Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Jeff Landon

by Tara Laskowski Read the Story December 19, 2016

This story is complete on its own, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me these characters were part of something larger. They are well developed and complex. All good flash should do this. Will you write about them again or have you written about them before?

Most of the characters in most of the stories I’ve written are same-ish, but I don’t really write about teenagers anymore since I’m old, old, old. So I won’t be writing, “Hailey and her peeps were listening to the popular new ‘rap’ soundzz, when a text buzzed in complete with emotiongis ?” But, anyway, the people I like, in life and fiction, are joking through various catastrophes because that’s how we work. I (almost) only like fiction that bops around from funny to sad … more sad. So, your question. I don’t know, but rest assured there will be more passive characters doing not much at all … with drinks and drugs and plenty of snow.

Hot dog water! That detail alone told me all I needed to know about the character’s “home.” Do details like this come out in your first drafts, or are they things you think more carefully about in a later revision and hone to get just right?

Hmm, I’ve never thought about that, but, now, pondering, I think the details always come out in the first draft. Almost everything else—tense, names, plot, dialogue, openings and endings are up for change, but the details are, I think, the way I enter a story. Lately, instead of a notepad (that I never actually carried) I use the phone to take pictures of odd things, things that speak to me for whatever reason. I keep pictures of storefront cartoons, rats, fortune teller cards, murals on buildings, all that. I’m working on something now set in a deserted Virginia Beach because that place, near the boardwalk, is eerie in the off season and I like it so much.

I have not been able to find you on social media. How have you resisted the urge to create a Facebook profile? For me, it’s a primary way to connect with writers and find new writing. What ways do you use to do that?

I already waste time. I watch and love Judge Judy, Bob’s Burgers, You’re the Worst, and so many sports (Yes, I know, I’m a fucking idiot). I like Tumblr for food things and Lynda Barry and a few writing things, but mostly I’m positive that if I got involved with more social media, the more time I’d spend there and that’s just not fair to Judge Judy and the time we share together. So, I don’t really connect much. I read. I read lots of fiction places online, and creative non-fiction, too. I read literary magazines. I read about 100 short stories to every novel, and that number is conservative.

Seriously? Judge Marilyn Milian from People’s Court is so far superior to Judge Judy. I’m disappointed in you, Jeff.

Judge Judy is my centering point.

What draws you to the flash form? Do you want to write a long sprawling novel, or does the idea give you hives?

I’ve written three novels—well, drafts of novels. Two were completely horrible, and one was pretty bad. They won’t be published, but I turned one bad novel into a decent novella and wrote a screenplay from that–and that screenplay turned into Star Wars!!! OK, no …

I like flash because (for one reason) it’s easier to teach (I teach) creative writing classes with flash because it forces new writers to condense and value language (I hope) more. I’ve always been drawn to strong, fun, perky! verbs and the people who employ them.

I’ve heard from some writers that dialogue doesn’t work well in flash, but I love dialogue. If I pick up a book and it’s super dense with descriptions that rumble on for pages, well, no.

It’s a Tuesday afternoon and you suddenly find all your obligations have vanished. You don’t have to work, and you’re not allowed to write or read. So what do you spend that afternoon doing?

Well, if they would ever legalize pot in Virginia … Kidding, kidding.

Dog walk. Nap. Movies. Perfect my jazz dance moves. Go to the river and sit on a rock. Par 3 golf. Bike ride. It’s all seasonal. But, again, I teach so on Tuesday afternoons I put on clunky headphones, play old soul music or anything by Paul Westerberg, and then I circle mistakes and praise the good and muddle through the rest.

About the Author:

Jeff Landon has been published in numerous places, print and online, including Crazyhorse, Wigleaf, FRiGG, Another Chicago Magazine, F(r)iction, and others. He is also a contributor to New Micro, an anthology of flash fiction published by W.W. Norton in 2018. Lately, he's been doing some chair yoga.

About the Interviewer:

Tara Laskowski has been editor at SmokeLong Quarterly since 2010. Her short story collection Bystanders was hailed by Jennifer Egan as "a bold, riveting mash-up of Hitchcockian suspense and campfire-tale chills." She is also the author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons, tales of dark etiquette. Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals, magazines, and anthologies. Tara lives and works in a suburb of Washington, D.C.

About the Artist:

A Best Small Fictions 2015 Winner, Dave Petraglia's writing and art have appeared in Bartleby Snopes, bohemianizm, Cheap Pop, Crack the Spine, Five:2:One, Gambling the Aisle, Hayden's Ferry, matchbook, Medium, McSweeney's, Necessary Fiction, North American Review, Per Contra, Points in Case, Popular Science, Razed, SmokeLong Quarterly, Up the Staircase, and others.