Last Year Wasn’t Such a Bad Year After All – for Writing

2017-06-30 15.11.35-1It was a pretty darn good [writing] year after all, that 2017.

As I welcomed 2018 and made good riddance to the last, I wound up giving pause to remember the fact that my writing life featured some fantastic accomplishments that I shouldn’t dare forget. Moving along each passing moment, going day-by-day in every other aspect that didn’t involve writing, I seemed to neglect keeping them in my line of vision throughout the rest of the year. So, this is my time to do so and to create this memory pocket for which I need to return often when I think I’m not stepping  towards my writing goals or even when I dare think that I’m not.

So, in my writing world of 2018, the following happily occurred:

  • Completed my MFA this year. After seven long years of study, I made it!


2017-06-24 10.08.45
Photo: Tonya Rice


Photo: Tonya Rice

Had the honor of being asked to write a blurb for the republication of a book by a dear friend of mine, Dr. Ethel Morgan Smith. Her book, From Whence Cometh My Help: The African-American Community at Hollins College, brought forth the silenced voices of the black community that had kept that college running with no credit until now. It’s made a tremendous impact on my college community going forward and the city of Roanoke as well. Highly recommended read!



  • At a play based upon Dr. Smith’s book, “African Violets”, my daughter took her first trip to my alma mater and she watched me fangirl when we met Nikki Giovanni! My goodness, we learned her poems in third grade!! Lifelong fan!
Photo: Tonya Rice
  • Completed the first of my trilogy “The Boutique Series” (which was introduced in the short, Burying the Bitter: A Boutique Series Short, a few years ago), that I’ve been working on for a while… Good news: Publication expected in the next month or so! More details soon!
  • On our family trip to New York this summer, we did sooo much, but one highlight was dining at Dorothy Parker’s Round Table at the famed Algonquin Hotel! (Nah, it wasn’t the same table, but still…!) I even brought along the manuscript to my first story of The Boutique Series to work on there!
  • I attended the James River Writing Conference – first time in six years – and saw folks I hadn’t seen in a while and met new writer friends… even finally made in-person connections with some of my Twitter friends! Motivation, camaraderie, and inspiration galore! This time, I went with something to pitch – my thesis/that historical novel – and I did! I’m sooo hoping and praying she gets back to me soon with positive news! 2017-10-14 19.28.18
  • And I participated in NaNoWriMo, too, for the first time. Got halfway through another historical piece that’s been dangling around in my mind for a while. I didn’t make the full, expected 50,000 word count, BUT at just a bit over 15,000 words (15,218 to be exact), it’s a lot more than I had when I started on November 1! It’s the next novel I’m working on!

Well, with this chronicle, I discovered that my writing life wasn’t as dire as I’d come to believe after all. I have to keep this with me!

I’d love to hear your writing accomplishments from last year too. Please share and let me know what your plans are for this year!

I’m posting my reading list tomorrow… please stay tuned. I plan to pop in here a bit more than last year!

Now, on to 2018 and Happy New Year, Everyone!



Thoughts on Selected Pieces by Joan Didion (Slouching Towards Bethlehem)

Photo: Tonya Rice

There’s a new documentary of Joan Didion coming up this month on Netflix, Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, directed by her nephew, actor Griffin Dunne (“Who’s That Girl”, Frasier: “The Friend” – one of the best episodes), that I can’t wait to see. As my tribute, I’m posting a few of my thoughts on her essays from her rightfully, highly-acclaimed Slouching Towards Bethlehem this month. These were from my grad school classes, so a few may have other works I discussed, but for the most part, it’s all Didion.

I’ll have some from The White Album, her other collection of essays, later… just finally started on that recently. She’s one that keeps me motivated.

In “Marrying Absurd” of Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion opens with a Kodachrome-tinged setting of Las Vegas in a detached, sardonic tone and leads us to couples who married there in many circumstances at all hours. The initial rhythm is journalistic, a steady beat of facts; her subsequent longer sentences and quotes soon imply opinion. The tongue-in-cheek disposition takes over and the investigative report about the town’s thriving wedding industry becomes more entertaining. The account of the family at the end of the piece presented more of the tragic and pitiful than glee. A Southern Gothic feeling. I didn’t think it was to be a comedic article; however, its incredulous air sets it on the border.

