Books You’ve Got to Read…or Listen To!

www.tuesdaywriters.comI’m nearly finished with Angie’s Thomas’ The Hate U Give read beautifully by Bahni Turpin. (Last year I listened to her read Everything Everything. She’s one of my favorite readers!) It’s a book right now that is timely and true and sad. The main character, Starr, was in a car driven by her best friend Khalil who is pulled over by the cops and shot in front of her. Starr had been straddling the inner-city neighborhood where she lives with the suburban prep school she starting attending years before after another of her best friends was killed in a gang drive-by. This is a must read. I was on the waiting list nearly all summer for this one, so it’s getting a lot of readers. You should be one, too.

 

 

 

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum is on this years Florida Teens www.tuesdaywriters.comRead. It’s the kind of book where you root for the main character and hope she gets what she wants in the end. Jessie’s father surprise married someone she didn’t even know he was dating and moves her from her Chicago public school to Los Angeles. A Los Angeles filled with model-worthy class mates at an ultra prep school. When Jessie receives an anonymous email from someone offering her guidance on how to navigate her new world, she takes it.

 

 

 

www.tuesdaywriters.com

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner is also on the Florida Teens Read list this year. Dill’s only solace in this world are his friends Travis and Lydia. Dill’s father, a Pentecostal preacher who encouraged his parishioners to let deadly snakes coil around them is in jail for child pornography. Dill’s mother would like him to drop out of school and start working full time to support the family. He’s also grieving the loss of Lydia in anticipation of her going away to college when he know’s he’ll be stuck home forever. When Dill learns that his mother blames him for his father’s imprisonment, it cracks his resolve to keep going.

 

 

 

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy (author of another book I loved, Dumplin) is the story of Ramona who got the www.tuesdaywriters.comnickname Ramona Blue because she loves swimming so much. Ramona works in a restaurant/bar and is about to start her senior year of high school. There’s no way out for Ramona. She thought she and her older sister would move out of town once they both graduated, but now that her sister is pregnant, Ramona knows the money she’s been saving will all go to the baby. Ramona also just spent the summer in her first real relationship with a girl. A girl who has a boyfriend back home. She’s mixed up and sad when Freddie, a boy she was friends with years ago, moves to town. Could she be attracted to him, too? Julie Murphy is an author sensitive to addressing what’s important to teens with real, fleshed-out characters.

 

Whether you listen or read, you should check out these wonderful YA books!

Media Monday Interview with Jeff Strand

Welcome Tuesday readers, I’ve got such a treat for you today, you are not going to want to miss this. It’s an interview with Jeff Strand, one of the hardest working writers I know. Jeff and I first met in the Sourcebooks booth at ALA 2016. I could tell he was full of stories, I mean chock full, I mean so completely stuffed with stories that you just wanted to open him up and make him spill his guts on the floor. OK. That would be very dramatic and also very messy. So instead I asked him to talk with us today. At the end of the interview you can tell me if I made the right decision.



Meet Jeff:jeff-strand

Jeff Strand is a four-time nominee (and zero-time winner) of the Bram Stoker Award.

His novels are usually classified as horror, but they’re really all over the place, from comedies to thrillers to drama to, yes, even a fairy tale.

His book STALKING YOU NOW is being made into the feature film MINDY HAS TO DIE.

Because he doesn’t do cold weather anymore, he lives in Tampa, Florida with his wife and cat.

SR: I’m not even really sure where to start. I’ve read tons of interviews on you and I feel incapable of capturing your brilliance (snark) or that of your interviewers. So let’s just stick to the facts and I’ve got to say they are preeetty impressive: 4 Bram Stoker nominations, a movie adaptation of one of your books, short stories in notable anthologies, and just recently, have a book mentioned on Cultured Vulture’s List of 13 Halloween Books You Should Read (If You Dare) and tons of appearances at writing conferences and panels. How do you do it all? And what’s your favorite part of this business?

JS: Ultimately, it comes down to the scientific formula of “Writing = Butt in chair.” I like to joke around and call myself a lazy slacker, and I’m far from immune to the distractions of the Internet, but ultimately, writing IS my job, and I treat it like one. So I pretty much get out of bed and get to work.

