My Reading Challenge – so far

20170329_064146Since completing my own novel, I’ve been doing pretty well on catching up on my reading of those by others in these past few months. Honestly, it’s been like drinking cool, tasty water from a spring.  (We used to have one here in my hometown and that is sorely missed! And yes, I digress… ) Well, since concentrating exclusively on my own work, I’d so missed the experience taking in other stories. My Reading Challenge bar on Goodreads was so low that I’m almost at the mark for the year already. Right now, I’m reading The Mothers by Brit Bennett. Thankfully I’d already put it on hold at my library, so I was able to pick it up the day after news hit that Kerry Washington had bought the movie rights for it! So far, pretty good.

My guilty pleasure read last week was Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it enough to get the sequel, Breathless, that came out a couple of months ago. Historical romance set in the Old West after the Civil War featuring black characters. Very interesting… and her historical referencing is very educational, but never at all does it take away from her story. Thankfully.

The strong legal thriller set in the 1990s, Pleasantville by Attica Locke, started out rather slow for me, but once I got going, I – Lord, I hate this cliché sometimes: “I couldn’t put it down”, but I couldn’t… I’ll post my review soon.

After that, I enjoyed the quick romp through the classic highbrow and hilarious play, “The Importance of Being Ernest” by Oscar Wilde. It was almost like reading a script between my two favorite doctors, Frasier and Niles Crane.

Last month, I read the absolutely stunning and fantastic historical novel, The Book of Harlan grchallenge0317by Bernice McFadden. That is a story that is still with me and will so long remain. Review also coming soon.

Finally, finally, finally – read There Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. One of many classics that’s been on my shelf for ages screaming at me to pick up. After going through the regret of waiting so long to read it, there’s nothing left but awe from the experience. And yes… my in-depth thoughts are coming soon in a later post.

Well, next on my list (after Breathless) is The Red Car by Marcy Dermasky. After that, I plan to get to Elaine Brown’s memoir, A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story – well before the end of April. I keep gravating right now to my fiction so much, I know it’s the reason the, really, unreasonable delay.

Are you in the Goodreads challenge this year? How’s your progress so far?

The Quest for a Literary Agent for my Novel

TCRcoverA little over a month ago, I conquered one of my biggest goals. I completed my thesis, had it bound, and sent off to my grad school. Hooray! I’ll receive my Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing degree this summer. Yay! Now, while I continue to pat myself on the back for meeting that feat, it’s actually Part A of a larger plan. That bound thesis – with a working title – is my first completed novel. The first one is still in a drawer, but this one is ready to be seen and I’m beyond thrilled.

For over twenty years, this story has been a part of me waiting to be written. For the last few years, I’ve eaten and drank with it, slept with it, and watched my family try to decipher me as they also tried to keep me in the present with them, while I worked hard to bring out my story. It’s a family saga that spans from the end of World War II with a bit of flashbacks from those days and proceeds to the near present. And let me tell you – I miss those folks so very much. The sequel is underway now. Many parts of their continuing story have been drafted so the folks are still with me, but a larger allotment of time is needed again to get it completely out.

Writing the query letter for the book to send off to TCRfrontpgliterary agents has been a maddening facet of my life these days, so I can’t get myself to sit down to properly face the sequel. I dread thinking of the necessary synopsis right now, but it’s just as important as that query letter. What if an agent wants the synopsis? It must be ready to send upon request, so I’m working on both. If I’m fortunate, they may want the book. That’s raring to go!

How in the world does one summarize their own book into one page to grab the attention of a literary agent? How do you find the right agent for your work? How do you draft a one page synopsis for a 365 page novel?

wp-1490569762473.jpgI don’t know, but I’m trying to figure it all out. I’ve reached THIS point! I’ve got highly recommended books, like the Writer’s Digest 2017 Guide to Literary Agents, and websites with templates on my desk and at my disposal, but everything is still so freaking jumbled up in my head about it all. I believe I’ve stepped away from the story long enough to give me the distance I need to be as detached about it as possible. It’s still quite difficult to bring it down to a few words. I’ll just keep trying. The right agent will want to read my story and they’ll accept it. I just know they will!

