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

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.















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.

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 wasnear 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 Café 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.

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Meet LAst Resort Author: Paula Bernstein "On Call for Murder”

Excerpt from: “On Call for Murder” by Paula Bernstein

Photo by Sheri Fried

I woke to the alarm at six o’clock, still exhausted. I pried open my eyes and splashed my face with ice cold water, dreading my return to the hospital.
When I got to the ICU, it was clear that Nina was worse. It broke my heart to look at her. She was in a coma and unresponsive to all but the most painful stimuli.
“Pardon me, are you Dr. Kline?” I turned to see a stocky young man with Slavic features and thinning sandy hair.
“I’m Alexander Markovic, Nina’s boyfriend. Can you tell me how she’s doing?”
“Not well, I’m afraid, Mr. Markovic. We’re doing all we can.”
“That bastard,” he hissed under his breath. “May I see her?”
“She’s in room five,” I told him. When he emerged his eyes were damp and his fists clenched.
“Where’s Avery?”
“Dr. Avery hasn’t come in yet this morning.”
“Give him a message. Tell him that if she dies, I’ll kill him.” His voice quivered, and his eyes were moist. He walked out before I could see him cry.
I stared after him, shaken, wondering if I should repeat his threat. I couldn’t believe he would act on it.
I began reviewing the chart again, not that I expected to learn anything new. There had been something on my mind all morning, just out of reach, and as I skimmed through yesterdays’ labs, I caught it.

Photo by Uri Bernstein

The Rochelle Staab Questions asked of Paula Bernstein


What is the weirdest thing that ever happened to you in Los Angeles?
I’m not sure I’d use the word “weird” but the scariest thing that happened to me in Los Angeles occurred the day after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. I was in the operating room performing a caesarian section. I’d just delivered the baby and was about to sew up the bleeding uterine incision when there was a huge aftershock and all the lights went out. I stood there in the pitch dark, trying to figure out how to get the bleeding under control and wondering how long it would take the hospital generator to kick in.
 Do you have a yet-to-be realized L.A. dream?
I dream that someone will invent a Star Trek transporter device that will make it possible to get from Brentwood to Pasadena in five minutes instead of in an hour of stop and go traffic.
Why write short stories? Why write at all? What’s in it for you?
I write both short stories and novels. Writing is the way I exercise my right brain and explore my creative side. I write for fun and for pleasure. It’s been my avocation during all my professional years as a left brained physician, and since my retirement, it has surprisingly become my third career.
What is the biggest challenge in writing to theme?
For me it is making sure I do my homework and get all the facts correct. The medical part comes naturally but for anything out of my field I consult experts.
Are the characters in your story based on you or people you know/met?
The answer to that is yes and no. My main character Hannah Kline is an obstetrician practicing in Los Angeles, just like me. Hannah shares my opinions and has my sense of humor but her life is totally different. She is a young widow with a four year old daughter, and over the course of the books she develops a romantic relationship with a hunky LAPD detective. I’ve been happily married for almost 50 years to a lovely man who would probably disapprove of my having a romantic attachment to a good looking cop. Hannah’s love interest is completely fictional and many of the minor characters are as well. Occasionally I am inspired to create a character by someone I know or see for whom I can make up a totally fictional life 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?

It is easiest to write authentically about what you know. My characters live and work on the west side of town, everyplace from West Hollywood to Santa Monica. That’s my ‘hood and I can describe it well.
Are there scenes in your story based on real life—yours, hearsay, or a news story you read?
All of the medicine in my story comes from my years of experience. I often fictionalize patient medical cases that were particularly interesting or dramatic.

Available at Amazon.com

What came first, the character or the plot? 
In my first novel, Murder in the Family, the plot came first. I wanted to tell a fictionalized version of a close friend’s real murder that had affected me deeply. I invented the characters who eventually became Hannah and Daniel in order to tell that story. Writing the novel was my therapy and my way of coping with grief. However, after the first book, the characters took priority. Before deciding who got murdered, and in what world I wanted to set my next novel, I always asked myself what needed to happen to Hannah and Daniel’s relationship in that book.
While you’re writing: music (what kind?), dead silence, or…? 
Dead silence or I can’t concentrate.
Favorite writing quote—yours or from someone else…
My favorite quote comes from a cartoon sent to me by a fellow author. There is a dog, seated at a computer terminal. The caption is Sit, Stay.
Your writing ritual begins with… 
Two lattes and the LA Times.