My favorite part of the business is going to conventions, where I get to see my writer friends and feel like a semi-celebrity for a weekend, before returning to my life of obscurity.

SR: I love the conventions and conferences also! I feel like a real writer when I’m there. So let’s talk about your latest release, Cyclops Road.

 cyclops-road-cover

Evan Portin is at a sad, scary place in his life. While taking a long walk to compose himself and figure out where to go from here, he encounters a young woman being mugged in a park.

When he tries to intervene, he discovers that she doesn’t need his help. At all.

Her name is Harriett. She is very, very good at defending herself. Everything she owns is in a large backpack. She’s never seen a cell phone. She’s never been in a car. She’s never really ventured into the outside world.

And she says she’s traveling across the country to slay a Cyclops.
She’s crazy, right? Evan is not in the habit of hanging out with delusional women he’s just met. On the other  hand, it can’t hurt to offer her a ride out of town. And maybe this insane journey is exactly what he needs…

SR: Can you tell us specifically what made Cyclops Road the story you wanted to tell?

JS: Many of my book ideas go through a long gestation period before I start writing them, and it’s also not uncommon for me to write a few chapters and then take part of that concept and turn it into something else. Cyclops Road was sort of a reworking of a barely-started project called The Dragonslayers Five. I took the germ of that idea, changed the dragon to a Cyclops, and also changed…well, basically everything. The story appealed to me because it covered so much territory: it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s action-packed, it’s scary, and it’s got a great big mystery at its core. Of course, that made it officially a “cross-genre” novel, which creates its own set of problems…

SR: As an author, we all worry about how to get our books into the hands of our readers. I feel like you’ve sort of nailed that. Can you tell us about the brainstorming that goes into your titles and your covers in general and then especially as it relates to Cyclops Road.

JS: The titles come from a lot of time spent looking through a thesaurus, by which I mean using www.thesaurus.com. I keep plugging in words related to plot or theme until something sparks an idea. Then I’ll go to Amazon, discover that a dozen other books have already used that title, and try again. Sometimes the marketing team takes over and comes up with their own title, as with I Have a Bad Feeling About This, Stranger Things Have Happened, and Wolf Hunt. Cyclops Road was originally called The Odyssey of Harriett, but I decided to go with something that had a “darker” tone, and I’d also already reached my limit of people saying “Ozzie & Harriett? Hyuck, hyuck, hyuck!”

I’m not good with cover ideas. My upcoming novella An Apocalypse of Our Own

an-apocalypse-of-their-ownhas the exact cover image I suggested (a guy in a Hazmat suit holding a heart-shaped box of chocolates) but much of the time my involvement is minimal or non-existent. For my young adult novels, I’m not even consulted. I’m a “hybrid” author, so I self-publish as well as work with traditional publishers, and my wife Lynne Hansen does all of my self-pubbed covers. For those, I’ll describe the tone I’m looking for, but pretty much all of the ideas come from her. And in fact the title Cyclops Road was her suggestion, because it tied in with her cover concept.

SR:At the beginning of The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever you tell your readers that there are no real zombies in the book but you ask them to go on this journey with you anyway. (Which they happily do). Do you want to tell the Tuesday Writers’ readers if there is an actual Cyclops in Cyclops Road? Or is that one of those read to find out sort of questions?

JS: It’s very much a “If you want to know if there’s a real Cyclops, read the book!” situation. When I came up with the basic premise, I worked out two completely different paths it could take in the final chapters. I was excited about both of them, but I committed to one of the paths very early in the process. Obviously, the novel doesn’t end with the characters saying, “Oh well, no Cyclops here,” shrugging, and returning home.

And, yeah, with The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever I wanted to make it clear that this was NOT a book where kids making a zombie movie are suddenly forced to use their expertise to fight off a real horde of the living dead. My (ex)-agent wanted it to have a real zombie attack, but that was never part of the concept.

SR:Can you give our readers a piece of writing advice?

