Entries tagged with “Gay Degani”.


by Gay Degani

Caroline Hall, Winner of String-of-Ten 6Caroline Hall, this year’s String-of-Ten Six First Place Winner with her story, “Snowman Suicide,” was raised by English majors during the Nintendo generation. Now a teacher-on-hiatus, she has attended ten schools and worked at seven. She is a compulsive hiker and a New Englander who says “wicked awesome” and used the same window fan until it caught fire.  She writes short stories and flash fiction.

[NOTE: The story appears today at Every Day Fiction.]

Gay Degani: I’d love to know what your first reaction was to the list of words: LITTER-ENTRANCE-SAFE-SPIRITUAL -SPOTLIGHT-BOOKMARK-CATASTROPHE-RAZOR-FAULTY-ULTIMATE and the aphorism: “I prefer the errors of enthusiasm to the indifference of wisdom,” from Anatole France.  How did you approach the prompt?

Caroline Hall: My immediate response was that a number of the words on the list–razor, faulty, ultimate, and catastrophe—seemed to cluster together naturally.  To my mind, they grew organically from the concepts of depression and suicide.  I also knew I wanted to use the word “spiritual” because I love it!

When I looked at the list, the word “razor” practically glowed. A few years ago, I had surgery for a bizarre and not-so-threatening cancer.  After I was declared “fine,” I got strangely depressed.  I spent a lot of time in doctors’ and therapists’ waiting rooms that year.  I wrote a poem about waiting rooms and the endless string of medical appointments.  In the poem, I described patients with eyes like pills and mouths like razor blades.  Forty or fifty drafts later, the poem still didn’t work.  But when I saw the word “razor” on the list of words for the String-of-10 competition, I knew the setting and mood of “Snowman Suicide” instantly.  I was glad to get the chance to resuscitate the image and pleased that the story was much better than the original poem.

For me, writing “Snowman Suicide” was about balancing passive and active.  As a patient, you spend a great deal of time passively waiting, and I wanted to capture that feeling.  But I’ve also met a lot of people who fight back against their illnesses and circumstances with spunk and humor.  I wanted to make sure that some of their creativity, intelligence, and strength appeared in the story.

GD: You mentioned your goals for this story included balancing passive and active, so what other elements do you keep in mind when you are working on a piece of writing?  Characters you’ve touched on, what about structure and theme?  What do you handle these?

CH: My successful stories usually begin with an object—in this case, a snowman.  Characters start out being me and evolve as they interact with the object.  They develop slowly, which makes for some embarrassing drafts.  But getting to know and—sometimes— slowly fall in love with my characters is a joy.  Sometimes, it surprises me which characters I fall in love with and how big an impact they have on my life. Workshops and readers are helpful for clarifying the conflict in stories, for finding spots that don’t make sense or feel true.

I studied English and am a closet Classics geek, and my tendency was—and still is—to write Latinate or Victorian-style prose.  My first stories were designed to be analyzed rather than read. Finally, I realized that I could have a vital message, but that didn’t matter if readers needed a pot of coffee to survive the first paragraph.

As a result, I work hard at paring stories down to their cores.  I started writing flash fiction by accident; flash fit the funny clumps of time I squirreled away for writing better than longer stories did.   It was a happy accident.  Forcing myself to adhere to strict word limits has made my sentences stronger and leaner.

GD: You mention “paring down.”  I’m wondering what you look for when you edit your work.  What are your go-to moves?

CH: I spent a few years writing terrible poetry, so my main rule is “if it sounds the way your poetry sounded, it needs to go!” I love alliteration and repetition, but I have to make sure they don’t hijack the story or become distracting.  I’ll turn clauses into phrases.  In early drafts, I tend to stack adjectives and details.  I’ll have three or four when I need one.  In the first paragraph, my snowman initially went through five different diagnoses; three was enough.

GD: As I said in my interview with Jim Harrington, what drew me to this story, was a lot of things: “The title, the first line, the humor, the surprise, its clarity. ‘Snowman Suicide,’ who wouldn’t want to read that story?”  All this makes me want to read more of your work.  Can you tell me where to find other stories of yours and what you are working on now?

