Gay Degani Climbs Mountains and Leaves A Bloody Trail…
Gay Degani. Maybe you’ve heard of her. Maybe you haven’t. But, you will here, at The Donor Center. She’s a mountain climber with good veins. It only took one needle prick for Herbie to do his job. Sit back, have a drink and let’s find out about Gay Degani…
AJ: Who is Gay Degani?
GD: Who is Gay Degani?
Yikes! I was about to say “a not very young, but certainly young-at-heart woman who has always written, but thought for a long time she had no talent, no focus, and no determination.” Then I thought that maybe that was kind of a negative viewpoint. But then again I realized maybe that’s the point. For people to understand what makes me who I am today, they need to understand who I was yesterday, right? I think it was Tony Robbins (yes, I am invoking his name) who said “your yesterdays do not equal your future” or something like that and it’s true. It’s sentiments like this that allows me to think I still have time to fulfill my dreams.
I can’t tell you how many times my desire to write was squashed over the years by a casual comment, plans gone awry, or jealous irritation with myself that I didn’t take chances. BUT I’m proud to say now that I overcame all those negative thoughts and inclinations and, although I still am sometimes stifled by self-doubt, I know how to shake myself out of it.
Why am I talking about this? Because you have put me on the slab and stuck a needle in my arm. It must be filled with truth serum because I suddenly feel a rush of emotional enthusiasm to talk more about the journey of writing than writing itself. Perhaps Dr. Brown needs to call in a head shrinker, one with electric shock things they stick on the temples and hearts of maniacs???
Just kidding. It’s my journey through writing that has helped me to feel “complete.” Yes, the husband does “complete me,” no doubt about it, even though he’s not Tom Cruise in “Jerry McGuire”(thank goodness he’s not Tom Cruise), but for me to be completely complete, I’ve had to conquer the glass mountain of “ART” by climbing up it, around it, and into it to discover that I can do this thing, this words on paper adventure I’ve dreamt about since my mother read “Heidi” to me when I was five.
AJ: I like the picture you paint of a glass mountain. So often things we want to achieve can be so daunting that we view them as huge mounds of dirt and rock that are immovable. For me though, if that mountain’s glass, I’m taking a hammer to it.
(Herbie, put the hammer down…)
You have to watch that fellah from time to time.
I want to touch on something here, if you don’t mind. You mention your struggles as a writer, the self doubt that we all go through. This can be crippling to those who desire any modicum of success in the writing/publishing world. Can you share with us a little of some of the struggles and things that quelled your desire to write and how you overcame them?
GD: Ah, that glass mountain. It’s an apt metaphor for my journey and probably for many others. All the dirt and rock you talk about or at least most of it lies within my glass mountain. It’s easy to see and appears to us to be easy to get to. That was the first laugh I had on myself!
The glass implies we can see what the mountain is made of inside; it appears to be clear to us and we think if only we can get off the slippery surface all will be well. The first leg of the odyssey is to copy from the outside what we see on the inside…and for most of us, the imitation is unclear, unfocused, and somewhat distant.
Eventually the realization is that there’s the shiny promising surface to the mountain, but we have to find a crack in the glass to squeeze inside. For some writers, jack-hammers work. For most of us though, we aren’t strong enough to shatter the surface, not enough natural-born talents with power tools. We have to find maps to follow, learn how to track, and make many trips into the wilderness to learn the ways of mountains.
We fall off and some of us can’t get back on the mountain. It’s huge and there’s a lot more to it than we ever thought. We have to decide to climb on and search for a cave, a split, a crevasse to drop into or decide to enjoy the mountain from the outside, from the meadow, see how it glistens from the kitchen window.
Which leads me to your question about the struggle! For me first came the awareness that this is hard. Writing is hard. Any art is hard so the commitment needs to be just that: a commitment to the sojourn no matter how many false trails we climb or dark caverns become dead ends. And for me the idea that I just needed to be on the path every day no matter what certainly helped.
This meant I had to give up on the idea that I could expect anything I jotted down in the heat of passion and sent out in the afterglow would be adored by editors. I knew about the rush and high of creation almost from the beginning. What I didn’t understand was that good art needs the initial impulse and drive to create, yes, but also the quieter, more settled and distant view provided by the revision process. Learning about and accepting the need for revision was a major step in my skills development and I still grapple with it till this day.