JS: Writing is like sports, musical instruments, or pretty much anything else: it takes practice. It’s totally fine if the first book you write is complete garbage. It’s fine if the first TEN books you write are complete garbage. Just keep writing. I’m a huge fan of self-publishing, but the “trunk novel” should still play a valuable role in your development as a writer.

SR: Road trip books are some of my favorite kinds of books. What is your favorite road trip book of all time other than Cyclops Road?

JS: It would be unspeakably tacky of me to say my other road trip novel, Kumquat, so I won’t. Does Stephen King’s The Stand count? If it doesn’t, then I’ll say The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison. I probably missed my actual favorite, and I’ll have to call you in the midde of the night to issue a correction.

SR: Of course The Stand counts as a road trip novel!  I’ve never read the Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving and now I have to! You are very active in the horror and film community. Can you tell us a little about how that relates to your #authorlife.

JS: A lot of it is just social. You hang out with people who share similar interests! I’d been attending, for example, The Halloween Horror Picture Show in Tampa as a fan for well over a decade before a short film I wrote, “Gave Up The Ghost,” played there. But at the same time, networking is a major part of this business. A couple of my highest-profile anthology appearances came from the editor saying “Jeff! Author XXX missed his deadline and I need a story ASAP! Can you help me out?” The actual writing should always be the top priority, but authors should definitely become part of their writing community, whether by joining groups, going to conventions, or whatever.

SR: One of the things that impresses me about you is how hard you work and how prolific a writer you are. Can you share some of your writing process?

JS: I don’t like to work from an outline (though sometimes it’s required) but I like to know some key plot points ahead of time, and have at least a vague idea of how it’s going to end. The suggestion of “Just get the first draft done, then worry about revising it later” is a good one, but it’s most definitely NOT how I work. I revise constantly as I go, so much so that by the time I’m done with my first draft, it’s almost the final draft. Then it’s off to about four or five beta readers for their savage feedback, and then off to the editor, after which I start the process all over again.

SR: Here’s the question everyone wants to know….on your website you say you live with your wife and cat. Why not dogs? Are you anti-dog? Or simply pro-cat. Please defend.

My book Kutter takes a hardcore pro-dog stance, and my support for pugs taking over the world is a matter of public record. That said, cats are self-cleaning and you can leave them if you’re gone for a couple of days. I am in favor of all pets, except for tarantulas and uncaged lions.

SR: I know asking a person’s number may seem indelicate, but can you tell me how many books and stories you’ve had published to date?

JS: Twenty-three novels, eight novellas, two short story collections, two collaborative novels, and over a hundred short stories.

SR: Slacker! Not. Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us. 

That’s it for today’s feature!  Comment below to critique my interviewing style or to send some love to Jeff!

 

Melody–Make-It-Up Monday

Diary of a Frustrated Writer (Or what to do when writing is too damn hard and you want to quit)

 

Fbanging head against wallriday

Ugh! I’m in the middle of the worst writer’s block I’ve ever had! I’ve literally spent the last two hours forcing words out, only to scrap them a few sentences later. The scene I’m trying to write is the low point in the middle where all seems lost, and I don’t know why I can’t write it. Maybe I’m starting in the wrong place? Maybe it’s NOT supposed to happen the way I’m envisioning it? This is my second day of trying to write this scene, and my frustration is mounting. Seriously, I’ve never had writer’s block like this, and right now I’m seriously questioning why I want to write.

Saturday

Took my son to a playground arcade and tried to write the problem scene again. The good news? I polished the opening paragraphs and I think they’re pretty good. The bad news? I’m still paralyzed when it comes to starting the action.

Sunday

Day off from writing, but I did take notes while listening to a thunderstorm outside. What does it sound like? Feel like? How many different words are there for the sound of thunder? (Answer: not many.)

