Guest blog from Cynthia Hamilton: Making the Transition from Reader to Writer

Making the Transition from Reader to Writer

 

Those of us who spend a good deal of our time in make-believe worlds slide fluidly in and out of

these alternate realities as easily as a fish swims through water. As readers, or job is to bring our

willingness to imagine the scene the author is describing, to be open and engaged in the story,

and to grant him or her license to create the characters and situations they feel compelled to share

with us.

 

The job of writers is to entertain and enlighten, to share their perspective on any given moral or

cosmic challenge, to expand our horizons and our understanding of ourselves and our fellow

human beings. No pressure here. Just make it believable, likeable, challenging and satisfying.

Blowing our minds is a bonus.

 

When a story is of otherworldly greatness, it can have the following effects on readers: make

them wish with all their hearts they were capable of such an artistic feat, maybe even inspiring

them to take that leap, or make them believe they are fundamentally incapable of accomplishing

something so bold.

 

For decades, I fell into the latter camp. I remember marveling over works by writers like Wallace

Stegner, Kurt Vonnegut, Isak Dinesen and Annie Proulx, thinking never in a hundred lifetimes

would I be able to put words down on paper that were actually worthy of being read by others.

Never.

 

Then something happened that turned my life upside-down. From that altered perspective, I

forgot I was incapable of writing. Forgetting my self-imposed limitation was all I needed to do.

Without that conviction tying my hands, I set about writing my first novel, incorporating aspects

of my own life to keep it real and familiar. What I had when I finished it a year later was proof

that I could in fact string sentences together, complete with a beginning, middle, twist, and end.

It made my heart sing and my mind explode with possibilities. That same day, I started book

two.

 

Being a well-trained reader, I put my own efforts through the same critical sieve I used when

reading books by writers who’d managed to make it through the rigors of publishing and onto

bookstores shelves. Thankfully, beating my head until the right word or phrase materialized

didn’t dissuade me from going back for more. Obsessing had become a way of life. Even on the

worst days of deleting most of what I’d written, it has never occurred to me to give it up. I may

never achieve great status as a writer, but for me writing is its own reward, just as reading is. I’ve

learned that it’s perfectly acceptable to write for the sake of it; finding like-minded readers is an

extra dividend.

 

We are fortunate to be living in the digital age, for burgeoning writers no longer have to jump

through publishing house hoops in order to make their works available for others to read. Thanks

to eBooks, self-publishing has completely altered the reading/writing universe.

 

Unburdened from the publishing caprices and rigors of the past, anyone can become a published

author. Talent, more than luck, is now the determining factor to success; if you can write it, you

may find there is an audience out there yearning for your work. It’s given a huge segment of

would-be writers the realization of a dream: finding a readership to share your unique

perspective with.

 

And if deep-down you want to try writing but don’t feel you can until you learn the basics, the

world is now brimming with authors willing to pass on their methods and their hard-won

knowledge. Writing has become a community arena the same way reading has. In the end, it’s a

reciprocal arrangement. Read, share, write, review. Like love, the more you give, the more you

receive. So, don’t let doubt or fear hold you back. Get out there and spread the word(s)!

 

 

🌺💐Cynthia Hamiltons’s titles:

Golden State, High Price to Pay, Finding Ruth, Alligators in the Trees, Once Upon a Lyme, Spouse Trap

 

Valerie Penny: Guest Blog “On Writing”

Valerie Penny: Guest Blog

I am delighted to be with my friend Nina Romano on her blog today. We share a love of reading and writing: this is a powerful link. I believe that to be a good writer you must first develop a love of reading and stories and telling stories. I remember when my younger sister and I were little girls our Mum used to make time to sit and read us stories on a Sunday afternoon. These were not like bed-time stories, on a Sunday we would get to sit in the ‘good’ living room and she would read us books including Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard, Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome and Emma by Jane Austin. Our mother instilled in us a love of literature and a great respect for books and authors.

We loved listening to the stories but after we were in bed, my sister often could not get to sleep right away, so I would make up my own stories to tell her until she fell asleep. The first book I ever wrote was one of these stories, an adventure entitled The Douglas Family. I was about nine years-old. I always planned to write a sequel, maybe one day I will.

It is often said that when we are teenagers we rebel and when we grow older we become ourselves again. It was certainly true of me! I have always read voraciously but my writing, for many years was confined to studies, work and journals. However, when I was older, I discovered blogging when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My way of coping during my treatment was to revert to the type-written word.

