Guest Post at Jungle Red Writers

Is there any better friend to crime writers than Hank Phillippi Ryan? Writer, reporter, blogger, her generosity is legendary.

Today, I’m happy to be the guest of Hank and the other wonderful authors at the Jungle Red Writers blog. It’s a place where everyone who is anyone in the crime writing world ends up, as a reader, as a guest, as a commentor. I discuss the many things that frighten me. Please pop over to read about Some of All My Fears.  Some of those fears are about going Into the Woods….

Into the woods front cover

Retreat at the Beach

It is no secret that I love the beach. As a child, I spent weekends at Grand Isle, the barrier island made famous in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. Now I live at hour-plus-change from Rehoboth Beach, where I go every spring and fall to remind myself of the cleansing power of water, waves, sand, and fresh air. Those weeks rejuvenate my spirit.

The beach is perfect for relaxing, and also for writing. Every other year, the Delaware Division of the Arts offers a beach retreat for poets and prose writers. Twenty-odd writers are selected for a 3-day retreat with an instructor/facilitator. This year’s leaders are Sandra Beasley, award-winning author of four books of poetry and nonfiction, and Leslie Pietrzyk, novelist and prize-winning short story writer

The retreats feature group time, workshop time, writing time, and beach time. The key word is time. The retreat gives you time to focus on writing. It also gives you the opportunity to meet and bond with peers in the Delaware writing community.

I can say from experience that some of my best writing buddy relationships began at a DDoA beach retreat. Deadline to apply is soon. Please give it a shot–it is worth your time!

DDoa 2018 Retreat

Sally Ride Gets a Stamp

Last week, the United States Postal Service unveiled a Forever stamp honoring astronaut Sally Ride.

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Sally Ride was a physicist and astronaut. When she was a student at Stanford University, she and 8000 other people responded to a NASA ad in the student newspaper. The ad was an open call seeking  applicants for the US space program. Sally answered the call, and the rest is history.

Sally Ride joined NASA in 1978. In 1983, she became the first American woman in space as a crew member on Space Shuttle Challenger. She was 32, and the youngest American astronaut to travel in space. Although she kept her personal life intensely private, Sally Ride was also a ground-breaker in another area. She was a lesbian and so is the first known LGBT American astronaut.

Sally Ride’s career as a NASA astronaut lasted until the late 1980s. She then worked at a couple of California universities and eventually headed the California Space Institute, but she never left behind her connections to the space program. She led two public-outreach programs for NASA. She wrote, or co-wrote, seven books for children on space exploration and science.

Sally Ride died of cancer in 2012. I remember her communications from the flight deck of the Challenger. She was always smiling, as if she was thrilled to be doing a job she loved. Isn’t that what we all want, to be fulfilled and respected in our life’s work? She left an incredible legacy for women and for the world–Earth and beyond.

To become an astronaut, a person has to be intelligent and physically fit, know how to work with a team, and balance bravery and wonder. Sally Ride was all of those things, as well as a gender ground-breaker. But every ground-breaker has to put up with backlash, disapproval, and resistance. My admiration for  Sally Ride grows exponentially every time I recall a pre-flight interview with the Challenger crew.

First, Sally Ride was asked if her reproductive organs would be affected by the flight. She answered that there was no evidence of that.

Then this question: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?” She said, “How come nobody ever asks Rick those questions?” and refused to answer beyond that.

At the end of the interview, she said, “It may be too bad that our society isn’t further along and that this is such a big deal.”

Damn skippy, Sally. For making that public observation, she not only deserves a stamp, but her own planet, if you ask me.

Now I’m going off to buy some Sally Ride stamps. You?

Femme Fatale for a Day

No, not in the style of Edie Sedgewick or Nico (for you music lovers), but I am very pleased to be today’s guest at the Femme Fatales blog. The Femme Fatales are a dozen or so “ferociously talented women dedicated to the fine art of crime fiction.” My pal Hank Phillippi Ryan arranged my visit to talk about PBS’ Great American Read–and to give away a copy of the Into The Woods anthology.

