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10 Questions for Jon Hickey

This all happened in one of those good stretches of years, a time I like to call Pax Smiley. It wasn't as bad as the Navy, or the six years I spent at Lino Lakes and various country lockups across the state of Wisconsin. I had that house at the end of Sugar Bush Lane, three big dogs, dish satellite TV, two DVD players, a newish truck of foreign import, and the time to drive far and wide around the state, visiting my people.
—from "Earth Shaker," Volume 61, Issue 4 (Winter 2020)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
When I was eleven, I wrote a play using my grandfather’s Olympic typewriter in the clamshell case. I wrote the play to make money—my brother and I charged a dime from the neighborhood kids for our performance. We pushed around our Terminator and Dick Tracy action figures on an Igloo cooler stage and read the lines off the script. The reviews were less than spectacular and we had to give back many of the dimes we made at the box office, and I didn’t write anything for a long time after that.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Ralph Ellison, Robert Penn Warren, Edith Wharton, Lorrie Moore, Denis Johnson, Louise Erdrich, James Welch, Toni Morrison, Richard Yates.

What other professions have you worked in?
I went to grad school, and after that I was a Stegner Fellow for a couple of years. I taught some classes and took on various academic gigs, and when my son was born, I became a full-time parent. Before all of that, I worked as an in-home care provider for developmentally disabled people, and as a shuttle driver for a hotel. 

What inspired you to write this piece?
I was inspired by misspent time with storytellers of dubious credibility.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I have a few places that feel charged in my imagination: Downtown Milwaukee in the mid-80s. The Lac du Flambeau reservation, driving around with my grandparents in a blue Pontiac Bonneville in 1988. Minneapolis and the University of Wisconsin in the 90s.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
I don’t listen to music while I write, but I do have certain songs that prepare me to get into specific scenes. Lately the playlist is mostly songs you might hear on country or classic rock radio while driving through rural Wisconsin in the early 90s: Ronnie Milsap, Neil Young, Dwight Yoakam, the Rolling Stones.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I try to get the words down as early in the day as possible, and sometimes I get a few words in right before bed. However, my 4-year-old son dictates when and how I write, especially since he’s become more articulate. Someone has to make the Brio trains run on time. So I write whenever the boss isn’t looking. 

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I’d be a songwriter. I’ve played guitar and studied music since I was twelve years old, but the ability to play and the ability to compose are obviously different things. I never wrote enough songs to feel comfortable using that voice. There were also those wild swings between the elation of a good performance and the depression of a bad performance. That said, whenever the writing is going a little slow, I always turn back to music. I still aspire to write a couple of songs I can be proud of.

What are you working on currently?
I’m finishing a novel about politics, power, and corruption on a small Indian reservation in Wisconsin in the era of disinformation and autocracy.

What are you reading right now?
I’m reading The Redshirt by Corey Sobel, Kelli Jo Ford’s amazing Crooked Hallelujah, and I’m looking forward to Brandon Hobson’s The Removed. I’m also rereading Moby Dick and All the King’s Men.

JON HICKEY lives with his wife and son in San Francisco. His work has appeared in the Madson Review, Meridian, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Gulf Coast. He received his MFA from Cornell University and was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. He is a member of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians (Anishinaabe).

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