CH: “Snowman Suicide” is my first published work.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Earlier, I mentioned that my friends from the mental health community—if you can call it that—inspire me constantly with their intelligence, wit, candor, and kindness.  I am proud, grateful, and honored to know them and to have a chance to represent them in this story.  I hope I’ve done them justice.

 

gay 2Gay Degani has published fiction on-line and in print including her short collection, Pomegranate Stories. She is founder of EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles, a staff editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and blogs at Words in Place. She’s had three stories nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize. Her linked-story novella is part of Pure Slush’s 2014- A Year in Stories anthology and her her serialized novel, What Came Before, is currently online at Every Day Novels.

 Beginning today, FFC plans to publish book reviews for collections of (primarily) flash fiction on a quarterly basis. Each post will contain one or two reviews of around 500 words each. At this time, we will not review self-published or vanity press volumes. Go to our About/Submit page for further details.

Flashes of War, by Katey Schultz

reviewed by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Loyola University Press has released a book of short and flash fiction by new writer Katey Schultz. What makes Flashes of War different is that each of her 31 fiction stories relate to the Iraqi and Afghan conflicts. Schultz is able to capture the mood of war in a gritty and realistic way through her use of military slang and acronyms as well as through local colloquial language and description of the customs and practices of everyday citizens that, when combined into each story, guide the reader from rural America to downtown Baghdad.

The author describes herself as someone who makes sense of the world through storytelling. She developed the book by comparing her own experiences growing up and living in the United States to the experiences of American, Afghan, and Iraqi men, women, and children in the Middle East. An examination of the unique language associated with war and the power she felt was contained in those words led her to further exploration through images, films, and nonfiction texts.

Schultz has never been to war but her ability to capture the nuances of wartime experiences are somewhat jarring. Her descriptions and imagery carries the reader into the environment:

 We walk home slowly that night, passing the ball in short punts across the narrow streets. Hadir likes to aim for the base of streetlights, aligning the ball so it will bounce in my direction and set me up for the next, easy pass. A few stray dogs linger behind, limping and skinny. They’d probably eat Hadir’s soccer ball if we left it. Nights like this, I can almost forget our dim-lit city was the center of a warzone. (Into Pure Bronze)

Each story includes a furtiveness and energy that is both uncomfortable and accessible. There are many topics covered, including US immigration issues (The Ghost of Sanchez), intercultural affairs (Pressin’ the Flesh), relationships and connections (The Waiting: Part I, The Waiting: Part II), and coping (Home on Leave, Getting Perspective). Schultz is able to create tensions regarding the complex nature of war (My Son Wanted a Notebook) in an effort to transport readers into the many worlds of war.

Although this is Schultz’s first published book, she has other writing and writing-related credits to on her resume. Visit http://www.kateyschultz.com/ to learn more.

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 Pomegranate, by Gay Degani

reviewed by Rumjhum Biswas

Pomegranates are luscious, sweet and tart and carry within each seed the brightness of rubies. Given these qualities, it is necessary to linger over pomegranates when you eat ‘em. Pomegranate, Gay Degani’s chapbook of short and very short fiction demands a similar exercise. Take a look at the very first line of the title story:

“When I was seven I was stolen by gypsies.”

One crisp sentence is all. And, the reader is already plunged into the story. This story is one of the longer pieces in the collection. The narrative of the girl’s life in captivity and the long distance mother-daughter relationship has the staccato rhythm of a van lurching down a country road. The story, like the fruit, leaves behind a layered aftertaste. You are not sure where you can go with it. The story lingers in your mind, and almost unconsciously you find yourself reading it again.

