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Interview with Maria Leonard Olsen, author of 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life

Author’s Bio:  Maria Leonard Olsen is a biracial woman whose parents were forbidden by law to marry in the early 1960s. She is an author, attorney, recovery mentor, writing/empowerment retreat leader, and co-host of D.C.’s Inside Out radio show.  Maria graduated from Boston College and the University of Virginia School of Law, served in the Clinton Administration's Justice Department and on numerous charitable boards, and has fostered newborn babies awaiting adoption. 

Maria has spoken at the National March to End Rape Culture, L.A.’s Mixed Remixed Festival, The Japanese American National Museum's Family Day, the Washington Independent Review of Books, the U.S. Department of Justice's Asian American Month Celebration and as a corporate motivational speaker. Her talk has been featured on C-Span’s Book TV. Her latest book, 50 After 50--Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life, was selected for the National Press Club’s Book Fair. See and IG/Twitter: @fiftyafter50.

DL: What inspired you to write your book?  
MLO: At age 50, I got sober, divorced and became an empty nester.  I had put all my eggs in the motherhood basket and felt depressed and stuck.  My 50th birthday gift to myself was to try 50 new things to explore the contours of how I wanted to live the next chapter of my life.  Lots of friends asked me for my list, since 50 is a common reckoning point for so many of us.  I realized that I could help a lot of people through what I learned in this year-long experience of trying to become my best version.  And I wanted to turn my pain into a force for good.

DL: Describe your writing process? Do you use an outline or let it flow organically?  
MLO: My book proposal generally serves as my outline, but I am a copious note-taker.  When an idea strikes, I write it down or type it into my phone and then incorporate it into the section in which it makes the most sense.  I write mostly nonfiction.  I love writing, but support myself as a lawyer (i.e., my “day job”), so I have to fit in my writing whenever I can.  It helps me to have an accountability partner to keep me on track when I have a deadline—self-imposed or from the publisher.

DL: What do you think makes a good story?  
MLO: Something to which the reader can relate or that adds to his or her understanding.  I think the richest stories evoke all of the senses as you read them.  I also enjoy a good, unexpected twist in fiction.

DL: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?  
MLO: Toltec Shaman Don Miguel Ruiz exposes self-limiting beliefs and presents a simple yet effective code of personal conduct in his bestselling book, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. The four agreements he describes are these: (1) Be impeccable with your word; (2) Don't take anything personally; (3) Don't make assumptions; and (4) Always do your best. His description of how self and societal judgment take over our psyches as we age is compelling, as is his message that we each have different realities that affect our behavior.  Remembering this helps me not take things personally, since I can never really know what is going on in another’s life and what has happened.  The more I adhere to all of the four agreements, the better my life becomes.

DL: If you were hosting a dinner party which three authors would be your dream guests? 
MLO: Viktor Frankl, Anne Lamott and Michelle Obama.

DL: What are the keys to success in marketing your book(s)? 
MLO: Unfortunately, in today’s writing world, authors have to do much of their own marketing.  And the more I did, the more I sold.  I got to meet you, Dee, at a book festival!  There are many in our area to which authors may apply.  

Other tips:  Contact libraries and book clubs who might be interested in your subject; have a good website (maybe pay a college student to help you design one?); be active on social media and join writer-related social media groups; use services like for inexpensive banners, business cards with photos of your book covers, book and event cards; guest blogging and pitching to podcasters; have book launch events and ask friends to host book parties; consider hiring a publicist, which I did for a few months and learned a great deal.  

DL: What tips would you give to aspiring writers?
MLO: Read great writing to improve your own.  As you edit your writing, pretend you are talking to someone who is bored and you are trying to keep them interested, sentence by sentence.  Find a writers’ group to share your work with so that you can edit each other’s work and provide tips to one another.  Get an accountability partner to help you set and keep deadlines.  Take classes or workshops to improve your skills.  If interested in nonfiction, consider writing articles first, to build up your credibility with publishers.  If fiction is your love, submit to contests and journals.  Keep writing!  As author Anne Lamott says, “Even sh*tty first drafts are fine.” They can help you overcome writer’s block and can be polished into something wonderful down the line.

DL: How about sharing an excerpt from 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life
MLO: Here you go:

So, what did I learn in this year of magical doing? I sought this year to reclaim my life for myself and to find my voice. My quest to try 50 new things after turning 50 started as a selfish means of catharsis, of finding joy and purpose in my life following a period of darkness and loss. I realized from multiple conversations that my quest was of wide interest and could be of help to many others. If I help even one reader recalibrate her life and infuse it with vitality, I will have paid forward the kindness and inspiration shared with me. I will have succeeded.

First and foremost, I gained the stark clarity that it is my life and it is up to me what I do with it in whatever time I have left. As we age, we lose loved ones. We learn that we need to take advantage of the present moment. I don’t want to look back on my life and see that I settled for less than I could have done. Or that I wasted the precious commodity of time doing things I did not care about and that did not bring me closer to being the person I want to be. At the end of my life, I do not want to look back wistfully at what might have been. This year has shown me that I can still have peak experiences after five decades of life have passed.

DL: What’s on the horizon for you?  
MLO: I am still doing book events, like the Pennsylvania Conference for Women, Influencers of Midlife, festivals and book clubs.  I’d love to meet some of your readers at one of my events—check out my website for the events.  I am writing a book on the Pandora’s box of DNA test kits!  Stay tuned.

DL: Where can readers learn more about you and your book(s)? 
MLO: They can learn more about me and my books here:

·         Website:

·         Facebook:

·         Twitter:

·         Blog:

·         Book Buy Links:  

DL: It’s been a pleasure having you here with us today. I know my readers will enjoy getting to know you and your work.

MLO: Thank you so much, Dee!


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