TWENTY QUESTIONS WITH MISTY DAHL
By Nora B. Peevy
1) Your name is memorable. Is Misty Dahl a pen name or your birth name?
My birth name is Misty but my last name is not legally Dahl. I chose it because I wanted something German in origin, since my real last name is German. It’s hard to find a name that fits with such a strange birth name like Misty, but Dahl was edgy, like a doll, and seemed to fit in an offbeat way. Also, it’s nice to have a connection to the legendary Roald Dahl.
2) Before you ever wrote, who encouraged your love for the written word?
I didn’t have a lot of encouragement as a child. When I wasn’t living with my father I lived with my mother on the road, in domes and in communes, in gypsy camps and once I even had my own loft with doves. This was in California but when I was eight my mother took me to Colorado with her. She worked at a place called Muddy’s Café, Bookstore and Slightly Off Center Theater. They had a loft with books from the floor to the ceiling and I would stay up there all night reading. Spending my childhood in (all the places I grew up including) a place like that was magical; it had a profound affect on my inner life, encouraging my love for the written word. There were other influences too. I remember the years my mother stayed in one place and we (basically) lived across the street from the library in Santa Cruz, Ca. We would stay all day long. I could take books home with me too. The only rule was that I had to be able to carry them; a kid in love with books can carry a lot. I guess the library, and seeing my mother read was an inspiration. It seemed like most of my family and friends didn’t understand what being an artist meant to me; they thought it was stupid. Also my mother was emotionally unavailable, so as an obvious result, I didn’t get a lot of support. I think because of that, and the constant traveling, I became very introverted. When I finally began to write, I wrote in a journal as a way to understand the world and my place in it. As it turns out, this was a very good way to breed a writer named Misty Dahl.
3) At what age did you start writing?
I started by writing in my journals around age twelve. Around age thirteen a different kind of writing began to emerge. This was when I met Jessica. She introduced me to Kerouac and I read The Dharma Bums until I was ”burning like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars,” madly in love with language. This was the early 80’s in Denver and I went to a lot of poetry slams at the local coffee houses. Jessica’s parents were agents or publishers and I remember going to book release parties at their house. I wish I knew how to find them. Besides being surrounded by books and seeing my mother read, I think Jessica was the one who inspired me most in the beginning, along with Jack.
4) Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I certainly do. I was fourteen years old and I wrote a story called The Wall for my freshman English class. The assignment was to write what was on the other side of the wall. It was a short story in one class sitting; I think my teacher gave us twenty minutes to complete it, although it may’ve been forty-five. The Wall was published in my school newspaper and caused quite an up-roar around school for it’s sensual metaphors. “I can’t believe they published that in the school paper,” was heard all over campus. I was hooked on causing a scene after that. Years later, when I read Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, I was convinced he copied my idea.
5) Did you take to writing like a duck to water or did you struggle like a stone?
Writing has always been both easy and difficult for me. I subscribe to the theory that we need to practice in order to become and to remain good. As far as an art form, I originally wanted to be an illustrative artist (I was also a figure skater and ballet dancer) so writing came later. In the beginning I wrote poetry and it was both difficult and terrible. Looking back I think it was hard because I didn’t understand what writing was. When I finally began to open up as a writer, it was because I became completely honest on paper. Reading Anais Nin helped with that.
6) What three books did you just finish reading?
I just finished The Devils Coattails Anthology Edited by Jason V Brock and William F. Nolan, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
7) What was your favorite book from 2011?
Hmm, this is a tough one. I think maybe it’s a tie between The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier and The Silent Land by Graham Joyce. This is ironic considering I just read a review by Kevin Brockmeier on The Silent Land. I wonder if Graham wrote something about The Illumination. The Silent Land is a love story and it moved me to tears; Joyce is a great storyteller (and a friend). The illumination was put together from different perspectives, it’s wonderfully poetic, and it’s a love story too.
8) Do you have writing goals set for this year?
My biggest goal is to stay focused and disciplined in writing. I’ve recently developed what I call: the monster work ethic. In addition to writing, reading and studying craft, I’m also learning about the business aspects of writing. I’ve also been taking notes on a new novel and as much as I’ve tried to stay focused on learning how to tell a wonderful short story, I can’t get away from the pull to write longer pieces. I’ll confess, I’ve already started to write my new novel. There will be new features on my blog as well. Monday’s Monsters, Wednesday’s Writers, and on Fridays it will be Flash Fiction Fridays. Currently I have a project underway that will showcase flash fiction from over thirty writers. We are called The Fraternity of Flash. I’ll begin posting stories around April 1, 2012. Stay tuned into my blog to find out more.
9) You posted The Night Before the Night Before Christmas Eve, a flash fiction piece, on your blog recently. Where did you draw inspiration from to write this story?
