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Author Q&A: Gay Degani

Gay Degani has had three of her flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th 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 complete list of her published work can be found.

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TBL Author Q&A Series: Gay Degani

This is one in a series of brief interviews with a diverse array of writers, editors, and other industry professionals. Check back over the coming months for more!

When did you first begin writing? What led you on this path of creativity?

We moved around when I was little, me changing schools four times before the fifth grade.  I was shy, so I was—like so many shy girls—a reader.  Hard to have a love of reading without having a desire to write stories and I was no different.  Part of this probably came from my favorite book, Little Women, and my identification with “Jo March.” Who wouldn’t want to be like Jo? Sassy, spunky, independent girl in the mid 1800’s!  And me, a hundred years later, supposedly a girl of the modern age, of course, I would be a writer too and it would be easier for me, wouldn’t it?

What resources were available to you when you first started writing and who, if anyone, could you thank for helping you become a successful writer?

I grew up in an era when it was common to think that if you didn’t blossom young, and if you could be dissuaded from your art, whatever it was, you weren’t meant to be an artist. Talent and drive was something you were born with.

I also grew up in an era when a girl could aspire to be a teacher, a nurse, or a librarian.  As the daughter of a math teacher, I strongly believed I only had one path and that was in education.

I am most grateful to Mrs. Hawkins, my creative writing teacher who sent a story of mine (along with other students) to the annual Atlantic Monthly Writing Contest for High School Students.  To everyone’s surprise, I won second place. This is probably the one thing that allowed me to keep my dream of being a writer alive throughout my life.

You’ve self-published a small collection of eight stories (Pomegranate), then your novel, What Came Before, and recently, your longer collection of short stories, Rattle of Want.  The last two were published from different small independent presses. What have you found to be the most frustrating—and most rewarding—aspect of the publishing process?

Self-publishing my mini-collection was difficult because of the learning curve involved.  So many little details to think of and a whole new process to learn, but it was rewarding.  It gave me a slim volume of stories to introduce myself to readers and I was grateful for that.  Working with small independent presses made everything much easier.  I didn’t just have myself to depend on.  Also being published by a second party was important.  It made me feel legitimate because I’d been “vetted.”  At least one other person believed in my work. It is in the continued practice of any art that makes a person better, but keeping up that practice is often difficult without outside encouragement.  Publication offers that encouragement.

Do you feel anything has changed in the publishing field since your first collection and your newest publication?

I’m new at this so I can’t really say all that much has changed in the last seven years since I published Pomegranate.  The New York establishment has continued to consolidate making it more difficult for someone like me to break into that marketplace. Amazon has continued to grow and dominate. There is no money to speak of for independents because what little is made must go to marketing. I’m not bitter—well, maybe a little—because for me, the achievement of publishing and receiving positive comments about my work is almost enough.  Almost.  

What inspired you to write when you first started? What inspires you to write now now? Has anything changed?

I’ve always written, ever since the fifth grade.  The real question is what inspired me to get serious and get published. The answer is easy.  It was a lifelong dream.

Which writers do you admire the most? If they are in a different genre, why do you admire them?

This list could really get long, but let me start with childhood favorites including Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Jack London, and Loula Grace Erdman. These were writers who engaged me from page one. Later I went through “gothic novel” phase which included the Brontes, Mary Stewart, Daphne Du Maurier, Alexandre Dumas, and Thomas Hardy (who would probably not like being included here).  During my motherhood years, when reading was my favorite pastime, I embraced Margaret Atwood, Russell Banks, Wallace Stegner, Carol Shield, Anne Tyler, and others. My lists have always included a variety of genres including non-fiction. What I want in my writing is strong well-written prose that tells an engaging story about people who struggle and do so with some redeeming quality so that I want them to succeed. No superpowers, no magic godmothers, plain folk living life to the best of their abilities.

What can you tell us about editing at a quality flash fiction, Smokelong Quarterly? What is the dynamic between the many editors? The guest reader each week?

My role at Smokelong Quarterly is small these days because I’ve been focused on my own writing.  I am grateful to Tara Laskowski, our guru and kindly leader, for allowing me to stay on staff and read submissions.  She is an extremely generous person who gives of herself on a constant basis.  We have a very cohesive staff in that we seem to always be there for each other, yet what I think works particularly well for the magazine is that we are all so different and have different preferences in our reading. This allows for the variety we publish, and yet we hold each submission to the same high standard.  Having guest editors for most weeks brings even more diversity to Smokelong.

What is your proudest moment involving writing or editing? 

My proudest moment has to be publishing my novel, What Came Before. To plan, write, complete, and hold it in my hands was a thrill I will never forget.  I worked on it for twelve years, took it to enumerable workshops, and fiddled with the plot over and over until I thought I would never finish it, let alone see it in print.  I’m happy and relieved that I didn’t let myself down.

What advice would you give emerging writers/editors?

Read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, don’t give up, learn from others, give generously to others, ask for help, be curious, be observant, don’t be lazy, don’t be afraid to write throwaway fiction (which means YOU think it should be thrown away, but have forgotten you need to edit it!!), and just do the work.

Since your collection, Rattle of Want, is now complete and available at Lulu, Amazon, and other online outlets, what are your goals moving forward for 2016 and beyond?

A prequel to What Came Before and continue to write short fiction.