3 Tips To Be An Awesome Critique Partner

Dan Alatorre - AUTHOR

Your humble host. your humble host

My job as your mentor and/or guide…

…and/or critique partner and/or editor and/or sounding board…

is to figure out the things you’ve done that make your story less perfect, point them out, and try to help you figure out ways to correct them.

It’s also my job when I review my own writing.

I consider it my duty, what I would do for you and what I need you to do for me. Really giving it to each other straight so we can make our stories the best they can be.

It is a tall order.


It requires guts to tell somebody what’s wrong – with patience and kindness to do it in an encouraging and non-destructive way – and it requires time and energy to help them come up with a solution.

It requires fortitude to hear what’s wrong, even when delivered kindly…

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IMG_0985eIf I want to be successful as a writer, I must understand what makes my characters tick. Strengths, weaknesses. Things that make them happy or sad. Whatever motivates them. Including their fears.

I had an interesting conversation the other day with members of my critique group. I just considered it part of the meeting where we all visit and catch up before we get down to business. Until I got to thinking about it.

We were discussing our personal fears. Something we all have whether we want to admit it or not. While one of my friends had no problem admitting hers, she didn’t feel compelled to face them. Another friend said it was her faith that had helped her face hers.

Later that evening, it hit me. There’s a fine line between facing our fears and conquering them. And I’m not so sure that facing them isn’t the most difficult. Who wants to admit the fear of something others might consider irrational? And once we do, it means we have to deal with them. Which isn’t easy.

I have to admire anyone who has conquered their fears, but I must also admire those who keep trying.

One Man’s Journey (Part 4)


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After Lunch, Les Voutes, Vers-Pont-du-Gard, France

Here’s the 4th and final excerpt from Stan Hampton’s Journey Of The Spirit. I don’t know about you, but I’ve enjoyed making this trip with him via his wonderful photographs. At the end of this post I’ll share  an excerpt from The Ledger, available in Stan’s Intimate Journeys Anthology. Thanks again to Stan for sharing. You’re welcome back any time.


Charmaine Pauls, Montpellier, France

Did I mention I am a published writer? Not self-publishing, though. Several years ago on an author loop run by Melange Books LLC, I met the very talented Charmaine Pauls. We have become very good friends, and she is one of two authors that I regularly pepper with questions, particularly regarding female dress and perspective. (Ahem, she is the friend who came to my rescue by calling from Montpellier for a taxi in Vers-Pont-du-Gard—and, don’t ask why I don’t know enough French to call my own taxi.) After my arrival she took me on a quick walking tour of Montpellier, and we stopped for lunch.

700-year old church, Montpellier, France

One of the sites she showed me was a 700-year old church. Beautiful and incredible—I’ve used those words so many times since arrival in France, and especially during Winter Break, that I must find other words to use. But words really do not do justice to what I have seen and experienced.

Old bookstore, Montpellier, France

Charmaine showed me the bookstore Le Bookshop in the old town where she once held a book signing. This is the cellar—the ground floor is just as fantastic. And no, the stones are not mere decoration. Imagine, a bookstore in the cellar of a building several hundred, if not a thousand, years old!

After resting and visiting with Charmaine and her wonderful family in Montpellier, I returned to Pau on Sunday night, 5 March.

This has been incredible. I have gazed upon what I had only read about and finally I have walked where Romans, Gauls, and Medieval men and women once walked. My journey of the spirit has come to a close for now. But there are more journeys in the next two months.

And after that? I want to return to France to live for a year or two, to write and especially to photograph. And you know what? Such a happening is a very real possibility—I can do this rather than simply dream and wish as I once did. I can do this.


Intimate Journeys Anthology, Melange Books, February 2012.

ISBN: 978-1-61235-332-6

BLURB: Every journey through life is an intimate journey simply because it is someone’s personal journey. Sometimes the journey is like being alone in a small boat at the mercy of wild ocean currents, and sometimes the journey is like being part of a crew in a strong ship with billowing, wind-filled sails…

EXCERPT: The wintry night of New Year’s Eve 1899 was filled with excitement, hope, and wonder. The world was leaving the 19th century behind and entering the 20th century and no one could guess what wonders the new century offered.

Except Caleb Winston could care less. He was a heavyset man with a thick gray beard and mustache, and long gray hair slicked back over his head. As he sat in his favorite office chair brought from Fort Abraham Lincoln to the newly built home in New York, he let out a sorrowful sigh.

“It’s time to retire,” Abigail, his wife of thirty-six years, and his grown children had reminded him for several years until he gave in.

