Wednesday, March 2, 2016
John Jodzio talks about his extraordinary collection of stories, KNOCKOUT, writing, how many people have died from javelin accidents, and so much more
John Jodzio's work has been featured in a variety of places including This American Life, McSweeney's, and One Story. He's the author of the short story collections, Get In If You Want To Live and If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home and the forthcoming Knockout (Soft Skull Press, Spring 2016). He lives in Minneapolis and I am so excited to have him hosted here! Thank you, thank you, John.
I always ask writers what was haunting them before they began writing their particular book, so I want to ask you the same question. And did writing Knockout answer any questions for you?
It took me five years to write all the stories in Knockout. All throughout that time I went through the traditional roller coaster that I think every writer of every book throughout history has gone through – lots of angst about whether what I thought was good was actually good. Writing Knockout answered one large question in my mind and that was could I follow up my first short story collection (If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home) with something better and more satisfying? Luckily, I think Knockout has accomplished that.
What I loved so much about this collection are the surprises, which are stated very matter-of-factly. An Opium Depot opens up. A bounty hunter has a pet boa and another story features a ragtag tiger. There’s also an alcoholic bed and breakfast. Yet everything connects in a way that is so startling, you find yourself rereading pages. So, how do you write? Do you plot everything out or do you find yourself just following the muse? Do you have serious rituals?
I am a slow writer and I think the reason it takes me a ton of time to finish stories is I’m constantly fiddling with plot points and characters and making damn sure that anything bizarre seems like it is matter-of-fact. My one goal is always to keep my reader entertained and to not do anything to knock them out of the world I’ve created.
I don’t really do much plotting. Most of my stories are simply the product of a funny sentence I’ve written or an intriguing scenario I want to explore and then they are pulled together by trial and error over a ton of drafts. The only serious ritual I have is that I eat way too many burritos.
You could say that the characters in Knockout are knocked about by life, their dreams pressed to the pavement, their dead ends growing deader by the minute—but there is also a frisky glimpse of hope here, and lots of hysterical and smart humor. I’m just curious: why are these people on the edge of life your chosen cast of characters? What is the singular thing that they can reveal?
I think I’ve always been interested in people who are getting knocked about. I’m trying to figure out how hope and humor are present within the tragic and unsettling. For whatever reason, these are the characters and themes I constantly return to when I write.
You’ve got real cult status. You’ve been called a weirdo by the likes of an admiring Dan Chaon and a thematic traditionalist by Chuck Klosterman. So what do you call yourself?
The only thing I ever tell anyone about myself is that I’m a short story writer. Maybe I’ll combine Dan and Chuck’s descriptions and call myself “a weirdo thematic traditionalist who eats a lot of burritos”?
What’s obsessing you now and why?
In the last few weeks I’ve started to work on my next book. It’s a novel and it’s totally baggy and full of possibility at this point. I’m excited and scared about whether or not I’ll be able to pull everything together in a meaningful way.
What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
Q: At this point in your novel how many people have died from javelin accidents? A: At this point four, but there may be a couple more.