Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ramona K. Cecil, Writing Romance God's Way

Some of the best writing advice I've received came from my friend and multi-published author Ramona K. Cecil. We live in neighboring towns, and we both were active in the same writers' group. She is the one who prompted me to join American Christian Fiction Writers. So it was with great pleasure that I sat down with her over lunch at the local Panera restaurant for an interview. She's a very busy lady, so I greatly appreciated her taking the time to meet with me.

"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." ~2 Corinthians 9:8


ME:  Ramona, I know you began your writing career by writing poetry. You include a poet's vivid imagery in your prose writing, as well. What is there about poetry that appeals to you?

RAMONA:  I love the beautiful "word pictures" poetry paints. I write rhyming poetry in the tradition of Helen Steiner Rice. I enjoy the challenge of constructing the poem, i.e., saying what I want to say in the way I want to say it while keeping the meter and making it rhyme without the rhyme sounding forced or contrived.

ME:  What steps have you taken to develop your craft?

RAMONA:  The poetry has always come very natural to me, so I've never really studied how to write it. I've only developed it by repetition--writing many, many poems over my lifetime. The prose, however, is different. Online writing workshops, critique groups, and reading the works of authors I admire are some of the ways I continue to develop my novel writing skills.

ME:  Where do your ideas for your poetry come from?

RAMONA:  The short answer is "Everywhere." As a child, I began writing poems about the beauty of nature, God's creation, and how that beauty affected me. As I matured, the subject of my poems became more about my Christian walk, my dependence on the Lord and thanking Him for His many blessings.

ME:  You know I love reading your historical romances, and I admire the depth of research you do to be accurate and true to the period about which you're writing. From where do those ideas spring?

RAMONA:  I'm most often inspired by real-life events in history, especially Indiana history. I like to take a nugget of some real-life occurance and build a fictional story around it. My first novel was inspired by a visit to Connor Prairie [a living history village near Noblesville, Indiana]. My latest, A Bride's Sweet Surprise in Sauers, Indiana, was inspired by stories my uncle learned while working on a family history.

ME:  Which comes first--the title or the idea?

RAMONA:  The idea comes first, but, oddly, I can't seem to begin a story until I have a title. The title may change over time, but I have to have one to begin writing.


ME:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

RAMONA:   Now, I'm a plotter. I started out a pantser, but I soon learned I needed more structure in order to write quicker and with fewer "plot holes."

ME:  How much flexibility do you allow yourself? I.e., how much straying from the plot do you allow? Can the story change radically?

RAMONA:  I do allow myself a liberal amount of flexibility. Sometimes I'm working on a chapter and decide that something I'd planned in my chapter synopsis won't work as well as I'd thought, or might even cause a problem later in the story. I just have to make sure any changes are reflected in later chapters. For instance, I can't have someone moving away and then reappearing in a later chapter without explanation.


ME:  Have you ever suffered writer's block? How do you overcome it?

RAMONA:  Yes. I imagine most, if not all, writers experience it some time or another. First, I pray for God's guidance. Brainstorming with fellow writers is another way to give your imagination a jump start.

ME:  How do you push through when life intrudes on your writing time?

RAMONA:  That's a difficult one. Since my husband works evenings, that's when I do my writing. I try to keep that time as free as possible from intrusions.

ME:  What has been the biggest challenge to your writing?

RAMONA:  Believing I can actually do this. I have to remind myself that alone I can't do it, but with God's help there is nothing I can't do. Beside my computer, I keep the verse from Ephesians 3:20:


Glory be to God, Why by His mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare ask or even dream of."

ME:  You have such a sweet mentor's heart, always willing to help other writers by offering sage advice and encouragement. Where does that come from?

RAMONA:  When I embarked on my journey toward becoming an author, I encountered many wonderful writers who encouraged me and helped me along the way. I love the chance to pay that forward and help other aspiring authors. Besides the thrill I get out of helping another writer along, I'm sure God expects nothing less from me.

