Posted in adventure, Craft of writing, Debut Novel, fiction, Historical Fiction, Travel Writing, Women traveling, Women's Fiction

The Gold Standard of Book Reviews

I’m thrilled to share with you the book review I received from Kirkus Reviews just last week. Kirkus Reviews are the gold standard for anonymous, fair, unbiased book reviews. Many librarians use their reviews to determine which books they will purchase and shelve. See a partial review of Song of Herself, my debut novel.

… Wiley-Jones packs her narrative with a plethora of captivating themes and images that expose Fiona and readers to India’s cultures, religions, and styles (Women “wrapped their silhouettes with sarees in every color from ruby red to sapphire blue, and marigold to lemon yellow”) as well as the building Indian resentment toward British imperialism. Then there is the chaos of Calcutta, which the author describes in vivid detail, capturing the city’s history, topography, sounds, smells, and foods. Fiona is a complex character who repeatedly turns to Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass for inspiration and guidance in her search for her own center. …

… An engaging period drama overflowing with historical tidbits.

Consider buying a copy for a Christmas gift of the book, Song of Herself !

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1639885501

Ebook: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BDK7Q54J/

Recently my friend Marge wrote me,

“I just finished your book and loved it. It was a page turner! I loved the character development and learned so much. All your hard work paid off! Thank you for the adventure. I loved the ending!!”

If you have read the book, please leave a short review of two or three sentences on Amazon. 

Posted in Craft of writing, Description, Details in Writing, Editing & Revision, Pacing, Travel Writing

Description, Detail, and Pacing

Research that Serves the Story

In my last post, I illustrated three places in my recent novel, Song of Herself, where research served the story well. Without it, there would not have been sufficient particulars to give credibility to the characters.

As writers, we must search for and offer just enough details to render the character believable, but not so much that it bogs down the pace of the story. That’s a fine line.

Four friends have commented on that fine line and how my story achieved that for them as readers.  Here are their words.

Rhonda has taken years to craft this story and the work shows. One of the best books that I’ve read. The image of “monkeys swinging from thought…” sticks with me the most. (George H.)

You captured me with including wonderful information about things outside my world. The vocabulary of the ship and the special “horse words” are a bonus, but not ones that get in the way. (Jane W.)

Calcutta, I was there fifty years ago. You nailed it. The story flowed—made it easy to read. (Bruce B.)

The horses, you got it just right, but not too much. (Lenell D. )

Tips for Writers

  1. As writers, we must remember that readers want a fast-paced story with specifics that tell the story without slowing it down. Two to three targeted details usually get the job done.
  2. Presenting them in the context of an appropriate environment helps, as well. To find how much time is spent in a scene and then match it to how the reader experiences the story is critical. This is called pacing.
  3. Writers develop the skill of pacing over time from experience and feedback by beta-readers or writing group members helps.

If you haven’t already ordered my book, Song of Herself, see below

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1639885501

Ebook: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BDK7Q54J/

If you read the book, please leave a short review of two or three sentences on Amazon, what you liked, what you found intriguing, or what you discovered about yourself in reading the book. Thanks, so much!!!

Posted in Cultural Sensitivity Readers, fiction, Historical Fiction, India, Novel writing, Travel Writing

Cultural Sensitivity Readers are a Must for Novelists

Have you ever read a novel and noticed that something did not fit in the historical period or in a certain part of a country? That is every novelists’ fear—and certainly was mine.

That’s why I asked two people whose hometown was Kolkata to read through my novel before it was completed to make sure I had things culturally correct, as well as locations and descriptions captured as accurately as possible for the early 1900s. One person was in her thirties and the other in her eighties. Both were true Bengalis.

One of the two “beta” readers—think first reader to catch mistakes or cultural sensitivity readers—explained that painting henna onto the hands and feet of brides was not done in the province of Bengal, ever. Henna hands culturally did not belong to this region . So I had to take it out of my novel.

Rather than let that scene go to waste, I decided to share it with you today. Let me introduce the characters. Fiona is my protagonist, hailing from Iowa; Ameera is her Indian hostess; and Basanti is the bride they are visiting just days after her ten-day marriage ritual has been completed, which included painting her hands with henna. I hope you enjoy the scene and the visual examples of what they call mehndi (in English, mehendi) hands.

Mehendi Hands (A Scene from the book I couldn’t use.)

Basanti greeted Ameera and Fiona with “Namasté,” while they slipped off their shoes in the entryway. Fiona, embarrassed by her heavy work boots, placed them next to fine slippers, and silently promised to buy a pair for herself. When the new bride offered them a seat, Fiona saw the intricate henna stain snaking up the woman’s arm, a cluttered and confusing design.

After formalities, Ameera asked Basanti to show Fiona her palms. The warm orangey-brown henna ink climbed up the young bride’s wrists and wrapped to the forearm.

