Smoking With Jeff Landon

Read the Story June 15, 2004

What in the creative process helps you to generate such vivid time and place in your work?

I think, actually, that I rely too often on the same places, the same times—small southern towns, twilight. I write about those towns because I grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, and I miss the Blue Ridge Mountains and the people there. I like twilight, of course, because of the light itself. Everything seems possible and gone at the same time, at twilight.

I think I ease into a story with an image and a place, and just wing it from there.

There is little dialogue in “Tiny Bombers”. Was it intentional and did you find it difficult to write in that voice?

It’s completely unnatural for me to write without dialogue.

I need to hear people talking in a story. In a very short story, you don’t have much time for talking, but it can be done, and I think stories are always richer with dialogue.

Also, I think dialogue is, by far, the easiest thing to do in a story. Once you get the rhythm of the voice, and a strong sense of the character, it’s fairly easy. Good dialogue pushes the story forward, reveals things about character, and entertains. I suspect this story would be stronger with more dialogue.

What do you find challenging about writing from a teenager’s point of view?

Man, the sad truth is, at forty-seven, I still love writing from a teenager’s POV. It was such a vivid, terrible time. I have forgotten huge chunks of my life, but I still remember, with a terrible clarity, how it felt to be fifteen and sitting at the cafeteria table.

I stay away from slang and I don’t worry much about what they wear—most of them just wear jeans and sneakers anyway. I try to remember how it felt to have a huge, all-consuming crush on someone, or how it felt when a friendship turned rocky, or how music sounded back then—all of it. I don’t ever want to make fun of a character to show how hip and ironic I am. I can’t stand it when writers do that.

Many teenagers are consumed with thoughts of drugs and sex. How did Amy’s attitude toward those things figure into writing this piece?
She had a very casual attitude towards drugs and maybe, sex. She had sex, bad sex, with her boyfriend. I think—going out on a limb here—but I think that a great deal of teenage sex is, indeed, bad sex. She smoked pot. She was, of course, sad about her brother, and lost inside herself. She was trying to feel better, and nothing helped. She was feeling sorry for herself, of course. Her life was changing, and she didn’t know where she was anymore. I can remember that exact feeling—I’m sure most people can.

What would your creative outlet be if you were not able to write?

I can’t paint. I love music, but I can’t sing. I play a few instruments, all badly. I don’t know. I can’t do much of anything all that well—I’m a pretty good teacher, and I enjoy almost everything about writing. At this point, I can’t imagine a life without writing. I think I’d just be a despicable, broken man. You have to be slightly insane, and selfish, to write, but the rewards are amazing and deep. Obviously, I’m not talking about money here. If you want to make money, literary fiction or poetry is about the worst choice you could possibly make, but, I think it helps to open you to the world and the people around you. It’s a solitary activity, but it’s all about connection.

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 Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.