Thursday, September 13, 2018

Need a Pep Talk? Grant Faulkner Has 52 of Them

Find at Amazon

I recently drove from LA to San Francisco with a friend, and we listened to 52 Pep Talk for Writers by Grant Faulkner from Audible. I am very glad we did. Many books have helped me stay the course in terms of writing, most of them in paperback and some in audio. These include all of Natalie Goldberg's work, Anne LaMott, Julia Cameron, Jerome Stern, Stephen King, William Zinnser, Gardner, Strunk and White, Ueland, Welty, as well books on movies such as Robert McKee, Syd Field, and Chris Vogler.

I found myself thinking as I listened "Oh, yes, that's true," and "Wish I'd heard this years ago," and "I should post one of these chapters on my computer for each week!" Grant Faulkner's "Pep Talks" should be added to the above list of books for writers.

What Faulkner brings to the bookshelf is a fresh way to inspire writers as well as offering good advice and encouragement, fifty-two flashes of wisdom. He covers each topic in concise, yet
10 Pep Talk Topics
thorough detail: How important it is to take yourself seriously, how to get out of the habit of feeling like an imposter, how to use obstacles such as "not having enough time" to your advantage, how to stay on task using goals and deadlines. As a holder of an M.A. in creative writing, an oft-published writer, a veteran of Nanowrimo (he's now the executive director), and co-founder of the journal 100 Word Story, Faulkner brings a vast amount of knowledge and experience to this handbook for writers.



Tuesday, September 04, 2018

 I am thrilled to have a piece in the anthology, NEW MICRO: Exceptionally Short Fiction (Norton, August 28, 2018) edited by James Thomas and Robert Scotellaro and equally thrilled by the shout out in a review at Heavy Feather Reviewwritten by Bryan Jansing.

"Punch for punch, these micro fists hit at you hard and with life’s betrayals and losses. Gay Degani gives a knockout blow in “Abbreviated Glossary” when the termination of a pregnancy is also the loss of dignity at the hands of an unsympathetic, career-focused husband."

I'll be reading Thursday night in San Francisco, September 6, at 7:30 at The Bindery Bookstore along with Stace Budzko, Kirstin Chen, Jane CiabattariJames ClaffeyGrant FaulknerThaisa FrankMolly Giles, Cadence LowMelissa G. McCrackenLynn Mundell, Pamela Painter, and Nancy Stohlman!

Here's the press release:

NEW MICRO

Exceptionally Short Fiction
Edited by James Thomas and Robert Scotellaro

“Reading these wonderful tiny fictions is like stealing food from the refrigerator before, or after, dinner. A sublime luxury.”
                                                                               —Frederick Barthelme, New World Writing

“These micro fictions violate the laws of geophysics by compressing whole lives / whole worlds / whole heartbreaks into something like diamonds: bright, riven, reflective, edged, wonderful, and hard enough to cut through glass.”
                                                            —Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted

 New Micro’s quick, bright stories are, like our lives, as brief as lightning in the blinding dark.They offer us essential truth without the inessential facts.”
                                               —John Dufresne, author of Flash! Writing the Very Short Story 

Each story in NEW MICRO: Exceptionally Short Fiction [W. W. Norton & Company; August 28, 2018; $15.95 paperback original] comes in at fewer than 300 words. And each, according to the foreword by Robert Shapard, editor of Flash Fiction Forward, “hangs in the air of the mind like an image made of smoke.” Quick, surprising, demanding, unsettling—these shorts represent a new trend in contemporary fiction. With them, our finest writers achieve the power and range of much longer works in ever-more-brief and compressed spaces. Elusive, mysterious, deep and sudden as a sinkhole, they are sure to delight fans of flash fiction and novels alike.

