Sunday, November 10, 2013

Author Interview – Ted Olinger

What is your favorite quote, by whom, and why? “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.” Yogi Berra. This sentiment goes beyond baseball, or even athletics, to apply to almost any endeavor. There’s always the matter of logistics or outside demands that have to be satisfied when creating something. Call that the “physical.” But that’s all for nothing if your head isn’t in the game. That means sweeping away the mental obstacles that pop up, the doubts, the temptations, the fantasies about success, and getting the work done. And then being willing to do it all over again, and again. When you’re standing at the plate with a bat in your hands, it doesn’t matter how many hits you’ve got or how good a hitter you think you are. The only thing that matters is the next pitch and if your head is anywhere else the ball is going to fly right by you.

What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life? Remaining married. That may sound awfully trite or sentimental, but that’s not how I mean it. Staying married is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I have climbed mountains, survived lymphoma, and been shot at in anger. My marriage almost collapsed more than once when we came up against obstacles neither my wife nor I had ever imagined. Instead, we somehow clung to something in the relationship itself, and that pulled us through to the other side. At least so far.

What is your favorite color? “Rain.” That’s a line straight out of one of the stories in my book, though it’s spoken by a kindergartener. I live in the Pacific Northwest, where the stories are set, and rain is a way of life. There’s an old joke that Inuits have 200 words for “snow” but it’s true in spirit, and the same goes for us. It rains most of the year out here, and after you spend enough time staring into it you start to recognize different kinds. Or maybe you make it up to stay sane. It’s raining right now: That kind of rain where there are just a few needle drops spaced far apart which you can walk through for an hour without getting wet.

What is your favorite food? Chilidogs. I’ve survived serious illnesses and injuries and on the whole eat well and live a healthy lifestyle, but for some reason every now and then I get a craving for this most deadly of foods. There’s a great bar in Tacoma, about 20 miles away, that serves something they call The Tideflats (after a local toxic waste site): Two hot dogs covered in homemade mustard, relish, chili, cole slaw, pickle spears, onions, cheese and Serrano peppers. I never touched anything like that when I was younger, and I still can’t figure out why I do now. Might be some kind of subconscious defiance to illness, which is odd since nothing is more likely to bring on disease than eating a dish inspired by a toxic waste dump. Could be the cask-conditioned ale they serve with it.

What’s your favorite place in the entire world? I hope I haven’t found it yet. I’ve been fortunate to travel extensively with family and for work. I spent a glorious month in Kenya some years ago and have been trying to get back ever since. But I could also use more of the food in Spain, the countryside in Turkey, and the haunting forests and seascapes of the Pacific Northwest. All have deep histories and unforgettable beauty. I haven’t made it to the South Pacific yet, so maybe it’ll be there. I can be relied upon to spend many hours almost anywhere with some books and a sample of the local potables, but for me it’s the people that make or break a place.

What made you want to be a writer? My parents were both avid readers, so I suppose it was natural to become an avid reader as well, and from there it was an easy step to wanting to create something worth reading. Of course, there’s nothing “easy” about that at all, and to do it well I think you have to get past what is entertaining and down into the primordial things that fill and drive us all. I can remember sitting on my dad’s lap in the ‘60s as he stapled the pages of my “books” together in construction paper covers. I can still see the drawings and writing, so I was at least old enough to write simple words. Sadly, those early efforts did not survive but I’ve been writing ever since. I still have that stapler.

What inspires you to write and why? I am not entirely convinced that I am a writer yet. I have worked as a part-time freelance journalist 15 years or so and published many articles and a bit of fiction, but somehow I don’t feel like I’m quite there yet. I try not to introduce myself as “a writer,” since I’m afraid I might be meeting a real one. If we had anything in common, I imagine it would be an impulse to recreate a feeling or moment to preserve and convey its value. If that happens, then the reader has something she can keep, remember, and maybe use, even if it’s just the knowledge that someone else walked the same path she’s on now or may someday face. I don’t know that I can put my finger on why I want to do that, but I’m drawn to those surprising bits of knowledge from unexpected places. And they’re not always good. I suppose that’s why I want to pass it along.

What genre are you most comfortable writing? I have written short fiction for a long time but published far more nonfiction. I can’t say I find writing nonfiction easier or more comfortable, but I know how it’s going to end and that helps.

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Genre – Fiction / Short Stories

Rating – PG13

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