JeffsFort – “The Mezzanine”

Comicality: Welcome to another up close and personal interview with Imagine’s featured author of the month! This month, I’m happy to be talking to JeffsFort about his newest submission, “The Mezzanine”! If you haven’t read it yet, go check it out and come back for the ‘behind the scenes’ look! Cool?

Welcome to Imagine, dude! To start things off, I’m really curious as to where the idea for this story came from. How did you come up with it? And is any part of this story taken from personal experience or possible fears of your own?

JeffsFort: Actually, a good amount of it came from a chance encounter on my way to work one day. Just as the story reads, I was running early and had some time to kill. Bought a smoothie, went up to the mezzanine where it was generally quieter and even the fact that I was checking my email. It really is sad how often people will wander from table to table asking for change to buy food and even more sad how used to it happening you become. This particular day, the kid that I watched didn’t fit the usual profile and it got me wondering about what his situation was. I mean we’ve all read stories of some guy coming to the rescue of some kid who is down on his luck. He made it to my table and gave me his pitch and I gave him a what I had in my pocket. He wasn’t interested in any conversation and as much as I wanted to ignore that tell-tale look in his eyes, he was on something. But by the time he had made his way over, I imagined what his story might be and my imagination started to run with it.

Comicality: Wow! Ok. I can imagine that being something that you would remember and be affected by. It sounds like it made an impression on you. Do you think your story might shine a light on something that you want your readers to understand?

JeffsFort: Once it had been written and I had read through it a few times I thought to myself that it could portray the best that could come from the worst. Some kid approaches you out of the blue and asks for help. Sure, there are a ton of factors to that situation but we generally stereotype the person without thinking if we are exposed to it daily, often without thinking about it first. I would hope that after reading this story and the thousands like it sprinkled throughout the web by now, that people may just stop and think: “What if this situation is like the one I read online? What if this person really needs help instead of just wanting it?” That maybe someone who really needs the help may find it because the person they are asking thinks to look deeper. If that happens even once because of my story, I would be so happy, and so proud of that person.

Comicality: What was your writing process like while you were putting this together? Was this particularly challenging for you? Or did you follow the flow and let the words come to you?

JeffsFort: That day, I typed a rough idea of what I imagined could have happened into my phone and throughout the work shift that night, I kept adding to it. I think it was a combination of what I had imagined his situation to be, and what I wished I could have done for him if that was the case, that got me to the point where I just needed to write it. Even if it was just for me. The next day I was back in the same spot but instead of checking my email, I started to type the story out. I let my imagination run as I thought of all the small things that could have happened. Even the woman that scoffed at the man for being so trusting in the story had been real but, as someone who gave this kid the most repulsive look that I have grown accustomed to just ignoring because it was so commonplace.

Comicality: How long have you been writing stories like this, and what would you say that you’ve learned between ‘then’ and ‘now’?

JeffsFort: Well, this is my first attempt at a short story. Following the lead of some really talented authors, I had always been amazed at how impactful a short story can be. I was always convinced that I just wasn’t able to flesh out a believable character in a meaningful situation. My first ever written work was intended to be a short story, but there was too much that I felt I needed to cover if the story was to have any meaning so, it became a 9 chapter story that took forever to finish. In the end I was happy with how it turned out and the message it has. But not until “The Mezzanine” have I ever written an actual short story that felt complete. I think I finally learned to end a story. I know it may sound dumb to a few people, but unless you plan ahead where the journey will end, there is always more that you can write. If you let that become the case you will get overwhelmed. Every other story that I have written seemed to never have an obvious exit strategy until I learned this lesson. Then within a few months, I was able to see where they needed to end and when I finally hit that point, it just felt like it was time to put it to bed. My first story ending was probably the most stunned I’ve ever been with my own work because I was actually happy with it’s ending.

Comicality: Who would you say were some of your major writing influences that you followed when taking a chance of creating your own story? How did you go from ‘doubt’ to ‘dare’?

JeffsFort: So many authors that you could do a separate interview on alone. If I narrowed it down to like a top 5, I would start with Gary Q. of https://garysgarden.net, as he had this unique way of dragging you through the mud right along with his characters and allow you to feel every harsh bump along the way. When you got to the climax in a scene, you would be on the edge of your seat holding your breath right along with his fictional creations. I hoped to create characters that you could genuinely feel for. I loved how that made me feel when reading his stories and how I couldn’t set a reading goal because I HAD to keep reading. Because of his encouragement, I started my first story.

