I'm excited to interview Maja Zysk, one of our runners-up in our Summer 2022 Flash Fiction contest. Before reading our interview, please read her story Rockwell's Missing Portrait then come on back.
First, here's a bit about Maja:
Maja Zysk is an award-winning fiction writer and poet, with work* appearing in North American Review, Mid-American Review, The Briar Cliff Review, Reed Magazine, and elsewhere. Born in Poland, grown in the Sierra Nevada, and matured in the Valley of the Sun, she currently casts her anchor in the PNW’s Columbia River. When not waltzing with Sasquatch, she wrangles a toadstool princess, chips away at a novel, and ferments things. Maja’s first chapbook of poetry, Soil, was published in 2020 by Finishing Line Press. (*Work published under the name Maja Zmyslowski)
--- Interview by Nicole Pyles
WOW: Congratulations on winning runner-up in our Summer 2022 Flash Fiction contest! Your story was raw, and tragic, but very real at the same time. What inspired this idea?
Maja: The term "latchkey kid" inspired the story. Certainly, there are children who gain independence when unsupervised and it's a positive thing, but there's an element of parental intention and choice that comes into play. There are millions of parents who don't have access to adequate childcare, and my piece was a reflection on that, as well as a commentary on the high cost of medical care, mental health, and how often we only bandage the symptoms rather than treat the root causes of such issues.
WOW: You really reflected the raw reality of that in this story. Did you know the ending before you wrote it or did it take many revisions to get to the ending that was published?
Maja: I'm a pantser, not much of a plotter. The ending surprised me when the words came out. It saddened me, but that was the point I was trying to make: it's not all happy endings out there.
WOW: Absolutely. Excellent point. I love the title of your story. The Rockwell paintings seem to portray this idea of "America as it should be" but your story reflects parts of America in its raw, real form. What inspired you to choose this title and cultural reference?
Maja: I've always been a fan of Americana, and Norman Rockwell's artwork of everyday life shows the best of times. However, the scenes depicted in my story are also everyday life. My husband titled the piece. I didn't have a title and asked him to frame the story for me, and that is what he came up with just seconds after reading it. It's a perfect title, and I don't think the story would be as strong without that exact one.
WOW: It really is the perfect title. What are you working on now that you can tell us about?
Maja: I recently finished a full-length manuscript, a sexy nerdy rom-com focusing on mental health, weird science, and love, of course! I'm in the process of querying agents - woo!
WOW: That's so exciting! I see you also work on poetry and even had a poetry collection published! How does your poetry writing influence your creative writing?
Maja: Poetry is my first love. Whether free-form or structured verse, poetry is like having a bit of magic in your back pocket. You can carry a poem in memory, recite it like a mantra. Applying an economy of language and focusing on sensory impacts is a skill that I've brought over into my creative writing. Poetry lets you play with words, sounds, and images, and this only strengthens a paragraph in longer fiction.
WOW: Great point! So, I'm curious: what surrounds you as you write?
Maja: I romance myself. We're talking candles, flowers, cuppa.
WOW: I love that! Makes sitting down to write like a date with your characters. Do you have a particular writing ritual you like to do that you can tell us about?
Maja: Before I sit down to write for a long stretch, I harness some energy by putting on headphones and dancing to "Paris" by Else. Then I perform a series of yogic breaths and high-five the universe. Tap into that flow state!
WOW: That sounds amazing! I'll have to do that myself. Congratulations again on your story and best of luck on your book!