Saturday, April 05, 2014

What Came Before in the World

Although the official launch date for What Came Before hardcover gift edition is Monday, April 7, both Barnes and Noble and Amazon have it posted for sale on their respective sites.  You can also read it online at Every Day Novels.

How What Came Before Came to Be

What Came Before was conceived as a comedy with lots of broad humor and exaggerated characters, but as I began to work, I realized I needed to write about something I cared about, that there had to be a reason beyond car chases for a piece of writing to exist. I rethought the whole thing, asking myself, what would be interesting to me, important for me to say. Stories--good stories--had to be about something that mattered, either to me and/or to others.

In the beginning, Abbie's missing half-sister was white, like Abbie and like me, and I kept running up against my own question, "so what?" “Where’s the tension?”  I reached into my own life, my own experiences, my own childhood.

I grew up in California, but my mom came from a little town in Louisiana and my dad from Iowa.  Since my dad was a teacher, we climb into our old Pontiac as soon as school was out and head east to corn country, then head down to Terrebonne parish.  That’s where I ran smack dab into Jim Crow laws.

I loved going to the grocery store with my grandpa.  He was a sunburned Santa Claus who smelled of figs and cigars filling our cart on rolls and rolls of toilet paper, paper towels, cans of tomato sauce and bottles of soda pop.  I liked to hold onto the front and ride while he pushed through the aisle. Then at some point when I was four or five – I don’t really remember exactly when – he let me go off to get a drink of water by myself.

I stood in front of two water fountains instead of one wondering which one I wanted. I’d never had a choice before.  Not in California. 

One was labeled “white” and one was labeled “colored.”  What would most little kids chose? I chose “colored,” of course, because to my mind that meant the water would come out like a rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. When it didn’t, I was disappointed. I turned on the white one. The two sprays of water were exactly the same.  I was confused and angry.

I ran back to my grandpa. He said one was for white people, the other was for black people. When I asked why, he just shrugged. I don’t remember for sure but I think it was my father who explained it to me, that this kind of thing existed in the world.

And I wish I could say I knew instinctively at that young age the wrongness of it, but I didn’t. It’s something I have learned as I’ve grown into myself, through reading, through the experiences of the growing up in the fifties and sixties, how human beings tend to exist in a real world. “What Came Before” springs from a desire to show that people are more alike than different and that our differences enrich us. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

We are Twenty-One Chapters Into What Came Before

That's right. WCB has been up at Every Day Novels now for four weeks, moving into week five.  And if you don't know what I'm talking about it's my serialized suspense novel at Every Day Novels.  It's free through the entire book, but just so you know, once it's over, it will be removed from the internet and only be available in a hardback gift edition, paperback, and e-book formats.

What Came Before is the story of Abbie Palmer who decides once her children are gone, she's going to take a break from her husband to pursue creative endeavors - just for the summer, a kind of personal-growth camp.  Her head is about to burst with everything she wants to do, paint, write, make jewelry, knit, reupholster furniture.  She even has an old electric fry pan tucked under the marriage bed with large blocks of beeswax.  She wants to learn how to batik!

Her husband rolls his eyes and keeps coming up with other things they have to do, she has to do, so she decides to take a "leave of absence" from her marriage, but just when she settles into her tiny apartment at the Tiki Palms, she runs into murder, cops, and repressed memories from her past.

Anyway, I don't want to give away too much.  I want you to read the book on the edge of your seat which some readers have told me they've been doing.  If you haven't started reading yet, here's the link: WCB

Hard Cover Due April 7


And there's more news.  Every Day Novels editor and publisher, Camille Gooderham Campbell, has told me the hardback edition of WCB will available for purchase on April 7!!!!  If any of you reading this live in the Los Angeles area and would like me to visit your book group or if you'd like to get some friends together to party, contact me at gaydegani@gmail.com.  I'm happy to come, read some of the story, and talk about the novel and/or about writing itself.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

This Time I'm Starting the Game

Susan Tepper tagged me in a recent merry-blog-go-round about writing process, but having been tagged by someone else I decided to come up with new questions and I thought it would be interesting to ask writers about their characters.  This came out of a discussion at FFC’s New and Emerging Writers Group which focuses on the art and craft of writing.  The discussion question, posed by Jim Harrington, FFC’s Managing Editor, was, “How do you select character names?” I want to expand on that, so here are some new questions for writers who want to play along.  I’ll start with my own answers.