Positive thinking is always important, y’know!

 

New Year, New Reads

20170107_103122We’re snowed in today in Virginia! My hometown is known for its peculiarity in such conditions and the bread and milk run seems to only be synonymous with this place. Oh, well… I’m just glad to be stuck in the house today with my stack of books. It’s the start of the new year and I’ve nearly completed one: Imitation of Death, a cozy mystery written by Lana Turner’s daughter, Cheryl Crane. It’s part of a trilogy – number two to be exact – and I’ve already read #1 and #3. (Don’t know why I skipped this one.) Sadly, it’s the last of the three for me and I hope she writes another soon. They’ve been fun reads.

I’m still polishing off my thesis before I send it off to be bound next week. Hallelujah! Last year, according to my Goodreads challenge last year, I only read nine books. Mighty low number indeed, but since I spent more time on my own work, it’s understandable, but I’ve really missed reading some good stories. So, this is what I’ve got lined up for the rest of the month:

  • The Perfect Find by Tia Williams
  • A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story by Elaine Brown (a gift I’ve been dying to get to!)
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (her birthday’s today, too)
  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

The Funk and Wagnalls’ thesaurus at the bottom of my stack is perhaps my all-time personal favorite non-fiction book. Copyright 1947, it’s a no-holds barred collection of words and I love it! It’s my writing companion, so it stays on the list. I know there are others on my Kindle I’ll be reading, too, so I’ll happily add them when completed, along with a couple of others that I’m wrapping up from last month.

I’ve got The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis on hold at the library now… really looking forward to that one. It features the Barbizon Hotel for Women in New York. As a Jacqueline Susann and Rona Jaffe fan, it’s right up my alley. The literary and corporate setting of the 1960s, 20161230_123815an interesting time, is what also drew me to The Wife by Meg Wolitzer. Which reminds me, I’ve got to get to The Group on my bookshelf by Mary McCarthy.  My treasured paperback find, H. M. Pulham, Esquire by John P. Marquard – the inspiration for one of my favorite classic films (with Robert Young and Hedy Lamarr) – is also on the list for the year. So, so many more to reach…

My Goodreads challenge this year is set at 10 for now. Still low for me, but I’ve got a sequel planned for the thesis and my reading time might be impacted again, but not as much.

If you’ve got snow your area, be safe and have fun with it. I’ve gotta go out to get my cat’s food… I left it in the car and as usual, he’s got a look for me when I don’t meet his intellectual expectations for the day.

Happy Reading!

Happy New Year!

happynewyearbookThank you for being a part of “Front Porch, Sweet Tea, and A Pile of Books”! I appreciate so much the chance to share my writing journey and to discuss my beloved pastime – books! Now that I’ve completed my first novel, next year will involve a new chapter in my writing life and also in my professional life since I’m on the verge of completing my MFA. I can’t wait! I look forward to sharing it and learning more from you. I love the dialogue… please keep it coming!

Happy New Year! And, here’s to a MUCH, MUCH better and much more peaceful 2017. Please…

My classic film site has a sweet version of “Auld Lang Syne” – I’ve reblogged it below. Enjoy and thanks again!!

goosepimply all over

guylombardonyeFor classic film and television fans, we know it wouldn’t really be a New Year’s celebration without Guy Lombardo. So, here from 1946 is the Guy Lombardo Orchestra with the version I remember so well from the New Year’s Eve nights I spent with my grandparents growing up.

Happy New Year to you all and may 2017 be a MUCH, MUCH better year than the last. Please…

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The Year I Finished Writing My Novel

theendtcrLooking back on this year, in light of the aftermath of so much political turmoil (national and local in my area), celebrity losses that saddened me, and my own personal health challenges, I’m happy to realize one cause of my life to celebrate. I finished my thesis! The entire final draft of my first novel is complete! After nearly seven years, I’ll finally receive my MFA. Hooray!

