Writing & The Importance of Community: A Conversation with Gay Degani, Author of Rattle of Want

GayI recently invited Gay Degani to Denver to participate at the Mercury Café where Nancy Stohlman curates the monthly reading series called the F-Bomb. The “F” refers to flash fiction, and because Gay has a collection of mostly flash stories, Rattle of Want, (Pure Slush Books), it felt like a good fit. She and Sally Reno took to the stage taking turns reading their short fiction. During the visit, Gay and I spent time talking about writing and about community. These are some of the questions I asked her.

(You may listen HERE to a podcast of the event with many thanks to the amazing Rocky Mountain Revival and Levi Andrew Noe!)

The F-Bomb readings are a community event. How has “community” impacted your writing?

I have to say that if I hadn’t discovered the writers I’ve met via the Internet, I’m not sure I would be writing today. I’d taken extension classes at UCLA, gone to the Iowa Writing Festival for several summers, and run a long-term writing group at my house, and even though I’d had a couple stories published, the process of sending manuscripts through the mail and following the “no simultaneous submissions” rule, made my publication prospects seem dismal.

Once I learned about the web and the writing community there, my world became brighter. First there were the forums at several e-zines including Every Day Fiction and through them, I learned what readers expected. Then I discovered Zoetrope and Fictionaut, both offering opportunities to learn from other writers. I understood that this was key to becoming good at something, anything. A writer must practice, experiment, and receive feedback.

The best part for me, however, was having access to so many wonderful writers that I could never have met in the real world, but were there, doing what I was doing in the virtual world. I learned much from what they thought and what they were doing. And Kathy, you were one of those people I admired and when you stepped in and critiqued one of my stories at Zoetrope, I was over the moon!

Author Christopher Allen says, “Rattle of Want is a narrative road trip across America.” Most of your stories seem grounded in community.RATTLE OF WANT 2

I feel as if we are where-we-live and who-we-know, especially writers, and a big part of our work comes from those who are part of our community. I’m not saying that we write about the individuals we know in particular, but our observations, our references for most of us come from the world around us, the people around us. In Rattle of Want, there many stories set in identifiable communities: desert towns, Midwest towns, Los Angeles, and points in between. Landscape and how towns form around that landscape almost always come up for me.

In “Isla Vista, 1970,” I draw on the campus unrest at UCSB over the firing of a teacher. The students burned down the Bank of America. This was a memorable event in my life, the impact it had on me. The story itself is not drawn from real life, though I did have a friend who was Miss Santa Barbara at the time, but the time and place together, the setting, is what I wanted to serve as an exploration into the dynamics of that time. “Small Town,” Starkville,” “Spring Melt” all concern themselves with people who exist in towns that suggest confinement. “Ruby,” “The Last Real Human Being in Hollywood,” and “Oranges” are about the alienation of living in a big city. The novella at the end of the collection, The Old Road, is about a small community on the edge of town and what happens in their lives after a huge windstorm knocks down an ancient oak, crushing one of their bungalows.

What makes a community work?

We saw this in action in Denver, Nancy Stohlman working hard to give local (and not so local, like me) writers the opportunity to share their work, Sally Reno working hard to make sure we brought the showbiz to our reading, and you, Kathy, being the perfect hostess, keeping everyone relaxed and having fun. On a real life level, we have to make sure we participate and support the events that come our way. The same is true online. We have to be there for each other with encouragement at both ends of the spectrum, before we finish and polish our work, and then again, when we put ourselves out there in the public forum.

This isn’t pie-in-sky hope. This has happened to me: the support and caring from my community has been consistent and generous. I thank all of you writers out there in Germany, Canada, Australia, the U.K, and of course, in the U.S, for all you’ve done to help live my dream of becoming a writer.

Thanks so much, Gay! It was such a blast having you here in Denver for F-Bomb!

Bio: Gay Degani has had three of her flash pieces nominated for Pushcart and won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize. Pure Slush Books released her collection of stories, Rattle of Want, (November 2015). She has a suspense novel, What Came Before, published in 2014, and a short collection, Pomegranate, featuring eight stories around the theme of mothers and daughters. Founder and editor emeritus of Flash Fiction Chronicles, she is an editor at Smokelong Quarterly and blogs at Words in Place where a list of her published work can be found.