The eight stories in this collection explore the relationships of women incisively, cutting straight to the point, like a sharp knife piercing one’s jugular. Gay Degani conveys her stories through sentences that are sharp enough to continue to surprise even during the second reading. It’s as if she has pulled the canvas so tight across its frame that the scenes and characters want to jump right off. The human foibles and emotions depicted in her stories pull and pull until the muscles of your heart feel taut. Whether it’s about a woman driving home to meet her dying father – Dani Girl’s Guide to Getting Everything Right, or a woman with a dysfunctional life on her way to the airport to pick up her very organized mother – Listing Lisa,  a basketball crazy young girl’s last and tragic vision – Rim Shot, two sisters with their terrible secret – Spring Melt, a mother’s grief so intense that it has turned ice-cold – Monsoon, a wedding guest’s relationship with her mother-in-law – Hawaiian Hairdo, a scene at a writing workshop – Chair Girl, or a kidnapped girl’s feelings for the husband her captors got for her and her subsequent reunion with her mother – the title story Pomegranate, Gay Degani’s stories have something more to say even after they have been read. Her narrative is quick, but like the juicy pomegranate fruit that drips and runs the minute you bite into it, and you have to be ready to deal with a sticky hand, these stories, too, stick to the mind long past reading. And then, there’s that tight feeling, even after you’re done, much like the lingering astringent aftertaste of pomegranates.

You can read Pomegranate by ordering direct from Lulu, or at Amazon.com.

by Gay Degani and Jim Harrington

logo for short story month 3We asked writers and readers to help us compile a list of favorite short stories in honor of Short Story Month 2013. Our goal was 150. With the assistance of many wonderful friends, we not only met that goal, we blew past it to a total of 161! Thanks to everyone who participated start making a list of your favorites for our 2014 list.

View the list here

and happy reading!

String-of-10 FIVECONGRATULATIONS go out to LINDA SIMONI-WASTILA whose story, “After the Tsunami” has been selected by Guest Judge Kathy Fish as the FIRST PLACE WINNER of the String-of-10 Five Flash Fiction Contest.

 

After the Tsunami” will be published in April at Every Day Fiction.    “A Gauze, A Medical Dressing, A Scrim” by Robert Vaughan and “Before the Fireworks” by Folly Blaine have placed Second and Third respectively and will be published in April at Flash Fiction Chronicles.  (Exact publications dates to be arranged.) The Honorable Mentions and Finalists will not be published by Every Day Fiction nor by Flash Fiction Chronicles, but we are positive they will find a home for their wonderful work in short order.

You’ll find a complete list of Winners and Finalists (in alphabetical order) plus an interview with Kathy Fish below.

 

 Top Three Winners

1st Place  ”After The Tsunami” by Linda Simoni-Wastila

2nd Place  ”A Gauze, A Medical Dressing, A Scrim” by Robert Vaughan

3rd Place  ”Before the Fireworks” by Folly Blaine

 

Patricia McFarland Memorial Prize

Most effective incorporation of the theme of freedom

“Jump” by Stephen Ramey

 

Honorable Mention

“Crow Party” by Susan Gabrielle

“Invincible” by Victoria Bond

“Jump” by Stephen Ramey

“Quantum Kiss” by Kieran Marsh

 

Finalists

“Beautiful Stranger” by Tamara Walsh

“Can’t Be Sad with Geese” by Michelle Donahue

“Cast Away” by Jillian Schmidt

“How We Became Friends” by Preston Randall

“In the Evening, a Star Reflects” by Isabella Grabski

“Infinite” by Nu Yang

“Phantom Springs Cave” by John C. Mannone

“Quarry Boys” by Lee Sang

“Remembered One” by Alexis Hunter

“The Connoisseur” by Erik Goranson

“The Quarry” by Annie Noblin

“The Quarry” by Elizabeth Coleman

“The Wall” by Jennifer Ruth Jackson

“They Were Not a Birthday Present” by Alexandra Mendelsohn

Congratulations to all who entered the String-of-10 FIVE Flash Fiction Contest.

We received over 200 entries this year!

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Kathy FishInterview with Guest Judge Kathy Fish

by Gay Degani

We at Flash Fiction Chronicles are honored to have flash fiction pioneer, Kathy Fish, as our guest judge this year. Kathy’s short fiction has appeared in Indiana Review, The Denver Quarterly, New South, Quick Fiction, Guernica, Slice and elsewhere. She was the guest editor of Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web 2010.  She is the author of three collections of short fiction: a chapbook of flash fiction in the chapbook collective, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks of Short Short Fiction by Four Women (Rose Metal Press, 2008), Wild Life (Matter Press, 2011) and Together We Can Bury It, the 2nd printing of which is forthcoming from The Lit Pub.

