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?
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
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.