ME:  In what ways do you partner with the Lord in your writing?

RAMONA:  I consider my writing a ministry. Through my characters, I try to show God's unconditional love and salvation and that He can overcome any problem or obstacle in a person's life, if we give Him control and yield our will to His.

ME:  Has He ever sent up a red warning flag that would seem to suggest, "No, don't go there," or "You're looking at that wrong."

RAMONA:  I honestly believe that is when I question some aspect of a scene. I call these episodes "God whispers." Sometimes something I've written or plan to write just doesn't "feel" right. Then I pray and ask for God's guidance. It may take a day or two, but an idea of how I might better handle the scene eventually comes.


ME:  What is the greatest compliment you've received regarding your writing?

RAMONA:  That my writing has touched someone in a very personal way. Whenever I hear that from readers of both my poetry and my novels, I'm simply blown away and extremely humbled.


ME:  How does your husband Jim help you in your writer's journey? Does he support you?

RAMONA:  Yes, he is very supportive. He puts up with me leaving him for days to attend conferences and has lugged boxes of books, assisting me at book signings. He has sometimes even helped me brainstorm an aspect of a story. Also, I couldn't do this and support myself financially. Jim refers to himself as my corporate sponsor.

ME:  Have you ever received negative feedback from a critique partner, an agent, or an editor? How did you deal with that?

RAMONA:  Absolutely. I have learned that to be a successful writer, one must have a teachable heart. I can usually sense if a criticism is genuinely meant to help me improve my writing or is simply mean-spirited. To be honest, I've experienced both. However brutal, the ones meant to help I take to heart and use as tools to make my writing better. The others, I simply ignore.


ME:  How did you land an agent?

RAMONA:  Basically through a conference. I got to know Tamela Hancock Murry [Steve Laube Agency] several years ago when we were stuck together at the Denver airport waiting for our flights home after a writers' conference. At that time, I was writing the short romances that didn't require an agent. Later when I began writing the longer stories, a friend and client of Tamela encouraged me to send her a proposal. I did and she accepted me as a client.

ME:  What qualities were you seeking in an agent?

RAMONA:  Someone accessible and with my best interests at heart.

Me:  What's your favorite among your books?

RAMONA:  That's like asking me which of my children I like better. I guess, if pushed, I'd say my first book, Larkspur. Though perhaps not as technically well-written as some of my later works, it is truly the story of my heart.

ME:  Tell us about your latest book.

RAMONA:  My latest book is A Bride's Sweet Surprise in Sauers, Indiana [picture above]. The story, set in the real-life German farming community of Sauers in my home county of Jackson, was inspired by actual incidents from my family history. Regina Seitz's sisters were allowed to marry for love, but Regina has been told by her father she must marry a man she has never met, just so Papa can have a German son-in-law to inherit the family homestead. Diedrich Rothhaus is as reluctant as she is, until her striking beauty and deep faith stir emotions he hadn't expected. Against both their wills, love claims their hearts. Then a cruel family secret is revealed, and Diedrich must fight to save the most precious thing in hi life, Regina's love.

ME:  Okay, Ramona. You've definitely piqued my interest in this one. Now what can we look forward to in the future?

RAMONA:  I've just finished another short historical romance, Heart's Heritage, scheduled for release later this year by Barbour Publishing. The story is set in Jackson County, Indiana, against the backdrop of the War of 1812 and the rising threats of the great Shawnee war chief, Tecumseh.

ME:  Ah! We'll be watching for that one, too. I find Tecumseh quite heroic. Okay, you're a poet and a historical romance writer. Is there another genre you'd like to explore? If so, what? And why?

RAMONA:  I've written some contemporary novellas and have even plotted a contemporary romantic suspense. I also have an idea for a contemporary women's fiction novel.

ME:  Let's play Pretend. You're having a tea party. You can invite seven writers--past or present. Who will you invite and why?