About Dr. Paula Bernstein


Dr Paula Bernstein is enjoying her third career as a mystery writer. She began as an inorganic chemist with a Caltech PhD, switched gears, went to medical school, and spent the next thirty years as an actively practicing obstetrician and gynecologist in Los Angeles. She is the author of Murder in the Family, Lethal Injection, Private School, The Goldilocks Planet, and Potpourri. Her short story, “On Call for Murder,” a prequel to the Hannah Kline series, was recently published in the Sisters in Crime/LA’s 2017 Anthology LAst Resort. Her newest Hannah Kline novel, In Vitro, was published in July 2017.

Meet LAst Resort Author: Wendall Thomas "Eggs Over Dead"

Excerpt from “Eggs Over Dead” by Wendall Thomas

Photo by Wendall Thomas

I cover the weekday breakfast shift at Summer/Winter/Fall. The “of the moment” restaurant is not where I thought I would wind up when I drove cross country ten years ago, but waitressing pays better than a development job, and I’m in a bills situation. I should be working the more lucrative weekend brunch—the mecca for all fedora-wearers—but I’m afraid I’ll eventually lose it, stab the fifth lead in a streaming sitcom, and wind up on TMZ.

           
The restaurant reeks of kale chips and the phone is already ringing.
           
It’s a customer frantic to know if we have his gold teeth. After searching the lost and found box and register, I finally locate the crescent of gold Chiclets swept under the bar, entwined in a tuft of “emotional support dog” hair. I shake them off and put them in a take-out bag for pick-up.
           
I’m filling the artisanal salts when I hear a mad click click click on the glass door. Outside, a lanky forty year old, still dressed in his mid-life clubbing clothes, waves and points to his mouth. I let him in and hand him the bag.
           
“Thought I was gonna have to call my jeweler in Jersey. I owe you one.”
           
Literally one, I guess. He hands me a dollar bill. He takes the glittering brace out of the bag and pops it straight in. If he’d given me a twenty, I might have told him he should rinse it first.
           
I check the clock. It’s seven minutes to eight and a few regulars are already hovering outside. I take my last chance to sneak out into the alley for a smoke. I look down the street of one bedroom pseudo Spanish, Deco, and Tudor bungalows, all listing for well over a million, and strike a match.
           
Bang. Bang.


The Rochelle Staab Questions asked of Wendall Thomas:

Photo of Wendall Thomas 
by Stella Mulroney

What is the weirdest thing that ever happened to you in Los Angeles?
The weirdest (and maybe the best) thing that ever happened to me here was seeing Stevie Wonder in the Radio Shack at Highland and Wilshire. I think that kind of thing only happens in LA.
Do you have a yet-to-be realized L.A. dream?
To live in a quiet 20’s duplex.
Why write short stories? Why write at all? What’s in it for you?
Some ideas aren’t big enough to be novels, but they are still interesting enough to be told.  I also like the challenge, because there’s nowhere to hide in a short story.
What is the biggest challenge in writing to theme?
I think there’s always the chance that you’ll be heavy-handed or force the characters to do something they wouldn’t actually do.
Are the characters in your story based on you or people you know/met?
The “Thursday Guy” is an amalgam of a few producers I’ve encountered over the years and the restaurant patrons have elements that I’ve observed over twenty-five years of writing in restaurants.
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?
It’s actually my neighborhood, which has become increasingly “hipsterized” and entitled in the last five years. This makes long term residents like myself feel old, irrelevant, and irritated. That seemed the right setting for the tone of the story.
Are there scenes in your story based on real life—yours, hearsay, or a news story you read?
As noted above. A producer actually did point a remote at me and say “Okay, go” in a meeting once.
What came first, the character or the plot? 
Available at Amazon.com
In this case, the plot. I like the idea that someone didn’t show up for a breakfast meeting because they’d been murdered.
While you’re writing: music (what kind?), dead silence, or…? 
Usually music. The music depends on what I’m writing. For this story, Warren Zevon/Tom Waits.
Favorite writing quote—yours or from someone else…
From Flannery O’Connor: “Don’t be subtle until the fourth page.”
Your writing ritual begins with… 

Coffee.