I wrote it on the night before, the night before Christmas Eve when I got home from work at three in the morning. I was tired, and although I originally didn’t have much more than an ounce of Christmas spirit I began to develop it. It started, I believe, because someone had given me a small Charlie Brown Christmas tree with a beautiful card as I was leaving work. On the way home I turned on the radio and Louis Armstrong was singing White Christmas. I began to cry; suddenly I was in the midst of melancholy and spirit. When I got home I put on some more Christmas music, then tears started flowing and I just started writing; a lot of my flash fiction happens this way. These sudden bursts of flash fiction are great creatively but technically they’re messy; I usually post them on my blog before editing and then spend the next few days adding and subtracting (the piece still needs work). As far as direct inspiration I guess it was a kind of a play on The Night Before Christmas but the rest, who knows. The idea house is a funny thing. Reading it again I can see my influences: Edward Gorey, Tim Burton, Dr. Suess, Neil Gaiman, Lemony Snicket, Edgar Allen Poe.
10) I like to have it quiet so I can hear the voices in my head, but I know other writers write to music. When you write do you listen to music? If you do, what are you listening to right now?
No, I don’t usually listen to music. Music with words distracts me, but occasionally I’ll listen to dark cello concertos, or piano nocturnes. I have listened to music with words in the past, but that’s usually when I’m taking notes. I’m like you, I need to hear the voices in my head; serious writing requires silence.
11) Can you tell us a little about Your Nightmares? Is this a new project for you?
Oh that. That’s not really a project. It was just a creative way I listed my current occupation on Facebook. But I have thought about putting together a book of flash fiction and titling it Nightmares.
12) What is the worst nightmare you’ve had?
I actually have a decent amount of nightmares but instead of getting too scared, I usually get intrigued. I actually wake up thinking that they’re cool and I jot them down in my idea journal. Most of my worst nightmares deal with staircases that go down into basements and cellars. Others deal with stairs that lead up to doors that I cannot bear to experience. Something about what’s hidden but that never actually shows itself is particularly terrifying to me.
13) What’s the best dream you ever had? Did you write about it?
This part of my life-the last year-has been the best dream I’ve ever had. But there was a pretty great one when my son’s father died. I remember having a lot of trouble getting over him, and then one night, about two or three months after he passed, I had a dream that he came to sit with me. We sat at a picnic table and I could see color vividly-I remember the grass was this bright green-and I could feel the wind blowing. He sat next to me and said that he was okay now, that he was moving on, and that I should too. I never wrote about it, but maybe someday I will.
14) You’ve mentioned your magical fire-breathing cat before. Let’s hear a bit about your talented feline companion. How did you discover you owned such a fiery beast?
I’m afraid that’s just about the epitome of my eccentricity. I like to tell people that I picked her out of a liter of fire breathing kittens. Truth is that I had taken a picture of my cat (Lucy) and the camera reflected the white tree light near her mouth, it looked like she was breathing fire. I mean, you do understand that she doesn’t actually breathe fire, right? Well, she also has laser beam eyes. At least that’s what the pictures show. That part could actually be true. There’s no way to know for sure.
15) If your fire-breathing cat wrote a story, what would it be about?
That’s a good one Nora. I think she’d probably write about the responsibility that comes with fire as well as the prejudice against other-worldly beings. She might also write about The Trial by Fire Festival that’s held every year in The Dark Land. I sure do miss her when she goes away for those two weeks in October.
16) Quick! You’re trapped in an abandoned well with a notebook, a pencil, and one candle. What would you write?
I’d probably write a way out of the abandoned well. Then when that didn’t work I’d write a letter to my son telling him how much I love him, and if I had time I’d pen one to my dad, my sister Amanda, my friend Chad and the one named Jason.
17) The nasty goblin that imprisoned you in the abandoned well has decided to give you a snack. What would you like? It can be anything, as long as it’s something you wouldn’t really eat. *grins*
Chocolate covered pill bugs. Yuck and how mean. I love pill bugs. I’d rather starve than harm them. Uh, wait! This could seriously damage my cred as a badass horror, dark fantasy writer. Delete, delete, delete.
18) And now for another zany question, just because… You’ve been given the opportunity to become a mythological creature for one day and one night only. What creature would you like to be and why?
Hmm, maybe a shapes-shifter. I write a lot about shape-shifters and to a certain extent I’ve already spent most of my life as one, but I’d like to know first hand what it’s like to be an actual mythological shape shifter. I think if I could do that, I’d probably like to morph into some amazing creature like Joss Whedon. It’d be a virtual-reality writing course from inside the mind of a god.
19) But seriously, tell me one thing about yourself that would surprise your readers, if they found out.
I guess what people are usually surprised by is that I’m a lot older than I look. Most people say around twenty-five but I’m actually turning forty-one on Valentines Day. The gods have been good to me. My secret? Falling in love with life.
20) Is there anything you would like to add in closing for your readers?
I’d like to ask a question. “What would you dare to do if you knew you could not fail?” Now you go after what makes your heart beat faster. “Jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down,” as Ray Bradbury likes to say. Paint the moon and the stars, spill your guts on paper, dare to fall in love, to keep reaching deeper, to tell the truth, and to soar.