Interview with Author/Artist Gay Degani

Gay Degani writes surrounded by the frantic chortles of parrots. She has published in journals and anthologies including The Best of Every Day Fiction 2008 and TWO (2009). Her stories online can be read at The Battered Suitcase, Night Train, 10 Flash, 3 A.M. Magazine, as well as other publications. Pomegranate Stories is a collection of eight stories by Gay. She is the editor of EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles and all her online fiction can be accessed from her blog.  Welcome Gay!

Gay, you have an impressive list of short story credits. What attracted you to fiction in small packages?

Gay: Two reasons are at the bottom of my adventure into short stories. The first was to use short stories to help me learn the craft of fiction writing and the second was to actually publish something. I love movies, so when I started writing “with intent,” I wrote screenplays. I live in LA, what can I say?

I worked hard to learn the basic format—this in the old days with no Final Draft—and to write dialogue and lean narrative, and to master structure. Eventually, I decided to shift to novelizing a couple of my scripts, but I had trouble keeping track of the plot, the characters, the structure, and the language. Although screenwriting taught me some skills, I didn’t really know how to apply all of them to one integrated piece of work.

Solution: write short so I could practice using content, language, structure, and purpose all together in a manageable length. Also with the advent of online e-zines, short stories began to have real market value (if not monetary) and I was dying for a publishing credit. Not just so my family and friends would take me seriously, but so I would take me seriously.

What should a writer keep in mind when writing short stories versus longer narrative form?

Gay: The basics of short or long fiction writing are the same: tell a good story. The difference is that language, while always important, becomes uber-important in a short piece. There can be no wasted words. Vigor in verbs and specificity in nouns are essential to short fiction.

In a novel, a writer may get away with calling a tree, a tree, but in short fiction, not only does the tree have to be specific, it must do more in the story than offer the information that a character happens to be outside. It must set up a specific outside and be a tree that will suggest something else in the story, add another level, or give the reader symbolic visual. This something else may not be picked up by the reader on a conscious level, but on a sub-conscious level. A palm tree suggests California. A naked stick of a palm tree suggests something that has lost its beauty; it provides a more powerful image and therefore, does double-duty for the writer.

How long, on average, does it take to complete a short story? And do you adhere to a writing schedule?

Gay: Each story is different in its development cycle. Sometimes, but rarely, something will be fairly complete in an afternoon, but most of the time stories go through a slower writing with me.

For the last two or three years I have written something most days, either a free write from a prompt, or a piece for an e-zine I would like to get into, or because there’s some phrase or image or structure I want to play with. A part of my day is spent revising. And of course, there is the “novel” which I have written, but can’t bring myself to finish the editing process.

I go into my office in the garage around 6:30 and stay out most of the day, coming in for meals and breaks. I waste time out there too, occasionally painting or dare I admit it, napping.

Do you have several stories in play at one time or do you take one piece through the final editing process before beginning another?

Gay: As a devotee to the idea of process, I always have stories at different stages of the writing process. My first step with any story is to take whatever inspiration I have and draft a fast draft to discover where exactly it will take me. Ron Carlson’s little book Ron Carlson Writes a Story helped me to embrace this idea. Unlike Ron, however, my initial draft is never good-to-go. My work is strongest when I let something rest for a couple hours or days and then go back to it.

This second stage is when I discover what the story is really about, its purpose. This can be a single moment in a flash fiction piece, what that moment means to my character, good or bad. Or in a longer work, that purpose is what gives me the story arc. Once I know that, I can rewrite and edit so that everything in the story serves the story arc. This idea of serving the story is at the bottom of most strong short writing: no extra sentences can be kept because they are pretty, all unnecessary words are edited out, and a steady focus is maintained to achieve the impact the writer wants to leave with the reader.

In my short collection Pomegranate, the story, “Pomegranate,” is served by the story question, “Will this girl ever find her way home again and more importantly, will she be satisfied with her fate?” I didn’t know this when I started the story, especially the second part of the question. I only knew when I’d finished the first couple drafts.

