There’s a reason readers like myself love Nina Romano’s novels and short stories. With her natural curiosity and lust for life, she is drawn to anything that is special in some way, even if to others it might seem commonplace on the surface. After she’s finished describing it, we know how rich and varied it really is, and it’s anything but commonplace.
Once her curiosity is aroused, she’s relentless in her quest to completely understand what makes a particular person tick. She goes to great lengths to research everything about their era, culture, influences, ideals and struggles. Like a great actor, she has to know how each one of her characters feel and why.
For her latest novel, she turned to her love of the Old West, incorporating some of her favorite topics in “The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley” which will be released on February 21 and is now available for pre-order. It is my great pleasure to share Nina’s Story Behind the Story:
Since I was a young girl, I had a fascination with Westerns and Native American cultures. When my I was about five years-old my father took me to Jones Beach in the summer. There was a teepee set up with a beautiful Indian girl with long black braids in a white buckskin beaded and fringed dress. I just assumed that I was going to grow to become an Indian princess like her, but so far this hasn’t happened. I always wanted to write a Western and there was never any doubt in my mind, that eventually, someday, I would pen a story set in the Old West.
By the time I’d reached high school, my Dad taught me how to string a bow for archery, and the basics of the sport. I continued taking archery courses through my first two years of college. Later on, I took a course in hunting with bow and arrow—the only gal in the class! The pull on the bow string is about fifty-five pounds or more, so you can’t hold it long and must release quickly—you’d better have a good beam on your target. I was able to incorporate my knowledge of archery and utilize it in two different novels, one the Western, The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley, soon to be released.
Westerns, a fully-formed genre, offer riveting ways to integrate old ideas. Basically, a good Western novel portrays how deep-rooted traditions still have value and should not be completely forgotten. If you have a compelling plot and characters with strong emotions and motivations, utilizing cause and effect, you’re on the right track.
In order to sound like an authority, I feel it’s important to remain loyal to what has already been accepted as Western literature. To paraphrase the author Frederick W. Boling, as a writer you should be reading everything in whatever genre you’re writing—good and bad alike.
Read for background study purposes, and don’t only read the classics in order to craft your story or novel. I believe Boling is right. I read and continue to read this genre. If I really can’t handle a poorly written book, I usually try to get it in the audio version and listen to it as I tool around town in my car.
Research is a must. I read the history and the geography concerning the regions and the places I’m going to write about. One thing for sure, if you’re writing a Western, you should read these authors: Willa Cather, Jack London, Zane Grey, Larry McMurtry, Charles Frazier, Cormac McCarthy, E. Annie Proulx, Louis L’Amour and a slew of others. There are many indie Western authors on Twitter: @JullietteDougla9, @chrisderreck1 , @CAASBREY , @TheWhipNovel (by KarenKondazian) , @JohnRosePutnam and many more.
Settings and descriptions play an integral part in devising the Western story. For background, I watched and continue to view Western movies—old and new—classics and pardon the expression—crappola as in B movies or worse! Every decade of Western films! I never know when I’ll see or hear something and become inspired—some little incident, an action, the language used, the type of gun or knife, how scenes were built and envisioned, something that I can transmute to make my own and use in my writing. Movies and film also give me the idea of different angles to use for descriptions.
I love to visit museums and galleries, especially the ones with Western Art. There are many out west, but one of the best is Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is in Bentonville, Arkansas. It’s out of the way, but so worthwhile visiting.
I feel it’s a must to become familiar with the setting. I look up maps from the time period I’m concentrating on. It always helps to visit the places I’m writing about because this will lend an air of validity to the writing. I like to be sure of the terminology, dress, language, customs, structures, incidents of the times. I feel it’s okay to use conventional characters–the formulaic gunslinger, the hackneyed saloon girls with a “heart of gold,” and the clichéd sheriffs. In fact, readers want them, but I add my own take to manipulate these characters to make them my own and unique.
One of our great American poets recently passed away, and what she had to say about poetry also goes for the Western and informs my writing style and technique, as I have a background in poetry. Mary Oliver said: “Always remember—the speaker doesn’t do it. The words do it. Look for verbs of muscle, adjectives of exactitude. The idea must drive the words.” I would also add to that, select vivid nouns.
I try to write scenes that encompass action and dialogue and rely on the five senses. I like to insert tension, problems, conflicts, trouble and/or goals to be achieved. The purpose of dialogue is to reveal character and advance the plot. I write scenes that need another sequential scene to follow for the character’s reaction to a dilemma or where they are compelled to make decisions. I try to beware of too much phonetic spelling and “eye” dialect—it can be off-putting to the reader as it is difficult to follow for long passages. I remember reading Roots by Alex Haley and suffering to get through it, just for that reason—jargon.
There are so many visuals a writer can utilize and these offer riveting ways to integrate long-standing notions. Also these can paint us striking and powerful pictures. These can illustrate how things used to be before the encroaching of modern times in towns and the urbanization of sprawling cities, metropolitan living, etc. Then, too, there are “modern” Westerns, such as Urban Cowboy, The Electric Horseman, Brokeback Mountain, which rely heavily on the traditional past.
What I love about Westerns is finding out how much of the past informs our modern lives and also the future. Western drama embraces masculinity and symbolism. The real achievement, I think, when portraying the old West is to make the scenes as realistic as possible, as if I were actually living in this lawless era.
I consider myself lucky because I fell in love with Cayo Bradley, my cowboy, who is a multi-dimensional character in The Girl Who Loves Cayo Bradley, which will release soon from Prairie Rose Publications. Yes, I was so taken by him that I wrote an entire book of Western poems, Westward: Guided by Starfalls and Moonbows, including a poem dedicated to him, entitled: “Cayo Bradley,” and which will be included in the beginning pages of the novel. I allowed him to invade my psyche, which proved beneficial to knowing him inside and out. I submersed myself in the period in which he lived, and in my mind, still lives in memory. I make sure the characters in my narrative have noble goals, important ambitions and objectives that they will risk seeking, despite the fact that they are flawed individuals.
My novel, The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley, is set in 1874 between New Mexico and St. Louis, Missouri, with some scenes or descriptions of earlier occurrences, such as the Battle of Cineguilla. For this novel, I purchased several history books and also books on the Jicarilla Apache Nation including their dictionary, which is not easy to use, I guarantee this!
My husband and I drive from Florida to Utah—we love driving out west. We spend spring, summer, and fall in Utah, a great jumping off place to see Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, California, and New Mexico, which we’ve travelled to many times.
In New Mexico, I visited the Santa Fe Library, The Indian Arts and Cultural Museum and The Wheelwright Museum. I was fortunate enough to meet a lovely docent, who was most accessible and gave me handouts about the Jicarilla Indians, the tribe I was writing about. I enjoy talking to people, and in New Mexico that’s just what I did—especially in Santa Fe. I stopped window-shoppers to ask questions. I spoke with the guy who sells newspapers on the street, bartenders, waitresses, shop and café owners—and did I ever glean a great amount of oral history and answers to my many inquiries!
In Grad School at Florida International University, my friend, advisor and mentor, Professor John Dufresne, told me when I first met him that the Universe conspires to bring you all you need to write a novel. I believe this idea of finding everything necessary to complete a book is true. So far, I’ve been blessed since the Universe has never let me down.
Where to find Nina: