In these final weeks before the release of Sam’s Town, I want to introduce you to two more characters. Next week we’ll finally meet Sam, but today we’re focusing on Ramona Bates (her last name never appears in the novel), a former English professor from “the hillbilly part of Ohio” (her words) who, unlike Sam and Adrian, has never watched a zombie movie or TV show, yet takes to this post-apocalyptic world quite naturally, discovering survival and weapons skills she never knew she had. And oh yes, she falls in love with Sam, though she ends the novel still undecided on whether she would truly describe herself as “in love”—Ramona is an overthinker (and this, along with the English professor part, is directly autobiographical). Although, as I stated last week, Sam and Adrian’s friendship is the cornerstone relationship of the novel, Ramona and Sam’s awkward, by-fits-and-starts romantic relationship plays a key role in both characters’ development. It’s also a favorite storyline of the friends and fellow writers who have read and given feedback on my novel, as evidenced by the celebrity couple hashtag that one of them coined, #Samona.
With Ramona, I hope I have successfully portrayed a realistic female lead character: neither a damsel in distress nor a one-dimensional tough girl. When Sam and Adrian first meet Ramona, who is hitchhiking along a deserted highway in Michigan, she impresses them as strong, smart, and a bit intimidating. (Before taking a nap in the backseat, she threatens to kill anyone who touches her.) But after some late-night, emotionally vulnerable conversations, Sam learns that Ramona is just as insecure as he is. They are drawn together by their mutual kindness and respect, even after they have learned each other’s insecurities. I have learned in my own life that honesty can be kind of sexy. Not coincidentally, it is after Sam opens up to Ramona about his mental health struggles that she first kisses him.
Here are some fun facts about Ramona:
- In Sam’s Town, we learn that Ramona has a sister that she believes is still living in their hometown. In the sequel, Sam’s Home (which I plan to work on next month during NaNoWriMo!), we learn that the sister is indeed still alive and is named Melissa, that Ramona is the older sister, and that Melissa has an ex-husband named Mike with whom she is back together (and who might turn out to be a bad guy—I haven’t gotten that far in my plotting yet).
- This is the first time I’ve used the name “Ramona” in a story, but I’ve been tossing it around in my head ever since I heard Bob Dylan’s song “To Ramona” when I was in college. Though I never state this in the novel, I like to think that Ramona’s parents were Dylan fans and that this is perhaps why Ramona so readily recognizes the name of the town where Sam and Adrian are headed: Hibbing, Minnesota (Bob Dylan’s hometown—and Sam’s).
Here’s a 100% autobiographical, totally self-indulgent scene about Ramona’s past as a college professor. It begins with Sam asking her to define a term she has just used, “FERPA” (you’ll have to read the novel to find out how that came up in conversation!).
“It stands for Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. It means I don’t have to talk to parents unless my students give their permission, because…” She stopped walking and turned to face him but held onto his hand. “Because my students are legally adults. Sam, I’m a college professor.” She looked down at her feet.
“Oh!” he exclaimed as it all clicked into place. “Sorry, I’m slow. But wait—why do you seem embarrassed about that?”
She sighed, lifting her shoulders exaggeratedly like a little kid. “Because people always treat me differently when they find out. Especially guys. They act like I’m from another planet when they find out—“ she lowered her voice to a whisper—“I have a Ph.D.”
“You have a Ph.D.?!” Sam practically yelled.
“See? Exactly like that,” Ramona huffed.
“Sorry,” he said, laughing a little. “Well, I won’t lie; I’m impressed. But you still seem to be from this planet.” He smiled and tried to make eye contact with her, but she kept looking down.
She absently swung their hands back and forth. “I feel like such a pretentious—person.” She cleared her throat. “And I don’t know; I still feel like a poser when I say I’m a college professor. Like people are thinking I’m too young. Or too—too something. Or not something enough. Sorry.” She finally looked up. “Clearly I’m very insecure.”
“Well, hey! So am I,” Sam said with a fake heartiness, fighting a grin.
Ramona snorted. “Glad we got that off our chests.”
This scene also gave you a little preview of the guy you’ve all been waiting to meet—Sam Larson. Come back next week to learn about my protagonist, whom I love (and I hope you will too!).