Scott Marsh lives in the historic town of Arthurdale, WV, and holds an MFA from West Virginia University. Scott’s other interests include building a treehouse with his two daughters and playing in the snow with his chocolate lab, Bo. He currently works as a teacher/counselor at a residential home for troubled youth.
Scott Marsh Interview, with Natalie Seabolt Dobson
In “The Last Fishing Trip,” the landscape of Stephen’s childhood does not exist as he remembers it. This is an experience many people have who must leave places they love. Will you discuss the similarities of a landscape changed by time and human hands and how this relates to human memory and how a person changes?
For whatever reason, a lot of my writing explores the nature of memory. I've always been fascinated how my memories constantly intrude on my life in the present and surprised by what my brain chooses to remember and forget. I begin with the assumptions that our memories help provide a sense of self and it is largely our individual collective memories that make us who we are. For the character Stephen the landscape of Tomkins Cove and his grandfather are inexorably bound. At the beginning of the story, Stephen hopes to re-experience the landscape of his memory in order to re-experience the person he loves, his grandfather. At the end of the story, when Stephen realizes the landscape of his memory and his grandfather have been lost, it is not necessarily a bad thing. The realization that loss and change are a part of life is a hard lesson to learn. Armed with a little more knowledge about the past, the present, and himself, Stephen is able to recognize himself in the rearview mirror (used to look behind you), and decide to move forward, keep driving, keep living his life, "to see how far he could go."
The river is a character, of sorts, in “The Last Fishing Trip.” Stephen thinks of it as a “…giant brown eel moving through the valley, its skin shining, its fishy smell, its head and tail hidden by the mountains.” Is your personal relationship with a river (and/or a particular landscape) part of what fuels this short fiction piece? What symbolic representations of rivers are important to you as a writer?
I didn't write the story thinking the river would be a symbol for something, although the traditional idea of a river as representing "the irreversible passage of time" and therefore "a sense of loss and oblivion" would definitely fit the story. What I was after when I was writing the story was an instinctual, gut-level experience of the river as a living thing. For the character the river represents not only death, because of the near-drowning, but also life, because of the happy memories with his grandfather. As for me personally, landscapes are important. I've always felt landscapes have souls that are flawed just like human beings and you have to decide if you can accept those flaws and live with them.
In the story, Stephen’s last fishing trip with his grandfather ends in a thunderstorm. Stephen was almost drowned. In this last visit there is no thunderstorm, but Stephen seems to be in danger of a different kind of drowning. How much are these two incidents in Stephen’s life related? What could this mean in terms of how certain events shape the course of people’s lives?
If I had to explain alcoholism to someone who had no knowledge of it, my description would begin with a sense of drowning and that there is something essential missing, an emptiness, that the alcoholic is trying to fill. But since the alcohol is a liquid it never completely fills the emptiness, because it is always in the process of draining away. Think of the torture technique water-boarding, but you are doing it to yourself. Stephen drives to Tomkins Cove to re-experience the good memories, but the near-drowning during the thunderstorm and his own alcoholism cast a shadow over the trip. I think it's important to point out that the symbolic relationship between the near-drowning and Stephen's alcoholism is something that happened in the process of writing. It wasn't in the original outline, near-drowning=alcoholism. Again, I think it goes back to the idea that our individual collective memories, both the traumatic and the positive, make us who we are.
Will you describe your writing process? Do you usually begin with a story, piece of dialogue, or a character? Or is it something else that triggers your story-telling impulse? What, or who, inspires you to write?
Of course, I've been inspired by other writers, like Raymond Carver and Breece Pancake, and been lucky enough to have some great teachers over the years. As far as the process of writing, I begin with a pen and legal pads for the first five drafts or so. This made more sense when I was a poet, but I like the feel of writing out the words. During the early drafts I think about establishing a believable voice. Eventually, I move to the computer to see how the words look on the printed page. As I've said, my stories usually begin with a memory and the belief that I don't know anything. I'm one of those people who feel the more I learn, the less I know. I prefer people who have the courage to say, "I don't know. Let's figure it out." Most of my characters, like Stephen, don't arrive at definitive answers, they just learn enough about themselves and the world to keep going.
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