Young adult novel uses uses humour to discuss mental health, faith and the college experience

Jane Sinner, in Lianne Oelke‘s first book Nice Try, Jane Sinner ($24.99, Raincoast Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), is a funny relatable character. Oelke agreed to speak to me about her latest book, her writing process and her love of hiking – or at least the views from the top.

Hi Lianne,

Congratulations on your first book, Nice try, Jane Sinner, (NTJS) which comes out in January. I read your bio at and it cracked me up. I see where Jane gets her sense of humour from. Is Jane based on yourself or anyone else? Why did you decide to write this story?

Hi Lisa!

Thanks so much for the thoughtful questions and having me on Book Time. Jane is more or less a concentrated version of myself. I kept a journal in university, and I started typing up those entries so I could take out the things I didn’t like and add things that made me laugh. Basically, I wanted to re-write my past, or at least make a new story out of it. I created Jane Sinner to help work through my own depression and feelings of isolation after high school.

Q. Where did you get this idea from?

A. It all started with the character of Jane. By writing the book as a journal, I was able to access all the weird, hilarious, unflattering, and vulnerable thoughts she wouldn’t always share out loud. Once I realized I actually needed a plot to write a novel, I decided to throw in a reality TV show, because at the time, I watched a lot of The Bachelor and America’s Next Top Model.

Q. What did you do for research this book? Do you have any personal experience with reality TV, overly religious family members or trauma?

A. I didn’t do any research specifically, unless all those seasons of The Bachelor count, although my one year of film school helped with finessing little details of House of Orange. I do come from a relatively conservative family, so that aspect of NTJS is partly inspired by my life.

Q. What has been the response from this book so far?

A. Mostly positive, I think! NTJS got a starred review from Booklist and positive reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. From what I’ve seen so far, people are able to find different aspects in the book that resonate with them, whether it’s faith, mental health, or the college experience.

Q. Who is your favourite character?

Jane, of course! But I’m biased. Marc is a close second. He’s just the worst – which makes him kind of the best.

Q. Do you think Jane or any of the other characters will make an appearance again?

A. Hmmm, hard to say. I’m not working on anything Jane Sinner-related at the moment. I’d be open to coming back to Jane sometime in the future, but for now, I’m happy with where Jane ends up. I don’t want to write the same book twice.

Q. Other than “highly undisciplined”, what is your writing process?

A. Haha, it all depends! Sometimes I’ll get up early and jot down a couple hundred words with my morning coffee. Other times I’ll get a bit of writing done at work, if it’s a slow day. The dream is to write full time in a cabin in the woods.

Q. This is your first published book. Have you written others that you now hope to publish?

I’m in the middle of drafting a YA fantasy, but we’ll see where that goes!

Q. Will you continue to write young adult? What do you like about this genre? Don’t like?

A. Yes, I don’t see myself writing any other category any time soon. I love the immediacy of YA. Everything is new, fresh, and urgent. I don’t think I’ll ever be too old to read (or write) a book about finding one’s self.

Q. What would your dream writing project be?

A. My dream writing project is the one I’m working on now – a multi-point-of-view dark fantasy inspired by saga-age Iceland. If I’m not writing my dream project, I’m not writing the right thing.

Q. What is your goal as a writer?

A. Good question! Every time I start a new project, my goal is just to finish it, which is pretty big in itself. I also want to write the kind of stories I needed as a teenager. The kind I still need.

Q. What have you enjoyed about the writing, editing and publicity process so far? Disliked? Was surprised by?

A. I enjoy the absolute freedom of writing anything I want to, although that freedom can also be overwhelming. Working with my editor has been delightful. After writing for so long on my own, it’s incredible to collaborate with someone who also gets what I’m doing and wants to make it even better. I’d say the biggest surprise is the depth and support of the YA writing community. I’ve met so many authors (online, for the most part) that are going through the same wonderful and bizarre process that I am.

Q. What are you looking forward to your upcoming publicity tour?

A. Meeting bloggers, readers and other writers! Book people are the best people.

Q. According to your website, you went to film school and have worked in the film industry for three years. What have you done in that time? Favourite part of the industry? Least favourite part.

A. I work in post production as an assistant editor on a bunch of low-budget, made-for-TV movies. Film making is a huge and intricate process, and it’s so cool, in editing especially, to see everyone’s efforts come together right in front of you. My least favourite part, by far, is having to work with Christmas music for 10 months a year.

Q. How has this industry helped in writing this book or writing in general?

A. Film editing has definitely helped me become a better storyteller. It’s really interesting to see a story come together visually, and to be able to cut, extend, move or trim scenes. It’s like writing, but more streamlined.

And for fun:

Q. What kind of rescue animals would you have in your lakeside cabin?
A. CATS! All the cats. Dogs, too.

Q. If lions and giraffes, small dogs and eagles could live in harmony in a lakeside cabin, what other animals would you invite to hang out with you?
A. If everyone’s getting along, then why not a few bears? And really big cats like mountain lions and tigers? And moose! And wolves! Pretty much all animals are invited.

Q. If you could take your 1983 camper anywhere in the world, where would you go?
A. Ooh. I’d really like to do a trip down to the states, through Oregon, California, Arizona and Utah.

Q. What would the best hammock spot in the world?
A. I have yet to set up a hammock somewhere tropical. On a private beach, with an endless supply of fresh guac and mojitos.

Q. Where is your favourite hammock spot in Canada?
A. Probably in Haida Gwaii: a remote set of islands off British Columbia‘s coast. It’s an incredibly beautiful, mystical place, rich with history.

Q. Best thing about hiking?
A. The views at the top.

Q. Worst thing about hiking?
A. … the actual hiking.

Q. Dream hiking destination?
A. I’d love to be able to spend a month in the Canadian Rockies. I’d also love to go to South America and hike in Patagonia (although I’d be terrified of the Pumas).

Q. For first-time visitors to British Columbia, where would you suggest they go?
A. There’s so much to see! Vancouver is a great base for hiking, camping, fishing, skiing, snowboarding, canoeing, rock climbing and beer drinking. Tofino (on Vancouver Island) is where to go if you want to surf. Haida Gwaii is a bit harder to get to, but well worth the effort if you want to experience the best of the coast. The Okanagan has great wine and hot weather. The Rockies are a stunning hiker’s paradise. And Bowron Lakes is by far the best canoeing I’ve ever done.

Nice Try, Jane Sinner by British Columbia author Lianne Oelke, Raincoast Books and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books
Nice Try, Jane Sinner by British Columbia author Lianne Oelke.

Book bio from 

Recently expelled from high school, Jane Sinner grudgingly enrolls in community college, a situation made slightly more bearable when she joins a student-run reality show. House of Orange is her chance to start over – no one there knows what she did in high school. What more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that gets why she’d rather turn to Freud than to Jesus. But she’ll settle for using House of Orange’s growing fanbase and whatever Intro to Psych can teach her, to prove to the world – or at least viewers of substandard television- that she has what it takes to win.