September 23, 2021 by The Citron Review
The Brother We Share
(Okay Donkey, 2020)
Our Editor-in-Chief, Angela M. Brommel talked with Nick Olson, former Assistant Editor for The Citron Review in 2016-2017. Since then Nick has published two novels and started a journal, (mac) ro (mic). The Brother We Share, Nick’s latest novel, was released by Alien Buddha Press on September 1st.
When Nick Olson joined The Citron Review as Assistant Editor, it was before we held meetings on Zoom. Actually, we didn’t hold phone calls or even text to coordinate how we would build the issues. We sent a lot of great emails, but I didn’t really get to learn about Nick and his work until after he left Citron and we followed each other on social media. That’s how I first experienced the micro fiction that later became Nick’s first novel, Here’s Waldo (Atmosphere Press, 2020).
Angela M. Brommel: Nick, I am so happy to be able to catch up with you. Citron and I have followed you and your work over the past couple of years. It’s been amazing to watch the momentum of your work. When did you start writing micros?
Nick Olson: I started seriously dipping my toes into the form in 2013 or so, just as I was nearing graduation. I’d been studying screenwriting but wanted to try out fiction my last semester of college, so working with the flash and micro form was originally a way for me to play and experiment without having to commit to a longer project. Then somewhere along the way, I just fell in love with it. Even after I started working on my first novel, I always made sure I had some flash work on the side as well. Flash/micro for me is a kind of magic. I’m constantly taking in more of it, consistently in awe of what can be done with the form, how impactful and experimental and even life-altering it can be.
Angela: So, you were always into it as a reader and a writer.
Nick: I think I was writing micro as a kid without even knowing what it was, and it’s kind of informed all of my work since. Even when I’m working on longer projects, that focus on economy of words and getting to the heart of character has always been important to me. Then with screenwriting, it was visual storytelling, showing rather than telling, starting the scene late and leaving early, and so my writing journey has been this patchwork of different forms and experiences I’ve just kind of stitched together along the way. For a while there, I tried to adhere strictly to the form of whatever I was working on and not let the other craft “invade,” but eventually I realized that whether I wanted it to or not, my writing style was always going to be this combination of forms that I’d learned. That this wasn’t actually a bad thing. That it was okay for me to sound like myself.
Angela: Here’s Waldo started as micros. In fact, I still remember when you posted the first one on Instagram. When was it clear to you that this series of micros was growing into something bigger?
Nick: Waldo started off as a few flash pieces that were me playing with the concept, seeing if it was viable. It was me piecing together my own story through this fictional almost-me. My second-ever pubbed story was actually a super early version of Waldo and his world. It was called “Sanctuary,” and it was me figuring out the geography of trauma via the geography of my old neighborhood, really. The Open End picked it up and ran it back in 2014, and that was a huge boost for me, for the project. I had a few other excerpts or offshoots of Waldo land at a few places, including “Brought to Shore” that was picked up by SmokeLong Quarterly back in 2015. I can’t stress enough how important those publications were for me. Without them, I’m not sure I would’ve stuck it out for the 6+ years it took between starting the book and holding it in my hands.
Angela: You shared an advance copy of Here’s Waldo early in 2020 with me. I began it at bedtime and read it late into the morning, and I only stopped because I needed to take some space. When I came back to it I thought about the craft of it. The vignettes give readers an easy way to enter and leave the story if they need to. It struck me that the structure and brevity of the stories reflect how trauma is captured as a snapshot, and stitching those moments together is part of the recovery/resiliency.
Nick: In my own experience, that’s exactly what it’s been like. I think that’s incredibly accurate, personally.
Angela: A little less than a year after Here’s Waldo, you published The Brother We Share. Although it’s fiction, it’s based on a real event and the characters are based on your brothers and friends who became brothers. The book imagines their grief and recovery as if you hadn’t survived a suicide attempt in 2016. There’s also some cross-over between your novels. Do you think of them as existing as separate books or as companion books?
Nick: And this might sound like a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too thing, but I think of these two books as both separate entities and companions. I wrote TBWS in a way where someone who had already read HW could get a little extra from it, but it was important to me to have that be an optional, bonus sort of thing. So you don’t at all need to have first read HW to “get” TBWS, but there are some connections in there that you can find, and it’s been cool to get emails and messages from folks who’ve found some of those already. It’s kind of my thank you to those who read both.
Angela: As actors we are told to be careful about working with material that isn’t ready or isn’t safe for us to use in our work. And yet, stories live in our bodies, and writing is one way to discharge this energy. How we approach these stories and writing about them takes some care at times. Do you have any rules for writing for you as a human being separate from you as a writer?
Nick: I definitely agree with and try to follow that. I knew that I was going to write The Brother We Share or something like it eventually, but I also knew that I needed time and space from the event before it’d be safe for me to do so. I had written some about the event just a year or so after it, but it was still too raw/difficult for me to do much with it. For this project, everything just sort of came together. The five year anniversary was approaching, and I was stuck at home anyway in the early days of the pandemic, and it just felt like it was time. I don’t have a hard-and-fast rule for how much time and space I need before I can tackle something, and it changes for each project, I’d say. But I’ve found it helps for me to listen to my body. To let things happen when they’re meant to happen.
Angela: I noticed that the pub date for The Brother We Share was the same as your birthday, September 1st.
Nick: I feel like the universe was looking out for me with that one. That it was all able to work out and Red and I could line up the dates like that. It was the best birthday I’ve had.
Angela: That’s wonderful. Congratulations. You also have your own online journal, (mac) ro (mic), which features flash fiction and creative nonfiction under 1,000 words. Submissions were closed while you were launching your new book. When do you expect to reopen?
Nick: Submissions open on October 1st.
Angela: Even after two books in a year I am sure that you are already working on new things. You have a very solid writing practice that results in a lot of work. How do you manage that?
Nick: I think for me it goes back to listening to my body, what it wants to do. For both Here’s Waldo and The Brother We Share, most of the writing at the first draft stage was done in little bursts of energy here and there. I wrote Waldo in 30-minute sessions most weekdays, and TBWS was about the same, maybe 45 minutes at a stretch sometimes. I think it works for me to contain myself with those little bursts of electricity before going back to my everyday life. I do the same with flash, actually, come to think of it. I just write the way my body wants me to write and let the rest fall into place.
Nick Olson (he/they) is the author of the novels Here’s Waldo and The Brother We Share and is the Editor-in-Chief of (mac)ro(mic). In and from Chicagoland, he’s been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, Fiction Southeast, and other fine places. Find him online at nickolsonbooks.com or on Twitter @nickolsonbooks.