I’m very honored to present the Story Behind the Story of “The Secret Language of Women” by the very talented Nina Romano. I stumbled upon the author and the first book in her Wayfarer Series on Twitter. I was intrigued by the gorgeous cover and downloaded a sample. I was immediately drawn in by the writing, which held me spellbound throughout the book. I was swept up in a bygone culture, centuries old, torn between the old ways and the future. What Nina puts Lian through is hair-raising! I thought I was tough on my protagonist!
Without further ado, I give you Nina Romano:
I’ve said this before, but since I just love it, I’ll say it again. W. Somerset Maughm is quoted as saying: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
Maybe one of them should be “to listen.”
As a little girl, I had already begun to practice the art of listening. Always fascinated by tales my Grandpa told, his recollections beguiled me, especially tales about when he was a sailor in the Italian Navy and fighting in China during the Boxer Rebellion. I saw his passport and a picture of him in uniform—young, handsome and with a big moustache. He reminisced about China’s beautiful landscape, diminutive Oriental women with hair the color of jet, other European navies and ships. How exotic and alluring! I had paid attention, but not knowing there was going to be a pay-off one day.
Grandpa told me about gods, tattoos, and dragons, statues of Buddha, temples, the tea ceremony, calligraphy, karma, and acupuncture. He spoke of life in Sicily and travels as an Italian sailor all over China and his time in Shanghai. With this wealth of knowledge, I began to imagine the rest: young girls in brothels, sailors brawling with other sailors, sailors fighting against Boxers. Coolies with long pigtails, carrying rice.
As I began to write the story in his third person POV, I started describing his ship and doing some research. Then for a workshop I was about to take in the University of Iowa’s summer program, I had to write twenty pages. Naturally, I didn’t want to hand in anything already written—here was a golden opportunity to plunk down something new. I literally dashed down twenty-two pages in the first person POV of the fictitious, bi-lingual woman whom my fictional character, loosely based on my Grandpa, would fall in love with.
For the workshop, I assigned the name Giacomo for my sailor, and Lian for the main character—I’d found my protagonist and the female perspective I needed. When I realized the main character would be a woman, the writing flowed. It wasn’t forced and came naturally. Next, when I returned home, I researched and added exciting scenes—writing things I’d never dared to consider writing about before: abandonment, abortion, rape, losing a child. All terribly difficult themes and arguments to imagine for me, but I wanted and needed a challenge.
Although I don’t know if any of this was truly part of my Grandpa’s living existence in China, it made me ponder and pursue a line of thinking that would make for a good plot—of course being a poet, I wanted to include poetry and lyrical writing because I feel this is where my strength lies.
I visited China and was enchanted by Beijing, formerly Peking, which held Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. I also became enthralled with the city of Guilin, a painter’s paradise surrounded by magnificent mauve hills and cliffs, many waterways and markets. I became spellbound by China’s history, culture, superstitions, art, cuisine, medicine, and Nüshu, the secret language of women, now extinct, like the binding of female children’s feet.
Later, I’d cull from these to use in my novel-writing. Returning from Asia equipped with notes while traveling, I began a romantic story in alternating chapters, incorporating China’s historical details.
I wrote a first draft of The Secret Language of Women sketching back story, themes, motifs, metaphors, settings, dialogue, obligatory scenes, character motivation, conflict, cause and effect, climax, resolution and denouement. The plot developed and germinated out of the story. This was the exhilarating, creative part, next would come the cerebral part—revision. I revised this novel numerous times. To be truthful, nine complete times. Each time, I revised for a different thing: structure, layout and format, POV, language, plot, exposition that told but didn’t show, scenes comprised of action, dialogue and use of the five senses, timeline, transitions, tightening and cutting. This didn’t happen overnight. It took years.
With the Boxer Rebellion as a backdrop, The Secret Language of Women is the first book in the Wayfarer Trilogy. It is the story of star-crossed lovers, Lian, a Eurasian healer and Giacomo, a sailor in the Italian Navy. This is a haunting, epic tale of love found, lost, and desperately searched for at all costs and consequences.
Thank you so much, Cynthia, for this delightful opportunity to speak about my first novel.
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’s a world traveler and lover of history. She lived in Rome, Italy, for twenty years, and is fluent in Italian and Spanish. 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 Writing in a Changing World. Romano has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize in Poetry.
Nina Romano’s historical Wayfarer Trilogy has been published from Turner Publishing. The Secret Language of Women, Book #1, was a Foreword Reviews Book Award Finalist and Gold Medal winner of the Independent Publisher’s 2016 IPPY Book Award. Lemon Blossoms, Book # 2, was a Foreword Reviews Book Award Finalist, and In America, Book #3, was a finalist in Chanticleer Media’s Chatelaine Book Awards. More about the author at: www.ninaromano.com
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/NinaRomano/e/B00AU3T9WW/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1
Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/896984.Nina_Romano
Goodreads Dashboard Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/dashboard