Some people say there is nothing new under the sun. It is just a matter of improving on what is already there – something that author Vivi Barnes has definitely taken to heart, in retelling the classic Dickens story Oliver Twist.
“I watched the movie Oliver! so many times as a kid—it was one of my favorite movies. Then I read the book and wondered what it’d be like if the story took place in today’s times, but with a female teenager as the protagonist, and call it Olivia Twisted,” said Barnes.
Of course, Barnes added her own unique flavor to her interpretation of Charles Dickens’ classic Oliver Twist. “I had a tiny crush on the Artful Dodger in the movie Oliver! when I was young, which is probably what prompted me to make the Dodger Olivia’s love interest. As leader of the gang of hackers and staying true to Charles Dickens’ characters, it was natural to make him the bad boy with demons of his own.”
Like Dickens’ story, there’s plenty of things in Olivia Twisted to keep the readers turning pages.
“I think readers would want to know why Olivia is so turned on by Z—why she falls into the clutches of the Monroe Street gang when they’re clearly up to no good. Olivia tries to be strong, to be hardened, but she is innocent to a fault and desperate to find love, much like the original Oliver,” said Barnes.
Barnes was determined to make Olivia a believable character, in both traits and actions. “I tried to make her as real as possible, giving her choices that a girl in her situation might actually make. Are they the right choices? Not always, but neither are the ones many of us make as kids.”
And some of those choices lead to some interesting research experiences.
“The hacking element was definitely the most interesting subject I researched. I didn’t realize how easy it was to hack. I even took some online courses and hacked into my husband’s computer while he was sitting next to me, to his dismay!” laughed Barnes.
Olivia Twisted isn’t the only perfect story in Barnes’ life. Barnes’ relationship with her agent, Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, is a perfect story within itself.
“I had been in the query trenches for a few months when I heard from Pam. She was actually Laurie McLean’s assistant at the time and was just getting started as an agent in her own right. She pulled me from Laurie’s slush and offered me representation. I got two other offers as well, but decided to go with Pam based on her blogging experience and her enthusiasm for my book.”
Vlieg’s enthusiasm for Olivia Twisted definitely shines through.
“Vivi had several agents wanting to represent her work. I loved the idea of foster kids doing what they needed to do in order to survive. Ellen Hopkins understands that, how when the foster kids turn 18 they are on their own with no support,” said Vlieg. “That’s why she created her houses for newly released kids. Vivi’s book tells of a fictional romance involving these very important social issues and with an Oliver Twist feel! I love all of that.”
Besides writing, Barnes reads and enjoys a variety of authors – John Green, Rainbow Rowell, Jay Asher, and Suzanne Collins, to name a few. She also loves going to the movies.
“I actually think movies help with my writing from a plotting perspective. I see everything taking place as if it’s a movie in my mind. Plus I have three kids, so there’s not much free time to be had. I try to spend as much of my time with them as possible.”
For those working on their own twisted tales, Barnes started off with emphasizing patience and perseverance.Author Vivi Barnes. Photo courtesy of Vivi Barnes.
“I’m sure it’s been said, but hang in there. It’s not an easy process—not at all—lots of hills and too many valleys sometimes. But when you get that offer of representation, the offer of publication, then finally the reader who tells you that your book made an impact on them (and I’ve heard this from teens who are very much in Liv’s situation), it makes the hard journey totally worth
Barnes also encourages perspective writers to find a supportive community that has their back. “Writers are also a very supportive group. I would also recommend to writers to get involved with SCBWI, chats on Twitter (like #yalitchat), and any other outlet for meeting other writers. They are amazing for sharing experiences and offering support.”