Author Archives: Gay Degani

About Gay Degani

Gay Degani's suspense novel, What Came Before, was re-published in 2016, her full-length collection, Rattle of Want, in 2015, and a shorter collection, titled Pomegranate, features eight stories around the theme of mothers and daughters in 2010. A complete list of her published work can be found at http://www.gaydegani.com

HOW DO YOU MAKE AN OLD DRAFT NEW?

I found this essay when I looked myself up on Google.  Yes, I’m blushing. However, I forgot about this and think I wrote some helpful words here. Check it out.IMG_9542

An old draft, dusty and gray, looks hopefully at its creator, knowing there must have been a kernel of an idea, a set of pictures, a deep emotional tug, that needed to be woven together, but something went wrong, an outward interference or a failure–it it does happen–to bloom.  But what an old draft knows is that time creates distance, and distance brings with it a new perspective.

The draft stares into a mirror unadorned, the author standing behind it.  She turns it around.  Takes inventory.  Begins to ask questions.  The old draft straightens under this scrutiny while the author wonders, “Who is the character here?”

What’s her name?  Where is she and what is her current state of mind? What does she want?  What stands in her way?  What is her key strength?  Her weakness?

The old draft yields up the  information it possesses and hopes the author with see the bits that are strong and fresh, but not gloss over the parts that are missing or weak.  The old draft knows it is flawed, and only wants to get better.

The old draft reminds the author that while characters are important, so is the story itself.  Does the story have a spine and does that spine reflect what the main character wants and/or needs?  How does the story test her, and how does it bring out her strength?  What about who she is bumping up against?  Is he or she a worthy opponent?  Is there real doubt created in the mind of the reader as to who will win?  The old draft knows that in order to propel the reader through the story, there must be suspense, and it is created by the uncertainty of outcome.

The old draft wants the author to know there are many beautiful words contained within its pages, but do they all work?  Do they all serve the story?  The old draft understands that in order to be the best it can be, some things will have to go.  That it must be put on a fat-free diet.  Must spend time moving and flexing.  It must go to boot camp. The old draft doesn’t like it, but knows this is the only way to build muscle and strength.

The old draft is beginning to feel young again, relishes the author’s rekindled enthusiasm, and urges the work to continue and for the author to invite a few readers to check the progress and give honest and constructive criticism.  The old draft consoles the author when some of the readers feel this or that needs an adjustment and tells the author to consider what might work and what won’t, and then to trust her gut.

When the old draft see the author wander away with a gleam in her eye, it knows she’ll be back to put on the finishing touches and the draft  feels fresh and alive once more. ♦

 

This piece by me was published by D. J. Adamson at LE COEUR DE L’ARTISTE on 8/28/2016. D. J. Adamson is the author of the Lillian Dove Mystery series.

Coach Your Story Like Your Name is … Erik Spoelstra

Last night Tim and I ate at the Austria Hof Bar (excellent food) in Mammoth Lakes and watched the Toronto Raptors defeat the champion Golden State Warriors.  I rooted for the home team to come back for one more game against the odds with players limping to the locker room, but it didn’t happen, and I’m happy for Toronto. We watched them throughout the series and rooted for Kawhi and the team. Both  should be proud of their efforts.

What this reminded me of was an essay I published in the now defunct Flash Fiction Chronicles blog about writing and basketball in 2012. The players have changed, but the premise still works1478e-chroniclebutton2. Coaches are to basketball as writers are to stories. Hopefully the names of past players will ring a welcome bell, and the analogy will work for you today. Here’s the piece:

Jun 20 2012

Well, dang. It’s Wednesday and something needed to show up in this spot and I forgot to double-check last night. Blame it on the Heat and the Thunder!

What a terrific game. I just hope the Thunder can come back so the series goes to seven. Nothing like great basketball to get me thinking about teamwork and how it applies to writing. The writer is the coach. The team: each member is a story element and they must work together to WIN.  (Indulge me here. Everything seems like a metaphor for writing to me!)

Think about it. The coach is the one who teaches, guides, plans, shapes, and has a heart attack when all the teaching, guiding, planning, shaping doesn’t work. The team has potential, it may even have talent, but if left to their own devices, the members might play well, might even be brilliant, but going all the way, winning that trophy? Not so easy.