As a classic film fan, I found “California Dreamin’” to be an interesting cavalcade of Hollywood’s Who’s-Who and a 1960’s account of celebrity sociological influence. Didion’s tenor is less mocking in this piece, yet her dark wit keeps her in it. Her research and quotes allowed the article to properly inform the reader about the institute, corporate masterminds, and their affect on the country’s culture. There was a statement from a patron at the conclusion, which could leave one engaged to pursue more about the institute or simply baffled by the words alone: “These sessions are way over my head, but I go out floating on air” (Didion 78). With that, I loved the way Didion allowed the reader to make his own conclusion about the institute.

Didion’s “On Going Home” reminded me of some of my journal entries, particularly

jd 1
Joan Didion, photo courtesy Pinterest

those expressing a passage of time and place. It produced an odd notion to publish some of my own personal pieces. I understood that longing, the tug and pull, between then and today. Recognizing her husband’s disconnection from the place she’d called home long before they made their own. Of falling back into that home’s ways, that were “not my husband’s ways”; of being back in the presence of the place “filled with mementos quite without value to him” (164). Of falling into the familiar with others who are a part of that familiar and wanting to be there – alone with them and not the present that doesn’t understand. It was raw, unflinching, so personal, and no longer private. It was lyrical, beautiful and I envied her ability to share it so.

My professor’s question below allowed me to expound a bit more – something I have little trouble doing:

Prof.: Why is [the idea to publish some of your own personal pieces] an odd notion? What specific qualities does it take to make personal pieces or journals successful for publishing?  What traits do you think they need to have?

Me: It’s an odd notion for me since I’ve always been more comfortable sharing my fiction. I’m able to narrate or give a narrator the opportunity to explore experiences which may or may not include real life events (altered a bit anyway) along with those imagined.

As I began reading James Conaway in Patti Sims’s book, Literary Nonfiction, I noticed he provided a sound answer to your questions during the introduction ahead of his piece: “The best approach to autobiography is, paradoxically, a story about someone else to whom the writer is attached emotionally…”. I agree. Memoir should be compelling and relatable to the reader. Those that have reached me were those focused on specific experiences and the effects on the writer. My understanding, attachment and some sense of connection maintained my interest. One example for me comes from Patti Smith’s Just Kids, which wasn’t just a powerful and emotional elegy to Robert Mapplethorpe, it was a love letter to the craft of art and writing. It was a rally cry for me to get off my butt and answer that call as well.

The Robert E. Lee Monument – The First Monument of Monument Avenue, Richmond, VA

The Robert E. Lee Monument, Richmond, VA – Photo: Tonya Rice

The first monument erected on Richmond’s Monument Avenue was the Robert E. Lee Monument. Located in Lee Circle (within the intersection now known as Allen Avenue and Monument Avenue), the statue, commemorating the South’s Lost Cause, was unveiled on May 29, 1890 to much fanfare and controversy. The Lee Monument has been a vital focal point of the city’s landscape since its dedication that day. For many years, until recently, it was featured as the city’s logo.

The decision to erect a monument to honor General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War, had been discussed among leaders of the former Confederate states since his death in 1870. Under the management of the Lee Monument Association, Governor Fitzhugh Lee (General Lee’s nephew), and other state

The Robert E. Lee Monument, Richmond, VA (Intersection of Monument and N. Allen Avenues) – Photo: Tonya Rice

officials, progress was made towards development. By 1887, a location for the monument was determined. Otway S. Allen, owner of the area just outside the city limits west of Richmond, offered a parcel of his land.

Renowned French sculptor, Marius-Jean-Antonin Mercié, whose work includes the Francis Scott Key Monument in Baltimore, was commissioned to design the monument. His elaborate marble and bronze depiction of Lee atop of his beloved horse, Traveller, was accepted by Association members and other associates close to the project. The equestrian statue stands sixty-feet high, including the pedestal. City Engineer C.P.E. Bergwyn, who also worked as the consulting engineer for the Association, designed the plans surrounding the statue and further development of the area to include sidewalks and trees along the planned street expansion.

