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No. 6 - Author J.M. Landon’s Two Great Loves
A Long-Awaited Interview
Hey there, Practitioners (that’s right, from now on y’all have a name)! Today’s issue is special, and I’ve been looking forward to making it since the earliest days of this blog. Issue no. 6 is an INTERVIEW with the wonderful J.M. Landon, an author and musician from New Haven, Connecticut! We’ve known each other for about two years, and aside from being one of my best online buddies, he’s someone I’ve entrusted with many of my manuscripts. He’s a great guy, and a terrific artist. Here, Matt and I chat about two of his greatest loves: literature and music.
How are you, Matt? I’m glad we’re doing this. Tell us a little bit about where you are right now.
Hey, I’m pretty good! As I type, I’m on a train to New York for some much needed city-slickering with my girlfriend, and I’m feeling grateful for a way to kill time, outside of further banging my head against the brick wall that is Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49.
You’ve been writing for a number of years and have published some great stories, including Automatic Stop, which appeared in the now-defunct (mac)ro(mic) on April 5, 2021. What got you started writing? And what was the first thing you wrote?
Yes, R.I.P. to (mac)ro(mic)! I sort of shudder to recall this, but my impetus for finally getting serious about writing was the initial Covid lockdown here, in April 2020. But I think I’ve just about shaken the gross opportunist feeling that came with that timeline… In a move of daring greenness, I tried to write a novel. Those were the scariest 80,000 words I’ve ever put to paper, but needless to say, it was a critical learning experience. I worked on that for about a year before realizing I needed to develop my toolkit more deliberately, and that’s when I, by and large, shifted to short stories.
What do your writing habits look like? When and where do you write? And how many times do you revise a story before you put it down, sighing, “well, that’s the best I can do”?
Really dragging out some skeletons from my closet here… I’ll say this: since starting my MFA and moving in with my girlfriend, Lauren, my writing habits don’t look like they used to. For a while, I was waking up as early as 5 or 5:30 a.m., and clocking an hour or so each day before work, but that’s harder to do when you’re sleeping next to someone. That is to say, I haven’t felt right subjecting Lauren to the six to eight alarms that would accompany such an early rise in my particular case. At this point, I just take the time where I can find it. I get out of work nice and early, so I can usually afford an hour or two at the coffee shop, and I love a nice long weekend morning at my desk.
As for revision, this is a really tricky one. Sometimes I feel guilty for letting pieces stagnate after workshopping them and developing grand ideas about directions for revision, but I do think that many of my stories at this point have become more about what I can learn from them than what I can do with them. The more I write, the less confident I feel in my readiness to really push towards regular, active submission, so there are a few stories of mine that I’ve toiled over only to move on from indefinitely. On the other hand, of the six or eight I’ve written this year, there are maybe four that I’m still grinding out and tweaking. When I return to a piece and still feel something of me in it, something maybe a bit clouded, uncertain, I know that there’s more to be done, and if not, well, on to something else!
Are you working on anything now?
I do have two short stories that I’m actively revising with publication in mind. But what I’m working on day-to-day is a story that may end up being something much longer, which is pretty exciting. It’s about a rebellious, self-loathing twenty-year old whose voice of reason comes in the form of his twin brother who died at birth. He’s got major should’ve-been-me syndrome and he sets west on his own to save his family the trouble of his presence, finds an abandoned house to stay in, and ends up pegged as the messiah that a midwestern cult has been waiting for. And that’s just for starters. I’m really looking to take another crack at a novel-length manuscript while I have the luxury of readership that an MFA program represents, and this story feels like it’s got legs to get there, but we’ll see!
All right, now let’s turn to a topic I find really interesting. You’re a writer, but also a successful musician, whose band Wreckage just released a brand-new album, Our Time. And on your blog, you write, “Literature and Music are the two pillars of my life”. How do you think being a musician has influenced your fiction? Have you ever used your knowledge of the music industry in a story?
Ha! Well, as in writing and probably any other art, success in music is quite subjective, but I appreciate the kind words. I’d like to think that my sense of song composition has in some ways translated into understanding the potential narrative arcs for a given story, but a more tangible effect is probably the musicality of language. I’ll never claim to be a poet or much of a poetry reader, but I do think the sound of the words is a critical, sometimes subconscious aspect of good writing, and as a lyricist you’re often forced to consider the sound of words with equal or greater care than the meaning, especially in the world of punk. Of course, when it’s on the page, meaning is paramount, so it’s not a one-to-one translation, but it definitely helps.
As for my knowledge of the industry, all the bands I’ve ever played in have done things in a very underground, DIY sort of way, and that’s actually subject material I’ve been trying to figure out how to use. Punk shows can be violent and unpredictable, and one of the stories I’m revising at the moment is a pretty direct attempt to process some of the darker elements of a local music scene. I'm hoping that I can lean on that material in the future, because while it’s rather commonplace to me, I’ve begun to realize that isn’t the case for everyone else at all.
You’ve put together some great recommendations for music to listen to when writing. And I couldn’t help noticing you’ve included four different versions of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”. Why do you like that piece so much? Does it carry some special significance for you?
Oh man, have I really? That’s unsurprising, but still funny to hear, haha. Let’s see… It really is just the most beautiful song ever written, and it’s also one of the few melodies I can sort of play on the piano. But there’s no particular story. The Martin Jones version in particular is just the absolute classic take, so delicate when it needs to be, and the Susumu Yokota mashup gives it context that allows for a kind of release that even the original doesn’t manage when you come back to that main theme. I’m going to have to put my AirPods in now.
One last question, Matt. What does your family think about you being a writer?
My family has been super supportive of me in any endeavor, but I think my parents were particularly happy to see me return to school for the MFA program rather than an administrative degree or something like that. Because my bachelor’s was in English and Education, I didn’t really get to indulge my creative sense, and it’s liberating to finally do that. And of course, my parents are absolutely blown away to find my two pages of work in some tiny-run indie anthology or whatever, which is cute. They’re like, “They’re printing your work now? You’re really doing it!” But my brother is my biggest supporter, and I think my writing has inspired him to work on his own, which is sort of the greatest support I could ask for.
And that’s it, folks. Thanks for sticking with us to the end! You can find more of Matt’s writing here, and Our Time is available on Spotify at this link. Both of us would be so grateful if you SMASHED the 🫀 button below.
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