It was with a heavy and sometimes resentful heart that he turned over the operation of his sutler stores, convenience stores that served the soldiers in their far-flung forts, the local civilian population, and sometimes the Indians, to a long-time and trusted employee. He had two stores each in Montana, Wyoming and Arizona, and a pair of Indian trading posts in Wyoming and Arizona. Before he retired, management was usually conducted by mail and telegraph, though he sometimes visited his distant stores and posts. Though he was no longer a young man he enjoyed the travel.

At last, he and Abigail packed up their home and moved east that last spring of the 19th century; Abigail was ecstatic as their three children and their families lived within walking distance of their new home.

Yet, settling into a comfortable retirement was difficult. Caleb missed the vast wildness of the west with its beautiful snowy, forested mountains, isolated mountain valleys, full rushing rivers, and grassy prairies that extended to the edge of the world. During his travels he sometimes felt that he was watching a hard, yet pristine world, vanishing before the onslaught of endless settlers and a growing, yet mystifying technology. Future generations would never know the West as he had known it.

His resentment and unhappiness wasn’t only due to leaving a beloved life and world behind, but a realization that he was old. His health wasn’t the best and he sometimes felt his path in life was becoming narrower and darker, as if he was entering a deep sunless gorge that he would never leave…

The Ledger


One Man’s Journey (Part 3)


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After Lunch, Les Voutes, Vers-Pont-du-Gard, France

After Lunch, Les Voutes, Vers-Pont-du-Gard, France



I’m back again with another installment of Stan Hampton’s journey. Please join me for this wonderful experience. The pictures are absolutely stunning. Actually being there is the only thing that would make it better.





On the morning of 2 March I missed the Continental Breakfast at the L’atelier du Midi where I was staying in the old town of Arles, but I had to be sure I found the pick-up site for the Camargue tour. The morning was chilly and sprinkling—which describes most of my stay to date in France—and out in the Camargue, there was a fog. But I saw my first white horses of the Camargue.Camargue Horses, Arle, France


At the town of Les Saintes-Maries-de-lar-Mer, at the southwest edge of the Camargue, we reached the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It is beautiful. One can imagine wooden merchant ships with billowing sails on the horizon bound for the Middle East or perhaps some forgotten port along the Mediterranean coast.

Mediterranean Sea, France

The Mediterranean, France


That afternoon, because I had forgotten the day before to use a camera provided by a friend to get some photos for her, I returned to the amphitheatre and arena. The inside of the arena did not really excite me because there were so much modern additions, perhaps because it is used for bullfighting. But I climbed one of the stone towers and from there found a view of the top of the arena that interested me.

Top of the Roman arena, Arles, France

On the morning of 3 March it was time to go again. In the early morning light I photographed the bed and breakfast L’atelier du Midi; my room was on the second floor, the window on the left. On the side of the building, beneath the light, is the entrance for guests.

Arles, France

The morning of 3 March—now this is the Continental Breakfast that I missed the previous morning. I suppose sacrifices must be expected when heading out to the Camargue for the first time in my life. This was a very good breakfast. Afterwards, I rode in a rickshaw to the train station to catch the train to Montpellier.

Breakfast, L'atelier du Midi, Arles, France

Come back next Tuesday for the last installment of our journey as well as excerpts from some of Stan’s books. See you then.

One Man’s Journey (Part 2)


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After Lunch, Les Voutes, Vers-Pont-du-Gard, France

As promised we’re continuing Stan Hampton’s journey today. It’s been fascinating so far, and I admire him for it. At this stage of my life I don’t know if I’d ever have the courage. So I’m going to live vicariously through Stan’s adventures. Join me!


The morning of 27 February I traveled by train to Marseilles where I changed trains for Aubagne. After that I had to take a bus to the village of Vers-Pont-du-Gard, a mere 4 kilometers from the famous Roman aqueduct, the Pont-du-Gard. Actually, I attempted to call a taxi, but that did not work. It took the help of a good friend in Montpellier who called for a taxi that took me to the “a Gauche du Pont,” a friendly bed and breakfast that was a momentary home. And a very nice home it was—my room was 200 years old and had a stone ceiling.

a gauche du Pont Bed & Breakfast, Vers-Pont-du-Gard, France

After a Continental Breakfast the morning of 28 February, Fabian, one of the owners of the “a Gauche du Pont” showed me the way along 4 kilometers of winding trails through the forest to the Pont-du-Gard. Though I walk over a mile every day at the Université and so am in better shape than in January, carrying a backpack filled with camera equipment was a bit tiring. But soon, I caught my first glimpse of the famous 2,000 year old Roman aqueduct that I had read about for so many years.

