The first thing you notice in Gale Massey’s new short story collection, “Rising and Other Stories,” out April 12, is how her tales are populated with everyday folks, reminiscent of our neighbors, townspeople or perhaps even family. They live simple, recognizable lives – until unexpected circumstances dictate otherwise.
The main characters in these 13 stories are mostly girls and young women navigating life and loss through grief, choices, societal constructs or predicaments beyond their control. The stories are both timeless and timely, and show how a single incident can change the course of a life in unexpected ways.
Two favorites are “Glass” and “Racine.” In the first, a young girl in the south experiences racism for the first time, causing her to look at her parents in a different way. In the haunting “Racine,” a young mother flees to the ocean for comfort after an unimaginable incident that involves her son. Other stories explore the death of a father and a woman who finally gets to live her life on her own terms.
Massey’s stories are open-ended – mirroring the way problems in our own lives are never wrapped up as neatly as we might hope. We are left to wonder what will happen to these girls and young women and yet, with their gritty resilience, we know that somehow they survive. Though the stories can be read in a single sitting, you’ll be thinking about these characters long after you’ve read the final word.
Three Questions with Gale Massey
“Rising and Other Stories” focuses on young women and girls who are at a crossroads in their lives due to tragedy, loss or a new understanding. What drew you to writing about these women and girls?
Massey: I’m interested in marginalized characters, especially young women living below the poverty level and on the verge of entering adulthood. There’s so much societal and cultural pressure on girls that it is often difficult to grow up with an intact sense of self or the knowledge of what it takes to build a life. These stories are explorations of the determination it takes to defy external pressure and define one’s own life. Sometimes it’s crushing, sometimes it’s exhilarating, but usually the only way forward is to persist through difficult odds.
Your first book, a novel titled “The Girl From Blind River,” was a big success and won a Florida Book Award the year it was published. Why did you decide on short stories for your next project?
Massey: The project came about when Danny Gardner, the editor at Bronzeville Books, inquired about my short stories. A few had been published in various journals and anthologies, and after he read my novel, he was interested in what else I might offer the reading world. There weren’t quite enough stories for a book, but over the summer of 2020 I wrote three more to fill out the collection. Meeting the editors at Bronzeville and their subsequent interest in my work was a stabilizing event after the whirlwind adventure of publishing a novel.
Setting plays a large part in your stories, and in the eyes of your characters who turn to the natural world for healing. Can you explain a little bit about the role of setting in your stories, particularly Florida?
Massey: I’ve always been in love with Florida nature. Some of my most serene moments have been spent in the blaze of a sunset or a cool river. My earliest memories are swimming in the Weeki Wachee and camping with my family at Payne’s Prairie. The main characters in my stories are often loners, by choice or circumstance. Adding elements of nature into a story provides a balance to that isolation. And writing about nature is a form of remembering it and fortifying it in my own mind.
Tombolo Books hosts a virtual book launch for “Rising and Other Stories” Thursday, April 15 at 6:30 p.m. during the Book Launch Double Feature with Gale Massey and Tyler Gillespie. Go to tombolobooks.com to register and get your Zoom link.