GLVWG’s Joe Fleckenstein had the opportunity to interview Ramona DeFelice Long, author, editor, and writing instructor.
Ramona, you were a speaker at one of the Write Stuff Writer’s Conferences before. We are delighted to have you back again. This year you will be the speaker at two sessions on Saturday: “The Writing Hour” and “Creative Nonfiction.” Allow me to ask you about creative nonfiction writing. Please correct me if I am mistaken. Would you say, as someone has suggested, that the literary magazines have developed an increased interest in creative nonfiction pieces? And, would you say creative nonfiction is a good place to start if a person is out to establish a list of “publications?”
RL: I am delighted to return as a speaker for the conference! It is indeed true that creative nonfiction is now quite marketable to magazines and journals. However, I am not sure if I would suggest writing a personal essay or CNF piece as a way to build publication credits unless your goal is to be an essayist or to pursue CNF as a primary writing genre, any more than writing newspaper articles will help you to get a novel manuscript noticed. What creative nonfiction has allowed is an expansion of traditional nonfiction and memoir pieces by combining factual information with storytelling style. For instance, I’ve written straight memoir about surviving hurricanes when I was a child growing up in Louisiana—I told the story of those nights. Later, I used the same subject and experience in a creative nonfiction piece, which relayed my personal experience but also addressed the broader idea of why people continue to live in dangerous areas of the country.
At the conferences I see a number of people who suspect they have a book inside them somewhere and, very possibly, there is money and fame ahead if only they could put it all together. Do you encounter the same level of expectation in creative nonfiction writers? What’s more, is there a chance of earning recompense let alone a living doing creative nonfiction?
RL: Most of the writers I encounter seem to have a fairly good grasp of the realities of the publishing industry, but they feel strongly about the stories they want to tell and their desire to reach an audience. It remains true that only a small percentage of working authors can earn a living by writing alone, but it is certainly possible to combine good skills, a good story, and good luck and be published. I can’t speak for how that reality applies to one genre more than any other genre. There are writers such as Laura Hillenbrand, Mark Bowden, and Francine Prose who are well published and popular CNF authors and whose works are good examples to study. I would hope, however, that an attendee at a writers conference would be there to learn about craft and make contacts rather than find some magical key to money and fame!
At your website, you wrote that you come from Louisiana and you were accustomed to speaking French. One last question! Pouviez vous parler francais aujourd’hui? Et, amiez vous les cusine Cajun? Votre mets favori?
L: I was indeed raised in a bilingual home—Louisiana French and English—but unfortunately, I am in the generation that was not taught to speak our ancestral language. My mother knew one sentence of English when she started first grade, and it was pressed upon her in school that one must speak English to get ahead. The result was that my parents spoke both but my siblings and I spoke English only. I understand some Cajun French and can speak a little, but I am not fluent. Fortunately, the effort to preserve the language has been ignited, and there are some immersion programs in a few schools. As to cooking Cajun foods—this, I can do! Gumbo, etouffee, sauce picantes are all favorites, but what I miss the most are the seafood boils. It’s not just delicious crabs with corn and potatoes boiled in spices to perfection, but sitting for hours sharing food, laughter, and stories. I learned much of my family history and about my cultural background outside under a shade tree, sitting at a long table covered in newspaper, peeling seafood, and listening to my elders share stories.
Ramona DeFelice Long works as an author, editor, and online writing instructor. As an author, her work has appeared in literary, regional, and juvenile publications, and she has been awarded artist fellowships and residencies in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. As an editor, she specializes in mysteries and suspense; women’s fiction; creative nonfiction; and memoir. She works with private clients as well as well as professional organizations to edit story anthologies. She offers workshops at conferences, leads writing retreats, and teaches online through Sisters in Crime.
She maintains a literary website at ramonadef.wordpress.com