Pont-du-Gard, France

The Pont-du-Gard from the banks of the Gardon River. I did it! I was actually looking at, and had touched, the 2,000 year old architectural monument built by a people long gone.

Pont-du-Gard, France

Fabian and Veronique, the owners of “a Gauche du Pont”, and I had dinner in the nearby Medieval village of Castillon-du-Gard, then we went for a brief walk because I wanted to get some photos at night. It was a very brief walk because it was cold and windy.

Castillon-du-Gard, France

After a Continental Breakfast the morning of 1 March I caught the bus from Vers-Pont-du-Gard to Avignon. Faced with a 4-hour layover for the train to Arles, I opted for a bus—within an hour of my arrival I was on my way and arrived in Arles just about an hour later. Within an hour I set out to register for a tour into the famous Camargue the next day, plus spent the afternoon visiting the Roman amphitheatre and arena.

And yes, I did it. I was standing where, perhaps 2,000 years ago, actors, musicians, and singers performed for a packed audience who spoke Latin and ruled an Empire that encircled the Mediterranean Sea.

Roman amphitheatre, Arles, France

Wow. These pictures are fantastic. Readers, can you imagine actually standing there and snapping the photo? Not seeing it on a movie or television screen. Not reading about it. Actually being there. We have more of Stan’s journey to come. Come back next Tuesday for more.

One Man’s Journey of the Spirit


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After Lunch, Les Voutes, Vers-Pont-du-Gard, FranceFriend and fellow writer Stan Hampton has agreed to share photos of his travels with us. This post is just the first of several. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing more.

Stan is a wonderful photographer as well as writer, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy his journey as much as I did. Welcome, Stan. I’ll turn it over to you.

Imagine for a moment that you have spent years, if not decades, dreaming and wishing to travel and explore. Not as a typical tourist wanting to visit the big foreign cities and famous sites—though there is nothing wrong with either goal. But traveling and exploring for a specific purpose. And imagine that after decades, the dreams and wishes actually come true.

I am retired and am a full-time university student working on my Bachelors degree with the ultimate goal of attaining a doctorate. My long-held dreams and wishes began to happen after I applied to the Universities Study Abroad Consortium (USAC), Reno, Nevada. USAC was founded in the late 1980s and is one of several academic organizations that assist American students in studying overseas. I wanted to study in Ireland, but after talking with a senior director, I decided to apply for France instead.

In January 2017 I set out from Las Vegas, Nevada to Pau, France, where I would spend the Spring Semester studying French at the Université de Pau et des Pays de L’Adour. (Ah, Pau is pronounced “Po.”)

Imagine, a person my age (senior citizen, I think) being a full-time university student studying in a foreign country. And this is where, in a very real sense, my journey of the spirit begins. And the journey is not yet complete—there are a couple more sponsored outings before the semester ends in late April, after which I am signed up for an optional tour of the Normandy region. Then, on my own I go to northern England before boarding the Queen Mary 2 in Southampton to cross the Atlantic back to the States. At least, that’s the plan.

Day One Las Vegas

3 January, the journey begins when I fly out of Las Vegas, bound for Paris via Philadelphia, where I will catch a flight to Pau, a small town in the shadow of the Pyrenees Mountains in southwestern France.

Day Five, Pau, The Castle Wall

During the first week there were a pair of walking tours of Pau for the American students. This is my view of the Chateau de Pau, birthplace of King Henry IV. Did I mention I am a photographer? I always try to look for a different and interesting angle when photographing. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes…

Toulouse Rail Station, France

The Winter Break began on 25 February. That morning I traveled by train from Pau and changed trains at the rail station in Toulouse, and again at Marseilles, bound for Aubagne, France.

Foreign Legion Museum, Aubagne, France


The Foreign Legion Museum in Aubagne, 26 February. All of my life I have been fascinated by the French Foreign Legion, particularly their role in the French-Indochina War (1946-1954) and the French Algerian War (1954-1962). Indochina, especially the Battle of Dien Bien Phu (November 1953-May 1954), always reminded me of a Greek tragedy—no matter how much courage the ordinary Legionnaire and French Union soldiers displayed, a tragic end awaited all. And so, units like the 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion, 2nd Foreign Parachute Battalion, battalions of the 13th Foreign Demi-Brigade, and battalions of the 2nd and 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiments, with other French metropolitan, colonial and African units, fought until destroyed; the survivors were marched away into captivity.