As the country strove to reunite within the first twenty-five years after the war ended,

The Robert E. Lee Monument, Richmond, VA – Photo: Tonya Rice

controversy regarding the close involvement of the statue from Richmond and the Commonwealth to honor a Confederate general erupted. Municipal funding was provided for a portion of the monument as well as improvements to the lot around Lee Circle, escalating concern that Richmond may have preferred to return to the antebellum era. John Mitchell, Jr., one of the first black councilmen in Richmond and the editor of the Richmond Planet, declared the venture to be a treacherous act. Additional debates involved the city’s fiscal backing of a project outside of the city limits. In 1892, the monument was brought into the city via annexation.

The Robert E. Lee Monument Circle, Richmond, VA – Photo: Tonya Rice

On the morning of the statue’s dedication, a parade over four miles long, led by Governor Lee, took place through the city to Lee Circle. Thousands of people, including veterans of the Civil War, from across the country visited the former Confederate capital to witness this long-awaited event. Colonel Archer Anderson, whose father headed Tredegar Iron Works, was chosen as the principal speaker of the dedication. In his speech (later published as “Robert Edward Lee: An Address Delivered at the Dedication of the Lee Monument” in the Southern Historical Society Papers), Colonel Anderson expressed his admiration for Lee, as well as encouraging gatherers to regard the monument as “not a record of civil strife, but as perpetual protest against whatever is low and sordid in our public and private objects!”

Soon thereafter, former Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston pulled the cord to remove the enormous cover and Richmond received the Lee Monument.

Originally posted on April 13, 2011 on examiner dot com. 

The Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site in Richmond, Virginia

MLW1 (3)
The Maggie L. Walker House, Richmond, VA | Photo by Tonya Rice

The home of Maggie L. Walker, formally known as The Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, is located at 110 ½ Leigh Street in Richmond’s Jackson Ward. It has been a part of the National Park Service since 1978 and opened as a public museum in 1985. Preservation of her home as a national landmark presents an esteemed honor and tribute to this African-American woman who, at the turn of the 20th century, emerged as one of the nation’s most astute and influential business leaders.

Maggie Lena Mitchell Walker was born in 1867 to a former slave in the home of Elizabeth Van Lew in Church Hill. The site is now the location of Bellevue Elementary School. Van Lew, a member of a prominent local family and staunch abolitionist, was a spy for the Union forces during the Civil War. Young Maggie was a member of First African Baptist Church in Court End. After her father died, she worked with her mother collecting and delivering laundry for white customers. At this time, she noticed the economic and employment disparities between whites and blacks in the city. This discovery compelled her to later help blacks fiscally improve their lives.

At the age of fourteen, she joined the Independent Order of St. Luke, a benevolent society formed in Baltimore after the Civil War to aid blacks during times of illness and funeral needs. During this time, she taught school and studied accounting at night. After she married Armstead Walker, she stopped teaching, yet continued her mission with I.O. St. Luke and elevated through the ranks of the organization. By 1899, she was elected to its highest position, Right Worthy Grand Secretary of St. Luke, and had later risen to Secretary-Treasurer. Under Mrs. Walker’s skilled leadership, the organization grew into a successful financial institution. To help blacks become economically stronger, she chartered the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in 1902 under I.O. St. Luke. She became, not only the country’s first black woman bank president, but the nation’s first woman bank president as well. The bank was located at First and Marshall Streets in Jackson Ward. By 1920, over six hundred homes had been financed for African-Americans in the area by the bank, helping to decrease a factor of economic disproportion she witnessed as a child. In 1930, the bank merged with two other black-owned banks forming Consolidated Bank and Trust. For several years, she remained the president of this financial institution, which at one time had several locations in the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas. In 2011, Consolidated Bank and Trust was closed.

In addition to her efforts with I.O. St. Luke, Mrs. Walker also served on several boards of other local organizations such as the Richmond Chapter of the NAACP and the National Association of Colored Women. In 1936, the second public high school in the city for blacks was built and named after her. It closed in 1989 and reopened in 1998 as the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies.