About Wendall Thomas: 

Wendall Thomas teaches in the Graduate Film School at UCLA, lectures internationally on screenwriting, and has worked as an entertainment reporter, script consultant, and film and television writer. Her short fiction has appeared in the crime anthologies Ladies Night (2015) and Last Resort(2017) and her first novel, Lost Luggage, will be published in October by Poisoned Pen Press.







16 Authors Answer Siren Call in Sisters-in-Crime/LA’s LAst Resort

Available through Amazon and the
Sisters-in-Crime/LA website

by Gay Degani

It has become a tradition for Sisters-in-Crime/LA chapter to produce a crime/mystery anthology every couple of years asking writers to incorporate LA as a “character” in each story. 

Recently released, LAst Resort follows suit with tales set in Hollywood, Leimert Park, Highland Park, Silver Lake, Venice and points north, south, east, and west of the sprawling city.

As stated on the back cover of this collection, “LA is the sun-kissed city of high hopes and second chances, where everyone seems to be from somewhere else.  A siren’s call to dreamers, misfits, mystics and freaks, lost souls and purveyors of sin. They roll in on their last tank of gas, their suitcases bulging with secrets of pasts better forgotten. They stay for a few days, a month, a year, a lifetime. The determined and the desperate, careening and colliding toward trouble…and their last resort.”

Author Michael Connelly


A long-time resident of the City of Angels and award-winning author of detective and crime fiction, best known for his LAPD Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch and criminal defense attorney Mickey HallerMichael Connelly was a perfect choice to introduce  the Sisters-in-Crime/LA chapter’s 2017 anthology, LAst Resort. Generously agreeing to do so, here is a snippet from that introduction: “Here is a collection of stories that sit on the unsteady ground of the last resort. In the zone where anything can happen.”



Edited by renowned authors Matt Coyle, Mary Marks, and Patricia Smiley,  LAst Resort is comprised of sixteen mysteries about the misdeeds and downfalls of characters drawn to the cultural panoply that is Los Angeles.



Who’s in LA Resort?


Avril Adams, “Independence Day”
Paula Bernstein, “On Call for Murder”
Lynne Bronstein, “Mimo”
Stephen Buehler, “Seth’s big Move”
Sarah M. Chen, “Nut Job”
Anne David, “The LAid Plans”
Gay Degani, “Highland Park Hit”
L.H. Dillman, “Lead Us Not Into Temptation”
Wrona Gall, “Thump, Bump, and Dump”
Cyndra Gernet, “Hired Lives”
Georgia Jeffries, “Little Egypt”
Melinda Loomis, “Crime Drama/Do Not Cross”
GB Pool, “Method Actor”
Laurie Stevens, “The Ride of Your Life”
Wendall Thomas, “Eggs Over Dead”
Mae Woods, “Today’s the Day”


Come back for more. During the next few months, I will bring you a taste of each story as well as a Question and Answer segment with each author. 


Here is the link to all the Sisters-in-Crime/LA anthologies. You can purchase them directly from the site: http://sistersincrimela.com/anthologies/



























HOW MOVIES TEACH STRUCTURE: For Writers of Movies, Novels, Short Stories, even Flash!

by Gay Degani

Do you receive rejections remarking, “Some strong writing here, but this isn’t a story; there’s no arc” or “I like your character, but where’s the conflict?” And have you thought, “This editor is nuts! A guy’s chasing my narrator. She has a gun. She shoots him. Isn’t that enough conflict?”
No, actually, it isn’t. It’s “action,” but action is not the same thing as conflict. Have you ever sat through a movie that goes from one car chase to another, followed by an explosion, followed by a gun battle, then another chase, this time through the subways of New York?  Unless you are a kinetic energy junky, you’re probably sneaking peeks at your cell phone or dozing. This kind of action is brought into a story for its own sake.
Conflict, on the other hand, is choice followed by movement. What?
As writer (Brief Guide to Flash Fiction) and writing coach Randall Brown points out in his book :
Something happens (precipitating incident) to create a desire, and that desire creates a need for action that is thwarted by this and that and this and that until, finally, there’s resolution.
While some stories are “linear movement” designed to ramp up adrenaline, good stories are more complex. They are built around a specific structure that offers character depth and motivation, actions springing from that motivation, and emotions created through empathy. How do you create mindful structure for a story?

Good movies teach structure because they take the viewer on a journey of choices: setbacks and success, indecision and rash action, humor and pathos, determination and self-doubt, with endings that reveal something about the human condition. How did the movies find this out? For a quick understanding of what I’m outlining there’s always Syd Field’s Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting.For deeper understanding there’s Aristotle’s Poeticsand the 3-act play structure.

