Sunday Jul 14

JonSindell Jon Sindell is a humanities tutor and a writing coach for business professionals. His flash fiction collection, The Roadkill Collection, was released by Big Table Publishing in November 2014. Jon’s short fiction has appeared in over seventy publications. His novel The Mighty Roman Baseball Blast  is a fast, funny, thought–provoking novel, he claims, about baseball and the modern American man. Jon curates the Rolling Writers reading series in San Francisco, and ends his author bios with a thud.


Jon Sindell interview with Karen Stefano

“Soft Spot,” “Victory Torch,” “The Walker,” and “Buddha On The Rail” are each gems, calling out the pathos of life so concisely, so extraordinarily. There are some terrific, stunning lines in these stories that feel perfectly timed:

“He said Dad didn’t want me. How the hell would he know?”

“Her dad lit his victory cigar with the rolled–up acceptance letter, and her mom was just too pleased to complain.”

“Jessie studied instructional dulcimer videos in the high elevations of stuffed lecture halls and IM’d Mel with emoticon hearts to soften her corrections of Mel’s countrified grammar.”

“As he walked he considered the briefness of life, the ugly blacktops that covered up nature, and the ugly metal hulks that killed the bird songs and severed the walkways. So unbearably, so unspeakably dumb.”

"And a poetry slam is what, once again?

What was the inspiration for each of these stories?

Karen, thank you for the kind words, and for quoting the lines above. I never know what will connect with readers, and it’s always fun to find out.

“Soft Spot” is based on an incident when a father at the ballpark was seated in such a way as to reduce his chance of protecting his baby from a line drive. Obviously, a baseball to an infant’s head could kill. It was suggested that he and the mother switch places so that the father, equipped with a baseball glove, would be better able to shield the child. Happily, the couple changed places—but unhappily, they switched back to the same disadvantageous configuration later. The story is a speculation on the psychology of a father who would risk his child’s safety for the sake of his pride.

“Victory Torch” grew out of the Richard Hugo House’s Friday Fiction Twitter prompt. In relation to my tweet, this 313–word flash is an epic! The prompt had to do with runaways, so I decided to write about a young woman running away to college and away from parental pressure.

“The Walker” was inspired by my own long daily walks. On one such walk I was listening to the Tao Te Ching, and was struck by the line: “He who is skillful walks the land without having to shun the rhinoceros, for in him there is no place of death.” At every corner, I cross a street a short distance from a major boulevard, and many of those streets feed into signals which cruising drivers wish to catch. Frequently my path places me on a collision course with drivers. The vast majority yield to me, since I am in the crosswalk with the right of way, but a small minority appear willing to cut me off in the interest of making their green.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become decreasingly tolerant of the selfish behaviors people routinely indulge in. That includes endangering walkers’ lives for the sake of a green. So I imagined a walker determining that he would live in accordance with pure principle, taking neither more, nor less, than his due.

But The Walker isn’t me. I yield to rhinos.

“Buddha on the Rail” was adapted from my unpublished novel Trips `n’ Trials of a Down, Beat Dad, and was inspired by the poetry scene in San Francisco in the early days of spoken word. Not every performer deserved the epithet Head scrawls on a napkin for the last reader: Poet. Few do.

Not everyone can write flash fiction. What makes a flash piece work?

The form is so concentrated. I always tell my writing students, when you simmer soup, water steams off, and what remains is richer than before. Same with sauce reductions. And espresso, I guess. Can you tell I write in cafés?

For me, revising is one of the great pleasures of writing. It’s a thrill to see a six–hundred–word draft reduced to four–hundred words, and it’s a never–old revelation to see that the shortened version is better. The discipline of writing with concision has improved my long stories, novels, and essays.

Why do you write fiction?

It is deeply gratifying to discover something true and to reveal it through story.

It is a thrill to revise a story thirty times, and then to read the finished product. I love this line from Cyrano: “When I make a line that sings, I pay myself a thousand times.”

I love how writing challenges many of my faculties at the craft level, and my very humanity at the deepest level. I seek to write with compassion and understanding, and that’s a big challenge. Writing disciplines me to be a better person.

What have you read recently that you absolutely loved? (And why did you love it?)

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. This is the fictional memoir of an aging British butler, and it represents a master at the height of his powers. It is such a soft, quiet book, and such a tender exploration of a human heart. It awes me. I’m rereading it now.

You’re a writing coach for business professionals and also the author of a forthcoming flash fiction collection. How do you integrate those two worlds in your life?

Whether writing a novel, a flash story, or a business report, concision is essential. I love teaching students the paradoxical truth that writing improves from reducing (see food talk, above).

In addition to teaching business professionals, I tutor students from middle school through grad school in the humanities, including history and literature—which means I get to read bits and pieces of the literary canon, on the job, six days a week. For a writer, it could not be much better.

What inspires you in this life?

People who are truly committed to treating others with compassion. I work hard on it, and it isn’t easy. Abraham Lincoln and my wife Kathy are my greatest heroes for their outsized hearts.

Karen, I’d like to thank you, Meg Tuite, and the entire Connotation Press staff for sharing my work and allowing me to share my thoughts. CP is a magazine I’d hoped to appear in many years ago—and now I feel all grown up!

We’re delighted to have you, Jon! Thank you for sharing your terrific work –and be careful in those crosswalks!

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