Editors James Thomas and Robert Scotellaro spent years assembling the best examples of the form, drawing extraordinary stories from contemporary books, journals and smaller anthologies. The result is a collection of work by distinguished writers like Amy Hempel, John Edgar Wideman, Kim Addonizio, Richard Brautigan, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Stuart Dybek, Joyce Carol Oates, and James Tate. Works by less familiar names are equally thrilling and demonstrate the authors’ gifts and their abilities to test the limits of the form.

The stories in this anthology are as varied as they are indelible: a girl finds a job playing lookout for an adulterous neighbor; an old woman is robbed on a train; a child dies in a shooting; a family holds a barbecue. They deal with familiar fictional subjects—love and marriage, death, strangers coming to town—and yet make these canonical topics feel fresh.

There are subjects less familiar, and stranger, too. In a seventy-five-word story by Lou Beach, a character is shot in the arm by a thieving monkey. In “Furnace” by Kevin Griffith, a furnace repairman becomes stuck in a family’s ducts: “On certain nights, the children gather around the vent and listen to him tell fanciful stories about wolves, elves, and armless people.”

And others get yet more surreal. An unremarkable man finds a statue of himself in a park. A woman marries a breakfast cereal, then a cigarette, then a stone. An entire society of people decides to become hermits. An orgasm decides to take a selfie. Each story expands upon reading, hinting at worlds beyond the words. The stories “resonate in the silences,” write the editors, “like the last notes of a cello.'

With 89 authors and 135 stories, the anthology invites exploration. Travel time is minimal, but the destinations are far-flung. These stories instruct, enlighten, entertain, and, like the very best fiction, formulate new questions that resonate beyond their scope and length.

ABOUT THE EDITORS:

James Thomas has received a Stegner Fellowship, a Michener Fellowship, and two NEA grants. He lives in Xenia, Ohio.

Robert Scotellaro is the author of Bad Motel and Measuring the Distance. He lives in San Francisco.

TITLE:NEW MICRO
SUBTITLE: Exceptionally Short Fiction
EDITORS:James Thomas and Robert Scotellaro
PUBLICATION DATE: August 28, 2018
ISBN:978-0-393-35470-6
PRICE:$15.95 paperback original
PAGE COUNT:288

Contact: Caroline Saine
Publicity Assistant
212-790-4267

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Giving Context to Structure

by Gay Degani


Content, structure, and language work together.

No one element can make a story work. Many writers use a series of steps—brainstorming, outlining, drafting, revision, editing, and proofreading—to juggle content, structure, and language. The order of each step is a matter of choice and fluctuates with story ideas.



  •  To create content: brainstorm, free-write, draft a first draft
  •  To apply structure: outline first draft, then draft second draft
  •  To perfect language: revise, edit, and proofread


  • Content refers to the subject matter of a story.



  • The who, what, when, where, and how of a specific idea.
  • A character (the protagonist) finds himself in a difficult situation at a certain time and place and must deal with that situation. 
  • How the protagonist deals with the situation depends on the protagonist’s wants, character, and the nature of the obstacles he must overcome.
  • Content provides the “story question or problem” that propels the protagonist through the plot and ultimately reveals a universal theme, a jolt, an epiphany, some small observance of life.
  • Content evolves from a premise, notes, a rough draft, research, observation, plus the attitudes and concerns of the writer.


  • Structure refers to the basic organization of a story. 



  • Just as a play is divided into three acts, most stories have three main segments
  • The opening (Act 1) gives a story focus and meaning by providing the premise, setting, and tone of the story as well as hints at the nature of obstacles the protagonist will face.


  • The main body of the story (Act 2) focuses on the protagonist’s actions to resolve the story problem.


  • The conclusion (Act 3) reveals the results of the protagonist’s struggle and infuses that struggle with meaning.


  • Each segment of a story has a similar structure: the overall story as well as each chapter, each scene within the chapter, each beat within the scene
  • Structure also involves other devices such as set-ups and pay-offs, sub-plots, and the shaping of structure specifically to content.
  • Structure evolves from outlines, note-taking, drafts or a combination of the three.


