"The Falling Baby"
The final FLASH on the FIVE of our beloved 2020 comes from John Jodzio and his story “The Falling Baby” which appeared earlier this year in Okay Donkey. Aside from having probably the coolest lit mag name in the universe, the editors at Okay Donkey are always publishing outstanding flash fiction (as well as poetry), usually with a bit of a twist or an edge or what-was-that? And “The Falling Baby” is certainly no exception. I invite you to the link below to first enjoy the story and then come on back to get glimpse into Mr. Jodzio’s process.
FAVORITE LINE: I caught a falling baby once.
Full transparency, that is actually my second favorite line. But it wins the day because it serves as the opener to this story. And one of my absolute favorite aspects of flash fiction is its propensity to give you an opening line that slaps you in the face. How can you read that first sentence and not be 100% in? The answer is you can’t.
What really drives this story for me (aside from the setting: a drug-laden party in someone’s backyard - with a trampoline - in the 90’s, and really what self-respecting backyard in the 90’s didn’t have a trampoline?) is the main character. On one hand, he’s a drug dealer, bad dude. On the other hand, he’s saving babies and suddenly becoming the most responsible adult at the party, already envisioning good choices and college funds. And just when we think maybe we have him all figured out, he takes off in a full sprint clutching a stranger's baby. Ultimate psychotic criminal? Or actually is this his big (albeit brief) heroic moment? For just a second he glimpses a different life with new possibilities. In fact, he glimpses (or craves?) it so deeply that he acts on it in a most absurd way. So much good stuff in such a short space. And there's even more good stuff when you take a look at what John had to say about the writing of the piece. (Oh, and if you want to discuss my actual favorite line, hit me up on email or Twitter).
1) I'm always curious about where stories come from, that first tiny seed. What was the inspiration or idea-spark for “The Falling Baby”?
Last year this guy caught a baby out of a window during a fire in Philadelphia, and he was kind of nonchalant about his heroism and even said his hands were way better those of Nelson Agholor, this Eagles wide receiver who had been dropping a lot of passes lately. At some point I started to think about people catching babies falling out of windows and then the opening lines ("I caught a falling baby once. He hadn’t fallen out of a high-rise apartment window or anything fancy like that.") came to me and I started figuring out the character.
2) What I love most about this piece is that I am conflicted about the main character. At times he seems like a good guy, a glimmer of hope in a rather seedy world. But other times, maybe he’s just another bad dude, a drug dealer enabling all these sad people. The climax of this duality is when he makes a run for it with the baby. It’s surprising, and I see several ways of looking at his action. But my question revolves around the creation of that moment? There is a famous Flannery O’Connor line where she admits that in her story "Good Country People" she did not know the Bible salesman was going to steal a women’s wooden leg until a couple lines before he does it. Did you know he was going to try to take the baby all along, or did it just happen when you got into that scene?
I didn't have any idea that this was going to happen when I started writing, but after a couple of different drafts I felt the narrator's loneliness rising up and how lackluster of a parent the mother seems to be and the narrator grabbing the baby and making a run for it seemed like it was really the only option.
3) There’s something about the main character and the world you give us that make me feel this could be something much longer. There’s a lot of depth and complexity that we just get a peek at. Did you always know it would be a flash piece? Have you written this character or this world before? If not, would you?
I don't know if I had an idea of the length at the beginning of this piece but usually plot determines length for me. This story had a couple of plot points I knew I wanted to hit and after I hit them I felt like I should get out before things got bogged down or shifted into a new story. I mean I definitely like this character and would love to explore him more, we'll see if he crops up again!
4) You are quite a prolific short story writer (can’t wait to pick up your latest collection). What is it about the short story as a form that has drawn you to it?
I love the brevity and compactness of short stories, the ability to really polish something until it gleams on both a story and sentence level. There seems like there is a possibility of perfection that can happen in a short story that can't happen in a longer work.
5) What are you working on now, and where can we see more of your writing?
I have a couple of flash pieces out in Pithead Chapel and Fractured Lit this month -- besides that I am slowly pulling together another short story collection.
You can find out more about John at www.johnjodzio.net or on Twitter: @johnjodzio.