It’s time for another blog tour! Today I’m taking part in the blog tour fromÂ Luz, a novella by Leslie DJ. The book cover is so pretty! I have an exclusive extract from the book to share with you.
Luz Vargas is a promising young Latina writer from Washington Heights, a predominantly Dominican neighborhood in New York City. Who upon receiving top honors for her short story, â€œHere and Thereâ€ from the prestigious Quisqueya Writers ofÂ TomorrowÂ Association, Luz’s boyfriend, Luke, suggests a couple’s getaway to the Dominican Republic where he plans to propose. But when the trip to the Island brings her face to face with a past love, Luz is torn between honoring her commitment to Luke and revisiting an island romance.
The story is told through a series of vignettes that chronicle Luz’s struggle to reconcile her American identity with her Dominican side.
Exclusive Excerpt from Luz by Leslie DJ
Luz awoke to the sound of roosters crowing. Her eyes fluttered as they adjusted to the sunlight that crept through the tangerine-colored curtains. As she sat up and reached across the bed, familiarizing herself with her surroundings, the man beside her stirred. She placed a hand over her mouth and looked down to the tiled floor while she recalled the events of the previous night. For a moment, she had forgotten where she was. Luz had been vacationing in her mother’s homeland, the Dominican Republic, for the first time in over a year, the longest she had gone without paying the island a visit. She traveled there so frequently that she knew the immigration officers by name and the female officers often came from behind the glass partition to give her a hug. She steered clear of the male immigration officers because they were known to get a little too friendly, especially with foreign-born Dominicanas traveling on their own.
Usually she went to the DR alone, but this time Luke, her boyfriend of seven months, was accompanying her. Luke was the complete opposite of Luz. He was short, stout and fair-skinned with light-colored eyes that changed depending on his mood or the color of his shirt. Luz was tall with sizeable hips but a slender figure. She spent most of her mornings on a treadmill or punching and kicking Tae Bo-style to old VHS tapes. She had long, jet-black hair and a tan complexion. They rooted for opposite teamsâ€”he for his home team, the Red Sox, while Luz was a seasonal Yankees fan â€” which meant they were bound to break up during the post-season depending on whose team made it further into the playoffs and how much gloating the other could withstand. Luke enjoyed his scotch neat while Luz preferred a cold cerveza now and then and only resorted to hard drinks when in desperate need of a pick-me-up. They were such opposites, in fact, that many of their friends often joked that the only thing they had in common was the first two letters of their names.
Even so, Luke was kind and understanding and â€˜got’ Luz. He especially understood and respected her need for writing, encouraging her and even submitting discarded manuscripts to local contests behind her back. He was handsome, well-mannered and the first real American boy to pursue Luz. She appeared to be living the American Dream.
Their trip to the island materialized quickly. After being awarded a four-hundred-dollar check from the Quisqueya Writers of Tomorrow Association for her newly published short story â€œHere and There,â€ Luz decided to drop by Luke’s Morningside apartment to share the good news.
â€œWe should celebrate!â€ he said.
â€œUm, okayâ€”you wanna make me dinner or something?â€
â€œWhat? No. This is huge, we need to do it up nice â€” besides,â€ he continued, â€œI always make dinner.â€
â€œHey, I offer to cook. You’re the one who’s like â€˜Hun, I don’t wanna spend the whole night hugging the tai-let’,â€ she said in a poor Boston accent.
â€œWe should go away somewhereâ€”how about the DR? Then I’ll finally get to meet all of your aunts and cousins you’re always talking about.â€
Luz was silent for a moment. â€œUm, why not Cancun?â€
â€œDo you have relatives in Cancun?â€
â€œNo, but they have great beaches.â€
â€œWhy don’t you want me to meet your family? Are you ashamed of me?â€
â€œYou’ve met my mom,â€ said Luz.
â€œSeeing her from across the street and then saying twenty minutes later, â€˜Oh, by the way, that woman I waved to was my mom’ doesn’t count.â€
Luke was right; Luz hadn’t introduced him to Yanira. Her mother was very opinionated and she was terrified of what she would think of their relationship. Her mother had taught her everything she needed to know about men. Luz couldn’t remember the exact moment she had given up on love, she had believed for years that she was unlucky with men, that it was already written in her blood.
â€œMy family’s crazy,â€ Luz finally said.
