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Writer vs. Writer: Julius Olofsson

Let's step into the imaginative world of Julius Olofsson, a Swedish storyteller whose creative journey, sprouting from text-based computer games, embarked on an unexpected literary odyssey. Despite a background in film, Julius ventured into writing in 2015. Facing rejection but buoyed by positive feedback, he shifted to writing in English in 2022, inspired by the vast literary landscapes discovered during a UK bookstore visit. His chapbook "Moebler," released by Anxiety Press, weaves four interconnected tales exploring identity and choices made without logic. With 15 publications and contest recognitions, Julius shares his unique path to storytelling, proving that the essence lies not in becoming the next Stephen King but in sharing narratives that captivate the soul. In this interview, I will have a chat with Julius to unveil his writing journey, the challenges he conquered, and the satisfaction of seeing "Moebler" materialize, offering readers a glimpse into the mind of a writer driven by the pure joy of storytelling.

Hi Julius! Delighted to have you for this interview. I perused your bio and discovered your journey from creating text-based computer games to transitioning into writing. How did your experience in game development influence your approach to storytelling in literature?

First off, thanks for having me!

Ten years ago, I began creating text-based games, but even before that, I always had some projects going on. Still, ten years ago, something changed, and I managed to elicit some discipline and finish things. So, I began making Twine games, which is a form of text-based games, very similar to CYOA (Create Your Own Adventure) games from the 80s. It provided a safe space for experimentation, where I could put something together, get it out online, and see what people liked or disliked. I’ve always been drawn to the more odd, weird, and surreal ideas and stories, and with Twine, I could really go nuts. The most significant influence or takeaway from creating those games was that I managed to render an audience: people enjoyed my work! That, in turn, instilled me with confidence so that after two years of game-making, I felt ready to write a book.

I had to research Twine games as I've always enjoyed CYOA books and thought writing a novel in that style for adults; however, it's quite challenging, and I'm not sure about its current level of acceptance. Saying that, facing rejection can be challenging, yet you transformed those "positive rejections" into motivation. How did these responses influence your resilience and determination as a writer?

I got some positive rejections from Swedish publishers and learned that the book had been selected, becoming part of that slim pick of books that isn’t automatically rejected and was actually discussed as a candidate for publication. So, knowing that, I got spurred not to give up. And I think that, throughout my writing, there have always been small “encouragements” like that, making it difficult to give up. Also, I believe you must be somewhat crazy if you choose to pen a whole book. So, one could for sure exchange “resilience” with “insanity.”

I believe you must be somewhat crazy if you choose to pen a whole book.

I can relate. Insanity is part of a writer's journey. Having studied film and scriptwriting, what aspects of storytelling did you find seamlessly translating from the cinematic realm to the pages of a book? And were there challenges in making that shift?

My background and first and foremost interest have always been films. So I find myself picturing scenes, composing a whole book based on cool, impactful sets. It has also made me efficient with plotting and seeing something whole, not just initial details. Basically, I see the scenes in my book like scenes from a movie. Looking into challenges is then maybe to describe those scenes. I can, sometimes, find it boring to “just” read environmental descriptions, and I prefer to read something like: “The forest was like a Lord of Rings stage where blood had flown” or similar—basically painting a feel tied to the scene, rather than nitpickingly describe each, tiny pebble. But that’s just bound to preference; for some, I think they prefer a book to be more descriptive. To a certain extent, I can feel (at least in my earlier books) that I cheated a bit regarding the prose. In a screenplay, you’re not supposed to play around with the text; instead, you have to be to the point and explain what happens, even if it sounds dull. So, finding an equilibrium between the two has been tricky.

You mentioned feeling a bit lost in the Swedish literary landscape. How has your cultural background influenced your writing, especially as you transitioned from Swedish to English?

I remember writing a short story, and a dear friend who also writes who’s not from Sweden asked why it was set in the US. She said something about how I should write as a Swede, and that comment from her really helped shape my role as a Swede writing in English. So, one could claim that I simply write Swedish stories with Swedish characters and Swedish references but with universal themes. I can’t fake my background, and I believe in writing what you know (not always). I understand why I got rejected; Sweden is a smaller market, and you must find a publisher willing to bet on a niche. And if you look financially at it, I get why more surreal Swedish books aren’t published. So, I felt more “at home” in the English lit landscape. But that’s more tied to narrative possibilities. The English market comes with more steps when it comes to getting a book published. For example, in Sweden, there’s no need for an agent; you just email the publisher your book!

