Friday Free Write With all the Feels

For this Free Write Friday, I’m feeling all of the FEELS.


The Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana is approaching signaling the Days of Awe and also that my family will be eating a ton of apples and honey. Yum!


It’s a wonderful time of reflection and of celebrating the hope for a sweet upcoming year. I’d like to take this time to wish that for all of you Tuesday Writers’ followers out there.


As a young adult author it is also a time of great change for me. I am just about to launch my second book, THE HOMECOMING, November 1st. At the same time I am working to maintain the success of my first book, THE SISTER PACT, and am turning in the first draft of my third book (due out November 2017). Author life is abundant and rich and I am so freakin lucky to be in this position.

But at the same time this is a time of sadness for me. Neither of my parents lived to even know my first book was going to be published. Mom has been gone for five years and Dad for three and I still miss them fiercely, especially at this time of year.

Also, I am coming to terms with the idea that I, myself have changed over this last year                                  .future

I went from a debut author, able to use my newbie-ness as an excuse for not knowing everything I need to know to be successful. Now I’m on book two, straddling still not knowing enough,(aka living with imposter syndrome),  and feeling empowered to strike out and make my mark on this landscape. Fear and doubt always follow new endeavors. Last year I wanted to debut strong. This year I’m focused on connecting with readers and refining the message that I stand for the kids who can’t stand for themselves. The ones who have difficulty speaking for themselves. I stand for the kids who need someone to stand by them. Yeah. As an author, that’s who I want to be. I hope I will be able to continue to do that.

So there’s a lot to consider moving forward on this journey. It’s no Yellow Brick Road, if you know what I mean. Or maybe it is.


It’s fraught with challenges, for sure. Adversity. Demands. Highs. Lows. There’s the definite need to be strong with actions and words at the same time that you need to be willing to humble yourself. On this road with me I take my Lion, my Scarecrow, my Tin Man. (You all know who you are). The Wicked Witch is there, also, but so is Glinda (unless you think those roles are reversed, and they may be). In this new world where we have to choose so carefully the words we use to describe our characters, including the very words we put in their mouths, we have to also remember to be true to our readers who are looking to us for truth in everything we write.


Can we be careful and honest? Can we represent the world authentically without fear of offending someone? I have no idea. I just know, for the teens and kids I represent, I am going to try.

And I’m so grateful to have the chance to do just that. To keep writing books for teens all the way through fall of 2018 so far. (That’s right, four books, baby!). Books that hopefully will start conversations about important things. Conversations about mental health. About resilience. About Hope. Conversations about acceptance and abilities and inclusion. Along the way I also hope I can entertain a few people. Seems like a long list of challenging resolutions, but I left world peace out. Hmmmm we could add  stopping world hunger? Why not go for the moon?

So I want to take the time to say Shana Tova to everyone out there who celebrates Rosh Hashana and to all of you who just want to envision the next year as a positive and healthy one for us all.

You can keep this conversation going by posting a comment below. I hope you will.


Themed Thursday: Our Favorite BANNED Books

Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read by bringing national attention to books that have been banned or challenged at one time or another. As writers, we couldn’t NOT chime in on how important some of these so-called “harmful” books have been to us.

Jonathan: Going through the list of banned books, I was amazed that some of them were even banned in the first place. harry_potter_and_the_sorcerers_stone I was less amazed that some of my all-time favorites were on the list. I seem to like the banned ones. If I have to pick just one, I’m going to pick Harry Potter, which was banned in places because they felt it glorified witchcraft. I mostly feel with banning books, that if it’s not calling for harm to someone, and you object to some content, then it’s simple. Just don’t read it. But, honestly, Harry Potter was one of the more ludicrous ones on the list. To say that it promotes witchcraft was ridiculous, because believe me, I’ve tried through the years to cast spells or hexes on people, and if witchcraft was real, I would’ve been successful much more than only twenty-five percent of the time.

Joanne Butcher

Joanne Butcher

Joanne: One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey is my banned book.  banned-book-fiction-cuckoos-nestHero Randle Patrick is stuck on a psych ward where the nurses rule.  He’s not happy with the striping of self-esteem forced on the occupants and rallies the other patients, promoting gambling, drinking, and womanizing, which creates a huge power struggle between patients and nurses.  It was banned for its depictions of criminal activities and torture. In my opinion, the electric shock therapy used to treat schizophrenia and severe depression although effective, is torture.  It’s one of the reason’s I chose to do my psych rotation in a suicide clinic instead of on the ward. What I like about the book is that it focuses on finding self, choosing suitable role models and hanging onto life in horrific conditions. Kesey wrote the book after working as a janitor on the night shift in a psych ward. Revealing the hidden side of truth is part of what made his book great.

