Category Archives: short stories

Meet LAst Resort Author Laurie Stevens "The Ride of Your Life"

Excerpt from “The Ride of Your Life” by Laurie Stevens

Photo by Laurie Stevens

“What about you?” He swiveled his head toward her. “What’s your name, anyhow?”
“Mary. Mary Fitzpatrick.” She let her eyes roam the mountains bordering the canyon road.
“Well, Mary Fitzpatrick. It looks like you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. You have a husband?”
The car fishtailed as it hit the bumps in the center.
“Please slow down!” Mary cried.
He evened out and decreased the speed.
“No, I don’t have a husband,” she said, eyeing the road ahead of them with worry. The turns were tight, and they were still traveling too fast. The car tightly hugged the hills to their right. On the opposite side, the road bordered a sheer, steep drop to the canyon stream below.

Mary could swear that the last person they’d passed whipped out a cell phone and photographed the Buick as it sped by them. Surely, someone would have called the police by now.
“You have kids?” the man asked her.
“No.” Mary barely heard the question. Her mind mulled over some possibilities. “I live alone.”
“Los Angeles can be a cold and lonely place for a nice old lady.”
She cocked an eyebrow over her spectacles at him.  She smiled despite her predicament. With her gray hair, glasses, and dowdy clothing, Mary knew most people considered her much older than her years. That was okay with her. She wanted them to think that.


The Rochelle Staab Questions asked of Laurie Stevens 

 What is the weirdest thing that ever happened to you in Los Angeles?
What’s not been weird? I guess the time I exited a gym and saw an elderly woman walking aimlessly through traffic. I asked if she needed a ride and she told me “Quick! Take me to the Pink Turtle!” She instructed me to drive her to the Beverly Wilshire hotel and asked if I would wait with her for her friend. She bought me hot chocolate and spaghetti. No friend appeared, so I took her to her apartment in West LA. I helped count out her ration of medication/pills for the week and as a thank you, she insisted I take home a folding chair. I kept that chair for a long time.
 Do you have a yet-to-be realized L.A. dream?
I have not yet hiked to the Hollywood sign.
Why write short stories? Why write at all? What’s in it for you?
Do writers really have a choice whether or not to write? We have to. Short stories give me a chance to make a quick commentary or take a snapshot of life that isn’t big enough for a novel, but delicious just the same.
What is the biggest challenge in writing to theme?
That you don’t stray from the theme.
Are the characters in your story based on you or people you know/met?
Without creating a spoiler, I’ll say that one of the characters is based on a nefarious and infamous person who, I believe, is still serving time in prison.
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?
Well, if you read the story you will see the two characters travel all over. They start in the city, go through the valley, then end up in the canyons on the way to the beach. I myself like quilts!
Are there scenes in your story based on real life—yours, hearsay, or a news story you read?
Available at Amazon
I’ve read about embezzlement cases, so the man’s crime is not unusual, unfortunately. As far as the car jacking is concerned, I wanted to put a twist on that, and I’ve never heard of it happening before.
What came first, the character or the plot?
The plot came first. The twist came first… Then I added that character from the news story.
While you’re writing: music (what kind?), dead silence, or…?
Silence while I write. Music while I walk between writing to complete those hard-to-complete scenes. I keep a playlist for each book or story I write.
Favorite writing quote—yours or from someone else…
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.  Stephen King
Your writing ritual begins with…
A cup of coffee and a lit candle. A quiet space and for God’s sake turn the phone off!
Photo by Guy Viau



Laurie Stevens is the author of the Gabriel McRay psychological thrillers, The Dark Before Dawn and Deep into Dusk. The books have won twelve awards, among them Kirkus Reviews Best of 2011, the  IPPY for Best Mystery/Thriller, Library Journal’s Self-E Award, the Amsterdam Book Festival, and Random House Editor’s Book of the Month. Laurie is an active member of MWA, ITW, and sits on the Board of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles. She’s proud to have been included in two Sisters in Crime anthologies: Last Resort and Last Exit to Murder.