I felt more “at home” in the English lit landscape.

Well said. Writing in English is more freeing for me than Persian as well however I had a level of success back there, I never felt it's how I wanted to write. So, I know that you ventured into flash fiction as a precursor to your major publications. How did the brevity of flash fiction impact your writing style and storytelling techniques?

Just as with me making Twine games, I got the same experimental opportunities from writing short stories and flash fiction, even micro. I wanted to ensure that my ideas could fit abroad and that my English was good enough, even if it could never reach the level of a native speaker. The brevity was perfect at the time, not just for writing something short, but also that it came with a faster process. I could spend hours or days on a story, send it off, get rejected, and get accepted. That was magical; not to have to toil away for months, or even years on a book, then submit it, wait a couple of months, just to get shot down. The biggest impact was probably me delving deeper into the English language and, again, getting some stamps of approval.

You said, during your visit to the UK, you discovered books that resonated with the surreal and odd ideas you wanted to write. How did this discovery shape your narrative style and themes in "Moebler"?

Yeah, that trip was just what I needed. If you visit a Swedish bookstore, there’s a lot of the same, but coming to the UK (Edinburgh, actually) provided a plethora of stories, not all stemming from the same mold. When it comes to themes in “Moebler,” I think that I still made use of the same themes from my other books written in Swedish; loneliness, identity, and that shit doesn’t always go as planned. But I was empowered by many of those English books, feeling that playing around with everything from style and form to prose and the actual story was okay. But one massive aspect (and a bit tied to the previous question about brevity) is that I’ve always preferred shorter books—and there are plenty in English! I find myself usually growing bored by too lengthy books, as I can feel they don’t provide much more newness than a book a hundred pages shorter. There is sometimes “padding,” and I know many won’t agree with me, but I’m the kind of guy who enjoys efficiency. I remember going to the Gothenburg Film Festival back in the day, watching plenty of German films, and I’ve always praised them for their efficient storytelling. So, when I walked around those bookstores in Edinburgh, I chose books based on thickness. Even if it sounds silly, that’s a great way to sift through loads of books but also find your preference. I’ve discovered oodles of fantastic books, and, being shorter (100-250 pages), I know they’re usually effective with the few pages they have. Like “Heatwave” by Victor Jestin. It’s very short, but he manages to keep me riveted. The same goes for “Dead Girls” by Selva Almada or “Pig Tales” by Marie Darrieussecq and some thousand others.

Your chapbook, "Moebler," weaves four interconnected stories exploring identity and choices. Can you share a bit about the inspiration behind these stories and how they came together?

As I’m intrigued by the weird, and I think in pictures, the first seed to “Moebler” was an idea about a guy living on an island, assembling IKEA furniture. And not much more. It might sound banal, but I seldom begin with me wanting to say something or make a point. I’m a pantser writer, and as I write, I discover what it’s all about, so, more or less, all of my longer stories come with a moment where I pause and say, “Oh shit, that’s what this is about.” It sounds like I have no clue what I’m doing, but before I start writing, I always have a rough sketch of what I want to create and how it’ll evolve, and I always know how it will end. But that’s just broad strokes. I WANT to discover and explore, just seeing where it takes me. Still, as I know the ending, that’s like a beacon that I can always aim for. So, the first story was about this guy who’s left on an island, and, for some reason, IKEA furniture gets delivered there, which he starts to assemble. But as he’s running out of space inside the cabin he’s living in, he helms the outdoors and turns it into an external living room.

All three remaining stories tie to that first one, and as I’m keen on mysteries (all my stories come with one, in a sense), I wanted it to unfold the story like a mystery. So, I tied the stories together without making it too obvious, more like leaving clues here and there. The idea is that if someone actually were to re-read it, they’d hopefully see new things and connect the dots. I began writing in August of 2022, and by May 2023, the book was published by Anxiety Press. So, I guess the turnaround was quite fast, but I’m usually efficient once the story is plotted and done. Finally, I love to unleash my stories into the world because I love seeing how others interpret them. I had an idea about loneliness, erratic behavior, and (maybe the central theme) identity and how one secures a new identity. But, I did this reading of the book at a bookstore in Stockholm called The English Bookshop, and the interviewer there said that he loved how I worked with the theme of what a home is, and I was pleasantly surprised because he was right, but I hadn’t really thought of that, but he saw it, and I learned a bit about myself. So, in retrospect, as others read, I evolve.

