Olivie Blake, the pseudonym for Los Angeles-based author Alexene Farol Follmuth, still isn’t quite sure what to make of her viral moment, courtesy of the social media app TikTok last year.
She had self-published and released her dark fantasy novel, “The Atlas Six,” in late January 2020, just before the pandemic hit the United States. Through her years of writing fan fiction and self-publishing, Blake said she knew she had a small, loyal audience that she thought would appreciate her latest effort, which chronicles the tumultuous journey of six magicians vying for a place in the secret Alexandrian Society of magical academicians.
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But as her husband told her, “There’s just something different about this book.”
Over a year had passed since “The Atlas Six” was first released into the universe, and in May 2021 Blake and her husband were busy preparing to welcome their first child when they suddenly noticed an uptick in sales of the book.
“I was literally in the hospital giving birth and my husband said, ‘The sales on ‘The Six’ have really spiked’,” she recalled with a laugh during a recent phone interview. “Later that day, someone sent me a Tumblr message like, ‘You know this went viral on TikTok.’ I saw it and I just had no idea other people knew about this book. I’m not even on TikTok, so I was watching it all from the outside like, ‘Holy crap!’ There was this whole sensation happening.”
The sensation she speaks of consisted of TikTok users responding to the book by making videos that praised it, sharing its artwork and discussing its plot using the #theatlassix hashtag among the #BookTok community. Currently, the hashtag has more than 20 million views on the social media network.
Going viral landed Blake a publishing deal and “The Atlas Six,” which is the first part of a three-part trilogy, was re-released with additional content and edits by Tor Books this month. (Her editor at Tor, Molly McGhee, went viral on Twitter after this interview had been conducted when she said in a letter that she was leaving the publisher after being denied a promotion, which sparked a larger conversation about labor and equity in publishing.) The second installation, “The Atlas Paradox,” will be out Oct. 25.
Blake said she enjoyed the video banter and creative ways fans were interacting with her work using the hashtag #BookTok on TikTok, and she has seen similar posts being shared via Twitter and Instagram as well.
“The things the fans create out of a book are just incredible,” she said. “It’s beyond any kind of marketing I could do myself.”
Having her first book go viral, Blake said there’s external pressure now in writing the next two books.
“It’s a bit scary because I’ve seen so many opinions,” she said about fans on social media musing about what should happen next. “So I’ve had to isolate myself to really focus on bringing it back to the story that I always wanted to tell, and I have to trust that where I was going with this is right.”
Another aspect of “The Atlas Six” that fans gravitated toward was its illustrations, which were conjured up by Blake’s friend and artist Little Chmura. The pair also produces the graphic series and webcomic “Clara and the Devil.”
“She’s incredibly talented and we’re both essentially self-taught because I started writing for fandom and she started by making fan art,” she said. “I attribute as much of this book’s success from her to her from her art from her. One of the reasons it went viral is because of how gorgeous the illustrations are and how well it translates to a visual medium.”
Blake said she got into writing full time when she dropped out of law school and that her work in a public defender’s office was “emotionally draining.” Shortly after leaving that world behind, she self-published her first book by her.
But almost immediately, she pulled that book from the internet.
“I call it my primal scream manuscript,” she said. “It was about a woman in her twenties who was hitting a dead-end and having a quarter-life crisis and people who read it were like, ‘Is this about you?’ I was like, ‘Oh no.’ It was more the process of writing that was important to me at the time and it was a way of understanding what I was going through and my way of reflecting on my experience was to write a book. I just really feel better when I’m creating something that has meaning.”
Blake is also an outspoken advocate for mental health as someone who has bipolar disorder, and she said it is important to talk about it.
“I was really rocked by that diagnosis,” she said. “It sounded very scary and it was. Dealing with mental illness is hard because the methods of treating it are basically trial and error. I started to realize that for me there were better ways of processing what was going on inside my head and understanding what was going on outside of it as well.”
One time her psychiatrist did not refill her medications, she recalled, and that jolt to her system kept her wide awake for 36 hours; that actually sparked her passion for writing fan fiction, which she did to pass the time.
“In my sleepless hours, I’d write,” she added. “I wasn’t having as many ups and downs or experiencing any episodes, I was just sort of channeling all of that energy into writing. I didn’t know what I wanted to write necessarily. I knew there was an audience there and what else do you really need for a story other than an audience?”
When she’s not writing, she’s focused on family: playing with their rescue pit bull and dancing around the house with her son to Disney’s “Encanto” soundtrack and songs by bands like Bastille and Dashboard Confessional. However, this year will keep her very busy as she’s also releasing her first young adult novel, “My Mechanical Romance,” under her real name, Alexene Farol Follmuth, on May 31 through Holiday House.
She wrote the story about two college-age engineers in a STEM program falling in love to prove that “nerds are hot,” she added with a laugh.
“I was hearing from all of these people who had run into all of these different microaggressions as women who were in or pushed out of STEM and I sort of turned that into story time,” she said. “From an early age, some of these women were edged out or told that there wasn’t a space for them. I wanted to tell a story that was about why it was hard, but also giving a reason to hope and a reason to keep going.”