Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Where Writers Write: Erica Olsen

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!

Where Writers Write is a weekly series that will feature a different author every Wednesday as they showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

Photo: Michael Troutman
 © D. M. Troutman

This is Erica Olsen. 

She uses the subjects of place, landscape, and history to write fiction that reflects on the relationship between nature and culture. She is the author of Recapture& Other Stories (Torrey House Press, 2012). 

She lives in the Four Corners area, where she has worked as an archivist at Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum in Blanding, Utah, and as a museum technician at the Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores, Colorado, both grant-funded positions supporting the preservation of archaeological collections.

Where Erica Olsen Writes

When I’m writing, I like being able to look up and see a long way. Living in the Four Corners area—in Blanding, Utah (pop.  3, 394), and outside Dolores, Colorado (pop. 933)—I can shift my gaze away from the computer screen, out the window, across what feels like a hundred miles of mountains and mesa tops. When I was finishing my first book, Recapture & Other Stories, I worked on some of the pieces in camp during backpacking and canoe trips.
Car camping is even more writer friendly. I live in an area with lots of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and Forest Service land; this is federal public land, which means we all own it, and most places, you can just pull off a back road and camp. This fall, I took notes for a new project while car camping in southeast Utah near Comb Ridge, a massive sandstone formation that appears in several of my stories. When stadium cushions meet suitable rock formations, you’ve got the perfect outdoor office.

On backpacking trips, I bring a small Moleskine notebook. (Don’t judge me. They’re expensive and have a hipster image, but the covers are really, really durable.) I also carry pencil stubs. Pencils yield visible evidence of writerly productivity, and half-size pencils feel best in my hand. When they’re down to about a 2” length, they go into the backpacking quiver. Gotta save on weight. It all stays organized in a Zip-Loc. (Here, in northern Utah’s Wasatch Range.)

 After my book was published, I took it on a day hike on White Mesa, south of Blanding. Recapture is light and packable, too.

In my stories, recurrent questions include: How does place shape the stories we tell and the lives we lead? And how do we imagine—how do we create—the places where we live? Often, the seed of a story was planted on a backcountry trip, or just a random moment when I drove down a dirt road to see where it might take me.

On second thought, planting a seed is too agricultural a metaphor. This process has been more like hunting and gathering. These story-seeds attached themselves to me, like those determined seeds that burrow into your socks. From the seeds’ point of view, a passing human works as well as the hairy hide of any animal to carry them to new ground.

Next week, we show you Eric Goodman gets his writing on!

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