Review of The Blue Rebozo by Pamela Humphrey

12232826_866517436795996_7217886777960372424_oThe Blue Rebozo is a fictionalized story based on facts the author had of her ancestors.  I can appreciate Ms. Humphrey’s love for genealogy, as I share this passion. When I wrote my book based off of my late grandma’s life, it was done in a similar fashion, although I changed names and the story’s timeframe was more recent.

The setting for The Blue Rebozo is late nineteenth century Texas.  The narrative is centralized around Petra, a young woman whose family came from Mexico when she was a child.  The Ramirez family is large, with several children of various ages, and while I understand that large families were the norm for that time period, there were a lot of names to keep track of.  I guess there’s really no way around this, but the large number of names mentioned made it hard for most of these characters to be developed much.

One of the nice elements of the story was the grandmother, Clara, who was Petra’s abuelita.  Clara shares the tale of Leonor, who is the mother of Clara, and how she met and married Esteban.  When they married, a blue rebozo (a blue scarf) was given to the bride, Leonor, to wear on her wedding day.  The blue rebozo becomes a symbol of love that’s passed down the generations, from Leonor to Clara, to Jesusa (Clara’s daughter-in-law), to Petra (and eventually to Petra’s daughter, Candida).  This was a nice touch.  Many families have such heirlooms that have meaning.  I have my grandma’s china, which belonged to her mother-in-law and is well over 100 years old now, so I understand and appreciate such objects.  It’s like having a part of those who have gone before with you.

We follow Petra as she loses her first husband, Mr. Torres, to a stranger who stabbed him on a horse, to when she falls in love with Francisco, who has lived with her family for years and worked on the farm.  Mr. Torres was older than Petra, and while he was a good man, Petra hadn’t been in love with him.  I am a sucker for romance, so my favorite part was when Francisco confessed his love to Petra and she to him.  As I read, I kept waiting with anticipation from that moment.  Petra is still a young woman, after all, and has been left with three young kids to raise after losing her first husband.  The fact that Francisco was in love with Petra for years before he told her melts my heart even more as the hopeless romantic.  As a woman, wife, and mother, I know what it is to have one of the good guys.  Those quiet fellows who smile and trip over their words, waiting for the right moment to say “I love you,” that’s gold.

The story reads smoothly and is easy to follow.  As this is a novella, it’s not very long, which makes for a good book to read if you’re looking for something that isn’t going to take long to get through.  I read this book in a few days during the summer.  I have limited reading time, as I am also a writer and a mom of three young kids (like Petra), so finishing this novella wasn’t a problem.  I suggest it as a light read for someone whose time is already stretched but is looking to read more books, maybe as a vacation read for this summer.

This is a story with heart. I would have liked to have seen more details fleshed out, as Petra, the main character, goes through a lot: falling in love and losing loved ones.  It’s tragic how many children died young back then, and I cannot imagine the heartache it would have been on a mother (and father).  This is a repeated theme in the story in every generation, and while Ms. Humphrey writes that the parents are saddened to lose a child, more details about the heart-wrenching agony would have driven this point home.  Still, I suppose it is not something that is easy to write about in any circumstance, and unless a person has actually experienced such loss, it may be difficult to write about it convincingly19141955_10155375087713607_1447486949_n

Overall, this is a good little story.  I don’t wish to spoil it by saying too much, especially in regards to who dies (which is a lot of people, sadly), so I recommend you pick up this little book and give it a try.

4 out of 5 stars

Buy The Blue Rebozo

 

The Beginner’s Guide to Positive Thinking in Three Difficult Steps

Damn, Girl. Get Your Shit Together.

Confession:

When I am with a client and they start to “go off,” I mean really make a spectacle, a part of me relishes it. I go to my happy place four hours into the future where I waltz into the bar, plop my purse down on the table, and tell my girlfriends, “You’re. Not. Going. To. Believe. This. Shit.” I then revel in their shocked faces while the shit-talking pours freely from my mouth like some kind of Mean Girls-style verbal diarrhea. Lord forgive me.

