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

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.

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.



18 Things You Can Do When You Are Being a Lazy Writer #writers #writerslife

It has been one of those struggling writer days. Not the I can’t get out of bed to write one mentioned here, of which I am also quite familiar, just the odd I can’t get comfortable day. I’ve been at my desk for hours, unable to write, and even worse, popped a movie on through the Watch TCM link (The Best Years of Our Lives, as a matter of fact). Had an errand to run and decided to go to my friendly neighborhood Starbucks where I’m like Norm… they know me and I have a favorite table there – got there and didn’t want to go in. I didn’t want to see people. I’m back at my desk and I am still having difficulty getting into my zone.

This reblog has a great list for the writer having a tough start… for me it’s been like this all day. NUMBER 9 – is the one that is setting me back into gear. With a deadline, I’d better freakin’ heed it!


Things You Can Do When You Are Being a Lazy Writer

Ever had one of those mornings where you struggle to get out of bed and all your plans of having a ‘writing day’ go out of the window?

So when you find yourself enjoying the delights of a warm bed, moaning about how tired you feel and coming up with 100 excuses for not doing any writing, here are some handy tips for turning this situation around:

  1. Change your body position.Sit up and or even better – get your lazy writer self out of bed!
  2. Splash cold water onyour face.This will wake you up.
  3. Ignore your mind.Ignore your mind when it starts to run through all the reasons of why you should stay in bed. Don’t listen to it!
  4. Repeat this: Ican day dream all I want whilst lying in bed but I can only make my dreams happen if I get out of bed!
  5. Coffee.Go…

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Your Characters Are Real People

ferklempt1Your characters are real people. Sure, writers already know that, especially when we think of characters written by others who are as real to us as people standing next to us: Meggie (The Thorn Birds), Dana (Kindred), Augie (Wonder), etc., etc. But the basic insight of this notion is altered by a certain experience just a couple of days old: My tearful drive down a busy street.

How driving down the street near my main character’s home brought me to tears.

No kidding. The other day, I’d had some running about town to do, unremarkable stuff, just work and errands, which included driving through the neighborhood where my main character wound up moving for a lengthy period of her life. (Yes, my  historical novel is set in my hometown.) I’ve traveled past that street and those homes before on many occasions over the years, even lived in the vicinity for a while, so it wasn’t at all a spectacular moment by any means.

Well, I didn’t drive down that particular street that day. I didn’t even get a glimpse of those houses. I was about a mile away from her community at the stop light at the major cross section. I looked at the street sign and was completely blindsided by this amazing wonder of feels that swept over me. I wept a little as the light turned green because I felt my main character’s PRESENCE.

I felt my main character’s PRESENCE.

I felt like she was down that street, in her home, doing her thing. Living with a capital “L”. huggsNow, as I’ve written about her family and her in their general businesses of life, of course I’ve envisioned the mundane like shopping, taking a drive across the nearby bridge, or the neighboring grocery store, and relayed just enough bits and pieces to make them all human. However, the sensation she brought to me that afternoon was different. She simply somehow floated on down to the corner and thanked me for making her so authentic off the page. This way, she’ll be as viable to others as she’s been to me for soooooo many years. She knew it and that spark of time with her made me know it too. It was time she gave to me – away from my computer, without pen and paper, without staring into space listening and watching them from the ethers. I was on her turf and I felt so welcomed. It was what I needed to remind me that I’m sure as hell not wasting my time and that I haven’t been. I’ve got a story to tell and I’m freaking doing the job pretty well.

Louder in my mind: I have NOT been wasting my time writing

Details are important for this reason. (Such a penchant can drive the folks in real-life around me insane on the non-fiction side.) They bring everything to the surface. Whatever your characters are feeling, seeing, tasting, smelling, and hearing brings the story to the reader’s senses. If they’re not in yours, they won’t make to the character, thus there’s nothing for a reader. 

In this case, setting proves to be just as crucial. That street, the home down that street, and the corner and intersection weren’t simply areas where my character was placed to do things or a flat address she was given. Oh, no, not at all – she exists there.

The biggest reward from all of that: She could feel it too, thus letting me know that she is indeed – a real person. So, thanks, Mrs. F!

Writers: When did you realize your characters were actually real people?
Readers: Which fictitious characters feel like true, real-life, breathing people to you?


Thanks for reading! For my immediate publishing updates, please stop by my website and sign up for my newsletter. My thanks to you is a FREE ebook – Shelf Space: A Short Story!



Arnie Somers: A Novelette by Tonya Rice

arnie4 (2)After a great deal of consideration, I’ve made a title change to one of my books. The Heirloom: A Novelette is now titled, Arnie Somers: A Novelette.

That previous title has been needling at me for quite some time. The story is much more about Arnie than the heirloom and this change best reflects that. It’s a sweet, poignant tale with a five-star review. After reading the blurb below, if you haven’t yet gotten your copy, go on… head over to Amazon and get it for 99 cents. Please feel free to share your thoughts about it with other readers on Amazon, Goodreads, and other book sites you use.

Thank you!!

Arnie Somers: A Novelette by Tonya Rice (Magnolia Bay Publishing, 2015)