I read all I could about the disease and began to blog my journey at: www.survivingbreastcancernow.com. However, I have also always enjoyed good food and loved to travel. It is said in my family that I’d go to the opening of a paper bag! So I decided to start another blog to encompass these interests. Whenever I go anywhere, or go out to eat, I share the experience here at:  wwwhotelandrestaurantreviews.com, and although to date it has not resulted in free meals, I live in hope!

It was also during the time that I was recovering from cancer that I began my book review site. For almost a year I was too ill, first from the disease and then from the cure, to do very much. However, I could read: and I did, even more than I ever had. It seemed sensible to extend my blogging to include reviews of the books I was reading, so my third blog, www.bookreviewstoday.info was born. I began to get asked by writers to review their books and I am always happy to do that. I do not make a charge, but I receive many excellent novels and biographies in return for my honest reviews.

I always enjoy reading books by writers that are new to me, as well as those with whose work I am familiar. I just like to read. I have always found that reading can take you to all kinds of places to meet different people. Perhaps it is my love of travel, this time through the medium of the written word. This was a great way for me to escape, especially from myself, when I was ill.

I particularly enjoy sharing my views on books I have read, I read a great many book reviews, too. When I am reading a book review, I’m looking for an honest opinion about the book. I also like to learn a bit about the author, their background and how they came to write the novel. It is also important that any review, like any other piece of writing holds my interest but please, please don’t spoil my enjoyment of the story by telling me what happens! That really upsets me.

My own debut crime novel, ‘Hunter’s Chase’ is to be published by Crooked Cats Books in February next year, so I will have to get used to being on the other side of reviews. My goodness, hat is a daunting thought. In ‘Hunter’s Chase’ my story is set in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. Setting is very important to me in my writing, even when I wrote ‘The Douglas Family’ for my sister all those years ago, I could visualize the house the family lived in, each room and the garden in which they had so many of their adventures.

I did consider creating an imaginary town for my protagonist, DI Hunter Wilson. However, I know the city of Edinburgh well as I lived there for many years and it has everything a writer could need. It is a diverse city with all different kinds of buildings and people. It is small enough that characters can move around it quickly and large enough for it to be credible that anything I want to happen there, could happen.

Edinburgh is a gorgeous European city with a castle, a palace and a cathedral, wealthy homes, horrible slums, fine restaurants, fast food outlets and idiosyncratic pubs. It is home to an Olympic size pool, the National Rugby Team and two famous football teams. It also hosts the Edinburgh International Festivals every August.  Edinburgh plays such an important role in my novel that it almost becomes a character in the story.  What more could my characters want than to have this metropolitan city as the setting of my novel, Hunter’s Chase?

 

 

 

 

How to Write a Western Romance

How to Write a Western Romance

 

Westerns, a fully-formed genre, offer riveting ways to integrate old ideas, and basically a good Western portrays how the deep-rooted traditions still have value and should not be completely forgotten. If you have a compelling plot and characters with strong emotions and motivations, you’re on the right track. Settings and descriptions play an integral part in devising the Western story.

In order to sound like an authority, it’s important to remain loyal to what has already been accepted as Western literature. To paraphrase the author Frederick W. Boling, as a writer you should be reading everything in whatever genre you’re writing—good and bad alike.

This means for background study purposes, don’t read just the classics in order to craft your story or novel. I believe that Boling is right. I read this genre—whether good or bad—if I really can’t handle a poorly written book, I usually try to get it in the audio version and listen to it as I tool around town in my car.

I also watched and continue to view Western movies—old and new—classics and pardon the expression—crappola!  Every decade of Western films! You never know when you’ll see something and become inspired—some little incident, an action, the language used, the type of gun or knife, how scenes were built and envisioned, something that you can transmute to make your own and use in your writing.

Research is a must.  Read the history and the geography concerning the regions and the places you’re going to write about.  Become familiar with the setting.  It always helps to visit the places you’re writing about because it lends an air of validity to the writing. Be sure of the terminology, dress, language, customs, structures, incidents of the times.  You can use conventional characters–the formulaic gunslinger, the hackneyed saloon girls, the clichéd sheriff. In fact, readers want them, but add your own take to manipulate these to make them your own and unique.