Foreign Legion Museum, Aubagne, France

Stan has sent me so many wonderful photos that I’ve decided to post them once a week for the next few weeks instead of all at once. Come back to see more of One Man’s Journey of the Spirit in a week!


Dinner And A Movie Monday – The Magnificent Seven


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magnificent-7Every once in a while a good western comes along. And it’s even more surprising when it’s a remake. I don’t know how many of you have seen the 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven with Yul Brenner, but it’s a re-imagination of the 1954 Japanese film call Seven Samurai. That makes the 2016 version the third time around.

Another little piece of trivia: It is the final film of composer James Horner. He died the previous year and his friend completed the music.

When one the locals in a mining town try to stand up to bad guy Bartholomew Bogue, he murders the man in cold blood. His wife rides to the nearest town for help where she encounters warrant officer Sam Chisom, played by Denzel Washington. Washington plays the perfect mix of cold-blooded determination and the desire to right a wrong.

Chisolm recruits a group of gunslingers. Chris Pratt plays Josh Faraday, a joker who is fast with the gun and cards. They are joined by an unlikely crew, sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux and friend, knife-wielding Billy Rocks, a notorious Mexican outlaw, a skilled tracker and a Comanche warrior.

They kill Bogue’s men and drive the corrupt sheriff away with a warning to leave Rose Creek alone. Certain that Bogue and reinforcements will return, they begin training townspeople to defend their home. Fighting side by side with ordinary people determined to take back their town, the cold, hard gunslingers find themselves feeling like a part of something good for the first time in a long time.

When Bogue returns, he brings an army and a Gatling Gun. Somehow the town manages to defeat them. But it is a costly victory.Those who did not survive are honored by the people of Rose Creek as heroes, while Chisolm rides off with the survivors.

Even though unlikely comrades, these men become friends who are willing to fight for a cause and die for each other. If you liked the l960s version, you’ll like this one. The music is perfect. The setting is perfect, and the characters have the same gritty appeal.


Pinto Beans

In every western I’ve ever watched, at some point in the movie you see a cowboy scraping beans out of a plate with a spoon and sopping up the juice with cornbread. I don’t know what spices they used or how they were cooked, but this is how my mama taught me.

1 lb dried pinto beans (washed, sorted and soaked in water for 24 hours. Rinse and add water to cover)

1 onion, finely chopped

1/4 c bacon grease.

Salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste

Brown the onions  in the bacon grease. Add to crockpot. Add Beans and water. Add spices. Cook on low heat for 6-8 hours. Serve with cornbread and jalapenos.




A Paranormal Romance with Suspense


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My Heart Still SurrendersIt’s a wonderful day here in east Texas and I’m going to sit in the porch swing and enjoy it. Come on up and join me. Let me pour you a big glass of iced tea. In case you haven’t met, this is Robbi Perna, a good friend of mine and she’s stopped by for another blog visit.

Two-time Royal Palm Literary Award winner and multi-published author Robbi Perna started penning romantic fiction as a respite from her career as a military analyst specializing in strategic communications. Both her historical romance, “My Heart Still Surrenders” and her adventure novel of the time-traveling twins, “The Roman Phalera,” won the Royal Palm Literary Award. Robbi returns to the blog today to talk about her most recent release, “Robes of Destiny,” a novel of paranormal romantic suspense. If you were lucky enough to visit last time, you may remember she told us a little about it.

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It’s good to see  you again, Robbi.

Hi Susan! Thank you so much for inviting me back for a return visit. I know it’s a cliché, but I can believe its three years since I last visited. A lot has happened in that time. I left Florida in January 2016 and returned to Virginia. Florida is a warm, friendly place, but I realized my heart and my inspiration were both in Virginia. However, “Robes” takes place in Florida—at least initially! As with most of my works, Italy always plays at least a minor role, and this novel is no exception. It also gave me an opportunity to bring in some characters from my Domenico Family Case Files series and have them play minor roles in the action.

As an author yourself, you know how many times people ask you where you find the inspirations for the stories you write. As I mentioned briefly in my last visit, the inspiration for “Robes” grew out of a suggestion my business partner made to me. Since he is a very buttoned down individual, pragmatic and not a fan of fantasy or science fiction, the suggestion took me by surprise. However, it was an excellent idea, one inspired by a cruise I took several years ago aboard Cunard Lines that offered the option of shipping luggage to the ship. I took advantage of the service and shipped a steamer trunk full of evening clothes. Apparently the idea tickled my friend’s fancy and he came up with the idea for the story line.