Like most women with a lot of sauce, the idea of embracing “positive thinking” summons images of girls in skirts made of wheat, singing Kumbaya around a campfire or literally stopping to smell flowers and staring up at the sun to bask in the radiance of the day. Basically, a fucking nightmare.

But…

There are a few mental habits that I have embraced…

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Poetry Tuesday – Irreversible Damage

Painted smiles on ceramic masks can shatter,

Their falsity revealed on tender, tear-streaked cheeks.

Concrete walls built high and proud can be demolished

With a wrecking ball of harsh words,

Piercing holes, further damage inflicted on an already scarred heart.

A persistent enough enemy can breach any barrier if patient,

Find the key of destruction that unlocks the door kept closed,

Opening a mind filled with once silent screams for all to hear.

Be careful who you’re holding,

What fragile masterpiece you might be about to break irreversibly.

01/14/15

A Story Is Driven By Characters, Not Plot

A Writer's Path

by Millie Ho

Kill the plot-driven story with fire.

A plot-driven story sucks. It is not a story but a sequence of events. It is a terrible thing that will make you claw your hair out trying to make all the details fit while retaining reader interest.

I had a tough two weeks plotting my Long-Suffering Manuscript (LSM) because I was exercising too much control over the story instead of transferring that control over to my characters.

And it’s all because of something I call The Found Situation.

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Excerpt from Mile Marker 139

Today I’m sharing with you chapter three of Mile Marker 139.

Read chapter one here and chapter two here.

Chapter Three: Russ Jacobs

His eyelids are growing heavy.  He’s used to lengthy stretches of road and long hours.  When it’s been nearly eleven hours of driving with only two thirty-minute breaks, Russ knows it’s time to turn in.  It doesn’t help that it’s taken him longer than usual to drive the route from New York City.  Between holiday traffic and road construction, it’s added a couple of hours to his route.  He’s always pushing the limits of what’s allowed, but balancing what’s permitted by regulations and getting to his next destination on schedule is an act Russ has been managing for the past fifteen years.

He squints at the road sign.  Twenty-some miles till the next rest stop.  He knows he ought to fit in an eye exam some time between all the road trips, but it’s starting to snow as well.  Visibility would be compromised for anyone.  Damn, he was hoping to beat the snow before stopping.  Every report on the radio stations and chatter from other drivers ahead of him on the road over the CB radio warned him a storm was coming.  He really should know better by now.  

Just stop sooner, Russ.  It’s not that hard, you old idiot.

Russ reaches for the long-cold mug of coffee in the holder, careful to keep his other hand on the wheel.  The truck lurches slightly.  Damn black ice.  Still, he needs something to keep him awake.  The jerking of the cabin is more effective than the ounce of caffeinated beverage left.

As he plants both hands firmly on the wheel, he wonders if he really does have a death wish.  

Concentrate.  You’ll be taking a break for good if you get in an accident and die.

His boss would get on his case if he knew he was driving like this.  On the back of every Todamax Freight truck reads: “How am I driving?  Please call 1-555-TODAMAX.”  

Russ knows he’s got deadlines to make, and the weather isn’t helping.  He wants to push through, but his thirty-nine-year-old body is failing.  He grimaces, thinking about his age.  Brandy is insisting on throwing a party for him.  As much as he loves his younger sister, he hates the idea of that “over the hill” logic that “it’s all downhill from here.”

“You’re halfway to death,” Russ’s lifelong buddy, Ed, joked last time they were together.

If Brandy doesn’t throw the damn party, Ed and his pals will.  Being born on New Year’s Eve is everyone’s excuse to celebrate your birthday.  

Maybe I really do have a death wish, he thinks wryly.  I’m no spring chicken.  Mom always said I had a morbid sense of humor.

