I have had a ball reading John B Olson’s books and a it has been a privilege, as well as a lot of fun, getting to know him through our email correspondence. John has been blessed with a great family, a keen intellect and a desire to write about truth. If that wasn’t enough, John also exhibits exceedingly good taste when it comes to literature and movies!
One thing is for sure, he will both entertain and surprise you, not only through his novels but also in this interview!
Over to you, John!
Why Christian fiction?
Why not Christian fiction? I love stories and I want to write about the deepest, most important truths in the universe. What other choice do I have?
You are a scientist with a PhD in Biochemistry ~ what on earth are you doing writing novels?!
What? I’m on earth? I thought I was on Mars or in an alternate dimension or in Pakistan… (Or is Pakistan on earth? I always get that mixed up.)
Back when I was working as a scientist, I never got to go to any of those places. A few trips to Russia or England or Sweden, but never Pakistan or Mars. And I never go to do anything exciting either. But now… As a writer, I get to go wherever I want. The sky’s not the limit. Every day is an adventure. One minute I’m a palaeontologist running from a band of soldiers across the deserts of Iraq, and the next minute I’m a beautiful woman eating a gourmet dinner with a homicidal monster – and my wife doesn’t even mind!
Rel: What an amazingly understanding woman!
Don’t get me wrong. Science is exciting, but it just doesn’t compare to writing. I worked years and years automating the resonance assignment of proteins using two and three dimensional nuclear magnetic resonance spectra, but do you think the people I meet at potlucks want to talk about it? I can’t tell you how many potluckers have been injured falling asleep in their green bean casserole. But writing is a completely different story… I’ve gotten dozens and dozens of angry emails from irate readers who stayed up all night to finish one of my books. Life doesn’t get much better than that.
I wrote Adrenaline while I was in the middle of a series of very demanding deadlines at work. Not only was the ordeal exhausting and painfully stressful, but I ended up neglecting the people I love the most. After that experience I agreed with God that I wouldn’t write any more books until I had quit my full-time job.
I ended up taking almost three years off from writing while I finished up an important project at my old company. Then, as soon as the project was finished, my wife and I started preparations for cutting the umbilical. At first things went like clockwork. 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. Amy and I were so excited! 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. 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 thus Katie James was born.
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 our 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 – homesteading in God’s wild and woolly frontier. It’s a great place to visit, but be careful… You might decide to live here.
You have a lovely wife (well, she looks lovely in the photos!) and two talented and energetic kids (again, guessing but pretty sure I’m right) ~ what does a typical writing day look like for you (if you ever have one!)?
Yes, she is lovely… and loveable. I’m lucky because those two adjectives don’t always go together. And my kids are certainly talented, but not so energetic these days. They haven’t exactly been burning their candles at both ends. It’s more like they chucked them in the fire and had done with them all together. But that doesn’t tell you anything about my day – which is about as exciting as watching mud dry.
So here it is:
I get up at around 7AM and take a nice hot shower. That’s pretty much it – at least that’s the productive part of my day. I do some other stuff like staring at my computer for nine hours, but the shower is where all the new ideas come from. It’s where I get to watch plots develop and talk to the characters as they come to life. If anyone ever invented a computer that worked in the shower, I’d buy stock in their company.
I’m with you on the shower computer – I wonder how many of the world’s great inventions were born as water pummels people’s brains?!
I’ll have you know blokes are absolutely essential to a good romance. And I’m a particularly romantic bloke. Pride and Prejudice is my favourite book, and Ever After is one of my favourite movies. I like to write what I like to read, and I like to read books that are full of adventure, suspense, mystery and even a little humour.
A man who loves P & P ~ you do realise that once every woman has picked up her jaw from the ground, they will rush out and buy your books!! Instant credibility with women…not so sure about the fellas – LOL!
I love Katie James ~ why did you give her a debilitating phobia??