â€œThey can’t be worse than other families â€” my father sleeps with a Glock G19 under his pillow.â€
â€œUnloaded, but still, that’s pretty crazy, right?â€
â€œWhat does your mom say?â€
â€œNothing, she sleeps with a Glock G30.â€
Luz was hesitant to reach out to her family about a visit. She didn’t want to impose; it was fine when she went there alone, but showing up with a male guest would cause all sorts of trouble. For one thing, it would get the rumor mill up and running, something Luz was all too familiar with. Her affinity for Dominican men had not gone unnoticed by the gossipy neighbors.
â€œSo we’re going, right?â€ asked Luke.
â€œSeriously? You’re asking me to take you to the DR? I show up there with you and they’ll start tossing rice and humming â€˜Here Comes the Bride’,â€ said Luz.
â€œSo, I’ll take a can of beans and we’ll make a meal out of it.â€ Luz smiled.
â€œAtta girl,â€ he said, patting Luz’s back. â€œYou have to learn to loosen up a bit.â€
In the end, she decided she’d introduce him to her father’s side of the family-the ones residing in the capital – and steer clear of the Northern Province. They knew little of her travel liaisons and she intended to shield Luke from her past.
The first time Luz had vacationed in the Dominican Republic on n her own she had been sixteen. One minute she had been set to spend her summer at home with her friends, and the next, upon passing eleventh grade with â€œflying colors,â€ she had been rewarded with a trip to the place her mother once called home.
â€œBeware of pick-pockets and tigeres,â€ her mother had warned hours prior to her flight, which at the time didn’t sound so threatening, considering that Yanira believed anyone who hung out in front of a bodega was a street thug, or tigere as she called them. She held Luz tightly, as if unsure of whether to let her go, but once she did, Yanira resumed her cold persona. â€œQue Dios te acompaÃ±e,â€ she said. Then threw in â€œGod bless you, mija,â€ in English for good measure, to the back of her daughter’s head as Luz made her way through airport security.
The lights flickered. â€œUnder constructionâ€ or â€œcoming soonâ€ signs graced many of the bare walls. A fast-paced musical arrangement greeted the tourists. Luz recognized the merengue beats and rolled her eyes. As if I didn’t get enough of that at home, she thought.
The three-piece band consisted of forty-something-year-old men with chestnut complexions, wearing straw hats and tropical shirts. They played the accordion, tamobora and guÌˆira as the accordionist wailed, â€œAyyy hombe.â€
Her hips swayed from side to side. Mother said walk like you mean it, she thought, a woman who appears as if she knows her way around town won’t be made a fool.
â€œÂ¡CorazÃ³n!â€ hissed an immigration officer, â€œtienes que comprar una tarjeta de tourismo.â€
â€œÂ¿QuÃ©?â€ asked Luz.
He pointed to the sign above his head that read: Tourist Pass US $10.00.
She sighed, and then complied.
I’m halfway there, she told herself as she walked towards the checkout point.
â€œÂ¿CÃ©dula?â€ asked the consul as Luz handed over her passport.
â€œÂ¿Y tÃº cÃ©dula?â€ he asked once more.
â€œI don’t understand.â€
â€œResident card. Oh, tÃº eres una gringa. Ju born in United States?â€
â€œOh, okay,â€ he said stamping her passport and tourist pass.
â€œWhy ju here?â€ he asked in his broken English.
â€œVisitando. I’m visiting my family,â€ she replied.
â€œOkay, pero que te guste. Hope ju like it. Have fun.â€
The minute Luz and Luke stepped off the plane, the damp Dominican heat engulfed them; it all changed in an instant. The cool air which had indulged them in the cabin dissolved without warning into a smothering type of heat that welled up in your throat like a slimy ball of phlegm you just couldn’t hack up. It always took visitors by surprise, even those who were familiar with its severity.
The pocket-sized English to Spanish dictionary Luke had brought with him curled instantly in the moist climate. The musky air was a tropical blend of mango and underarm sweat. They arrived on a peaceful Wednesday afternoon, a week after the award ceremony for her literary achievement. Luz knew better than to book a last-minute weekend flight when leaving midweek was at least two hundred dollars cheaper. She was decked out in her finest ensembleâ€”a black and white halter-style dress with a wooden beaded neckline, shiny ballerina flats â€” and carried an oversized tote bag. Her hair was wild with bouncy curls and the longest it’d been in years, hitting just above the waist. It was the envy of all of her Dominican cousins, even at its shortest (the bob of ’05, not to mention the Halle Berry-inspired crop of ’03). Luke wore a faded Red Sox cap, khakis and a tropical shirt that featured a Toucan Sam look-alike, the kind of shirt only gringos wear when they vacation. She was both excited and scared to be there.
