Smoking With Darlin’ Neal

Read the Story March 15, 2008

There’s a lot of emotion without sentimentality here, a lot of bickering without hostility. It works beautifully to illustrate how this family copes with loss. How do you reign in your work to keep it from becoming over-done?

Thank you. That’s the constant battle isn’t it? That avoiding of falling into the sentimental and keeping true to character experience. For me it’s what I aim for in working to be patient in my staring with and listening through character, working constantly to open myself more to the character experience. I think that sentimentality and unnecessary and distracting adornment come from authorial imposition of judgments that I seek to avoid.

The ending startled me. I didn’t see it coming.

I didn’t either. I’m a writer who lets the moment take me, who often grapples through the unknown with her characters on the way to finding the story. I found myself in the desert, a landscape familiar to me, with the dirtbikes roaring outside, and with this family, and the source of their sadness revealed itself.

What a pleasure to talk with you again, and so quickly! Anything new with you since the last issue of SmokeLong?

I’m planning to teach a four-day workshop in November at this lovely place in Chatauqua, New York. Some readers might be interested in this. Here’s the link.

While reading through the annual Kathy Fish Fellowship applications, I was struck by the number of writers who were using flash as, to paraphrase, a means to an end. Most people weren’t writing flash because they loved the form, because it took them places other types of fiction didn’t. Instead, they were using it as a gateway into longer works—short stories, short story collections, novels. As a champion of flash, I found this discouraging. Is flash fiction less satisfying, in terms of either writing or reading, than longer works? Or is it that the markets still haven’t accepted flash as a legitimate form? Why do you write flash, and where do you see it taking you?

Well, first, Kathy Fish. There’s a delightful master of the form. I found myself initially flirting with the genre on the way to other things—entries into novel sections, longer stories, nonfiction. It still does this, provides me with entry, sometimes, but I’ve grown to have a deeper respect for the form, and love the way it bursts at its boundaries. I think sentences in a good piece of flash fiction are every bit as charged as sentences and lines in a prose poem. I like the blurring of boundaries, the crystallization. There are so many of the best stories that I think we forget sometimes might fall into that categorization, like Mary Robison’s “Yours,” which is something like 732 words and unforgettably beautiful and meaningful. So, sure I see it leading me into other works sometimes, but I also see it as a legitimate and wonderfully subversive and versatile form in and of itself. What started out as flirtation has grown into a pretty solid and engaging relationship with the form that I’ll be continuing. I sense that there are still so many places it can take me and so much more it can teach me about narrative possibilities.

About the Author:

Darlin' Neal's story collection, Rattlesnakes and the Moon, was a 2008 finalist for the New Rivers Press MVP award and a 2007 finalist for the GS Sharat Chandra Prize.In the last three years, her work has been nominated seven times for the Pushcart Prize, and appears in Per Contra, The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Puerto del Sol and numerous other magazines. Her nonfiction piece, "The House in Simi Valley," which first appeared in storySouth, has been selected for the forthcoming anthology, Online Writing: The Best of The First Ten Years and Wigleaf chose her short story, "Red Brick," which appeared first in Smokelong Quarterly as one of the top fifty short shorts on the web in 2008. She has work forthcoming in Eleven Eleven and Dogs: Wet and Dry, A Collection of Canine Flash Fiction, and other magazines. She is assistant professor of creative writing in the University of Central Florida's MFA program and this year's final judge for Wigleaf's Top 50 Flash Fiction.