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Some very kind reviews for Together We Can Bury It…

my copies of TWCBI

I’m very grateful for the kind reviews I’ve received so far for my recently re-issued flash/short story collection on Goodreads, NANOfiction, Fictionaut, and elsewhere. Here is a sampling:

“Most of what I know about flash fiction I learned from reading Kathy Fish’s work. She’s a consummate master of the short form, and I’m so glad Lit Pub ran a second printing of this collection. These are the sort of stories that deepen and intensify with each rereading. Keep them close at hand.” Ravi Mangla, author of Understudies Goodreads

“This book is a Bible of the short form, meant to be savored then reread again and again. No one does compressed fiction like Kathy Fish. Her precision is unparalleled. Every detail, every line, every word does double, triple duty. Every beat is flawless. The stories in this stunning collection brim with such fullness and depth, they will break you up and cut you down – and leave you utterly mystified, wondering about the lives of these characters long after you finish reading. How does she accomplish all this in so few words? There lies the astounding genius of Kathy Fish.” Sara Lippmann, author of Doll Palace 

“So much attention is paid to the lyricism in each of the stories that a reader can’t help but find the beauty in each scene and through each character’s perspective no matter how familiar or mundane it may at first seem. There are so many examples of this lyricism at play in the collection but the language in “Rodney and Chelsea” stood out to me the most. In this story, the two titular characters, teen neighbors, are about to engage in their first sexual experience together. It’s a moment of great anticipation and anxiety, yet the narrative sweeps around them meticulously, not only registering their expressions and subtle movements, but their life histories, the space they share living next door to each other, and essential connections they share with family, friends, and neighbors. The entire moment is exquisitely rendered in just four pages, and it’s such a virtuoso accomplishment of prosody that I had to reread it twice more just before I could move on.” Peter Fontaine, NANOfiction NANOfiction

“If I were teaching a course in the form of very short fiction (not all of these stories are very short), I would certainly put Kathy Fish’s collection on my syllabus. In fact, I might just teach a course because I’ve read her collection. In sudden fiction, the writer/reader has no space for meandering or groping through the narrative for a story. Each move must stick, and in Fish’s stories every move does. Each beginning draws the reader in, and every ending satisfies. The middle is bursting with realism that does not seem constructed to be realism; it feels real and, yes, meaty.” Christopher Allen, author of Conversations with S. Teri O’Type (A Satire) Books at Fictionaut

“Fish’s writing is like a light gleaming up from the bottom of the lake, distorting itself as refracted waves curl or undulate. Her characters ring true yet they keep an appropriate aloofness. We both feel as if we know these people, as if they are friends or acquaintances in our own lives, yet it is often like we are watching these friends behave badly on screen so that we’re powerless to intervene.” Len Kuntz, author of The Dark Sunshine and forthcoming, I’m Not Supposed to Be Here and Neither Are You People You Know By Heart

“Read this on a train back to Baltimore. On the train were people in McDonalds uniforms making loud and beautiful jokes because they’d stolen a bunch of mayonnaise. If inside a jar of stolen mayonnaise you found a tiny Nina Simone singing her cover of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” and you get to the part where she goes “Well that’s it folks, that’s it,” you would actually be getting to the sad and wan stories in this collection. And then this book sneaks the mayo back to where it stole it from, but it listens to Nina Simone on its off-brand MP3 player while drinking ginger ale at the mall, just wandering and wandering and remembering and trying not to regret anything.” Mike Young, author of Look! Look! Feathers! and Who Can Make It Big Noö Journal

“The worlds in this collection are often a little lopsided, a little worn, sometimes dark and piercing, yet always beautiful in one way or another. They never tip over into sentimentalism or conceit and give the feeling that anything can happen, good and bad. But whatever does happen, you know it will be brave and honest, in the most human sense of the word.” Berit Ellingsen, author of Beneath the Liquid Skin Berit Ellingsen’s blog

“A sweepingly excellent collection of 40 stories, a sort of retrospecticus of Kathy Fish’s writing career so far. Everything about this book is well-done…The stories themselves: amazing. There’s no filler: every story is aching and gorgeous.” Kevin Fanning, author of Jennifer Love Hewitt Times Infinity Goodreads

“These stories possess a clear and believable voice that is at home in the company of Lydia Davis, Russell Edson, Kim Chinquee. Fish breathes life to the page, so much so, the characters and actions stay with the reader long after the book is closed…The book is filled with so many strange and amazing moments the reader cannot avoid becoming a part of the lives and choices and passions discovered in it. This can only happen when the writing is of the highest quality and a true pleasure to read. “Highest quality” is the perfect descriptive for Together We Can Bury It – a collection that should not be missed.” Sam Rasnake, author of Cinéma Vérité and Inside a Broken Clock Used Furniture Review

“Kathy Fish’s Together We Can Bury It is so creative and beautifully written, it’s hard not to marvel at the richness in each of the pieces.” Peter Tieryas, author of Bald New World and Watering Heaven The Whimsy of Creation

“Within, you will find stories that will touch you, leave you breathless, make you laugh, make your heart ache. You will run the gamut of emotions–I promise you that–and you will find yourself living in the moment of these stories as filled with despair and hope as many of the characters are, waiting for change that may never come, but always waiting, never giving up.” Myfanwy Collins, author of Echolocation and I Am Holding Your Hand and forthcoming, The Book of Laney Myfanwy Collins’ blog

