In which I interview Gay Degani, author of Rattle of Want

Today, we are doing something a little different than normal. But, not entirely out of the ordinary for us.

First, the backstory: anyone that knows me as a reader or reads this blog on a consistent basis knows of the special place short stories hold in my heart. A few weeks ago, Dave messaged and asked if I would like to interview a fellow author, Ms. Gay Degani. I loved both prior interviews I had with both Dave himself, and Jeremy Morong (*waves, hi Jeremy!*) so I immediately and without hesitation said yes, yes, I would.

I am so, so excited I did. I made contact with Gay, and we quickly bonded over a love for audio books and certain books in general. Then she provided me with a copy of Rattle of Want and I set to work reading. It really did not take long. And, I was blown away. I emailed her back and told her that even though I had rarely written creatively in years, the way her stories flowed and the way she told them made me want to pick up a pen and start writing again. All of them had a sense of expectation to them, a sense of loss, and a sense that the world is more poetry than we give it credit for being. This is a book that I feel anyone can relate to one or more of the stories, as they deal with a lot of what it means to be a human in this world, alive and full of wants and needs.

Anyway, the majority of my interview with Ms. Degani dealt with reading, since you know, that is what a lot of of this blog is about. But there are a few questions in there about her writing as well. If you want to know more about Gay, please go to her website gaydegani.com, in which you can see the full and complete literary life she leads, that I don’t touch much on in this interview.

 

1.  In the author bio for Rattle of Want, it says you left writing to the side for years. During this time did you keep reading for pleasure? Did you do any form of writing? Letters? Journals?

I’ve always read and always written, the reading constant, the writing, well, hit and miss.  Reading is what I love to do and all it requires of me is to show up.  Writing is more difficult, or rather, writing for publication is what is challenging.

My parents read to me, Heidi, Old Yeller, Hans Brinker until I was old enough to read myself.  I remember my dad took me to the library and had me pick out books. I had no idea what to choose and when we got home, the whole enterprise felt to hard.  I pretended to read. The next time we went, my dad asked the librarian to find me books. She gave me Squanto and I loved it. I’ve read voraciously ever since.

2. List YOUR top ten favorite books. If you can’t think of ten, list as many as you can. Explain any of them that you’d like. 

This is not an easy thing to do; there are so many.  Squanto, Little Women, Heidi, Call of the Wild, Tom Sawyer, Johnny Tremain, To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, Tess of the D’Urbevilles, Ethan Frome, Count of Monte Cristo, The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov, anything by Zane Gray, Nine Coaches Waiting, Rebecca, Tom Ripley, anything from Agatha Christie, Stone Diaries, Angle of Repose, Nat Turner, Affliction,1000 Acres, I, Claudius, Claudius The God,  We Were the Mulvaneys, Cat’s Eye, Accidental Tourist, House of Sand and Fog, Atonement, White Teeth….

Okay, I’m trying to remember them in some kind of timeline order, and I’ve left out lots of favorites, but this gives the range of what I like, fiction, non-fiction, biography, history, and of course,I’m a bit of an anglophile. I have a whole thing about the Wars of the Roses.

***(fyi, Gay, I didn’t notice originally, but it is nice to see someone else list We Were the Mulvaneys and Atonement in their list of favorites!! We shall have to talk those too at some point)*** (this is me deciding to leave a note to her on the blog versus sending an email. You are welcome for the interruption).

3. When actively in the middle of writing a story, do you have to avoid reading or listening to other stories?

I never avoid “reading” under any circumstance.  Mostly I listen  and have for years.  I walk around with a dorkie fanny pack and earbuds. Right now I’m listening to The Virgin’s Lover by Philippa Gregory. I have Tami Hoag, Laura Lippman, Michael Connolly, and David McCullough checked out of the library. Reading paper books is reserved for books I read from my friends.

4. How did you decide the stories in Rattle of Want all belonged together in one volume? Or was it just a gathering of all of them out there?