Meet LAst Resort Author G.B. Pool "Method Actor"

Excerpt from “Method Actor” by G.B. Poole
He said I had it in me, that killer instinct. But he couldn’t have known about Gloria. That happened when I was sixteen. Water under the bridge, like they say… and Gloria, too. The producer said I was what he was looking for. Somebody who could kill his wife with a smile on his face. He offered me a part in his latest movie if I could come to California and didn’t lose that sharp edge. He told me that twice.
The Rochelle Staab Questions
What is the weirdest thing that ever happened to you in Los Angeles?
Not the weirdest, but a totally Welcome To LA story – I was taking acting classes from Rudy Solari and Guy Stockwell when I first came to California back in the 70s. I wanted to learn how to write dialogue and acting class seemed like a great place to do that. My acting partner and I were given a scene from The Odd Couple. We were to play the leads. Instead of Felix and Oscar, we became Felicia and Esther. We practiced until we knew it backwards then decided to take the “act” on the road. We went to a local Hollywood bar where actors hung out. We went in in character. Karen, playing the rather “out there” Esther hit on all the guys. I, the shy and retiring Felicia, kept telling her to stop embarrassing me. When asked what I wanted to drink, I said a Harvey Wallbanger, but I asked what it cost. When the bartender told me the price, I acted shocked and said I didn’t want to buy drinks for the entire bar. He said it was my drink alone. I fumbled in my change purse and still kept telling Esther to stop making a scene. When the bartender put the drink in front of me, I wiped down the bar with a hankie. He stopped and said in a very loud voice, “Talk about ‘the odd couple.’” I broke out laughing and we told everybody what we were doing. I didn’t have to pay for my drink that night or any time we ever went back. We were a hit. Rudy liked the scene we did in class, too. Later, he started The Solari Theater in Brentwood. He actually put on The Odd Couple with women in the lead. Sally Struthers ended up doing it on Broadway, but Karen and I did it first.
Do you have a yet-to-be realized L.A. dream?
One of my series, either The Johnny Casino Casebookseries or the Chance McCoy stories from Second Chance, turned into a TV series.
Why write short stories? Why write at all? What’s in it for you?
I teach a class: The Anatomy of a Short Story. I tell my students that a short story has all the elements Aristotle said should be in a story: Plot, Character, Dialogue, Setting, and a Theme. I like being able to put all those elements into a 25-50 page story. If I have more to say, I write a novel.
What is the biggest challenge in writing to theme?
Trying to guess what the editors of the anthology are reallylooking for.
Are the characters in your story based on you or people you know/met?
In “Method Actor,” no. He’s totally from my imagination. In my detective series, all three of them –The Johnny Casino Casebookseries, The Gin Caulfield P.I. series (Media Justice, Hedge Bet and Damning Evidence), and Second Chancefeaturing Chance McCoy-, since I used to be a private detective in real life, I use some of what I learned on the job in those stories.
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 bring a New York actor out to Los Angeles because he believes what he sees in the movies. I let him experience the difference between The Big Apple and the desert. Then I put him in a cheap hotel before he meets a big producer who lives in another world. Soon those worlds collide.
Are there scenes in your story based on real life—yours, hearsay, or news story you read?
“Method Actor,” a story about a New York actor who comes to Los Angeles because he believes everything he sees in the movies is strictly out of my own imagination.
What came first, the character or the plot?
Available at Amazon
Plot usually comes first for me. Almost everything I have ever written starts with some voice in my head telling me a story beginning with an opening line or paragraph. I might rewrite that opening two dozen times, but that basic core of the plot doesn’t change. Sometimes that voice becomes the main character, but he or she is still telling me the plot. I figure out who the characters are as the storyline progresses.
While you’re writing: music (what kind?), dead silence, or…? 
I have a fountain that plays bird tweets and forest sounds. It is so relaxing, that I can get a lot of writing done. I’m on book 20, so it must work.
Favorite writing quote—yours or from someone else…
“The first chapter sells the book. The last chapter sells the next book.” from Mickey Spillane
Your writing ritual begins with… 
Coffee… La Llave and French Market with chicory, 2-1.
A former private detective and once a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool (G.B. Pool) writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries (Media Justice, Hedge Bet, Damning Evidence). She wrote the SPYGAME Trilogy: The Odd Man, Dry Bones, and Star Power. Other books: Caverns, Eddie Buick’s Last Case, The Santa Claus Singer, Bearnard’s Christmas, The Santa Claus Machine, andEvery Castle Needs a Dragon. She teaches writing classes: “The Anatomy of a Short Story” (which is in workbook form), “How to Write Convincing Dialogue” and “How to Write a Killer Opening.” Website: http://www.gbpool.com.

