During the last eighteen months,
my virtual travels have brought me to many magnificent places. Across
the nation I’ve met an array of talented authors and made many dear
friends. It’s time to pass the torch, though, and I’m looking forward
to my last stop, San Leandro, California.
“Bill, this is a bit harder
than I thought it would be.”
“Think of it as a new
adventure. You know, God has always led you in the right direction.
Besides, this is what you wanted to do.”
“I know. It’s just . . . I hate
He flatters me with a caring
smile and a wink. “This isn’t an end, pretty lady! Start spreading the
“Bill, it’s not that easy—”
“Yes it is! You’re a full-time
electrician, business owner, mom, grandma—”
“And ‘back porch
“And I really want to dedicate
more time to writing book two!”
“There. You said it! Now where
are we going for your last tour in this last
month of 2009?”
“Really . . . I thought we’ve
been there, hee hee.”
“You’re funny. We’re going to
John Olson’s home in San Leandro, California. I want to enjoy every last
John Olson is an award-winning
novelist, with a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of
Wisconsin. Postdoctoral research at the University of California
brought him to live near San Francisco, where he lives with his wife,
Amy, and two children.
After eight years as a director
and principal scientist for a major scientific software company, John
quit his day job to devote himself to a full-time ministry of writing
and speaking. He has won several awards, including a Christy Award, a
Silver Angel award, and placement on the New York Public Library’s
list, Books for the Teen Age.
When we arrive at Mr. Olson’s
residence, we find him to be a handsome, soft-spoken man. He’s wearing
dark jeans and a black T-shirt with sparkly artwork painted on it. A
green long-sleeved thermal shirt peeks out from underneath.
After our introductions, he
invites us to join him in his beautiful home. We’re awed by the
hundred-year old, three-story house that is nestled in orange trees and
large redwoods. A stone stairway contours around the house toward a
terraced backyard. Wild flowers adorn the landscape. He explains while
pointing, “From up there, on top of the hill, you can see the San
Francisco Bay and across the water, the whole city.”
“This is beautiful!”
He smiles and leads us toward
the entry door. “We’ll take a look at that later. Let’s go inside.” I
nod and follow him past a cage that houses a green-and-yellow parakeet.
He brings me into a cheerfully decorated room with bright yellow walls,
two comfy red sofas, and numerous antiques. The high ceilings and
expansive windows, along with piles of books, make it a reader’s haven.
Then my eyes spot the darts.
John laughs as he kicks a few
darts out from underfoot. “Oh, don’t mind the mess. We had a family
night last evening—covered dish, Bible study, twenty-five adults and
children . . .”
“Sounds like fun.”
“The kid—well, everyone—had
fun shooting darts at one another.” He picked one up to show me. “They
don’t hurt . . . Velcro tips.”
“Hum . . . why don’t we start
the interview, and then I’ll see if I’m any good at sharpshooting?”
[smiling] Deal. Having a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of
Wisconsin, postdoctoral research credits from the University of
California, and after many years as a director and principal scientist
at a major scientific software company, what brought you to the
decision to quit your day job and devote all your efforts to a ministry
of writing and speaking?
Ingermanson and I wrote Oxygen and Fifth
Man while I was working full time as a scientist. Even though
it was hard to find the time to write, I managed to get the books
written without too much trauma to myself and my family. Writing Adrenaline,
however, was another story. By that time I had been put in charge of a
critical part of my company. People were depending on me—people I
really cared about. The pressures at my day job combined with the
pressure to meet my writing deadlines almost killed me. It was hard for
my family as well. I loved writing, but after a short discussion with
God, I told Him I wouldn’t write any more books while I still had a
I ended up taking almost three
years off writing while I finished up work on the project that was so
life-or-death for my company. Then as soon as the project was finished,
my wife and I started making preparations to cut the day-job umbilical
cord. So we stepped out in faith and scheduled a date for me to quit
working. I didn’t have any book contracts yet, but God was leading and
providing for everything else, and my wife and I knew we could trust
Him. Then about a week before I was scheduled to give my two weeks’
notice, a guy from a movie company called me up and asked me to write a
novel to go along with a screenplay they were planning to produce. I
about jumped out of my shoes! God was providing a way for us!
Then I read the screenplay. Uh
oh . . . I couldn’t write that story. Maybe someone else could, but
that someone definitely wasn’t me. So I called the guy back and turned
him down. It wasn’t easy, but I knew it was the right thing to do.