Lost in his thoughts, those twenty miles pass like an eighteen-wheeler running over roadkill: easy.  So Russ almost misses his stop.  Snapping out of his woe-is-me-I’m-becoming-an-old-man mentality, Russ takes the exit to the rest area.  As he applies pressure to the brake, the truck slides and wavers on the slush and ice.  Where are the damn road crews when you need them?  Just as he’s about to stop, he sees her too late.  He swears and wills the truck to please stop in time.  It halts.  He releases his white-knuckled grip on the wheel and is out of his cabin in a second.

Expecting to find a body on the ground, Russ breathes a sigh of relief when he sees her standing not five feet from the front of the truck.

“Hey, what the hell do you think you were doin’, lady?” he shouts.  He doesn’t mean to frighten her, but he’s shaken up.

So is she, clearly.  “I-I’m s-sorry,” she mumbles and takes a step, only to lose her balance and fall into the slush.

Russ swears under his breath and comes to her aide.  “It’s not safe out here, lady.  C’mon, in the truck.”

As he helps her us, she tries to pull away.  “No, I’m fine.  Sorry, I–”

“At least let me get you somewhere safe.”  Russ is a big guy — six foot three and two hundred twenty pounds of pure muscle.  He is as gentle as he can be with this waif of a woman, but insistent that she come with him.  As he guides her to the truck, he says, “Don’t worry, lady.  I ain’t gonna hurt you or abduct you if that’s what you’re worried about.”

He opens the passenger door and helps her step up into the cab.  After slamming it shut, Russ gets back in and manoeuvres the semi to the truck rest area in the back.  Once he turns off the engine, he looks her up and down.  Sure that she’s homeless, he asks, “Where are you headed?”

“Nowhere.”

It’s as he suspected.  She’s probably trying to sleep inside the rest stop.  It’s open 24-7 after all, is warm, and has bathrooms.

The snow picks up outside.  

“I’m Russ.”

“And I need to go.”  She tries to open the door, but Russ stills her hand.  

“Wait, are you crazy?  There’s a blizzard out there.  Look, I swear on my grandma’s grave I ain’t gonna hurt you.  I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, not only ‘cause of the weather, but I’m due for a break.  A long break.  At least ten hours, lady.  And in case you’re worried, look around you.  We ain’t exactly alone.”  He motions toward trucks parked on either side of him.

“Well, you could still–”  She shrinks back in her seat, pressed against the window.  “How would they know you aren’t, um, doing something to me in here?”

“Guess you’ll just have to trust me then, lady.  I nearly hit you and am damn glad I didn’t.  What makes you think the first thing I’d do is turn around and rape the woman I practically saved from bein’ made flat as a pancake on the asphalt?”

The woman winces and claws at the handle to open the door.  Russ sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose.  “Look, lady, at least tell me your name.  I’m tired and cranky.  Been a long day, and, look, sorry about my tone.  Like I said, long day.”

“I’m, um, Shelley.”  Her voice is scratchy and quiet, like she hardly uses it.  Shelley’s haunted eyes roam the interior of the cabin.  “Won’t it get cold just sitting in here?” she finally asks.

Russ chuckles.  “Nope.  Auxiliary power keeps the cab heated when the engine’s off.”

“It’s, uh…nicer than I’d expect in here.”

Russ can’t help but be amused by her fascination.  He takes off his cap and runs his hands through his thick, dark hair, and replaces it.  “Most don’t really know much about cabs, but it’s fine for what it is.  I spend plenty of time in here.  The bed’s not the same of mine back in New York, but I’m used to it.  Got a fridge, microwave, TV, and Internet.  No bad for a few square feet.”

Shelley seems to relax a bit as she looks around the cabin.  “Do you, um, spend lots of time on the road?”

Russ smiles, then yawns.  “Pretty much my life.  Hey, sorry…just ready to go to sleep.  This storm doesn’t look like it’s gonna let up anytime soon.  You can wait it out in here if you like.”

“Thanks, but I can go inside the center.”

“You kidding me? You’re not even wearing a hat, gloves, nothing.  You’ll freeze out there.”

“It’s not a far walk.”

Russ scrutinizes her.  “You weren’t headed for the building, were you?”

