Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Nicholas Olson

by Laura Hendrix Ezell Read the Story December 14, 2015

There’s a collage-like feel to “Brought to Shore”; in terms of its composition, it’s a lot like looking through a photo album—a series of moments. Did one of these moments generate the others?

That’s actually exactly what happened. In general, I build my fiction out of sensations and feelings that seep out of my subconscious (and tend to disappear the second I try to pick them apart). This story started with a visual— a visual that didn’t make the final cut, funnily enough, but it at least got me into the headspace necessary to tell the rest of the story.

Speaking of photography, do you see the piece as being particularly visual? Which of the five senses would you say plays the biggest part in your writing?

Very much so. I come from a film background, so I think the visual thing is fairly unavoidable for me. In my screenwriting classes, we were drilled to write only what can be seen or heard, so embracing the other three senses in my fiction has been a guilty pleasure for sure. I’d say sight always plays the biggest part in my writing, but I’m trying to diversify.

This is a very sad piece, but games and recreation play a big role in it. Can you talk about how those two aspects of the story relate to each other?

I’m really interested in exploring the ways in which we process hurt as people. Play is very therapeutic, and there’s this idea of rising above hardship by making light of it that’s always appealed to me. Of how experiencing flow can help you overcome what seem like insurmountable obstacles.

Talk a little about your drafting and editing process from writing flash. How does it differ from your process for longer work?

I tend to write my flash stories over the course of a week, with as little editing as possible along the way, ideally in a flow state where I’m just letting the words come out by themselves. Around Friday I go over what I’ve written with a more critical eye, cutting and rearranging till I think it’s done. I’m fairly new to flash, but it’s already started to affect my longer work. I used to write very deliberately, editing as I went, but now I find myself letting go with that initial draft and trusting that future me will get the story where it needs to be.

Tell us about the first thing that you can remember writing. How old were you? What was it? What was it about?

This is a great question! The first thing I remember creating was a comic serial about a man who gained superpowers and became a crime fighter known as Pooperman. I think I was six or seven. It was a blatant rip-off of the Captain Underpants books, which made up much of my early childhood reading. That and Goosebumps.

About the Author:

Nicholas Olson earned his BA at Columbia College Chicago. He lives in the city, where he’s writing a novel and wrangling a cat. He has work published or forthcoming in Hobart, Literary Orphans, decomP, Corium, Thrice Fiction, Eunoia Review, Apocrypha and Abstractions, Oblong, Foliate Oak, Every Day Fiction, The Open End, and Flash Fiction Magazine.

About the Interviewer:

Laura Hendrix Ezell's book, A Record of Our Debts, will be published by Moon City Press in spring 2016.

About the Artist:

Claire Ibarra is a writer, poet, and photographer. Her photographs have appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including Roadside Fiction, Alimentum--The Literature of Food, Foliate Oak, Lime Hawk, and Blue Fifth Review. She was an artist in residence for Counterexample Poetics and art editor for Gulf Stream Magazine. Claire’s work was included in the “Finding the Light” Exhibition at the PhotoPlace Gallery.