Mrs. Walker and her family purchased the house in 1904. The Italianate-style townhouse

MLW1 (2)
The Maggie L. Walker House, Richmond, VA | Photo by Tonya Rice

was built in 1889 by George Boyd, an African-American contractor. It’s a two-story brick structure, which they had updated and renovated by the distinguished black architect Charles T. Russell. Russell designed many homes and businesses in the area. He also renovated Ebenezer Baptist Church on Leigh Street. Her home was expanded to twenty-eight rooms and they added electricity and modern heating units. To accommodate Mrs. Walker as her health declined, Russell later added an elevator. Mrs. Walker remained there until her death in 1934.

MLW1 (1)
The Maggie L. Walker House, Richmond, VA | Photo by Tonya Rice

Sitting in the middle of “Quality Row”, the erstwhile term for the 100 block of Leigh Street, where many affluent blacks of the early, bustling 20th century resided, the home is recognized by the prominent green and white striped awning. Jackson Ward was a very vibrant, busy, and economically sound neighborhood and the Walker family cherished it. Many of the other homes of the block are also noted as a part of the National Park Service, and they’ve been renovated to reflect the charm and prominence of the era. It is a beautiful home, replicating the Walker family lifestyle of the 1930s, exhibiting their furnishings and décor.

Visit The Maggie L. Walker Historic Site. It’s a great opportunity to view a film reflecting the times of Richmond during Mrs. Walker’s life and receive a guided tour of her residence. There is also a gift shop.

Hours of operation are:

  • Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., (Winter Hours: November 1 through February 28);
  • Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., (Summer Hours: March 1 through October 31).

House is closed on Sundays, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.

Originally posted on April 15, 2011 on examiner dot com. This article has since been updated.

The Serenity of Monumental Church, Richmond, Virginia


Monumental Church, Richmond, Virginia. Photo: Tonya Rice

During a performance on the night after Christmas, 1811, fire destroyed the Richmond Theatre, killed many citizens, and left this city in mourning. Those who were left dazed by the sudden horrors they’d witnessed and survived acknowledged the heroic efforts of a local slave, Gilbert Hunt. Standing outside of a window under flames and falling debris, Hunt caught several women who were handed to him by Dr. James McCaw, a local physician. Before the building nearly collapsed around them, Hunt pulled McCaw to safety; miraculously, they escaped.

The city arranged to purchase the site and agreed to bury the victims, many of whom were charred or reduced to ashes, at the site. Their remains were placed in two mahogany coffins. It was soon decided to commemorate the lives of those lost by erecting a church over them.

Robert Mills, Thomas Jefferson’s sole architectural student, laid out the plans of this

Monumental Church, Richmond, Virginia. Photo: Tonya Rice

Greek Revival structure. Mills later designed the Washington Monument and the White House of the Confederacy. When the church opened in 1814, it was known as Monumental Episcopal Church and remained such until 1965. Chief Justice John Marshall and a young Edgar Allan Poe were a couple of its well-known parishioners.

The names of the dead are engraved on the memorial stone of the portico, as well as on the tablet next to the entrance of the church.

The VCU Medical Center (formerly Medical College of Virginia) has fully developed around the church. However, while standing inside the cast iron fence and the grounds, it’s easy to ignore the massive structures that now encapsulate it as well as the hustle and bustle of Broad Street that pass by.

The area creates a quiet, serene environment, so one is poised to stop and respect the purpose of the memorial. In 1814, the city decided to mark the resting area of those lost so suddenly and violently; today, those grounds continue to direct reverence.

In 1969, the church, located at 1224 E. Broad Street, was noted as a National Historic Landmark by the National Register of Historic Places. It is now owned by the Historic Richmond Foundation.

Originally posted on September 11, 2010 on

Indie Urban Lit Festival at the Richmond Public Library

RVA pic pngThe Richmond Public Library is hosting their Second Annual Indie Urban Lit Festival this Saturday, June 24, 2017 – tomorrow, as a matter of fact –  10:00 am – 5:00 pm at the Main Library, 101 E. Franklin Street, Richmond. Indie authors of the urban lit genre are featured but many other authors in other genres, like me, including poets and memoirists, will also be in attendance with our books and the chance to talk to readers. Over 40 of us!  Including, There will be workshops, discussions, music, and readings. A bibliophile’s love fest!