Second, I would need to say ACFan of https://cornercafe.us. It was through Gary Q. that I found his then new story: “Memories”. He was another who was able to trap you in each scene and make you either love or hate a character as if you were right there when the story played out. Over the years, it’s been his story’s mission to gather the like-minded to create their own adventures that ultimately attracted authors who otherwise could have gone unnoticed. It’s become such a large project now and has something for everyone which created a following that just frightens me. Hehehe!

Third would need to be an author named Akeentia who is at https://paddedroom.us. Back when our forum and sites were brand new, Akeentia had been discovered by one of our site owners who started hosting his work. The first of his stories made me feel that if we were to have a fringe group within our community, he would easily become its leader. His work in “The Operant Unconscious Project” would take our readers on a familiar ride of “hope from helplessness” but, it showed an inner struggle that would push its characters beyond their limits of tolerance. It showed the ugliest of humanity in its theme and pulled you into a world where identifying the impossible was the only way for these tortured souls to survive. I fell in love with his style, his use of fantasy as well as sci-fi. His ability to write a scene that was intended to shock or anger or provide relief to his readers as they read was and still is amazing to me. He often makes me feel as though I should be challenging myself. In my stories and in my online life as a whole which I think we all need in life.

Fourth would be The Story Lover over at https://storylover.us. This man has been with us since the very first forum we threw together. He was just a friendly guy who quickly became a friend to everyone. I honestly didn’t know he was an author when I first met him and since then have learned that his imagination is one that I could only dream of being able to control. Like Akeentia, The Story Lover wrote of hope, of struggle, of coming of age, of dealing with life’s struggles…but; he did it in a totally different realm of existence. His ability to create a completely different world of mythical creatures where your brain actually needs to learn a culture different from our own but, struggling with the same issues. It makes me feel even less alone because the big picture you imagine is so much bigger with endless possibilities. I challenge myself when I can to pick one impossibility and find a way to make it possible because of how easy he makes it seem to do so.

Fifth, it’s gotta be said, is actually you. I can feel your cringe, and I almost feel bad! LOL! I found your work before I found any of the others on this list. Each and every one has become my family and I push myself to do right by them by being the best me that I can. You are no exception. Your work when I first found it, helped me begin to pull myself out of a really dark and painful past. Not simply because I could ignore how broken and different I felt but, because the stories you write are all about picking yourself up when you fall. Looking at yourself in the mirror and separating what you see vs. what you believe the world sees was a problem for me that at times was crippling. Most importantly, your work showed me I was not the only one feeling like the outcast in this life; because your stories were drawn from your past. To me, I wanted your strength so I could bring my ‘ugly’ into my work and expose it so others may find inspiration or at least companionship as I did. I am a Gone From Daylight addict today for a different reason than I was back when that story was small enough to be read in under a month. Back then, I related to the situation that “…these characters needed to end their life before their existence began to be tolerable…” and felt that my happiness was just out of reach and would be until my journey finally ended. Today, I pick out the metaphorical rebirth of being turned and relate it to the day when you finally say to yourself “My situation isn’t changing simply because I’m waiting for someone else to swoop in and change it for me”. It was because of your stories that I was able to identify that my stories don’t need to be the square peg in the square hole to tell the tale I want them to. When an idea for a story pops into my head, I challenge myself to come up with more than one way to get that message out. “Is it a gay teen who wants to be accepted? Is it a vampire who wants to reclaim his humanity to be accepted? Is it an abandoned puppy who has been waiting to be adopted and will then feel accepted? Is it that one can of beer in the fridge who is trying to fit in with the 30 pack of Mt. Dew who feels he will never be accepted?” Then I pick the one that keeps my attention.

Comicality: Every writer puts a bit of themselves into their own fiction. If put in this situation, yourself…do you think you would or could make the same decisions as the fictional main character, the way you wrote him?

JeffsFort: Thinking back now, I can’t say that I am absolutely sure it would have played out the exact same way. Sure, if I was approached by some guy who was obviously struggling in a situation that was out of his control, I would want to help if I could. Unfortunately, most people who ‘work’ the station and the streets call it their hustle. If I had a dime for every time I’ve watched someone beg for money for food, and then go inside the store they are working the door at and buy a pack of cigarettes or scratch tickets… You become skeptical and calloused to hard luck stories. These people dress and act the part well, too. So when you see someone not dressed the part, that’s when you begin to suspect that this person’s story may be different. You just need to rely on blind faith. The kid was new to the neighborhood then, but I’ve seen him many times since and he’s still pitching the same story in the same train station.

