Tag Archives: Soft Skull Press

An Interview with John Jodzio

2 Jun
A New York Times review said about Knockout, "John Jodzio’s entire collection is tremendously funny and well written, every story inventive and a pleasure to read.”

A New York Times review said about Knockout, “John Jodzio’s entire collection is tremendously funny and well written, every story inventive and a pleasure to read.”

John Jodzio is a winner of the Loft-McKnight Fellowship and the author of the short story collections Get In If You Want To Live, If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home, and, most recently, Knockout. His work has been featured in a variety of places including This American Life, McSweeney’s, and One Story. He lives in Minneapolis.

To read an exercise on building character based on Jodzio’s story “Lily and Annabelle,” click here.

In this interview, Jodzio discusses trying different approaches until scenes make sense, the importance of hooking the reader over and over, and surprise endings.

Michael Noll

I’m always curious how passages come into being. In this case, I love the paragraph about the mother’s hatred of Longwater Community School—so intense that she dumped red paint on the principal’s car hood. At the end of the paragraph, though, we learn that she’s sending her kids back to the school because she wants revenge on her ex-husband, who “hates the school even more than she does.” When you began writing about the mother’s hatred of the school, did you know in advance that she would send her kids back to it for revenge? Or did you begin the passage and, at some point, think, “Hey, what if she sent them back there?” I guess the larger question is this: Do you know where you’re going when you begin a passage, or do you start writing and hope for something cool to happen?

John Jodzio

In the early stages of this story I had written a couple of passages I found intriguing. One was the opening paragraph, the mother pushing the father out the second story window. Then there were a couple of scenes between Lily and Annabelle when they were back at Longwater. I didn’t really have any of the reasons how or why these things connected at that point, but after a draft or two the backstory unfolded (i.e. the dad cheated on the mother with a landscape painter, he was homeschooling them, their mother was sending them back there for revenge, etc). This is mostly how all of my stories come together. It’s mostly trying some different things and seeing what meshes/makes sense.

Michael Noll

The story is written in chunks separated by space breaks, and each chunk ends on a kind of punch. As a result, it’s possible to read each one as a kind of stand-alone piece, with a beginning, middle, and end. This would seem like a great way to approach plot and tension—worrying less about the big picture and more on keeping the reader hooked page by page. Is that your process? How much did you think about the big picture of the story?

John Jodzio

This is absolutely my process! In all my stories I am largely concerned with hooking the reader and love to give those little punches at the end of each passage in a story. I want these chunks to be able to stand on their own but to also move plot and character forward within the larger scope of the story. This is probably a function of how I write—I seem to end up really polishing each passage before I move on to the next one.

Michael Noll

How did you approach the end of the story? It’s sweet—and unexpectedly so. The next-to-last section ends on this:

“And that’s that,” their mom tells the girls as Jerry drives off. “Even the really nice ones have a breaking point.”

It’s not a moment that suggests good things will come. Were you surprised by your own ending?

John Jodzio

I usually don’t get surprised by endings but this one did surprise me. I’d struggled to find a good ending for a long time. I actually randomly added that blanket door as a detail to flesh out their apartment in one of the last drafts and then it somehow it came back to me as a possible ending. No idea why that happened, but ultimately liked how hopeful it was and how well it fit in the context of what was going with their family.

June 2016

Michael Noll Michael Noll is the Editor of Read to Write Stories.

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