Yes, you read right… I will be there! With copies of my shiny, new paperback, bb shorts cover new (3)Burying the Bitter and Selected Short FictionHOT OFF THE PRESS!

Come to Downtown Richmond to mingle and meet with your favorite authors of the Richmond, Virginia area! Celebrate and support indie authors. Learn about the writing biz yourself! Participate in some of the workshops that include:

  • “Self-love and Walking in Your Purpose” – to be honest, this is the one I look forward to seeing myself… We writers are so damned hard on ourselves!!
  • “Books are a Business”
  • “How to Turn Your Book into a Best Seller”
  • “What is Urban Fiction”

Music and books… a great way to spend a Saturday, downtown! I hope to see you!!

List of authors below on this cool video produced by the Richmond Public Library:

More information here.

Richmond Public Library, Main
101 E. Franklin Street
Richmond, VA 23219

Saturday, June 24, 2017
10;00 am – 5:00 pm

Burying the Bitter and Selected Short Fiction – AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!

bb shorts cover new (3)Relationships! It’s always about Relationships, isn’t it?

Well, as frustrating or even as lovely as they can be, they manage to inspire our best stories!

The spectacular news about all this?! “Burying the Bitter: A Boutique Series Short”, my Amazon Top 100 Kindle Short Story in Family Life Fiction, is now available in paperback along with three additional shorts, featuring such challenging relationships!

I’m so excited and even more thrilled to share this news with you!

About the Selected Short Fiction

In “Burying the Bitter”, Eveline must return home to her uncle’s funeral, a service she’d prefer to miss. Uncle Neville wasn’t the kind, old uncle the rest of the public deemed him to be and remembering his life is not what she wants to do.

In “Without Your Goodbye”, Shelby meets Mr. Right, soon after she was dumped by Mr. Wrong. The new man’s got an unexpected angle. Don’t they always? (Also available for Kindle)

In “Faye’s Cookout Day”, Faye discovers more than she desires about her husband and her marriage… in her ninth month of pregnancy.

“Arnie Somers” is a poignant tale about everlasting love and a cherished brooch that begins with a devastating accident. Choices are given, but what defining decisions will Arnie make? (Also available for Kindle)

Will the circumstances of their fragile relationships strengthen them or break them? The chance to find out is here. Their tales will linger with you for a long time.

Order your copy today!

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (2015)


Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (2015)
5 of 5 stars on Goodreads

I’d read in the Wall Street Journal some months ago, that Kent Haruf’s last book, Our Souls at Night, was inspired by the late night talks he and his wife would have as they lay next to each other in the dark. That sweet concept rushed it to my TBR list and I’m thankful to have read such an incredible vignette of life. Haruf passed away in November, 2014, leaving behind this gem. He’d written the first draft in less than two months and the completed manuscript was delivered to him less than a week before he died. After he was diagnosed with a terminal lung disease, he fought against it with the need to write this story. Upon learning that, I had to read it and I’m so grateful that I have. It was an elegy to aging, relationships, parenting, life, and most definitely, love.

I must say that after I finished reading it, the aching thought, which surprisingly hit me after going through much of the beauty there, was “some people are just assholes”. They are and there’s one prominent one in the book that shatters everyhthing. it’s no different that real life. One person can do that. Haruf’s point was subtle and soft, yet tremendously loud and clear.

Addie Moore and Louis Waters, both widowed and in their 70s, had been neighbors for years. However, they didn’t really know each other very well. He was her son’s high school English teacher and she was a friend of his wife’s before his wife had become very ill. One night, Addie walks two houses down to his, rings his doorbell, and asks him if he’d like to come over to her house at night and sleep with her. Yep – just what I wrote – just what she said – to sleep with her.

“I’m talking about getting through the night,” she says. “And lying warm in bed, companionably. Lying down in bed together and you staying the night. The nights are the worst. Don’t you think?”

“Yes. I think so,” he says.