Comicality: Very true. I’ve seen it many times myself. But suspicious ‘hustle’ aside, I am such a sucker for feel good stories! Hehehe! And you delivered something that truly warms the heart with this one. What would you like your readers to take away from this story once they’ve read it?

JeffsFort: It may have been an imagined backstory for this kid who could have come from anywhere, but too often situations like this one happen in real life. I’d want people, when they are able, to stop and think before redirecting their gaze when someone unfortunate reaches out for help. Sure, so many people abuse the kindness of strangers, but you very well could help to put someone back on the right track if you are able to spot that one in twenty who are in a hopeless situation and just can’t figure out how to get out of it. Especially when it involves someone who just doesn’t have the life experience yet to bounce back from the brink.

Comicality: Do you think your story might shine a light on something that you want your readers to understand?

JeffsFort: Once it had been written and I had read through it a few times I thought to myself that it could portray the best that could come from the worst. Some kid approaches you out of the blue and asks for help. Sure, there are a ton of factors to that situation but we generally stereotype the person without thinking if we are exposed to it daily, often without thinking about it first. I would hope that after reading this story and the thousands like it sprinkled throughout the web by now, that people may just stop and think: “What if this situation is like the one I read online? What if this person really needs help instead of just wanting it?” That maybe someone who really needs the help may find it because the person they are asking thinks to look deeper. If that happens even once because of my story, I would be so happy, and so proud of that person.

Comicality: You once mentioned having a lot of ideas for stories in your head that you never really tackled or that simply fizzled out over time. How do you pick and choose which story makes it on your ‘to do’ list?

JeffsFort: I don’t know that this is the best way but, if an idea that I write down doesn’t hold my attention long enough to make me add notes to it for over a day, I put it aside. I have a project file loaded with these ideas so I keep them all and periodically read through them. If one keeps growing each time I read it, then I attempt an outline and possibly start writing full scenes. If it stays small then the idea just isn’t driving me to work on it. The reason The Mezzanine stuck I think is because part of it did touch on an old idea and the real life situation was the missing piece to make me ‘have’ to write it. Not all ideas find that one thing that makes them a story I feel the need to tell but, no idea is ever completely off the table either.

Comicality: So you definitely have a direct purpose and a lesson to send to your audience with a story like this. That’s amazing. How do you feel about your delivery of it, now that you’ve got a completed short story under your belt?

JeffsFort: Since publishing it, I’ve reread it twice. Partially in shock that I can get to the end and not have this “I should have…” tickle in my brain telling me that it’s not what it was meant to be. For me, that’s a fairly new feeling. I’ve since been challenged to write short stories for holiday events for our community and two more times I was able to come up with an idea, decide what needed to be covered and where it needed to end. Both times, I’d look at the finished project and not believe that I just knew where it ended is where it was supposed to end. Maybe I’m finally maturing as an author. It’s an awesome feeling honestly.

Comicality: Now that you’ve got people’s attention, do you think you might want to write more stories in the near future, and maybe share a bit more of your message with your new fanbase?

JeffsFort: I got an email from a fan not too long ago that made me stop and think about what I was doing for other people by sharing my stories. I have always looked to my inspirations and my mentors online and just wanted to be able to pay it forward like they were. For years, I tried really hard to add something meaningful to that enormous archive that we call the internet and in doing so, I don’t think I ever really felt that I had actually ‘done it’. I mean, I can look back to the beginning and remember never really believing that what we were doing would have any real longevity or value to others like the big name communities; at least not on the same level. Then someone emails me and asks “what’s next?” and I realize, we did do it. I’ve received emails from people thanking me for showing them that you can overcome a bad past and that the journey is not an easy one. Emails that resemble ones I have written myself to authors like the ones I mentioned earlier; all with the same messages: “I can’t wait to see what’s next” and “I wish I could do what you do”. I was the fan, I am the fan. I’m not supposed to have fans. Knowing that all these years later, these stories are still bringing in new readers who are looking for the same things I was, I want to identify what the next step was for me that was just beyond the ‘finding my way’ phase because I want to share it. I do want to write more of what tells my story but, one that can continue to support and inform. I’m getting better at choosing the right path in life but that was after many, many hard lessons. Maybe in continuing to tell that story, I can help someone avoid making the same mistakes or, help them to identify their self-worth without that need to be validated.

Comicality: Well, I certainly hope that you keep at it and continue to make a positive impact on your fans who are eager to see more of your work. Thanks for the interview. You have been a close friend to The Shack Out Back for many years now, and I wish you all the best in the future! Love and hugs! Always!

Published August 15, 2018