Monday

My thunderstorm note-taking must have jarred something loose because I was able to get the action started in my problem scene after it’s triggered by the sound of thunder. I don’t know if what I’ve written is any good, but at least I’m getting words on the page.

boominyourface

Tuesday—Critique Group Day—The Best Day of the Week

By lunch, I was able to finish the first draft of my problem scene (cautious yay!)—but I’m not doing cartwheels yet. I could very well read the scene tomorrow and realize how much it sucks. (This has happened to me many times.)

jumpingboySitting down with the Tuesdays, I shared about my writer’s block, explained how I’ve been filled with doubt and how I’ve been almost paralyzed because I’ve been trying to remember all the things I’ve learned and apply them at the same time and plus (as Cathy recently shared on Facebook) I don’t like when bad things happen in real life so it’s hard to make them happen to my characters. Plus (as someone else pointed out) maybe I was having so much trouble writing this low point scene because it hits too close to home.

Anyway, expressing my fears and doubts to my writing tribe helped. It always does. I then read aloud the scene that comes before the scene where everything goes horribly wrong (and sets all the pieces in motion). The Tuesdays’ verdict? Let’s just say, my confidence has been restored (or at least partially).

Wednesday

Before I sat down to write, I read the draft of my low point scene with fresh eyes, and (Hooray!) it doesn’t suck! I spent a few hours fixing some things and polishing it up and then I read it again…

Can I just say? It’s been a long time since I wrote something that made me cry. Today was one of those days, and for that, I’m grateful.

Today’s going to be a good day!

writer celebrating

So here’s what I learned in the past week: When writing is too damn hard and you want to quit… Persevere. Talk to your writing peeps. Make yourself write, even when you know you’re producing crap. Make yourself write until the words start flowing. In my experience, they always do.

 

Managing writing goals on vacation. An answer to the question, do you write everyday?

In Stephen King’s book On Writing, he says that he writes every day that he’s working on a book. Vacations don’t matter. Birthdays, holidays, the book still needs to be worked on, and so he does. I am not comparing myself to the King, however, now that I am trying to build a writing career, I wonder, can I live according to those rules?

onwriting

Turns out this summer, I’d get a chance to test my mettle.

Before I get started, I’ll admit that I would never plan to have to write on a vacation with my family. Vacation is supposed to be about taking time off, right? But this year, my annual Cape Cod vacation came smack in the middle of a very strict contracted deadline, so I had to figure out how to make both things happen without compromising either. I used King’s words of wisdom, along with the fact that I felt grateful to have this specific problem to propel me forward.

 

The test: I needed to have a completed first draft of #thenextbook ready by the end of August. Could I do that and still take a vacation? Only time would tell.

kids compete (how I felt at the beginning of vacation)

Starting stats: 30,000 words. Goal: 1500-2000 words a day.

Here’s how it all played out:

My baby niece likes to get up super early so writing in the morning isn’t so productive. Pancake breakfasts with Becca are definitely worth giving up writing time for, but the book wasn’t going to write itself, sooo….

pancakes(our pancakes were not this fancy but….)

 

 

Day time is always beach time at the Cape. Unless it’s raining. Then it’s bowling time or movie time. Which is why I love it there. Walking to and from the beach with one or more of the kids gives us time to talk about everything and nothing and just enjoy each other’s company. You might wonder what the big draw is when I live in South Florida where beaches abound, but northern beaches are different. Rocks. Wind. Kites.I could stay on the beach all day on the Cape and be happy, but wasn’t going to happen with all the work I had to do. So back to Mark’s house I went, every  day, earlier than the rest, to grab some peace and quiet and some writing time.

 

walking on beach

It’s all hands on deck with my family at the Cape house. And we’ve developed routines over the years to play to everyone’s strengths. Many times that means I’m the cook, but this year that couldn’t happen. 2000 words a day is hard to fit in with beach time and cooking, so we adapted and brought shrimp and lobster and fish in almost every night and Mark manned the grill for the fish and burgers. It was a sacrifice, for sure, but my family all chipped in (translate: ate shrimp and lobster)to lessen my burden in exchange for a favorable mention in the acknowledgements for the WIP. How my family works.

lobster(this always makes us do the lobster scene from My Best Friend’s Wedding!)

This summer I had my ARCs for The Homecoming with me and I watched as Mark and Bonnie read it in one day. We are big readers in my family and are always passing around books, so it was cool to see them pass mine around for the second summer in a row.

