Brent Olson has written so much throughout his life. From his essay collections to his novels to his syndicate column, Independently Speaking, he has a wide array of writing experience. And I got to hear all about it. This man has led a fascinating life inside the writing world and outside. He’s been married to his wife since 1975, and they had three children together. He’s traveled as a journalist to twenty countries worldwide and has been to six of the seven continents. He has won many awards for his work in writing. He’s met and had whiskey with Robert Bly, a famous American poet.
With all his accomplishments, especially in the writing sphere, I knew what led him to this life path. He responded with, “Smart parents and a house full of books.” Of course, it must’ve been hard to choose a favorite with so many books in one’s house growing up. Mr. Olson, however, was able to list off a few that he liked. “I like the later Hemingway,” he explained. “Islands in the Stream, and the like. I think he was sort of a jackass as a person, but the man could write.”
Mr. Olson’s most recent publication, Between the Helpless and the Darkness, is an alternate history novel about a king who suffers a large blow, literally and figuratively, due to a brutal mistake and an injury. In this alternate history novel, the king survives and runs away to a land of people who are just like him” battered and broken. However, his newfound companions cling to his leadership, and they go out west, towards Iceland and Greenland, on adventures. The novel is about the king’s journey to becoming something more than he is. Mr. Olson said about his book, “It's the strangest thing because the final chapter came to me in its entirety when I was serving nachos at a high school basketball game for a fundraiser for where my wife was working. I've never had that before since." Mr. Olson's novel came about as a response to the state of the world and current affairs such as Covid-19 and climate change issues. "I was damn tired of the world I'm living in," said Mr. Olson, "so I decided to create a new one." Mr. Olson later said that writing this book, along with his other publication, Angr, had a hand in helping him cope with the distress.
Along with that, Mr. Olson has had many other inspirations for his other writing endeavors. "I’ve always felt like I have something to say,” he explained. “I also needed the money. And I like the people and the places that writing took me to.” As a member of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists, Mr. Olson traveled to the organization’s yearly convention, which was in a different country every year. Because of his experiences in journalism, Mr. Olson got to travel all over the world. It took him to twenty countries on six continents. So, he’s gotten some sightseeing done.
Since Mr. Olson has written so much in his life, I inquired about his favorite line from his most recent book, Between the Helpless and the Darkness. Mr. Olson’s favorite line comes from the main character and the most powerful character, and it says, “The only reason we have strength is to protect the weak.” “And I think that’s forgotten by powerful people all the time,” explained Mr. Olson.
As for a final message Mr. Olson wants his readers to take away from reading Between the Helpless and the Darkness, he answered with something I wasn’t expecting. “I want them to enjoy the experience, first of all,” he replied. “In this book, I just wanted to create a new world.” I never thought about creating a new world before. All my work takes place in the contemporary world, and I always thought it would be fun to try, but I never thought I could create another world. Mr. Olson’s response makes me think differently.
When it came time to ask my favorite question, I looked forward to Mr. Olson’s answer. With all his writing experience, I expected something profound and wise, and let’s just say I got what I wanted. Mr. Olson’s answered, “Write about what matters to you. If you talk to someone like James Patterson, you might hear something like ‘write something that will sell,’ but, for me, the best writing comes when it means something to me.” This is so important because if a writer doesn’t care about their subject, it shows through their writing. I know this personally. The difference between writing a research paper on why distance learning is a good idea and writing a story about a young woman going through life and love are two very different things, and I’m sure others have had a similar experience.
With his wide variety of writing experience in so many different genres, Mr. Olson was a wonderful person for me and other young writers to learn from. He clearly has a passion for writing, and it shined through when he spoke to me. There’s nothing more satisfying than learning from someone with a passion for what they do.