The third step is to work toward the right language and tone, to make certain all aspects work, at least to me. This is the editing, revising, polishing, proof-reading stage that might take two drafts or even ten drafts.
At different stages of each story, however, I don’t count just on my own impressions. I have “designated readers” to help me see a piece the way the reader will see it and make any needed changes. Many online writing friends from communities such as Every Day Fiction, Facebook, Zoetrope, and Fictionaut have become my DRs.

Pomegranate is a compilation of short stories released in 2009. Could you tell us about your decision to put this book together and what steps you took?

Gay: Many publishers in the online writing community have chapbook contests and after entering a couple (and not winning), I decided sending off 50 pages of stories to various publishers and getting selected seemed to be a roundabout way to do this with sites like out there. Most convincing for me was that print publishers are even less likely to publish a collection of short fiction than online publishers because collections are less saleable unless the author is already an established novelist.

Could you elaborate on the theme of Pomegranate?

Gay: I wanted a theme for my chapbook contest entries because I thought I’d have a better shot at getting selected if I did. The most common thread seemed to be “ mother-daughters.” This made me think of Demeter and Persephone and if I wrote a story with this classic myth in mind, I would have something to tie everything together. I’d earn both my title and my theme. I made this decision at the same time that Jaycee Dugard was found. Something gelled for me and out came “Pomegranate.”

As an artist, you also did the artwork for the cover of Pomegranate. How do you turn a painting into a book cover?

Gay: I’m an abstract painter working in metallic acrylics, so I took about 20 photos of pomegranates and ran my favorite through Photoshop using several different filters. Part of this was because of time constraints since I wanted the book printed for Christmas of 2009. but also because I have less confidence creating representational art than abstract. Self-publishing, if you are cheap like me and you don’t want to hire one of the publishers’ consultants, is very demanding. I didn’t really have the time to stress about whether I could come up with a painting that would be graphically eye-catching.

Do painting and writing complement each other, or does each offer a different release?

Gay: The two arts offer me different experiences. They are a wonderful combination for me. I have no angst about painting whatsoever (unless it’s going to appear on the cover of my book!) I paint to please myself, but my ego is all wrapped up in writing. I have a desire to be good and continue to strive toward that goal.

What’s next for you?

Gay: I plan on continuing to write short fiction. It’s so much fun to experiment with different structures and subject matter that I can’t really see giving it up, but my major goal this year is to finish my novel. I’ve worked on it for a long time and I feel it can be good if I can force myself stay focused on it long enough to get it revised and polished. If anyone would like to read a version of the first chapter, I adapted it to flash form at Every Day Fiction. It’s called Stranger on the Porch.

Thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today!

Ladies Man – A Short Story in Four Parts – Part Four

Continued from yesterday…

Ladies Man
Part Four

by G.B.Pool

Now, I’m in L.A. Opportunity beckons.

Whataya know. The brown guy came back. He’s got a plate of food. For me? Hot dog. I found another friend.

I limped toward him. Sympathy never hurts. Unless they throw another rock. He set down the plate and pointed to it. I gave him a good long stare just to let him know I’m proud. I can take it or leave it. See?

He left it. Good. I’m starved.

I ambled over to the plate and darn near licked the restaurant’s name off the china. That’ll hold me for another day. I wished the brown guy would step back outside so I could let him know how much I appreciated the meal. But, hey, I’m really not the sentimental type.

Now let’s see what L.A. has to offer a guy like me. I’m resourceful. I sauntered down the street, feeling pretty sure of myself. The street was crowded. This time of day in Las Vegas, I’d be chillin’ somewhere until nightfall.

That’s when I saw him. He ran out of an alley and made a grab for some old broad’s purse. The woman tried holding on, but she was no match for the thug. He pushed her to the pavement and ran back down the alley.

