An Interview with Cossette Penner-Olivera

Meet 1811 is our blog series where we interview our authors about romance, writing, and all the struggles in between. Today, get a load of the brilliant Cossette Penner-Olivera, whose story about Mouse & Helen captured our hearts long before the characters appeared in our anthology.

Say hi to Cossette!

Describe “romance” in one word.


Not in the sense that people are fated to be together. I mean, I’m a romantic and a total sap in a lot of ways and I actually believe in love at first sight, but I don’t believe in destiny in the traditional sense. But I do think there are people in the world who complement and complete us, and sometimes we’re lucky enough to find them, through the sheer power of coincidence, and I think that’s beautiful. That’s true romance to me. (For the record, I also think you can have more than one soulmate, and you can have platonic soulmates too—I know I certainly have some platonic soulmates of my own.) Am I cheating on this question to explain my concept of true love? The answer is yes.

Tell me about the first story you remember writing.

So oddly enough I’d forgotten about this story until I actually had to sit down and think about it just now, and now I remember it far more clearly than I’d prefer. I know it’s not my first story, but the first thing I remember writing was a story called “The Wish Cat” when I was nine or ten. From my recollection, it was about a boy who discovered his cat was a magical talking mermaid cat who could grant wishes and the cat turned him into a merman and they embarked on an undersea adventure with a purpose I cannot for the life of me recall. I also don’t think wish-granting had anything to do with the actual plot? It filled up an entire notebook and included terrible illustrations by yours truly.

What is your favourite romance story?

I don’t normally consume a lot of exclusively romance content, but that isn’t to say I won’t gravitate toward the romantic subplots that serve as a backdrop for a larger narrative. And if a story is good, it doesn’t take much for me to become very invested (read: obsessed) with its characters and their respective relationships—both romantic and platonic! In no particular order, currently ranking among my favourite heart-melting (or, if you prefer, heart-breaking) fictional couples are Jane and Michael from Jane the Virgin, Enjolras and Grantaire from Les Mis, Amy and Rory from Doctor Who, Monty and Percy from Mackenzi Lee’s “Montague Siblings” series, and Evie and Sam in Libba Bray’s “The Diviners” series.

How does a story begin?

Usually with characters—that was the case for Helen and Mouse!—but to be honest the origins of my story ideas vary wildly. Quite often the setting comes first, and then I spin up characters and a story to occupy whichever world I’ve thought up.

Does being part of a writing collective affect the way you approach writing?

I wouldn’t say it’s affected the way I approach the writing process itself, but it has definitely changed the way I view my work. Writing has always been very personal for me, and before joining the Eighteen Eleven Collective I had minimal experience in sharing my work with those in my personal life. While I’m well aware I’m not unique in this sentiment, I’ve always felt like a mother to my characters and I become attached to them very quickly. Having people to share in the delight of my characters and their dynamics has made writing much more enjoyable. Attending a writer’s circle isn’t all nitpicking and clinical, constructive criticism—it’s a space to share in the delight of each other’s stories, and a space for encouragement and nurturing passion.

What’s your method for overcoming the challenges of being a writer, like writer’s block or imposter syndrome?

Writer’s block is by far the most difficult challenge for me—going through writer’s block is a huge enabler of imposter syndrome (though not the only one) so it is forever my main concern. I’m a perfectionist, so no matter what any decent writing blog will tell you about crappy first drafts, if the words don’t come to me, I feel like I can’t write, and inevitably spiral down a hole of YouTube videos because the words aren’t coming to me in the quality of a finished manuscript. It’s a terrible habit and not the most productive attitude to have, but I have managed to find some workarounds so that at least something gets semi-done.

One trick I’ve found helpful is writing down everything I want to happen in the next scene in detailed point form—usually the ideas are already there, it’s just the wording that stumps me, and it helps that I outline all my drafts beforehand a little more loosely. So I just give a play-by-play account of how I want the scene to go based on my current vision in clipped, simple sentences. Nothing fancy, just the scene beats broken down in more detail than in my broad outline. Then, when a rare strike of inspiration hits, I return to my draft and write the scene using my notes as a guideline. And if I stray from the notes, so long as it’s consistent with my rough whole-story outline, that’s okay too.  

How do you balance writing with the rest of your life (writing, being a student)?

Not easily. Sometimes I’ll be struck with a surge of inspiration and I realise I just have to go ahead and write before it’s gone, no matter how much schoolwork I’m juggling. Most of the time, though, I try and squeeze in little pockets of writing time whenever I can afford to, with no real pattern or schedule to follow. (This, of course, is assuming I possess any self-discipline even when inspiration does strike, which is not in fact something I have).

 In your opinion, what fictional couple should be together but isn’t?

 Do Enjolras and Grantaire count? There might be some strong homoerotic tension in the book and the two characters are very much coded as queer, but I won’t die happy until an adaptation really explores their relationship to its fullest. We’ve been robbed so many times. I don’t know, I don’t normally go for characters who aren’t already together.

How do you fit writing into your life right now?

Usually it comes at the expense of sleep.

Tell me about a piece of writing you’re currently working on.

If you’ve read my blog post then you know I currently have a major fanfiction in the works but aside from that? I’m working on turning the story of Helen and Mouse, my contribution for the anthology, into a full-length novel. I don’t yet know how long it’ll take me, but I’m determined to make it happen someday. Slowly but surely.

Are you a wine person or a cheese person?

Cheese, cheese, always and forever cheese.


Want more of Cossette? Follow her on Tumblr and Instagram @cossetteiswriting.

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