Ruby Jean Upshaw is the youngest and seventh daughter of Reverend and Mrs. Upshaw. Compared to other black children growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana in the 1940s, Ruby is immensely blessed. She lives in a nice home with two loving parents who cherish the ground she walks on and will go to any limits to protect her. However, Ruby is bored with her monotonous, redundant life. She has no friends, no boyfriend, and with all of her six older sisters married and living far away, she is extremely lonely. Tired of being governed by her parents’ strict rules and longing for friendship, Ruby slowly cultivates a friendship with Othello Cartier.
Othella, the daughter of a popular prostitute in Shreveport is already infamous for her “fast”, conniving, and thieving ways at the tender age of fourteen. Ruby cleverly goes behind her parents’ back and quickly gravitates towards Othella’s iniquitous lifestyle. Ruby remarkably falls victim to incessant beer drinking, partying, and sleeping with numerous men and boys, just like her new-found best friend Othella. Once Ruby finally convinces her parents to let her befriend Othella she no longer has to socialize with her in secret, leaving nothing to stop the two rebellious girls from living on the wild side. Ruby continues to form sexual relationships with various men and immersing in outrageous secular activities. Once Ruby finds out that she has accidentally gotten pregnant, fear becomes a tangible force in her life. Afraid of telling her stern parents about her pregnancy, Ruby successfully hides it from her family and Othella for nine months. When she gives birth to a healthy, beautiful baby girl at Othella’s birthday party, Othella and her mother quickly convince her to give it away. They sway her to believe that keeping her beautiful daughter will result in hazardous consequences from her unsympathetic parents. Regretfully, Ruby decides to give away the one thing that filled a gaping void in her chest, her daughter. This life altering event introduces Ruby to a tangible depression that begins to affect every aspect of her life.
Once Ruby and Othella get bored with living with their monotonous families and having scandalous affairs, they decide to travel to New Orleans with only their suitcases and a few dollars, with hopes of finding husbands who will rescue them from their mischievous lifestyles. With minimal cash and no stable place to stay, Ruby and Othella are forced to resort to prostitution and manipulating men as a way of life. After years of selling their bodies, and living unhappily, the two young girls finally marry their dream- men. However, Ruby is never completely happy, for nothing ever makes up for, or replaces the detrimental loss of her, alienated daughter.
My Review, Five Stars *****
I enjoyed reading this hilarious prequel to one of my FAVORITE novels, the classic page-turner “The Upper Room,” that I have read three times! I was elated to read about the background and poignant past of the infamous Mama Ruby, whose scandalous and humorous behavior kept me on edge, and in shock from beginning to end. I love this novel for it kept me guessing, laughing, and I even shed a few tears. I have always been an avid reader and huge fan of the remarkable, best-selling author Mary Monroe, who has written The God Series, “Gonna Lay My Burdens Down”, “Red Light Wives”, “In Sheep’s Clothing”, and many other works.
1. What or who inspired you to write The Upper Room?
I grew up around people like some of the characters in The Upper Room. They were very entertaining and I always knew that I’d write a story about them some day. I got the kidnapping idea from an old Audrey Hepburn/Burt Lancaster movie (The Unforgiven) about an Indian baby that a white family abducted and raised.
2. Is the infamous Mama Ruby a character with traits similar to someone familiar to you, or is she a concoction of many people and situations?
Mama Ruby is a composite of my mother, my aunt Berniece, and my cousin Florence (all deceased).
Like Mama Ruby, all three of these women drank tons of beer, did outrageous things, and controlled almost everybody and everything in their lives.
3. Why did you decide to write a prequel to The Upper Room?
A lot of my readers wanted to know more about Mama Ruby’s background, especially her youth. But the main thing people wanted to know was the reason she so desperate to have a daughter of her own.
4. What is next for Mama Ruby and is it possible that The Upper Room will be another series for you?
The yet-to-titled sequel to The Upper Room is in the works and will be released in 2013. Mama Ruby will be featured in it in several flashbacks, but the main story will be about the kidnapped girl, Maureen, finding out at the age of thirty-six that Mama Ruby kidnapped her. And, the baby girl that Mama Ruby gave birth to during her teens will be a major character in this book. It will be third and last part of the series.