“There’s a movie’s worth of character and plot and insight in every blooming one of these short fictions. I finished this book feeling stuffed, dazed, and amazed by how much Kathy Fish gets done in such tight spaces. It’s a thrill to be privy to what she thinks about, the wonder she carries inside.” Pia Ehrhardt, author of Famous Fathers Goodreads

“Some authors have a way of mak
ing a reader forget the world, forget that she’s reading, allowing pure enjoyment of the art of story. This is especially difficult to pull off with reading author/teachers. We feel the pull to be critical, cautious, and read with our defenses up, ready to find something that jostles us from the narrative. Very few authors have the ability to make such a reader forget, and even fewer flash fiction and short fiction writers have this ability because the form means creating numerous worlds and engaging the reader wholly again with each new story. Some authors can do it, though. Kathy Fish is one. This book is a gift for a reader like me.” Jen Knox, author of Musical Chairs and To Begin Again Goodreads

“Beautiful collection by a master of the flash fiction form. These stories pack more loneliness, heartbreak, and despair into smaller spaces than ought to be possible, given the laws of narrative physics. But as one of Kathy Fish’s characters tells us: “this is an infinite universe and in an infinite universe all things are mathematically possible.” And yet, I still don’t know how she does it.” Mary Lynn Reed Goodreads

“1. I LOVE these stories. “Skinny Lullaby at the Lizard Lounge: Schenectady” where she writes: “The lady on the stage is skinny-singing something Joni Mitchell. We drink fuzzy navels. Get sleepy. Slide into each other like river otters.” I really LOVE “Snow” and “Wake Up” and “Be My Be My Baby” and “This is Dwight” and “Lens” and “Orlando” and “Tenderoni.” What I’m trying to say is that I love them all.
2. I love how Kathy Fish writes about: men & women, snow, food, cocktails, homes and music.
3. I love how Kathy Fish describes colors.
4. My husband is a VERY persnickety reader. I read a lot of these little stories aloud to him and he loved them as much as I do.
5. And I don’t feel this way about all stories/books I read but Kathy’s stories make me want to WRITE. And that’s probably my favorite thing about all of them.” Leesa Cross-Smith, author of Every Kiss a War Goodreads

2013: Beautiful Books by People I Know

I’ve been bad about writing reviews in 2013. I’ve read so many good books and most were by writers I’m lucky enough to know, either well or fleetingly on social media. Anyway, I do HIGHLY recommend these books and the work of all of these writers and their disparate and necessary voices (I’ve also read & blurbed a number of incredible books forthcoming in 2014, but I’ll write about them later):

“The Merrill Diaries” (a flash novel) by Susan Tepper

“The Tide King” (novel) by Jen Michalski

“Cinéma Vérité” (poetry collection) by Sam Rasnake

“All The Roads That Lead From Home” (collection) by Anne Leigh Parrish

“Beyond Blue” (collection) by Meg Tuite

“Microtones” (collection) by Robert Vaughan

“The Virgins” (novel) by Pamela Erens

“Whatever Don’t Drown Will Always Rise” (collection) by Justin Daugherty

“Musical Chairs” (memoir) by Jen Knox

“Watering Heaven” (collection) by Peter Tieryas

“Is That You, John Wayne?” (collection) by Scott Garson

“Conversations with S. Teri O’Type” (collection) by Christopher Allen

“May We Shed These Human Bodies” (collection) by Amber Sparks

“Magical Neon Sexuality” (collection) by Kevin Fanning

“Thank You for Your Sperm” (collection) by Marcus Speh

“The Whack-Job Girls” (collection) by Bonnie ZoBell

Also, read late 2012, but I wanted to mention again: “Beneath the Liquid Skin” by Berit Ellingsen. Another book I read and blurbed in August, 2012 but that was actually published in 2013 was Myfanwy Collins’ short story collection, “I Am Holding Your Hand.” These are both great collections I recommend highly as well!

As Outside the Clouds Made Fists / New Review of TWCBI

clouds

Christopher Allen asked me to contribute something to Metazen, a journal I’ve long admired. I haven’t been writing much flash lately, working on a much longer story, so it was fun to write a microfiction. You can read it in 40 seconds here: As Outside the Clouds Made Fists. Thanks, Chris and thanks Metazen for having me. I feel 78% cooler as a human and a writer now.

Also, Chris posted a fantastic review of Together We Can Bury It at Fictionaut, saying, among other very kind things:

“…the profound beauty of Fish’s prose starts and ends with the lovingly observed character.”

You can read the whole review here: Books at Fictionaut: Together We Can Bury It