Sunday, February 24, 2013

Interview with Ramona DeFelice-Long

by Jerry Waxler

Ramona DeFelice-Long is an author, independent editor, and writing instructor. At the Write Stuff, Ramona will be teaching a session on short stories and a double-session, called "Hard Truths", on creative nonfiction and memoir writing. She'll also be teaching a preconference workshop on self-editing. GLVWG member Jerry Waxler got in touch with Ramona to find out more about her and the sessions and workshop she'll be teaching.
Jerry: You are teaching a combination course of memoir and creative nonfiction. That sounds like a rich combination with two intimately related types of writing. To help potential attendees understand your workshop, please say a few words about what you hope an attendee would gain from these two interrelated hands-on sessions.

Ramona: First, the workshop will address the similarities and differences between memoir and creative nonfiction. We’ll touch on how to write about memories and personal experiences (memoir) and how to explore and recreate actual events using fiction writing techniques (creative nonfiction). There will also be information about marketing both genres for publication.

Jerry: The more I write nonfiction, the more intrigued I became by the enormous differences between smaller pieces like articles and longer pieces like books. Please comment on your own writing passion. What are your favorite features of short forms and long forms?

Ramona: I like the challenge of working within the confines of a set word count. In short fiction, that means (usually) a single setting, a lean cast, a well-defined story problem. When I teach about revision, I talk about using language economically—writing in a sharp, succinct style so that overwriting and over-explaining don’t happen. Now I am working on a novel, and it is a new adventure to understand scene goals and story arcs in a larger story landscape. There’s more to juggle in a longer work, fiction or nonfiction, while keeping to the theme and story concept.

Jerry: It seems to me that the book length form has a much different structure than the short story. What is your passion when it comes to writing creative nonfiction, the short or the long form, and why?

Ramona: I love and find comfort in the classic three act structure for both novels and short fiction. When writing fiction, long or short, the author is concerned with plot points and character consistency, as well as a plot that remains logical and moves toward a satisfying conclusion. There is no single way to construct a story. Stories can be linear or chronological, or the action can be presented episodically, or told by multiple narrators from varying points of view.

Creative nonfiction is the same. The author will need to make choices on the best way to present this nonfiction story meant to read like a fictional one.

I am happy you bring up length. How often do writers tell of starting a novel with great gusto, only to hit a wall at 100 pages? One reason this occurs is size confusion. Not all story ideas fit into a book-length format; some are more appropriate as shorter works. This applies to fiction and nonfiction. I will address the size of a story idea in all of my workshops.

Jerry: I usually associate creative nonfiction skills with full length books and literary journals. I wonder if you could or will offer suggestions for how creative nonfiction principles could also be used to help improve blogs or other short informal writing.

Ramona: I have written blog posts that are as memoir and/or creative nonfiction: about the murder of a small town police officer; about how a local pediatrician got away with being a longtime pedophile; about how I double-dated to my high school prom with a young man who, years later, murdered his date. I’ve also crafted essays about motherhood. The key is recognizing a viable topic for exploration. What is intriguing about a small moment that makes it something to ponder? If an idea has broad appeal, how do you personalize it to reach a single reader? What in a particular event or experience has depth or a message? Is there some humor or irony in a mundane event that will make a reader feel connected? Think about human experience and hone in on a particular area where the subject of a post can address that.

Jerry: You are teaching a pre-conference workshop on self-editing. Thank you! That’s an important topic for writers. I notice in the description that it is listed as a workshop for fiction writers. I know from experience that nonfiction writers also need to edit their work. I wonder if you could suggest why or why not a nonfiction writer would want to sign up for your preconference workshop.

Ramona: I originally developed the workshop for a group of fiction writers, so the description continues to reflect that. The workshop will include writing with economy; good grammar and engaging style; active writing; and bad habits to be conquered. Those apply to writers of all genres, so the workshop would be beneficial to nonfiction writers who want to sharpen their storytelling skills. But I will address topics such as character consistency and plotting, and those may be of more value to a fiction writer. No matter what you write, learning good writing techniques has good value, correct?

Jerry: From your bio, I see that you belong to a number of writing groups. Why are groups such a big part of your writing life? If you can tell an anecdote about some powerful moment in your writing-group life, that would be even better.

Ramona: I belong to a monthly critique group. We turn in 20 pages for critique and discussion. The value of my critique group is: a) it makes me write at least 20 pages a month! b) I get good feedback from experienced critiquers; c) I evaluate works in progress and see the progression month by month, as the story grows (for novels) or is revised (for short works). For the past year, my group has been critiquing my novel in progress, so while I continue to work at my job as an editor, I have to keep up with my monthly submissions. That keeps me from saying, “I’m so busy now, maybe I should put this novel aside.

I maintain membership in professional organizations such as Pennwriters and Sisters in Crime because these big groups offer a plethora of opportunities for networking, online courses and conferences, and peer support. On a local level, I belong to the city arts alliance and state literary groups to support the artist community in Delaware. In all of these groups, I’ve found opportunities to share my experience but more so, to learn from the community of other writers. Recently, in Delaware, we’ve started a writers’ breakfast club. Once a month, we meet and chat for a few hours. It’s great to enjoy that camaraderie of like minds.

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