One of the most delightful and unexpected aspects of the author life I now lead are the relationships I have developed with other authors. This one began on twitter more than two years ago. Poet, novelist, twitter maven and all around wonderful literary citizen Nina Romano put this tweet up shortly after we had our first exchange on social media…That was my introduction to Nina’s generosity, wide-ranging interest, multi-genre writing, and cheerleading for other authors.
Then I read her novel, The Secret Language of Women, after which I became a true fan of Nina Romano’s. From my review.. Nina Romano’s The Secret Language of Women is a fascinating saga that takes place at the turn of the 20th century, just as the Boxer Rebellion gets underway in China. This historical novel is a love story, a cross-cultural feast including recipes from a sea-faring Italian chef, Chinese herbal medicine and beautiful descriptions of China’s flora, the clash between classes and religions of the time, and the challenges faced by a strong, young, Eurasian woman attempting to determine her own fate.
Have you always been a writer or did you come to this from another career? I always dabbled in writing—poetry especially. I had a great many poems published before I ever took a course in poetry.
I was a middle school physical education and health teacher and a field hockey, gymnastics, soccer, volleyball and basketball coach at schools on Long Island. I also taught modern dance. I loved teaching, I loved sports, and I especially loved being around young children, not tied to a desk.
After Grad school I also taught English and Literature as an adjunct professor at St. Thomas University in Miami. I presented seminars and writing workshops at writing conferences all over the States.
From what I can gather, you have lived in many places in the world. Why is that, and how has it informed your writing? When I stopped teaching, my husband Felipe and I moved to Rome, Italy, where I was a store manager in two hotels. I had a lot of free time and began writing and submitting poetry to magazines and literary journals. And I read constantly! I read twenty-two of Steinbeck’s novels and many of his short stories. When I wasn’t selling or writing, I was reading: Fyodor Dostoyevsky, William Makepeace Thackeray, Ray Bradbury, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Herman Wouk, Giuseppe Di Lampedusa, Alessandro Manzoni, Dacia Maraini, John Fowles, and many others. However, I didn’t write any short stories until I returned to the States after a twenty-year sojourn. I went back to university and got two more degrees: a BA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing.
I definitely think living in Italy broadened my writing perspectives. First of all, Italian is a melodious and rich language and I like to fling it around in some of my writing! My husband and I travelled to many cities within Italy, and numerous European countries and islands. I wrote about these places—people, languages, landscapes, food, wine, culture, religions, superstitions, morals, mores, socio-economic situations, customs, dress. Travelling is such a marvelous and complete education.
You are a poet, a novelist, a teacher, and book reviewer, just to name a few aspects of your writing career, and your novels are in different genres. How do you think writing in all these different ways has produced benefits or challenges? Ah! Now this is meat for my teeth! I love poetry because it comes easily to me and it certainly informs my prose as I write lyrically and poetically. I read poetry sometimes before I write a new piece. It’s wonderful for training the ear to hear cadence and breath. I used many poetical techniques in my prose, for example, internal rhyme, or alliteration, if I can get away with it. I read all of my prose-writing: short stories, essays, reviews, novels out loud. You pick up a ton of errors or what I like to call “clunkers”—sentences or phrases that are overwrought, or don’t flow right, or on the verge of “purple prose.” I have to be careful with language as I love it and can get carried away with it. I usually revise a novel or story at least once for language, clarity, and tightening. Then I revise several times more for other writing techniques such as plot, which is for me the most challenging!
As to my novels, basically I think they could be classified as historical and maybe even literary. They also have been categorized as Historical Romance, Native American, and Western. The novel I’m writing now is also historical and has elements of romance in it, but I’m finding it tough and tricky. I can’t seem to pigeonhole it. Is it a mystery? A thriller? A suspense novel? I’m still not sure, but it has components and features of all of these. Since I’ve never studied the conventions of any of these genres—nor do I want to—I’m creating, learning, making mistakes, and grappling as I go. I thank Heavens that Felipe pays the bills. Writing isn’t lucrative, but it’s my bliss.
I consider you to be one of the most supportive, and dedicated literary citizens I know… lifting up other writers and bringing vitality to the conversation about books and their authors. Why is it important to you to do this work on behalf of other writers?
Thank you, Barbara! I’ll have to say, it’s the nature of the beast! I love assisting other people—not just in writing. This is an innate personality trait. If I can help, I try to do so. I’m usually willing to aid anyone with lesser experience—to me it’s paying back Nature and the Universe for all of the gifts, talents, and blessings I’ve received over the years.
