Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Writers Chat with Bonnie ZoBell

Bonnie ZoBell and I were roommates in Minneapolis for AWP and I remembered I never published this interview we made with each other a while back.  What better time than now??

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

One Writer's Awakening: Andre Dubus III

I'm at the point in Andre Dubus III's memoir Townie when he describes that moment in his life when he had his first very vivid realization he wanted to write.  No, wait, that's not what he says.  He says, he didn't want to write, he had to write.

In this part of his remembering, he has this girlfriend - one of his father's writing students.  He is losing her to another man, but he's not all that certain he cares.  He stops by her dorm room.  She not there, but a story by the other man sits on her desk.  He reads it and is carried away by the power of the story.  He notices its precise language, specific details, as well as the emotion created by the text, the empathy he feels.

It is an awakening.  Partly because the character in this other man's story is similar to himself: the diner busboy-dishwasher, for example, Dubus had been one.  But it wasn't only that. It was that the story illustrated a moment of consciousness of conscience that Dubus had been encountering in his own  life.  Not just the awareness of the wrongs in the world which he'd been witnessing and going through since childhood, but the awareness that writing about these wrongs might carry weight and power.

Dubus describes a drive down the highway through a forest and how, after reading this story from his would-be rival, he finally sees trees as they really are: each one different and separate rather than an unrelenting mass of green. That same day, instead of meeting a friend for their usual workout, he sits down and writes a story.

What's interesting to me is that Dubus's father was Andre Dubus II, a man who wrote short stories and taught writing most of his life, a published, well-respected author.  Children often follow in the footsteps of the parents, doctors have children who become doctors, lawyers have children who go into law, teachers beget teachers and so on.  But Andre Three grew up learning to deal with his problems with his fist. Often picked on as a kid, his solution was to make himself as strong and formidable as he could through weight-lifting and boxing.  His world-view was one of danger, conflict, injustice, and literally beating an aggressor to the punch.   He didn't understand that words, too, could change how people think and behave and can do so on a much larger stage than what the towns along the Merrimac River represent.

I came to Andre Dubus III through his novel House of Sand and Fog. Since most of the reading I do these days must include CDs and earphones, this book just happened to be on the library's "What's New" shelf.  I found it a revelation, how Dubus could bring his two antagonists so close to recognizing each other as real human beings - and thereby bring them to an understanding - and then how he snatches that opportunity from them.  This novel illustrates how underneath we are all human with human needs, and how our anger and prejudice keep us from recognizing ourselves in others.

Dubus's memoir not only reveals  his first awareness of his need to write, but his source material.  As with most writers who draw from their own emotions, his stories are rooted in his own life, and reading Townie is like rereading and treasuring HOSAF all over again as well as The Garden of Last Days, and the stories in Dirty Love.

Reawakening to life and its many details, including the complex contradictions in our humanity, is what hooks so many writers.  To write is to see the world in high relief and to relive it through the lives of the people we create. This lesson is never more clear than it is in Townie.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Research: Two Wars, Three Romances in A Touch of Stardust

Just finished listening to A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott.  I snapped it from the library shelf because of the picture of Carole Lombard on the cover and was delighted to find out that it centers on the making of Gone With the Wind.

Although the novel is a romance (well, three romances actually: Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, Carole Lombard and Clark Gable, and that of the heroine, Julie Crawford and Andy Weinstein), it also anchors the reader in the late 1930s with some history.  
  • General History: Two wars, the Civil War and the Second World War as well as the US and Hollywood’s attitude toward Jews and African-Americans, Hitler’s build-up of arms and campaign against non-Aryans and Jews, and America's general attitude toward women
  •  Specific History: The movie industry, popular music, clothing, slang, social mores including attitudes toward premarital sex.

This is all good stuff for me as I try to get my mind into the late 1940s. Yes, they're different eras – a world war of difference – but reading the novel has brought up some questions I need to investigate further.  How much did Hollywood and American change in their attitudes toward Jews, African-Americans, and women in those ten years?  

I think I know the answer, at least for women.  Rosie the Riveter proved to men and women alike that females were capable of doing much of the work that was traditionally done by men.  The Civil Rights Movement gained strength slowly after the war, but eventually grew into a powerful lobby against Jim Crow laws and inequality. To quote Sam Cook, “A Change Is Gonna Come.”  As for Jewish refugees, their lot during the war and just after war, revealed the high level of Anti-Semitism in America and other western countries. However, awareness of the Holocaust began to influence younger generations and some of that prejudice lessened. 

