The Big Idea: J. Dianne Dotson
In The Shadow Galaxy: A Collection of Short Stories and Poetry, author J. Dianne Dotson explores spanning multiple genres and styles within a small package.
J. DIANNE DOTSON:
Back in the 1980s, I moved to a place called Gray. Its name essentially summed up my initial ambivalence for it, until I fell in love with the slender train tracks close to my home, the expansive dairy farm next to those tracks, and the strange and tangled little path between them. This was my own private universe, full of mystery and wonder and unsettling shadows, cave-ins, wizened neighbors, and strange tiny tunnels hinting at other realms.
As I explored this rural wonderland, I took note of every leaf and stone and bird, and I came home nicked by briars and stained by vivid purple pokeberry juice (smeared with sticks on everything, marking my territory). I pelted upstairs to a little loft room and began to write. But in that same room, I also began to read more, and some of that reading included Ray Bradbury and a gold-edged book of classic fairy tales. I had a big idea, a grand one, to write an epic space opera. And I did! But I kept coming back to smaller stories.
In a way, living in the country is a collection of short stories. You live at the mercy of seasons, of neighbors either nosy or intimidating in their mystery, of quickly spread rumors, of being thought of as a weird kid (which I was). Gray was in many ways my version of Bradbury’s Greentown, and I felt a kinship to his many tales, some terrifying, some wondrous. In my boredom, I imagined magical realms and creatures, owing to the literary backbone of my book of fairy tales. (Many of L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories also seeped in.)
So in between the metaphorical margins of my space opera, I began writing stories and poetry. Some were long and ponderous, some were as maudlin as treacle, some were sharp, like a slammed door. Many of these never saw the light of day, but some of them evolved. Some of them were lost forever in my moves around the country, but I uncovered others tucked away in old college-ruled notebooks also.
I combined some of these with new stories and poems into The Shadow Galaxy: A Collection of Short Stories and Poetry. With this book, I shamelessly blurred the lines of genres. Hey, if Bradbury could do it, why couldn’t I? I wrote about fog-realms, robots awakening to love, deep-space mining horrors, an inter-dimensional mage dropping out of the sky onto, yes, a train track, and more. Some of the stories I deliberately made epiphanic. Others glide to a soft landing…or a hard one.
Short fiction seems to be undergoing a renaissance, and I relish it. It provides expansion and contraction in equal measure. It both forces you to constrain your verbosity and it engages your nimble mind to world-build within a tighter boundary. Bradbury, Baum, the brothers Grimm, and many others before me knew the power of the smaller tale. Pirouetting between and over and around genres only makes such short stories more visceral, more real. There is an entire galaxy of genres to write within, and it makes sense to write short stories to capture them all.