“I find it hard to be in one voice while I’m writing.” Maria Adelmann shares with Zibby why she loves writing (and reading!) short stories, and how her latest collection of stories, Girls of A Certain Age, came to be.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Maria. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Maria Adelmann: Thank you for having me. I’m really excited.

Zibby: Girls of a Certain Age is a collection of stories. Why don’t you tell listeners what inspired you to put this collection together and what, in general, this whole collection is about?

Maria: The collection is thirteen stories. The narrators are all women. They’re all told in the first person. I would say the overarching themes are, it’s about the complexities of modern girl and womanhood, what it means to live in the female body, and also how people deal with different kinds of loss, regular losses in life. I wrote a lot of it in my twenties. A lot of it was partially me figuring things out as I went along. It turned out that a lot of the stories had similar themes. They kind of fit together in this collection.

Zibby: Beautiful. I know you got your MFA. Was this part of your program? When did you do this? When did you start writing the essays?

Maria: Some, actually the very first drafts of, I wrote in college. Then I got a job and stopped writing. Then I went to an MFA program just to get some time to write. A lot of the stories I wrote there and then a few of them afterwards.

Zibby: Wow. I have to tell you, the one that has stuck with me the most — although, I really liked a lot of them. The one about Flower, the dog, and the kick in the shin to the woman and the truck and the twist at the end that I kind of didn’t see coming even though it was only a two-page story and just the intensity of that story and what it meant about abuse and a relationship, oh, my gosh. You fit a lot into one little story, and over and over and over again. I just keep thinking about this half pit bull and the van and the pickup truck and the diner.

Maria: Thank you. I appreciate that. That story is actually funny because I started it with this idea that a woman would find — you know how people toast their bread and they see Madonna or something in the toast? I thought this woman would see Jesus in her toast and she’d want to keep the toast. That was my idea for that story. I wrote about that. Then it turned out the story was really about her relationship and this dog and abuse. I kept calling the file “Jesus Toast Story.” Slowly, there was no Jesus in the story. There was no toast. It was a completely different story, but the file was still called that.

Zibby: Amazing. Also, the first one, “Only the Good” about Hugh and all of that, when you wrote the sentence, I was like, this is so perfect. You said, “I heard a snippet of Landslide. Songs were like tarot cards. You could always find a way to see yourself.” I loved that because I feel like it’s so true. Every song, I’m like, oh gosh, this song is perfect. Oh, my gosh, this is a perfect reflection on whatever. Songs are like tarot cards. Tell me about that. I loved that analogy. It’s so true. Just tell me a little bit about choosing that analogy and sentence and all of that.

Maria: I think that has a lot to do with reading and writing. You have to leave space in the text for people to see what they want to see and see part of themselves in the story or the poem or whatever. I listen to songs all the time. That’s about me. That’s about this. Someone else will listen and think it’s about something else.

Zibby: What are some of your favorite types of music? What do you like to listen to?

Maria: I listen to a lot of sixties music, older songs. Then I say music is one of the art forms I know almost nothing about. I want to keep it that way because I don’t want to be able to judge it. I read a book and I think, ugh, I don’t like this. It’s not my style. I just want to stay completely nonjudgmental about music so I can listen to my Taylor Swift and not worry about whether it’s good or bad.

Zibby: I love that. It’s sort of, an unexamined art gives you even more benefit. Tell me about your process of writing. I know you started these essays a long time ago. When you sit down to write a story — obviously, they change over time as you already have said. Where do you like to write? How do you fit it into your regular life? Do you wait for inspiration? Do you say, Saturday mornings, I’m going to go to a coffee shop and write? How does writing fit into your life?

Maria: At some point, I was working a full-time job right after college. I didn’t have any time to write. There was just no way. I didn’t have enough energy, really. I wasn’t going to ever fit it in. That’s why I went to the MFA program. After that, I decided to freelance so I could spend half my time writing and half my time making some money. I try to leave my mornings for writing now, is my goal. I don’t know how sustainable that is long term. I try to write in the morning when I have the most energy. Where I write, I have almost always lived in shared spaces. My desk is right now in the living room, which is also the dining room. I don’t tend to be too picky about that. I’ll write in cafés or just at home or wherever I can manage it. That’s the logistics.

Zibby: Amazing. You also wrote in your story “Pets are for Rich Kids” — which is a really interesting title. Got to love it. You named one of the characters Susie Cakes. That is my all-time favorite bakery in California. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it or seen it. You have to do something with the publication with SusieCakes now because it’s amazing. Just letting you know.

Maria: I had no idea that was a bakery. In the story, that’s a potbellied pig. I just love pet names, can be so funny. I actually did 4-H with potbellied pigs. There was a potbellied pig named Oreo. I was thinking of that and somehow got to Susie Cakes which I just thought was funny.