1). What surprises you about your characters? And why?

I’m always surprised that they show up because I rarely begin a story with a character in mind. Usually I begin with a situation and then just GO.  I suppose this means they come out similar to me, especially if I start with a first person narrative and that makes sense because the situation—if told from the “I” viewpoint usually resembles something I’ve been through.  The third person pops up if the situation isn’t that close to home.  I’m surprised I just admitted that. 

2). What do you draw upon to create your characters?

Of course as with most writers, I pull my characters from myself, from people I know, and from people I observe, but rarely have I ever consciously created a character from a single person.  I remember one case where the character is exactly like real life but the details are changed.  Other than that, most of the time my characters spring from what I know—or think I know—then evolve with the story as I make decisions—or I’m led toward decisions.  This is where it gets a little loopy, the chicken and the egg syndrome.

3). Out of all of the characters you’ve created, who is your favorite and why? Please name the story and supply a link if that’s possible.

Right now it’s Abbie Palmer who is the main character of my suspense novel, What Came Before.  She is a lot like me in so many ways, but certainly she has been molded to fit the story.  There is a reason why I don’t do memoir because my own life has been extremely ordinary and satisfying. This is not what good drama is made of.  Another favorite who is alive now in Pure Slush’s 2014-A Year in Stories anthologies is Sybil.  She a landlady who has managed her life fairly well but there’s something in her past that she’s dealing with, and her ability to be everyone’s go-to person is slipping away.

4) Are there any characters you are not quite done with yet?  What other challenges do you want to give him or her?

I have two published short-stories about Nikki Hyland, Slacker Detective.  I would like to write a few more shorts or even a novel continuing to challenge her to get her you-know-what together.  Her first story can be found in LandMarked for Murder along with several other stories from members of the Los Angeles chapter of Sisters-in-Crime.

5). How do you select character names?

Sometimes names just pop into my mind and sometimes I research, looking for subtly suggestive, as in the case of Sybil, the landlady I mentioned before.  I wanted her to have an old fashioned name to suggest her age and her wisdom.  I haven’t quite used this allusion to its fullest yet and I may not.  I don’t ever want names to be obvious, but rather to hint at something deeper. This though doesn’t always happen.  Sometimes a name is just a name. 

Who am I going to tag?  Susan Tepper, Nate Tower, and H.L. Nelson

Monday, March 24, 2014

Tagged-My Writing Process

“My Writing Process” is a series of blog posts in which authors ‘tag’ each other to answer questions about their work. Stephen V. Ramey asked meto take part, along with Jamie Lackey.

Stephen is an American author of contemporary and speculative fiction. His short stories and flash fictions have appeared in dozens of venues from Microliterature to Daily Science Fiction. His first collection, Glass Animals, is available from Pure Slush Books.

So here are the questions:

What am I working on?

My suspense novel, What Came Before, has just been released online at Every Day Novels. A lot of work went into getting it ready first for online and then for print, but I think that phase is coming to a close.  Now I'm in promotion mode. 

However, I do have a second exciting project that I am still deeply involved with and that's Pure Slush's 2014-A Year in Stories.  This is a monster project!  I'm participating with 30 other writers. The brainchild of Matt Potter at Pure Slush out of Australia and requires each of us to write a story for one specific day a month for all the days of 2014. 

The umbrella title for my twelve stories is "The Old Road," but each one is a separate piece about people who live in this particular neighborhood on the edge of a small city. 