â€œSucia!â€ cried her cousin Carmen from the other side of the partition as Luz dragged her carry-on past airport security. Luke dutifully pushed a trolley containing the remaining pieces of luggage behind her.
â€œLoca!â€ replied Luz and wrapped her arms tightly around her. Carmen was Luz’s first cousin on her father’s side. When Luz first visited the Dominican Republic, she was four and Carmen was six; the two had run around in the patio in their underwear with their hair a mess. They had joined forces against TÃa Milagros and plotted ways to escape the metal comb which Milagros often used to hit the girls over the head with whenever they squirmed too much as she did their hair. On one occasion the girls made it as far as 2 miles north of the barrio before getting what Carmen remembered as being â€œthe spanking to end all spankings.â€ The last time the â€œgruesome twosome,â€ as Milagros then called them, saw each other was at TÃa Flor’s second wedding in the States two years prior. Flor had vowed that day that this wedding would be her last; she was currently on husband number three.
â€œIt’s been too long,â€ sang Carmen.
â€œI know, I know,â€ Luz replied.
â€œYou abandoned the sweet capital for the rainy sights of Puerto Plata.â€
Luz gave her a look that involved widening her eyes to an alarming size; Carmen got the hint and dropped the subject.
â€œAnd who’s this?â€ said Carmen.
â€œThis is Luke,â€ said Luz.
â€œHo-La,â€ said Luke.
â€œNice to meet you, Luke,â€ said Carmen. She turned to Luz and said, â€œUn blanquito, very nice.â€
They made their way along the corridors and into Carmen’s Jeep; Luz took the front seat next to her cousin, leaving Luke in the back seat, semi-buried underneath the luggage.
They drove past the coconut trees, beggars and phone card sellers. Luz lowered her window and let her hair flap in the wind. She stretched her arms out and declared, â€œI love it here.â€
To which Carmen responded in a sing-song fashion, â€œYeah, yeah. Easy for you to say, you don’t live here.â€
Carmen pulled up in front of the mango-tinted gates. Once out of the car Luz stared at the neighboring houses and found herself smiling. She loved how the houses were painted in bright colors. TÃa Milagros’s house was two stories high and a mixture of odd pastel colors Luz did not recognize. It seemed to change shades depending on the direction of the sun. In some instances, it appeared smoker’s-teeth-yellow; in others, taffy-light-orange. It was located on one of the quieter streets in Santo Domingo, far from the common man’s reach but minutes away from the busy streets with honking cars and danceable music.
Luz reached for her luggage but Luke intervened.
â€œI got it,â€ he said. He heaved the suitcase out of the back seat, closed the car door and wheeled both of their suitcases up to the front door.
The entranceway was cramped as usual. Family portraits adorned each wall as well as photos of their patron saint, la virgin de la Altagracia. She noticed a new addition to the wall. In one of the diamond-shaped clusters of photographs lay a small picture of Luz from one of her childhood visits.
â€œJust leave them by the staircase, I’ll have one of the maids take them up to your room later,â€ said Carmen. â€œWanna have a look around?â€ Carmen asked Luke.
â€œUh, sure,â€ he said.
â€œDo you like mangos? We have a tree out back,â€ said Carmen.
She led him down the long hallway to the back of the house.
Luz overheard TÃa Milagros arguing with a maid and followed her disapproving tone into the dining room.
TÃa Milagros was thinner than Luz remembered. Something about the way she carried herself struck her as odd. The first time she met her she was introduced to a livelier version; she had busted through the front door, arms stretched out ready to embrace her, and wore a satin floral halter dress two sizes too small with chanclas instead of shoes and a set of hair rollers on her head. This time TÃa Milagros was wearing muted colors. She wore an oversized cream colored lace-print tunic and a pair of black cropped leggings.
â€œOkay?â€ she said to the scolded maid.
â€œSi, seÃ±ora,â€ the maid replied with her head hung low. She excused herself when she noticed Luz had entered the room then walked away.
â€œÂ¿Y tu?â€ asked TÃa Milagros. â€œEstas flaca. Don’t tell me that gringo of yours is making you lose weight, tell him you come with hips,â€ she teased.
â€œNews travels fast, I see,â€ said Luz. She leaned in for a hug.
â€œWe talk because we care. Where is he?â€ she asked.
â€œWith Carmen â€” she’s giving him the grand tour.â€
â€œAre you hungry?â€ TÃa Milagros asked.