Write scenes that encompass action and dialogue and rely on the five senses.  Dialogue: reveals character and advances the plot. Beware of too much phonetic spelling and dialects—it can be off-putting to the reader as it is difficult to follow for long passages. I remember reading Roots by Alex Haley and suffering to get through it, just for that reason—jargon.

There are so many visuals a writer can utilize and these offer riveting ways to integrate long-standing notions.  Also these can paint us a vivid picture of how things used to be before the encroaching of modern times in towns and the urbanization of sprawling cities, metropolitan living, etc. What I love about Westerns is finding out how much of the past informs our modern lives and also the future.  Western drama embraces masculinity and symbolism. The real achievement, I think, when portraying the old West is to make the scenes as realistic as possible, as if you were actually living in this lawless era.

I consider myself lucky because I fell in love with Cayo Bradley, my cowboy a three-dimensional character in The Girl Who Loves Cayo Bradley. Yes, I was so taken by him that I even wrote an entire book of Western poems, Westward: Guided by Starfalls and Moonbows, including a poem dedicated to him, entitled: “Cayo Bradley.” I allowed him to invade my psyche, which was beneficial to knowing him inside and out.  I submersed myself in the period in which he lived, and in my mind, still lives.  Make the characters in your novel have noble goals, important ambitions and objectives that they will risk seeking, despite the fact that they are flawed individuals.

Western fiction portrays life in the epoch of the American Wild West, a period gone by and typically comprises the mid to late 1800’s. My novel is set in 1874 with some scenes or descriptions of earlier occurrences, such as the Battle of Cineguilla. For this novel, I purchased several books on the Jicarilla Apache Nation including their dictionary.

I love driving out west.  Currently, I’m based in Utah, and it’s a great jumping off place to see Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and New Mexico, which I’ve travelled to many times.  I visited the Santa Fe library, the Indian Arts and Cultural Museum, the Wheelwright Museum, where I was fortunate enough to meet a lovely docent, who was most accessible and gave me many handouts about the Indian tribe that I was writing about.  I love to talk to people, and in New Mexico that’s just what I did—especially in Santa Fe.

My friend and mentor, John Dufresne, told me when I first met him in 1991 that the Universe conspires to bring you all you need to write a novel.  I believe this idea of finding everything you need to complete a book is true.  So far I’ve been blessed since the Universe has never let me down.

 

 

 

 

 

How To Query An Agent

Nina-Romano-PhotoSo many writers I know are trying to  get an agent.

I don’t know what your book is about or the title, however, I sure do know a lot about trying to get an agent. I had one in 2003, but we parted ways.  However, the point is that I wrote over 100 query letters and could teach a course on how to query!

I used to get notices on my queries about how great they were! Not a lot of acceptances, though. Agents are so skeptical and unless they think you’re book has great possibilities for sales or will be the next blockbuster best-seller, they’re usually going to pass. Most of the rejections I received were not because they didn’t like my writing–some said it was solid, lyrical, enchanting,  engaging, or whatever,  and they liked my story, but they weren’t sure how to market the novel…go figure! I sure learned how to do that on my own.

But here’s what I did  for the query letters … I used the Writer’s Guide to Lliterary Agent and Publishers (always the current year). I checked off every possible agent I thought would be interested in: historical, womens fiction, romance, etc…whatever genre you think you could possibly draw attention to.  I cross-referenced everyone I wrote to by checking their online status and agencies.

Next, I addressed each letter to each agent, personally. I researched their client lists and published books and tried to make a connection to my novel. I have a decent publishing track record, which I always included either as “Author’s Bio”,  in the letter, or online query, or email. I had a synopsis of the book: single-spaced one page–that’s all agents want to see. If the agent wanted the material in the body of the email, that’s where I put it–if they wanted it attached, that’s what I did.  READ what each and every agent you’re querying wants and is looking for as to material of the novel and how to submit it!

Whenever I could, I sent to agents who would consider reading the first 3 chapters or 50 pages.  Make sure you have a great first line to capture your reader–a first paragraph and first page that is going to make the reader, in this case, agent, go on reading.

My letters were one page only–they don’t want a long sob story about how you got all A+ in every MFA course you took! You need a great grabber hook for a first sentence of the query letter, a bit about the book–a sentence or two–the elevator pitch.

Today, if you fail to get an agent, I recommend going with small, independent publishers like I did–publishers who take unagented material for submissions. I think self-publishing should be your last resort–my humble opinion.  Any question–don’t hesitate to write me a DM on Twitter @ninsthewriter or o Direct Message on Facebook.  Nina Romano, author.   Wishing you all much good luck and every possible success.

