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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New stories, nominations, a podcast, and more…

I have so much to be thankful for as 2015 draws to a close. The short short collection, RIFT, co-authored with the great Robert Vaughan, is set to officially launch from Unknown Press on December 1st. Huge thanks to Bud Smith and Unknown Press! When Robert was in Denver for the F-Bomb reading, the talented and energetic Levi Andrew Noe interviewed us both for “Rocky Mountain Revival: Audio Art Journal” and you can listen to the interview and Robert and me reading some of our stories. It was great fun to do and thanks so much to Levi for being such a generous host!

My story, “Grip,” was nominated for Pushcart by R.K.V.R.Y. and you can read it here. Many thanks to everyone at R.K.V.R.Y., particularly editor Mary Akers. “Grip” is included in RIFT.

On the heels of that news, Scott Garson, editor of Wigleaf wrote to tell me he’d nominated my Wigleaf Postcard for inclusion in Best Small Fictions, 2016. And you may find that by going to Wigleaf and scrolling down a ways. It was published in April.

Both “Grip” and my Wigleaf postcard are works that mean a great deal to me personally, so I’m especially grateful for this recognition.

My story, “Giant” is up now in the Fall 2015 Issue of New World Writing, edited by Kim Chinquee, who is now also the Senior Editor there. Much gratitude, always, to Kim. The issue includes work from Bobbie Ann Mason, Claudia Smith, Pia Z. Ehrhardt, Robert Lopez, T.L. Sherwood, Tiff Holland, Pamela Painter, and more!

Also! I’m pleased to have two new stories forthcoming soon in New South and Alice Blue. (This week I believe.) This will actually be the final issue of Alice Blue, a great lit journal that’s been publishing for ten years. Sad to see them go. Edit: My story, “Sea Creatures of Indiana,” is up now and the issue is jam-packed with goodness. Go read the whole issue, because it’s stellar.

We have a page for RIFT now up at Goodreads and already have a review posted by David Atkinson, who read with Robert and me at F-Bomb. Many thanks to David!

Finally, the F-Bomb reading, hosted by the amazing Meg Tuite, was a huge success and great fun. Nancy Stohlman has created this great series of readings aimed entirely at furthering flash fiction, with monthly guest hosts and guests. November’s reading included Robert Vaughan, Len Kuntz, Kona Morris, Leah Rogin-Roper, Katharyn Grant, David Atkinson, Levi Andrew Noe, and more!

I will be hosting the next event on January 19th, featuring terrific writers and friends Sally Reno and Gay Degani. More details here!