The Story of a Story

A couple of years ago, I wrote a short story for a charity anthology. “Light of the Moon” was about a young woman jilted at the altar when her mother (an accused murderess) Into the woods front coverescaped from jail with the sheriff (the young woman’s fiance.) The story had an open ending because I love open endings.

Not everyone loves open endings. I was asked countless times what happened to the young woman, to her mother, to the sheriff. The answer was, I didn’t know. When the story came to me, it ended with the jilting. I never seriously considered writing a sequel until Sister Jean, the facilitator at the retreat house where “Light of the Moon” was written, told me she wanted to know what happened to the sheriff. She said I should write a sequel.

I went to Catholic school. When a nun says you should do something, you do it.

The Murderess of Bayou Rosa is that sequel.

murderess cover

Set in 1920 in a small bayou town in Louisiana, it is the story of a fallen woman who crosses the line of her hometown’s tolerance when she shoots her lover in the back. After a world war and influenza pandemic, can a jury of twelve men vote to hang a woman they’ve seen grow up since birth?

The Murderess of Bayou Rosa is available for Kindle or in paperback here.


NaNo by the Numbers

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgToday I dove into the challenge called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

Throughout 2016, I’ve been speaking at libraries on how to create a long term daily writing habit. This is indirectly connected to NaNoWriMo, but one part of my writing habit talk is discussing word count and NaNoWriMo. Every time I do this talk, I notice people scribbling the numbers. Today, on Day 1, I thought I’d share the breakdown. I hope it helps those people who like to play with days and numbers and word count: Continue reading “NaNo by the Numbers”

Coming Events and Workshops

2016-fall-eventsOne of the perks of being awarded a fellowship is the opportunity to offer free public readings and workshops. (And you have funds set aside for promotional postcards!)

The following are my coming events for October and November, 2016. Some require registration, but all are open to the public. Continue reading “Coming Events and Workshops”

Self-Myths in Character Building

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgYesterday, I wrote about self-myths and the “I’m not” sentences we sometimes blithely—and other times insightfully—use to describe ourselves.

I joked that I’m not good at math. My neighbor, a pediatrics ICU nurse, uses algebra all the time at her job. She likes numbers, and I’m glad she does. You want someone who enjoys algebra calculating your meds. Someone who is not me. Continue reading “Self-Myths in Character Building”

11 Pre-NaNoWriMo Exercises

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgNovember means turkey and dressing, autumnal colors and falling leaves, parades and football games, and National Novel Writing Month.

For the writers who are bravely preparing to sit down and pound out 50,000 words in 30 days, below are just shy of a dozen ideas to help you warm up and examine your story.

Pre-NaNoWriMo Writing Exercises Continue reading “11 Pre-NaNoWriMo Exercises”

The Deletion Graveyard

RamonaGravitarI had to get rid of a character this week. His name was Mark Rowonowski, and he was a detective with the Delaware State Police.

Rowonowski was bald–shaved head kind of bald–and he had a scar on the bridge of his nose that ran down toward his left eye. The scar had not come from police work, and he never discussed how he got it. People asked, but he made it clear he wasn’t going to talk about it. Continue reading “The Deletion Graveyard”

40 Days of Book Praise, Day 17

RamonaGravitarFor 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.

Day 17, 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley

13 ways

What is a novel? According to Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley, a novel is – simply – a “lengthy written prose narrative with a protagonist.” In this book, which itself is a bit lengthy, she uses thirteen approaches to deconstruct novels. In the first 12 chapters, she explains how novels were created; shows its place in history; examines its creators; picks apart its psyche; and so on. She also offers two chapters of writerly advice and encouragement for the inspired fools (my term) who choose to write a novel of their own. This may sound like dry chapters from a ponderous tome, but they are not. As with her many novels, Smiley writes here with warmth and insight. She loves novels. She sees their warts and weaknesses, but she is keen to point out what works and to share the delight of storytelling. I read the first 12 chapters one at a time, like lessons, and made notes to myself on the pages. It was the first time since school that I felt compelled to take a highlighter to a book on my personal bookshelf. The points Smiley makes on theme, authenticity, and memorable characters are worth bright yellow markings.

All of the above is only half of the book. The #13 in the ways to look at a novel is a report on reading 100 novels. She selected from classics to modern works, “dead white men” to authors of more varied cultures, and wrote a critical essay. For each novel, she explained why it was unique and worth reading. She discussed themes, subtext, structure, and flaws. Her discussions are longer and much deeper than the snippets I have written here, but as with the first twelve chapters, I read an essay a day—admittedly, skipping a few reviews that did not interest me– and thought about Smiley’s thoughts for a while. I came away with a richer understanding of, and appreciation for, the work many of my friends do every day.

Why is 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel a good read for women? Jane Smiley’s body of work is not focused toward either gender, and her 100 books include books by male and female authors. Reading this will make you a better writer, and a more informed reader. Its length may be daunting, but it was enjoyable to read in bits and pieces. It took me a year to read the entire book, because I wanted to think about each essay before reading the next one. That makes this a book to savor over time, and appreciate the work put into it by an insightful modern author–who happens to be a woman.

Who wants what? A character exercise

RamonaGravitarWhat does your character want? This is one of those helpful—or irritating—questions writers are asked at workshops or by editors. The question is meant to make you, the author, dig deeply into your character’s soul to discover what drives him/her to do all the crazy things they do in their fictional world.

You created this character, so answering “What does he/she want?” should be a snap, right?

Ha ha.

Continue reading “Who wants what? A character exercise”

SAD in the Studio

RamonaGravitarAnd on the 7th day, I got depressed.

 It’s raining as I write this post, which is a departure from my usual how to, what is, or inspirational ramblings. In the past, a rainy, cold, dark January morning would say “perfect writing day” to me. I’d have lit a candle or two and spent the day in relative darkness, writing away. Not today. A few minutes ago, I strung a length of white Christmas lights across the windowsill in front of my desk. A lamp is shining down on my keyboard. A soothing aromatherapy candle is burning on the shelf to my right. Continue reading “SAD in the Studio”

8 Pre-Writing Questions for Novelists

RamonaGravitar“What do you need to know before you begin writing a novel?”

This was the question my short story writer friend asked after learning that I—a fellow short story writer—had written a novel. After some thought, I decided on the following 8 basic questions.

Continue reading “8 Pre-Writing Questions for Novelists”