Entries tagged with “Gay Degani”.
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Thu 8 May 2014
by Gay Degani
“There are two ways to become a better writer, in general: write a lot, and read a lot. There are no other steps.” – Leo Babauta
So often new writers (and experienced ones too) find themselves hanging out by the refrigerator, flipping through television channels, or cleaning out closets, all because they don’t know what to write or if they’ve starte
d, where to take their stories. Eventually most find a way to break through, but I want to suggest something less fattening than eating ice cream and more useful than Wheel of Fortune. Although I admit these two things might lead to an idea, and I know cleaning closets worked for Eminem, but choosing to study a story you admire is more likely to get your head filled with ideas and ways to make them work than anything else.
Back when I was teaching, I discovered a somewhat old-fashioned essay by Mortimer J. Adler in English 1A textbooks called “How to Mark a Book.” At first I thought students would be put off by the author’s style, yet reading it for the first time, I knew I had to assign it. Adler offers one of the most essential tools for learning: how to have a conversation with the author of any text. Not only did I have to make sure the kids in my class used this tool to learn to write, but I would need to incorporate it into my own discipline.
What Adler professes is that reading must be active, not passive and the best way to do that is to read with a pencil in hand, and underlining key ideas, scribbling questions and thoughts in the margins, using a “star, asterisk, or other doo-dad” to return to paragraphs for rereading, numbering sequences, circling phrases, and using white spaces to outline. He claims that by marking a book a reader becomes an alert participant, his thought processes are triggered, and his ability to remember reinforced.
It’s obvious that marking a book helps students to study, prepare for tests, and carry what they’ve learned with them longer, but how did this help me as a writer? How does it help you?
Writing a story whether flash or longer can be a daunting task. We wonder when we sit down at the keyboard how other writers do it day after day, piece after piece. Adler’s essay gives a way to discover how to find out, how to have a conversation with the author of something we admire.
He teaches us not to deconstruct in the literary analysis kind of way, but in the “how did he/she do that” kind of way.
Let me repeat Adler’s three reasons to question a text.
- Staying alert
Normally when we read—especially the first time through—we read for the story, taking in language and meaning as we do so. This is most often done passively for pleasure, but as students of writing, we need to go back with all our faculties engaged with a pencil or pen in hand, circling this image, that phrase, underlining words that suggest a theme. asking ourselves, how did the author paint that picture, how do I know this character is angry, why do I feel like crying? Questioning “why and how” helps writers to understand what choices the author has used to put us into the story. We need to be alert to do this.
When we are alert to everything in the text, we are thinking, asking questions, wondering. We notice specific words and realize how an old man “shambling” is different from an old man “strolling.” How we can picture exactly a pine or a palm when those specific words are used instead of “tree.” Also more complex issues are untangled. Why do we know one character is conflicted and another one is unaware? We are forced to look at dialogue, adjectives, subtle hints that build to an awareness of state of mind. When we read for pleasure, we may notice these things, but when we underline them, put an asterisk next to a paragraph, and go back through, puzzling and studying, we are engaged in learning.
Memory is reinforced when we are questioning a text. Because we are alert and writing things down, outlining the structure, exploring the dialog, we are aware that these are things we want to remember and the act of engagement boosts memory. Next time we are trying to convey a character in just a few words because the word count is 100 or 500 or 1000, we will remember that word choice is essential, that every word used MUST convey some meaning and consequently, we are less likely to settle on first thoughts. We will remember our pleasure at discovering how another writer stirred us and we will want to create that emotion in our own readers.
In her book, Reading Like a Writer, Francine Prose calls this “close reading.” She says this changed for her when one of her high school teachers asked the class to compare the theme of blindness in Oedipus Rex and King Lear. “We were supposed to go through the two tragedies and circle every reference to eyes, light, darkness, and vision.” (p. 4) Of the experience she says, “I felt as if I were engaged in some intimate communication with the writer, as if the ghosts of Sophocles and Shakespeare had been waiting patiently all those centuries for a bookish sixteen-year-old to come along and find them.” (p. 5)
Mortimer Adler and Francine Prose have helped me become a better writer by suggesting I turn to the stories I love and examine them more closely, that I become an active participant in reading rather than a passive one, assuming with this mindset, I will better absorb the skills needed to write. Some of that, of course, eventually does happen, but why wait? That carton of rocky road will still be in the freezer tomorrow and the television isn’t going anywhere.
Gay 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 novel, What Came Before, is live in serialized format at Every Day Novels. It’s also available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
Tue 8 Apr 2014
by Gay Degani
Caroline 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 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.
Mon 3 Jun 2013
Posted by Jim Harrington under Book Reviews, REVIEWS
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.
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.
Sun 2 Jun 2013
by Gay Degani and Jim Harrington
We 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.
and happy reading!
Mon 4 Mar 2013
CONGRATULATIONS 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
“Crow Party” by Susan Gabrielle
“Invincible” by Victoria Bond
“Jump” by Stephen Ramey
“Quantum Kiss” by Kieran Marsh
“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!
Interview 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.
Gay 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.