Smoking With Darlin’ Neal

Read the Story June 25, 2009

“She thinks of birth, giving birth to herself..” So it begins. Have you ever had such a moment, when you gave birth to yourself?

If I were lucky, I’d be that aware and growing every day. Though when you think about it, it sounds pretty dang painful.

“Trace” has so many meanings here. What role do you see “trace” playing in this piece?

First it was the way the images of the piece began coming to me. And I think she will only be that much of herself now as she moves on from this moment and becomes something else. I also envision a geographical trace outside this house, where she will travel from here, and from where she’s come.

She is “the girl” and he is “another man” and there is, also, “the woman of the house.” How do these “names” define them?

Well, again the girl becoming and the people being close to her and yet mainly strangers and transient in her life, and she is an outsider to this home.

You recently had a gig as the selecting editor for wigleaf’s top 50 [very] short fictions 2009. What did you discover as you read through the 200 or so final stories?

I discovered that Scott Garson has a fine eye for flash fiction and is a dedicated soul to the art form. There were so many stories left out of the 50 that are amazing, so I’m glad he included the list of all 200. I was happy to see the numbers of us out there questioning narrative and pushing it in new directions. It feels like so much is bubbling up and forming. I love the forum for all these voices that the internet is providing. I think it’s hard to pinpoint, but the writer has to find a way out of a piece of flash fiction that sort of completes its shape. When this didn’t happen the fragmentation was less interesting to me, less satisfying. It felt like the voice didn’t quite find its way.

But mostly what I discovered was that I was awed at all the great work, from writers whose work I’d long admired like Stuart Dybek to writers I’m only now discovering like Blake Butler, Matt Bell, Kyle Minor, and, well, go read all those terrific stories!

What’s life like as a professor in an MFA Program?

This is a new program and I’m incredibly excited about embarking with it. If anyone reading this is thinking of getting an MFA, check this program out. You can find “Out of the Garden” by our MFA director, Jocelyn Bartkevicius, online, which is a gorgeous piece of nonfiction. Susan Hubbard, Pat Rushin, Lisa Roney, and Toni Jensen, all teach fiction there. And it’s a beautiful place to live. Orlando is also very dog friendly, which I like.

I had a great MFA model. I had the treasured experience of being a student in the MFA program at the University of Arizona, having those years with writers I admired who were my peers and my teachers, and where our sole focus was on writing. I got to study alongside Kevin Canty, Jana Martin, Kate Bernheimer, Monica Drake, and so many other people who are dear to me and doing wonderful things right now, and to study with the likes of Joy Williams. I’ve had the great fortune of having teachers like Antonya Nelson, Kevin McIlvoy, Mary Robison and Frederick Barthelme. I’m happy that we’re walking around on the planet at the same time, and I think workshop can remind writers of this, that we’re not alone. I’ve already had students whom I’ve kept in touch with for years. I’m excited now to be teaching in a program where writers and editors and teachers are forming, and relationships. I think when you have dedicated writers, the play and conceptualizing of workshop can be magical. I enjoy workshopping at that level, and also being with some of the students from the inception of a book to its finish.

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.