National Short Story Month to heart and condensed its celebration down to seven days. All this week, I'll have guest posts from some of the best writers of contemporary short-form fiction...and one dead author who will report from beyond the grave. Today's guest is Darlin’ Neal, author of the story collections Elegant Punk and Rattlesnakes & The Moon, both available from Press 53. Ron Currie Jr. (author of Everything Matters!) had this to say about her latest book, Elegant Punk: "Neal's stories are little starbursts of ferocity and heartache. Just when you think you have to look away, they make you laugh a bit, make you cock your head with intrigue, and draw you right back in." Neal's short stories, essays, poems, and reviews have appeared The Southern Review, Shenandoah, The Mississippi Review, Puerto del Sol, and Best Of The Web (among many others). Her first collection, Rattlesnakes & The Moon, was nominated for numerous awards including The Story Prize and The Pen Faulkner Award.
That Moving, Malleable Form
I love the form, how malleable it is, how varied are its masters. I think of how swiftly Mary Robison can get you in and out. She was a master of flash long before we were talking about flash and it became much the rage. Antonya Nelson, William Trevor, Alice Munro; they so often write stories that feel like novels in the breadth of the worlds created. I heard someone recently refer to the short story as a lesser form to the novel which seems quite ridiculous when you think of it, the precision involved, the poetry. I think of my early influences: Flannery O’Connor, Grace Paley, Tillie Olsen, how unforgettable all that work. I can read them again and again and always find something new to admire and be awed by. I read “I Stand Here Ironing” at different points in my life and find not so much something familiar as a story that moves me more deeply each time I read it.
I grew up with what you might call a fractured life from all the moving I did, constantly separated from friends, far from family I loved, immensely close to my mother and those right there with me, my baby brothers. I felt the violence of being displaced over and over again. The shorter form can evoke this sense best perhaps and that’s one of the draws for me. The immediacy of the space reflects the immediacy of the small spaces I grew up in, a tiny kitchen or living room with my mother, in the backseat of the car with my brother, an old Chevy pickup with all of us in the truck bed with the wind flying over us while passing strangers wave, contained like a short story, with all that larger world out there spinning around. A novel might try to ease the unease of certain transitions. I think a short story collection evokes that unease often as we move from one life to the next, one realized metaphorical movement to the next. At least that’s the feeling I get for my latest collection and what I found I was putting together there in between spaces of the stories. I am interested in the poetry of short stories as well as the narrative. I’m interested now in marrying the forms of flash and novel into memoir to see how I might work with that to create a sense of certain experiences.
Author photo by Sara Floyd