5. Do you have a favorite character out of all your novels? If so, why are they your favorite character? My favorite character is Mama Ruby. She is everything I like in a fictional villain: entertaining, bigger than life, humorous, fearless, resourceful, lovable at times and loyal to her loved ones (unless you cross her…).
6. When first writing “God Don’t Like Ugly” did you intend for it to be a series? If not, what compelled you to continue writing Annette’s and Rhoda’s story?
I didn’t intend to write a series. “God Don’t Like Ugly” started out as a movie project for actress Robin Givens. She wanted to produce and star in it (as Rhoda) but things didn’t work out. I rewrote the story as a novel and it became an immediate success. A lot of readers wanted to read more about Annette and Rhoda so I wrote “God STILL Don’t Like Ugly.” To make a long story short, so many readers wanted to read even more about these characters so I kept their story going. However, the sixth and final book in the series, “God Don’t Make No Mistakes” will be released June 1, 2012 and believe me, it will be full of surprises!
7. Do you have any other passions besides writing?
I love to travel, shop, watch movies, and eat out. However, my biggest passion is reading. Not only do I enjoy reading, it provides the creative nourishment I need to stay focused on my own work. I read two newspapers every day, all of the weekly tabloids, the leading women’s magazines, and I try to read at least two to three books a week. Even though my schedule is extremely tight, I find time to read like when I’m on a long flight, stuck in traffic, or stuck in a long line at the bank.
8. When did you first discover your talent? How long did it take you to realize that you wanted to be an author after finding your passion?
I was born with an overactive imagination and the people around me were very colorful. I started making up stories about them when I was around three or four. I used to tell stories to my playmates while working in the fields in Alabama and Ohio. By the time I was seven I realized I didn’t want to end up picking beans and doing other menial labor like so many of the people I knew. I wanted to grow up and do something fun and exciting! I couldn’t sing, dance, or act so writing was the only “fun” profession for me to choose from.
9. Your novels tend to be vastly humorous. Is writing humor something that takes practice (for you) or does it just come naturally for you?
I don’t set out to write humorous things in my books. I just write about what I know and some of my own personal experiences. A lot of those experiences just happen to be funny.
10. Have you thought about exploring other avenues of writing (screenwriting, playwriting, etc…) ?
I have written screenplays, stage plays, TV sitcoms, a few essays, and even a humor book. But I’ve only been fortunate enough to get contracts for my novels so far. My goal is to continue writing novels but I do hope to make a name for myself in Hollywood someday too.
11. What advice would you give to an aspiring writer who may be facing immense writer’s block and/or fear of failing in the literary world?
I’ve never experienced writer’s block but I can write a book about failure! My first novel collected fifty-five rejection slips but once I began to look at rejections as “detours” I didn’t get too discouraged. Other authors have told me that when they get writer’s block they take a break and study the market to see what is selling and go from there. I think one reason I don’t have to worry about writer’s block is because I base all of my stories on personal experiences, headline news stories, and even dreams. And failure is only another detour on the road to success. I got depressed every time I received a rejection letter or if one of my projects failed but that motivated me to try harder with each new project.
12. Typically, how long would you say it takes you to finish a novel?
I usually take four to six months to complete a novel, but I wrote The Upper Room in six weeks. I always work froma detailed outline so that saves a lot of time. I do at least four drafts before I send it to my publisher.
13. Are there any authors/writers/poets who relentlessly inspire you?
I love James Baldwin, James Patterson, Ernest Gaines, Stephen King, Toni Morrison, and Jackie Collins.
14. What is next for Ms, Mary Monroe?
I have a new contract to do three more new books and I know that one of them will be “Romeo and Juliet” type story. I have so many ideas in my head sometimes I don’t know what to choose from!
15. What does a “day off” consist of in your world?
Now that I no longer have to go to a dreaded day job, every day is like a “day off” for me. However, I write something every single day, either several chapters or just a sentence or two. But on a real day off, I spend several hours at the mall or the beach, or just lying on the couch watching movies or reading.
Mary Monroe can be contacted on twitter @Marymonroebooks
By: Virginia Davis