  • Language refers the diction and style used to express a story’s idea.



  • Diction refers the specific words that are chosen
  • Style refers to how those words are combined, the order, the length of sentences and includes the use of literary devices such as metaphor, symbolism, and allusion.
  • Grammar keeps writing clear and understandable.
  • Language evolves from revision and rhythm.


  • Process is what brings these three basic components of composition together.

    Writing is a Process. Yeah, it is!

    The rough draft is about content...
    making it up.

    The second 
    draft is about structure...
    making sense.

    The third 
    draft is about language...
    making it clear.

    The fourth draft is about perfection...
    making it publishable.



    Actually, the steps to the writing process bleed into each other like ink dropped from a leaky pen over one spot. The blotches don't land in exactly the same place, but they seep beyond each other's borders, and create a new kind of art.



    Thursday, October 26, 2017

    Meet LAst Resort Author Georgia Jeffries "Little Egypt"

    Excerpt from “Little Egypt” by Georgia Jeffries
    Photo by Gay Degani


    A scream came from somewhere.  Did it belong to her?  When she was in the maternity ward panting through twenty-two hours of labor, she never heard her own voice.  The other mothers were moaning, wailing, pleading for any painkiller the nurse could deliver.  Not her, not then.  When her boy was born she closed her eyes and transported herself to another planet far, far away where there was not a weak-willed woman in sight.  Another scream wrenched the air.  Deeper this time.  Primal. 

    Herbie looked over his shoulder just as the young black man attacked, pummeling his body like a speed bag at Gold’s Gym.  Ginger fell back, smashing into a wall of fine spirits and fashionable cosmopolitan glasses on the mirrored display.  By the time she found her balance, Dante lost his.  Her son lay on the floor, his limbs jerking like a mad marionette.  

    The first time Ginger saw such a sight was in Vegas when a high roller on a winning streak suddenly jackknifed into overdrive after tipping her five hundred bucks.   He whirled around like a spinning top then collapsed on the poker table.  Chips sprayed across a surprised dentist from Des Moines who held a full house, but thanks to Lady Luck, was about to win big because the guy with the royal flush suffered a seizure.  What were the odds?  

    The second time she saw that same strange dance her only child almost died because she was too stoned to know what was happening.  Tonight, she knew.  Kneeling next to Dante, she turned him over just like they taught her. Grabbed the bar towel to elevate his head.  Pressed her ear to his heart to make sure he was breathing.  And then she felt her hair being torn by its roots as Herbie dragged her from her son’s side.

    The Rochelle Staab Questions asked of Georgia


    What was the weirdest thing that ever happened to you in Los Angeles?

    My weirdest day in L.A. was my first.  Almost nine years old and burning to see Disneyland, I arrived in the back seat of my parents’ Buick on our first family trip west.  But Sleeping Beauty’s castle had to wait. The premier place on my folks’ travel agenda?  Forest Lawn Cemetery.  Early in the morning we were at the head of a long line to view the rainbow colored stained glass depiction of The Last Supper.  Afterwards we were ushered along with a million other tourists into a vast hallway to see “the largest canvas painting in the world”, The Crucifixion of Christ.  In the afternoon we made it across town to ogle the famous footprints embalmed in concrete in front of the Chinese Theater.  I wasn’t too impressed with the feet in the cement.  But I do remember a beautiful wild-haired woman sauntering down Hollywood Boulevard like she was the queen of the world.  She wore tight belted short shorts, ankle-strapped wedgies and the skimpiest midriff top I had ever seen.  Wow.  Jesus at dawn, Jezebel at dusk.  Peoria couldn’t hold a candle to the City of Angels.

    Available at Amazon
    Do you have a yet-to-be-realized L.A. dream?

    More than one.  But dreams are like birthday wishes.  If you tell, they won’t come true.

    Why write short stories?  Why write at all? What’s in it for you?