What we’re publishing is a series of stories from each writer that arcs across the whole year, involving the same character or set of characters. Twelve days in the life of that person or people. So every month, as the books are released, readers can dip into these characters’ lives. Like a serial.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

In most of my work, people die.  That happens in suspense, mystery, science fiction, lit, and humor and I’ve dabble in all of them.  One thing I try to do regardless of genre is to try and make the reader feel as if she’s immersed in the story, the characters, and the setting.  I want to feel almost as if they are watching a movie.  Sometimes I get it right, other times, not so much.

Why do I write what I do?

When I was a kid and spending most of my time reading, I would sometimes draw a picture of the spines of books with their titles in different colors, with different kinds of handwriting (no computer fonts to fake it with in those days) and these were all the books I was going to write.

How does my writing process work?

I write every day and I commit to a lot of projects: contests, writing groups, ideas that are juicy over a period time.  I keep track of these projects using my sticky notes with deadlines in bold.  This way I always have something I can open when I grab a few minutes.  When I have something that is burning to get free or just as powerful something I’ve promised to someone, I attack those first. 

The way I work is force myself to do something a project every day or even several times a day.  I believe that—just like with crossword puzzles or jigsaw puzzles—there are advantages to stepping away from whatever I’m doing so that when I come back, I always find some easy to do.  A misspelled or left out word, awkward language, something that jumps out and then I’m off with a fresh mindset working away.

I am tagging Christopher Allen and Robert Vaughan.

Christopher Allen is an expat, gluten-free, photo-literary travel(b)logue writer.  His fiction and creative non-fiction have appeared in many places over the last few years. Links to these publications are at I Must Be Off!


Robert Vaughan leads writing roundtables at Redoak Writing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He’s won several awards, He was former fiction editor at Thunderclap! and is senior flash fiction editor at JMWW. Find out more about his publications at robert-vaughan.com/.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Tribe of Us

by me and reblogged from Valarie Kinney's Organizing Chaos and Other Misadventures

In February, I spent the five days in the beautiful city of Seattle experiencing what community really is. I’m not talking about Pike’s Market--though charming with its wealth of tulips in buckets, its yellow-clad fish mongers, and yummy fish tacos--nor am I talking about the city’s juxtaposition of old and new, the brick and arches of the Corner Market flanked by sleek Washington scrapers as seen from the Ferris wheel.

 No, I’m talking people, those writers who come from all over the world like Christopher Allen from Munich and May-Lan Tan from London as well as from every part of the U.S. including San Diego’s Bonnie ZoBell or Staunton Virginia’s Clifford Garstang. There are so many more I could name who’ve helped create a virtual community out of the ether and know what the word “kinship” means.

What brought us together this week—in real life—was the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. AWP hosts a conference in a different U.S. city every year, and I’ve been lucky enough to travel to two of them, Boston in 2013 and Seattle this year. There were over a rumored 12,000 writers who braved snow-bound airports to come to this Pacific Northwest city and the lime green ribbons worn by each reminded me that we are a tribe of artists and teachers and students who love the written form. For me, it’s been an opportunity to meet writers I know from the various online communities such as Zoetrope, Fictionaut, and Facebook.

Why is this important? If you write, you know. Slumping over a laptop until the sun yawns over the horizon can be a lonely business and often loved ones can’t figure out why a warm quilt and a soft bed aren’t as important as pounding out words until your fingers ache. But 12,000 writers en masse understand. And those who take the time to tap out encouragement to you on Facebook or offer you thoughtful critiques of your work at Zoe, they are your compadres, your soul mates, your honest evaluators, who keep you focused on your intention: to put out the best work you can.

The planners and executors who work behind the scenes of conferences like AWP’s deserve applause for bringing in people like Annie Proulx and Ursula Le Guin so we can learn from masters and for coordinating the panels that increase our skills and artistry. I appreciate all of you, and thank you for your efforts. Even more, for me, and I suspect for most, the precious jewel in this is just being with and surrounded by the word people—publishers, editors, and writers, new, emerging, established and those exploding wide open.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Kathy Fish Talks about Writing and Together We Can Bury It

 This is a reprint from an interview I had with Kathy Fish for Flash Fiction Chronicles, published June 6, 2012.


