Josh Olsen spoke with us about his piece “Into the Marrow” found in Issue Seven.
During the editing process, do you find it difficult to adhere to a word limit? And if you do, how do you manage to keep it within the parameters?
I don’t often write with a word limit in mind. My process is typically that I write, edit, and then when I’m ready to submit, I look to see what I have written that will fit the open submission guidelines. If it’s a close call, I may try to slightly adjust the work, but it’s rare that I write with a specific project or word limit in mind.
What was the motivation behind writing this?
As I briefly mentioned before, the motivation behind “Into the Marrow” was the city of Detroit, and what I saw there when I first began to teach in Detroit in 2005. During my daily commute, I witnessed a number of buildings and homes first become abandoned, and then gradually fall into various states of decay. This isn’t a new or unfamiliar story, but to witness it firsthand, from a mostly outside perspective, was truly something to behold. The two main set pieces in the story were inspired by two actual buildings I used to drive by on a daily basis. The Economy Inn was eventually demolished, years after it was abandoned, but the church is still there. I’ll admit, early on, I was easily seduced by “ruin porn,” as are many people who don’t actually have to live among it, but as you see these things more frequently, I think it’s only natural to think more about the individual people and residents of those neighborhoods most affected by poverty and blight, and hopefully you become more sympathetic to their struggles. I just hope that “Into the Marrow” doesn’t feel exploitative, because that wasn’t my intent.
There’s a lot of world building with this work, but the world and events that happen beyond the story are carefully hidden. How would suggest that aspiring writers attempt this?
I wouldn’t say that I recommend this for others, but a lot of the world building with “Into the Marrow” ended up on the cutting room floor. My first full draft of this story was about three times as long as the version you see now, and in that version of the story, there were far more details about the world my protagonist lived in, as well as his personal history. Over the years though, as I continued to edit this, I ended up cutting a lot of what I just didn’t feel was essential to the story, and I knew that if I kept it as a 10,000 word story, that would severely limit my publishing options. Ultimately, I’m much happier with this trimmed down version of “Into the Marrow,” and I like that some of the details about the world are more ambiguous. I just happened to take the scenic route to get there.
Fiction sometimes comes from a single moment in time that sticks with us, is this the case when you sit down to write? Or do you plan each step? Is it formulaic for you?
I don’t often write fiction, or at least I don’t anymore, but in the case with “Into the Marrow,” it came not so much from a moment, but instead a place, and that place was/is the city of Detroit, and when I first began to teach in Detroit in the fall of 2005. I was very inspired by what I saw there. It wasn’t something I planned. I wrote when it came to me, and I built upon it over time. I’m not a planner, as far as my writing is concerned. I can only write when I feel like writing. That’s probably at least some of the reason why I don’t write as much now as I used to. If I was a planner, I’d probably get more done, but I don’t see writing as my job. It’s still a luxury for me, something I enjoy, so if I don’t feel like writing, I don’t.
Do you have any previously published pieces you’re particularly proud of?
Honestly, I’m probably most proud of the work I’ve published by other writers. My partner and I began a micro press a few years ago, and so far we’ve published 5 books (one of them my own), and I’m extremely proud of each of them. I have two children, a 14 year old and a 19 year old, but I feel like these books are also my children, and on the plus side, I probably don’t have to worry about any of these books getting overly drunk at a high school party. (link: www.gimmickpress.com/store/)