Gayle Bartos-Pool Sums Up Sisters-in-Crime Anthology, "LAst Resort"

         NOTE: The interview and excerpt from Gayle Bartos-Pool’s short story “Method Actor” is now posted.

Los Angeles writer
Michael Connelly
If Michael Connelly introduces a book, you know it has to be worth a look. This time he focuses on a journey through Los Angeles, its dark alleys and places tourists never go. Who inhabits these locals? People who come from out of town looking for fame, fortune, excitement, or maybe just a place to bury a body. L.A. is like a drug. It can cure and it can kill. Read on.
“Eggs Over Dead” by Wendall Thomas shows us that waitressing might be a dead end job when you came to L.A. to be a writer, especially when your one break turns sour, but sometimes when the meal’s finished, the just desserts can be delicious.

“The Ride of Your Life” by Laurie Stevens begins with a carjacking. Los Angeles put them on the map. But you never know who might be in that car.

“Method Actor” by G.B. Pool tells the story of a New York actor who is offered a part in a Hollywood movie by a producer with one condition: the actor has to kill the producer’s wife with a smile on his face. Our young thespian practices his craft across country and tops it off in L.A. before the cameras roll.

Available at Amazon

“The Best LAid Plans” by Anne David lets you know you can take the girl out of the country, but not the country out of the girl. This gal hasn’t lost her green thumb because the tomatoes grown in her backyard are winners. Wonder what kind of fertilizer she uses?

L.H. Dillman weighs nature vs. nurture in “Lead Us Not Into Temptation.” When a street punk from Chicago comes to Los Angeles to be nurtured by his very caring aunt who works as a housekeeper for a wayward “parachute kid” in a mansion on the expensive side of town, he learns a valuable lesson. But L.A. can play havoc with your schooling.

“Highland Park Hit” by Gay Degani lets us know family is family. But when you come from Louisiana to help your cousin with his daughter and find a dead body in the living room, you might need more than Gorilla Glue to fix the problem… like maybe a good dose of Law & Order…Lennie Briscoe style.

“Independence Day” by Avril Adams tells the story of Ava who’s just out of prison on the 4th of July. This gal is looking for her own kind of fireworks like finding the guy who killed the wrong people and got away with it. Let the fireworks begin.

Lynn Bronstein’s “Mimo” is a poignant tale of a tiny woman heading for a dead end… her way.

“Today’s the Day” by Mae Woods features a spurious psychic who had a pretty good operation going in prison, but when she tries to ply her craft on the outside she finds out con artists sometimes can’t read the handwriting on the wall.

Figueroa Street in Highland Park

“Little Egypt” by Georgia Jeffries lets you know it’s hard to bury your past especially when there’s always somebody around who will dig it up for you. But some memories can be buried for good… or maybe for bad.