 

Gay Degani: What do you look for when you are judging a contest?

Kathy Fish: On first read, it’s just smooth prose and a lack of anything cliched or hackneyed or pat. Those stories make it to the second pass. Then I get a little pickier. What I’m looking for is something that stands out in terms of beautiful writing, a great story, originality, etc.

GD: How aware were you as you read  that the entries came from a specific prompt?  How did working from the same prompt affect the originality of the pieces? Or did they?

KF: I knew ahead of time there were prompt words. I didn’t pay much attention to what the prompt words were, but it becomes clear, especially in such short pieces, the words that are repeated. I know that “grave” as a prompt word resulted in graveyard stories, ghost stories and so forth. Anytime there is a grouping of prompt words it forms something subconscious in the writer’s brain I think. “Grave”, “rose” and “evening” –those words lend themselves so easily to the dark and the gothic sort of tales. There was some similarity in tone through the stories.

GD: What was it about the winning story that made you decide, “This is it?”

KF: First of all, it’s gorgeously written. And I admired the scope of it, how it took on this huge event, and made it so deeply personal. In the space of a mere 250 words the writer took on cataclysm, culture, and personal tragedy, weaving these all together seamlessly and gracefully. The story made me feel and think. It stayed with me. I pretty much knew on first read this one would be in the top 3.

GD: Do you have any lines or segments or characters that stood out for you in the top three stories? And why?

KF: “After The Tsunami” by Linda Simoni-Wastila was such a standout for me in all ways. The prose was precise and beautiful and I felt great care was taken in conveying the character. Past and present are intricately woven. As a flash it felt cinematic, epic, full of story and emotional depth. I could go on and on.

The playfulness of approach and language and weirdness of Robert Vaughan’s “A Gauze, A Medical Dressing, A Scrim” just thrilled me. I loved the sound of this piece. Things like: “pulley-pails through the laundry drop”. I love that! This one just got progressively weirder. Like a collaboration between Wes Anderson and David Lynch.

What I admired about Folly Blaine’s “Before the Fireworks” was how simply she allowed the scene to unfold. The prose is clear and uncluttered. Blaine gives us a gentle exchange between two characters, co-workers and friends, and the small kindnesses they show each other, in a quiet moment on the cusp of big change for one of them. This story could so easily have been overplayed but it wasn’t.

GD: What should writers consider when entering a contest similar to this?  What strategies would you suggest?

KF: I’m not sure about strategies. I think it’s all about submitting the best story you can write. I would say though in a case where all the entrants are working with the same set of words it might be an advantage to go against your first inclination, which may also be everyone else’s first inclination. So maybe consider using the word “grave” as an adjective, or the word “quarry” as a verb and so forth. Going against expectation.

GD: What are you currently working on?

KF: I’m writing short stories (not flash) these days and really loving it. I’m just this week sending out my first full-length short story in a very long time.  Feels good.

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Gay DeganiGay Degani has published on-line and in print including each of The Best of Every Day Fiction editions (fourth forthcoming) and her own collection, Pomegranate Stories.   She is the retiring founder-editor of EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles, a staff editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and blogs at Words in Place where a list of her online and print fiction can be found.   Nominated twice for a Pushcart, her story, “Something about L.A,” won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize and placed 23rd out of 7000 entries  with “Mischief” in 13th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition.   It will be published in a special competition collection.

 by Gay Degani
Scroll down for Monthly Miscellany
Gay Degani
Life is a crossword puzzle done in ink.No matter the effort, I still mess up.  Thank goodness, I am not alone in this human flaw.   I put in the “perfect” answer with confidence until I run out of squares.  Why didn’t I count before I brandished my pen?

So I apply White-Out. Now I can’t read the numbers on the grid.  I squint, I use my nail to scrape, dig in the basket on the breakfast table for the magnifying glass.  I look at the numbers around the “unreadable” number and deduce.  Oh yes it’s number 4 or 7 or 9, isn’t it? Why don’t I just take my time?  Make sure everything fits before I go for it?  Sometimes I just don’t.  I want to “go.”  The trick is once I decide to go and it doesn’t work, I have to “let go” and get on with it.

