LSQ: A modern, benevolent coven in the Berkshires – please tell us: what inspired this take on witches and what made you choose this location? How do you think these witches compare to the current take on witchcraft in pop culture?
Josie: My depiction of witches comes from two things, mainly: Terry Pratchett and the Girl Scouts. The witches of Pratchett’s Discworld series are women who gather to protect their communities by doing the work no one else can do, whether that’s fighting off monsters or delivering babies. As a Girl Scout learning the secrets of the wilderness in between community recycling projects, I felt something a tiny bit like that dynamic. The similarity stood out to me when I read the Discworld books years later. A troop isn’t so different from a coven. You put some young ladies around a campfire and they’ll argue, they’ll help each other, they’ll have adventures together. The idea of benevolent witches isn’t new (think of Bewitched and Sabrina the Teenage Witch), but it’s experiencing a moment in the pop culture spotlight right now. Tumblr is full of people’s ‘witchsona’ artwork. Bookstore shelves are filled with novels about witches. At the risk of sounding like a hipster, I’ve loved witches since before they were cool, and I wanted to write my own take on them.
As for the setting, I went to college in the Berkshires. The area is incredible. There are tiny pink salamanders in Hopkins Forest so pale that you can see your hand through their bodies when you hold them. There are chestnut saplings clinging to life deep in the mountains, survivors of a chestnut plague that swept through America a hundred years ago. I’ve walked onto a kettle bog moss mat with my botany class and felt it wobble beneath my feet. The valley turns purple at sunset, and isn’t that magic?
LSQ: The Frogman is an interesting adversary. What made you choose this antagonist?
Josie: Bullfrogs are horrifying to me. They’ll eat anything, including each other. I wanted to use that menacing part of nature to address the complicated ways that tragedy strikes, how sometimes, nasty things just happen, and we can’t always blame it on someone in particular. Is the Frogman just doing what he does? How deliberate are his actions, and does that even matter? Ultimately, Julian’s isolation is her biggest enemy.
LSQ: What was the most challenging aspect of this story to write and why? What is your favorite part of it?
Josie: Writing grief is hard for me. I’ve distanced myself from the losses in my life. This was an exercise in confronting this horror I’ve only felt at a careful remove. I have experienced depression; mine’s chronic, whereas Julian’s is more acute, but even if I haven’t been in her exact situation, I know what it’s like to want to detach from your feelings to escape your pain.
My favorite part to write was anything with Amy. She popped fully formed into my head, a riff on the daughter of my old Girl Scouts troop leader. That girl could have led armies, and so could Amy.
LSQ: Are you working on any other projects currently? If so, can you tell us about them?
Josie: I am working on a full-length novel set in the same world as “Down in the Kettle Bog”. After I finished the short story, I knew that there were other stories about the witches lurking half-formed in my mind. I’m excited to share them someday.