    I love the short story form and those twisted cliffhanger endings that grace the best.  Why write?  Why not?  All those words are mirrors of our experience and hard-won survival techniques on planet earth.

    What is the biggest challenge in writing to theme?

    I don’t write to theme.  I write to character.  “Little Egypt”, my short story in LAst Resort, was finished several months before SinC/LA members were invited to submit our work to the anthology competition for consideration.  Synchronicity in action.

    Are the characters in your story based on you or people you know/met? 

    All the characters I write about are faceted reflections of people who have crossed my writer’s path.  Everything is story material.

    Los Angeles is a patchwork quilt of different neighborhoods.  Why did you pick the area you used for your story, and how did the neighborhood influence your writing?

    “Little Egypt” is set in Hollywood – as much metaphor as it is geographical location – until the protagonist decides to escape to a safer place.  The “neighborhood” moves with our main characters.

    Are there scenes in your story based on real life – yours, hearsay, or a news story you read?

    A little of each, leavened with a whole lot of imagination.  Plus I’d been wanting to write about a mother and son, each wounded by injustice, saving each other.

    What came first, the character or the plot?.

    Character always.  See above.

    While you’re writing: music (what kind?), dead silence, or…?

    I like to listen to birdsongs in the trees outside my writing room window.  Otherwise, silence please.

    Favorite writing quote—yours or from someone else…

    Mine: The writing life is a marathon, not a sprint.  Pace yourself.

    William Faulkner: “The past is not dead.  It is not even past.”  

    Your writing ritual begins with…

    Tall cups of tea, Earl Grey with vanilla almond milk or cherry sencha straight.



    About Georgia Jeffries
    Photo by Maia Rosenfeld




    Georgia Jeffries cracked TV’s glass ceiling as a writer-producer of multiple Emmy-Award winning series, the first individual woman writer honored with a WGA Television Award for Episodic Drama.  She created original pilots and movies for HBO, Showtime, ABC, CBS, NBC and is now adapting the NY Times best-seller, 72 Hour Hold.  In addition to her short fiction, she is currently writing the novel, Malinche for Adaptive Books.  A professor at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, she just completed a supernatural thriller based on the true events behind her aunt’s murder in the Illinois heartland.

    Wednesday, October 04, 2017

    Meet LAst Resort Author Laurie Stevens "The Ride of Your Life"

    Excerpt from “The Ride of Your Life” by Laurie Stevens

    Photo by Laurie Stevens

    “What about you?” He swiveled his head toward her. “What's your name, anyhow?”

    “Mary. Mary Fitzpatrick.” She let her eyes roam the mountains bordering the canyon road.

    “Well, Mary Fitzpatrick. It looks like you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. You have a husband?”

    The car fishtailed as it hit the bumps in the center.

    “Please slow down!” Mary cried.

    He evened out and decreased the speed.

    “No, I don't have a husband,” she said, eyeing the road ahead of them with worry. The turns were tight, and they were still traveling too fast. The car tightly hugged the hills to their right. On the opposite side, the road bordered a sheer, steep drop to the canyon stream below.

    Mary could swear that the last person they'd passed whipped out a cell phone and photographed the Buick as it sped by them. Surely, someone would have called the police by now.

    “You have kids?” the man asked her.

    “No.” Mary barely heard the question. Her mind mulled over some possibilities. “I live alone.”

    “Los Angeles can be a cold and lonely place for a nice old lady.”
    She cocked an eyebrow over her spectacles at him.  She smiled despite her predicament. With her gray hair, glasses, and dowdy clothing, Mary knew most people considered her much older than her years. That was okay with her. She wanted them to think that.


    The Rochelle Staab Questions asked of Laurie Stevens 


     What is the weirdest thing that ever happened to you in Los Angeles?