The big man might not let the others play because he never gives up the ball. The point guard might try to get everyone to pay attention, to work the ball around to the player with the best “look,” but maybe there’s a bumping battle for position in the key and the player misses the pass.  You’ve heard it before from the master himself, Michael Jordan, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” And whose job is it to bring teamwork and intelligence to the court? The coach.

So how does that apply to writing? You guessed it, the author is the coach. He or she is the person in charge, the one who makes the tough decisions, who inspires, motivates, and keeps everything on track. The starting team includes structure, language, content, theme, and characters with dialogue, setting, clarity, metaphor, and imagery coming off the bench.

The coach puts his first team on the court. The best players, but he has to switch them out when something isn’t working, and he has a strong bench to do so. Maybe for one story, language is the focus–the element that never lets the author down. For another, structure is the inspiration, but no matter what strategy the coach decides will work, he has to count on all the elements to do their part.

I love Blake Griffin. Watched him in the NCAA championships and there was something about him that stood out (damn good basketball) and I remembered him, so when he ended up on the Clippers, I was excited. We went to a couple games and the Clippers suddenly had enough talent that we dared to hope they would be contenders, but they didn’t always play as a team. Whoever had the ball tended to shoot. There was little working around the floor and while Chris Paul and Blake Griffin might be two of the most talented players in basketball, they could not bring it in the end without the rest of the team.

The same is true in putting together a story. An author might be brilliant with words, stringing them together like easy lay-ups, but a story needs more than pretty words. It has to have meaning. It has to stir something in the reader. Occasionally, of course, an imagery-rich story might be enough, something there beneath the lines that works for many readers, but we’re talking about the long haul here, making it to the finals, to the championship. Sharp original language is like having a superb big man. You might win over fans for a few stories, but at some point, the author needs to send in the rest of the team.

Language, structure, and content need to work together and still have room for the other elements to play their part in order for a writer to produce championship work. Writing is like coaching. You can’t just put your best two players in the game and hope they can bring home the NBA Trophy while you cheer them on.  You need to coach everyone on the team. You need to get each one to contribute the best version of their skills to the play.

If you saw the game last night, important plays were made by bench-warmers Nick Collison for the Thunder and Norris Cole for the Heat. And what about Mario Chalmers? We expect to be cheering Dwyane Wade and LeBron, but Bosh? And while Russell Westbrook scored a valiant 32 points, the Thunder lost because yes, late in the game, his team ran out of gas.

So enough of this. You get the point. We writers need to consider how all the elements of a story can contribute to the overall story and while one or the other may dominate, it is the contributions from the bench that will often carry the day.

“Acadia Lost” at Fictive Dream

I have a story up at Fictive Dream, “Acadia Lost.” Thank you, Laura Black. Find it here.

“Summer evenings, while the grown-ups smoked Kents and shuffled cards in the kitchen, Denny Dale and I played Superman and Supergirl in his mama’s front room. With old pillowcases tied around our necks, we leapt in single bounds from skyscraper to skyscraper.”

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Photo by Gabriel

“Seven Ways…” at Bending Genres

I have a story up at Bending Genres. Thank you! Find it here:

“The over-ruling concept in public disease prevention is to never go into a wet, dirty, graffiti-ridden toilet stall. Common sense demands you search for the cleanest cubicle. However, if none is available, do not hesitate to comb the nearby neighborhood for a decent restroom rather than risking the dangers of using one exhibiting undue negligence or sexual activity.”

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Photo by Hafidz Alifuddin on Pexels.com

“Mono Lake”- The Airgonaut

My story, Mono Lake, is now up at Sheldon Compton’s “The Airgonaut.” Find it here.

“They waded in the lake’s warm salty water, chasing away black clouds of alkali flies. They felt as if they’d landed on long lost planet and he’d missed it.”

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Photo of Mono Lake was taken by Ashley Webb from Los Angeles, USA and found at Creative Commons.

 

From the Archives: You, Hot Guy

Fantasy published in 10 Flash Quarterly, January 2010

You, Hot Guy by Gay Degani

from The Portland Chronicle Personals: 

Screen Shot 2019-04-01 at 1.25.49 PMSPOTTED & SOUGHT / Sunday, January 3

You: man. Hot guy in scruffy beard & flannel shirt, a forty in one hand, a pack of Marlborough’s in the other. W&W: Friday night at the Mobil station. You grinned and said someone with a chassis like mine deserved a better ride. Then you climbed into a 1969 VW bug. But STILL I liked your chassis just fine.