“Basanti’s mehndi hands are drawn with henna stain. A family member is typically the artist, like her sister-in-law.”

“Is that tradition?” Fiona asked. Tradition in Iowa consisted of a white or cream-colored dress, if the bride could afford it, then something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, as the old adage went. Fiona had always thought it a lot of hoop-la, but nothing compared to this.

Ameera said, “Yes, a family member fits the art to the couple’s sign.”

“The couple’s sign? What do you mean?” Fiona asked.

“Their Vedic zodiac sign. If one is a Taurus, for instance, then a bull will be drawn. If they are from a particular caste, then certain gods may be etched to bless the couple.”

Fiona scanned the bride’s hands. “Why are the fingertips a solid color?”

Basanti said with delight, “My new sister-in-law, my husband’s brother’s wife, believes dark fingertips are a sign of good luck. She brought this tradition from her family to her husband’s—now it will be my family, also.” She allowed a slip of a smile to show pride in her new family. “I am pleased by the depth of color; I hope my touch will always be firm and healing.”

Fiona noted, “No two fingers are alike.”

“It is indeed special as a gift from my new sister. Do you not agree?” 

“Yes, most beautiful.” Fiona was unaccustomed to using superlatives.

Basanti continued. “On the third day of celebration, the henna painting took place. My husband could not take me to bed until he found our names inscribed on my arms. He saw his name quickly but looked and looked for mine.”

She rolled her eyes. “Teasing me, he found mine before he even saw his own.”

Fiona, ill-at-ease with the topic of newlywed mating, changed the subject. “It appears the color is already fading in places. How long will it last?”

Ameera leaned forward to answer. “Basanti is not allowed to do housework until it is worn off. But by not working, it will last longer. Rubbing cream on it also makes it last. A husband may wonder, but he does not know it can be gone in days without much attention to delay homemaking.” The three laughed at keeping this kind of a secret. 

Basanti confided. “I have watched henna painted on my sister, cousins, and friends, as new brides. I longed for my mehndi hands,” touching the red dot on her forehead, “and bindi.” American women used rouge on their cheeks, face powder, and lip color, but nothing as showy as this.

Basanti lightly rubbed her arms, admiring the art. “The day the henna stained my skin, I felt the most beautiful I have ever been. I now feel my inner light illuminating.”

Fiona did not grasp what it had to do with getting married. Too much ceremony for her.

Ameera riffled the bracelets on Basanti’s wrist. “These are a gift from her aunt and uncle. She wears the red ones a year to show she is a newlywed. Then her husband’s parents replace them at the end of year with gold or brass ones; and she takes over responsibilities of the entire household.”

Basanti said, “Many Hindu couples rush to marry the last week of April, like we did to avoid May, an inhospitable time of year to wed. Wednesday is the best day of the week, but also, our Vedic astrologer searched the position of the moon for us to determine the best time. It bodes well for our future together.” 

Fiona admitted to the two women, “This is a bit overwhelming to me.”

When Ameera rose to leave and bid her friend farewell, Fiona pulled her boots back on as gracefully as possible and knew to expect the same slight bow and the “Namasté” greeting as they left.

Walking back, Fiona’s thoughts were all a-jumble by arranged marriages, superstitions, painted hands, signs, and bangle bracelets. In comparison, weddings in Iowa now appeared lackluster.

****

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Posted in Adventure Fiction, Coming-of-Agency Fiction, Debut Novel, fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical Fiction, Travel Writing, Women's Fiction

Sample from My Debut Historical Novel

The book title from my historical novel, Song of Herself, is a take-off from Walt Whitman’s poem, “Song of Myself” from his book, Leaves of Grass.

Here are three short paragraphs from early in the book that introduces Fiona, her brother Will, her Uncle Louis, and the shipping agent Jacob, as well as her use of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

~~~SAMPLE 3 paragraphs from the BOOK~~~

“Her Uncle Louis had read from Leaves of Grass to her since she was little and gave Fiona her own copy when she turned thirteen. Turning to the comfort of Walt Whitman’s book, her burning eyes scanned the pages. Tonight the bard’s words spoke directly.

 

And I will show that there is no imperfection in the present, and can be none in the future, And I will show that whatever happens to anybody it may be turn’d to beautiful results, … And that all things of the universe are perfect miracle, each as profound as any.

 

Fiona argued with Whitman’s optimism. Will’s death had no beautiful results, nor was it a perfect miracle, as Whitman suggested. The only marvel at work she knew of was Jacob’s care and tenderness, not only to the mares, but also and especially toward her.”

 

Thanks for stopping to read today

I hope this whets your appetite for reading Song of Herself, when it’s available.  Watch for information about my book coming out soon. Please join my newsletter by signing on with your email on this webpage. Thanks for stopping by today!