The basic premise of the story is the heroine’s flamboyant aunt, a 21st century version of Mame Dennis,  disappears while on a cruise. Her trunk of clothes arrives at the heroine’s house and when she touches them, she sees visions of her aunt’s experiences while wearing the item. The hero who had an unpleasant experience with the aunt several years earlier during his career as a Delta Force operative thinks the whole thing is a publicity stunt. He agrees to help the heroine after she has her first experience with the clothes.

The book was one of those rare occurrences in which it almost wrote itself. It’s a fun, escapist-from-reality read that I think my fans, both of long standing and new ones, will enjoy. Here is the blurb and a short excerpt to give you all a flavor for the story.

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robes-of-destiny-300dpiAs the curator of a private collection of Renaissance art, Rina Antonelli lives a circumspect, structured existence complete with a spoiled dog. The quiet life she creates is her vision of normality. Secure in the belief her efforts are successful, she is unprepared for the events that shatter her careful existence and destroy this vision of normality. Her aunt, Cat Antonelli, eighties wild child and darling of the international paparazzi, disappears from her world cruise. The authorities believe it’s a publicity stunt. Rina disagrees and consults her aunt’s long time lover, Vince Fontana. The retired Police Commissioner introduces her to his godson, Dante Terrasini. As a Delta Force operative, Danny has experience locating high value targets, but in this case, he agrees with the authorities.

The handsome, smart talking operative is the illegitimate son of a single mother who grew up in the projects. He knows Rina is out of his league.

Will they unravel the mystery and find Cat? And, can they overcome the obstacles and find their way to love?

* * * *

Love the premise, Robbi. Don’t keep us waiting. Let’s hear the excerpt.

Twenty-four hours later, Danny glanced over at Rina. She gazed out the window, her attention focused on the views of the runaway as the jet waited its turn for takeoff.

“I hope the furry thing will survive her stay in jail. Maybe we should have brought her with us.”

She turned to look at him. “She gets more attention there than she does at home. She’s fine. And for the record, I don’t take my dog with me when I stay in other people’s homes.”

“You could bring her to mine when you come to visit.”

“I doubt the occasion will arise.”

Her dry rejoinder delighted him. Her cool manner since they’d stopped by the kennel worried him. Now he had her attention focused on him instead of the non-existent landscape, he decided to poke at her a little more. “So, tell me. What else do you do with your left hand besides pitch apples at the back of someone’s head?” Good thing it didn’t connect. Her accuracy with the hard green missile would have hurt.

She looked at him with a bland expression. “It slipped when I picked it up to cut it for Sienna. She gets an apple about the same time every day.”

“That explains it. I wondered why you took apples and yogurt to the kennel. Do they cut it up the same way?”

“I’ve never asked.”

“Interesting way to slice and dice it.”

She refused to back down. “It works.”

“So, I’ll repeat my question.”

“You never give up, do you?” Exasperation replaced the blandness she’d exhibited a minute earlier. “The same things I do with my right hand. And, how did you know I used my left hand.”

“The angle of the…ah, slip. I’ve only seen you use your right hand. Why?” He lifted a brow requesting an explanation.

“Ter sunt conati imponere Ossam?”

“Say what? It’s been a long time since my days in Sister Elizabeth’s Latin class.”

“Sorry. It’s a quote from Virgil’s Georgics and is an allusion to the attempt of the giants to scale heaven by piling Mount Ossa upon Mount Pelion.”

Dawning comprehension changed his expression from mocking to serious. “And you think people will add the fact you’re ambidextrous to your…ah…other gifts and ridicule you for it?”

Her bleak tone tore at his heart. “You’ve no idea.”

He cleared his throat and took a leap of faith. “You know what Marco Domenico said when I called him after the first”—he paused searching for the right word with the same care he’d use stepping into a minefield—“incident you experienced with the trunk.”

“I’m not sure I want to know.”

“Yes, you do…for two reasons. The first is because you’ll have to deal with him until we find out what’s going down and find Cat, and the second”—he shifted a little closer to her—“because I also believe the same thing.”

“That I’m a freak?”

“No. His exact words were, ‘think of what use we could have made of an asset like Caterina if she’d been over in the box with us,’ and he’s right.” His eyes took on a cold, flinty look. “The art of apperception is something we as a nation lack, but knowing what the enemy thought or planned, and understanding both within the context of its own world view, would have saved a lot of our guys’ lives.” He reached over and lifted her chin so he could look her squarely in the eye. “You’re not a freak, Caterina, gifted certainly, but not a freak.”

