Darlin’ Neal is the author of the story collection, Rattlesnakes and The Moon (Press 53) which came out this month. Her work has appeared in The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Eleven Eleven, Puerto del Sol, The Pinch, Per Contra, Smokelong Quarterly, elimae, and dozens of other magazines. Among her awards are a Literary Arts Fellowship in Fiction from the Mississippi Arts Commission and a Henfield Prize. Her work has been included in Best of The Web 2009 and Online Writing: The Best of The First Ten Years, and has been nominated numerous times for the Pushcart Prize. She lives in Jensen Beach and Orlando, Florida, where she holds an assistant professorship teaching in the MFA and undergraduate Creative Writing Programs at the University of Central Florida.
What book are you closest to?
This question makes me think of the books I first loved as a child. My mother had me reading Dickens and Hawthorne and the Brontes by the time I was nine. I remember very vividly though reading True Grit when I was eight and jumping up in the middle of the night on my bed wanting to run and tell everyone I knew what I wanted to do with my life, that I wanted to write books. I loved those main characters and that story so much. Then it was Tolstoy while I was a teenager, a long obsession. All the lines that would give me chills because of their perfection. All the big questions considered through character. Anna Karenina is very much an influence that remains, and a model. Jesus’ Son. The Time of The Doves. I can’t pick just one. But these are all books I’ll read and read again.
Do you have/have you had a mentor/mentors?
My first mentor would probably be my mother and all that reading and love of the classics. More officially Kevin McIlvoy. I took a class from him and it set my course toward studying fiction, right when I was closing in on finishing my Bachelor’s in Psychology and Journalism. So I started with that treasure of a teacher and my luck in that regard has continued. My second college mentor in writing was Antonya Nelson. I had the great experience of working in an independent study course with her on my first novel while I was still new at it all. She and Kevin McIlvoy are still there with me in various ways when I write, he in ways to open the paths to mystery, she especially when in deepening that sense as I revise. In Tucson, while I was working on my MFA, I studied most with Joy Williams who was so good at conceptualization and just a wonderful presence to be around. In Mississippi, Mary Robison who sort of saved my life as a writer through the connection we made, and Frederick Barthelme from whom I learned more about story form than anyone, I think. All of these, from my mother on, are great presences to have in my life as a writer, and I’m happy that we’re all walking around on this earth at the same time.
What methods to you use to get creatively “unstuck”?
Just getting going. Sitting down with a pen and paper. I handwrite just about everything first. I’m in a group in Zoetrope that helps a lot. Trying to clear the deck of all the things that are piling up too so I can focus without distractions. Sometimes that’s the hardest part, to not let teaching or other deadlines get in the way, worry over loved ones.
What are your favorite web sites?
By far, Zoetrope where I’ve found such a wonderful community of writers these last several years, and where I’ve been able to keep in touch with so many dear friends on an intimate level. I’m enjoying Facebook lately. And I really like to read the Rumpus blogs. My dear friend Sue Henderson’s LitPark.
What are you working on now?
I’ve been working on a memoir about my experiences growing up and traveling so much, about time in Mississippi and New Mexico. It’s very much centered on my relationship with my mother and the mystery of her life before me, the secrets she had and their power over us, the undeserved shame. I’m on my way right now to see her as she’s very ill and dealing with the crazy family dynamics, my troubled father mainly and the way he puts so many barriers between us all, in his need to control and the bizarre ways he deals with insecurity toward education and poverty. I don’t know if I’ll need to write on something else for awhile, but I do have a related novel that I put aside that I may start working on again. It’s a novel that I’d like very much to finish as a gift to my mother. This summer I’ll be working with Dorothy Allison at the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference and I can already feel these two projects fighting for attention for the work I will be most focused on while I’m spending time in the New Mexico of my childhood.
I’m also preparing my finished novel to send to an agent today and working on lining up readings and all for my short story collection, Rattlesnakes & The Moon, that just came out this month.
Can you tell us about one of the stories from your new collection Rattlesnake & The Moon?
I’ve included stories from a range of time in my collection. I wrote “Lafayette” when I was in my 20s. I consider it and “A Man Wrapped In Gold,” which is also in the collection and written about the same time, two of my firs tbreak through stories. Both helped me win a Henfield Transatlantic Review Award in Arizona. A later version of “Lafayette” also won the Joan Johnson award at the University of Southern Mississippi, and was one of a dozen finalist stories for Playboy’s College Fiction Contest. It took a long time but finally found a home at The Gingko Tree Review. I had lost my best friend not too many years before I wrote it when we were both in Louisiana. The story is certainly fiction but that grief is one of the things that drove the writing. The baby girl in it used to be a baby boy. It was originally titled “Dead Armadillos” which Kevin Canty pointed out sounds a lot like it should be the name of a punk rock band from Texas.
The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is an editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and her stories and poems have been published widely. She blogs at http://megpokrass.com.