a taste of ‘What Came Before’

from the novel by Gay Degani, second edition published by Truth Serum Press, 2016

A literary suspense novel sparked by racial tensions and family history: Fed up with being tied down by twenty-five years of domestic bliss and everyone’s expectations, Abbie Palmer is struggling to assert some independence from her husband Craig and find her creative self.

When he tells her, “No man is an island,” she flings back, “That’s exactly what I want to be, an island. I’m sick of being a whole continent.” But breaking away from her mainland isn’t so easy, what with cops, Molotov cocktails and Hollywood starlets, lost memories – and maybe an unknown half-sister…

What Came Before is a novel told in bite-sized chapters, “a smart, fast-paced mystery that asks important questions about identity, family, and race. And, like the best of its genre, it’s loaded with puzzles.” (Clifford Garstang, author of What the Zhang Boys Know)

What Came Before thumbnail


ISBN (paperback)  978-1-925536-05-8

ISBN (eBook)  978-1-925536-06-5

to purchase the paperback, click here

to purchase the eBook, click here for:  Amazon Kindle  /  Barnes and Noble NOOK  /  Kobobooks   /  iBookstore   /  ePub



Reporters still remember my mother’s suicide, so when the stranger in the black linen suit showed up yesterday afternoon, I thought she was from Access Hollywood or some docudrama like Sex Kitten Suicide, and told her to get the hell off my porch.  from Stranger

Something is happening inside this neighborhood. Police cars, fire engines, and television vans cram the asphalt while uniformed officers stand behind yellow crime tape. Knots of people watch and wait. Above the jacarandas, smoke smudges the sky.  from Cops

The woman next to Fuji is small with startling two- toned hair, chocolate brown with streaks of platinum blond. Her white blazer and trim black jeans, though, are pristine. I finger-comb my unwashed hair. Run my tongue along furry teeth.  from Blame

Now in my apartment, when the cops’ search yields no evidence of a lunatic bigot, no incendiary devices ditched behind the Bernstein’s Low-Cal Vinaigrette, the tension eases from Tellez’s face, and she signals to her troops it’s time to leave.  from Search

I don’t resist as he pulls into our garage on Woodbine Street or when he helps me up the stairs to our bedroom. As gently as a nurse, he offers me two pills and water, then lifts my T-shirt over my head, pulls off my sweatpants, stopping to take off my Nikes.  from Husband

My first sensation is a long sweet pull through dark water. Then I extend again, another pull, and whoosh, I break the surface where I meet the snouts of alligators. Ash glitters on moss. It’s muggy hot. But where’s Olita? Hadn’t she been swimming beside me, whispering that everything would be all right? Wasn’t that my dream?  from Woodbine

He tells me I’m a good person who will do the right thing, and it’s his very reasonableness that puts me in the wrong, makes me feel foolish and selfish because I want to be on my own. It makes me so angry, I can’t argue with him. I always lose.  from Daughters

“Phoenix got out?” Of course he did. The dog’s a bolter. He lies in wait for these opportunities. Unless you want him to go out, then he heads into his kennel. “How far did he get?”  from Tiki Palms

I squint, not paying attention to my driving, and all of a sudden, a parked car leaps out at me. I swerve, missing the dark SUV, swinging in front of it, jumping the curb. My heart bumps into my throat. I’m an idiot. Obviously I can no longer be trusted with two tons of sheet metal on four wheels.  from Makenna

She folds her arms and stands next to Bethune, almost on top of him. The two of them remind me of ancient Roman gladiators, battle ready.  from Olita

I pick up one of the yellowed articles. The paper is dated two days after my father’s death on August 27, 1971. The photograph is from the early 1950’s. My mother and father head into a restaurant with another man, captioned as Lyle’s agent, Dennis Ventura. Only the agent is smiling.  from Her Father, Her Son

Feeling the loss of Elma all over again, I sit on the futon and stare at nothing. Use my finger to lick the popcorn bowl clean of its salt. Chew the ice in my glass. I know what it’s like to feel abandoned.  from Elma

The dark sky boasts a quarter moon. The courtyard, dotted with yellow lights, is serene, except for the low hum of a television across the way. The smell of jasmine curls into my nose, my mouth. I savor it, allowing the hollowness in my chest to fill a little.  from Cleaning

The woman with the toddler waves as I climb out of my car and head up the sidewalk. Makenna seizes her backpack, throws a “Thanks” over her shoulder and meets me halfway. I glance at the woman and ask, “It’s okay?”  from Old Big Ugly

We walk into the courtyard of the Tiki Palms, and Makenna rolls her eyes at the fake Maori masks, the parrots, the drums, and when the Gold Line train streaks by behind the alley, tooting its whistle, she looks at me and says, “You know, this is the kind of place my people have been working two hundred years to get out of.”  from Virginia

Two fan sites, however, are dedicated specifically to her, and it is from these that we learn the most. Virginia Gifford was from Minnesota, not Iowa. Her real name is either Martha Gittering or Virginia Gittering. Worked as a waitress when she first came to Hollywood.  from Life Magazine

I whip up pancakes. I make them from scratch: wheat flour, one egg, melted butter, skim milk, baking powder, salt. Usually I make a half recipe, but with a houseguest, I don’t skimp.  from Shoved

A parent needs both the energy of a hummingbird and the patience of a vulture so if we wait too long to tackle this task, I’ll be flying south before we buy that first pair of flip-flops.  from Flip-Flops

I know my interrogation rooms by now. It looks serious enough for any “Law and Order” episode, brilliant with fluorescent light, an empty table, four metal chairs, a stack of unopened boxes labeled, “George Foreman Lean and Mean Grills.”  from Bethune

We stand as still as trees in a scorched forest.  from Neighbors

Delia and Blanca have found some creature, a pill bug or snail, traveling across their hopscotch game and have stopped to chatter back and forth, pointing chubby fingers and dipping their heads.  from Wilma Allen

Makenna grabs the dog’s leash and we trek down. A warm breeze stirs the smell of grass. I take a deep breath, glad I remembered this.  from Tom Robinson

I survey the rows of potato chips and magazines, the counters lined with coffee urns and bubbles of lemonade and cherry punch, to see if there might be another font of information, maybe a geezer hunting for a Michelob Lite.  from Twinkies

“We would’ve made an appointment, but we couldn’t find their phone number.” “That’s the kind of security measures we take around here. You can’t be too careful.” “How else do you get to see these people?”
“You don’t.”  from Cascades

This place is like a new-age salad for the senses: nothing is missing, cushy softness underfoot, sage-colored walls with planters of lush ferns, sandalwood incense, sitar music, lemons floating in large Italian blown- glass jugs.  from Yoga

When we get to Lincoln Park and the Plaza de la Raza Cultural Center, the place is packed with people and music. The row of food trucks entice with the smells of tortillas, corn bread, chicken stew, spices.  from Retreat

I’m losing ground. Water rising, boat sinking. My private island is quickly disappearing. I’m no longer in charge of my life and I’m ready to bolt.  from Doubts

He said, “So you want to come see me out here in Death Valley?” He was making a joke. He didn’t mean the real Death Valley, but the San Fernando Valley as in “I wouldn’t be caught dead there.”  from Death Valley

Val Verde used to be a vacation spot for African-Americans. In those days, people of color were not allowed in “white” Palm Springs except to change sheets or whip up appetizers and martinis.  from The Green Valley

They seem like a family, the three of them, the family that should have been. It’s as if someone’s whispering a secret in my ear.  from Billy’s Porch


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