English professor shines as novelist and screenwriter

Professor Mark Olsen excels in writing outside of the classroom. Olsen is seen instructing students on an upcoming assignment in his English class. Kristen DeHaven | Multimedia journalist

By Sophie Acebo | Reporter

As a lecturer in the English department, Mark Olsen has been teaching classes and assisting students for seven years. Along with teaching English, however, he is also a screenwriter and a published author.

Olsen discovered his passion for screenwriting during his time in junior college in Kilgore, where he had thoughts of turning the town’s rich history into a screenplay.

Olsen then arrived at Baylor and got his start taking screenwriting classes that were taught by current professor Robert Darden. It wasn’t until he sat on the steps of Moody Memorial Library with a friend when they unexpectedly discovered where their first screenplay would come from.

“We sat and had one of those two-hour conversations about all your life and your problems and we discovered that we had a problem with women in that we were ‘safe guys,’” Olsen said. “We realized it would be the perfect subject for a screenplay so we started writing one.”

Olsen and his friend finished this screenplay in 1989. Just a few years later in March of 1994, it was put on the market by creative artists for $1 million.

Being a novelist is also something that Olsen has had a passion for ever since he was young.

“I’ve wanted to be a writer and have known I was a writer since I was a kid,” Olsen said.

As a child, he grew up in a rural village in Normandy, France, where he was surrounded by ancient castles and beautiful scenery that fed his imagination. He brought these scenes to life by filling up notebooks with his stories and illustrations.

His first short novel was independently published in 1996, and he used the advance he received from it to pay for his honeymoon. After that, he kickstarted his career when his 2003 novel “Hadassah: One Night with the King” became the first book of his to be released by a big name publisher in 2004. Later on, this movie was adapted into a film.

He has published many novels since then, but after his last book was published 10 years ago, he shifted his focus onto his screenwriting.

One screenwriting project Olsen wrote is based on the birth of black gospel music. It was inspired by Darden and his work on The Black Gospel Music Restoration Project.

Olsen stated that the project is not only about the birth of black gospel music, but also about the writing of Jim Reeves’ most famous gospel song,“Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” This song is the last topic that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about mere seconds before his assassination.

The adaptation that Olsen created has gained attention from actor Will Smith’s film studio Overbrook Entertainment, which is currently scouting for African-American filmmakers to take on the job of bringing the screenplay to life.

Another project that Olsen is proud of was his master’s thesis about an often unheard of story related to the Battle of Dunkirk.

“It is about a national day of prayer that was called in England by the king himself on the national radio at the heart of the Dunkirk crisis,” Olsen said. “No one really knows about it, but it turns out the entire country came to a standstill. Everyone went to church, and within three hours of the church services, there were three miracles that happened that basically led to what happened at Dunkirk.”

Olsen said that several people are interested in making this film, and that they are currently pursuing funding for it. Olsen will even act as a producer for the movie.

The practical experience that Olsen provides to the job is something that The Woodlands junior Maris Ybarra, a former student of his, was grateful to get to hear about and learn from.

“One of the great things about Baylor is you get the opportunity to learn from professors who have real world experience,” Ybarra said.

Olsen expressed that it’s important to emphasize pursuing your passions and life goals no matter what they are, even if it could be difficult to make money off of them.

“If you know that that’s what you’re supposed to do, then you can’t depend on the approval of other people,” Olsen said. “You just have to keep doing it and keep trying and just don’t give up.”