* How did I figure this out? Robert McKee’s classic text, Story.
One of my favorite movies to illustrate structure in that old reliable action flick (I know, I didn’t say “structure flick”), Die Hard, made back in 1988 when Bruce Willis was moving from Moonlighting on TV to the Big Screen.
Get the Die Hard DVD and watch it with a pen and paper and the timer on your DVD player. You want to be able to stop it when you get behind. Number the lines on your paper from 1 to maybe 120 or so because that’s about how many minutes the average movies contains. Maybe skip lines to make sure you can write big if you get excited. Get ready to start the timer on your phone. 
Now record what happens every minute or so all the way through. This may seem like a tedious exercise, but it’s amazing to see just how carefully the story is constructed. For the hot-shot movie critics out there who love those ponderous three-hour think pieces, Die Hard is too “on the nose,” but for learning about structure and character development (and for the simple joy of watching), it is one of the best.
Here’s how it goes:
Act 1 starts with a character living his regular life, something happens to turn his life on its head, and by the beginning of Act 2 (approximately 30 minutes in), the character’s life changes 180 degrees from what it once was and the character sets out to either change his or her life back or to figure out how to make the best of things. He doesn’t try all that hard in the beginning because frankly, he can’t really believe things could go this wrong.  You know that saying? Man plans and God laughs? When you’re the writer, you are the one to make sure something goes wrong.
About a quarter way through Act 2 (around 45 pages in), the character has some kind of epiphany that he’s going to have to work a helluva lot harder than he thought. His simple solution isn’t working. He needs a better plan. (Did you hear that chuckle?)
About half way through (60 minutes), he realizes who the enemy is (himself, his best friend, the woman with the man hands) and at the same time, there is a coming together between the character and his/her main relationship often including the washing of wounds or standing up sex or both).
In the second half of Act 2 some new effort is launched, but it doesn’t work (he-he-he) and leads to a dark moment around 75 minutes into the movie.  The character gives up the game as hopeless.
But by 90 minutes, the beginning of Act 3, the character has come up with new energy, a new plan, a new assault on his problem and works through his conflict until he either wins or loses.
Notice as you are jotting down what is happening on your lined paper, about when these things happen in Die Hard.  The timing won’t be perfect, but you’ll be shocked to see how close it is.
Look for: Set-ups and pay-offs:
On the plane McClane talks with the other passenger about being afraid of flying. The passenger offers a suggestion: After he lands, he should take off his shoes and grip the carpet with his toes.
Watch for this to pay-off when he is in the bathroom of the Nakatomi building, and then later when he’s in the elevator and because he’s barefoot, he considers taking the shoes of the guy he’s just killed, and later when he’s being chased by Hans. This suggestion from the opening sequence, pays off several times in this movie. THAT’s good structure.