The guy called me back a few
days later and asked me what I would have done differently. I told him
I would have written a completely different story. A thriller instead
of a drama—perhaps something set in Iraq. Something about a fossil
hunter, maybe . . . a scientist who finds something that doesn’t square
with evolutionary theory . And that’s how Fossil Hunter
The movie company actually paid
for me to write the story—which gave us a chance to get the book
pipeline going again. It’s been a wonderful adventure. God has provided
for my family every step of the way. It’s amazing how many more
miracles you get to see when you’re living life on the edge.
Powers, the follow-up to Shade, has already
been mentioned in Publishers Weekly as “a
must-read.” Bet you’re excited! When did you know you’d have a sequel?
Was it during the writing of Shade (2008), or after
Actually, Publishers Weekly said Shade
was the must read. Powers is a must read too, of
course, but Publishers Weekly hasn’t said so yet.
Just between you and me, between Powers and Shade,
I think Powers is the better book.
when did I know about the sequel? I knew there would be a sequel before
I signed the three book series contract with B&H. I’ve always
meant for the Shade story to be told in three
parts. I just worked hard to make sure all three parts could be read as
much pressure do you feel as a writer to complete full-length novels in
such a short time when other engagements take you away from your pen?
have a love-hate relationship with deadlines. I hate the pressure of
deadlines, but without them I’d never be able to write a word. I’m so
bad that your plain old ordinary vanilla manuscript due dates don’t to
a thing for me. I have to get one of my writing buddies (usually Randy
or Rick Acker) to create extra deadlines for me. Right now I have to
write 1200 words a day or I have to pay Rick $100.00 per day I don’t
meet my goal. Now that’s some serious pressure.
your wife, and two children reside in California and have traveled the
globe. (I checked out some of your photo albums online. Good stuff!)
It’s great to see your parenting side, and your devoted involvement is
admirable. If you were to use your family as a role model for young
couples, what major ingredients have you blended in to ensure your
children have a well-balanced upbringing?
. . major ingredients. Three tablespoons tumeric, one tablespoon cumin,
a half cup of vinegar, three tablespoons molasses, two carmelized
onions, three or four jalapenos, and two deboned teenagers chopped into
one-inch cubes. Add a healthy dose of middle-school youth work, a few
mission trips to Mexico and Germany, a twenty-five member family small
group coming over for dinner, games, and Bible study every Monday
night, fantasy role-playing games for fourteen kids and seven adults
every Sunday night, a high school writing group, ultimate Frisbee, and
a dash of dance shows, and you’ll get a stew that’s guaranteed to spice
up your life.
you always lived in California? Do you think you always will?
grew up in South Carolina, and most of my extended family still lives
there, but I’m here until God tells us to go.
you visualized what it will be like for you and your wife when your
children are grown and on their own?
Besides boring? Amy and I will probably buy houses near their campuses
and stalk them on their way to classes. And then we’ll hold massive
parties on the weekends and invite all their closest friends. And when
we get out of jail for violating the court orders, we’ll probably
travel and do lots of missions trips.
Thanksgiving’s just passed. How did you celebrate?
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. The Olson house is
usually a three-ring circus. On most weeks we have mobs of people
hanging out at our house, but on Thanksgiving we like to hang out as a
tiny family of four. We cook dinner together, eat our favorite foods
together (like turkey—we usually buy two twenty-two-pounders to make
sure we’ll have enough, Olson JELL-O, sweet potato soufflé, almond
beans, and Cockfield cranberry pie). We also like to shoot one another
with darts and play games like Olson poker and landmine Monopoly. And
of course no Thanksgiving would be complete without watching a rerun or
two of Even Stevens. I know . . . it’s sad, but
that’s the way we roll.
how about Christmas? We’re getting close!
always spend Christmas with our family in South Carolina. We spend
Christmas morning in Lexington, South Carolina, with Amy’s family and
then drive an hour and a half to my sister’s house in Aiken, South
Carolina, to spend Christmas afternoon with my family. It’s quite a
mob. There are around twenty of us hanging out together in one big
happy two-week-long party. It’s the happiest time on earth. We once
gave our kids the choice of going to Disney World or spending one extra
day with the family in Aiken, and they didn’t even have to think about
it. Amy and I had to drive down to Orlando by ourselves.
visited your Web site and you mentioned that when you were younger you
and a friend were fond of playing practical jokes. Care to share one of
Practical jokes? What a great question. My whole life was a practical
joke. We used to hide alarm clocks set to go off in five-minute
intervals in our teachers’ classrooms. Or we’d pick a favorite teacher
and convince her that she was the buzz of the campus for telling
You-Know-Who off to his face. Or that we’d converted to Islam in order
to inherit millions of dollars from a rich uncle and had to pray three
times a day facing Mecca. In college I was fond of scaling the outsides
of tall buildings and breaking into my friends’ dorm rooms to paint
their fingernails and toenails while they were sleeping.