~~Nina Romano

Recap of the Hometown Authors Event at LHP Library

Recap of the Hometown Authors Event

three authors hometwon event

Picture courtesy of Nina Romano @ninsthewriter on twitter

On Saturday, May 7th, the Lighthouse Point Friends of the Library hosted a Local Author’s forum.  Nina Romano, author of The Secret Language of Women (the first book in her Wayfarer’s Trilogy), T. Mara Jaraek, Author of A Supersleuth is Born, and myself were selected among other worthy candidates as the featured honorees.  This event was showcased with brief bio and our photos in the May edition of The Lighthouse Point Magazine, along with announcements in 2 local papers, The Observer and The Pelican. The program began at 11:00 at Fletcher Hall, the city’s community auditorium located next to the Library.  We were all seated on stage and with microphones so we could be heard. There was a wonderful turnout of all ages in attendance.

hometown authors stage pic

Picture courtesy of Nina Romano @ninsthewriter on twitter

Our featured host and dedicated and recently retired library Director, Doreen Gauthier stared the program by giving a brief biography about each author. Then the invited moderator, Moderator John Spera, Library’s Book Group Coordinator and circulation volunteer. asked each of us 10 intriguing questions, ranging from the first questions, “Writing is often said to be biographical, so where did each of us find your ideas”; to “What author or authors have influenced your style, genre, or even your idea (as each of our books had a different target audience)?

Their last question, which held significant concern to the organizers was, “What do you think is the importance and role of the library in today’s society? The moderated question and answer session lasted nearly an hour before the audience were invited to join in and share their comments or ask questions. The program concluded by drawing 3 raffle tickets, to which each winner was presented with one featured books. Last, Doreen presented each author with a lovely bouquet of flowers, which was unexpected, but made each of us feel very special.  Afterwards, everyone returned to the atrium, where we displayed our books, chatted with attendees and answered any additional questions.  By the time we left, Nina, Tina, and I so enjoyed learning about each other’s books, that we purchased each other’s books! I look forward to reading their fictional works.  All in all, it was a most enjoyable and rewarding experience.

How to Write a Novel in a Year

How to Write a Novel in a Year

 

There’s only one way, and that’s to begin. As my friend and mentor John Dufresne always says, “First rule of writing: sit your ass in the chair.”

And as the story goes on Quote Investigator (http://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/09/14/writing-bleed/) …

Red Smith was asked if turning out a daily column wasn’t quite a chore. “Why, no,” dead-panned Red. “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

Something similar has been attributed to many great writers including Wolfe and Hemingway. In other words, there just ain’t an easy way to do it, but to do it. Put black ink on white paper.  So now that that’s settled.  Here’s how I did it.

It took me at least five years to complete my first novel, Lemon Blossoms, set in Sicily, and about seven years to write my second one, The Secret Language of Women, set in China.  I did a great deal of revising.  Then I switched the order of these two novels and decided to write a third one to craft them into the Wayfarer Trilogy.

The third book of the trilogy is the one I’m finishing now, In America. Guess where the setting is? This novel took me only one year.  How did I accomplish this?  Easy.  I never thought I’d say that, let alone write it on paper for somebody to actually read.  I always marveled at how some authors produce a book a year. Now I’ve learned that it’s possible, and requires not just skill, but sacrifice and persistence.

I was under contract with Turner Publishing and my editor expected the finished novel at the end of November 2015. I delivered!  Determination plays a great part in getting the job done. If you don’t have those requisites, invent them.  Tell yourself you’re going to have a publisher, an agent, an editor, and set a date for yourself.  Write it on paper and make it come true.  If I can do it, so can you.

I began by talking about the story—not even.  I started by thinking about what I could possibly write, and sent notes to the acquiring editor, who had already agreed to the first two books, but she wanted to see more of the development of Book # 3— more and more.  Finally, I wrote a three and a half page “treatment,” which is what I called it for lack of a better word—it’s not an outline, because I don’t know how to write an outline, never wrote one and probably would feel like being locked in a prison cell if I ever had to write one.

I let this “treatment” sit overnight, and the next day, I refined it as much as I could, and it ended up being four pages.  I sent it off, and lo and behold, she liked it.  It was do or die.  With this sketch or skeleton to enhance, I could add flesh to design and form a story into a novel.