My characters, Billy Eastlake, Ambie, Alma, who are key to the prequel lived in the world when change was on the cusp but still far into the future.  Reading Alcott’s book has suggested to me that, as she revealed the prejudices of the time in A Touch of Stardust –  I need to consider adding new characters who will do just that.  I'll need to do more than this little bit of research.

As for the specific history gleaned from this book I've taken notes.  I have no intention of copying any of this - clothing, music, slang of the forties is just a Google away.  Rather it is  the feel of the era of the 30's I've come away with and it is this same experience  of time and place that I want to create for my readers. And yes, I'm aware that it is fictionalized history.

About A Touch of Stardust as posted on Amazon:

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dressmaker comes a blockbuster novel that takes you behind the scenes of the filming of Gone with the Wind, while turning the spotlight on the passionate romance between its dashing leading man, Clark Gable, and the blithe, free-spirited actress Carole Lombard. 

When Julie Crawford leaves Fort Wayne, Indiana, for Hollywood, she never imagines she’ll cross paths with Carole Lombard, the dazzling actress from Julie’s provincial Midwestern hometown. 

The young woman has dreams of becoming a screenwriter, but the only job Julie’s able to find is one in the studio publicity office of the notoriously demanding producer David O. Selznick, who is busy burning through directors, writers, and money as he films Gone with the Wind.

Although tensions run high on the set, Julie finds she can step onto the back lot, take in the smell of smoky gunpowder and the soft rustle of hoop skirts, and feel the magical world of Gone with the Wind come to life. Julie’s access to real-life magic comes when Carole Lombard hires her as an assistant and invites her into the glamorous world Carole shares with Clark Gable, who is about to move into movie history as the dashing Rhett Butler. 

In the ever-widening scope of this story, Julie is given a front-row seat to not one but two of the greatest love affairs of all time: the undeniable on-screen chemistry between Scarlett and Rhett, and offscreen, the deepening love between Carole and Clark. Yet beneath the shiny fa├žade, things in Hollywood are never quite what they seem, and Julie must learn to balance her career aspirations and her own budding romance with the outsized personalities and overheated drama on set. Vivid, romantic, and filled with Old Hollywood details, A Touch of Stardust will entrance, surprise, and delight.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Research Begins: What Came First

My suspense novel, What Came Before, came out first online at Every Day Novels as a serial, seventy chapters a day, five days a week, from March to June in 2014. It then became available in trade paperback and in Kindle format. Almost a year later, I’m beginning work on the prequel which will be set in the late 1940s Los Angeles and in the fictional town of Beauport, Louisiana which means I have some reading to do. 

I did quite a bit of research for WCB, exploring both the mid-1900s as well and the timbre of the times in 2000s in terms of the African-American experience, but I focused my book on a middle-aged, middle-class white woman who bears an uncomfortable resemblance to me. 

This made my job easier because I could reference my thoughts, experiences, and observations and use them as I deemed useful to the story.  I warped and exaggerated those experiences and similarities – my own life being undramatic.  However, I tried to keep the emotions real, taking from something I went through and using how I felt as my resource for how my characters might feel. As for my African-American characters, I had to ask questions, read books and articles, watch documentaries and movies, and observe and extrapolate and hope I could get it right.

Now I need to go back and research the same subjects, Hollywood, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, the movie business, Jim Crow laws, African-American history, Latino history, and the era of the mid-19th century.  I went through my bookshelves and found some of the references I’d collected and will share some of my notes from this research as I work through it.  I'll also reference movies etc.  and what I learn from them. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

What Came Before First in Best Mystery Novel Poll

What Came Before won first place for Best Mystery novel in this year's Preditors and Editors poll !!!! Thank you so much to everyone who voted for my novel!!! I really appreciate the time and effort!! Hooray. You guys are the best!!! 

