The Write Editor
John Olson 

John B. Olson is a full-time novelist who lives with his wife Amy and two children in San Leandro, CA. John earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and did postdoctoral research at the University of California at San Francisco. His books have won several awards, including a Christy Award, a Christy finalist, a Silver Angel award, and placement on the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age. For more information see John’s website at

Editor's Spotlight

by Michelle Sutton

The Editor’s Spotlight this month features John Olson. I first met John last year at the ACFW conference in Dallas. But I really got to know John when he joined my online Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers ning site. Most men aren’t brave enough to surround themselves with pink floral wallpaper in their profiles, so I knew John would be up to the task if I put him in the spotlight for the debut issue of this magazine.

Here is John’s story:

What’s the matter, Bunky? You say you’re already failing six courses and you’re only taking three? You say your P.O. Box is always empty even though you’ve already mailed yourself three letters? You say your English teacher told you to write an SA and you don’t even know what the two initials mean?

Thus began my writing career . . . a short blurb on a flyer advertising our college fellowship group. Two hundred Xeroxed copies slipped under dormitory doors. I don’t know that a single bleary-eyed freshman ever read the blurb before wadding it up and throwing it into the trash, but it was the most important paragraph I’ve ever written. It was a beginning.

From that first paragraph came more paragraphs and then even some sappy hyper-emotional doggerel. But it wasn’t enough. I wanted to change the world—to write what I loved the most—fiction. Ever since CS Lewis first reached beyond the grave and touched me with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I couldn’t imagine a higher calling than to be a fiction writer. I had only one problem: I was terrible at it.

I started book after book, story after story, but I couldn’t get beyond the first page. No sentence was ever good enough. I couldn’t seem to turn off the self-loathing editor in my brain. I wrote for years, but still I had nothing to show for all that hard work. Finally, in an act of extreme desperation, I managed to force myself to keep writing. It was like chewing glass, but I finally got to page two and eventually to page three. I ended up writing sixty-seven pages in all. It was my masterpiece. My magnum opus. It was the story of a young college student standing in line in an airport.

Yup . . . That’s right. Sixty-seven pages of a guy standing in line at an airport. I know, I know . . . But a pretty girl was in line ahead of him, and I couldn’t get him to move on!

Then I had my first breakthrough. A dear friend of mine mentioned a brochure she had gotten in the mail for a writers’ conference. A conference on writing? I had no idea such a thing even existed. I went to the Mount Hermon’s Christian Writers Conference and was blown away. Authors were there who actually taught us how to write. Imagine that! In all the years I’d been trying to write stories on my own, I never realized there was a craft to learn—that writers planned and thought about what they were doing. Call me stupid, but I had always assumed authors just sat down and wrote whatever was projected on the movie screen of their minds. I don’t know about other authors, but my brain is way too good at getting stuck in airport lines.

Once I realized I could engage the analytical part of my brain, my writing took off. I wrote a contract with my best friend and committed to writing eleven and a half pages per week. If I failed, I would owe him $50. Not only did the deadline pressure get rid of that nasty little editor in my brain, but also almost immediately my wife was just as motivated as I was. I was able to write my first novel in record time.

The next year I went back to the conference and submitted my baby for editorial review. That very first night I sat down with one of the editors to whom I had submitted my manuscript for review, and he asked the dreaded question: “Did you send me a manuscript?” I nodded my head. Frowning, he studied my name tag. Apparently he didn’t remember my name. That was a good sign, right?

“Wait a second . . . you’re that John Olson? I wouldn’t touch that book with a sixty foot pole. It was terrifying!”

That was my first introduction to Steve Laube, the man who would become my editor, agent, advisor, and friend.

Of course, I didn’t know all this at the time. I just knew a circle was on Steve’s napkin called the market and that apparently my manuscript was a sixty-foot-pole length outside that circle. By the third day of the conference, I was a bacterium infecting the toe jelly of a flea on the belly of a pregnant dachshund. I sneaked into the fiction editors’ panel discussion and sat in the back of the room to let the real writers get their dose of face time with the editors.

One of the editors on the panel, a spunky redhead with enough charisma to make an empty football stadium feel claustrophobic, started talking about a manuscript she’d received. The more she raved about it, the further in my seat I sank. If only she’d give the author’s name, maybe I could get some pointers from him. Funny thing was, the story sounded a lot like mine. But I knew she couldn’t be talking about me. First, she said the author understood women, which ruled me out right away. And second, I hadn’t sent her my manuscript.

When she quoted from my proposal, I about jumped out of my chair. Karen Ball liked the book? I couldn’t believe it. Shade had been discovered!

But being discovered and being published are two completely different things. Remember that circle on Steve’s napkin? Shade was still sixty feet outside the circle. Try though she might, Karen couldn’t get publishers to touch it. So I started working on something new—something that wasn’t as terrifying. Something that never mentioned the “v” word (vampire).

I decided I wanted to write about the first manned mission to Mars and asked my good friend Randy Ingermanson if he wanted to coauthor the book with me. We had a great time working on it. It was the most fun I’d ever had writing a book. The next year at Mount Hermon, we pitched it to Steve Laube, and Bethany House decided to take a chance on us. Part of their decision was based, I’m sure, on the brilliance of Randy’s writing, but part was also due to the notoriety I’d gained as a result of my “vampireless vampire” novel. God is the ultimate environmentalist. He doesn’t waste anything—even when we miss the circle by sixty feet.

Oxygen went on to win a Christy Award—which opened the door for The Fifth Man, Adrenaline, and Fossil Hunter. I don’t know if the circle on Steve’s napkin will ever be big enough for Shade but ready or not, it will be released this October. It’s an amazingly weird story. How it will do is anybody’s guess.

When I look back on my career, I’m amazed at how much my writing was influenced by that one story nobody wanted to touch. I thought I’d missed the target by sixty feet, but God never wastes anything. In fact, remember that flyer?

One day as my wife and I were talking about the critical events that shaped our lives, she mentioned a flyer she’d received when she was a freshman in college. She commented that if it weren’t for its humor, she might never have gotten involved with the Christian group that had such a profound influence on her life. And without that group, she and I never would have met.

Now I know what you’re thinking, but I graduated the summer before her freshman year. It couldn’t have been my flyer. . .

“Wait a second. I still have it.” She ran to the small cedar box she keeps her treasures in. There, folded carefully on the bottom of the box, was Bunky.

God doesn’t waste anything—least of all words.

Fossil Hunter