“Thump Bump and Dump” by Wrona Gall is a study. When you think your lifestyle needs a makeover, why not move to L.A. and fix somebody else’s problem. It just might make a new man of you…

“Hired Lives” by Cyndra Gernet takes a trip back to a quieter time in Los Angeles where you meet an older couple who only want a few simple things out of life, so they put an ad in the paper for a couple who can provide just what they want. Ask for references…

Sarah M. Chen’s “Nut Job” introduces us to Hector, a guy with friends who have a great idea to make big money. With that money he would make his girlfriend happy. She wouldn’t dump him. What could go wrong?

“Crime Drama/Do Not Cross” by Melinda Loomis features Alexandra Jones. She goes by Zan. She’s currently working as a private detective. But when your favorite TV show, the one where you know all the episodes by heart, is ending its run, and you really want to be an actress, not a P.I., but you can’t get a job, sometimes reality and fantasy collide.

“On Call for Murder” by Paula Bernstein is the story of a dead surrogate mother, a question of paternity, an arrogant doctor, and another doctor who has questions and gets answers that just might get her killed.

Stephen Buehler’s “Seth’s Big Move” shows us that you can have bad days… and then you can have the Titanic. Seth is a wannabe actor from Indiana who can’t catch a break in Hollywood. Then he meets Emily and he’s going to move into a new apartment and share his life with her. And he has a small inheritance. Things are looking up, but than he looks at his bank account… Can things get any worse?

Last Resort is the latest anthology from Sisters-in-Crime/Los Angeles, edited by Matt Coyle, Mary Marks, and Patricia Smiley.

Meet LAst Resort Author Anne David "The Best LAid Plans"

Excerpt from “The Best LAid Plans” by Anne David

Irene had arrived in Los Angeles at the Greyhound bus station shortly after her twenty-first birthday. She shed the name Elvira Klotzman in favor of Irene Ross on the long road trip from the farm in Minnesota. A substantial stash of movie magazines in her travel bag, the source of her information on how to break into the movies, reported on the many stars that had changed their names. No shame in doing that. Better John than Marion, or Marilyn than Norma Jean. Irene seemed glamorous, but dignified, and there didn’t seem to be any Irenes on the movie scene right now. Irene Dunne was the last one she knew of, so there wouldn’t be any confusion with someone else.
The seedy people wandering around the outside of the bus station and the general dinginess of the street dismayed Irene, and she realized that she had no idea where to go. She had some money saved from her waitressing job at the Prairie Café from the last few years to get her started, and her mother had pressed a twenty-dollar bill into her hand as she boarded the bus.
“Be careful.” Her mother was a woman of few words. “You can come home anytime.”
Her father just stood with his hands in his overall pockets, chewing on a toothpick. “Take it easy, girl.”
None of them was demonstrative, so no hugs or kisses. She did have a slight lump in her throat though, because as far as she was concerned she wasn’t coming home again. She would never return to the backbreaking work of a farm, with the endless chores and the smell of the place on your clothes and in your hair, and the dirt always under your fingernails. The long hours aged a person beyond their time. Look at her mother.
“I’ll write.” And then she was on her way.

The Rochelle Staub Questions

Photo by Charles Ng – Time On Film
What is the weirdest thing that ever happened to you in Los Angeles?
My daughter’s dog was running off leash in the Hollywood Hills and came bounding back from the brush dragging a plastic bag that contained a severed head. Needless to say, he made the papers and late night TV. The mayor even issued him a commendation from the City of Los Angeles. That might actually be the weirdest part.
Do you have a yet-to-be realized L.A. dream?
I’m looking forward to the day when the L. A. highways, byways, and freeways are trash free.
Why write short stories? Why write at all? What’s in it for you?
“What’s in it for you?” and “why write at all?” are two sides of the same question for me. It’s like an out of body experience in which I can relive an episode from my past, or project myself into another life altogether. It’s a chance to expand the finite experiences of a single lifetime into an ever-changing universe.  As far as “why write short stories?”… not every idea merits a book, but most ideas merit the telling.
What is the biggest challenge to writing to theme?
I wasn’t so much challenged by the theme as by the word count. That makes you hone the language and boil the story down to its essence – no sidebars, flights of fancy, or unrelated facts allowed.
Are the characters in your story based on you or people you know/met?
I don’t think so, but then you store a lot in your sub-conscience and it probably comes out in your characters. 
Los Angeles is a patchwork quilt of different neighborhoods. Why did you pick the area you used for your story, and how did the area influence your story?
Available at Amazon