For realism. Katie is extremely intelligent, but intelligence comes with a price. It isn’t just an ingredient you can add to a character like sugar or salt. The human brain is much more tightly integrated than that. When a person has a huge strength, they usually have one or more huge weaknesses that are directly tied to that strength. I call these weaknesses strength shadows, and you can see them clearly in most geniuses you encounter in real life. Unfortunately they’re not quite so common in the world of literature, but that’s because most literature isn’t written by the geniuses who are plagued by such strength shadows. Katie’s phobia comes as much from her difficulty in processing body language and social cues as it does from the trauma that triggered it in the first place.
Take a walk in Katie’s skin while she’s searching through the desert. See the way she processes her surroundings? Now imagine her trying to process all the complex nuances of human faces and body language and verbal inflections in the same way. You can see how she’d be overwhelmed.
I don’t want to give too much away, but there was a scene in which Katie and Nick were being chased through the desert by soldiers, and Katie has to stop to use the little girl’s desert. That’s about all I can say without ruining it, but it was particularly fun to write. Rel knows what I’m talking about…
I also had a lot of fun with the Big Bill scenes. He was a very naughty character. Whenever I tried to write his scenes, his personality would take over and steal the show. I would have fought him for control, but I was too busy laughing.
How do you go about choosing names for your characters?
Katie was named after Jessie James’s wife, but I got Nick Murad from a combination of common American and Pakistani names. Big Bill Turner made up his own. (He couldn’t go by his real name so he created an alias off the top of his head.) He must have taken it subconsciously from The Pirates of the Caribbean, but I didn’t realize it at the time. If I had noticed, I wouldn’t have let him use it, but unfortunately I didn’t.
Any ideas who you might cast in a movie of Fossil Hunter?
Actually, I’ve given it a great deal of thought. The whole time I was working on Fossil Hunter, I had to consider how easy it would be to adapt the book into a film. It was an interesting exercise. I thought the movie company would want me to avoid stunts and special CGI effects, but they didn’t really have a problem with those kinds of things. So what did they have a problem with? Basically the same thing Katie has a problem with. Crowds. Stadium scenes, shooting on busy city streets…
But I digress… Since I was thinking about adapting the book to film, I always pictured Katie and Nick as two actors in particular. I know it probably won’t happen, but I couldn’t help it. For Katie I was thinking Mrs. Potato Head and for Nick I was thinking Mr. Potato Head. Have you seen the new Taters of the Lost Ark action figures? Very Katie James…
Or very John Olson…..
Underlying the pure entertainment of this adventurous tale is the debate between evolution and intelligent design ~ tell us about your considered view on this topic (ok, I know, huge question but, hey, you’re a writer so the Reader’s Digest version would be great!)
Okay… Reader’s Digest version:
I’m excited about ID, not so much because of the evidence or arguments that may or may not support it, but because it focuses the debate on the most pivotal question of our age: was the universe designed or not? Until I’ve answered that question, I don’t really care how the designer (I call him God) did it, and I certainly don’t care how long it took Him to do it.
Somewhere along the way, I think we got our priorities mixed up. And I think the reason we that happened was because we were afraid. Fear–the polar opposite of faith. Evolution seemed like a terrible enemy at the turn of the twentieth century. It was undermining one of our shiniest and newest apologetics tools. But rather than roll up our sleeves to help with the investigation in an attempt to discover the truth, we dug in our heals and started an all-out war. We’re still fighting that war today. Not for our faith – one can certainly be a Christian and believe God created life through a process that looks like evolution – but because we were too busy pointing out the biases of those who opposed us to consider our own biases.
Good stuff – thanks!
What impact do you hope this book has upon the reader?
I wanted to give the reader a more honest view of the ID/evolution debate than what is usually portrayed in Christian literature. In particular I wanted the reader to see the biases of both sides of the fence. Scientists aren’t the enemies. Ignorance and bias are the enemies. All truth leads to God.
Same bat time….same bat channel this Friday to learn more about John’s favourite books, his passion for his “pee-your-pants intense, mind-bendingly complex, chillingly nightmarish” novel, Shade and an exclusive excerpt from his work in progress!
And……drum roll…..a giveaway you don’t want to miss!
Review of Fossil Hunter