Diane Simmons grew up in Eastern Oregon and worked as a journalist throughout the West before moving to New York. Her novel Dreams Like Thunder won the Oregon Book Award and her short fiction has been widely published. She is a professor of English at City University of New York.

Short Story Collections

Little America
(Ohio State University Press, 2011)

reviewed by Lauree Westron

Interview with Diane Simmons

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Diane Simmons: Not long, a little over a year. However, the stories drew on work I had done previously. For example, the young woman found in many of the stories was developed to play a role in an (unpublished) novel set in New York City. She was supposed to be the con woman in from the West.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

DS: Not in the slightest. I only thought about a collection when most of the stories were done. I got a week at the Millay artist’s colony in upstate New York and decided I should try to do something special while I was there. So I began looking at my stories to see if they could work together.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

DS: I realized that most of the stories had some kind of "road" motif. People are either on the road or wish they were. I put my favorite story, Little America, first. It’s my favorite because Hank, reminds me of my father. My father wasn’t a con man; he was more like the farmer Hank sees fromhis car window. Still my dad had a wildstreak, a lot like Hank. I put my only prize-winning story, Yukon River (Runner-up Missouri Review Editor’s Prize) last, gambling that if editors got that far, that story might close the deal.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

DS: When I was growing up in Eastern Oregon, the story was a primary means of communicating with people you liked. Stories were supposed to be funny, though the dryer the wit the better. People who couldn’t tell stories—or be funny-- were considered unfriendly or perhaps a bit thick.

TSR: Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?

DS: When I’m writing, no. I’m mostly struggling to see and hear it myself. It would scare me to think about readers at that point.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

DS: What made you laugh? What story of yours does my story prompt?

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

DS: Are they? Bless them!

TSR: What are you working on now?

DS:  I’ve just finished a book-length work of narrative non-fiction about a young woman who was changed beyond recognition by two adrenalin-fueled years in a World War II shipyard,and who as a result found herself in the path of a handsome and gentle serial bigamist. To write this, I’ve drawn on about a thousand letters I’ve inherited, as well as several years of research.
   Now I’m writing stories again. While my first collection was set in the American West, these are set all over: Paris, Dakar and on a train across Canada. They still seem to be mostly about people going someplace.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

DS:  Because people have been telling me I remind them of Alice Munro, I’ve been re-reading her Runaway to see what they might mean by that. Just to scare myself, I recently looked again at Louise Erdrich’s brilliant Love Medicine. And I’ve become acquainted with George Saunders whose people in Persuasion Nation talk like I wish mine would.
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Find out what other authors, from Aimee Bender to Sana Krasikov, said about their collections, what the word "story" means to them, and how it feels to know that people are buying your books! More interviews >>>