In the #WritingCommunity, especially on Twitter and Facebook, I support and bolster other writers and authors, and here I distinguish between the two because not everyone who publishes a book to me is of author status. Anyone can pen a book today—but is it of a quality I’d want to read? Everyone can use a boost, a lift, a helping hand from time to time. This past winter, I read and wrote a blurb for a novel. I remember all too well what it’s like to ask authors for blurbs or endorsements and be rejected. Sometime reading and critiquing another author’s manuscript whether good or bad, spurs you on and makes you want to get back to finish your own more quickly.
Anything else we should know? Yes, there are a couple of things I’d like to mention and touch upon. First let me say something about ideas and subjects to write about and where they come from. People ask me this all the time—where do you get your ideas? Here’s my response. I pay attention. To everything—to people talking in a diner, to children playing, to thoughts arriving unbidden while I’m cooking. Ideas are all around us—in nature, what happens in our daily lives, what happened in our past lives, or our grandparents’ lives, and what can happen in future.
My first novel, The Secret Language of Women, came from almost innate ideas, quasi-inborn in me due to my grandfather’s travels when he was a sailor in the Italian Navy. He travelled throughout China during the Boxer Rebellion and told me a great many exotic stories.
Lemon Blossoms is based on many family stories that my Godmother told me about my grandmother and great-grandmother. I also experienced a tragedy that occurred in the life of my cousin, her daughter. I used it in the novel in a very changed manner. I used to talk to my father a great deal about his youth when he was a boy and lived in Sicily. Some of the things that happened to him are masqueraded, imitated, and disguised in both of my novels: Lemon Blossoms and In America.
These family histories helped me invent and create storylines. I was extremely close to my parents and feel blessed that I actually interviewed them about their lives before I was born. They were both great readers—I take after them in that—and am I ever grateful, because you can’t write unless you read!
In America, the third novel of that series, the Wayfarer Trilogy, comes from abundant and frequent stories I heard about my mother during the Great Depression.
My fourth novel is an exception to using family stories. This last novel I wrote has nothing to do with familial history. The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley, came into being because I absolutely love New Mexico, horses, and the American west, and have always been interested in Native American culture. I read a great many western authors: Larry McMurtry, Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, Willa Cather, E. Annie Proulx, James A. Michner, Cormac McCarthy and many others. What evolved in my novel were the traditions, rituals, culture, myths, and legends of the West—all of these seeped into my soul and needed to seek a venue for them to be expressed, hence, my novel. And if the Almighty gives me time, I don’t think I’m quite done with tales of the West.
The last thing I’d like to talk about is what should be of utmost interest to writers. When you’re writing a manuscript draft and have a problem or you seem to be stuck— that’s the moment to insert action, tension, problems, risks, or anything that can later be developed in the novel. Your main character, hero or heroine, isn’t meant to be passive and have it easy. I remember one of my dearest writer friends told me often when I was puzzled about what should happen next in my fiction, to: “Stick your character up a tree and throw rocks at him.” Basically, that’s what we do in fiction-writing —in short stories and even in narrative poetry—it’s the same thing.
Thank you, dear Barbara, with heartfelt thanks for this interview. It’s a pleasure to discuss writing with such a lovely author. Authors Bio
Nina Romano earned a B.S. from Ithaca College, an M.A. from Adelphi University and a B.A. and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from FIU. She has authored a short story collection, The Other Side of the Gates, and has published five poetry collections and two poetry chapbooks with independent publishers. She co-authored a nonfiction book: Writing in a Changing World. Romano has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize in Poetry. Nina Romano’s historical Wayfarer Trilogy (Turner Publishing) consists of The Secret Language of Women, Book #1, a Foreword Reviews Book Award Finalist and Gold Medal winner of the Independent Publisher’s 2016 IPPY Book Award; Lemon Blossoms, Book # 2, a Foreword Reviews Book Award Finalist; In America, Book #3, a finalist in Chanticleer Media’s Chatelaine Book Awards. Her latest novel, The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley, a Western Historical Romance and a bestseller in Australia and the UK, (Prairie Rose Publications) is a semifinalist for the Laramie Book Awards. LINKS Amazon Author: T Amazon: The Secret Language of Women Amazon: Lemon Blossoms Amazon: In America Amazon: The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley Goodreads: Twitter: @ninsthewriter Facebook: BookBub