Look for how exposition is handled: On the plane, in the taxi, between McClane’s wife and her boss, when McClane gets to the Nakatomi building and looks his wife up on the list of employees. Then consider set-ups and pay-offs again.  How is information given to the viewer in these scenes?
Look for character development:
The characters in this piece are well defined and consistent in their traits. We get to know them quickly with a building of clues, and their motivation and subsequent behavior help to hold the structure together when the twists are thrown in. There is suspense without confusion.
Look for how setting is used:
Think about the airplane, the limo, and the high rise Century City building. Then think about how this movement evolves and what happens in the building and how each of these places has its own twists and turns.
Look at the pacing:
This is an action film.  It unfolds remarkably fast, but with the right amount of time spent on relationships, on personal reflection, on what the characters WANT so the movie has meaning. And it does. It’s about loyalty, determination, married love, brotherhood, evil….
Okay enough. Now if you decide to do this experiment—this jotting-down-of-what’s-happening thing—here’s some of what you should discover.
By the first three or so minutes you know who McClane is, what his problem is, and how he thinks he’s going to solve it. Notice he HAS a problem and a goal: to find out what the hell is going on between he and his wife. That isn’t the PLOT of the movie, it’s a subplot, but it shows this is going to be more than one action scene after another. There is an human element, an emotional element, and these are the elements that makes this movie relatable and gives some universal meaning.
About thirty minutes in you notice that everything has changed 180 degrees from what it was at beginning of the movie (this is about where ACT 1 ends). The building is taken over and the story problem isn’t just about McClane and his wife, but it’s about surviving the “terrorist” attack. The conflict between these two characters is now accompanied by another larger conflict.
Act 2 comes next from running from around 30 minutes to about 90 minutes into the film. In that time, the major action is McClane fighting the bad guys.
The first part of Act 2 is all about everyone reacting to the take over.  Characters on both side of the “battle” are introduced by their reactions to the circumstances.  We see the gentle and wise reaction of the boss, the arrogance of a co-worker, and McClane’s wife’s smarts, as well seeing the hero trying to first get the police’s attention because he assumes, of course, that is the most logical thing to do.  It’s their job to solve the problem. He has to just survive and create enough chaos to keep the bad guys busy until the cops save the day.
But in the middle of the movie—around 60 minutes in—we see that McClane isn’t going to get any help. As a matter of fact, he’s now perceived as one of the bad guys. The stakes are ramped up. There is no help coming. He’s got to do it himself. However, if I’m remembering correctly, this is about the time John McClane’s wife begins to feel more kindly toward her estranged husband. She knows his capacity to fight and survive.  At this point, we see both the enemy for who they are and a kind of realization of love and admiration McClane and his wife have for each other.
And then, at about 90 minutes when Act 3 begins, John McClane makes his final assault to save his wife and everyone else who has survived. And he manages to do that in true action hero form.
The end? The enemy is defeated and he regains his wife.
Okay. Formula. Over the top. Right? Yeah, but it’s a learning tool too. Knowing why this movie works has helped me to have answers to story problems whenever I get stuck. What does the formula say at this point? Do I want to do that? If yes, make it a unique action with unique details. Lift it from stereotype. If I want to break the formula, I try to make sure that what does happen, has the same kind of emotional effect or performs a similar purpose.
I didn’t make this up. I don’t know that I would have thought of it, but understanding why good movies are good movies helps me to figure out what my next scene should be, what purpose I should fulfill.
If this idea has appeal, consider reading one of the books I mentioned earlier.
I can’t remember all the movies I did this with, but it is amazing to see how close movies THAT WORK stick to these structural elements.
Movies I logged:
Overboard
Witness
Terminator
Suspicion (wrong ending really but I still love it)
Outrageous Fortune
Trading Places
Charade
Happy movie watching!

* There are many good books out there (Robert McKee’s Story which is based on Aristotle’s classic Poeticsand The Art Of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Motives by Lajos Egri and for a quick understanding, there’s always Syd Field’s Sreenplay) to help writers learn the ins and outs of structure as well as the disagreements about rules, formulae, and art.


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Six Ways Writing Flash Fiction Will Improve Your Craft

by Gay Degani

My first online story was published in 2007 at Every Day Fiction. It was new to me, writing stories to be read on a computer rather than in a magazine, but the possibility of publication was higher.
“Flash Fiction” is partly defined by length, stories limited to 1500 words or fewer, and I soon discovered that writing shorter stories made me more critical of my work, more careful in word placement, more conscious of finding an emotional center, and becoming clearer about my own intention.
I’d like to share how and why writers can juice up their craft by writing and publishing flash fiction.
What flash does for those who write fiction:
1) Flash forces clarity
Flash fiction depends on immediate reader engagement. There aren’t enough words available to waste on lengthy set-ups. The reader should “see” the place and situation at the same speed as someone first sees a picture in a museum.
A shape, a feel, a sense of breadth, a color, the reader needs something to hang on to, something that allows him or her to become immersed. This cannot be achieved without a commitment to clear imagery, finding specific words and details to pull the reader into the story. I call this giving the reader a visual anchor. 
2) Flash insists on carefully chosen language
To continue to engage the reader, a writer must employ taut, muscular language that features specific details and must choose each word deliberately with an awareness of double meanings and inference. There must be no unnecessary words. 
3) Flash requires a writer to think about structure
What concerns the structure of a piece of writing? Characters, tense, POV, order of events, theme, setting, all these elements need to be considered. Stories require a shape that will fit the concept and enhance the experience. A writer may have a vague outline in mind, but he or she cannot always work from a planned framework.
Sometimes the words come first and the structure follows, but the order in which a writer proceeds doesn’t matter. What matters is consciously studying the elements of a story so they will have the most impact. When a writer deals with 1000 words, it becomes easier to look at structure and discover what the story needs. A writer can experiment and become expert at matching content to structure. 
4) Flash demands meaning, large or small
Flash fiction counts on meaning to make an impact. That meaning can be a life-changing event or a small revelation, but something musthappen. Too often writers forget that language is the tool used to move readers. While readers love and appreciate beautiful words, they are stirred by words that give meaning to the human experience. There must be a emotional shift in readers perceptions. 
5) Flash requires characters who resonate
More than anything else, the characters in a piece of flash must show their individuality, their desires, their fears, their humanity. The writer must be clear about why he or she has chosen these characters to write about. If not, who cares? They can be humble or rich, kind or violent, but they have to be living individuals, and this must be achieved by using the slightest phrase, the sparest language, in dialog and/or in telling gesture. 
6) Flash bestows confidence
Writing flash allows a writer to work with focus on a short piece in a more present way than possible on a longer story, especially if he or she is struggling with craft. It forces the writer to study every word, every nuance of a piece, to weigh the contribution each word and each phrase makes to the whole. It also challenges the writer to make sure most ( or all)  the elements do some kind of double duty in terms of enhancing the theme.
Flash builds self-confidence because with so many journals online hungering for strong, well-written flash, a writer receives feedback in a relatively short period of time. Even if the response is a resounding NO, the writer usually knows quickly. This offers the opportunity to look at the story again. If that writer is you, you may see something different. You make it better. And eventually, your skills at understanding how to craft a story become expert. 

