“Rattle ofWant,” is a diverse collection of 46 flash fiction stories and one novella-in-flash. Rich in characterization that bleeds onto the page, this collection takes the reader through the full landscape of our own human complexity as experienced through the prism of our desires.
Jayne: What intrigues me about these stories and held me as a reader is that there is so much at stake for your characters in each story. It’s not just that they “want” for something; it’s the underlying element of desperation that drives their desire. Was that an intention of yours in putting together the collection?
Gay: This is a collection of the work I’ve done over the last seven years. As for the desperation, that’s what underlies the book and the title, Rattle of Want. When I was trying to place this group of stories with a potential publisher, he asked me what linked them together. I didn’t really have any idea because I hadn’t written them to link together. I’d written them to tell stories that came to me as I was studying the craft of flash fiction.
Jayne: That’s interesting then that it seems to be a recurrent theme in your writing. I can relate to that. Lately, I’ve noticed that, without intentionally meaning to do so, I write a lot of stories that include an element of death or dying. I’m not sure what that says about me.
Gay: My themes seem to always have to do with wanting and whether or not a person should pursue that want. It has been a constant in my life. I'm a people-pleaser, or what I used to call "a stroke monkey," not feeling good about myself unless I did something to earn some kind of praise. My desire has been to be my own person, to not rely on other people's estimation of me, and I think that figures into what I write.
Jayne: “Rattle of Want” is a fabulous title.
Gay: I have to tip my cap to Randall Brown for digging that phrase out of a story of mine and suggesting I use it as a title. One of my earliest craft lessons had been that a character must want something. If they don’t want anything, then they don’t have anything to strive for, and if they aren’t striving, what is the point of the story? Why tell it?
Jayne: Yes. And it’s not all a life or death struggle. We all experience a thousand little desires and frustrations to those desires every single day. I think that’s what makes your characters so relatable.
Gay: I learned as I began to write flash fiction that a story doesn’t need a big dramatic desire. It can be something as ordinary as wanting to isolate yourself and having a boy climb over your fence to sell you magazines (“Beyond the Curve”). Or as in my story “Oranges” wanting to feel better about yourself so you buy oranges from a homeless girl on a freeway on ramp and not getting the result you expected. We all experience desire, sometimes we’re desperate in that desire, and that’s what I try to tap into.
Jayne: One of the things I'd like to touch on is the kind of rural voice that is prominent in several of the stories. Is that something from your own background?
Gay: Yes, absolutely. My mother was from south Louisiana and my father was from northeast Iowa. Although we moved from Iowa to California when I was six, we went back to both places every summer. I grew up to the sound of that flat mid-western accent, “you bet,” and the Cajun clip so unique to the bayous, “how you do?” I have an ear for tone and twang so it just comes naturally.
Jayne: I’d like to talk about the origin of some of the stories – the seeds from which they sprung. Tell me a little bit about “Chalk Dust.” I love this story. It’s has a very eerie “Through the Looking Glass” feel.
Gay: “Chalk Dust” was one of my earliest stories published online in Rusty Barnes’ Night Train. There is a “Chalk It Up” festival in my city every summer where artists swarm over sidewalks and create amazing work. One year there was a set of stairs that seemed to twist into the ground. It was almost hard to believe it wasn’t real. I knew immediately I wanted to set a story about that staircase in the middle of that street.
Jayne: “What’s Left” is an interesting piece in that it is only one page long, but spans thirty years in the life of the character and is structured chronologically from present to past.
Gay: “What’s Left” was written for a contest and came from two short pieces that I pulled together and added the third segment. Combining those three pieces and rewriting them is what created the structure. Structure for me usually comes during the editing phase. I respond to a prompt and then need to fit that
response into a shape.
Many stories have come from prompts at The Flash Factory at Zoetrope online. “Fishbowl” came from a photo prompt, as did “Losing Ground.” The character in “Blusterfuck” is a composite of husbands of several women I’ve known over the years. Most of what I write comes from the world around me, things I observed in people, objects that catch my attention. Everything feels rich with meaning. It’s just digging down to get the gold.
Jayne: Well, readers don’t have to dig far to find the gold in this collection. I’ve read several of the stories more than once and because they are so subtly layered, with each reading I feel like I discover something new. Congratulations, Gay. And thanks for sharing a bit about your remarkable process.
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 list of her published work can be found.