Once we planned an elaborate
double date that involved sixteen people working together to convince
our dates that the Russian mafia was trying to kill us to retrieve the
contents of a red Pizza Hut bag. They had us running all over town in
car chases so realistic I almost peed my pants. We ate the various
courses of our meals in a graveyard, in a home we had to break into,
and in the back of a mobster’s getaway car. The amazing thing was that
our dates bought the whole thing—hook, line, and sinker. Even the armed
soldiers at the end who killed the house’s power and forced us to watch
a movie we’d edited ourselves into. And they didn’t even hate us for
it. In fact my date had such a good time she decided to marry me.
you ever get into trouble? If so, what sort of discipline did you
remember getting into trouble only one time. While I was in grad
school, I decided to break into our Campus Crusade director’s apartment
while he was visiting his girlfriend in Colorado. Late Friday night I,
with the help of my friends Pete and Scott, free-climbed up to a narrow
two-story bathroom window and wriggled inside. Once we were inside, we
went to working rearranging all the furniture so that our director’s
bedroom furniture was set up in his living room, his bathroom stuff was
set up in his kitchen, and vice versa, but while we were moving the bed
his phone started ringing—at 1:30 AM. It couldn’t be a casual call, but
who could it be? The people downstairs? Did they know he was supposed
to be away for the weekend? Had they heard us moving around?
We dove for the volume on the
answering machine and turned it up so we could hear. It was Scott’s
mom, and she was worried to death that it was 1:30 AM and her son
hadn’t come home. Scott was living at home? I didn’t have a clue.
Anyway, Scott called his mom, erased the message, and we finished
rearranging the apartment and went home.
I’d almost forgotten about the
prank by the time our next Bible study rolled around. I walked into the
director’s apartment and tried to keep a straight face under his
intense scrutiny. It turned out that he had asked his girlfriend to
marry him that weekend and had brought her back to visit Berkeley. The
first thing she saw when he opened the door was his bed set up right in
front of the door. He was probably embarrassed, but he left his
apartment that way all week until our Bible study. And guess who got to
put Humpty’s love nest back together again?
Growing up around scientists (your parents), and then making a career
for yourself as well is impressive. Why do you think some people can
get “into” this area of education/understanding earlier than others?
Mostly because we’re too young to know any better. If I had known then
what I know now, I think I would have taken a writing class somewhere
along the way. How can a person go to school for twenty-six years and
never take a single writing class? I was destined to become a writer.
It’s the only occupation on earth I’m totally unqualified for.
have been asked many questions during your career, but would like to
share any one thing with your fans—something they haven’t asked but
they would enjoy hearing about?
late and I still have 362 words to write or I’ll owe Rick $100.00.
Could I take a bye on this question?
I think we’re done! Thank you John, it’s been a real pleasure. Have a
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. And thank you, readers. God bless
each and every one of you.
Award winning author, Valerie
Anne Faulkner, came from New York, moved to the Gulf Coast of
Florida in 1973. Author of I Must Be in Heaven, A Promise
she spends her days working side by side with her husband, Bill, as an
electrician, then evenings, as a writer. The CFOM interviews have been
a great way for her to meet other authors and hone her writing craft.
This back-porch writer’s family is very important
to her, and
she cherishes time spent with her three grown children and seven
grandchildren. A few hours with family or a day enjoying one of
Florida’s Gulf beaches are her favorite ways to relieve stress and
refresh from her busy lifestyle.
Valerie was honored to receive First
Place (Memoir) 2008 Royal Palm
Literary Award by the Florida Writer’s Association in
November, and now is celebrating her latest achievement as Winner
Next Generation Indie Awards.
Valerie’s motto is “A day with
prayer . . . seldom unravels.”
Visit her at www.imustbeinheaven.com