I was after him in a flash. I could outrun the bum without breaking a sweat and was crawling up his back before he knew what hit him. I landed a few good swipes across his neck and he shrieked like a girl. The purse fell from his hand as he tried to stop the bleeding. I gave him a few more whacks and then got off him, snatched the purse, and dashed back up the alley.

People were helping the old woman off the sidewalk. She was pretty shaken, but when she saw the purse sitting at her feet and me smiling at her, she looked a whole lot better.

“My hero,” she said in a soft voice. “Wanna come home with me, big guy?”

It must be my face that gets ’em. She reached over and scratched under my chin. I swished my long, black tail and gave her a deep, sexy “meow.”
I followed her home.

I might stay a little longer this time.

I’m gettin’ old.

Ladies Man – A Short Story in Four Parts – Part Three

Continued from yesterday…

Ladies Man

Part Three

by G.B.Pool

I high-tailed it around the back of a restaurant, and then put on the breaks. Somethin’ smelled awful good, and I hadn’t eaten in a day. My mouth watered as I watched a short, brown man toss plastic bags into a dumpster. If the lid didn’t shut all the way, I could get in there, rip open one of those bags, and look for something to eat.

Ever since the car accident, I can’t ease under those heavy lids. But I could sure make short work of a plastic bag.

The brown guy was lookin’ at me. He said something I didn’t understand, but the expression on his face said he just might turn out to be a friend.

He got rid of the garbage, slammed the lid shut, and went back inside the diner.

Oh, well. I’ll find somebody else.

I remembered the middle-aged lady who took pity on me after the car hit me. It wasn’t her fault. She was a witness. The driver didn’t even stop. The lady shook her fist at the car and yelled a few choice words I didn’t think ladies used, while I was licking my wounds.

“You poor fella,” she said. “You hungry? I just might have something in the icebox for a good-looking guy like you. Want to come to my house?”

I could tell by the tone of her voice, she’d made the offer before. As for me, I’ve accepted before.

Sometimes I start out on the couch, but after a while, I’m making myself at home in the lady’s bed. And sometimes, if I’m lucky, I get more out of it than just a back rub.

I got my dark, good looks from my old man. The rest of the brood took after Mom, kinda puny with a standoffish attitude. I heard tell Mom had a reputation for sleepin’ around. I guess you could say the same for Pop. But he had class. Breeding, some said. He taught me the ropes, but when he split, I didn’t have any good reason for staying around.

Lucky for me, the ladies like me. I fancy them myself. They usually treat me good, and I try to repay the kindness, while I’m around. I clean up after myself and don’t snore. But when they start thinking they can tie me down, they got another thing comin’. I’m Splits Ville.

Ladies Man – A Short Story in Four Parts – Part Two

Continued from yesterday…

Ladies Man

Part Two

by G.B.Pool

Barstow and I parted company one night when I nearly got caught heisting a few tasty tidbits from an all-night grocery store. I had wandered in behind another late night customer and made my way to the rear. The morning staff was long gone, so I could graze through the crates of day-old bread, or week-old whatever, and dine in style.

I was wiping the last of a moldy meatloaf from my face when I heard running. I turned in time to see a broom aimed at my head. I ducked and ran. The guy in the white apron took another swing, but I was racing down the cookie isle before he could get past the sinks. I spotted a man making for the doors and sailed through after him. I was in the shadows, catching my breath, by the time “apron boy” made it outside.

It was time to move on.

I strolled over to my favorite diner at the crack of dawn and spotted an eighteen-wheeler loaded with wooden pallets idling in the parking lot. I ambled aboard right before it rumbled onto the street and headed south. The sun was getting hot. Before I turned into beef jerky, I wedged myself down between two piles of splintery wood and fell asleep.

After a while, the steady hum of the road turned into the roar of the city. I opened my eyes. The flat and endless desert had morphed into a mountainous terrain of concrete and steel.

So, this is L.A.

