Monday, February 24, 2014

Surrounded by Water by Stefanie Freele, A Review

Stefanie Freele’s collection, Surrounded by Water, contains stories with strong, often lyrical, language and believable, down-to-earth characters, each piece, a reading experience.  It’s her women I am drawn to.  They’re tough.  In “Over the Rolling Waters Go,” the creeping reality of a wife and mother is juxtaposed against the peppy gung-ho spirit of her husband and his idea of family dynamic.  What seems at first blush to be an innocent virtue turns out to be bullying very quickly.  The suspense builds and…I won’t talk about the ending. 

Another mother, in the short but totally satisfying, “If the Unsuitable Neighbor Smells Snow,” shows her own fierce determination. 

“A Bunch of Cash Landed my Way” brings us humorous wishful thinking and “The Problem of Pillows” illustrates Ms. Freele’s deft touch at dialogue. For example, when a student runs into professor with the instincts of a sybil.

“You again,” she [the professor] says without glancing my way.  “You’re not locked in the Bermuda Triangle.” This is stated like a professorial fact, one she may test me on next Tuesday. 

I check my person and confirm I’m not locked anywhere; but as always, I’m intrigued by mention of the Bermuda Triangle, a place you may enter, but gamble on an exit.  I respond, “I’m free to come and go.”

The professor predicts the student will need a new pillow and because the prof has been right in the past, and the old pillow is one of “procrastination,” the student runs out and buys a new one, “a down one, filled with pluckings from once-warm bodies.”  One of my favorite lines in the story is “All of my unfinished business lies upon that pillow, snuggles along its two-hundred thread count loveliness.”  

Wonderful combination of image and meaning and this kind of language can be found throughout. 

And then there is “While Surrounded by Water,” for which the collection has been named.  I’m tempted to call it a “flash novel” because though it is the length of a short story, the content is as gratifying as a much longer work with characters in crisis coming to grips with who they are.  Once again there is a strong, tough woman at its center, one who is underappreciated but full of life and determination.  This seems to be a theme in Ms. Freele’s work.  Quiet triumphs over what life dishes out. 

Published by Press 53 out of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with gorgeous cover designed by Kevin Morgan Watson and art by Dariusz Klimczak, Surrounded by Water is a collection worthy of a large appreciative audience.  

Monday, February 03, 2014

Storm Interview, Me and Gloria Garfunkel : Pure Slush's 2014- A Year in Stories

Gloria Garfunkel interviews me about my story cycle for Pure Slush's 2014 A Year in Stories.

Gay Degani 

The Storm
January 20 2014 
Interview by Gloria Garfunkel 

There’s no doubt about it, this is the Gothic opening of a creepy tale. How did you decide to start with the point of view of a distant narrator and then switch to that of the protagonist, Jamie. 

 I’m not sure this was a conscious decision, but rather what occurred to me as I thought about how to sustain a group of stories that would arc over the entire year. I realized I had to create something to entice readers to come back and the stranger showed up on the screen when I first sat down to write. When I began this project, I knew I wanted to use the creek and some 1920’s bungalows I pass by on my walks in the late afternoon. It can get rather eerie along the Arroyo and I found these elements compelling. I also knew creating a neighborhood would allow me a variety of interconnected characters, but who they would be, I didn’t know. Who was the stranger? I didn’t know that either. 

Do you like Gothic tales and movies and if so, what are your favorite? 

It’s funny that you cast this as Gothic. I hadn’t thought about this project as anything but suspense, but it makes perfect sense to me. I realize now how inevitable it is that I would write in this way. I’ve been an avid lifetime reader of Gothic romances (no vampires or werewolves, please, just brick up the wife in the wall of the manse). 

From my first Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt novels to the Brontes and Daphne DuMaurier, I’ve never tired of them. I even wrote my dissertation on feminism in Gothic romances of the 19th century. 

What do you think are the Gothic elements in this first story and were they all intentional or did some just creep in? 

Although I would answer this question “they just crept in,” it is obvious years of reading these kinds of stories has had its influence on me. What could be more Gothic than angry nature? And wind! Night! A heroine who feels threatened and takes action? A dark stranger? A seemingly interested male? I just realized too, that though they live in the bungalows, there’s a deserted mansion next door! Wow. 

Discounting what happens later, does the hero, the stranger Mars who is the son of Mr. German, give you the creeps like he does me? 

I wanted Mars to be unsettling and suspicious. I want the reader to wonder about him so I made him aggressive with his attentions. Creating tension is the only way I know to get people to move on to the next story. 

Is the Gothic element just an opening scene or does the story proceed to a Gothic ending? Don’t tell me, but I hope Jamie’s kids are safe. 

My goal has always been to have mystery in this story. As I said before, I hadn’t really thought of it in terms of labels, so I hadn’t considered a “gothic” ending. In Jane Eyre and Rebecca, fire destroys Thornfield and Manderlay respectively. Both Mr. Rochester and Maxim de Winter are ruined men, but their women are faithful. I’ll have to think about this. You’ve opened up a door here, Gloria. The ending is, as yet, unwritten.

You can read interviews by Gloria Garfunkel with other authors participating in Pure Slush's 2014-A Year in Stories here:

*Pure Slush’s big project for 2014 is under way. It’s a multi-volume anthology called 2014, it includes 12 volumes, each volume devoted to a month of the year, and therefore named January Vol. 1February Vol. 2, etc.

Each writer involved is contributing one story per month ... so 12 stories in all, from 28 of the 31 writers involved. (11 from two of them, and 7 from the last.)

And each of these writers is taking one day of each month - the 5th, the 13th, the 21st, for example - and setting his / her stories on that same day of every month.

So, for example, a writer takes the 10th – Friday 10th January, Monday 10th February, Monday 10th March, Thursday 10th April, etc – throughout the year.

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.

Each volume is being released (in print and eBooks) a month or more before the start of each month in 2014 ... so readers can read a story a day, in real time.

Written in the present tense, these stories can be read as if they are happening NOW ... which if the reader chooses to read one per day, will be like experiencing these characters in real time.

All the days of the month were assigned to writers who said yes, I want to be involved, put my name against a date! ... and you can check out who they are by clicking here.