Shelley avoids his gaze, stares at her thin fingers as she picks at a hole in her jeans.

“Sorry.  But you” — he yawns — “you weren’t headed in that direction when I damn near hit you.  You were crossin’ from the car lot to the open area.”

“What’s it matter?”

“It’s after 3:00 in the morning.  There’s a blizzard outside, and you’re hardly dressed to be out in even forty degree weather.  Something don’t add up.”

Shelley frowns, glares.  “I thought you were tired.”

Russ can’t help the big yawn that follows.  “Yeah, I am.  Anyone in their right mind would be beat at this hour.”  He gives her a meaningful look as he takes off his hat and moves to the bed.  Russ lies down, turns on his side away from her.  “Fine.  Do what you want, but I’m getting some shuteye.  Close the door on your way out if you’re crazy enough to leave.”

As sleep claims Russ, his worn-out mind knows Shelley is either insane or dead depressed.  No one roams around outside at this time of night in a snowstorm at a rest stop.

When he wakes at daybreak, Shelley is gone.  But the door is closed.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I will post a new excerpt every Saturday!

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available for only $2.99 on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

 

The Benefits of Joining a Writers Group

There it was for probably the hundredth time on the sign outside my local library: writers group, meeting 8/18 2-4:00 PM.  Okay, maybe not the hundredth time, but how many times did I drive past the library, which is about two point five miles from my house, and see that group advertised and not do a darn thing?  The sign was one of those LED types that showed all the happenings at the library, from book discussion groups to story times for children.  And my library had a writers group.

Of course, every time I saw that sign, I wondered, What do they do at those meetings?  Do they just sit there and write?  Do writing exercises?  Or do they read each other’s work while there and comment on it?

I imagined a small group, maybe four people tops, sitting around a table with pens in hand and paper in front of them.  These folks were nameless and faceless and voiceless.  Strangers.  I couldn’t really believe that there were actually other people in my own city who were writers like me!

I’d been writing for over a year last August.  I was content with my progress at creating a finished book and self-publishing it, but I’d had to ask several friends to read it and edit for me.  Looking back, I feel like I was pulling teeth in some regards, because only about half of them got back to me, and I didn’t wish to push them into doing something they may not have wanted to do in the first place — except that they probably would have felt guilty had they said no to reading my first draft.  

While I was grateful to that group of friends, I knew that to ask my friends again for help of such a magnitude would be too much.  I was writing two more books, and let’s be honest — most people aren’t writers and editors.  

So I thought, Why not give this mysterious writers group a try?

On August 18, 2016, I approached the library with a mixed feeling of nervous energy and excitement.  Every footstep carried me closer to the light brick building I had known and visited plenty of times in the thirteen years of living here.  But this time was different.  I held tightly in my grip the first chapter of my current work in progress, thinking I needed to bring something along.

I entered the library and asked the lady behind the circulation desk where the writers group met.  She directed me to a meeting room near the back of the building, past the computers.  When I stepped into the room, at least ten people of all ages (well, thirty and up) were seated around the table and all looked at me at the same time.  The chair at the head of the long table was unoccupied, so I took a seat and offered a smile.

The woman to my left and the man to my right immediately introduced themselves to me, and a minute later, the man who ran the group (and worked at the library) told me his name (let’s call him Jack) and asked me to tell them a little about myself.  I was at ease in this group, for they were welcoming and pleasant.  And I wasn’t the only newbie that day.  Another woman (let’s call her Kate) about the same age as me (mid-thirties) was there for the first time.  Kate smiled at me across the table.  I was at home.

I sat there for the next two hours and got a handle on how the group functioned.  Everyone present had read everyone else’s work and had made comments on the content and suggestions for grammatical or punctuation changes.  As they went around the table, whoever was next in the lineup got their turn to have their work critiqued by the others.  Not everyone spoke, but most did.  I could tell most of these folks had been meeting for a while.  Their easygoing manner was inviting.  There was plenty of humor.  No one was offensive or rude.  It was like stepping into a group of good friends who were hanging out and enjoying some good food and drinks.

