Smoking With Patti Jazanoski

Read the Story September 15, 2005

You really do a great job of getting inside this girl’s consciousness. What’s your secret?

I don’t feel like I have any secrets about writing—it’s hard work. But I do try to write a lot to increase the odds that I find something I like. I had actually “met” this character in an earlier piece I had written, a prose-poem that ended with the image of her at work, as the cashier at the five and dime. So I think it was easier to take a character I already knew somewhat and place her in a situation where she wrangles with something that’s on my mind; in this case, how do we respond to people who are different than us?

What was the basis for the terrific setting?

I grew up in a small town in the Midwest, but I’m not sure how much of that comes through as the larger setting of this story. In terms of the drugstore, I once read something which said that fictional characters don’t spend much time at work, compared to “real life.” I had to laugh because I have a lot of stories that are set with one of the characters at work—this is the third or fourth short piece at a drugstore, I have a story set in a laundromat, another where the character gets in an accident driving to work, etc. Maybe I’ve spent too much time at work, and not enough time on tropical vacations having flings with younger men! :)

I remember SLQ wrote to ask you if you were sure about the use of “retarded.” You sure were. Talk about that, if you would.

At the onset, I knew the male character was someone that I’d consider to be developmentally challenged. From this girl’s perspective, that’s the only part of him that she sees. She can’t get beyond that to see other aspects of him as a person. I’m sure she’s heard more politically correct terms but since this story is written in such close first-person, she’s basically talking to herself and doesn’t need to be polite. I think the word choice reflects her dismissive attitude.

How/When did this girl develop her Paul Newman crush?

Not by watching Cool Hand Luke. Of course, it’s odd for someone as young as her to be thinking about Paul Newman at all, let alone as some standard for attractiveness. This is what I like about using him here. I doubt that she ever watched one of his movies and decided independently that, “yes, this man has extremely blue eyes.” I suspect she’s been told this many times before, by her mother or aunt, perhaps, or by society as a whole. That’s one thing that’s interesting to me about this concept of “celebrity”—how easily we internalize the messages we keep hearing. I think it’s interesting in this story because even though she is making a leap to recognizing that the worker at Walgreen’s has attractive eyes, she’s still doing it by using a barometer that someone else decided was “safe.”

What did the Creative Writing program at the University of California do for you—and (more importantly) your writing?

I attended UCSC in my mid-30s, after spending 15 years working as a software engineer and manager. As someone who’s wanted to write all my life, I’m very grateful I had that opportunity. Part of what I got out of the program is what you’d hope to get out of any program: a grounding in craft, a chance to study literature, participate in workshops, be surrounded by a community of others who are interested in writing. It was also nice to be taken seriously as a budding writer, especially because I was in the midst of an early-onset midlife crisis. In retrospect (I graduated in 2002) I realize some of the things I learned aren’t taught by everyone. One professor, Karen Yamashita, repeatedly mentioned the importance of each of us finding our own process. I was probably scratching my head when she said that because I know I was hoping to find a silver bullet so I’d stop struggling with writing and everything would flow. I also appreciate the fact that Micah Perks taught us to learn to read as writers, and learn to respond to fiction as writers, not just Lit Crits.

About the Author:

Patti Jazanoski is a graduate of the Creative Writing program at the University California Santa Cruz. She lives and works along the central coast of California.

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.