Dana Diehl is the author of Our Dreams Might Align (Splice UK, 2018) and The Classroom (Gold Wake Press, 2019). Her chapbook, TV Girls, won the 2017-2018 New Delta Review Chapbook Contest. Dana earned her MFA in Fiction at Arizona State University and her BA in Creative Writing at Susquehanna University. Her work has appeared in North American Review, Booth, Passages North, and elsewhere. She lives in Tucson.
Dana Diehl’s chapbook, TV Girls, recently released from New Delta Review, deftly challenges the conventions of what makes good and bad television. Yet, Diehl’s half-dozen stories do much more than consider our subjective understandings of quality. They collectively offer an honest and humorous critique of the problematic elements of reality television and illuminate an audience in conflict, a viewership that can’t stop watching.
Diehl’s stories thus avoid categorizing their subject matter as junk food. Instead, she finds the nutritional value in popular small-screen fixations and pushes the boundaries of how we engage with a manufactured and meticulously produced reality. Underneath it all, Diehl’s stories carry a burst of energy in their curiosity, the desire to learn more about human experiences.
Via email, I asked Diehl about her chapbook, the relationship between literature and television, and working on literary magazines.
To begin with perhaps my most important question, how do you feel about Colton being the new Bachelor?
Oh Colton. I am not very interested in watching him find love. I feel like the franchise has low-key tortured him so he’ll seem vulnerable and have a good backstory for The Bachelor, and I still don’t care. All of this being said, I will definitely be watching his season.
One thing I love about the title story in TV Girls is how it engages with The Bachelor without imposing judgment on the women who are selected for the show. The story, and really the entire chapbook, honestly engages with the way reality TV is constructed and how we play into its narratives, as opposed to writing it off as a guilty pleasure or dismissing those who participate. What's your relationship with reality TV? Can you talk a bit about the shows that inspired these stories?
My relationship with reality TV really started in college. On the weekends, my friends and I would watch Ghost Adventures in our dorm rooms and laugh at the dudes in tight T-shirts “provoking the spirits.” Then, I moved across the country for grad school. For the first time in my life I lived alone, time zones away from the people I cared about. I got into the habit of having reality TV playing on my laptop when I was in my apartment. The sound of conversation, the silly dramas, the simple stories, brought me comfort and made me feel a little less lonely, a little more in my body, during a time when I was feeling very displaced.
Shows that inspired my stories are The Bachelor, House Hunters, Cake Boss, Sister Wives, Joined for Life, and Dance Moms. Of these shows, Joined for Life and Dance Moms were hardest to write about. I’m not super familiar with either of them, because honestly, they’re hard for me to watch. Dance Moms is about the training and careers of young dancers, and Joined for Life is about conjoined sisters named Abby and Brittany. I’ve always felt a little gross watching these shows, like I might be contributing to the exploitation of children. On one hand, I see how shows like Joined for Life might help to shift perceptions of differently abled people, but it also feels wrong to put this pressure to educate the public on children.
So, part of me loves reality TV. But I also know that a lot of it is really problematic. For me, uncertainty is really important when I’m writing any story. I write towards what I don’t know, what I can’t figure out. And there’s a lot I can’t figure out about reality TV—what’s good, what’s bad, what’s empowering, what’s exploitative. I don’t know if I ever leave a story with an answer, but it feels important to explore these uncertainties.
To piggyback on that question, what television shows are your must-watch recommendations?