I started with a collection of things I thought might be good additions for this novel. I culled from the following: the Great Depression and the 1930s, Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade; the Easter Parade; the year the first spruce went up in Rockefeller Plaza; notes on Camp Isida; a letter from my mother to my father in 1931; buildings being erected in the 1930s; names of bicycles; a list of popular words; dances, songs, movies of the era; etc.  You get the picture.  All of these things would play a part in the construction of this novel, aptly named In America, as it was a continuation of the story of Giacomo and Angelica coming over to the States from Sicily.

In October of 2014 I wrote fifty pages, and decided that would be my monthly goal. I considered three-hundred and fifty pages enough, and if I reached my quota every month, I could basically have a first draft in seven months: April 2015, and I could send the manuscript to my writing group for a thorough critique when we would meet in June.

November of 2014, I was in south Florida and still going to the beach every Saturday and Sunday with my family.  I was reading a novel that I came to detest, and set aside—in fact I gave it away.  Here I was lolling on a beautiful sandy beach while my head was back in my condo at the computer, pondering, thinking and fretting about what I’d write next to finish my page count.  As I awaited my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, and a third grandchild, I waited to hear if I was going in the right direction from a reader friend—not a writer.  I gave her fifty pages to read and said,” Let me know what you think.” She got back to me with one word: “Continue,” and so I wrote on.

Here’s how I wrote when I couldn’t be in front of the computer, where I wanted or needed to be:  I scribbled on a notepad, napkins, paper towels, envelopes, bills, and when I didn’t have any of these, I wrote myself e-mail and text messages and quick reminders on a little APP on my iPhone: Notes.  What did I write?  Anything and everything: thoughts for scenes, ideas for tension, character sketches, prompts to get the writing juices flowing.

Back in my office, as soon as I hit the computer keys again, I’d check out my notes and my e-mails.  There I’d find a few lines of dialogue without quotes marks, fast descriptions, things which were of essence to this novel and must be included, such as ideas for obligatory scenes.  All of these items I played around with like putty and “shaped” into something more readable.

Sometimes I’d write thoughts or snatches of words and phrases into my notebook and brainstorm before adding them to my novel file: characters, names, moods, actions, clothes styles, names of Italian dishes, titles of songs, names of wines and of bottled water, holidays, themes, impressions for tension, motivation, cause and effect, cost of merchandise, expressions used in that time period, and notes reminding me to research this or that.

I realized that for my other two novels, much of the time I got cemented doing thorough research, so much in fact, that I wasn’t always writing.  I used a different game plan and scheme this time—worked the tactic differently.  I wrote, and if I became glued or wanted to know something particular, or needed to find out some historic details, I’d Google them, call the library, or search information in other books.  Then, it was back to the writing, adding in particular details and needed information.

At the end of December after I’d survived the holidays, and was overjoyed with the addition of beautiful Isabella, our third grandchild, I found myself already advanced by ten pages for the following month.  I foolishly printed out and read over one hundred and fifty pages and put the corrections, nice and necessary as they were, into the file. This turned out to be a setback.

NEVER again! Never, until I’m finished a complete first draft will I print out partially. Why? It interrupted the flow.  I felt smug.  Ah, look at that.  One hundred and fifty pages of text.  Pat yourself on the back.  BS! And that’s not a college degree.  Never count your half-baked  accomplishments.  Finish the job.  Write every day, even if it’s only one word, one phrase, one sentence, one paragraph or one page.  Open the file and write.  Write on a legal pad, your kid’s notebooks, in a diary.

On New Year’s Day, I wrote only three pages, but for me it was important to get something down on paper, anything, because I believe what you do on New Year’s you do all year long and I wanted to write.  So the plan to write fifty pages, turned out to be a good goal that was doable.  But it wasn’t an easy year.  My husband had cataract surgery in March, and I had a hip replacement in April, but despite these life interruptions, I’d finished the writing task of a first draft. Without a draft, there can be no novel, because the real writing begins with revision.

I had been in Florida the autumn of 2014 when I’d started to bat out the words of this historical novel set in 1930s America, but in January 2015, I drove to Utah with my husband and in February, we cruised Malaysia.  I had a little note pad, an iPad, but with sporadic online access, because the costs are prohibitive on board a Holland-America cruise ship!