This is how I feel when I write, too, that organic unwieldy process. Get an idea and dive in, feet first, an adventure that could lead me just about anywhere.  Let’s go.  Bombs away.  Then I realize I’ve gone on a tangent.  I look around for the white out, but there isn’t any for this particular kind of puzzle.  What I’ve got in front of me is a mess that doesn’t make much sense.  I highlight those 1000 or so words and let my finger hover over the “Delete” key. But wait, I don’t tear up a crossword puzzle when I screw it up, do I?  I reread, rethink, reconstruct and review.  And that’s what needs to be done with the story too, but this is hard.

There are things I understand about the revision process after years of trying to learn to write well, but sometimes knowing something intellectually doesn’t always translate into using the tools you should.  I’ve written articles, here in fact, about questioning the text, asking yourself what does your character want, what stands in her way, what does she do about it, and how is it resolved. But sometimes I cannot see through the jumble of words on the page.  I can’t let go of what came out of my brain the first time.  But I need to.  This is important.  I need to.

I need to push away from myself and search through my own writing as if I were someone else. And when those “other” eyes reveal that “the story doesn’t work,” “the story doesn’t satisfy,” “the character takes no action,” “there is no change,” “there is no meaning,” then I need to let go of the piece as it is and be willing to challenge the story in whatever way that  joggles me into better understanding its structure, its characters, its emotion, its theme.

First, it’s hard because there are often many things I love about what I’ve just put on paper, a turn of phrase, a character who is funny, a scene that really seems to work, but taken as a whole?  It has no meaning.  Sometimes it is easy to get rid of the mess.  That’s why they put trash cans on your computer screen, right?  Second, it kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?  The story I just whizzed through?  My subconscious  is more creative and original than the left-brained me, isn’t it?  Third,  there’s so much fun in that initial rush of words, I just wanna do that again. But I can’t  let any of this stand in my way because the reality is first drafts aren’t perfect.  I have to let go of that idea–and the idea that writing could be easy.

I have to realize that my  mess-up isn’t a mess-up.  It’s a search.  It’s like filling in a word in a crossword puzzle that turns out to be wrong.  Do I leave the incorrect answer there because it “fits?”   It looks right?  Am I really too lazy to change it?  Does that help me to complete the puzzle or does it lead me astray? I know that I must let go of first words and first thoughts and use the tools of craft to help me work toward a piece of art.

String-of-10 FIVE is LIVE

For the week of February 3 through February 9, Flash Fiction Ch

ronicles is having its Fifth String-of-10 Contest—String-of-10 FIVE—for the best 250-word story written from a randomly selected string of ten words.  GUIDELINES

 STRING-OF-10 FIVE PROMPT:

EVENING-QUARRY-ACCENT-ROSE-TEAR-MINUTE-GRAVE-CLOSE-ENTRANCE-BOW 

I want to put a ding in the universe. –Steve Jobs 

STRING-OF-10 FIVE GUEST JUDGE: KATHY FISH

I am pleased to announce that this year’s Guest Judge will be Kathy Fish.  Kathy Fish’s short fiction has appeared in Indiana Review, The Denver Quarterly, New South, Quick Fiction, Guernica, Slice and elsewhere. She was the guest editor of Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web 2010. She is the author of three collections of stories: a chapbook of flash fiction in the chapbook collective, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks of Short Short Fiction by Four Women, (Rose Metal Press, 2008),  Wild Life (Matter Press, 2011) and Together We Can Bury It, forthcoming from The Lit Pub.

Coming this month:

Flash Fiction Chronicles Series of Creating and Publishing Fiction Chapbooks From Bonnie ZoBell:

Victor David Giron at Curbside Splendor, February 7Tammy Lynne Stoner at Gertrude Press, February 21

Every Day Fiction’s Top Author Interview

Aliza Greenblatt will be interviewing Kevin McNeil whose story “The Merry Jester” was the top story for January at EDF.