Me: woman. Pumping unleaded into my mama’s rusty Olds Cutlass. Wanna meet? When: Monday at 10 P.M. Where: Mobil station. You: Man. Me: Woman.

 

from The Portland Chronicle Personals:

SPOTTED & SOUGHT / Wednesday, January 6

You: Mister scruffy & flannel, former hot guy at Mobil station on Friday night, were a no-show.

Me: hot girl with a nice chassis in Oldsmobile.

I waited outside the gas station in the Cutlass for an hour. Two forties and a carton of cigs. WTF, BUG-MAN. I was hoping you’d show up and we could put on some Keith Urban and you could rock my world.

But maybe you don’t read the personals or maybe you didn’t read them on Sunday morning. Maybe you had one helluva hangover and couldn’t crawl out of bed. Or maybe you got sidetracked by some other chick with a nice chassis.

Irregardless, I’m willing to give you another chance because you gave me such a promising smile and your eyes have that little sparkle I like. When: Wednesday at 10 P.M. Where: Mobil station. You: Man. Me: Woman.

 

from The Portland Chronicle Personals:

SPOTTED & SOUGHT / Friday, January 8

How the hell was I supposed to know you have a girlfriend?

You: hot guy from the Mobil Station.

Me: girl with 4 slit tires on her mom’s Olds.

You could’ve taken out a personal and told me you were spoken for. You didn’t have to send your Amazon girlfriend after me. She is NOT an attractive woman, hot guy. Built like a fucking bear. And she’s strong.

There I was sitting up in the front seat, flipping through People Magazine, when suddenly I thought there was a giant earthquake going on.

I thought she’d roll my mom’s car right into the ditch. Thank goodness I locked my doors, because she pounded and smacked at the glass and I was so scared I peed my pants, thinking she’d pick up a rock and smash my windows.

Guess she isn’t that bright.

She got tired of watching me panic and took off in your VW. I wanted to get the hell out of there, too, but that’s when I realized she’d slit my tires. I was not happy about spending the night out there, a Mobil station being devoid of magic of any kind, but I’m willing to forgive you.

I know you wouldn’t be with that awful woman if you weren’t scared to death, so here’s the plan. When: Saturday night at 12 A.M. Where: At the crossroads rest stop on I-13. You: Man who needs help. Me: Woman willing to give it.

Don’t let the bitch read this!

 

from  The Portland Chronicle Personals:

SPOTTED & SOUGHT / Sunday, January 10

I gave you plenty of chances, didn’t I?

You: scruffy guy from the Mobil Station. Me: girl with no regrets.

I suppose I should’d been a little more up FRONT with you from the beginning, but sometimes I get a yearning to be like normal girls, who hang out at Curly’s on Saturday night, pick up hot guys, and hook up in the cabs of their trucks.

And that’s where I was going when you showed up on my radar with your scraggly beard and Bud Lights. I thought, there he is, right there, that one.

After the incident at the Mobil station—the one with your gorilla girlfriend—I decided I needed to tap into a little bit of magic I have by way of my mom, she of the Oldsmobile Cutlass. And my father too. Between the two of them, it’s quite a gene pool.

I was hoping none of it would matter. You would read my note and see what a forgiving heart I have and remembering my sweet little chassis, you’d come alone and we could shake things up. But you didn’t.  I stopped dead cent in the crossroads. Both of you were too stupid to run like rabbits.

Instead, you clowns climbed out of that VW, and stood mocking me, grubby hands on hips. Neither of you had a clue and strode toward me like swaggering ass-holes. You were, I could see, not a prisoner of this bitch. You were not the dude to rock my world.

The minute you stepped inside my magic circle, the black asphalt split open and only for a moment did your skank look at me with anything other than scorn. But then, plain, old-fashioned horror distorted your faces, eyes melting, mouths ripping, skin curling, as you slithered into the earth. Sorry about that. You: Man gone to hell with Amazon bride. Me: Woman still looking.