    What’s not been weird? I guess the time I exited a gym and saw an elderly woman walking aimlessly through traffic. I asked if she needed a ride and she told me “Quick! Take me to the Pink Turtle!” She instructed me to drive her to the Beverly Wilshire hotel and asked if I would wait with her for her friend. She bought me hot chocolate and spaghetti. No friend appeared, so I took her to her apartment in West LA. I helped count out her ration of medication/pills for the week and as a thank you, she insisted I take home a folding chair. I kept that chair for a long time.

     Do you have a yet-to-be realized L.A. dream?

    I have not yet hiked to the Hollywood sign.

    Why write short stories? Why write at all? What's in it for you?

    Do writers really have a choice whether or not to write? We have to. Short stories give me a chance to make a quick commentary or take a snapshot of life that isn’t big enough for a novel, but delicious just the same.

    What is the biggest challenge in writing to theme?

    That you don’t stray from the theme.

    Are the characters in your story based on you or people you know/met?

    Without creating a spoiler, I’ll say that one of the characters is based on a nefarious and infamous person who, I believe, is still serving time in prison.

    Los Angeles is a patchwork quilt of different neighborhoods. Why did you pick the area you used for your story, and how did the neighborhood influence your writing?

    Well, if you read the story you will see the two characters travel all over. They start in the city, go through the valley, then end up in the canyons on the way to the beach. I myself like quilts!

    Are there scenes in your story based on real life—yours, hearsay, or a news story you read?

    Available at Amazon
    I’ve read about embezzlement cases, so the man’s crime is not unusual, unfortunately. As far as the car jacking is concerned, I wanted to put a twist on that, and I’ve never heard of it happening before.

    What came first, the character or the plot?

    The plot came first. The twist came first… Then I added that character from the news story.

    While you're writing: music (what kind?), dead silence, or…?

    Silence while I write. Music while I walk between writing to complete those hard-to-complete scenes. I keep a playlist for each book or story I write.


    Favorite writing quote—yours or from someone else…

    If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.  Stephen King

    Your writing ritual begins with…

    A cup of coffee and a lit candle. A quiet space and for God’s sake turn the phone off!




    Photo by Guy Viau


    Laurie Stevens is the author of the Gabriel McRay psychological thrillers, The Dark Before Dawn and Deep into Dusk. The books have won twelve awards, among them Kirkus Reviews Best of 2011, the  IPPY for Best Mystery/Thriller, Library Journal's Self-E Award, the Amsterdam Book Festival, and Random House Editor’s Book of the Month. Laurie is an active member of MWA, ITW, and sits on the Board of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles. She’s proud to have been included in two Sisters in Crime anthologies: Last Resort and Last Exit to Murder.






    Wednesday, September 27, 2017

    Meet LAst Resort Author Georgia Jeffries "Little Egypt"

    Excerpt from “Little Egypt” by Georgia Jeffries
    Photo by Gay Degani


    A scream came from somewhere.  Did it belong to her?  When she was in the maternity ward panting through twenty-two hours of labor, she never heard her own voice.  The other mothers were moaning, wailing, pleading for any painkiller the nurse could deliver.  Not her, not then.  When her boy was born she closed her eyes and transported herself to another planet far, far away where there was not a weak-willed woman in sight.  Another scream wrenched the air.  Deeper this time.  Primal. 

    Herbie looked over his shoulder just as the young black man attacked, pummeling his body like a speed bag at Gold’s Gym.  Ginger fell back, smashing into a wall of fine spirits and fashionable cosmopolitan glasses on the mirrored display.  By the time she found her balance, Dante lost his.  Her son lay on the floor, his limbs jerking like a mad marionette. 

    The first time Ginger saw such a sight was in Vegas when a high roller on a winning streak suddenly jackknifed into overdrive after tipping her five hundred bucks.   He whirled around like a spinning top then collapsed on the poker table.  Chips sprayed across a surprised dentist from Des Moines who held a full house, but thanks to Lady Luck, was about to win big because the guy with the royal flush suffered a seizure.  What were the odds? 