One of the first names I heard when I discovered Flash Fiction was “Kathy Fish,” and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to interview her about her newest collection, Together We Can Bury It.

Gay Degani: Your stories are clear-eyed and lyrical with characters that provoke curiosity and concern. It’s easy to make a connection to them, their humanity, their strength, and their frailty. But there’s something else, something I find most intriguing about your writing.

Your work is subtle and sometimes the “meaning” seems just outside my reach—until I read the story again. Each new look produces a fresh nuance and I can't quite figure out how you create something that circles back on itself the way "Swicks Rule" or "Baby, Baby" "Orlando" or "Maidenhead to Oxford" or "Moth Woman” do, and still satisfy the reader so thoroughly? How do you break the "rules" we take so seriously?

Kathy Fish: Thanks so much for the kind words, Gay. You're asking such an interesting question here. I've had to ponder this a little. 

The simplest answer I can give is that the way I write is the way I think. I've always stayed pretty loyal to the voices in my head or rather, the sound in my head. I hear a certain rhythm to a narrative and plug in words and images to fit that rhythm. This is especially true of first sentences and paragraphs. 

Imagery takes over after sound and I just layer image upon image and somehow in that process, something like a narrative emerges. I guess when you put sound and imagery first, rather than plot and characterization, you're going to break a few rules. I know what the rules are and I know I'm breaking them, but it feels right to me, so I trust it. 

And that's not to say I don't revise. I just don't revise to fit the rules, I revise to get it closer to how I hear and see it in my head. 

As to making it work, I think there's something to be said for staying true to your own style and voice. There's a certain authenticity to that. Also, I realize it probably doesn't work for every reader, but I'm very grateful there are readers for whom it does work. 

GD: What about the "voices" in your head? Most writers experience this, but often discover "voice" only takes them so far, but I see in your response you've developed a process that goes beyond voice. When you say, "I revise to get closer to how I hear and see it in my head," what questions do you ask yourself?

KF: There is always that voice asking me, "Why are you writing this?" that I have to try to shut out. Confidence, as a writer, is not so much always feeling like your instincts are right, but doubting them and writing anyway.

I think process is ever changing, for all of us and what works now may not work later, but it helps to have an approach to writing fiction and that's my approach. My road blocks in the beginning had to do with not knowing my own voice and trying out all kinds of other writers' voices. I suspect that's how we all start, like learning to speak, it's all about imitation. Also, there was the self-doubt that had me changing tenses and POVs compulsively. I still do that, but not like I used to.

When I revise, I read the story aloud, over and over again. Almost always I will find myself stumbling in the same places and it's usually where I've overwritten or gone off-voice. Flow and rhythm are huge for me and where a story is lacking in those becomes really obvious when it's spoken. I think it does take practice and lots of trial and error.

GD: Your work has a lyrical beauty to it that must come from this technique of reading your work aloud. I see it especially in your opening sentences. You say "Flow and rhythm are huge for me and where a story is lacking in those becomes really obvious when it's spoken."

I love sentences like "I stand hugging my light sweater around me on Platform 6 at Maidenhead Station." Or from "My boyfriend and I grab our bikes and pedal across town for a parade that has probably been cancelled." ("Tenderoni")

Or "It was like the time we broke icicles dripping from the low eaves and brandished them like swords, slashing and sparkling, and you cut my cheek and dropped your weapon." ("Watermelon")

Or my favorite: "My twin cousins, Margie and Mae, are manning the grill, telling me about their diverticulitis." ("Swicks Rule")

You do more with these opening sentences than seduce the reader with rhythm. You promise something else is in store for the reader.  The way you work is to "get closer" to what you hear in your head. Is this how structure evolves for you?

KF: I think a mosaic structure is a means of reining in stream of consciousness writing. Thoughts and images and language shifts from section to section rather than sentence to sentence or word to word. Meaning emerges from how the sections are ordered, emphasis, etc. I like using it when it feels right for the story. 