I’m lucky to have a great writing group.  We are five scribbling women.  Last spring before we met in June, a mystery writer member resided in Kuwait.  Another gal, a literary novelist, hosted us in Maryland.  A talented-switch-hitter writer between chick lit and mainstream lives in Wisconsin, and a North Carolinian resident is a British and American cozy mystery maven.  I had to cut some pages to ready the manuscript for the group.  I printed it out in May, read and corrected it.  My reader friend read it again, the same one who’d read the first fifty pages, now read the entire piece and gave me her thoughts and suggestions before I sent it to the Screw Iowa Writing Group on May 21, 2015. You always need beta readers!

I accomplished my goal of fifty pages, completed the first draft and readied it for these women writers to read.  They read it with the keen attention the way they’d want someone to read their work.  They are kind, but tough, and critique with careful eyes.  I respect them, but don’t always take what they say as Gospel.  Sometimes you have to go with your gut instincts.  We meet for one week in June every year.  This year was our 11th meeting.  I took their critiques—some were line by line—several with pages and pages of cross outs—OUCH! I returned to Florida and revised till summer’s end and autumn began.  October, I spent in Italy touring with my husband and friends and visiting my 101 year-old auntie in Palermo.  She’s sharp as a tack and I interviewed her for a couple of days for what may be a future novel.  I did no writing or revising, but I sure did when I returned.

In order to write a novel, you need determination, you need time, or you must make time, and you need to have dedication and discipline and then you must: “Sit your ass in the chair,” which for me equaled three-hundred and forty-seven pages. Are you going to call me a liar for the three little missing pages? There you go. How to write a novel in a year.  Good luck.

 

 

DJ Niko’s Review of The Secret Language of Women on Goodreads

D.J. Niko’s Reviews > The Secret Language of Women

The Secret Language of Women
by Nina Romano (Goodreads Author)

7566814

D.J. Niko‘s review

Feb 22, 16
it was amazing

 

Nina Romano’s first installment in the Wayfarer Trilogy is a richly detailed journey through China during the time of the Boxer Rebellion, circa 1900. The story follows Lian, the daughter of a Chinese mother and Swiss physician father, who struggles to find love and hope in spite of adversity. Lian’s use of Nushu, the secret language used by Chinese women, to write about her life and dreams is fascinating and at times heartbreaking. The author is also a poet, and it shows in her lyrical language. Romano’s beautiful descriptions of the setting and the characters’ inner worlds draw the reader into the plot and build interest with every page. Highly recommended.

The Important Role of Religion in Lemon Blossoms

The Important Role of Religion in Lemon Blossoms

When I was a young girl I studied with the cloistered nuns of Visitation Academy in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.  I learned not only school subjects but also a great deal concerning the Roman Catholic Religion and Latin at the hands of this devout, spiritual community. An aside—I used some descriptions of the cloister grounds inside the walls and the “parlatorio” in my third book of the Wayfarer Trilogy, In America, but a tremendous amount more about the religion is incorporated in Lemon Blossoms.

After I finished the eighth grade of elementary school, my religious training continued during my first two years of high school when I attended Notre Dame Academy on Staten Island.  I frequently participated at daily Mass, including responding in Latin to the priest as an altar boy because we didn’t have any.  I made novenas, went on retreats, and even had a nun for a roommate! Three of us girls shared a room with this nun, who slept with a curtain drawn around her bed.  She entered our room from the bathroom, after we were supposedly asleep, and after she’d had her bath. I will not divulge those long-ago secrets garnered in youth! I will say, however, that when we went home on weekends, I set up sleuth-type devices to find out if she ever riffled through our dresser drawers! Call me, Sherlock—she did!

When writing Lemon Blossoms, I sought out and interviewed the very learned Rev. Monsignor Frederick Brice various times with questions so that I would be correct in portraying my main character Angelica, a very zealous and overly religious girl at the beginning of the novel, and Padre Ruggeri, Angelica’s confessor and uncle.

I attended a neighborhood church and got to know the pastor Fr. Brice, who was retired only a few years ago and passed away last year at the age of eighty-five.  He was pastor of St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church in Lighthouse Point, Florida, for almost three decades, during the time that I sought his council.

In order to understand the significance of the vestments used during the Mass, I questioned this knowledgeable priest on many occasions.  He was generous enough to also lend me several books and have a close look at his Breviary. These were enlightening sources to consult along with my several antique Missals, one of which I had used while attending Notre Dame.  Fr. Brice was most kind and very accessible and even eager to discuss the prayers, the sacraments, the vessels, and the laws and liturgy of the church. Much of what I acquired from my discussions with this cleric is included in the novel Lemon Blossoms.