A few days after Thanksgiving, I was given the chance to type “The End” after the final line. I sat at my desk staring at my monitor for a long time. I didn’t really seem to know what to do with myself after that. For twenty or so years, many of the characters had been talking to me. It’s a saga spanning from the 1940’s to the present and I felt like I was leaving a world that I just didn’t really want to walk away from. I loved mingling with them. Thankfully, there is a sequel to come. Some of them aren’t completely silent, but still…

So, for the past few weeks, I’ve resumed reading other people’s books, organized my office (I knew where everything was, but my family thought a hurricane had swept through and that I was being swallowed up by piles and piles of notes and printed drafts), and resumed some time with my family without the wide-eyed glare in that faraway world full of people who were only talking to me. It’s been nice, but I must admit, I am looking forward to attacking that sequel – and other drafts that have had the nerve to form in my head within the past few months as I pounded away on the thesis.

Strangely enough, the hardest part of the book to write was the last two chapters. Not so much because of the challenge of just wrapping it up. More so, because they marked the inspiration of the story in the first place. A particular moment. I had to fully concentrate on the respective points of view of the main two characters to convey their events properly and in the manner they were given to me many years ago to write in the first place. It wasn’t very easy. I had to take my time with it.

The younger years of those characters captivated me so much as I wrote about their early days. I enjoyed living through their setting, their music, and even their struggles. Watching them reach their advancing years was an amazing journey. I discovered more about them through the various angles I was given that surpassed the one-dimensional ways that I’d only seen them. They really did share their story with me and proved to me just how real they are, have been, and leogifhow much a part of my life they will be.

Next year, as I work on the sequel, I’ll be in search of an agent. I’ve decided to go the
traditional publishing route with this one and I’m looking forward to it. Talk about a new chapter!!

Here’s to your new year’s goals and adventures! Cheers!

This is Why I Write

writerlady2Thanks to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), today is recognized as the National Day on Writing. Writers, teachers, students – everyone is invited to share their responses to the hashtag on social media – #WhyIWrite. Join in!!

What a perfect day to share one of my essays from grad school, “Why I Write”:

I write to explore. It’s how I process everything and, as best as I can, everyone around me. I’ve been keeping a journal since elementary school. In high school, I wrote a lot in verse, and in college I began writing short stories. I found that last medium to be the best way for me to get out of myself and dissect life through characters taking up time in my own head.

One of my favorite quotes comes from E.L. Doctorow, one of the authors in this week’s readings and the author of Ragtime: “Writing is an acceptable form of schizophrenia”. Those words are framed on my wall reminding me that it’s okay to hear the different stories, people, plots, lives, dialogue, and et cetera, all circumnavigating and nesting in my head. With all due respect to those affected by the illness, it’s a phrase that defines why I write. To explore those voices keeping me wide-eyed and in a fog-like state to those around me, to discover who they are, to learn from their lives and in some way become more enlightened about my own life makes me pour out all I can. It is a freeing element from my own existence. As my fellow alumna, Annie Dillard said, “It is life at its most free.” (Dillard 11) I cannot let time pass for too long without engaging with words that must be written, otherwise I’ll feel as if I’m on the verge of going mad.

It is a freeing element from my own existence.

Recently I looked over some old ideas and blurbs for stories. I was amazed. I remembered writing them and at the same time, I didn’t. They impressed me so much, I cursed myself for not pursuing them when I’d drafted them. They were little paragraphs. Minute moments of thought. Worlds to enter, people to meet, stories to watch unfold. More than likely, lessons to learn. I realized how Dillard’s reference to Thoreau’s passage about the middle-aged man building a wood-shed with his gathered materials as a youth applied to my writing those vignettes. (5). After the dreaming, planning, and collecting of my words, regardless of quantity, I have always have something to work with at anytime. I can get back on the original course with the same level of passion. Those materials – the stories, the drive – are always with me.

Ryerson’s “The Philosophical Novel” was a very engaging study about writing as an exploratory exercise. I can’t say that I consciously ask questions to write a story, the story answers its own questions. He wrote that David Foster Wallace stated that “fiction offered a way to capture the emotional mood of a philosophical work” and I found myself nodding in agreement. When I write a story, I am capturing a series of events, a specific time in one’s life that ultimately leads to some significant change for that person and of those around him or her. Philosophy comes from such examples, otherwise they’re just statements, air.