Disbelief clouded her expression, but knowing what he did now, his hand slipped down to grasp hers and he pressed it against his chest. He took her left hand, placed a light fleeting kiss on her palm, but kept his thoughts and emotions to himself.

* * * *

A wounded hero and a princess with a secret…how intriguing. You’ve got my attention! I love the tension between the two of them. Now, tell everyone a little about yourself. How long have you been writing?

I’ve been a writer for most of my professional life. My first work of fiction was an 8th grade English assignment from Sister Patriciana. The story in a play format starred my three younger brothers, me, and the family dog in a spy thriller set in Rome—a city to which most 13-year-old girls of my generation had never traveled. A popular TV series of the era, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E., inspired the storyline, probably because I recall being madly in love with Illya Kuryakin. Some fifty years later, I still have a vivid memory of the “A” the assignment earned along with Sister’s notation, “the dog was the best part of the story.”

I loved that TV series and I had a crush on him as well.  It must have been the accent. Tell me. Are you a plotter, a pantser or some combination of both?

I’m most definitely a plotter. My books all start with an idea I develop into a very basic outline that hits the major high points of the story. From the basic outline, I then make a video trailer, a process that serves several purposes. The first is it gives me a visual picture of my characters for physical descriptions, inspires me to keep writing at the story, and provides a sneak peek for my fans and followers because I post it on You Tube and my website far in advance of the book’s release. It never hurts to start advertising early and creating a buzz of anticipation.

I never thought about making a trailer before you’ve finished a book, but I can see why it would give you the impetus to continue writing. Another question. What is the best compliment you ever received as a writer?

In this particular instance, having the Florida Writers Association honor me and my two stories with the 2014 and 2015 Royal Palm Literary Award ranks echelons above anything I can name. However, there are two other compliments I treasure. When I decided to switch to fiction from my day job of technical writing, I enrolled in an adult education class at Northern Virginia Community College. The professor, Kevin G. Summers who is a published author in his own right, taught four, two hour sessions on the fine art of fiction writing. After our second assignment, he told me I certainly knew how to tell a story from start to finish without getting bogged down in the middle. I treasure the comment and try to live up to it with everything I write.

The second compliment comes from a review on Amazon from someone I don’t know who commented, “When you find a writer who can tell a wonderful story that captures your heart and can tell it superbly, well you simply have a great find. Robbi Perna’s stories fit the bill to a T!” I try to keep the both the spirit and the words of the compliment in the forefront as I spin my stories.

Who is your favorite character from this book and why?

My favorite character is Sienna, the heroine’s chocolate Havenese. As an animal lover, I almost always have one in my stories. In “The Roman Phalera,” it was the Arabian horses, Larry, Mo, and Curley, that belonged to the Cavaleri Twins and their older brother. In “Where the Lion Dwells,” I based the animal characters on my own Arabian horse, Tuscan, and my beloved parti-poodle, Santino who is no longer with me. When it came to Sienna, I asked my good friend, Julie Manna, if I could “borrow” Sienna, a true, real life diva. She agreed and Sienna appeared in the story—bringing her own tiara, which in the book I attribute to the hero’s gift after a visit to the vet for shots. I’ve posted a picture of her on my Stories That Sweep You Away Facebook page wearing her tiara.

Okay, the next questions are just for fun. What is something we’ll never catch you doing?

There are two things will never catch me writing: vampires and explicit sex scenes. While I like my stories to have romance with a twist, vampires isn’t one with which I’m comfortable or have any interest in writing. I don’t write explicit sex scenes for two reasons. The first is I believe what one reader finds sensual may not be the same for another. I prefer the art of suggestion and leave the details up to the individual reader. The second reason is I like the person I see in the mirror every day. I believe my books succeed because they are good stories, not because I’ve used graphic sexual content to capture an audience’s interest.

If you met a genie, what 3 things would you wish for?

A long life well-lived, a peaceful death, and no computers in the afterlife.

It’s been great fun chatting with you, Robbi, and I’m sure everyone has enjoyed it as much as I have. Stop by any time, especially when you have a snippet of another one of your stories. Guys, visit the links below to learn more about this lovely lady.

Website     http://www.RobbiPerna.net

Email         Robbis_Stories@RobbiPerna.net

Buy links: Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Robes-Destiny-Robbi-Perna-ebook/dp/B01MSPKH93/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1487641581&sr=8-1&keywords=Robes+of+Destiny

Barnes and Noble:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/robes-of-destiny-robbi-perna/1125195735?ean=2940153520827

KOBO:  https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/robes-of-destiny


How Many words does it take to tell a story?