Part of the motivation behind "Moebler" was to build self-esteem, as you mentioned. How did this creative endeavor contribute to your personal and artistic growth?

Plenty! It’s the biggest self-esteem booster yet. Not only did I debut, finally, but I also found a publisher that felt that their time and energy were worth investing in me. I’ve gotten calmer when it comes to doubts tied to my English skills, and I can rest, feeling that some believe my words are worth reading. I think “Moebler” getting published was essential for me to fuel up and continue my literary journey.

The point is to write. Grammar comes after I guess. Your foray into screenwriting resulted in a horror movie. How did this parallel journey in a different medium influence your storytelling techniques, especially in the horror genre?

Writing a horror screenplay provided a much-needed break from literary writing. 2022 was a productive year when I wrote over twenty flash fiction/short story pieces, some micro stuff, my chapbook “Moebler,” and that horror movie called “PERENNIAL.” For me, it was also a pause from the more…demanding genres, and it was so fun to “just” write a horror film. Still, a lot of inspiration comes from the more thought-provoking horror movies from the 2010s and 20s, and I wanted to tell a story that would scare you but also be relatable. As I studied screenwriting over twenty years ago (where does the time go?), I was young and cocky and wanted to write weird indie movies without a story. Yes, I was dumb. So, now, writing this horror movie, I tried to redeem myself and play by the book. So I picked a proper narrative structure (Save the Cat), read up on what’s known as contained horror (limited locations, not much VFX, and few roles, just to keep it cheap), and began writing. Of course, one can dream that YOUR movie might get made, but that wasn’t really the thing. Just as writing shorter stuff, I wanted to feel I could finish something. I had spent 2015-2021 writing four books, and to start a fifth one felt daunting. But I needed to keep writing, being creative, but NOT take on something too big. Having written “PERENNIAL,” I managed to remind myself about things I already had learned in film school: narrative structure, pacing, and whatnot. In a way, writing a screenplay could benefit many writers out there, as you only have to (and should only) focus on the story and characters rather than the prose. This will, for sure, sharpen your storytelling skills.

Makes semse. So, your goal is to have people read and enjoy your stories. Looking ahead, what themes or genres do you aspire to explore in your future literary works? And how do you envision your writing evolving over time?

My goal is to be a person who writes. I love writing books, but I’ve spent much of my life focusing on films. I’ve also worked for many years as a game writer, coming up with stories for games. So, with that said, I want to tell stories, but I would love to spread my wings and do different things—games, comic books, or whatever. Now, it might sound like a choice I can make, but we all have to dream, right? I’ve grown comfortable with what types of stories I do write, and they’re not for everyone. I’ve gotten reviews on “Moebler,” my shorter stuff, and also my Twine games, where people mean that they loved it, that it’s not for everyone, but the story will stay with the reader for a while, and I’m fine with that. If I manage to get some people to read me and discover what I want to do, that’s great. Based on my ideas, I think it would be naïve to aim for the skies. Many writers are also focused on one genre, and I have ideas for almost every genre out there and plenty of themes to explore. I think I’ll always have some recurring themes embedded in my stories, but I’ll dabble with others. Identity and loneliness are an absolute part of all my books. But, looking at other ideas (and there are plenty), I’m touching on subjects and themes such as self-deception, change, coming-of-age stuff, injustice, acceptance, doubt, and whatever I might stumble upon. Right now, I’m working on my first English novel, and the goal is to find an agent and get it published. Hopefully, I’ll achieve said goal.

Thanks Julius for this interview. I wish you the best in your writing journey and I hope to read more of your amazing stories.

If you're interested to know more about Julius, visit the following links:

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Nov 27, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Great interview. Moebler is a great read too - well worth checking out.

Neda Aria
Neda Aria
Dec 01, 2023
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Glad you enjoyed it

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