Naturally, he was shocked and caught off guard as she’d stood in his doorway, but sure enough, later that night he showed up at her house with his pajamas and toothbrush in a brown bag. They lay next to one another each night, just talking, revealing secrets, thoughts, regrets, you name it -and one of the most lovely, touching, and true friendships soon unfolded within the pages of this short novel. It was just beautiful to read. In spite of the fact that I tore through it in less than a day, I wanted to take it slowly, but I couldn’t. Even though I’d started reading it after midnight, it wasn’t an easy book to set down. I was up for hours; I didn’t want to leave them and I didn’t want them to leave me. I cried to the heavens as it reached the confounded direction it had taken. It wasn’t at all unbelievable either, which made it sad and more damning. None of his twists and turns (and there were many – the mark of a great storyteller) were unbelievable. This was simply life in pages and no matter how much control you may think you have, you’re sometimes gravely reminded by circumstances and people that you don’t have shit. [Yes, I’m still fuming!] Addie and Louis – in their older ages, when you’d think they’d seen enough and all – were given such a lesson.

I’ve never read Haruf’s Plainsong trilogy nor his other acclaimed works, set primarily in Holt, Colorado – his fictitious town within his home state (brings to mind Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County in Mississippi). It’s filled with children, grandchildren, neighbors, long-time friends, and general patrons that make up a small, nosy town. Just as he captures humanity, he captured the grace of nature out west under the eye of the Rocky Mountains. Just as I saw the stars overhead he described, I felt the cool of the night, and saw the beautiful blue of the stream. I even saw their neighborhood and houses with their respective layouts so aptly described unwrapped for us to see. Our Souls at Night seems to speak in the same soft, yet meaty volume and tenor that led many readers to keep his books off the shelf when I was working in the library, so I now understand his following.

It’s a short, sweet, quite bittersweet, and simply honest read. It’s also harsh and beautiful. If you love family life fiction, this is the one for you.

(Oh, by the by – Just read that Robert Redford and Jane Fonda will do an adaptation of this book for Netflix. With them, I’m sure it’ll be a hit, but I’m quite happy I read it first… I simply suggest you do the same! Get Haruf’s tale as he told it firsthand.)

The Aluminum Statue of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in Richmond, Virginia

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson Statue, Richmond, VA – Photo: Tonya Rice

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (1878-1949), believed by many to be the best tap dancer of all time, hailed from Richmond’s Jackson Ward. Also known as Shirley Temple’s dancing partner in such movies as The Little Colonel (1935) and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938), Mr. Robinson left a legacy that extends beyond the cameras of Hollywood. In his hometown, his memory is fondly revered; a statue now stands in his honor at the intersection of Adams Street and Leigh Street in Jackson Ward. Made of aluminum donated by the Richmond-based Reynolds Metals Company in 1973, it celebrated his love for children by marking the spot where he paid for a traffic light to be installed, during the 1930s, to protect those who walked to and from Armstrong High School, located across from the busy area.

The “Bojangles” Memorial Fund Committee of the local Astoria Beneficial Club lena,bojangles,cab - stormyweathercommissioned John Temple Witt to create the statue. Witt was a local sculptor and art professor at Randolph-Macon College in nearby Ashland. The sculpture captures the engaging image of a smiling Mr. Robinson dancing down a flight of stairs. On the plaque of the sculpture’s front base, Mr. Robinson’s humanitarian efforts are honored with the words: Dancer, Actor, Humanitarian, Native Son of Richmond; Internationally Famous Actor and Dancer Rendered Many Kindnesses to the Citizens of Richmond.

The iconic “Bojangles” statue of a shiny, silver hue is situated on a parcel of land of the intersection designated by the city to accommodate the monument, aptly called “Robinson Square”. In spite of its location in the middle of a constantly active intersection, it’s a welcoming environment featuring brick walking areas,

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson statue, Richmond, VA – Photo: Tonya Rice

floral landscaping, and park benches. A water fountain for horses and smaller domestic animals donated to the city by the National Humane Alliance in 1938 was relocated to the area. The committee members who shaped this tribute are also noted on a plaque on the rear base. They are Carroll W. Anderson, (Chairman), Marion Robertson (Vice-Chairman), George Taylor (Recording Secretary), Herbert H. Johnson, (Financial Secretary), J. Carroll Beard (Treasurer), Wesley T. Carter, Richard W. Foster, Willie L. Loving, Reginald M. Dyson, Bernard L. Jones, and Powell B. Williams. Each year, a festival takes place on the fourth Saturday in June to commemorate the unveiling of the statue dedicated to one of Richmond’s favorite sons.