I think many novels we read border on that term: “philosophical”. While rereading a piece I’m working on, I found lessons that I didn’t set out to write about in the first place. I’ve never set out to reflect specific doctrine in my writing and characterization as Rand did with Objectivity or Sartre with Existentialism. I don’t call my stories Christian-based fiction just because Jesus is mentioned; the characters just go to church, and besides there’s a lot of other language in those tales that would throw them off such designated bookstore shelves anyway.

Writing can silence the demons.

My favorite stories to write are those which stem from a “what-if” thought. I had one aptly pacify my anger by fictionalizing a moment when a truck cut in front of me one day, thus presenting an interesting short story thriller. In the meantime, there are many voices demanding the chance to play a role in some events that are begging to be told. Unfortunately, some of those stories I’m not yet ready to watch unfold. I realize I need to one day give them the floor, since I know that writing can also silence the demons. As Dillard also said, I’ll have to eventually “expose these scenes to the light… and write with that blood” – the breathtaking beauty of words. (Dillard 20)

Dillard, Annie. The Writing Life. New York: Harper & Row, 1989. Print.

Ryerson, James. “The Philosophical Novel.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times, 20 Jan. 2011. Web. 4 Aug. 2014

Filling in the Blanks – Research for my historical novel

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by Tonya Rice

Recently, I finally made it to the Library of Virginia to fill in some of the blanks left in my novel. It sounds like a trek across state lines, but for me, it wasn’t. It’s in downtown Richmond, about a fifteen to twenty minute drive from home. I had to plan the time and the days I made it offered the moments I required. I have to return soon, but for the most part, I got pretty much what I need for this book AND the other historical stories shaping in my head.

I’ve been there before. It had been a while; I had to renew my card. :-/ No problem at all – it’s the research geek’s paradise and I fit right in.

My novel has been built upon memory, oral history, and a great deal of imagination. Authenticity is very important to me and with tackling a historical piece set in my hometown, I’m sure there will be readers familiar with Richmond history with equally scrutinizing eyes who will expect a fine sense of some type of accuracy along with my creative license.

Back in the mid-70’s, a pivotal event happens to the main characters. All I could see was the two of them standing on the steps of a particular building. However, I needed to know if the building was indeed there on that particular day. Of all the things you can find online, that was one that I couldn’t. Not even through Wikipedia (which one must take with a grain of salt anyway). So, I approached one of the reference librarians who went straight to a book with the information I needed. Walking around the stacks pertaining to Richmond’s history, which included city directories of oh-so-many years, I exclaimed, “This is a wonderland”. She laughed and agreed. It felt so nice to be understood. Armed with my new information – the building in question didn’t exist then – I had to determine just where their activity on that day would have taken place instead. For that, I simply asked my mom.

library_of_virginia-2-1
By Smash the Iron Cage (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
A different building in the city that I had envisioned another character driving to in the late 1950’s needed verification of its existence at that time. For that, I decided to search the microfilm for advertisements and sure enough, there it was – a full-page ad in an old Richmond Times-Dispatch. At one point, I needed the name of a building of a college campus. I couldn’t just add it to the book – I needed to make sure it was actually there in the mid-1970’s. I got a hold of the college’s student handbook of that year and found what I needed. This place is AWESOME!

In an important moment of my story set in the 1970’s, a character is watching television. Since dates are noted in the book, it was absolutely crucial that the show she had on represented just what was on the air at that time. I remembered the beloved “Green Section” – the Saturday pull-out television section – of the now-defunct Richmond News Leader (it used to be our evening newspaper) and jotted it down to locate in my research. Through my search across those scores of the newspaper’s microfilm, I, again, found just what I was looking for.