(This piece was originally published at Bang2 Write on March 13, 2016) 

Journey to Planet Write: Happy Endings

by Nancy Stohlman
I asked Gay Degani if I could have the final slot in Journey to Planet Write series for two reasons—one, because I want to properly thank her on behalf of everyone who has appeared in and enjoyed this series. Gay has done an incredible service to our community and created a space where we can all shine. We are grateful to you, Gay!

But there is a second reason. Exactly one year ago I was scheduled to appear in this column when a drunk driver going 90 mph crossed the median on the highway and made other plans for me.
Instead of my Journey to Planet Write, you got my “Interrupted Journey,” a beautiful tribute that Gay and others put together. It meant a lot to me to feel so loved during that process of shock and recovery and now, one year later, it seemed important to not only bring it all full circle and give you that column that never was, but also to end this Planet Write journey on a note of celebration, healing, and hope.
I was 9 years old, living on a military base in Zaragoza, Spain, when I told my mom I wanted to be an author. I wrote my first creation, “Superman: The Musical”, on my mother’s electric typewriter, loving the clack of the keys and the feeling that I was doing something important. Though I attempted to cast it from my class of fellow fifth graders and rehearse in the carport, the musical (including numbers like Lex Luthor’s “I’ll Rule the World”) never made it to the stage, but my confidence in myself as a creative was born.
That same year I discovered the library, and on Saturdays I would volunteer at the check-out desk, stamping people’s due dates. Being a military family we moved a lot, so books became my friends. Nancy Drew was always waiting for me in every library from Spain to Germany to Omaha. Books were a constant in a world that was constantly changing.
Later, when life got harder, books became a way to disassociate; I could leave my body in the midst of everyday reality, escape family meltdowns and divorces and worlds I didn’t want to be in. In college, I read in the dressing rooms of go-go clubs, getting through East of Eden and The Trial while other girls were giving lap dances.
After I dropped out of college, I started traveling the country with the Renaissance Fair, living in a van, putting on a bodice and an English accent to sell turkey legs and pewter goblets. I discovered lyrical songwriters like Bob Dylan and Tom Waits and I started journaling regularly with the idea that these were adventures I would want to remember and maybe someday write a book. Sadly most of those journals are gone. But when I eventually got off the road and moved to Denver to finish college, I did so as a writer.
Photo by Lynn Hough

My upbringing taught me two very different things: My military father taught me self-discipline. My artist mother taught me that making art is worthwhile. This combination has enabled to become a rare breed: a disciplined creative.