I got to know Silver Lake when my daughter and her family moved there several years ago. The side streets can be narrow and winding and very confusing, and I used WASE to find my way around. It never seemed to take me on the same route twice, always looking for the least traffic, so I developed a real appreciation for the quirky neighborhoods and a healthy respect for the treacherous hill streets. It can take your breath away to crest the summit of the neighborhood roller coaster ride, have the sun in your eyes, and meet a garbage truck coming at you.  I also spend a lot of time driving the stretch of Sunset Boulevard that runs through Silver Lake, not the posh stretch, and there is a never-ending stream of pedestrians, mostly young, and you wonder where they come from and how they live.

Are there scenes in your story based on real life – yours, hearsay, or a news story you read?
The singles bar scene was a pretty standard one in the 70’s, and characters like Roy were usually lurking there, waiting for an Irene to come along.
What came first, the character or the plot?

They came together, but not as they finally played out in the story. Irene followed me around for days declaring that she was rich and famous, but had to back down from that position when her humble farm girl origins began to emerge. But as Irene evolved, so did the plot.
While you’re writing: music (what kind?), dead silence, or… ?
I have to write first thing in the morning. I’m up at six, make a cup of coffee and retreat to my quiet corner, away from the household traffic and the distractions of email, TV, or phone calls, which can tempt me back into the real world.
Favorite writing quote – yours or from someone else…
“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” Mark Twain
Your writing ritual begins with…
Reading aloud.  I like to hear how the words written yesterday sound today.


Anne David retired from a lifetime spent in elementary education and now lives in Pasadena with her husband, John. She had intentions of beginning a new career writing children’s books, but somehow she deviated from that plan and turned to murder and mayhem with a novel, The Accidental Benefactor, followed with another murder in her short story “The Best LAid Plans.” She has a BA in English, a MA in Reading Instruction, and a PhD in Literacy and Language Arts. Her children’s book, The Three Basketeers, is the first in a series developed for the emerging reader.

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/



























JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: Never Too Late, Never Give up

by Gay Degani


My novel, What Came Before, took more than twelve years to write.

I’m not bragging about that. The book is under 300 pages and not a deep philosophical treatise on man’s inhumanity to man. There are no white whales, no Dublin boarding houses, no madeleines, so why did it take me so long?

Well, life got in the way.

Like many others who yearn to put words on paper, my dream of becoming a writer began in childhood. With me on her lap, my mother read aloud the Bobbsey Twins, The Swiss Family Robinson, and Heidi. My dad introduced me to the dauntless detective, Nancy Drew. After devouring Little Women, I knew I had to be a writer, just like Jo. I drew pictures of books, my books, with enticing titles along the spines, my name just below. At twelve, I scribbled a “novel” in purple ink about the Twellington twins and their nine siblings.

I was surprised in high school to find out that Mrs. Hawkins, my Creative Writing teacher, had entered one of my short stories in the Atlantic Monthly High School Writing Contest and was more surprised when I won second place. Wow. “Collision,” I thought, was just the beginning.


After graduating with a B.A. from UCSB in 1970 and getting a Masters’ Degree in 19th Century English Literature at Long Beach State in 1971, I found myself in need of a career—or at least a job. I had to support myself, but I was certain I could dig up the “spare time” to write. As a kid of the 50s and 60s, I thought time grew like fat plums waiting to be plucked, but as a full-time worker bee, I couldn’t find the tree, let alone the fruit. Still I thought, one day, some day. Now I realize I had to live my life before I could write. When I look back, I can identify those moments of learning that gave me the confidence and know-how to put words on paper.