Which brings me to patience. I also had to decide I must be patient with myself and the writing process. Yes, it is possible to create a piece that is copy ready in one or two passes, but rarely. Almost every good piece must be looked at, considered, tested, questioned, and edited to become all it should be.
Patience has brought me to a humble but open place. I have learned that retyping a story like “Pilgrims” by Julie Orringer can help me to understand rhythm, pacing, and word choice. Reading essays like Richard Lederer’s “A Case for Short Words” helped me see how powerful simple language can be. Deconstructing stories like “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and “To Light a Fire” and then writing my own updated versions has given me a better feeling for subtle storytelling.
Each one of these practices came out of one of my failures. Sending out a piece I thought was my best and having it rejected made me ask the question, “What don’t I get yet?” and I searched for a way to figure it out. My stories began to get better, paths began to get clearer, and tiny fissures began to show in the glass of the mountain.
AJ: So, how far up this glass mountain do you feel you’ve climbed?
GD: Not very far and in this case it’s more about getting inside the mountain where the real gold is than actually scaling the thing. I’ve found nice little openings through affiliation with the local chapter of Sisters-in-Crime and via the internet.
Publication in a Sisters’ sponsored anthology, Landmarked for Murder, gave me my first entry into the interior. My story, “Leaving Slackerland,” led off the anthology and gave me the boost I needed to believe I could actually do this writing thing and get a piece out there in the world.
The internet gave me more confidence when Every Day Fiction said “yes” to a small piece of flash called “One Question,” followed a couple months later by asking me to rewrite a piece I’d sent in. The rewrite of “The Breach” showed me that many pieces are sent in too soon, but can eventually be published with revision. The shift that happened to me at that point was going from thinking that rejections were about me and toward thinking that it’s all about the story itself. For me, this was huge.
Not that I hadn’t believed in revision before–I did–but I didn’t really know how to look for what was wrong in a piece instead of looking for what was wrong in me. Many writers have this problem initially because the idea that someone doesn’t like a particular piece of work often translates mistakenly into believing they don’t like us. Or rather, from my personal point of view, having a story which needs more work doesn’t mean I’m a “piece of sh-t.”
Under the influence of the internet’s multiple venues, the ease of submitting, and the letting go of the “no simultaneous subs” rule by so many, I was able to let go of the feeling that each work was “precious.” I could send it out to 10 places and whether there was personalized feedback or not, I knew if it was rejected, I needed to fix it. By paying attention to what got the “no” and what got the “yes,” I began to finally understand my craft. By understanding my craft, I hope that sometimes some of it evolves into art.
AJ: I think understanding the rejection/acceptance process is a vital key in growing as a writer. The rejections aren’t geared toward the person, but the piece. That is something that a LOT of writers, both new and experienced, struggle with. I understand that sentiment completely.
Let’s move forward and talk about The Flash Fiction Chronicles. Can you tell me about this, please?
GD: One of the things that helped me to understand the rejection/acceptance process was to participate from the other side, the editorial side as a slush reader. Since Every Day Fiction seemed to like my work and I like the way they handled submissions, when they made a call for slush readers, I applied for the job. I spent six months working as a reader and I highly recommend that job to anyone who is serious about writing. You cannot understand how many unoriginal stories are out there until you dig through a pile of submission. You can’t understand the glow of appreciation you get when you find a gem. It was a terrific experience.
The best part of the association with EDF is when they asked if anyone would like to run an affiliated blog, I volunteered. What an amazing opportunity! We drafted a mission statement and we were off.
FFC MISSION: Our goal is to help in the growth of quality flash fiction for writers and readers online and in print. This site is dedicated to the discussion of the art and craft of flash fiction, fiction in general, and the issues of writing, marketing, and publishing today.
At first I drew from the Every Day Fiction community of writers such as Sarah Hilary, Walter Giersbach, K.C. Ball, Aaron Polson, Robert Swartwood, Alexander Burns, Jason Stout, Bill Ward, Bosley Gravel, Dave MacPherson, Rumjhum Biswas, and Oonah Joslin. I also took the opportunity to invite other writers and editors from the community including Randall Brown, Sean Lovelace, Jonathon Pinnock, Martin Reed, Clifford Garstang, Jim Harrington, and Hobie Anthony among so many others. There’s a complete list of all our contributors at the website.
