One of our nonfiction readers, Alex Carroll, recently had this exchange with Issue #29 featured author Jordan Floyd. Here’s what he had to say about his literary influences (including Joan Didion and Lil Peep), his experiences growing up in Utah, his current work as a playwright, and more.
Your essay, “Goodbye to All That,” is quite captivating. What prompted you to write about a former Salt Lake City madam, Belle London?
The moment in which I wrote this essay, to be very frank, was quite pathetic and filled with too much self-indulgent sorrow and groveling. When I found out about Belle London through research that was tangential to my creative work, I became obsessed with her story and went to her, so to speak, to confront my own reality. Just like the moment in the essay when I imagine going to Belle London on Regent Street, writing “Goodbye to All That” was a chance for me to answer for my infidelity.
What do you hope people take away from this essay?
I want to say that I hope people leave my essay thinking, “Damn—I’ll never be an asshole to anyone I love,” but I don’t know if that’s the best answer here.
Speaking more seriously, I hope people find Belle London fascinating, and I hope I’ve represented her history with care and respect. I hope the same thing for St. Mary’s in The Mountains. Anything more is hard to say. I wrote this essay for me, and I wrote this essay to confront myself. I’ve taken a lot away from writing the essay and I think that learning something about myself and claiming my mistakes was the only outcome I actually had in mind. If anybody comes across my essay and takes something of value from it, then that’s a lovely bonus.
I’m interested in how you structured this essay. You’ve taken a braided approach—that is, you thread several past and present narrative lines into a cohesive whole. What drew you to make this choice for this particular essay on a former madam, your grandmother, and your relationship?
I’ve found that my writing is habitually associative and lyrical. The braided essay is a fabulous form for both of those ends. I set out to write a braided essay but I did not really know what its content would be. In a way that reflects the function of a braided essay, three separate parts of my life became significant simultaneously. I had no other choice, it seemed to me, but to try and make sense of them on the page.
What advice do you have to other creative nonfiction writers concerning how they develop and settle on an authorial voice that is distinctly theirs?
I feel as if I am in no place to give any sort of advice to anyone, especially on writing. The fact that my voice feels distinct is likely due to an obnoxious obsession I have with sounding original. Originality, of course, is a fantasy, but alas—here I am pursuing it. I find myself miming a lot of my favorite writers, which is very contradictory to say in a paragraph where I’ve also admitted to wanting to be wholly original. I try to make my prose wild like Hunter Thompson’s. I try to be smart and flowing on the page like Joan Didion. I try and write things that don’t sound boring. Maybe that’s it. Unless my writing—the words, pacing, tone, arrangement, and so on—excites and intrigues me, I think it sucks. I’m not sure if that answers the question, but that’s what I’ve got.
You also mention Joan Didion in your essay. What do you find inspiring about Didion’s work? What other authors influence your writing?
Didion is, in my lay and slightly hyperbolic opinion, the GOAT (greatest of all time). “Goodbye to All That” kills me. “At The Dam” kills me. The Year of Magical Thinking obliterates me. Her work is so astoundingly honest, and pretentious-yet-undeniably-loveable, and sad. Fewer things in writing are more valuable to me than dynamic sadness.
Certainly, my writing is influenced by other writers, but what I think is most interesting is the way I’m influenced by artists that work in other media. Particularly, I draw a lot of inspiration from and find myself influenced by skateboarders and skate videos (yes, skateboarding, in my opinion, is a performance art). Elissa Steamer’s part in “Welcome to Hell” is a whimsical tragedy played out on a skateboard in a short minute and thirty seconds. Jim Greco’s “The Way Out” displays his harrowing struggle with addiction and the way he overcame it on a skateboard. The associative and image-heavy nature of a skate video and the raw abandon of the art of skateboarding, generally, are things that I try to emulate in my work.
How much does the history of Salt Lake City (or history in general) inspire your writing?
“Goodbye to All That” was the first time I had seriously been inspired by and written about Salt Lake City and its history. Since writing the essay, however, and since moving to Ohio for graduate school, I’ve found myself writing pieces that almost exclusively involve Salt Lake City. It’s cheesy as hell to say, but Salt Lake City permeates my being. It’s my home. It’s part of my essence.
What other topics or themes do you find you’re most interested in exploring through your work?
Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the recently deceased clout rapper Lil Peep. Apart from enjoying (guiltily) his music, I’ve found the persona he created and left behind to be arresting. Peep’s brand of confessionalism, rejection of aesthetic norms, and indulgences are wonderfully tragic and a work of art in themselves. Talking about him in those inflated, academic-like terms feels stupid to do, though. Peep’s music, colloquially, slaps. It’s awful that he died young and at an age that’s very close to my own. I think that’s why I’m trying to write about him. I’m sure I’ll figure it out.
Aside from Peep, I’ve begun to try and write about my experiences growing up Mormon. Its history and the distinct culture it has created in Utah are fascinating. I did nineteen years hard time as a clean-cut little Mormon boy—I’m hoping I can make sense of it one day.
How do you mine your own life for writing topics? What is your process for this creative examination?
My experience with finding topics to write about from my life until now hasn’t been so much a process of mining. Instead, I’ve found myself meeting a demand. “Goodbye to All That,” in particular, demanded to be written. Or at least, if I wanted to write at that time, I knew I had to write about my experience with Georgia. I’ve found that this has been a trend in my writing. I write about what’s got energy and what jumps at me. It’s a creative process in the sense that I have to address that sort of energy—the energy a moment or feeling carries—capture it, mold it, and rework it until it’s something beautiful or fun or exciting. I rarely get it, the energy, into a beautiful, fun, or exciting form, but I’m trying like hell all the time to do it.
Since we’ve grown out of a writers’ workshop, we like to ask: what was your most memorable workshop experience? What’s the importance of feedback for you? How do you incorporate it (or not) into your work?
I can’t say I have any specific days or stories from a workshop to share, but I can say I loved the three workshops I took from Jennifer Sinor at Utah State University. Her care for student work is astounding.
I love getting feedback. I have a hard time approaching my work with fresh eyes, so to speak. Without feedback I know I would miss so many things in my writing, whether good or bad.
The way I incorporate feedback into my writing depends on the type of feedback. Sometimes I get feedback that is very particular about things like syntax and diction. Incorporating that kind of feedback is easy; it’s just a matter of changing a poor word for a better one or making an awkward sentence clear. The other kind of feedback I most often get deals with the idea of the piece, generally, or the ideas/images inside the piece. Addressing those kind of comments are much more difficult and often, in my experience, require that I start over in some way, whether it’s writing a completely new sentence, paragraph, or essay.
What are you working on now?
I’ve started writing plays. I hate saying it, though, because I feel that every time I talk about it the fact that I haven’t yet actually finished a play becomes more and more apparent. That kind of pressure is paralyzing. Additionally, I’m a total theater fraud. I’ve read a handful of Shakespeare plays and more Sam Shepard than I’d like to admit, but that’s the extent of my knowledge of drama. I suppose publishing an admission that I’m writing plays is counter to all that I’ve said prior. Oh well. I’m writing plays dammit. I am writing plays.