Valerie Anne Faulkner
interviews John Olson
Christian Fiction On-line Magazine, June, 2009
John Olson
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the nation I’ve met an array of talented authors; and have also 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., I hate saying the good-byes.”

    He flatters me with a caring smile and a wink, “This isn’t an end...pretty lady! Start spreading the news!”

    “Bill, it’s not that easy...”

    “Yes it is!  You’re a full time electrician, business owner, mom, grandma...”

    “And, ‘Back Porch Writer’!”

    “That’s right!”

    “And I really want to dedicate more time to write book two!”

    “There. You said it! Now where are we going for your last 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
    minute. Ready?”

    “Yes Mam!”


    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 bright 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 100 year old-
    three story house- that is nestled in orange trees, and large redwoods. A stone stairway contours around the
    house and towards a terraced back yard. 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 towards the entry door. “We’ll take a look at that later. Let’s go inside.” I nod and
    follow him passed a cage with a green and yellow parakeet, and numerous antiques. I am brought to a
    cheerfully decorated room with bright yellow walls and two comfy red sofas. The high ceilings and open to
    the view 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 kids-well everyone-had fun shooting darts at each other.” 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 sharp-shooting?”


    Valerie: {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?

    John: Randy 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 full-time job.

    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
    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. And it was…
    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 the way Fossil Hunter came about.
    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.

    Valerie: And...What about your novel Powers, the follow-up to Shade. It’s already been mentioned in
    Publishers Weekly as ‘a must-read.’ Bet you’re excited!  My question...When did you know you’d have a
    sequel? Was it during the writing of Shade-2008, or after its publication?

    John: 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.  

    And 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 stand alones.

    Valerie: How 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?

    John: I 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 a 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.

    Valerie: You, 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 the parenting side you have shown of
    yourself, and your devoted involvement is admirable. I was wondering...if you were to use your own family
    as a role model for young couples...What major ingredients have you blended in, too insure your children of
    a well balanced upbringing.

    John:  Hmmm… 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 and 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 your life up.

    Valerie: Have you always lived in California? Do you think you always will?

    John: I grew up in South Carolina, and most of my extended family still lives there, but I'm here until God
    tells us to go.

    Valerie: Do you have a visual of what it will be like for you and your wife when your children are grown...
    and on their own?

    John:  Besides boring? Amy and I will probably buy houses near their campuses and stalk them on their way
    to class. 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.

    Valerie: Thanksgiving’s just passed...How did you celebrate?

    John: 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 22-pounders to make sure we'll have enough, Olson jello, sweet potato soufflé, almond beans and
    Cockfield cranberry pie). We also like to shoot each other 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.

    Valerie: And...How about Christmas? We’re getting close!

    John: We always spend Christmas with our family in South Carolina. We spend Christmas morning in
    Lexington, SC with Amy’s family and then drive an hour and a half to my sister’s house in Aiken, SC 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.

    Valerie: I visited your website and you  mentioned when you were younger you and a friend were fond of
    playing practical jokes...Care to share one of those episodes?

    John: 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 teacher's 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 graveyards and 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. In fact my date had such a good time she decided to marry me.

    Valerie:  Did you ever get into trouble...what sort of discipline was taken...were the two of you the only
    ones laughing?

    John: I only remember getting in trouble 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 our director's furniture so that his
    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 1:30AM. 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 1:30AM and her son hadn't come home. Scott was living at home?
    I didn't have a clue. Anyway, Scott called his mom and 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?

    Valerie: Growing up around scientists (your parents), and then making a career for yourself as well…I must
    say, I’m impressed. You see, I personally couldn’t stand biology in High School, and yet in later years have
    found ‘life’ in all its shapes and forms to be so totally interesting. Why do you think some people can get
    ‘into’ this area of education/understanding earlier than others?

    John: 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 became a writer. It's the only occupation on
    earth I'm totally unqualified for.

    Valerie: Last one… I know you have been asked so many questions during your career, but I was
    wondering… is there any one thing you would like to share with your fans? Something, they haven’t
    asked… but you think they would enjoy hearing about?

    John: It's getting late and I still have 362 words to write or I'll owe Rick $100.00. Could I take a bye on this

    Valerie: Sure...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.  

john olson