The best thing for me was having the opportunity to “meet” all of the outstanding writers. The best thing for all of us readers is that we get to find out more about craft and process and experience from so many gifted people.
(Herbie’s Note: For anyone who has never interacted with Randall Brown, they are truly missing out on a great guy and a wise writer. Between Randall and Frank Hutton, people should read their thoughts on writing and learn so much.)
AJ: If you’ve worked on both sides of the publishing world then you have a greater appreciation for all that goes into putting out a quality product and how hard, in many cases, it is to reject a story that doesn’t ‘fit’ what you are looking for. I’m glad you’ve had the opportunity to do this. It is an eye opener and something that has helped me in my writing ventures as well.
If I’m correct, FFC is currently seeking articles for the site, right?
GD: We’re always looking for smart, well-crafted posts. It’s not that easy to do, I’m afraid. Writers are busy-busy people and usually don’t have the time or inclination to write articles about process, craft, and/or their personal experiences as a writer.
The original idea behind FFC was that it would be a place for those who contributed to EDF to share their tricks and tips and to discuss possible approaches to handling publishing, marketing, family issues, and writer’s block. However, almost no one offered any posts so I had to become a seeker of posts. As it turns out, there is more work to this process, but the rewards have been tremendous.
We are currently looking for posts about the conventions of genre and sub-genres to help writers better understand what editors might expect, but we are happy to look at any articles–and that includes reprints–that we think will resonate with our readers. Anyone interested can find out more about submitting by clicking the About/Submit tab at FLASH FICTION CHRONICLES. Actually AJ, I’d love to publish a few articles from YOU.
AJ: An article or two from me, eh? Well, that depends on if Herbie will take these chains off my ankles. (shhhh… don’t let him know I mentioned the chains… He gets a little angry when people find out… shhh… here he comes.)
These articles are kind of like the example you gave of the glass mountain. Ways to climb it, get around it or get inside of it, right? As told by other writers who have gone through their own trial and errors in the business. Am I right on this?
GD: For the most part, the glass castle analogy is the kind of thing we publish, but since FFC is a blog rather than a magazine, the writers have more leeway in terms of format, style, subject matter, and angle. It’s important to have the majority of the posts reflect the writer rather than the blog. We aren’t as homogenized/edited as say a Writer’s Digest or a Poets’ and Writers’ publication needs to be. As a blog, we are pleased to include diverse, off-beat, and open-for-rebuttle kinds of articles that reflect the different ways writers approach their craft, their art, and the creative lifestyle.
AJ: Is there any specific genre you are looking for or is it open to all genres and types of writing?
GD: We’re always looking for general blog posts about any aspect of writing, but for the Genre Safari we’ll take one piece and more on any genre or sub-genre. We’ve had posts on optimistic, time-traveling, slipstream, mundane, and weird, all of these science-fiction. We’ve also had fantasy, paranormal romance, horror monsters, historical fiction, and southern. Any one can find a semi-complete list of genres here: Genre Safari.
AJ: Okay, Gay, before we pull the needle out and to change directions here, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the glass mountain and FFC, but what about Gay Degani’s work? Where can readers find some of your writings?
GD: LOL! Oh yeah, AJ! THAT! Must be the lack of blood to the brain that made me forget that. Well, yes, there are some pieces out there floating. There’s a complete list of on-line pieces at my personal blogsite Words In Place and also at my author’s FB website Gay Degani.
I do, however, have a couple of personal recommendations for pieces of which I am particularly proud.
Every Day Fiction nominated “Spring Melt” for a Pushcart so that’s a good early piece of mine. “Complicit” at Smokelong Quarterly is one I love along with “Losing Ground”, “Ancient Memory”, and “Beyond the Curve.”
I also have a small book of eight short stories available at Amazon. Pomegranate Stories contains two previously unpublished stories and I am particularly pleased with the title story, “Pomegranate.”
I’m drained, AJ. I need a transfusion! Thanks for have me, you blood-sucker, you!
AJ: You’re welcome. Now, you may want to take it easy for a day or two. Herbie sometimes takes a little too much from his vic… umm… donors…
(Herbie’s Note: There are no chains in the Donor Center and I shall be having a talk with Mr. Brown very soon…)