Please pop over to the Femmes and comment on Reading Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry!

Love story

 

 

What’s inside the box?

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgI hereby declare—since hereby declaring is a popular thing now—that I am all conferenced out.

This temporary condition will certainly  pass, but for the moment, I am unpacked, the suitcase is in the closet, and I have no immediate travel plans.  Give me a week and I’ll be screaming about cabin fever, but for the moment, it feels good to tuck in and enjoy some home time.

But staying home has hazards of its own. Like the rest of the world, every time I walk through the rooms of my house, I think about decluttering. There are still boxes in the basement we have never opened since our move from Pennsylvania 20+ years ago. Part of my fear in opening those boxes is that I will be delighted with whatever forgotten items have been waiting there, and I’ll be adding more instead of embracing less.

Life is full of chancy moments like this, when you don’t know what’s ahead: something you’ll never use, or something you’ll never forget.

A workshop is like an unopened box, I realized this weekend at the Pennwriters Conference.  You have no idea how deeply you’ll connect to the writer presenting or if their shared wisdom will hit you in the right place at the right time. One such moment, when a line is just what  you need to hear today, is a gem.

I came away with three gems from last weekend. The following quotes flew across the room and stuck to me like spaghetti on a wall:

“Plot the conflict.” – Susan Meier

“When the book opens, the villain already has a game plan.” – Gayle Lynds

“The inciting incident is the only scene in your story that can be totally random.” – Hilary Hauck

Wise words, yes? Susan’s advice means to stay on track in planning the action that drives the story. Gayle’s words are a reminder that the villain is always present. Hilary’s quote is an a-ha that the writer is allowed only one freebie from the universe.

Three gems in a single weekend means Pennwriters was a wonderful box to open.

Now, please excuse me. There’s a Mother’s Day hammock in the back yard I need to break in, and I have three takeaways to ponder while I do that. Those boxes in the basement have waited 20  years. Another day won’t hurt them.

Buy my book, cher

“After three weeks in jail, Mama asked me to talk to Judge Rousseau about getting her some decent food to eat.”

This is the opening line to “Light of the Moon,” my short story contribution to Into the Woods, an anthology of short fiction, essays, original music, and one walking meditation. The collection comes from writers who attend the Mindful Writers Retreats in Ligonier, Pennsylvania. After years of bonding and enjoying guided meditations, walking in the woods, and silent writing in the lodge’s great room, the twenty-six writers decided to share our work in an anthology for charity. All proceeds from Into the Woods benefit the work and research of the Children’s Heart Foundation.

Into the woods front cover

The print version of the book will make its debut at the Pennwriters Conference later this week. The eBook will release on May 21. We love orders and pre-orders!

I contributed a prose poem as well as “Light of the Moon,” which is set in the fictional Louisiana town of Bayou Rosa. The story includes love and death, war and myth, and the woods, of course.

grom

My grandmother, Grom.

The print version of Into the Woods was released on Mother’s Day, so of course I thought of my grandmother. Grom taught me storytelling and oral history, and made me appreciate the travails of my Acadian ancestors. She believed in hard work and le Bon Dieu; she appreciated good food and good-looking men; and she spoke a mixture of Cajun French and English that peppers this story, and many of my others. Every story I write, in a small way or a big one, is a tribute to her.

Grom called people she loved cher, which is the French word for “my dear.” Grom had a big heart. So, my dears and chers, I hope you’ll open your own hearts and buy this book to support children who need your help–and to enjoy the work of writers who found inspiration in the woods.

Charging Forward

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Typical conference purse

I attended the Malice Domestic mystery conference this past weekend. Malice lasted four fabulous days, and if you know anything about math (or me), you understand this four-day event required four bags: one medium-sized purse; one small clutch for the banquet; one large tote for my panel; and one getting-bigger-every-trip zipper bag for chargers.