In a retail executive training program after college, I learned that the Junior Department at the Del Amo Broadway was only a small segment of a huge enterprise. Behind the selling floors, the dressing rooms, and the customers was a complex operation spread over 40+ stores as well as a blocks-long system of offices and warehouses in East LA. In the beginning I vaguely understood the size and shape of the company, but not its intricacies, how it actually functioned. Later, as a writer, this experience of learning the complexities behind the obvious helped me understand that behind a basic storyline, there is structure, a way of doing things, a way of controlling results. Words no more spring spontaneously onto the page than pantsuits and mini-skirts miraculously appeared on shelves, rounders, and mannequins.


As a Gap store manager, my job was about people—customers and employees. I understood something about human nature, but not much. My first lesson came before I was even hired. The company gave all candidates an “honesty” test. It seemed obvious to me that anyone could pass this kind of exam whether they were honest or not, so I asked the man who hired me if anyone ever failed. His answer? Yes, they did. A high percentage. This surprised me and forced me to become more aware of how very different we are from each other.

Later, as a Gap district manager, when I had to figure out how to foster top performances in others, I developed more insights into what motivates and what discourages people. Working toward team goals in a positive atmosphere as well as appreciation for a job well done, helped to create a desire to achieve. Strong characters in good stories have to want something too. They have to strive and overcome disappointment. What pulls the reader along is how characters respond to the obstacles put between them and their desires.


I had kids. I thought becoming a stay-at-home mom would allow me infinite time to sit down at a typewriter and pound out stories. They would nap, wouldn’t they?  Play outside in the backyard? Entertain themselves? As it turned out, I was no Danielle Steele or J.K. Rowling. There were no scribblings of passionate love scenes on the dryer in the middle of night. No sneaking out in spare moments to tea shops to create wizards. My job was all consuming: Room mother, Cub and Girl Scout leader, swim mom, have van will travel.  Here was a lesson I taught myself: whatever I chose to do, I did it full on to the best of my abilities. 

Tupperware came next. Yep, I learned everything there is to know about eradicating mold from my refrigerator, but more importantly, this job forced me to rely on myself to get what I wanted. I had a simple goal: I wanted to buy a computer. What I learned was more valuable. Selling Tupperware taught me to rally to the task, to observe and imitate successful behaviors, to give encouragement as well as to accept it, and to think on my feet. Selling Tupperware made me feel something like a stand-up comedian—the more they laughed, the more I sold—and I became addicted to being “in the zone,” that feeling that comes when everything one does, works. I had forgotten how that felt. I knew it was finally time to write. My first screenplay was called “Plastic Dreams,” about a man who seeks refuge in selling Tupperware.


I wrote screenplays, stories, random poems, and journal entries. I took UCLA extension classes, went to conferences and workshops. Mimicking what I had learned from Tupperware, I surrounded myself with like-minded people, set goals, planned for results. By the time my kids left home to chase their own dreams, I was beginning to understand what made for good writing. I accepted that writing well doesn’t just happen, but that it comes with practice and study.

I am proudest of not giving up, of refusing to abandon my writing dream. I’ve published many stories in print and on line, been nominated for Pushcarts, won contests, short-listed, long-listed, and honorable mentioned here and there.  I published an eight-story collection in 2010 about mothers and daughters, Pomegranate. Pure Slush released my full-length collection, Rattle of Want, in 2015, which includes my novella, “The Old Road.” My suspense novel, What Came Beforethat twelve year endeavor—is currently available in its second edition by Truth Serum Press.

I’ll be 68 on the 19th of this month. Thank goodness, it’s never too late.

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Gay Degani has said almost everything there is to say about herself above, but she’d like to add that since she was born in Louisiana, spent her earliest years in Iowa, and road-tripped every summer to both for each of her summers while growing up in California, that she gained a strong love of place: desert, mountain, plain, swamp, farmland, and beach. She hopes her work reflects that love.