Paul F. Olson wrote his first “novel” when he was in second grade. The epic work told the story of a gang of talking raccoons. Hand-printed on lined notebook paper, it ran nearly a page-and-a-half and included original artwork, in crayon, of the main characters carrying some undetermined item (a slab of sheet metal, perhaps?) out of the local dump. It was far from an auspicious beginning, but it was a beginning nevertheless. From that day on, Olson wrote more or less non-stop, churning out stories, poems, and assorted other bits of nonsense – a practice that continues today, some forty-five years later.
Growing up on Mackinac Island, Michigan, Olson took advantage of every extracurricular activity available at his tiny high school. The rather limited options included a school paper, which he edited for three years. At the same time, his creative writing ambitions were growing, and he began trying to sell some of his short stories, without success. During his senior year he wrote the first draft of a 450-page horror novel which taught him a little bit about the craft of storytelling, a lot about what not to do, and best of all, still makes a fine doorstop to this very day.
In his early twenties he finally made his first sale, when David B. Silva purchased the short story “The Visitor” for The Horror Show, a magazine that, like Olson’s career, was still in its infancy. Over the next few months the two men struck up a friendship, which led to many letters, huge long-distance phone bills, several trips to World Fantasy Conventions and many other fine and thrilling adventures.
From 1987 to 1989 Olson published a non-fiction trade magazine called Horrorstruck: The World of Dark Fantasy, designed for horror fans, writers, editors, artists and other professionals. The bimonthly publication grew quickly and was nominated for several major awards.
While Olson was producing Horrorstruck, other things were happening at a rapid pace, including the publication of more short stories, the sale of the Olson-Silva ghost story anthology Post Mortem to St. Martin’s Press, and the sale of Olson’s vampire novel Night Prophets to New American Library. Something had to give, and Olson reluctantly decided to fold the magazine to put more effort into his writing.
Over the next few years the anthology and novel were published and a second Olson-Silva anthology, Dead End: City Limits, appeared from St. Martin’s. It was around that time that the “horror bubble” began to burst and the economics of publishing started to change. In short, things were getting tougher for new and midlist writers of every stripe – and really tough for those trying to build careers in horror. The fiscal realities forced Olson to abandon his full-time writing career and head back into the bland workaday world. Living in the suburbs of Chicago at the time, he was fortunate to land a marketing job at a performing arts center, allowing him to keep his hand in writing and other creative endeavors, while simultaneously indulging his love of live theater
In the mid-1990s Olson was able to fulfill his longtime dream of returning to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and finally found a way to put all that high school journalism experience to work, when he took the job of editor at the Pioneer-Tribune, a weekly newspaper in the small town of Manistique. After two years he was lured away to become news director at the local AM radio station, but eventually returned to the Pioneer-Tribune, where he remained for a dozen more years.
After several years of working independently, Olson and Silva teamed up once again in 1997, when they launched Hellnotes, a weekly newsletter for horror fans and professionals. Initially distributed in three formats – e-mail, fax, and a hardcopy print edition – the newsletter was eventually transformed into an e-mail-only publication. Olson contributed many news items and other blurbs to Hellnotes, although his major contributions were the weekly editorials, which could best be described as “eclectic,” covering a wide range of topics related to horror, publishing, writing, and creativity in general. After five years, exhaustion led Olson and Silva to turn the newsletter over to new management, but through the twists and turns of fate it eventually found its way back into the capable hands of Silva, who turned the newsletter into a Web-based news site, which he continued to edit until shortly before his death in 2013.
In early 2012, after penning more than 24,000 news stories, editorials and other journalistic pieces, Olson decided it was time at last to leave his newspaper job, restore his soul, refresh his imagination, and rededicate himself to fiction. He published the dark suspense novel Alexander’s Song as an e-book and assembled the short story collection Whispered Echoes, which is available as a signed, numbered, limited edition hardcover from Cemetery Dance Publications and in paperback and e-book from Crystal Lake Publishing. The collection includes eleven stories originally published in the 1980s and ’90s and out-of-print for years, as well as the debut of the novella “Bloodybones,” which was nominated for the 2017 World Fantasy Award. He also joined with Richard Chizmar and Brian James Freeman of Cemetery Dance to edit Better Weird, an anthology featuring some of horror’s biggest names paying tribute to Silva’s memory through stories and short personal essays.
The father of adult twin daughters, Olson currently lives in the small town of Brimley, Michigan, not far from the shores of Lake Superior, where he divides his time between writing and community volunteer work.