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me3Welcome, Dawn! It’s good to see you again. The last time you came to visit, we heard all about your first book.

This time we’ll learn about Dawn’s second book ‘The Great War 100 Stories of 100 Words Honouring Those who Lived and Died 100 Years Ago’ was published in 2016. Her first book was a YA story published by Muse it Up Publishing, in 2014, entitled ‘Daffodil and the Thin Place’.daffodil-and-the-thin-place-300dpi Her third book will be published soon and is a romance set in the Plotlands in Essex, UK, in 1930. She enjoys a writing challenge and has had stories published in various anthologies, including horror and speculative fiction, as well as romances in several women’s magazines. Dawn has written a script for a play to commemorate World War One, which has been performed in her home town in Essex, as well as in Germany and France. Married with one son, she lives in Essex.

the_great_war_kindle_finalShort story from ‘The Great War – 100 Stories of 100 Words Honouring Those who Lived and Died 100 Years Ago’

(Note from Dawn: This is one complete story – exactly one hundred words long, not including the title)

Final Words

With blank, unseeing eyes, he stares towards heaven.

God rest his soul.

I prise the blood-spattered envelope from fingers that are rigidly clenched over his heart, and I silently vow to carry his final words home, if I live to see my next leave.

A creased photograph of a young girl slips out of the letter.

It’s her heart I’ll break when I deliver the soldier’s farewell.

Should I tell her he died alone in a muddy hollow on French soil, with blood seeping from his severed leg into the earth?

No, I’ll simply say her sweetheart died a hero.

This touches my heart, Dawn. Just one hundred words make up this story. Seven short sentences. Yet they are powerful. Strong enough to make us see what the speaker sees…and feel what he feels.

Okay, guys. Let’s find out more about Dawn. Tell us how long you’ve been writing?

I’ve been writing seriously for about ten years, so I’m a relative newcomer. I’ve always made up stories in my head but it wasn’t until I was trying to encourage my teenage son to do his creative writing homework that I started writing any of those stories down. I gave my son the first sentence and suggested he write the next few sentences. Sadly, he wasn’t inspired – but I was! I finished that story and although I didn’t manage to get it published, I was hooked! I had several short stories published but it wasn’t until several years later that my first book ‘Daffodil and the Thin Place’ was published by Muse it Up Publishing. Since then, I’ve published ‘The Great War –  100 Stories of 100 Words Honouring Those who Lived and Died 100 Years Ago’ and have just heard that a romantic story has been accepted by My Weekly magazine and will be published as a pocket novel.

Everyone has their writing styles. I’m a pantser who does a little plotting. Are you a plotter, a pantser or some combination of both?

I’m definitely a plotter. I like to have at least the beginning and end of a story worked out before I start writing, and I like to know roughly how I’m going to get from one to the other! Often, I make changes as I go, so stories are rarely the same as my initial idea and I would be quite happy if a different ending seemed to work better than the one in my original plan, but that hasn’t happened so far. Without a framework, I think I might waffle and write aimlessly although I know that being a pantser suits some writers.

I love hearing stories about how authors get their ideas. Where do you go for inspiration?

I get inspiration from every day life, from reading, listening to the radio, memories, overhearing conversations or observing people when I’m out. When I first took up photography, I found that my powers of observation developed and I began to notice things I probably wouldn’t have seen before. The same thing has happened since I’ve started writing every day, and I now carry a note book with me so that I can jot things down as I see or hear them, to be used later in stories.

A notebook is a good idea. I carry one in my purse to jot things down I want to remember. Now, Dawn, tell us a little something about your current WIP.

My current work in progress is a play set at the end of the First World War, when the servicemen came home. I’ve already written a play about three First World War servicemen – one from England, one from Germany and one from France – which was part of our town’s Forget Never project to commemorate the start of the First World War. It’s called ‘The Sons of Three Countries Remembered’ and has been performed in my home town and our twin towns in Germany and France. This year, on 11 November, it will be performed again in our home town. Next year, the play I’m currently working on will be performed. I’m quite nervous about it and I’ve started early, so I can take my time and hopefully do a good job.

What is the best compliment you ever received as a writer?

I think the best and most surprising compliment I have received as a writer was to hear of the reaction of some German friends when they read the script of ‘The Sons of Three Countries Remembered’. In writing a play about the First World War which was going to have an audience comprising British, French and Germans, I wanted to avoid triumphalism or blame. Apparently, the first Germans to read it were touched and several of them cried. I was surprised when they requested that it be performed in Germany and amazed when the theatre was packed. And the standing ovation at the end was completely overwhelming.