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At the end, Jack asked me what I thought and if I’d like to come back.  “Yes!” I said.  I gave him my email address, and he explained how the group worked: They met every two weeks.  I needed to send him up to ten pages of my stuff before the first week was up, so he could then send out everyone’s stuff about a week before the next meeting, giving us all enough time to read and comment.  

I was so enthusiastic that I sent him my chapter the very next day, even though I had a week to do so!  And so began the tradition that’s continued for almost a year.

People have come and gone from the group over the last several months, but there is a core group that keeps coming.  I have had the pleasure of reading what I consider good stories from a variety of genres from these folks: regular and cozy mysteries, romance, horror, nonfiction, short stories, sci-fi, and more.  There have been a few recent additions to the group who have become core as well, and it’s been amazing to see how the dynamic has stayed positive and inviting, with the humor never far away, since I joined.

What’s funny is that some people will shy away from joining groups like this out of fear.  If you’re a writer, maybe you just write for yourself, and that’s fine.  There are, however, many writers who want to get their stuff out there.  They write for their own pleasure and to share it with other people.  To allow fear of what others might say about your work is debilitating.  If you are serious about publishing your work, others will eventually read it…at least I would assume that’s what you want if you’re publishing it!

There have been times when what I submitted to the writers group needed some work, sometimes quite a bit of work.  I have gotten tough to swallow feedback, especially when it’s right in the moment.  Let’s face it — our writing is kind of like our baby, our kid.  We sort of fall in love with it (at least some of us do), and it’s hard to hear someone rip it apart.  Okay, that was harsh.  I have not had my stuff ripped to shreds.  No one in the group has ever discouraged me from writing or said I was wasting my time.  No one name calls or says that the work of another is only good for wiping someone’s backside.

Constructive criticism is meant to build up.  It may be tough to take, but swallow it down and let it digest a bit.  Realize that not everything you write it going to be stellar.  Some of it’s downright crap.  And that’s okay.  Because you know what?

You and I, we work at it again and again.  And come back better and stronger for it.  I am extremely and deeply grateful for my writers group.  I have told them this a few times, and I hope they believe it.

I recently finished a whole manuscript with them.  Ten months of edits on that baby have improved the story tremendously, and without this group of amazing people, I wouldn’t have been able to have the finished product I do.  

If you’ve been looking for a writers group, check out your local library.  If your library doesn’t have one, maybe there’s one in the next city over or in the county.  In this digital age, there’s no excuse not to pop online and do a search.  If you’re still out of luck, perhaps suggest to someone at the library that they start a group…or even offer to run it if they don’t have someone for the job.  If you know at least a couple of other writers who are looking for a group like this and they’re local, start a group that meets in your homes, a coffee shops, or wherever works for you.  But make the commitment to meet regularly.  Have a routine, a schedule.  Hold each other accountable to it.

If none of that works, there are plenty of groups online.  It’s not as great as face-to-face contact, but it’s better than nothing.  Facebook has loads of groups for writers, but I recommend 10 Minute Novelists.  This isn’t a group to share your story directly, but every Tuesday is Buddy Day, and you can ask for someone to read your story and edit, often in exchange for doing the same for them.  Don’t expect people to line up to read your stuff if you aren’t willing to give back.

Besides the invaluable feedback on my stories I’ve gotten from my writers group, I have made friends with them.  There have been times when the subject matter of a story has triggered something for someone in the group, and real life stories have been shared in that meeting room.  Stories of loss and heartache.  Tears have been shed.  Hugs given.  Our hearts bared.

We’re writers.  We write about our deepest fears, desires, and our heart’s song, so why wouldn’t we also express those thoughts face-to-face?  That sort of genuine interaction isn’t easily come by.

Friendship.  Constructive criticism.  People reading your story.  Improving your writing.

What’s not to love?  I’d say it’s a no-brainer.  Go join a writers group!

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog at the end of every week and a book review blog the 15th of every month.

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available for $2.99 any other time on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful