Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Meet LAst Resort Author Gay Degani "Highland Park Hit"

Excerpt from "Highland Park Hit" by Gay Degani

Corner on Figueroa in Highland Park
Photo by Gay Degani
Late afternoon sun streams through my cousin’s renovated house, so bright I’m temporarily blinded, but find myself quickly wrapped in Clovis’s bony arms.  I think he’s crying.

I smooth back his hair. “Talk to me, cher?  Wha’s wrong?”

He points toward the kitchen.

I twist around taking in the open concept of living room, dining, and kitchen, the back yard through sliders, all on view in a single glance. Then I swallow hard at what I spy next. At the foot of the quartz island on the dark laminate floor sprawls a man’s body.

“Stay here,” I say, and offering up a pray to that Detective Lenny Brisco from Law & Order, I creep into the kitchen and stoop to take this poor man’s pulse but there’s a hole in his neck a bullet hole—I know this from TV. His flat dead eyes seem to ask me why?

I don’t know. I throw up. Twice.

The Rochelle Staab Questions asked of Gay Degani:

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

Photo by Rachael Warecki
I’ve lived here a long time.  I don’t think I know the difference between something weird and an “only in LA” moment.

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

I do. I want to write a good suspense novel/film in the vein of “Rebecca,” “Suspicion,” & “Shadow of a Doubt.” These are all domestic suspense stories, and that’s what I think I do best, dealing with regular people in scary situations. It’s what my novel, “What Came Before” is.

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

Short stories allow a writer to hone his or her craft. 6,000 words are much easier to tackle than 66,000 words. You can rethink the plot, edit, revise, polish, even start over in a relatively short time.

What is the biggest challenge in writing to theme?

I don’t think theme is a challenge. It’s really a tool to help shape a story, decide what should be in and what should be out. It helps keep the characters and plot on track and deepens a reader’s enjoyment. It gives the endeavor meaning.

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

Of course.  It’s too difficult to pull stuff out of thin air.  Could you make a vase without clay?  The trick is changing to character to fit the needs of the story.

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?

I’m interested in gentrification, how it affects the residents, though in this story it’s part of the milieu. I chose Highland Park which is an up and coming community in East LA because its close to me is an authentic community. Also I’m interested in other facets of restoring homes and how obsessed people are with watching renovation shows on TV.

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

No.  This story came about because of the premise of the anthology. I needed to pick an LA area, which dictated what the setting would be. Then all I had to do was kill someone.

What came first, the character or the plot?

Available on Amazon
Character—also dictated by the anthology’s theme: thinking LA is the promised land. I chose a Louisiana cousin as the inspiration for Fanchon Landry, or “Fig” as her family calls her.

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

Preservation Hall, Cajun music, the blues.

Favorite writing quote—yours or from someone else…

“The only kind of writing is rewriting.” Ernest Hemingway which leads to my own quote. “Never fear the shit draft.”

Your writing ritual begins with… 

Seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.

About Gay Degani

Available at Amazon

Gay Degani is the author of a full-length collection of short stories, Rattle of Want  (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). She’s had four flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Glass Woman Prize. She blogs at Words in Place.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Meet LAst Resort Author: Wrona Gall "Thump Bump and Dump"

Excerpt from:  "Thump Bump and Dump" by Wrona Gall

Photo found in the Public Domain

LA embodied a trend-setting dynamic that challenged people to do more, be more, experience everything. This vibe inspired him to reinvent himself, to overcome his melancholy by rescuing an actual victim. Not some wimp like Francine who threw a bottle of pills down her throat.

Local scavengers would have boosted his rental van by now. The thieves were probably barreling down the 101, oblivious to the bloody cargo area. An abandoned house loomed in front of him. The rotted porch, a strong wind away from collapse, creaked under his footsteps. He ducked under the sagging doorframe. Testing the floor with each step kept him from crashing through the wood. After scrubbing every inch of exposed skin with antiseptic, he tossed his wig, moustache and costume onto a pile of garbage. 

