Please welcome short-story author John Olsen! He’s the third guy from the right, in the glasses. And guess what, that picture looks exactly like him, so you may now consider yourself his own personal acquaintance.
John’s story of a dirigible captain who goes down with his ship only to awaken to a civilization in the sky is featured in Xchyler publisher’s new steam-punk anthology, Steel and Bone.
Rock on, John!
So, I heard about this publishing awesomeness and asked to interview John and here we are.
- John, thanks for agreeing to this interview and congratulations! I realize how little I knew about you when I started typing up these questions. You’ve got a short-story out with Xchyler Publishing, a press that focuses on all things speculative. Do you always write speculative fiction?
I write quite a range of things. I have five different short stories out right now to various publishers and contests, but I’ve also contributed chapters to several books on software design for graphics and games, and I’ve self-published a fictionalized biography telling the story of my wife and I raising three nieces and a nephew with our own kids due to problems their parents faced several years back. My long-time love in reading though is speculative fiction. As a teen, I devoured my dad’s large collection of fantasy and science fiction, and have been a fan ever since.
- Though you’ve crossed paths with fiction writing for quite some time, most of your publishing experience has come in the form of non-fiction and illustrating. In fact, I understand this is the first time you will see one of your fiction stories in print. It’s like first love. You must be swooning. (I swooned knowing I’d sign a book with my very own name. Fine, I’m lying. I screamed.) Tell us how you learned about this publishing opportunity, how you pursued it, and what it was like to get the great news.
I work with a good friend of mine, Jay Barnson, and he had been entering the anthology contests at Xchyler publishing. It sounded fun, and he encouraged me to enter as well. It took something like four tries before they accepted one of my stories, so I was used to getting their generic “Unfortunately, we regret to inform you” letter. By this time Jay had been accepted into one or two of their anthologies, and he continued to encourage me.
I have other friends with quite a bit of writing experience, and I roped them into critiques to help me improve my writing. Over about a year, I gradually improved until I finally got the non-generic letter, welcoming me to the Xchyler team. It was really exciting, even after the significant editing efforts they coached me through as a newbie. One of the first people to learn about the acceptance was my friend Jay, the author recruiter. It’s kind of funny, that. He and his wife will both be featured in yet another upcoming anthology along with another person he encouraged to submit a story, so he’s continuing to recruit people.
- Short-stories are alive and well in the fantasy sphere. What advice do you have to anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps by entering publishing in that way?
I’ve done a lot of reading on the subject, and there’s a ton of advice out there. Once you have the basic skills and mechanics of writing, and know the parts to put into a story it all comes down to a simple process. 1. Write. 2. Send it to people who pay for writing. 3. Repeat a lot.
The arena of short stories is a good place to get a start. Very few people will ever really make a lot of money at short stories, but it’s been a wonderful experience for me to get involved in the community, attend conferences, meet people, and learn from experts in the field. Once you have become part of the community, moving on to bigger projects is a lot easier. (From what I’ve seen. Still speaking as a relative newbie here.)
Those contacts within the community are a big deal. One author/editor I’ve spoken with says he will never invite someone into one of his anthologies unless he’s already familiar with them as a person and as an author. Writing is not about lurking in a home office with a computer in complete isolation. It’s about social interaction and community, and that can’t be separated from the stories.
- John, can I tell to you, on a personal level, how much I FREAKING LOVE that last paragraph you wrote? You’re preaching my preach, brother! Okay, enough talk. Onto the good stuff. What’s your story about? Can we get a snippet of it?
Here you go: Captain Phineas Grovesley is trying to figure out who has rescued him and where he is after he crashed his airship in a storm.
“Salvage? You took the metal from my ship? It had parts and technologies worth thousands of times their weight in metal!”
Ariana’s smile vanished. She lowered her head as if to accept all of the blame herself. “Your ship was destroyed. There was not much left aside from scrap. Besides, you used such a primitive engine . . .” His frustration began to build all over again at her condescending attitude toward the most advanced airship England had ever built. What could she know about airships, anyway?
He skipped forward to his other questions. “You and the doctor implied that you were to be a caretaker or guide of some sort. Can we start with where we are? You said something about Hightower.”
“I don’t know where we are. Not with any accuracy.”
He furrowed his brow. “How can you not know where we are?”
“Hightower moves. I don’t keep track of our location since it is irrelevant.”
It took him a moment to put the facts in order as he ate another piece of fruit. “You mean Hightower is a ship? It’s a seagoing vessel?”
“Perhaps this will be easier if I show you, Captain. A short walk will help you to regain your strength.”
She took both of his arms and helped as he slowly eased himself into a standing position. She lifted his left arm around her shoulder with strong and confident arms, then put her right arm around his waist.
That level of physical contact between a young man and young woman would have bordered on scandalous back home. He made light of his uneasiness at their proximity as she helped him take his first step. “If we’re going to be this close, you should call me Phineas.”
“Very well, Phineas. I would like that. You may call me Ariana.” She gave him a shy smile, and continued to help him walk.
Thirty exhausting steps later, he looked at an open doorway with a peculiar seal and latch mechanism. To the side of the door hung several suits that resembled deep sea diving gear. “Step over the door seal, and we can go look out the window of the airlock.” She pointed with her free arm. “You can see the wreckage of your ship over that way, between this building and the next. We tied the wreckage down to secure it until we have time to deal with it later. Many of the pieces are too big to fit through the airlocks.”
He reached the window and looked out upon a flat ice-strewn plain with large buildings at regular intervals. A rough pile of wreckage sat several yards away. They had stripped all the handrails, and apparently all the mechanical metal parts including the steam engine and main drive shaft, leaving the crumpled wooden skeleton and shredded cloth behind. He touched the window and pulled his finger back immediately at the intense cold. How could he have gone so far north?
Then the realization struck him. The airtight door, the cold, the odd pressure suits, and having been told that Hightower moved all clicked into place. He was no closer to verifying the safety of his men, but at least he had learned something about his location. “This isn’t a seagoing vessel, it’s a gigantic airship!”
Thank you so much, John! And don’t forget, you steampunk lovers, to enter the raffle for several different prizes, including the poster of the book-cover.