    The second time she saw that same strange dance her only child almost died because she was too stoned to know what was happening.  Tonight, she knew.  Kneeling next to Dante, she turned him over just like they taught her. Grabbed the bar towel to elevate his head.  Pressed her ear to his heart to make sure he was breathing.  And then she felt her hair being torn by its roots as Herbie dragged her from her son’s side.

    The Rochelle Staab Questions asked of Georgia


    What was the weirdest thing that ever happened to you in Los Angeles?

    My weirdest day in L.A. was my first.  Almost nine years old and burning to see Disneyland, I arrived in the back seat of my parents’ Buick on our first family trip west.  But Sleeping Beauty’s castle had to wait. The premier place on my folks’ travel agenda?  Forest Lawn Cemetery.  Early in the morning we were at the head of a long line to view the rainbow colored stained glass depiction of The Last Supper.  Afterwards we were ushered along with a million other tourists into a vast hallway to see “the largest canvas painting in the world”, The Crucifixion of Christ.  In the afternoon we made it across town to ogle the famous footprints embalmed in concrete in front of the Chinese Theater.  I wasn’t too impressed with the feet in the cement.  But I do remember a beautiful wild-haired woman sauntering down Hollywood Boulevard like she was the queen of the world.  She wore tight belted short shorts, ankle-strapped wedgies and the skimpiest midriff top I had ever seen.  Wow.  Jesus at dawn, Jezebel at dusk.  Peoria couldn’t hold a candle to the City of Angels.

    Available at Amazon
    Do you have a yet-to-be-realized L.A. dream?

    More than one.  But dreams are like birthday wishes.  If you tell, they won’t come true.

    Why write short stories?  Why write at all? What’s in it for you?

    I love the short story form and those twisted cliffhanger endings that grace the best.  Why write?  Why not?  All those words are mirrors of our experience and hard-won survival techniques on planet earth.

    What is the biggest challenge in writing to theme?

    I don’t write to theme.  I write to character.  “Little Egypt”, my short story in LAst Resort, was finished several months before SinC/LA members were invited to submit our work to the anthology competition for consideration.  Synchronicity in action.

    Are the characters in your story based on you or people you know/met?

    All the characters I write about are faceted reflections of people who have crossed my writer’s path.  Everything is story material.

    Los Angeles is a patchwork quilt of different neighborhoods.  Why did you pick the area you used for your story, and how did the neighborhood influence your writing?

    “Little Egypt” is set in Hollywood – as much metaphor as it is geographical location – until the protagonist decides to escape to a safer place.  The “neighborhood” moves with our main characters.

    Are there scenes in your story based on real life – yours, hearsay, or a news story you read?

    A little of each, leavened with a whole lot of imagination.  Plus I’d been wanting to write about a mother and son, each wounded by injustice, saving each other.

    What came first, the character or the plot?.

    Character always.  See above.

    While you’re writing: music (what kind?), dead silence, or…?

    I like to listen to birdsongs in the trees outside my writing room window.  Otherwise, silence please.

    Favorite writing quote—yours or from someone else…

    Mine: The writing life is a marathon, not a sprint.  Pace yourself.

    William Faulkner: “The past is not dead.  It is not even past.” 

    Your writing ritual begins with…

    Tall cups of tea, Earl Grey with vanilla almond milk or cherry sencha straight.



    About Georgia Jeffries
    Photo by Maia Rosenfeld

    Georgia Jeffries cracked TV’s glass ceiling as a writer-producer of multiple Emmy-Award winning series, the first individual woman writer honored with a WGA Television Award for Episodic Drama.  She created original pilots and movies for HBO, Showtime, ABC, CBS, NBC and is now adapting the NY Times best-seller, 72 Hour Hold.  In addition to her short fiction, she is currently writing the novel, Malinche for Adaptive Books.  A professor at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, she just completed a supernatural thriller based on the true events behind her aunt’s murder in the Illinois heartland.