In the late 1930’s, there’s a horrific event that I penned. In order to make sure I tackled the reporting of the incident the way I imagined it to be in a particular newspaper, I combed through headlines of the old Richmond Planet, the black newspaper, of that period. I was on par and therefore relieved. There’s no better way to research history than to take a look at what was going on during a certain era. History books have been helpful, even some documentaries along with my memory and oral history, but those direct resources and contemporary materials triggered additional memories of more things, along with questions about subsequent and even earlier events. Such research wound up offering suggestions as to how I could settle my folks around those times as well as settling those moments around them. It also delivered a lot more meat for other stories shaping up in my head. So even if I don’t use all of it for this one, the information and my time aren’t wasted.

I sincerely do hope that my story teaches a bit of history and culture of an earlier time to my readers, the way historical novels enlighten me. I am actually blessed beyond measure to be so close to a spot with so many of the details I need to fully tell my stories. The internet is not enough for me. I knew it wouldn’t be. I can certainly visit there more often. I made excellent use of a good three hours there each day, so once a week or so will be easier than I thought. Parking is free there too!

Free fiction!

eveline cover 1mbComing down to the wire of my historical novel (yay!), but in the meantime, if you haven’t yet read my short story, please get your copy today… 🙂
 
Eveline Weaver is returning home for her uncle’s funeral. It’s a service she’d prefer to miss. Uncle Neville was not the kind, old uncle the rest of the public deemed him to be and remembering his life is not what she wants to do.
 
During the service she’s counting down the minutes for her flight back home in Atlanta. Only when she spots a familiar face from her past, she reconsiders going back so soon: Dodge Mallory. One embarrassing afternoon with him changed her life.
 
In this short trip, she must face more than she expected.
 
 

Longing for tomatoes

tomatoes1It took Garrison Keillor’s column today, “Let’s Make Tomatoes Great Again”, to leave me waxing nostalgia about favorite childhood moments. Picking tomatoes from my grandfather’s garden in my grandparents backyard is one of them. By the time my cousins and I were born, I understand that the garden was much smaller than it was when my mom was little. My grandfather was born and raised in Tennessee and after World War II, settled in Richmond. After a few years in an apartment over a corner store in Jackson Ward (that property is quite a coveted spot now, let me tell you!!!), he and my grandmother with their two kids moved into a cute house in Church Hill with a nice sized backyard. Plenty of space for a garden.

I remember being told that in their early days the garden was nearly the size of the backyard. I remember it being about half that size when I was little and sadly as he got older, the garden got smaller. Eventually to my dismay, and that of others, it was no more. He used to give peas, corn, peppers, lettuce, and tomatoes to neighbors. My fond memories as a kid include going out back to pick tomatoes off the vine and other vegetables for dinner. It was just that big.

Now with just about everything comes a consequence if it’s too much. In this case, for me, tupperwareit was the abundance of tomatoes. I still remember pulling those red, juicy, dusty things off the vine, armed with a white Tupperware salt shaker (which resembled a column), and chomping away. There’s still nothing in the world like a fresh tomato off the vine with that itty bitty dirt on it. Yep, I grew up in the city, but my grandfather’s country roots are long a part of me… along with my love for bonafide country music – the real stuff, George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Lord, don’t get me started on my girl, Patsy Cline. (And there I digress…) Anyway, my phantom tomato devouring got the best of me one summer when my face began to break out into little splotches. The doctor told me I couldn’t eat tomatoes any more. Agog, I was, no doubt. Yet, in spite of his diagnosis about the tomatoes being the culprit for my temporary malady, the medicine he prescribed worked well enough and I went back to my tomatoes! Haven’t had a problem since!

Funny thing is now – with all of the newfangled ones in the produce sections, I don’t eat them as much as I used to. I wish I’d learned to grow them myself. I’m not a fan of those cardboard Roma tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes taste like bland water. The ones left on the vine, called “Tomatoes on the Vine” are okay, but they’re so dang clean, they don’t taste like they’re “on the vine”. When I can get them fresh from a roadside vendor or a farmer’s market, I’m back in my element, and once again sitting in the middle of my grandfather’s garden next to the vine slurping up a dusty, tasty tomato with that shaker of salt.