 

 

Review of M.K. Graff”s Novel Death Unscripted

What’s so great about this book, is the fact that it’s a “NOW” situation set in the Big Apple.

Didn’t you always want to know what goes on behind the scenes of those medical TV shows? Reading M K Graff’s Death Unscripted gives a firsthand peek at how some of it gets done.  The fact that Graff knows the medical profession comes through and made this such an interesting read and a seemingly REAL one.

This is a nicely paced cozy with a host of interesting characters, and one of my new personal favorites, Trudy Genova, an amateur sleuth.  Graff’s mystery drew me in right from the beginning.  The sparks set off between her mail character and the detective, add an interesting subtext.  Graff’s  settings, dialogue and plot have me begging to read her next installment in this new American series.  Brava!  I definitely “suspended my disbelief!

 

How to Write a Novel about Family and the Past

When I was young, I always loved to listen to our family’s stories about our past.  The lives of my grandparents fascinated me, because of their world gone by.  I was curious and wanted to see and understand how we arrived at our lives today.  Later on, I learned that if I couldn’t see it for myself, I could create it with some real elements and hints: words, ideas, family vignettes, outdated articles and kitchen utensils.   because in Sicily, we come from a line of cantastorie, bards, who travelled from town to town to sing and tell stories.

I was interested in antiques and in old ways to do things.  I loved antique rocking chairs, spinning wheels, gadgets, hand-stitched footstools, coffee grinders by hand, old copper kettles, sewing machines with peddles, iron rest plates and trivets, old irons, mandolins, books, diaries and ephemera with tattered covers and bent-eared corners.  There was nothing better than sitting around my Grandma’s table listening to her, my mother and aunts talking.

I stole my womenfolk’s stories, snippets of how things were done in the “olden” days, recipes and cooking lessons from all of them. I heard secrets. I eavesdropped as they’d switch to Sicilian or Italian so I couldn’t understand, but I’d always get a word or two or some action would give much of their confidences away.  I learned interesting Italian words and their meanings—I was by no means fluent in Italian—that would come many years later when I lived in Rome for twenty years.  I imbibed in a drink called customs and mores, ethnicities, social behavior and scruples.

There was nothing I liked better than to spend a Saturday morning with my cousin routing around in Grandma’s huge basement, Grandpa’s workroom, or the immense closet/deposit/ store room on the first landing of the main staircase, situated under the attic stairs, or else the closet in the attic bathroom that housed a tub with lion’s claws feet, in her century Brooklyn home!  I found the most interesting things, such as: a long hank of beautiful chestnut hair, a mercury thermometer, a ring with a red stone, an old meat grinder, many sepia-toned photographs that spoke parables, etc. “Every picture tells a story.”

When I looked at the photos and all of these old items, I asked myself: What are they saying?  Listen and ask.  Rob and steal with your eyes and ears, pickpocket stories, make a heist of little things that, when held, magically transform themselves into yesterdays.

There’s a line from a 1986 Clint Eastwood Movie, Heartbreak Ridge, when Eastwood says: “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.”  I had not yet seen that movie when I was young, that would come many years later, but I was already thinking along similar terms: Invent, Change, Astound when telling a story.

I always told stories since I was little because my mother, grandmother and aunts told me stories about their youth.  When they finished speaking, I wouldn’t let them off the hook.  I was like a little inquiring editor, constantly saying, “And then what?”

And so it was that all of my childhood questions came into play when I started to write Lemon Blossoms.  I remembered my aunt Jay telling me that her grandmother was a mattress-maker, that my grandfather made wine, that my grandmother had had a miscarriage, lost another baby at birth and another a few months old in between her and her mother.

Years later, when my Dad came to visit me while I was living in Rome, I interviewed him about his youth in Sicily.  I was brought up Roman Catholic and knew a great deal about the religion because I went to Catholic schools with the nuns until I sophomore year.  They say to first write what you know—well I knew about this and well-armed with all this information, I was able to construct a first draft of my novel Lemon Blossoms while enrolled in Florida International’s Creative Writing Program as an MFA candidate.  Of course, that novel would be transformed and revised many, many times, but the basics—I had those at my fingertips.

 

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