Standings for Mystery Novels

1. What Came Before, Gay Degani, Every Day Novels,
2. Murder on The Seine, Nancy Curteman, Solstice Publishing,
2. Hanging by a Hair, Nancy J. Cohen, Five Star Publishing,
3. Dana Marton, Forced Disappearance, Montlake,
4. Conviction of Innocence, Chet Pleban, Gypsy Shadow,
5. Deadly Puzzles, Terry Odell, Terry Odell,
6. Ripped in Two, AJ Kohler, Solstice Publishing,
6. Calculation, Steve Marini
7. Sticking Point, Susan Whitfield, Amazon,
8. Island Charms, Sharon McGregor, Whimsical Publications, LLC,
8. A Death in the Hills, Paul A. Barra, W&B Publishing,
9. Dr Chandrix Dies, Christopher D Abbott, Amazon,
10. Secrets, Lies & Homicide, Patricia Dusenbury, Uncial Press, 


What Came Before, Gay Degani, Every Day Novels

The comments below are from those who voted for this entry. 

Gay Degani's 'What Came Before' gives the reader interesting characters in a well-written novel of much mystery. I highly recommend this book.

A very visual writer, a delight to read.

I have followed her writing and love all her work.

A quick read, 'What Came Before' left me hungry for more! Degani knows how to bring characters to life and care about what happens to them. I look forward to reading more from this author!

Loved the short snappy chapters and zippy pace of this novel.

Great debut novel. T

This a fast-paced entertaining story that combines elements of a good police procedural with a family mystery. It has great pacing. The main characters are well-drawn and believable. I cared about Abby and Mackenna and I kept turning the page to find out what happened. It’s a good story.

A fast-paced murder mystery and a great character-driven story.

This author kept me on the edge of my seat and surprised me at every turn! A great read!

Monday, December 08, 2014

Shameless Self-Promotion, but it's Time to SHOP!!

With Christmas so close, I decided to make another push because I think WHAT CAME BEFORE is a perfect choice as Christmas gift for anyone who likes mysteries, novels of suspense, or family sagas (well, of course I do! I wrote it and want you to buy it, love it, and gift it!!)

Here's what a few people have said about the book:

"...a gripping story that forces Abbie to come out of her shell and embark on a journey in which she'll confront her greatest fears, a journey that will ultimately uncover the truth about a secret love story that rocks Abbie to her core, as she comes to finally understand, accept, and believe in herself." - Syrie James

"I loved the premise, the fast pacing and the characters. It was a wonderful read that never insulted the readers' intelligence. Looking forward to Gay's next tale. BTW-I'm passing this on to my 14 year old granddaughter who will get hooked early as I did." - Paul Beckman

"Gay Degani’s debut novel is a force of nature. The author has been honing her craft by writing flash fiction for a few years. She is a master at getting quickly inside the head of a character and taking us on a journey we won’t soon forget. What Came Before is just such a journey." - Gayle Bartos-Poole

"This book has terrifically drawn characters, and plot that unfolds into more plot, giving the novel a textured ongoing presence till its very end. Loved this book! Most highly recommend!" - Susan Tepper

"To hold my attention, a book must first grab me. But then the writer must sustain the suspense and action until the last page. I must care about the characters and what happens to them. When an author can do that I know I have someone I need to follow. Gay Degani is such an author. Hand's down a masterful debut!" - Raul Melendez

"I loved this book. Here's why: What Came Before relies on more than a murder mystery to keep readers turning the pages. In addition to fast pacing, a clever plot and complex relatable characters, this novel offers glimpses into societal expectations and racial restrictions during the 1940s and 50s--all written in smooth, beautifully-rendered prose." Sue Ann Connaughton

"This a fast-paced entertaining story that combines elements of a good police procedural with a family mystery. It has great pacing. The main characters are well-drawn and believable. I cared about Abby and Mackenna and I kept turning the page to find out what happened. It’s a good story." - Len Joy

"...there is nothing hasty about Degani's character development, nor the authenticity of her interactions, nor the complexity of her plot. There are many layers here, and many open-ended questions--about race, celebrity, neurosis, the place of a woman in her family and the larger world, logic versus assumption... And on, and on." - Susan O'Neill

"This stunning novel from veteran Gay Degani is nothing less than fantastic!...The darker mysteries and pathos are balanced with subtle humor throughout. Degani has given us a novel that speaks to the present time in which we live, and resounds with this inner question we all might ponder: WHO AM I?" - Robert Vaughn

