Interview with Gay Degani

March’s most-read author is tearing through Every Day Fiction. Gay Degani’s first story with us, “One Question” placed third in the Preditors & Editors Readers’ Choice Awards, and her second “The Breach” is this month’s most read story (and is already edging its way up EDF’s Top Stories list).

Interview with Gay Degani

EDF: What should people expect when they see a story with your byline under it?

GD: People should expect to be kept awake and feel as if they’ve experienced a punch or an epiphany. Now I just have to deliver.

EDF: I notice from reading your blog that you’ve written several screenplays. Could you tell us a little more about your experiences writing in this medium?

GD: I love movies so screenwriting seduced me. I found Syd Field’s book Screenplay and threw myself into the form. It was like rowing down the Amazon on a rubber raft, the river gleaming in the sun, a map under my bare feet, and piranha lurking in the water. It felt dangerous, but oh, so enticing.

I had always thought writing was first about language and then story. Learning to write screenplays taught me the importance of story structure, how everything counts, how to set up and pay off, and what I had to accomplish for the reader in each segment of the story. In other words, I learned how to use a three-act structure which I think helps to keep readers awake and satisfied.

The other benefit of screenwriting is how it teaches lean language. Because the average script is 120 pages divided into three acts–a 30 page Act 1, 60 page Act 2, and 30 page Act 3–a student of screenwriting learns to say a lot in few words. It becomes a game to get everything needed into the necessary page count which in turn challenges the writer to choose vivid exact language. I’m not advocating following “formula” but just as EDF’s 1000-word limit forces writers to find the best words to express their big ideas, following screen structure has taught me to think about readers’ expectations for story and how to meet those expectations using lean language.

EDF: “The Breach” was science fiction, “One Question” a romance, and I notice that you’ve published mystery stories as well. Do you feel like this ability to write in such a wide variety of genres has helped your career? On the flip side, is there a benefit to specializing?

GD: In the past, some of my best writing has come from meeting the challenge of different genres. I’ve tried writing everything. Well, except maybe erotica. I wrote “The Breach” because speculative fiction has so many possible markets on the internet, a fact I learned when I became a part of the EDF community. But I think my niche is blending domestic drama with suspense, which is what I love to read. Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood are role models and I think that’s what they strive to do.

As for the flip side, of course there are benefits in specializing. Becoming expert in anything makes for professional results, but good writing in the end is about a hero being revealed through meeting obstacles (this may be from Robert McKee) and whether the genre is western, sci-fi, or mainstream, universal truth and relevant emotion are what the reader wants. Even in erotica.

EDF: Your blog lists an impressive number of classics among the books that you recommend. Which writers do you feel have most influenced your writing style? Are there any “must-reads” for budding authors?

GD: This is a dangerous question. I’m a cross-genre reader. I look to Steven King to show me how to write vividly. There is nothing more amazing than his opening chapter of The Regulators (published as Richard Bachman) for setting a scene. T.C. Boyle and P.G. Wodehouse make me laugh in different ways and helped me to understand how humor works. For short stories, I look to Amy Hemple’s “Harvest,”* Steve Almond’s “When Toasts Stop Being Funny,”* Benjamin Percy’s “Refresh, Refresh,”* Scott Wolven’s “The Copper Kings,” and Julie Orringer’s “Pilgrims,”* to give me examples of today’s great writing. Michael Connelly is the today’s premiere mystery writer bringing together character and story in a consistently satisfying way, and Dashiell Hammett, W. Somerset Maugham, and Graham Greene for Old School. And I love Carol Shields, Isaac Asimov, Agatha Christie, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens”¦

*These outstanding short stories can be Googled and read for free on-line.

EDF: You have a husband, kids, and a 15 year old Labrador; how do you balance spending time with your family with time spent writing?

DG: One of the things I’m proudest of is that I have consistently written for the last 20 years even though some days it was for an hour, fifteen minutes, or a sentence. I recommend Jerry Cleaver’s Immediate Fiction to any one who finds writing every day difficult.

EDF: What has been your best moment as a writer so far? Your worst?

GD: The first long piece I finished years and years ago, a screenplay called “Plastic Dreams,” was my best moment. I remember how stoked I was. I couldn’t believe I actually made it to the end.

The worst? When I realized that although I’d reached the final page of “Plastic Dreams,” I still had to revise it. But that was one of my most important epiphanies. If you don’t have something written to the end to revise, you aren’t even close to having something good.

EDF: What is next for you as a writer?

GD: I’ve been writing my second novel for over four years. I’ve got 400 albatross pages and I’m on page 132 of the rewrite (what that means is I’ve rewritten the first 132 pages about 40 times and the rest twice). My goal is to finish it this year no matter what.

EDF: Thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview.

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