 

from The Chronicle Personals: 

SPOTTED & SOUGHT / Wednesday January 13

You: Man. Cute redhead spotted jogging north in sweats at dusk on Monday in front of Curly’s Bar and Grill. You waved and said, “How you doing?”

Me: Woman. Climbing out of my mom’s Olds Cutlass, four brand new tires.

 

copyright January 2010 by Gay Degani

From the Archives: When you think you’re done, are you?

When we are new at something, sometimes all we can think about is that first goal.  Learning to skate doesn’t look that hard.  If  we can stay upright, feet on the sidewalk (or ice), body vertical, we’ll soon be doing figure eights and sailing backwards. The same goes for writing.  When we sit down at the keyboard to write a story, we figure if  we can get enough words on the screen, we’ll have a tale worth telling.

In some ways, we need this attitude to get started.  If we knew we’d fall on our asses for the first twelve times we skated over a twig, a crack, our sister’s Barbie doll, we probably wouldn’t try.  We need that initial belief in ourselves to put the skates on in the first place.  The same is true for writing.  We picture ourselves  clacking away at the computer keys with lines of type building and building.  It is the only way to deal with our initial fear.
However, how we handle the results of those first attempts can dictate success or failure.  For many, a bruised butt and bloodied knees spell defeat.  “I don’t want to do this!  This is too hard” and they head inside to watch Saturday morning cartoons.  Others wear their scabs like badges of honor and take a moment to reassess their goals.  They realize they can’t jump from standing upright on skates to skimming down Devil Hill, carving eights in the liqour store parking lot, floating backward to the awe of the younger kids without blood and guts.
The same is true with writing.  Although there are those who have a natural talent for the written word can sit down and write it without too much angst.  But these are rare cases.  Most of us may write a story that has many strong elements, but as a whole it doesn’t work.  Not yet.  And we need to reassess and learn the craft.
This is the make-or-break moment for most writers, the moment of looking at a piece of writing as it might be read by others, readers who do not live in the head of that writer.  The ability to look at one’s own work with a critical eye does not come easily.  It is a skill that is learned with practice, patience, and awareness of what works and what doesn’t.  An expertise that evolves over time.
Just as a young roller skater learns the sidewalk is smoother than asphalt, a writer learns clarity is more important that an obscure turn of phrase, but to do this, both must be willing to see beyond their first goals.  They must accept the reality that becoming good at something requires the understanding that learning is a process, that the large goal must be broken down into smaller goals because everything is more complex than we first perceive.
There is a difference in skating and writing.  We teach different muscles to work harmoniously together.  In skating we train our bodies and our brain too, but most it’s about legs and balance and reaction.  In writing we train our brains–and our hearts.
How do we train our brains to write?  We set up mini-goals, lots of them, beyond our first goal.  Here are a few I believe in, though sometimes I find it hard to actually do them all!
Mini-Goals for Each Story
  • Create content by taking notes, brain-storming, writing a “shit” draft
  • Write a draft
  • Do research to understand the world you’ve created or the personalities
  • Think about story structure
  • Make certain everything in a story serves a purpose (especially in flash)
  • Be willing to delete that which doesn’t fit into the structure
  • Go through the story to improve the language
  • Make certain everything that needs to be clear is clear
  • Make certain that verbs are active, that nouns are specific
  • Proof-read carefully
  • Set it aside (this is one of the hardest mini-goals because usually at this stage we are sooooooo excited about what we’ve created, we can’t wait to send it out)
  • Reread and make changes after it’s been set aside
  • Ask a trusted reader to read it (trusted: gentle, supportive, yet honest, honest, honest)
  • Decide what notes you agree with and what you don’t and make edits
  • Set aside again, at least an hour or two so that when you proof-read for the final time, you have enough distance to find now what your eye skipped over before
  • Send out and cross fingers
Mini-Goals for Personal Growth
  • Read widely and deeply
  • Talk to others about writing
  • Be open-minded
  • Try new genres
  • Be a mentor
 None of this is necessary if a writer is writing only for himself.   Just as skating up and down the block might make one child happy, putting together a story for fun can work for the “Sunday author.”  But if your goal is roller-derby, you’d better to be willing to work.  And if you want to be published?  Guess what…
Republished here from an article by Gay Degani at Flash Fiction Chronicles, published Nov 22, 2009