo by Andrew Olson)

At UNT, Kayla Olson ('04) learned how history is shaped by small details. Farrah Penn ('10) discovered she could have a career in creative writing.

And now they've used those lessons to publish young adult novels.

Olson's novel The Sandcastle Empire has drawn widespread attention, with movie rights optioned by Leonardo DiCaprio's production company. Her next book, This Splintered Silence (HarperTeen), comes out in November.

Olson says her major in international relations helped her plot the book, which focuses on a teen trying to survive a dystopian revolution. She noted one political science class taught her that the course of history is influenced by a wide range of tiny details that add up in just the right way.

"That class engrained in me a mindset that looks at the big picture and the tiny details," Olson says. "It helped me to think about how the details in a certain society might combine to create a given atmosphere."

Farrah Penn ('10) (Photo by Nina Mohan)

Penn ('10) wrote Twelve Steps to Normal (Jimmy Patterson Books/Little, Brown), published in March. The book depicts Kira, a teen girl who moves back home with her dad after he spent a year in sober living rehabilitation -- and what happens when he brings his funny, interesting friends with him. Penn also works as a staff writer for the website BuzzFeed.

She was an Emerald Eagle Scholar and says UNT helped her reach this point.

"Here's my answer in the form of a list: 15 Ways UNT Helped Shape My Career As A Writer," Penn says. "Just kidding. It wasn't until I switched my major to creative writing that I realized, hey, maybe I could do something creative for a living. The professors were always so helpful and encouraging and pushed me to be my very best, and I absolutely carried that with me."

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