He smoothed the wrinkles out of his second layer of clothes, a Lakers T-shirt, cargo shorts and flip flops and dug a candle out of his pocket. He lit the wick and wedged it into his trashed belongings. In a few minutes, Howard Green would be incinerated. He’d again be Stuart Evans, LA cool guy.

Walking toward a glow of neon lights, he texted an Uber to take him to The Grove. This atonement stuff really made him hungry. He craved a juicy cheeseburger oozing bloody grease.

 The Rochelle Staab Questions asked of Wrona

Photo by James R. Gall 
What is the weirdest thing that ever happened to you in Los Angeles?

We moved from Chicago to Ojai a year ago, so I haven’t experienced weird yet. So far, my impressions are great weather and wonderful people.

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

Seeing my daughter Vanessa on the red carpet.

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

I write to create the endings I want to be on the news. 

What is the biggest challenge in writing to theme?

Staying on track. I tend to wander.

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

My characters are collages of people I know.

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?

I found an LA neighborhood that resembled our inner city Chicago neighborhood of twenty years where street people, artists, and rich collectors mingled and enjoyed each other while gentrification changed the buildings, but not the rich diversity.

What came first, the character or the plot?

Character, always.

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

I play old black and white mysteries that function as white noise.Favorite writing quote—yours or from someone else…

Enjoy what you write.

Your writing ritual begins with… 

Diet Pepsi and a chocolate chip cookie

About Wrona Gall

Wrona Gall moved from Chicago to Ojai with husband, Jim, daughter, Vanessa and rescue Westie, Zoe, in 2016. “Thump, Bump, and Dump” is her second published short story. She is currently writing Resolve, her second novella about Deckle Ahern who is diagnosed low-spectrum autistic and transforms his life from visual artist to Samurai Avenger when his mentor is murdered. Wrona divides her time between writing and sculpture.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Meet LAst Resort Writer Lynne Bronstein "Mimo"

Excerpt from “Mimo" by Lynne Bronstein

Photo by Sameer Kahn
Back in the ‘70s, if you were walking in Venice at night, you might have seen her standing in a doorway, singing softly to herself. You would have had to look straight ahead or even down because she was tiny, not more than five foot one and she herself joked that her bones were like noodles. You would have known her by her hair. It was always some color not found in nature, blue-green or vivid red or purple with silver streaks. She didn’t have it done in a salon, she never could have afforded that,so she got the dyes from somewhere and did it herself in public restrooms or friends’ homes. She spiked it and put some sort of grease on it and it stuck up from her head like alien plant life.

She came wrapped in old kimonos, worn camouflage jackets, denim vests and jeans, velvet robes, falling-apart lace gowns. Her nose was a bit beaky and there was a scraped area on one side of her face. She’d survived a motorcycle crash years before.

She called herself Mimo. People thought she was mispronouncing Memo. She pronounced it with a short “i.” Was her name Mimosa? Miriam?

Few people knew her real name. Welfare knew what it was. Mimo used friends’ addresses and at one time or another had a post office box. She lived nowhere and everywhere. She slept on peoples’ couches, in shelters, or on the street. Sometimes people told her she ought to get a permanent place to live and she shook her head and said “I don’t want to live anywhere.”

Why, Mimo? they would ask her. And she always answered:

 “I’m free this way.”

The Rochelle Staab Questions for Lynne Bronstein

Photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher
What is the weirdest thing that ever happened to you in Los Angeles?

I’ve lived here a long time so there could be many incidents that I could cite. Maybe it was the time when I just accidentally ran into Jim Morrison on Santa Monica Boulevard (it was near the studio where The Doors were recording LA Woman at the time). He told me he was busy and I should meet him at the same place the following week. He never showed up.

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

I always wanted a house that I own. The cost of a house now is too much. I used to design the house I wanted to live in, even drawing floor plans. I might instead build a doll house using found objects.

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

I’ve always written things. I can’t stop myself-it’s compulsive. I “wrote” my first poem before I could even write-my father had to write down what I dictated. I like to tell stories. A short story is easier than a full-length novel but it’s also a challenge in another way-you have to hit the beginning, middle, and end quickly and develop your characters quickly in fewer words.