That’s wonderful, Dawn. I am impressed. I remember looking at pictures of my grandfather in  uniform (he was a doughboy in WWI) and listening to my dad tell us the stories about what happened to him overseas. This is a wonderful way to pass them on to future generations. 

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I go to the gym about three mornings a week although if I had more time, I’d go more often. Other than that, my hobbies include photography and drawing although I’m more likely to be taking photographs than drawing because I’m so slow at drawing! I like to do portraits and have done Tom Cruise, Marilyn Monroe, Sean Connery, Paul Newman and Elvis, amongst others.

It’s been a pleasure to have you visit again, Dawn. I’m especially fascinated by your stories about the soldiers. We should never forget their patriotism and their bravery or their simple acts of kindness that got them through each day, and we need to make sure we  pass their stories on to future generations.

website and blog is http://www.dawnknox.com

email – dawn.knox@gmail.com

The Great War –  100 Stories of 100 Words Honouring Those who Lived and Died 100 Years Ago https://www.amazon.co.uk/Great-War-Hundred-Stories-Honouring/dp/1532961596/ref=pd_sim_14_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=1P6GBNJW3KRVN8Z8Q96H

Dinner And A Movie Monday – Robin Hood


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robin-hoodIf you have read many of my movie reviews, you’re probably certain I’m a Russell Crowe fan. And I am, but mostly because I like the kind of movies he does.

Take Robin Hood. It’s a 2010 British-American film by Ridley Scott, based on the legend we all know. It takes place in 1199. Robin Longstride, played by Russell Crowe, is a common archer who fights for King Richard the Lionheart. The story opens during the siege of Chalus Castle. Robin and his comrades are disillusioned and weary of the war. So, when the King is killed during an attack, they decide it’s time to go home, so they desert.

On the way, they come across an ambush of the English royal guard returning to England with the King’s crown and news of his death. Too late to do anything but scare them away. Robin and his men impersonate the dead English knights so they can return to England. He promises a dying knight, Sir Robert Loxley to return his sword to his father in Nottingham.

In London, Robin assumes the identity of Loxley and informs the royal family of the King’s death. He witnesses the coronation of King John, who is swayed by Godfrey, who plans use French troops to stir up unrest and create an opening for Philip to invade England.

When Robin returns Loxley’s sword to his father, the man asks him to continue impersonating his son to prevent the family lands being taken by the Crown. He wants Loxley’s widow, Lady Marion, played by Cate Blanchette, to inherit instead. Robin agrees and in the process, he and Marion fall in love. What I liked about this is the way it happened. A glance, a smile, her hand in his when he helps her up on her horse, they way he studies her when she isn’t looking. They get to know each other and each of them like what they see. It tugs at the heartstrings.

After King John hears Robin’s plea to sign a charter of right and unite his country, a battle must be fought to stop the French marauders from taking over England. It takes place on the beach below the Cliffs of Dover and the cinematography is spectacular.

I enjoyed the movie and the twist at the end, giving us a new take on the story of Robin Hood and how “the legend began”. There’s comradeship. There’s action. And there’s romance. Definitely my kind of movie.

robin-hood-stewMedieval spiced beef stew

1.5kg lean braising steak, chopped into bite-size chunks
3 tbsp plain flour
Oil for frying
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground mace
1/8 tsp (small pinch) ground cloves
4 black peppercorns, crushed
1/2 tsp cardamom pods, crushed and green pods discarded
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 large sprigs parsley, stalks and leaves finely chopped, plus extra to garnish
900ml beef stock
50g stale wholemeal bread, torn into small pieces
3 tbsp cider vinegar
Pinch of saffron threads

1 Toss the beef with the flour to coat. Cover the base of a large casserole dish with a thin layer of oil and place over a medium high heat. Add the beef in batches and fry, stirring occasionally, until browned.

2 Return any browned beef to the pan with its juices. Add the spices, onion and parsley with a splash of the stock and fry, stirring frequently and scrapping up the crusty layer from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, for about 5 minutes until the onions have started to soften. Add the rest of the stock with a pinch of salt and bring to a gentle boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 hours, until the beef is tender.

3 Meanwhile, soak the bread in the vinegar with the saffron. Stir into the stew and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes until the bread has broken down and the stew is thick. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve with bread and buttered green vegetables, garnished with chopped fresh parsley