Originally posted on September 27, 2010 on

What Did for Me

M and R Clock
Miller & Rhoads clock at The Valentine. Photo: Tonya Rice

By the time sent their email on July 1, 2016 to the company’s “Examiners” to announce they were shutting down “on or about” July 10, 2016, I had already drifted away quite a bit from my workload as the Richmond Landmarks and Historic Districts Examiner. That stint was a natural choice for me, but I can’t say I really knew it at the time until I had begun. My mom instilled me with quite an interest in my city’s history. I guess as an elementary school teacher, she gave me that sense of nostalgia I still get from past field trips as a kid to various places around here, as well as in current strolls through places I love to share with my children.

It began without much fanfare. One night a few years ago, I’d stumbled on the site by way of another site, as you do, and noticed they had a list of openings. I sent my letter of interest to them for the historic districts writer spot and was immediately accepted. I was beyond thrilled. Not only that, I was beyond terrified. That meant writing for other people. I had not yet ventured really into the realm of writing online. As much as I wanted desperately to become a novelist, I realize now that I feared having my writing sent out into the world. I love to read. There’s always a book with me. I went to one of the top colleges known for its strong creative writing programs. But I’d graduated decades earlier and had accumulated enough time to settle into the space of thinking that I’ll just dream of having my books along the shelves with my favorite authors. That I’ll just write and share my work with a selected few if any.

About a week after I got the examiner title – it wasn’t really what one would actually call a “position” – I grabbed my kids, my camera, and we played tourist. We took photos of places around town and I later did research on the spots. I’ve got a collection of Richmond history books already, but I needed others. I’d gotten some from the library and the internet proved helpful in some cases. My first article, “The Aluminum Statue of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson”, was soon written, then posted,  and I was on a roll. When I got to the area where much of my family grew up before I was born – the once-renowned “Harlem of the South”, Jackson Ward – something jiggled my spirit. Voices of relatives long gone began talking to me. Some I remembered hearing firsthand as a child, others I remembered hearing about as a child. I walked through their haunts to hear them clearly and I relished every moment.

Years ago, I had a story come to mind as a result of those voices I’d had the chance of hearing back then. I pushed the tale aside. I can’t say I really ever thought I’d sit down to write it or if it would just be in my head talking to me for the rest of my life. About that time I joined a local writing group, Agile Writers, and the story began to form and take an interesting shape. My confidence in writing as a result of had increased. I grew comfortable about having an audience for my fiction. My comfort level with writing online developed so much, I joined Twitter and even created an Facebook page for my work. In addition to that, I created two blogs: this one and “Goosepimply Allover” – in which I share my personal connection to classic films; and I wrote three novellas, each set in Richmond!

A few years before then, I’d begun working on my Master’s in English. After some time away from my studies for a little while, I returned to my graduate school with a new major. In March of this year, I received my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. My thesis is that historical novel based upon the voices I’ve been hearing from my ancestors and their contemporaries in Jackson Ward from the 1930s on. Yay! To make sure I’m my work is as authentic as possible with regards to events and dates and such, important concepts in historical fiction, no doubt, I took the time to scroll through microfilm of old newspapers at the Library of Virginia. That was such exhilarating work! That place is MY Kings Dominion!

I’ll continue to play Peter Parker in my hometown snapping pictures and divvy up research on various spots and areas. The voices of my thesis will never leave me as long as I do this and I crave the connection. In fact, I have another historical novel brewing in my head as a result of all this research. I love learning it and I love sharing it.

Shoes and hat box from Montaldos, at The Valentine. Photo: Tonya Rice

So, looking back, while I only earned about $30.00 from in my six years with them, I realize that I earned so much more than money. I gained confidence in my writing and even discovered my value as a writer in this world. I always knew it was what I wanted to do. It made me do it and I am extremely grateful to them for that.

To those of you who’ve continued to stick by my Richmond Landmarks and Historic Districts Facebook page and to my new fans of the page – a huge heartfelt Thank You! I appreciate your support very much! The current links to my articles are now dead – HOWEVER, I will soon repost my work along with new posts about different areas in town. I’m still an Examiner of my hometown, so the fan page name will remain.