The Rundown of Beta Reading

A Writer's Path

by Samantha Fenton

Definition of a beta reader: A beta reader is a non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting.

Beta reading is typically done before the story is released for public consumption. Beta readers are not explicitly proofreaders or editors, but can serve in that context. Elements highlighted by beta readers encompass things such as plot holes, problems with continuity, characterisation or believability.

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Poetry Tuesday – A Little Lost…

Sometimes I feel,

As we age,

As our edges wear ragged,

We sharpen and do more hurt,

Rather than dull the blade

And even put the sword away.

I am left wondering

If we ever learn

To choose kindness over cruelty,

Compassion over judgment,

Truth over lies.

But the record spins,

Round and round,

The broken, scratchy music

Replaying its melancholic melody.

History and the future,

They are super-imposed,

Mirrored in the moment

Another heart is shattered.

Even though it must pass away,

Forever friends seems a feeble lie

When the blade is still stuck

In my back, bleeding out

A little life at a time.

12/19/14, in response to mourning the loss of the longest friendship in my life

Excerpt from Mile Marker 139

Today I’m sharing with you an excerpt (actually the whole first chapter) of my unfinished story, Mile Marker 139:

Chapter One: Mike Popkins

The wheels squeak as he pushes the mop bucket across the floor.  A couple of surly truckers look up from their venti coffees and glare.  He’s used to it.  He hates the noise, too.

Mike Popkins eases the rickety bucket to the men’s room and ropes off the entrance —  “closed for cleaning.”

His arthritic hands clutch the mop.  He squeezes the extra water from it with the bucket’s wringer and drops the floppy, disgusting thing onto the grimy floor.  Back and forth.  Side to side.

“Hey, can I use the bathroom?” someone asks loudly.

“Bathroom’s closed,” Mike says.  He sniffs, just getting over a cold, and pushes his thick glasses up his long nose.

The man outside the bathroom mutters.  Probably a foul-mouthed trucker.

“The things I put up with,” Mike murmurs to himself.  

In five minutes, he finishes cleaning and leaves the bathroom.  It’s pitch dark beyond the doors to the rest area and about five in the morning.  For as long as Mike can remember, he’s worked third shift as the janitor.  Few guys want the job or the hours, but he’s never been a picky man.  Still, age is catching up with him as he takes a break and eases into one of the chairs on the rim of the coffee area.  Brewing Up Some Happiness is the name of the latest trendy coffee joint.

To Mike, the coffee is overpriced.  If it weren’t freezing outside, he’d nip out to his car and grab his Thermos of home brew, but he’s not that desperate for caffeine.  Besides, in another hour, he’ll be free to go.

Mike shifts in the seat, wondering if he’d be smart to diet.  Poor Barb, bless her soul, would have nagged him for the extra thirty pounds he’d put on since her death five years ago.  

“Excuse me?”

Mike snaps out of his thoughts and stares at the woman in front of him.  He’s seen her plenty of times before, although she’s usually outside at that picnic table.  Some lunatic, he figures.  Homeless, maybe, although she drives a car.  Still, maybe she lives out of her car.

“Yeah?” he grunts.

“You got a smoke?”

Mike scowls.  “Do I look like a charity giver, darlin’?”

“Sorry.  It’s just I’m out.  I’ve, uh, seen you smoke a cigarette or two here and there.”

“Oh, fine.  Here.”  Mike stands, digs in his pants pocket, pulls out a pack, and offers her one.

“Thanks.”  She snatches the cigarette from Mike’s hand like it’s already lit and might burn her.

“You need a light?”  Mike steps back a bit, hesitant.  This odd woman has the look of a deer about to dash away.

“No.”  She reaches into her coat pocket and pulls out a lighter.

“You can’t smoke in here.”  And here he was offering her a light just a second ago.  What’s gotten into him?

She shrugs.  “I’m going back out anyway.”  

Just as she turns to leave, Mike pursues her.  “Wait.  It’s freezing out there.”

The late November weather doesn’t keep people from traveling for Thanksgiving.  Mike realizes that’s tomorrow and half-wonders if he should call his son and accept the invitation to dinner after all.

“I’m fine.”

Her dull tone speaks of anything but fine.  Mike’s mind whirls.  Normally, he wouldn’t care what some stranger does with her life, but something about this woman pulls at him.  All the feelings that plagued him for months after Barb’s death return.  Why should he care if a vagrant has somewhere to go for Thanksgiving?  What does he need to know about her story?  She’s probably a drunk and a drug addict.  Maybe she’s walked out on her family.  But…

“I’ve seen you.”  Mike’s mouth is dry.  He licks his lips and bites the inside of his cheek.  He’s unshaven, his salt and pepper hair a mess until his ball cap.  He knows he’s not the picture of empathy, but his blue eyes have seen hurt enough times in his sixty-two years to know a thing or two about it.