 

the homecoming on the beach

After dinner, evening walks are the order of the day. We’ve been doing this for over 20 years and in that time we usually comment on the same houses, the same views, the same bunnies that we see along the way. Bonnie always feels the bunnies are having some sort of meetings when we see them, but we were all disappointed last year when they were few very few bunnies congregating. I postulated that maybe there had been a big bunny convention in Atlantic City or something or that Cape Cod had become blasé for the little beasts, but luckily this year, the bunnies were back in fully restored numbers. Yay!

bunnies on the capebunnies on the cape 2

Author life has changed my life in many ways since The Sister Pact was first contracted in July of 2014, but it’s stayed the same in the best ways possible. Now as I get ready to board my flight back to Florida, I have to compile my stats.

Current words on WIP: 41,000      Total words added: 11,000  Average words per day: 1,375

 

So let’s review. I did NOT make my 1500-2000 words a day goal, but I came pretty close. And I’m still in great shape to reach my overall goal of having a good first draft completed by the end of August. So yay me!

boxer(how I felt at the end of vacation!)

This is how we do it, Tuesdays! Eyes on the prize every step of the way!!!

 

 

 

Make it up Monday – fish

While staring at Jonathon’s fish tank a couple of Tuesdays ago, I was reminiscing about all the fish I’d seen on a recent trip to the Florida Keys. I posted traits of the fish compared to the Tuesdays. I had some pretty good guesses but you don’t have to wonder any more.

Mahi_critique_SCBWInew headshot (1)

Mahi are very colorful (as is Stacie), they have a dazzling array of gold on their sides with bright blue and emerald green on their backs. Mahi like to hang out in schools and the smaller ones are known as schoolies. Schoolies have a ferocious appetite. Stacie thinks we do because she brings us candy all the time and even brings treats for Jonathon’s dog. Mahi Mahi are really fast in the water. I’m not sure about the water, but Stacie is definitely our fast talker, whether it’s in conversation or reading. At times she reads so fast we have to ask her to slow down.

yellowfin_tuna_young_adult_novelistMaysonet-headshot

Melody gets the yellowfin. At first glance, Melody’s yellow hair seems a surface attrubite, but a yellowfin tuna is a powerful fish. If you hook one on your line it can dive straight down at astounding speeds, setting off a reaction with lots of yelling on the boat as the reel whirs and the rods bends. Melody’s writing delves deep, bending our minds and wrenching our hearts.

Flying fish_writerVoted most likely to cite a pop culture reference in his writing.

Faran frequently flies in with quotes and anecdotes from pop culture.  Flying fish have a unique set of side fins that allow them to fly through the air to avoid predators. These fish can fly three feet above the water for about the same distance that a baseball is thrown. Faran’s current work in progress has a main character who loves baseball.

Red_snapper_librarianIMG_0373

Red Snapper are a tough fighting fish that use strong head shaking maneuvers when on the hook. They love shrimp and crab which contribute to their red color. Chumming (throwing out chopped up bait) using crushed blue crab, drives red snapper into a frenzy. Our red headed librarian, Cathy gets frenzied about research and has been seen shaking her head as she thinks up suggestions for a problem that became apparent when someone read their chapter. You never have to be careful about false claims from Cathy, she is always true to form.

clown_triggerfish_middle_gradejonathan

The clown triggerfish is a vibrant member of our Tuesday family. This one got the most correct answers because people know that Jonathon is always clowning around. His stories are hilarious. There are rounds of raucous laughter that erupt from the Tuesdays when he reads.  Clown triggerfish have really strong jaws. Jonathon doesn’t use a lot of extra words in his critiques, but when he points out a flaw in someone’s plot or structure he is spot on.

Grunt_suspense_authorprofile picture

Grunts have an air bladder that amplifies the sound made when the fish grinds its teeth together causing a loud grunt. Anybody grunt and groan about revision? This one could be all of us, but I know that when I’m at my desk trying to figure out how to fix a scene or a plot hole, I do lots of grunting and groaning.

I am a work in progress

We’ll see what other posts Jonathon’s fish tank might inspire next Tuesday.