John Jodzio Q&A

February 3, 2020
Short-story writer John Jodzio wants to capture your attention from the first sentence.

“A strange line is usually the thing that gets me going on a story. If you go back and look through all my stories it’s kind of rare if it doesn’t start with some sort of off-kilter situation or language that’s either funny or intriguing in some way.”

Your stories nearly always have a delicious tone of dark humor but the humor doesn’t advertise itself. They just fit in the story. How do you know when to use humor in a piece?

Ever since I started writing, I’ve always been on the lookout for good spots within my stories to infuse humor. In the beginning there was a ton of trial and error, but over time I think I’ve internalized some sort of comedic rhythm that helps me know when to drop in a funny line.

You’ve said that you always had a day job that doesn’t involve writing and in fact that helps your writing as it’d be hard to have a writing job and then write your own stuff at night. Do you still feel that formula works best for you? 

I think I’m gifted a daily written word count before my brain goes to mush. I’ve always been super protective of taking a writing-adjacent job because of this. If those words were eaten up by a day job — if I was teaching writing or writing copy — I wouldn’t have the energy or desire to write any fiction.

You’re currently work on a novel. How is that process compared to writing short stories or flash fiction?  

I started working on a novel a bit ago and am glacially making progress. I keep taking breaks from it to write short stories because the thing I am not working on is always the thing I’d rather be working on. The process has been semi-daunting. I write things organically without much planning and I’ve had to do a bunch of complicated outlining to keep track of all the different characters and plot points.

Do you often start with a line you like or do you start with a plot idea you like?

It is a mix, but a strange line is usually the thing that gets me going on a story. If you go back and look through all my stories it’s kind of rare if it doesn’t start with some sort of off-kilter situation or language that’s either funny or intriguing in some way. When you pick up one of my stories I really want your interest to be piqued right away so you’ll do the hard work of continuing to read.

In your story “Duplex,” your protagonist is hilariously and terrifying held hostage by his bounty hunter roommate Jayhole. You’ve said Jayhole is an amalgam of bad roommates you’ve had. Do you pull from real life often or was Jayhole unique?

None of my stories are ever pulled directly from life, but weird things that have happened to me are definitely repurposed for my stories. With Jayhole, I sort of imagined how inconsiderate, oblivious and awful some of my former housemates were and then combined them into one person and cranked that inconsiderateness, obliviousness, and awfulness to its highest possible level.

How do you decide you’re done with a story? Is it tempting to just keep rewriting over and over?

I’ve been known to fiddle around with stories for a long ass time, but there is always a point in my fiddling where I get viscerally sick of looking at it and need to get it away from me and me away from it. That’s usually how I know I’m done.

Who are some of your favorite short story authors?

Some short story collections I’ve loved lately: Rebecca Schiff’s “The Bed Moved,” Lauren Groff’s “Florida,” “Exhilaration” by Ted Chaing. Obviously, George Saunders is a huge influence of mine. Always a big fan of anything that Lindsay Hunter writes.

Several of your stories are cinematic, particularly “Fieldwork,” which was reminiscent of “The Lost City of Z.” Have you ever been tempted to adapt your stories into screenplays?

I’ve dabbled with turning a couple of my stories into screenplays, but it never worked for me. I always felt like I was losing a lot of the humor that is conveyed through the voice of my characters. I’d love to see one of my stories made into a film so if anyone else wants to try, please feel free.

You often pull in the reader just with your titles and first sentences, which are often brilliant. I think of “Great Alcoholic-Owned Bed and Breakfasts of the Eastern Seaboard” and “Most Of You Know Me From Losing My Virginity To the Ben Franklin Impersonator.” Do you feel that some short story writers miss an opportunity by not giving more flavor to titles?

My philosophy is that any time you can capture a reader’s interest, you’d better. What’s better than doing that right away with your title?

You’ve said that reading David Sedaris in college liberated you to use humor in your writing. Is he still an inspiration for you?

Yes, definitely, he’s still one of my faves. I had a weird job in Italy after I graduated from college — helping to rebuild a 14th century monastery into an ecological village and harvesting olives from olives trees by hitting them with a long stick — and I only had room in my backpack for five books. Luckily I brought “Barrel Fever” with me. I probably read it 100 times while I was there.

You’re such an observant writer. Have you written journalism? Has that ever had a pull for you?

Whenever I try to write any non-fiction it feels like a slog so I start making up things to make it more interesting, which when an editor wants a non-fiction piece, ends up being problematic. I need the possibility of being able to lie when I write.

What’s next for you?

Right now I’m working on the novel and my next collection of short stories at the same time. I am guessing the short story collection will probably be finished first, but we’ll see!