This story is true. But it’s not the whole story.
While 9-year-old Writer Nancy was stamping books at the library, 9-year-old Performer Nancy was learning the guitar and soloing in the church folk band. At 12 I was competing in pageants, at 15 I enrolled in the Nancy Bounds Modeling Agency, and at 18 I was runner-up for Miss Nebraska. I began college as a theater major, in love with the vulnerability of the stage, that instant gratification of connecting with an audience in the moment.
This story is also true. So how do these two Nancys, these twin passions, connect?
They connect in my art.
In acting school there is a thing called a triple threat: a person who can sing, dance, and act. Much of my own creative process has been finding the intersection of myself as a writer, performer and innovator. The sweet spot where my creative exhibitionist meets my inner world of silence and flow. My writing reflects this intersection and love of innovation—The Monster Opera is an avant garde mixture of performance and writing, a place where the novel metaphorically battles the opera on page and stage. Searching for Suzi: a flash novel was the first flash novel (called as such) and a term I coined in 2009. And perhaps that’s why in 2007 I fell in love and began writing flash fiction: there is an instant gratification akin to the stage that comes from these short, self-contained bursts of story. Here’s a link to a reading of The Fox.
As word-crafters we lay it bare on the page. As performers we reveal ourselves on the stage. They are flipsides of the same coin, the inner and the outer worlds of creation: the private incubation and the public genuflection.
In the end I see no reason why writers can’t also be rock stars. One of these days I will stage dive after a reading.
And that’s probably how this essay would have ended if you had read it last year. But on May 20 of last year, everything changed.

Naked
The scissors slide easily through the thick denim of my favorite blue jeans, from ankle to waist, ankle to waist, as one leg then the other falls away. He slices up the middle of my thin cotton shirt like tissue paper, unwraps me, my pink Victoria’s Secret bra a final ribbon snipped and spilling to the ground, leaving me naked. Exposed.
Are you having trouble breathing? He asks with kind brown eyes.
A little, on one side, I whisper.
We’ll be there soon, he says, gently placing an oxygen mask as the ambulance sirens rattle the warm evening air.

People ask me about my accident a lot. It’s so hard to respond, so mostly I avoid the conversation. But I will tell you here that something happened to me in those moments as they were ripping the car open with the Jaws of Life. Somewhere between the ambulance and the emergency room I had the most important realization of my life: I’m still here.
By the time they were inflating my lung I knew I’d been given a gift—as they were pulling chunks of glass out of my arm I had a choice: become a victim or become a bigger version of myself. Could I learn to be grateful in the midst of such an injustice?
Yes. I had to. I had no other choice.
So this story and my Journey to Planet Write have Happy Endings. I’m here to write another day. But aren’t we all? We’ve all been given this same gift of today. No matter how disappointing or unpredictable or infuriating the world may be, no matter how tragic or even euphoric our lives become, we are here one more day, to write. Our books, our words, our ideas are the friends that accompany us on the journey. And spaces like Journey to Planet Write remind us that we are not alone.
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Nancy Stohlman’s books include The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories(2014), The Monster Opera (2013), Searching for Suzi:a flash novel (2009), Live From Palestine(2003), and three anthologies of flash fiction including Fast Forward: The Mix Tape (2010), a finalist for a 2011 Colorado Book Award. She is the creator and curator of The F-Bomb Flash Fiction ReadingSeries in Denver, a founding member of Fast Forward Press, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.



Photo by Lynn Hough

By night Nancy straps on stilettos and becomes the lead singer of the lounge metal band Kinky Mink. She dreams of one day becoming a pirate.




















This is the last episode in the series of Journeys that began in January of 2016. Other Journeys may appear sporadically in the future.  If you are a writer and want to share your Journey, please submit to gaydegani@gmail.com.

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: In Praise of “What If?”

