BEN OLSON was born and raised in North Idaho, in a small mountain town of hillbillies, realtors, and hippies.
Wanderlost was written on the go, during a month-long train trip around America. Though a work of fiction, the book is based heavily on factual events and observations.
Olson writes for an independent weekly newspaper called The Sandpoint Reader where portions of this book were first published as a series of four articles called, "Notes From the Rails." He also works freelance commercial production in Los Angeles several times a year to pay for rent and booze.
After dropping out of Colorado State University in his third semester, he fled to Los Angeles and lived there for three years - working on television commercials, documentary films and music videos as a production assistant. In 2004, he was hired to produce a fine art photography book by renowned director/photographer Mark Story called Living in Three Centuries, a book of portraits of some of the oldest people living in the world. For the next year, he wandered around the country searching for "supercentenarians" - people 110-years-old and older - to be photographed for the book. He is also an inveterate traveler, spending time sailing in the Caribbean, volunteering for disaster relief in Thailand, hitchhiking down lonely highways, backpacking through the canyons of southern Utah, and shooting roman candles at drunks in the streets of downtown Seattle.
He now lives in a small cabin in North Idaho where he divides his time between writing and swatting bugs, taking long and worthless road trips, and drinking in dive bars throughout the West.
This book evolved from years of struggle. Years of gut-wrenching poverty. Years of butting my head against the walls of mediocre art. For too long I've seen my society deflating and dumbing down the masses to fools. I wondered if it was still possible to write a great novel, and if so, was there anyone left to read it?
This is not a great novel in the commercial sense... it will never be on any best-seller lists. Oprah won't select it for her book club. I don't want her to. That would defeat the whole purpose. I didn't write this for Them. I wrote this for the Others of the world – those who don't fit into the American version of what's "good" (i.e. what sells – who cares what it really says, right?) Right? Elitist? Sure.
This is a truthful account of a common man's struggle in a dirty, shitty, exploding, apathetic world, and that is why it has merit. Sure it's fiction, but I only write fiction because I have to. I need the protection that it provides. Every writer knows that there is no real fiction, for what we put on the page stems from our own experiences.
I believe in something that will never die – the notion that you can still live free in America, and do whatever the fuck you want between the poles. Write obscene words, drink whiskey, sleep with loose women, drive fast on the wrong side of the road, stay up til dawn doing hard drugs, piss on streetcorners, throw rocks through real estate windows, fall in love with ghosts… I live how I want to live, I capture the moments I want to capture, and I know it is Art. I know it is Truth. And I know I can function here in America, as much as I dislike it at times.
I am just like you, perhaps, and I'm so confused. I was born in the wrong era, it seems. I should've been a pirate or a rum-runner or a goddamn Roman gladiator. Instead I'm just a dipshit among douche-bags. A bum inside the gates. I'm just a poor bastard who has read too many great novels and copied too many great styles.
I've rejected the American Dream… it means nothing to me now. Who the hell wants to raise a family and get a real job and punch a clock 50 weeks a year? Not me. It's just futile effort and early death. I want the side door… the loophole. I know it's there.
I know I'm full of shit. I know I have my head three feet up my ass. And I know you do too. So be it. There's a literary renaissance occurring now – people are waking from the slumber and growing tired of reading and watching and listening to empty confectionary trash. This is my attempt at something real. I may have failed, but I tried, and I'll damn sure keep doing it. I didn't write it to make money, or become famous… that's what people become actors for. No, I wrote it because I had to. I wrote it for you.
"Wanderlost" was written on the go, during a month-long train trip Ben Olson took around America. Max Manchester is a 25-year-old anti-hero languishing in poverty, struggling to make it as a writer and suffering from the disenchantment that characterizes post-collegiate life; searching for the soul and substance he feels lacking in his generation. Surrounded by alcoholic pseudo-intellectuals and other members of the "Non-Generation," Max's life is spinning out of control. His nights are spent in a drunken blur of barroom philosophy, half-felt sexual encounters and stunted attempts at art. His days consist of butting against the rampant crass pop culture and the world defined by catch-phrase ideology and morally bankrupt politicians waging pointless wars.
Finally, one desolate north Idaho winter, as Max's mailbox slowly fills with rejection slips and he nurses yet another hangover, he's overcome by a feeling of entrapment. Haunted by fears that his life is wasting away and lured by dreams of one day understanding, he decides to break with the comfort of his home and re-discover a sense of meaning.
With an Amtrak USA Rail Pass and a pack on his back, Max sets out to find America again, armed with the bitterness of his past and the yearning to find something pure again. He travels around the country, stopping and going from the train as he pleased, hitchhiking and sharing rides with drug runners, gigolos and other strangers of the American road.
"Wanderlost" captures the essence of that strange period of life after college and before looming adulthood; when idealism is still a good thing, when one must choose to embrace the often mediocre task of mundane existence, or burn free and live according to the principles of our hearts. It is a coming-of-age tale, a humorous road narrative and an acerbically accurate portrayal of modern America Life in all its beauty and futility, written in a personal uninhibited style of journalistic prose.