Darlin' Neal is a native Mississippian who spent her childhood traveling New Mexico and attending 13 different grade schools. After completing degrees in Psychology, Journalism and English at New Mexico State, she left Las Cruces and headed for Tucson. Upon finishing her MFA at the University of Arizona, she returned to Mississippi in search of her roots. In 2001 she completed a PhD at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers. Among her awards are a fiction fellowship from the Mississippi Arts Commission, a Henfield Transatlantic Award, New Mexico State University’s Frank Waters Fiction Fellowship, and the Joan Johnson Award from the Center for Writers. Her work has appeared in The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Puerto del Sol, Smokelong Quarterly, Eleven Eleven, The Rio Grande Review, and dozens of other magazines. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in numerous anthologies including the Best of The Web 2009 and Online Writing: The Best of The First Ten Years. She holds an assistant professorship in the MFA program at The University of Central Florida. She lives in Orlando and Jensen Beach, Florida with a calico named Maggie, her guy and a dog named Catfish.

Short Story Collections

Rattlesnakes & The Moon
(Press 53, 2010)

reviewed by Alex Thornber

Interview with Darlin' Neal

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

Darlin' Neal:  Some of the stories in the collection were written nearly twenty years ago. Some are very recent. None of them took twenty years though! My stories don’t come to me in any one way. Some feel like a breathless rush. Others take many, many revisions.

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

DN: A lot of the stories were written with me exploring character and place for a few novels I have in mind, especially some of the earlier stories. So I did not have a collection in mind as I wrote, but later as I began putting the work together, I did find recurring characters and themes that made this feel like a collection as a whole.

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

DN: I had so many stories gathered up over the years that what was most difficult was deciding what to leave out. Finally, it was the title that did it for me. It led me to a theme of shedding and renewal, of cycles and nature, that helped me streamline what was included in this particular book.

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

DN: It means coming into a sense of the world. It means hearing my grandmother’s voice on the porch and having my mind filled with vivid images of people and the earth. It’s the way to give meaning to any part of the world and experience, to make something to hold onto from a moment or from loss. It means my father’s stories as well, and the ones I want to continue to search out from my mother’s life. It means my mother reading to me at night and giving me that continuity and magic all through my childhood when everything else was moving right on by.

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

DN: This is something I was recently discussing with Dorothy Allison and others at the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference. I remember how books mesmerized me when I was a child and came to love reading and continued to need it for sustenance. I think that first reader I found inside myself early on who is a constant would be my reader. I also think that presence changes a bit depending on a particular story, but still it is a constant. That listener and dreamer.

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

DN: Someone recently told me they shared a few of my stories with students in an alternative school in New Mexico. They said the students were riveted, students who had expressed earlier disdain for reading. I was very moved by this. I’d like to hear from those students. I’m not sure what I’d ask them, but I’d like to hear what they might have to tell me. I’d like to know what they thought and what they wished for. I hope they keep on reading as I think literature transforms. I hope I see a few pieces of their own one day, and work from not just my MFA students, which I know will happen, but from students I taught in literacy sites in Mississippi. Hey, Jean Paul! What are you writing lately? Pookie? Deborah? Demetrius? Sister Mary Monica?

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

DN: It’s gratifying most especially to know my books are being read. I sure wouldn’t mind selling them like crazy though.

TSR: What are you working on now?

DN: I have several projects happening at once, a novel I am trying to get the final touches in place on, Wildflowers. I am working on a memoir about my experiences growing up in New Mexico and Mississippi and attending thirteen different grade schools, many of them on American Indian Reservations, Roads I Once Traveled Down, and a second story collection, Elegant Punk. I have another novel in the works too, Farewell, Angelina, but I am wanting to get these other projects on their way before I start revising that book.

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

DN: Brad Watson’s Aliens In The Prime of Their Lives, Robert Boswell’s The Heyday of The Insensitive Bastards, and Kevin Canty’s Where The Money Went. I realize these are all books written by men so ask me again in a few weeks and I’ll tell you about some great collections I just read written by women! Stefanie Freele and Becky Hagenston, for instance. The Collected Works of Deborah Eisenberg.
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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 >>>

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