10 Questions for Jill Maio
- By Abby MacGregor
“One at a time, the men emerged; their arms were dense with tattoos, earlobes deformed by gappers, noses pierced by silver rings. They looked, Annie thought, like they’d given up on being human, had begun transforming themselves into whatever came next.”
—from “All Ink and Metal”, Fall 2018 (Vol. 59, Issue 3)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
Most early work is probably best forgotten. Although when I was six I wrote stories about a brilliant detective (who also happened to be a six-year-old girl) and I remember thinking they were very good.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Deborah Eisenberg was my teacher in grad school, and I return to her stories again and again and again. Also Denis Johnson—I read his final book of stories as slowly as possible in order to savor it.
What other professions have you worked in?
For the last thirteen years I’ve worked as an aerialist (silks, trapeze, etc.), performing, teaching, and for nine years running my own teaching studio in Boston. Before that, many of the usual suspects: teaching English, grant writing, waitressing, plus theater carpentry, house painting—things like that.
What inspired you to write this piece?
This piece belongs to a story collection inspired by life in and around a skateboarding compound in rural Appalachia. I spent a lot of time there, and wondered about the kids growing up nearby. What if your options seemed to be, on the one hand, your sickly, joyless mother, and on the other hand, the unimaginative and unremarkable other kids in high school. But then, in this particular area there’s a third thing—a bunch of punked-out Lord-of-the-Flies men up in the hills, and they frighten and compel you in equal measure.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I’m a sucker for places! Most of all, I like a place you have to puzzle out, learning its secrets in order to navigate. I mentioned this rural skateboarding compound where several of my stories are set. Also, I just moved back to Seattle, where the novel I’m working on takes place. But it’s set in the nineties—when I lived here as a coffeehouse-haunting teenager—so in 2018 I keep walking around, squinting, trying to re-imagine the pre-internet, pre-boom Seattle that rattled my cage twenty-five years ago.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
When I can’t focus, I love to blame it on external things like the music being too distracting. So I have a shoegaze playlist that is beyond reproach.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
Usually, I just make or buy a huge amount of coffee in a thermos. If the coffee is not piping hot, I drink it too quickly, and it’s hard to keep working when it’s gone. I do my best, most free-flowing writing when in motion, so I will sometimes ride a regional bus or train somewhere for no other reason.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
I have a small, very supportive and very talented writing group. We’ve been meeting for years at a quiet dive bar in Boston, but since two of us have recently moved away, we’re exploring online video meetings. (I’m 3 hours behind on the west coast, so on workshop days I’m also exploring mid-afternoon drinking.)
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
Music! I would play sweet guitar licks that make all the boys swoon! But seriously, I imagine being part of a band would allow the collaboration that is largely absent from a writer’s life. Plus, playing live you’d reach your audience in real time; you’d all be living in the moment together. That’s not something I get to do as a writer.
What are you reading right now?
“Watermark,” by Joseph Brodsky. It’s a book of gorgeous vignettes from the many winters he spent in Venice.
JILL MAIO’S work has appeared in Ploughshares, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Third Coast, among other journals. Her story “Tallying,” published in the Los Angeles Review, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Jill holds MFAs in Creative Writing from the University of Virginia and Boston University, and is a 2018 recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Artist Fellowship in Fiction. Also a professional aerialist, she is the founder/director of an aerial arts school in Boston.