It was an extended process.  First I went through to find all my stories that I considered the best.  I’d published some in a chapbook calledPomegranate and wanted to include the stories from there that had either won a prize or had not been published elsewhere. Then I took a class with Randall Brown where we tried to figure out what worked the best together.  I owe the title Rattle of Want to him. He gleaned it from one of my stories, and I am ever grateful.  Once the title was decided on, I went through to find stories that lent themselves to that idea. For me, most of them did. Part of that is that I believe it’s important to write stories about people who want something, strive for it, and either succeed or fail.

5.  Most of your stories seemed to me to deal with loss on some level, from big to the tiny little losses that life provides daily. Did you set out with that specific theme in mind?

I don’t know if I exactly set out to write about loss, but loss creates strong emotions in people and the response characters have to loss resonates with all of us.

6.  A lot of the stories take place in the past. Are there bits and pieces of your childhood scattered about?

I draw a lot on past experiences.  Some of what I write comes from a specific incident in my life, but usually with raised stakes. I’ve lived a very ordinary life and though I’ve experience a full range of emotional set-backs, they serve more as research than actual reportage. This is why I don’t write memoir.  I don’t want to bore people to death.

7. Favorite place to read? Why?

Mostly I read “on the go.” I listen to books on CD when I do dishes, mop the floor, water the pots on the patio, drive in car, take a daily walk, any possible place that has a repetitious element to it. I would love to have the luxury of curling up on the sofa and reading all day as I did as a child and teenager, but that just isn’t practical for me.

Pay attention to this following question, audiobook lovers, you may have just found your next listen! (And Davina Porter does narrate all of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series).

9. List 3 audiobooks you have loved partly due to the reader.

Davina Porter is outstanding.  She does Elizabeth George’s books.  I think she does all the Diana Gabaldon books.  If not, I like that reader also. I can’t remember who reads the John Sandford books but he’s excellent as is the one who does Jack Reacher. I like Ian Rankin’s reader too.


10. Do you feel listening to an audiobook still qualifies as reading? (This is pretty contested in some parts).

I have a friend who once told me audio books were “cheating?” Er, uh, no.  Stories were spoken before they were written down. And isn’t it just as good to listen as to read? Good writing is about putting pictures in your head, involving you in an experience that you might have or not have yourself, and making your think about your life, the lives of others, and the human condition.  What does it matter what the vehicle is?

11. In your opinion, deeper than entertainment value, why do you think people are drawn towards literature? (Even popular fiction) what do you believe they’re looking for?

When any one asks if I practice a religion, I tell them I belong to the church of literature.  Most of what I know, feel, and care about came to me through books.

12. Favorite snack while reading or writing. 

I like to have ice tea when I’m writing.  But when I’m hungry, I usually stop and eat lunch (grilled cheese, hot dog,  or apple cut up in cottage cheese). Since most of my reading isn’t sitting down, I might make an english muffin or eat a piece of fruit.

13. What’s next on your horizon? What (in broad outline not specifics!) are you working on next?

I’d like to finish my prequel to my suspense novel, What Came Before. I’d like to write another stand alone mystery.  Don’t think I can commit to write a series.  Home life is too, too busy. Continue to write flash and short stories. In my head, I have a trilogy about my family who came from France in the 1700s first in Quebec and then Louisiana, and I have two longer short stories I’ve been waiting to get good enough to write.

14. What book(s) do you find yourself re reading multiple times? Why?

There are a couple of books I’ve read a few times, but not many.  I don’t really do multiples.  I’m sure I’ve read Little Women maybe three times, Jane Eyre, Tale of Two Cities, probably twice at least. Ethan Frome because I taught it five or six. There’s too much to read out there.  I want to read all the good ones at least once and then I’ll start over.

And this is all for today. I want to give Gay a huge thank you for allowing Dave and myself to interview her for 11 And A Half Years of Books, and for her taking the time amidst a very busy schedule to answer my various emails and then finally my questions. Please, do check out her website at gaydegani.com and also check out Rattle of Want, I promise you will not regret it.
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