Smoking with Jeff Landon

Read the Story September 15, 2007
story art

“The baby was in a tight little outfit that made the baby look like a starfish.” That’s such a vivid image—the five points of the head, the arms, the legs, all pointed and rigid in tight clothing. What is the significance of the baby looking like a starfish?

Oh, there’s no significance to the baby looking like a starfish. I do remember our daughters, encased in those soft wool onesies, and that’s how they looked. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that I wanted to be taken as a symbol. I just like odd details, and babies. Nothing wrong with babies. Unless they’re inside movie theaters.

I’ve heard it said that God is in the details. I’ve also heard it’s the devil that’s in the details. Who or what lurks behind your details? Behind that glass of buttermilk, the lemon rind, the blue kitchen floor, the tiger-print pajamas?

Well, again, odd details stick with me. I have to actually force myself to not always include the same details—neon signs, old amusement parks, small town city streets at two in the morning—over and over. In this case, buttermilk, well, that’s meant to say that maybe someone here has stomach troubles, or maybe it’s just time to make biscuits. The blue kitchen floor? Sometimes—I don’t know how other people do this—but it helps me to see the kitchen before I can see the people. In fact, and this is suspect, I don’t know exactly what my characters look like, but I always know the landscape. I’ve never even thought about that before, but it’s true. Oh, and tiger-print pajamas—I love pajamas. From a tactile view, they are the most beautiful thing ever invented. I’ve never wanted to be Hugh Hefner on a round bed surrounded by fake boobs and synthetic-looking yellow hair, but I do wish I could live mostly in pajamas. You see this, with kids, mostly girls, wandering around in pajama bottoms, well, I want to be a big old blobby man, a man licking his fingers at the KFC buffet, in slippers and pajamas, and then, at last, I’d be free, and America would be a kinder, softer, more cottony place.

What is the one thing you hope readers will take away from this story?

At first I was going to say, oh, I don’t really expect anyone to take anything from this story. But of course we want people to take something—or feel something. We make up these stories for a reason. I’m not sure exactly what that reason is—I guess it’s different for everyone. I like it for the surprises, the slanted pictures. I’m not incredibly ambitious, or hard-working, or smart, or tall. I lose things I write all the time because I’m careless, but, really, you know when something is worth holding onto. It’s like a message in a bottle. You write it, fit the paper into the bottle, toss it into the ocean, and hope that somebody somewhere picks it up and goes, Oh yeah, that’s kind of how it feels for me, too. I don’t know why it’s so important, this idea of connecting with people you don’t know, but, there it is.

Will Jeff Landon ever put together a short story collection? Your fans want to know.

Oh…I don’t know. I rarely even send stories out—it’s a mixture of laziness and fear. They can’t say no if you don’t give them the opportunity—that sort of thing. It’s definitely not proud of this trait and, oddly enough, editors rarely call me up and say, “here’s some money, send something, you’re so great!”

I wish they would, but: no.

Since this is my first issue with SLQ, I thought it’d be appropriate to discuss firsts. Writing firsts. First time you called yourself a writer, first publication, first check. Those sorts of things. So, dish. What is your most memorable writing first?

I still don’t call myself a writer. At least not in public. But the first times are amazing (not counting the whole virginity thing). The first time I had a story accepted—it was the New Virginia Review—I ran screaming out of the little house we lived in back then. And, later, when I got into a pretty good magazine (Crazyhorse) I was delirious with happiness…but, you know, it fades, that feeling, but it’s still worth finding again.

My first check arrived, months late, after my first publication. Before that, I’d won a writing grant/prize while in Graduate School—that was great because the money was good, and that’s probably when I started to think, oh, I’m pretty wonderful, and a few more stories were taken, and I’d imagine myself being interviewed and loved nationwide.

And then I tried to write novels, and they were awful. Incredibly bad.

Now, I honestly don’t care about money. I don’t have big expectations. But I want to try harder, and of course I want to have a collection out there someday, and parades.

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.