RAMONA:  Of course I'd invite you, Sharon. My other six choices would be close friends and wonderful authors of Christian fiction: Louise Gouge, Laurie Alice Eakes, MaryLu Tyndall, Kim Vogel Sawyer, Patty Hall, and Debbie Lynne Costello.

ME: Thank you for including me with this esteemed group. These all are writers I'd love to meet.

What is a typical day like in the life of author Ramona K. Cecil?

RAMONA:  Since we live a late shift due to my hubby's job, I get up about 11 a.m.. I check e-mails, then have breakfast with hubby and watch some news on TV. I'm then often jumping in the car to run errands. Fix lunch around 3 p.m., then get hubby off to work at 4:35. Then I check e-mails again and begin my "writing time." I work until 8 p.m., when I take a supper break. I go back to work from 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. when hubby comes home.

ME:  What is the best writing advice you've been given?

RAMONA:   Keep writing. Never give up. Keep your eyes on Christ. Never forget

ME:  Who were your mentors?

RAMONA:  Two early critique partners, Pat Loomis and Stacy Wilder, Kim Vogel Sawyer, Louise Gouge, Laurie Alice Eakes, and MaryLu Tyndall, who continue to encourage me and help make me a better writer.

ME:  What advice do you offer to novice writers?

RAMONA:  Have a teachable heart and never give up. Keep your eyes on Christ. Remember God is in control, and His timing is perfect. Never forget Who [sic] you are working for and that He will help you do the work He has given you to do. And encourage one another.

ME:  That sounds very much like Colossians 3:23-24. Kathy, dear friend, what a blessing it has been to chat with you. Thank you. And may our Lord continue to bless you, Jim, and your work.

Write on!
Because of Christ

Gentle Readers, remember to leave a comment by noon, March 14. I'll randomly select from among those who comment and announce the winner of Ramona's latest book on this blog by 10 a.m. March 15.





10 comments:

  1. Ramona, I feel like I've 'grown up' with you on your writing journey as I reviewed Larkspur (which I liked very much!). It's been fun to see you achieve so much and I appreciate all your critiquing for me in the early days.

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  2. Thank you sooo much, Jude! I appreciate you, too. Congratulations on your own publishing successes. May God bless you with many more!

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  3. Ramona, I haven't read any of your books yet, but I grew up in Southern Indiana, so I would love to read one.

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    1. Hi Tammy! I suppose I should say "Hi neighbor!" :o) Thank you for stopping by. I hope you get to check out A Bride's Sweet Surprise in Sauers, Indiana.

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  4. Ramona, the setting of a German farm community sounds very interesting. I imagine there will be some stuff about all the German food?

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    1. Hi Renee! Actually, there is mention of some German food. There is also mention of wild game, which was the main meat source for people on the Indiana prairie in 1849. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you get to check out the book.

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  5. Hi Ramona! It was so good getting to know you on our way from Indy to Saint Louis en route to the ACFW conference last year! I love reading stories about Indiana. It's so cool to see the book you spoke about to me in person now in print. :D

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    1. Hi Dawn! Didn't we have fun? I probably talked your ear off. LOL I'm really excited about the book's release. I hope you get the chance to get a copy.

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  6. I loved this interview. What wonderful nuggets of wisdom. I too love Eph 3:20--oner of my all-time fave scriptures. And i had to laugh about your husband referring to himself as your corporate sponsor! He seems like a great guy. I had the privilege of Ramona's help this year with my Genesis entry, and I can attest at how generous of a mentor she is. If I advance in this contest this year, it will be due in large part to her help, as well as others on this journey, including Sharon.
    That tea party invite list is stellar. I've had the blessing of Debbie Lynne's critiques since day one at since I joined ACFW. Good picks!

    and yes, I would adore to be entered to win this wonderful book.
    mahereenie (at) yahoo (dot) com

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    1. Ah, you are too sweet, Kathleen. Your Genesis entry is great and I'm rooting for you. Thanks so much for stopping in and I wish you the best of luck in the drawing! Many Blessings!

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