The perfect bag must be practical, comfortable, attractive, and functional. Since these four requirements never seem to appear together in any single bag, one must buy multiples, for multiple occasions. This is not news.

malice handbag 2

Who doesn’t love velvet?

What’s news—to me, anyway—is that I now own enough electronics to require a bag just for chargers. These cords and plugs can’t be let loose in the wild kingdom of my office or suitcase, can they?

(I could stop here and ask why no one has invented a universal charger that would fit all electronic devices, but that is way too rational for a blog post about bags.)

malice handbag 3

Big bag for panel books!

I have been on the hunt for the perfect charger bag. I had one but it was too small, then I bought a larger one but it was too big, and now I have one that seems right. I say “seems” because Malice was its test run. I’m going to the Pennwriters conference in two weeks, so we’ll see if the bag passes the long term commitment test.

A plug and a cord, tucked into a cute bag, takes care of charging a device. Pretty simple, and it if doesn’t work, you buy a new one. When that device is your brain, it’s a little more complicated. You can’t buy a new brain, even when you wear the one in your head down to a nub.

I adore conferences, and Malice is like Mardi Gras: big, loud, colorful, and friendly. I loved every moment, from the Vera showing on Thursday to the New Author Breakfast on Sunday. I did not, however, write one word those four days. I got the sprint threads posted in the mornings, but I was usually packing a bag and taking off for the day after it posted.

charger bag 1

Too small

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Too big

I am writing this on Monday. Regular life has resumed, and my brain must get back to the routine. The wonderful thing about a rigid writing habit is that your brain knows what to do when your body is placed in a particular chair in a particular spot at a particular time of day. Four days of disruption, however, and my brain still wants to think about handbags and panels instead of my work in progress. I could sit in my writing spot and fight to get my mojo going, or I could take one more day of reprieve and recovery to bridge Mardi Gras to work day.

I took the day. I discovered, though, that while I took photos of my bags and unpacked my new books, the little pings and pricks of writing began firing. This premise looks interesting. What an intriguing setting. I’ve never heard of this historical event! Oh, I love this author….

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The right size–and perfect theme!

It doesn’t take much to lure a writer back into the fold, does it? Panels and parties are great fun, but stories are the raison d’etre. When this posts on Tuesday, I’ll be moving forward, getting back to storytelling and my writing habits.

How long does it take you to recover from a conference? Do you have any tricks to get your brain back into work mode? And, how do you store your chargers when you travel?

Pennwriters Interview

Coming soon, the Pennwriters Annual Conference, May 18-20, 2018, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I will be presenting two workshops:  “Old School Scene Planning” and “Damsels, Dames & Darlings: Writing Realistic Women.”

PW 2018

Each year before the conference, Pennwriters does a Q&A with its faculty. Below are the 2018 questions. Below is a copy of the interview from the Pennwriters Facebook page.

Pennwriters: What do you think is special about the genre you write in?

Ramona: I write in a couple of different genres, but I’ll choose creative nonfiction. CNF is special because it allows me to write about real events with the freedom of a fiction writer. For example, I’ve published personal essays about surviving hurricanes as a child and also about the impact of drug abuse on my family, citing facts and figures but also sharing how the experience affected my world. CNF is unique in that allows a writer to smoothly place factual information in a personal story.

PW: What do you find to be the most difficult part of writing? Did you ever encounter a serious roadblock and how did you overcome it?

Ramona: I have a maddening and pushy internal editor, which is ironic for someone who works as an editor. If I am not careful, I can get mired in a scene that isn’t working and I stay there, grinding on the problem, rather than moving on and coming back to it. I have to make the concrete decision to let this poorly executed scene sit for a while. That can be tough.

PW: What’s individual or unique about your writing space? Do you have a memento or good luck charm on your desk?

Ramona: I have a home office for my editing work, but I find it difficult to do my creative writing in that spot. I have adopted the desk in the guest room for my writing, and I do have mementos, among them a cardinal ornament from my mother and a seashell from my mother-in-law. My two moms encourage me to tell stories. I am very much into establishing a regular writing routine, so I only sit in that chair, in that spot, when I want to write. That gives the signal to my body and brain that we’re here for that purpose only. So much of writing is a mind game, so I’ve learned to make that writing space work for me mentally as well as physically.

PW: What has been the most satisfying or significant project of your literary career?

Ramona: It’s a tie. A few years ago, I had the privilege of co-coordinating an anthology of poetry and prose by Delaware writers, through the Delaware Division of the Arts. The State of Delaware is very supportive of its artists, so that opportunity to give back—and to have a wonderful collection of work from my writing tribe—was a big gold star in my career. The second is contributing to and editing Into the Woods, a brand new anthology from the Mindful Writers Retreat authors.

PW: What is your favorite tip or advice for writers?

Ramona: Give your writing the priority it deserves and develop a regular writing habit! Same time, same place every day is the optimum, but if you are a weekend writer or an after-the-day-job writer, choose a specific time to write and stick to it. Our stories are our legacies to the world, so it’s important to give writing its proper due.

PW: If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you take with you?

Ramona: A very thick blank notebook, a pen that would never run dry, and a handheld blow torch. The last because I was never a Girl Scout so I don’t know how to start a fire by rubbing sticks, and I also like to be prepared for any crème brûlée emergencies.

PW: If you had a time machine, where and when would you be right now?

Ramona: In the galleries of the US Capitol on August 18, 1920. That’s the day the 19th Amendment was finally ratified by Congress. I would love to witness women’s right to vote made the law of the land. Then I’d rush out and party with my sisters!

Conference Bio: Ramona DeFelice Long’s writing has appeared in numerous literary and regional publications, and she’s a multiple fellowship winner. She is an author, editor, and writing instructor. As an editor, she specializes in short story anthologies, crime novels, and women’s fiction.

 

 

101 Years Ago Today

On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany and entered World War 1. The Great War. The War to End All Wars. President Wilson, who campaigned with the slogan “He kept us out of war,” asked Congress to approve the war declaration with a new slogan. The United States should make the “world safe for democracy.” On July 4, 1917, American soldiers marched to the Marquis de Lafayette’s gravesite to pay homage with the phrase “Lafayette, nous voilà” – Lafayette, we are here.

The Great War. The War to End All Wars. Make the world safe for democracy. Lafayette, we are here.

The above phrases are an important part of world history. The impact of the first global war is still being examined and discussed. A century later, we still have war and democracy may be in peril, but as long as we remember Lafayette and the soldiers inspired by him, as long as we read the stories of soldiers, there is hope that global wars may be history.

World War 1 and America Writing Workshops

WWi

 

 

40 Days of 3 Questions – Day 40

Congratulations! If you are here, you’ve completed 40 days of 3 Questions. I hope the questions made you think about writing, your career, your goals, and yourself as a writer.

If you posted your responses daily or haphazardly, I thank you! When I started the project, I knew I would be away several times during the 40 days and would be unable to respond to individual comments. I did read every response, and many of them made me think about my own place in the tribe. It was gratifying to see the shares, and enlightening to read your answers.

If you answered the questions privately, so did I. Never ask a question you’re not afraid to answer, right?

The final set of questions is for you, but also for me. I may do this project again, or one similar to it, next year. Let me know what worked, or what I missed.

Day 40 Questions:

  1. Why did you answer 3 questions for 40 days?
  2. Were you looking for anything in particular about writing or yourself as a writer?
  3. Did you find it?

Thank you for participating in this project.  My final message–not questions–is a request, or a command. You can take it either way.      Write–your way, for your reasons. No one else can tell your stories, and no one else will do it for you. You can. I hope you will.

Namaste.

thank-you-for-answering-my-questions