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

This novel is an unraveling narrative of red herrings and second guesses, with twists and turns of plotline that keep you turning the pages. What Came Before is a detective story that is both engaging and enthralling, populated by vivid characters portrayed with a deft and precise prose. - Literary Fiction Book Review 

Degani's affable debut, a suspenseful novel about mothers and daughters, aims to be thrilling, socially relevant and heartwarming all at once. - Kirkus Review

To go to the Amazon page (seen below) to purchase, click HERE!!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Complex and Compelling: Bonnie ZoBell's "What Happened Here"

This review is followed by an interview with Bonnie ZoBell.   Scroll down to view the interview first.

Bonnie ZoBell’s novella,“What Happened Here,” opens her collection of the same name, and her first page description of the PSA Flight collision with a Cessna in 1978 over the city of San Diego anticipates a collision of characters, the breaking up of relationships, the falling down of spirits—the kind of tragedies that permeate the stories that follow. What else is revealed is how such calamities, large and small, are endured and overcome with love and kindness.
 “The explosion was instantaneous—an enormous fireball whooshed into the sky, a mushroom of smoke and debris. Scraps of clothing leaped onto telephone poles, body parts fell on roofs, tray tables scattered across driveways. Airplane seats landed on front lawns, arms and legs descended onto patios, and a torso fell through the windshield of a moving vehicle.” 
Each of the eleven pieces (ten stories as well as the novella) take place in that North Park neighborhood of San Diego around thirty years after the PSA jet crashed into the ground. The ghosts of those who died linger in the shadows, behind palm trees, along the streets at dusk. The macaws who also haunt the area as they chatter and soar add a hopeful counterpoint.

The lingering impact of disaster impacts three specific characters in the novella: Lenora, a woman struggling to find herself after years of feeling discounted and unloved, her husband John who battles the “monster” of manic-depressive disorder, and their neighbor, Archie, who is the most obsessed with the crash even though he was not present for the disaster which took place years before. The author does a lovely job of showing the precarious state of the newly married couple’s relationship through references to Lenore in Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” as John woos Lenora.

The raven and the macaws seem to represent the contrast of the blackness of a monster against the bright hope one can find in life. That hope comes from Archie, the complaining neighbor, who in the end manages to reach John in his depressive state in a way Lenora cannot.

In the second story of the collection, the eponymous Uncle Rempt, brings hope to Susan who is trapped in a narrow, constricted life. “Bloodstone.”
He folded it into my hand. “You need to keep the thing, sweetheart, living with that brother of mine. …The stone of courage, they say. Destroys the wall of prisons, opens all doors.” 
Like the North Park,macaws,Uncle Rempt, in his “Area 51” written in metallic silver on his t-shirt…his blue velvet jacket,” is full of color. He even sleeps “in the store room with a bunch of colored glass.”

One of the strongest pieces in the collection is “People Scream.” The shriek that shatters the calm one Wednesday night at the Center for Life haunts both the receptionist Heather and the story itself. She is filled with self-doubt—perhaps even self-loathing—and it feels inevitable that she works where other self-doubters, those who have turned to addiction, have come to recover. She works here for the wrong reasons--to meet men--and she’s come to the wrong place. Of course, she does meet them, including Wally, including the homeless drunk in her car.

Again the yin/yang of tragedy and hope finds its way into Zobell’s work. What Happened Here is rife with unhappy women who stick to their broken men and a few who hide from them like Lolly in “Rocks.” Yet these women are to be admired for their grit, their ability to forgive.

Hope and tragedy seep together in this group of stories, creating a kind of sunrise or sunset with macaws winging toward the reader or away. Zobell pens a line in her piece,“This Time of Night,” that sums up her work in general: “The evening is as close as it can be to darkness while still being light.”

Press 53 published Bonnie ZoBell's connected novella and stories, What Happened Here, in February 2014. She’s won such honors as NEA, a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, and the Capricorn Novel Award. She received an MFA from Columbia University and currently teaches at San Diego Mesa College. She is an Associate Editor at The Northville Review and at Flash Fiction Chronicles. Her collection The Whack-Job Girls (Monkey Puzzle Press) portrays a posse of women who don't fit in or are deeply disconnected from society with dark humor.