BATAVIA – With the release of "All But One," Batavia author Julie Oleszek completes a trilogy that began with "The Fifth Floor," a book she thought would stand alone in its story of 17-year-old Anna. Readers thought otherwise and couldn't let the characters go.
Oleszek said the final book finds Anna still learning how to live in the world outside the hospital where she spent months on the fifth floor as a psychiatric patient. The stay was to cope with a tragedy no one knew she had internalized.
As Anna’s friends from the psychiatric ward are released, they go on with their interrupted lives, and each is tested differently on the lessons they learned together. In "All But One," Oleszek reunites the characters.
"I never intended to write book two or book three," the former elementary school teacher told Kane Weekend Editor Renee Tomell. "The book I'm working on now is the story I started after I finished 'The Fifth Floor.'" The following is an edited version of the rest of their conversation.
Renee Tomell: What happened to change your mind about continuing the story?
Julie Oleszek: On my website, I was flooded with emails asking what happened with Anna's family. What about her siblings? What happened to the fifth-floor characters? I wrote the second one, which deals with Anna's family and how they coped with the tragedy. In 'All But One' … the readers learn about what [her fellow patients] have been up to since they left the locked psych ward.
Tomell: Part of the story is based on your life?
Oleszek: 'The Fifth Floor' is based on a true story. It is based on my life, and I wrote it as fiction. When I started writing the book, it was going to be a story about growing up in a large family. I kept getting stuck on my life. [As a teacher, I saw] kids suffering out there. I started writing about my life. I wanted the story to be out there. It's not a memoir. There is fictional flair in it. The trilogy really evolved from truth with a twist of fiction to fiction with truth.
Tomell: What age group does it target?
Oleszek: Adults read it. The story involved young adults, and it definitely could be read by young adults.
Tomell: What kind of responses have you received?
Oleszek: I have gotten emails from mothers and grandmothers [that say] 'My son is going through this; it helped me to feel we're not alone.'
Tomell: What unexpected experiences have arisen since your first book?
Oleszek: The surprises were how much it has helped people. I didn't expect two more stories to come from it that have been loved by readers. I expected to be sitting at my desk writing. I didn't expect how many people I would meet through this and even schools that have asked me to present because of the material. The positive response I've gotten from readers has been the most surprising and thrilling experience I have had in writing so far.
Tomell: Is it hard to move on from the characters you've spent these last years with?
Oleszek: I felt sad I was leaving my characters. They become very much part of you. I'm off and running on a new book. I love writing and that's a good thing.
Tomell: What is the new work about, and when will it come out?
Oleszek: The beginning of next year. It takes about 15 months. I don't have a title for it. Some of it will be taking place in upstate New York. It's literary fiction. It's going to start in the future. It's going to be about a girl who sees how overwhelming the world has become. Through stories from her grandmother, she realizes living a simpler life is the route she wants to go. It spans 120 years.
Tomell: Is your own life connected to this story?
Oleszek: There are elements that are going to be drawn from my mother's life growing up in upstate New York – Syracuse. Her mother lived in a house that was part of the Underground Railroad. That's where my story is going to take place. It's going to be a single novel.
Tomell: You now write full time?
Oleszek: I was a teacher at an elementary school in Naperville for 20 years. I started writing my last years there. I've been writing ever since. I feel so fortunate that I've had two passions in life. I've had such a great experience in teaching. I worked for a great district, and now I'm doing this and I feel just as lucky.
Tomell: Your self-published works are continuing to gain recognition, including being named a Readers’ Favorite Five Star.
Oleszek: [I'll have] the book of the day March 20 [on] ereadernewstoday.com. [And] I have been nominated by Stacey Peterson, adult services manager at the Batavia Public Library, for the Soon To Be Famous Illinois Author Project for the first book.
WHAT: "The Fifth Floor," "Just Like Ziggy" and "All But One" comprise a trilogy
WHEN: All three books are now available
WHERE: In book form and as an e-book