GD: “Mosaic structure” doesn’t seem easy to pull off, yet you manage to do so time after time. Can we talk a little bit about pulling this collection together? You've created section in your book using lines from one of the stories in each section. What were your guiding thoughts?

KF: Pulling the collection and ordering the stories was very difficult. My stories are all over the place in terms of theme, point of view, and style. I envy writers who write all their stories in first person, for example. And write stories that are semi-autobiographical. There you already have one voice, a unifying theme, a sense of cohesion. I just don't do that. My narrators are not "me" and so there are all these disparate voices. 

But some themes do run through my stories with consistency and that was our starting point. Molly Gaudry, who runs The Lit Pub, was extremely helpful with this task. She gave me lots of intuitive and intelligent feedback as to how the stories felt to her. She also noticed how the stories seemed to weave in an out of the seasons of the year and also, the seasons of one's life: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. This gave us a starting point and we started grouping the stories this way. I also wanted to begin and end on "wintry" stories so that the book resonated with the stunning cover art by Jana Vukovic.

I pulled sentences or phrases from the stories to introduce the different sections of the book. I felt those phrases gave a good sense, emotionally, of the stories for their sections. I wanted each section to feel like a mini collection in its own right. It took a long time to get it just right but I think we were successful. I am very happy with how the collection reads and flows and the overall feel of it. 

GD: You've been a pioneer in the genre of flash. What advice would you give new and emerging writers about writing in general and writing flash in particular?

KF: That is a very kind thing to say, Gay, thank you. My advice for new, emerging writers:

1. Work hard. 

2. Actually have something to say. Maybe you will have to do a lot of thinking to figure out what you want to say. Thinking takes time and you might be in a hurry to get published, but there is enough trite bullshit in the world. You're better than that. 

3. Read read read read read. Read only what excites you. Don't read, ever, out of a sense of obligation. Read what inspires and challenges you. Fall in love with stories and books and other writers. They're your true teachers. 

You can purchase Kathy's book at the Lit Pub store HERE.

Kathy Fish’s short fiction has appeared in Indiana Review, The Denver Quarterly, New South, Quick Fiction, Guernica, Slice and elsewhere. She was the guest editor of Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web 2010.  She is the author of three collections of short fiction: a chapbook of flash fiction in the chapbook collective, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks of Short Short Fiction by Four Women (Rose Metal Press, 2008), Wild Life (Matter Press, 2011) and Together We Can Bury It, the 2nd printing of which is forthcoming from The Lit Pub.



Monday, March 03, 2014

What Came Before, my serialized novel, is Launched!!

I can't believe this is actually happening!!  I'm flying high (both literally right now on Alaska Airlines in a Boeing 737) and metaphorically too.  My suspense novel, What Came Before, is being serialized on-line beginning today and continuing through seventy 1000-word chapters.  Eventually you will be able to purchase it in paperback or in kindle and e-book format, but you can get started right now.

Please, if you have time, check it out and spread the word.

Here's a link to find out more.

Here's the link to begin reading.


Here's what readers have to say about What Came Before:

"What Came Before is a remarkable achievement." ~ Clifford Garstang

"Fast-paced and sharply written, with unforgettable characters, this novel by Gay Degani will grab hold and not let go." ~ Kathy Fish

"What Came Before is a fast-paced murder mystery set in the heart and spirit of L.A." ~ Tara Laskowski

"Do not sit down to read this with only a few minutes. You won't want to put this stunner down." ~ Bonnie ZoBell

Racial tension, an unexplained sibling, a fire, and plenty more action make this a page-turner. ~ Susan Tepper

"I can't think of an afternoon spent so energetically without moving an inch from my armchair!" ~ RKBiswas

"A brilliant and complex whodunit with a memorable, imperfect character at its helm." ~ Christopher Allen

"What Comes Before, Gay Degani's debut novel rumbles along at break-neck speed." ~ K.C. Ball


"Part murder mystery, part family saga, Gay Degani's What Came Before is an exciting debut not to be missed!" ~ Robert Swartwood

  ARTWORK © 2013 AINI TOLONEN