Zibby: When we stop this podcast, you have to go and google SusieCakes. If you ever end up in the California area — they also, I think, have stores in Texas, not to keep talking about this. They have this — what’s it called? A marble cake. It’s amazing. Anyone listening who’s in California and who has not gone to SusieCakes, you must go. I should make them a sponsor. Anyway, it’s one of my favorites, I have to say. Also, in the story when — I’m forgetting the names here. I think this was still the story about Hugh. Someone’s brother comes back from the military. Am I getting this right? Was it Leeann, or is that the other story? No, different story. I can barely even keep my kids’ names straight, let alone the thirteen sets of characters in your book, but I have the stories in my head. When her brother comes home and she opens the door and thinks, who is this person? he won’t even let her hug him, even though they’re siblings, after he gets home from Afghanistan. He says, “Not in the uniform.” He carefully goes and hangs it up and then comes back. She’s like, “How about now?” He’s like, “Okay, now is fine.” Then they kind of cuddle as she goes through this horrific abortion, essentially. That was another really moving story. Tell me a little bit about the military aspect. It seemed so real. Do you have experience with somebody who has come from a deployment? How did you decide to incorporate that element?

Maria: There’s a few of my stories that incorporate someone going to or coming home from war. My brother was in the military for ten years, in the air force. His best friend was also in the military. That’s where that comes from. That story is made up, but there’s a sibling relationship that is close. You see the tension in that scene. “No, you can’t hug me now.” The sister is waiting. “Okay, now can we hug?” There is sometimes that kind of tension with sister-brother relationships. I was just exploring what it means to have a family member leave for a long period of time and be in an unsafe situation and how it feels for the people who are left behind. There’s another story about a wife whose husband has been deployed. That’s how I got to exploring that theme.

Zibby: Your brother, is he still deployed? Is he back?

Maria: He’s in the US. He’s out of the military now.

Zibby: I know you captured this feeling in the stories, but tell me what it’s like to have someone you love — I know you have little details. You’re always checking the time and wondering where they are and things like that. Tell me a little more about that feeling. Just tell me what that’s like living with the knowledge that somebody you love is at such risk.

Maria: He wasn’t deployed for very long. Actually, he was stationed mostly in the US. That, I feel lucky for. It just leaves you sort of nervous all the time. I think, actually, there’s probably a similar feeling a lot of people are feeling now with high-risk relatives in COVID times and not being able to see them. You’re always wondering, are they okay? Even now, I want to call my family all the time just to make sure people are okay. That’s kind of the feeling when you have someone in a situation that’s dangerous and you can’t get to them.

Zibby: What are you hoping for? This book is coming out in February. I’m sure I’ll be releasing this right when it comes out. Although, we’re doing this ahead of time. What is the game plan for you? Do you want to just write forever? Do you want to do more full-length novels? Do you want to keep doing stories? What’s your wish list? I feel like you’re still so young. There’s so much to do. What’s on your bucket list in the writing area?

Maria: I don’t feel so young. I feel like I need to make those decisions soon. I really love the short story. I love reading the short story. They notoriously do not sell as well as novels. I’m working on a novel right now. That’s the next hurdle I have in front of me. Personally, I hope for a creative life, whether that’s other arts or writing or both. If I can help it, I don’t want to be tied to a full-time job. I want to be creating as much as I can. That’s already a pretty big ask, I think.

Zibby: I love that. What advice would you have to aspiring authors?

Maria: There’s a lot of advice that everyone says that it often seems true. Read a lot. Kill your darlings, etc. Something that really stuck with me is a visiting writer at UVA — I don’t remember who it was. They said a lot of writers do it right, but they don’t do it well. I think that means that you can write something that’s technically perfect that can sort of lack the heart and energy of someone on a journey of discovery. It’s sort of like, Netflix right now puts out a movie, a movie, a movie every second. They’re good. Nothing is wrong about them, but they lack that heart and energy. I think that that is one of the most important parts of writing, is less trying to get it perfect and just instead, trying to find the heart of the story.

Zibby: Amazing. What are you reading now? What do you like to read?

Maria: I love reading short stories. I just finished Black Light. Have you heard of that one?

Zibby: Mm-mm. (negative)

Maria: It was nominated for some prize last year. It was a really good collection of stories, all of them about female characters mostly. That was really good. I read some nonfiction. I do read some novels once in a while. I find it hard to be in one voice while I’m writing, so I find it easier to read a short story where you can get into a voice, get out of it. Then if I’m not writing, I’ll start into the novels a little bit more.

Zibby: Interesting. Love it. Congratulations on this book and the collection of stories. I’m going to be holding my shin in sympathetic pain, empathy, whatever for the story that I can’t get out of my head. It was lovely talking to you. I’m really excited for your book to come out.

Maria: Thank you. Thanks so much.

Zibby: Have a great day. Thanks for coming on. Buh-bye.

Maria: Bye.

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