“What?”  She hovers by the exit.  Her eyes are usually hidden by sunglasses, but they stare, exposed.  Mike doesn’t know if he’s ever seen such hollow, dark eyes.

“Sitting out there at that picnic table.  I work here, young lady, every damn night but Sunday.  You think I wouldn’t notice you out there?  It’s been at least a couple of months you’ve been coming here every night.  Don’t know how long you stay or if you ever really leave, but you turn up right about three o’clock every morning.  I’m due to leave soon, and I’m betting you’ll still be out there for hours after that.”

She just stares.  The crease between her eyebrows deepens, but then she turns and the doors close automatically behind her.

Mike sighs.  “Why do I bother?” he mutters, shaking his head.

He’s got a job to do, damn it.  He can’t waste his time worrying about the crazies when he’s got trash to take out.

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


Character Friday – Meet Shelley Parkinson

I’m Michelle Parkinson, although my friends call me Shelley.  Until recently, I didn’t really have any friends, at least not anymore.  I had a best friend from childhood named Lori Miller.  She stayed around the longest, but in the end, I pushed her away like everyone else.  I had a good life.  You wouldn’t know it by looking at me now.  I live out of my car and am basically homeless.  It’s not that I didn’t have money.  I have quite a sum left to me from my late husband’s life insurance policy.  I used to be the woman who lived in the big, fancy house and entertained every weekend.  My hair was long and blonde (dyed).  I wore expensive clothes and makeup.  At five feet, nine inches and slender, I was attractive.  People never could get over how dark my eyes were for such a fair complexion.  I loved the attention.  At least that’s what I told myself.  I didn’t need to work because my husband, Aaron, had it all.

Everything changed in an instant in May of 2017 when Aaron died.  That’s awful, right?  Losing a spouse is bad enough as it is, but the circumstances of his death weren’t natural.  Aaron had been a successful businessmen.  We’d seemed so happy, but that all changed in an instant when the horrible truth was revealed about my husband upon his death.

Why me, Aaron?  I never really wanted all of this.  I was 33 when you died, Aaron.

Alone in my grief, I began to sit at a picnic table at the nearby rest area.  I’d drive my car there every night at 3:14 AM and stay as long as possible.  I’d drive around for a few hours, find somewhere to park and sleep.  But I forced myself to stay awake and just be at one with my suffering for hours on end.

Until people started to notice me.  First it was the janitor at the rest area — an older man named Mike Popkins.  He started sharing a cigarette with me during his breaks and just talking to me.  I mostly just listened at first.  He’d lost his wife and had a distant relationship with his only son.

Then there was Sarah Wilcox.  She was sweet, young, and pretty.  She brought me coffee.  She worked at the coffee place at the rest area and paid for a cup for me every day.  She just smiled at me and first and passed off the cup, but then she started sitting with me on her break.  Again, she did most of the talking at first.  She was just trying to figure out her life, but her wide-eyed wonder at all that life had to store brought me hope.

And finally, there was trucker Russ Jacobs.  He nearly ran me over with his truck during a snowstorm, but he was kind enough to give me shelter from the storm by inviting me into his truck.  I’d been unsettled.  He was gruff but gentle.  He said he passed through here often.  He started looking for me.  He always he had long breaks.  We started talking, sitting inside over burgers and fries. 

But few people know my full story, even Russ.  He doesn’t know how Aaron died, and I don’t know how to tell him.  Do I risk loving again or remain secluded in my grief?

That’s my unfinished story…

Shelley Parkinson is the character who the protagonists, Mike Popkins, Sarah Wilcox, and Russ Jacobs, revolve around in my unfinished story, Mile Marker 139.

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

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


Review of Finding Claire by Pamela Humphrey


Imagine waking up in the back of a van after being kidnapped with no idea who you are.  No memories.  No name.  Nothing.

You have a photo with the name “Claire” on it, perhaps the only clue to who you are — your whole identity.

You manage to escape, but you’re more lost than ever.  

This is how Finding Claire by Pamela Humphrey opens.  You can see why I couldn’t stop reading.  I had to know what would happen next.

Ms. Humphrey’s writing is thought-out and easy to read, but her descriptions of the physical surroundings and the emotions stirring inside put the reader right in the scene.  As the kidnapped woman desperately picks her way through the forest at night trying to find help, my heart was pumping with adrenaline right there with her.  With every stick that snaps underfoot and every rustle of a bush, she and I kept looking over our shoulders, expecting the kidnappers to be right on our heels.

And then a safe haven pops into view — a cozy cabin in the woods with a black cat in the window.  She knocks on the door at about 3:00 AM and meets Alex Ramirez, a guy in his thirties who’s got his own demons.  A widower for the last couple of years, Alex lost his wife tragically.  She was murdered, leaving him with a guilt that eats away his insides for not being able to save her, leaving him a shell.  His first inclination is to act as protector to this strange woman who shows up at his door.  He gives “Rainy” (his nickname for her, as she can’t yet remember her name) a place to stay.

