How did you come to short fiction?
My short fiction origins can be traced to 6th grade. We had a reading textbook that was semi-puritan and full of stories with this guy named Johnny Applegate that were basically supposed to teach us morality, and we all hated them and so did our teacher, so for an assignment she let us write alternative Johnny Applegate stories. In mine, I had Johnny going to jail for embezzlement and then hanging himself with his shoelaces. Everyone in the class loved it, and I got hooked on being able to excite people with words.
I love many things about writing stories, but my favorite is trying to slice away everything unnecessary and see if I can still hold plot and character together in a meaningful way. There also seems to be this possibility of perfection while writing a short story that doesn’t seem to exist when I am working on longer form things.
Many of your stories have unlikely, irredeemable narrators. What draws you to this?
I’m really drawn to strange people who are largely living off their wits—probably because my real life is mostly boring. One thing I’ve realized about myself over the years is that I’m an adrenaline junkie who’s too scared and anxious to do anything dangerous like skydiving or rock climbing or hard drugs, but I still want that excitement in my life, so I invent scenarios where fun, exciting, and strange things are happening in other people’s lives.
Your stories often cling to ridiculous premises but remain remarkably human. How do you do this?
I’ve found that when you have shocking stuff happening in a story, you’d best balance it with a matter-of-fact tone and some strict-ass realism. It also helps that most if not all of the things I write about could actually happen in the real world, even though they probably never will.
I’m an enormous fan of restraint. Poignant moments are always difficult to achieve, but especially so when they’re overwritten. In revising a story, I think the one thing I’m always certain to do is strip any sentimentality.
How do you bring humor into your fiction?
Ever since I started writing, I’ve always been on the lookout for good spots within my stories to infuse humor. In the beginning there was a ton of trial and error, but over time I think I’ve internalized some sort of comedic rhythm that helps me know when to drop in a funny line.
Largely I use humor as a ballast for a lot of the shitty things that happen in my stories. I think if you start looking for ways to balance things out emotionally in writing (i.e. everything isn’t always dire), humor will sort of find its way into that space.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently writing some new stories to pull together for my next collection—hoping to be done with it in a few months!
John Jodzio’s work has been featured in a variety of places, including This American Life, McSweeney’s, and New York Magazine. He’s the author of the short story collections Knockout, Get In If You Want To Live, and If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home. He lives in Minneapolis.
Joanna Acevedo (she/they) is the Pushcart-nominated author of the chapbook List of Demands (Bottlecap Press, 2022) and Outtakes (WTAW Press, forthcoming) and the books The Pathophysiology of Longing (Black Centipede Press, 2020) and Unsaid Things (Flexible Press, 2021). She received her MFA in Fiction from New York University in 2021.