by Tara Campbell

“Did you know the average writer only makes $6,000 per year?”
These simple words from a fellow student marked the first time my desire to write smashed into the wall of the real world. It was 1988 in Anchorage, Alaska, and we were all about to graduate from high school. Most of us were heading to college, either in state or somewhere on the West Coast, the typical migratory path of the sprung Alaskan. But then my classmate John started asking what we wanted to do.
Huh. We had to decide that now? I simply liked school, and I liked writing, so… I don’t even remember saying the words, “I want to be a writer,” but his response etched itself into my brain. It was the first of many times I wondered if it would ever really happen.
My literary drug of choice had always been science fiction. From Asimov to Bradbury to Clarke and on down the alphabet, I was hooked on the question “what if?” Madeline L’Engle’s time- and space-bending A Swiftly Tilting Planet was a revelation to me. I was the nerd who put on a bathrobe and performed a book report on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the form of a monologue by Arthur Dent, timed to pre-taped responses from Zaphod Beeblebrox. For another book report I wrote and illustrated a complete issue of the Paszex Paper, in honor of Nor Crystal Tears(my green colored pencils were pretty worn down by the time I finished that edition). By the end of high school I had written the first few chapters of what would have been a truly cringe-worthy novel. That draft moved with me for decades, across the U.S., the Atlantic, and back, until I felt compelled to shred it a couple of years ago. I couldn’t stand the thought of that document ever possibly resurfacing after my death.
But back to high school: graduate we did, and off to college we went. John went on to become a doctor, and I wound up in a traditional trajectory for a liberal arts graduate: as a grad student getting another humanities degree. Subsequently, armed with an MA in German, I embarked on a career in international education and admissions. I was far from driving a Lexus, but at least I was making more than $6,000 a year. I turned to music and painting as creative outlets on the side, never even thinking about giving writing another go.
Then several years ago my partner (now my husband) and I were looking for something new to do together. We took an intro to fiction class at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. For him it was an experiment with something new. For me, it was a return to joy, like picking right back up with a best friend you haven’t seen in years, and wondering how life came in between the two of you in the first place.
When that class ended, we kept working on our stories. We joined a couple of writer’s groups, and I began staying up until the wee hours to “just finish one scene,” or getting up early to write before work. I also started submitting stories. While many people write for themselves, I’m not ashamed to admit that seeing my work out in the world is a huge motivator for me. And when my first story got published—when I realized there was at least one other person out there who wanted to read the diary entries of a fat cell whose community was about to be rocked by liposuction—I was gratified to know there was still a place for weirdness in the world.
I’ve approached Washington DC as my workshop since then, taking more classes at the Writer’s Center and Politics and Prose, hitting up a million Meetup writing groups to continue improving my craft, participating in readings with lowercase and Inner Loop, writing reviews for the Washington Independent Review of Books, volunteering with children’s literacy organization 826DC, sampling the business end as a Politics and Prose bookseller, and experiencing the editorial side as an assistant editor with Barrelhouse. With my husband’s boundless support, I stepped away from my full time job to devote myself to writing. And this spring it all came full circle when I stepped up to the microphone at the Writer’s Center, where my writing career began, to read from my first novel, TreeVolution.
But as every author will tell you, getting a book published doesn’t magically change your life

(J.K. Rowling excepted). Our job as writers is to keep working and growing. As important as “what if?” is, “what now?” is even more vital. I’m stretching myself now, working on a completely different project in historical fiction, and completing my first year of the MFA program at American University. I came into the program ready to buckle down and cast sci-fi aside to become a more “serious” writer. But this year I’ve learned a delightful lesson: there is more than one way to create, and there are places where commitment to craft and a little weirdness can meet. Being “serious” doesn’t have to mean forgetting the wonder.

Being a writer means being part of an expansive community. It’s all right to bring in the strange. It’s okay to write about talking flowers, or a chlorophyll-based diet franchise, or an interstellar nursery, or frustrated teeth who abandon their human, or an urban genie in a failing relationship, or even genetically modified trees that learn to speak up and fight back—as long as you can create worlds readers want to inhabit and stories they want to hear. Straying from the realist path can be tricky, sure. And you certainly won’t make doctor’s wages. But as long as you can hold on to the “what ifs,” what more do you need?

Excerpt: from “We Are Twenty-Six” in Chicago Literati
Marko’s teeth swayed. They twisted and rocked and eased themselves out of his gums while he, heavy with that evening’s vodka, grunted and snored in his bed.
On nights when Marko gagged and wheezed in the grips of drink, his teeth longed for their mothers, the baby teeth that had come before them, the first ones to work their way into and out of young Marko’s mouth. The little mothers lived together in the small, plastic box in which the tooth fairy had collected them, and which Marko’s parents gave to him long after he had stopped believing in the legend of the tooth fairy.
And so that night, as a much older Marko slept, his teeth tumbled out of his mouth. 
Click hereto continue reading


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With a BA in English and an MA in German, Tara Campbell has a demonstrated aversion to money and power. She was the grateful recipient of two awards from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities in 2016: the  Larry Neal Writers’ Award in Fiction, and the  Mayor’s Arts Award for Outstanding New Artist. Her first novel, TreeVolution, was released by Lillicat Publishers in 2016. Her second book, Circe’s Bicycle, will be published by LitFest Press in fall 2017.