What is the biggest challenge in writing to theme?

I often interpret a theme according to my imagination and my ideas, which may not be what an editor has in mind. When I submitted my story “Mimo” to LAst Resort, I was afraid it would not be accepted because it was not a whodunit or procedural but that was more a matter of story type than of theme. It turned out that I had fulfilled the requirements by creating a character that came from somewhere else and encountered bad luck in LA.

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

As I describe below, “Mimo” is based on a real murder case and the character Mimo is based on a real woman-but I did not know her so I created her from bits and pieces of the behavior of real homeless people that I have observed. I also put some of myself in her. But then again, my character Roger the journalist, is also me to some extent. Most of my characters tend to contain parts of me. We know ourselves best (or we think we do).

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?

Venice was the neighborhood in which the real-life incident that I based my story on took place. But I also know Venice like the back of my hand. For many years I lived nearby in the Ocean Park section of Santa Monica. I worked in Venice, volunteered for a local newspaper published in Venice, and hung out with friends in Venice. I found myself referencing real Venice places in my story, such as the Lafayette CafĂ© where I used to breakfast on weekends. I wanted to capture the ambience of Venice as I knew it in the 1970s before the onslaught of development and faux-hipness that has taken it over now. It was a place where everyone was valued, even homeless people. I’d like to think that nothing can completely kill that spirit.

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

The real-life incident took place in 1977. The model for Mimo was Benita Bingham, known in Venice as “Bingo,” who was murdered by her ex-husband after he was released from prison. I never knew Bingo; I merely heard stories about her from people who did know her. My theory is that she resisted living in an apartment because it would be more difficult for her ex to find her if she were homeless. That’s the basis for what happens in my story.

What came first, the character or the plot?

They came simultaneously, due to the real-life incidents that inspired them. But I had to work on the development of Mimo as a believable character. I thought about how she would look and dress and talk. I wanted another character for her to interact with, a character that would also “ground” the story in reality for the reader and for that purpose I created Roger the journalist. I originally wrote the story in the third person but I switched to first person and it made an incredible difference in tone and credibility.

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

I prefer to write without music, with as much silence as possible. Music, especially if it has a vocal, distracts me and the lyrics get in the way. Instrumental music is sometimes okay to write poetry to.

Favorite writing quote—yours or from someone else…

I can’t think off hand of a quote. I can paraphrase something from Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions anthology: he said that above all, what writers give is their courage. Add to that Anais Nin’s advice to writers that they write every day and you have my guidelines for the life of a writer.

Your writing ritual begins with…  

I wish I could begin the day with writing before anything else but even my journal has to wait a bit. When I wake up each day, the first thing I have to do is feed the four cats. Then comes breakfast, showering, dressing, writing my journal, yoga, chores around the house. When I do get down to writing, I like it to be quiet, comfortable temperature-wise, and I usually have to have access to liquid refreshment. I often have to get up and pace around. If I am “on a roll” I just sit tight and type away. When I begin to write, I just begin to write. It has always begun that way.

More about Lynne Bronstein

Lynne Bronstein is the author of four poetry collections, Astray from Normalcy, Roughage, Thirsty in the Ocean, and Border Crossings. Her poetry and short fiction have been published in magazines, newspapers, anthologies, and on web sites. She has been a journalist for five decades, writing for the Los Angeles Times and other Los Angeles area newspapers. She also writes a blog, “No Rainy Days.” Recently she adapted Shakespeare’s As You Like It as a contemporary Valley-speak spoof which was performed at the Studio City and Hollywood public libraries. She has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes for poetry and for two Best of the Net Awards for short fiction. She won a prize for her short story “Why Me” and two prizes from Channel 37 public access for news writing. She has taught poetry and journalism workshops for children at 826LA and for the Arcadia Library and was cited by the city and county of Los Angeles for her mentoring work with Jewish Vocational Service. Her latest publication is a short story in the crime fiction anthology LAst Resort from Sisters in Crime. A native New Yorker and LA transplant, she lives in the San Fernando Valley and has four cats.