Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (2015)

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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.)

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

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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,

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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 examiner.com

What Examiner.com Did for Me

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Miller & Rhoads clock at The Valentine. Photo: Tonya Rice

By the time Examiner.com 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 examiner.com 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 examiner.com 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 examiner.com 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.

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

So, looking back, while I only earned about $30.00 from examiner.com 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 examiner.com 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.

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.

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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!