â€œYeah,â€ Luz replied.
â€œCarmen! Call the Pica-Pollos, get this girl some fries. Still off meat?â€ she asked.
â€œHow about your gringito, he as picky as you?â€
â€œHis name is Luke, and no, he eats just about anything.â€
â€œInteresting,â€ said TÃa Milagros with her signature arched brow.
The take-out arrived just as Carmen’s tour ended. â€œAnd this is the dining room,â€ announced Carmen.
â€œThere you are,â€ said Luz as her boyfriend made his way to the seat next to her.
â€œI saw the cutest picture of you,â€ whispered Luke.
â€œWhere?â€ asked Luz.
â€œBy the staircaseâ€”you had the cutest dimply cheeks and crazy curly hair.â€
â€œHardly even recognized you.â€
â€œYeah well, that was clearly before hot combs and hair straighteners took over my life. I guess you can say that was my native look,â€ said Luz, visibly bothered.
â€œDid I do something wrong?â€
â€œNo, don’t be silly, I’m just tired. The heat is getting to me.â€
â€œLuz!â€ said MartÃn upon his arrival.
â€œHey!â€ said Luz, rising to her feet. She hugged her cousin, then got a closer look at him. â€œWow, you’ve gotten big.â€ His splotchy face and athletic build suggested he hadn’t given up hopes of becoming a professional baseball player.
â€œCheck it,â€ said MartÃn, flexing his biceps. â€œAll fiber, baby.â€
â€œImpressive,â€ said Luz. â€œLuke, this is my cousin MartÃnâ€” believe it or not, he’s the baby of the family.â€
â€œNice to meet you,â€ said Luke, firmly shaking his hand.
What initially appeared to be a pleasant evening quickly turned into a night full of uncomfortable pauses and miscommunication. at times TÃa Milagros forgot a non-Spanish speaker was present and reverted to her native tongue. Carmen would immediately gesture towards Luke by tilting her head in his direction and widening her eyes. TÃa Milagros smiled and said things like, â€œSorry, force of habit,â€ but never bothered to translate what was said.
â€œWell, it’s official,â€ said Carmen after one too many awkward silences.
â€œWhat is?â€ asked TÃa Milagros.
â€œThis is the quietest it’s ever been in the Duarte-Mateo household. Even wakes are livelier than this,â€ said Carmen.
â€œOh, remember DoÃ±a Carmensita’s wake? That was fun,â€said MartÃn.
â€œExcuse me?â€ said Luke.
Luz placed a gentle hand on his right arm.
â€œNo, no, notâ€¦ how would you guys call it, not in the â€˜let’s boogie’ sense of the word funâ€”â€
â€œWhat MartÃn is trying to say,â€ interjected Carmen, â€œis that like in typical Dominican gatherings, once the rum is poured, â€˜off-color remarks’,â€ she said, using air quotes, â€œare no longer offlimits. For instance, one of DoÃ±a Carmensita’s next of kin got so intoxicated that he lifted the poor dead woman up from her casket and attempted to do the merengue with her â€” this of course after accusingly stating that even in death she was disapproving of him.â€
â€œMija, you’re not really painting a pretty picture of us,â€ said TÃa Milagros.
â€œAy, Mama, you know Dominicans are crazy.â€
Luke coughed into his closed fist.
â€œLook at him, dying to laugh,â€ said TÃa Milagros.
â€œNo, I just had some po-lo stuck in my throat.â€
â€œPo-llo,â€ enunciated Luz.
â€œPoe-yo,â€ repeated Luke.
â€œAw, he’s so cute with his gringito accent,â€ said Carmen.
â€œLuke,â€ said MartÃn, â€œyou wouldn’t happen to have a brother that’d be willing to take her off our hands, would you?â€
â€œOnly child, I’m afraid.â€ Luke shifted in his seat.
Luz smiled at Luke apologetically. He squeezed her hand and winked.
About the Author
Leslie DJ is a Dominican-American writer and radio personality who resides in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. She is the writer and founder of SinisterGirlz.com, an online publication that features written and audio music related content. She hosts Sinister Girlz Live on WBMB Baruch College Radio 94.3 FM New York on Fridays atÂ 4pmÂ EST.
Her debut novel, â€œThat Girlâ€ was released in September of 2016 and is available on Amazon.com
She graduated with a BA in Theatre Arts with a concentration in Playwriting from Marymount Manhattan College and received her MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in Fiction from The New School of General Studies.