Recently, Sonora Review’s Web Editor, Eshani Surya, had the pleasure of talking with Dana Diehl, a former Sonora contributor whose short story collection Our Dreams Might Align debuted December 2016 from Jellyfish Highway. Diehl’s collection moves between spaces: locations, dreamscapes, wild worlds. Together, the stories create a collection that explores humanity, intimacy, and the natural world.
So many stories in Our Dreams Might Align deal with humans and animals encountering each other (and I phrase it this way because I believe the animals in your story often have as much agency as the humans do). How do you view the animal/human relationship? Are animals and humans alike or do they only intersect at times?
I grew up in a rural part of Pennsylvania, my neighborhood surrounded by deciduous forest. Animals would come and go through our yard: groundhogs, rabbits, birds, squirrels, frogs, garden snakes, deer, foxes, and occasionally a bear. I spent a lot of my childhood watching these animals. My family taught me through example that encounters with animals are special and that we should be kind to the animals that share our space. If a bird laid eggs in the hanging basket on our front porch, my parents insisted that we use the backdoor for the rest of the season. If a herd of deer paused in our yard to eat from our apple trees, my parents would call me and my brother from whatever we were doing, we’d turn off the lights, and we’d press our noses to the window to watch until the deer moved on. This way of seeing has carried into my stories, and I absolutely consider animals as beings with agency, beings that take up space and have value.
I think animals and humans are alike, but that many of our non-physical similarities are subjective. Humans have historically anthropomorphized animals and turned them into symbols that reveal more about the symbol-maker than the animal itself. While writing this collection, I read a lot of ancient mythology and was struck by how attitudes towards animals varied wildly culture by culture. At one point in history, whales were seen as ferocious, peaceful, monstrous, or harmonious depending on who you asked. Animals become reflections of ourselves. In my stories, I wanted to use my characters’ evolving perceptions of animals to track how they see themselves and their relationships.