I hang around truckers because those guys know where to eat. “Pallet man” pulled into a local eatery and I decided this was the end of the line. I emerged from my hiding place and dropped lightly to the pavement.

A guy wearing a funny pair of rubber shorts and a cockroach-shaped hat careened through the parking lot on a bicycle and nearly ran me over. As I jumped out of the way, I had to dodge a kid on an oversize roller skate as he raced past me. Sheesh!

Ladies Man – A Short Story in Four Parts – Part One

As a special treat this week, G.B. Pool will share her short story, Ladies Man, in four parts. Gayle teaches short story construction seminars and on Saturday, April 10th, she will be on a panel of short story authors at the Burbank Library, Buena Vista Branch.

Ladies Man – Part One
by G.B.Pool

Call me Sly. That’s short for Sylvester. I started using the name after I snuck into a movie theater running old Stallone movies. It was just me and a bunch of strays with no place to go. I curled up on a seat and tried to catch forty. Gunshots jolted me from my nap and I decided to watch the flick. Boy, that Stallone could take care of himself. If I could have tied a red rag around my head, I would have called myself Rambo, but Sly’s good enough.

You see, I ran away from home when I was a punk. The mean streets have been my address, on and off, ever since. It’s rough out there. I’ve got the scars to prove it. But I’m tough.

It wasn’t all bad. I lived with this gorgeous showgirl in Las Vegas when I was younger. We both kept late hours, but she never asked me any questions. And I never asked her what she did between shows, so we got along great. I always had enough chow to eat at her place, but I didn’t like being tied down. So one night when she was takin’ out the garbage, I slipped out the back door, snuck aboard a southbound truck, and kissed Vegas goodbye.

I slept most of the way, not really knowing where I’d end up. The driver stopped at a diner somewhere along the freeway. I heard another trucker mention Barstow. That’s when my “chauffer” saw me stretched out in the back of his flatbed and started yelling.

“Hey! Get outta there you no good…”

He threw a rock at me. I’ve had worse. Remember the scars?

I ran down the dusty street, checking out my new digs. If times got lean, I could do some second story work. An open window on a hot night was easy. I’d sneak in, grab a few things, and scat before the owners or their dogs picked up the scent.

Dogs and I don’t get along. I tolerate them… from a distance.

Tune in tomorrow for Part Two!

Test the Integrity of Your Mystery – Part 4

Continued from last week.

This final blog involves the fourth column of your worksheet. You already know from the first three parts where your seen takes place, who’s involved in the scene, and what action takes place in those scenes. Now it’s time for:

Unanswered Questions.

Unanswered questions must be addressed. Remember the old adage about the gun on the mantle? To paraphrase, if the gun is there in ACT I, someone had better shoot something before the end of the story.

At the end of each scene, list the questions raised during the scene.

Let’s say that your slueth discovers a scrap of paper in the victim’s fireplace. The questions this raises in the reader’s mind are “What was written on the paper?” “Who tried to burn the paper?” “Is it relevant to the mystery?” List all three in the Unanswered Questions column.

When all of your columns are complete, scan down the Information column until you find the answer to each of your questions. It helps to place a checkmark next to both the Information and the corresponding Question. By the end of your story, everything in both of these columns should have a checkmark.

If Aunt Gertrude wonders aloud what ever happened to her diary, the reader will carry that question to the end of the story. Left unanswered, it won’t matter that the murderer has been caught and that the sleuth survives to solve his next case. The reader will want to know why no one ever found the diary and what information it contained.

Even if a piece of Information provided is a Red Herring, it will still raise questions. It doesn’t matter if the answer is “Aunt Gertrude’s diary has nothing to do with the murder.” As the author, you need to make sure that the slueth recognizes that the Question asked has been answered. If you leave anything hanging, you risk irritating your reader.

I hope that using this chart will ease the way to a balanced mystery with a tight plot. You should wind up with a story that makes sense and, as a result, satisfied readers.