Luckily for “Rainy,” Alex’s best friend is D.J., a cop.  The authorities are quickly notified of “Rainy” and her kidnappers, including two photos that she took with her when she escaped.  The one with the name “Claire” on it is an old picture of a mother and a little girl, with “Emma and Claire” written on the back.  The new picture is a current one of “Rainy.”  The investigation begins while Alex and “Rainy” commence doing their own search online for links to Claire.

“Rainy” soon gets her memory back, and she remembers her name is Kate.  She recalls getting kidnapped in the mall parking lot after shopping with her sister, Meg.  Meg was knocked out, and once things settle, Kate visits Meg in the hospital.  Parts of the puzzle start to fall into place as Kate talks to Meg and her husband, Tom.  Kate’s family lives in Denver, and she was just visiting San Antonio (where Meg lives).

It turns out that Kate has a knack for uncovering information on people because she’s into genealogy.  I can appreciate this quality, as I am also a genealogy fanatic, having spent most of the summer of 2011 researching my family tree.  It’s amazing what you can find online these days in regards to records on people, so Ms. Humphrey’s descriptions of Kate using the Internet for this purpose is realistic.  Ms. Humphrey’s love of genealogy shines through in this book, which is nice touch.

While Kate may have her memory back, she remains confused about why she was kidnapped in the first place and what her connection to Claire might be.  In addition to fearing for her safety because her kidnappers are still at large, she begins to have romantic feelings for Alex.  Unsure of whether he returns the feelings because it’s clear he still loves his late wife, Ellie, Kate holds back.  She wants more than a protector, as much as she appreciates Alex for everything he’s done.  She stays at his cabin with him for several days, and the tension between them grows as Alex struggles with his blossoming feelings for Kate, torn between loving another woman and the guilt over losing Ellie.

The suspense romance is written in alternating points-of-view.  One chapter is from Kate’s point-of-view, and the next is from third person.  I have read books like this before, although it’s rarely done.  One of the more recent books I read where the POV kept changing from first person between two main characters was the third book in Rebecca Donovan’s Breathing Series, Out of Breath.  I found this confusing in Donovan’s case because the first two books were only from one character’s POV, and with switching between two first person POVs, this was a bit much.  In Ms. Humphrey’s book, however, it works.  While Donovan would switch in the middle of a chapter, Ms. Humphrey sticks to whole chapters written in one point-of-view or the other.  There was never any confusion.  I found the insight into Kate’s mind important, knowing her fears, her reservations, her lapses in memory, her feelings for Alex, etc.  Knowing less about how Alex feels about Kate keeps the tension building, although it’s clear as the book moves along that he sees Kate as more than just a friend.

To say much more about the plot would give away too much, and I don’t want to spoil the book.  Let me just say that Ms. Humphrey doesn’t disappoint.  The same quality of needing to know what happens next that hooked me in the beginning continued through the whole novel and didn’t die for a second.  There is more to the kidnapping than you would imagine.

One final nice touch of this story is the letters written to Claire every year on her birthday by her mom and dad.  Claire was taken from her parents before she turned three years old.  You can feel the parents’ heartache, even though they know their daughter is alive.  Claire’s mom also shares the backstory of how Claire was born and what happened with her kidnapping. Again, I cannot say more without revealing too much.19141955_10155375087713607_1447486949_n

I highly recommend this book.  It’s the first in a series, so we have more to look forward to from Ms. Humphrey.  I, for one, am glad for that!

Buy Finding Claire here!






Why Blogging is Important for Writers

A Writer's Path

by Shelley Widhalm

Are blogs like legwarmers that are trendy and fashionable, popular in the ’80s and back in style again?

Or are they like the necessary boots and thick socks that are the staple of any wardrobe in a climate with seasons?

With more than 150 million blogs in existence, it seems like everyone should be blogging from writers to business owners to anyone who wants to get their writing to readers, customers and clients.

But are blogs here to stay, necessary for your marketing wardrobe?

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Poetry Tuesday – This Moment

Do not be so quick to wish away this moment,

For before you blink, it’s whisked away, forever,

Unfolding like all previous moments on life’s vast canvas,

Stretched tapestry seeming to move beyond horizons in all directions.

Or is the moment folded in upon inside itself,

A hidden dimension undetermined and reduced to a singularity,

Blinking out of existence —

To open in a flutter of quantum fluctuations later?

Try to hold it, but you lose it,

Bleeding away past the tightly-wadded fist,

Sand slipping fast through slits between grasping fingers.

The past becomes a blurry, faraway memory seen

From looking over time’s shoulder.

Turning back and around in this chaos,

The unthinkable future appears just as out of focus.

Yet Someone holds the Book,

Its pages written, encrypted

With every story of every moment,

And He sees the entirety of it,

Bound between covers of His creation.

This moment is every moment to I AM.


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

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