Melody Maysonet

Melody Maysonet

Melody: For the life of me, I can’t figure out why anyone would want to ban areyoutheregodAre You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume. I mean, really, what’s so offensive about asking God for help when you feel lost and confused? Or maybe they’re offended by girls getting their periods? I read this when I was about twelve years old and it was definitely an eye opener, but not in a bad way. If I hadn’t read it when I did, I would have been ill prepared for the changes my body was about to go through in puberty and adolescence. Not only that, it comforted me because I realized my doubts and fears were shared by others. So thank you, Judy Blume, for helping me grow up.

Faran Fagen

Faran Fagen

Faran: Of Mice and Men may contain profanity, racism and violence, but so does our current presidential race. of-mice-and-menThe fact that this classic was once banned from school is appalling to me. The book’s message of the plight of so many individuals is clear, no matter their race or class. Every character is oppressed in some fashion. Curly and his wife for their unhappiness, Crooks for his stature (both physical and his skin color), Candy for his handicap, and of course, George and Lennie for their unique, interdependent relationship. You think of all the problems we have today in our society caring for the mentally ill. Years ago, author John Steinbeck addressed this in Of  Mice and Men with Lennie’s disability. Even though George has the best intentions to care for Lennie, he fails, ending with the darkest tragedy of all. Decades later, we still can’t save everyone who is mentally challenged. Of Mice and Men does a tremendous job of raising awareness about the difficulties involved with surviving in a world where you or someone you care about has a mental illness. Does this sound like a book that should have been banned at any stage of the last century?

Stacie Ramey

Stacie Ramey

Stacie:  I remember I first read Go Ask Alice when I was in high school, probably around the time I was 15 or 16. I read a lot of books back then (still do), and Go Ask Alice was one of the books I picked out on my own and read for pleasure. I was drawn immediately to the plight of the main character. goaskalicsedfsGo Ask Alice was a terrifying and incredibly honest read for me as a teenager. I’ve since re-read it as an adult. It  paints a very bleak and desperate picture of a girl who wants romantic love and acceptance, but suffers initially probably from depression and definitely from insecurity and then  from the depravity that drug dependence breeds including putting herself in dangerous situations, rendering herself, by her condition, powerless, and making herself the perfect victim for abuse by others.  It shows her repeated desire to leave this community, to find happiness without chemical means, to be the truest version of herself and a loving part of her family. In the end she fails to do that, and I still think about that character and wonder what eventually  pulled her away from the world of the living. As for the literary significance. This piece of literature has been loved for over fifty years by three generations of readers. It tells a story. It pulls you in and makes you feel for the character and root for her. It keeps the reader on the edge of the seat hoping that Alice will defy the odds and make it out of her serious addiction and the twisted community of addicts she associates with. But it does more than that. It reminds us all that deep down we all have the same desires. To be loved and accepted. To feel capable and to contribute. To find people who we identify as being similar to. It reaches out to an audience. Not just as a cautionary tale, but also as a reminder to look to help others as often as we can. In short, this book changes you. That’s my definition of literary value.

Cathy Castelli

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. perkswallfloerI met Stephen Chbosky at the International Reading Association Convention in Indianapolis, IN around the time the book came out. (I still have my signed copy which I don’t lend out to my students.) I read the book in one sitting in my hotel while still at the conference. Over the years, Perks has been one of those books that students love. They feel understood by Stephen’s words. The parts deemed objectionable are such a small part and not salacious. Chbosky captured the teen experience in a way they needed to be understood.

By the way, today is Joanne’s birthday (Happy birthday, Joanne!), so even if you don’t want to chime in on your favorite banned book, you can always wish her a happy birthday instead.

Wrap it up Wednesday – Delving into Conflict

I personally don’t like conflict, so writing it can be a challenge. Every Tuesday, each of us in the group brings a little bit of ourselves, in story, to present to the group, tweak, and go on.  conflict-in-writingI’m almost at the midpoint of my story and I have my main character incurring lots of problems. Yesterday I was really pleased that I had lots of conflict in the chapter I brought to read to The Tuesdays because I’ve needed to ratchet up the tension a couple of times in the past. Well, you can’t get anything by The Tuesdays. They all said they liked the conflict and they pointed out to me that it had occurred in the proper order. Let me explain:

My main character is in a downward spiral and started a fight with a person he felt was often adversarial. He then picked a fight with someone who was more neutral to him, someone who might side with him or go against him and finally started a fight with a person he was very close to.  After a nice  compliment, the group got down to the nitty gritty which was that throughout the course of the chapter the conflict was staying at the same level when it needed to be rising with more of a crescendo. I needed to let my main character get nasty and let it all hang out at the end of the chapter.

What I need to do is let my characters dig in and show their ugliest side even if it goes against my principles. I need to let them start out fighting fair like I might in an argument then increase to a peak, slinging every bit of dirt that they have politely tucked below the surface for

It’s an interesting process, this writing. When I started out I thought that I would assign thoughts and feelings to my characters. Somehow I thought I’d be exempt from experiencing what they go through.  Little did I know that I would be delving into parts of myself that society has taught me to hide away in order to make my characters understood.

Thank you, Tuesdays for bringing me to the next level.

Tips from our Mentor – Joyce Sweeney


Joining us today is Joyce Sweeney favorite authorwho is the reason The Tuesdays even exist. While Joyce no longer runs critique groups, she has helped many people along the way including the six of us. She is our Mama Bird who sends us the Pixie Dust we need to keep going to run the gauntlet of writing and publishing.  Joyce, when you were actively writing novels, what was your favorite part of it?

I think my favorite part of writing fiction was to get to speak through my characters and say things I wouldn’t get to say as myself.  My YA writing was very much tied up in my own teenage rebellion, which went well into my 40’s!  I’m a person who is careful what they say and thinks a lot about the impact of my words (not so much fun) But when I was inside the mask of a teenager, I could mouth off all I wanted!


You used to run three invitation-only critique groups but have since stopped that part of your writing support. The Tuesdays were fortunate to have had you as their critique group leader. What would you say is the single most important thing to remember about running/being in a critique group?

The most important thing for any critique group is mutual respect.  Every member should have some kind of respect or admiration for the work and aspirations of all the other members.  When people know they are safe and in a group that supports them, they open up and listen and their work improves.  Two of my three groups went on and still meet to this day because the bonds that were formed held, even when I left.  I’m very proud of my Tuesdays and Thursdays for keeping it going!


Who mentored you?

I attended Ohio University and did the coursework for a Master’s in Creative Writing.  They had an awesome writing program and I had three incredible mentors –  Daniel Keyes (Flowers for Algernon), who was a bear about proper craftsmanship, Walter Tevis (The Hustler) who was a warm, nurturing mentor and Jack Matthews (Hanger Stout, Awake!) who gave the best creative prompts I ever had.  I not only learned how to write from those guys, I learned so much about how to teach writing.  


You have a very special collection of artwork created by children’s book artists. Where did you passion for art come from?

I love art, my grandmother was a painter and so was my father.  

favorite author

Painted by Joyce’s Grandmother Jean Spoon

I went to art school, but quickly found out I would always be a ‘B’ student in art (whereas I was always an ‘A’ student in writing).  Even before SCBWI, I liked commercial and illustration art the best and because SCBWI gives us a chance to bid at auction for original canvases by some of the best children’s book illustrators around, it was just irresistible to me.  I’m proud to have these beautiful originals by Fred Koehler, Laurent Linn, Zebo Ludvicek, Leslie Helakoski, and Ethan Long.  favorite authorElsewhere in my house I have numerous originals of my book covers and a prized illustration of my first published magazine story by Loren Salazar.  And I have canvases from some of my students who are artists, like Yves Masson and photography by Jodi Turchin and Deb Getts.     


Of all you novels, which is your favorite?

Favorite?  I have favorites, plural.  Center Line for being my first, Free Fall for being the one where I really learned how to plot, Shadow for winning lots of awards, Players for being my most successful and for teaching me how to write a thriller, Headlock for letting me express my feelings about loving someone with Alzheimers…each one is special for all different reasons.  They are just like children.  


What is your best writing advice?

My best writing advice is to keep studying the craft and keep growing and challenging yourself.  You can work into a comfortable rut and even have success that way, but if you don’t stretch as an artist, you won’t be happy.  I had to leave YA and move on to poetry because I could grow  there.  And I still am.  


Which author would you love to meet but haven’t yet?

My answer would probably change every week but right now I would love to meet Joyce Moyer Hostetter.  She writes with such authenticity and heart.  I think as an artist she is completely true to herself.  I just finished AIM and it was beautiful.  favorite author


I would never, ever ask you to name your favorite Tuesday, be we all know who it is.

In the comments below, tell us which author you most want to meet!

Interview With Author, Wendy McLeod MacKnight!

Hello Tuesdays!

Today, I’m pleased to be joined by my fellow Swanky Seventeens member, Wendy McLeod MacKnight, whose debut, It’s a Mystery, Pig Face, is scheduled to come out February 2017 from SkyPony Press


Hi, Wendy and thanks for joining us today!

JR: Before we begin, can you tell us a little bit about It’s a Mystery, Pig Face and the impetus behind writing it? Fun title by the way.

pig-faceLove the cover!


WMM: Actually, I wrote the very first draft of the novel a LONG time ago (like in the Jurassic Period!) when I was living on the opposite end of Canada from where I grew up. One of the things that has been an absolute in my life is my firm belief that I grew up in the best neighbourhood ever. I wanted to try and translate that into a story. The lead character, Tracy, is like me, but times a hundred!  She wants to live a big life, and she sort of feels like that big life is waiting for her, just around the corner, if only she can sneak up on it. She’s kind of eccentric, and so is her bestie, Ralph, who is obsessed with cooking and wants to be a chef when he grows up. They’re infamous in their school for thinking there are mysteries where there aren’t. Actually, they’re dismal mystery hunters. So when they find a paper bag full of money, their imagination runs amok. The mystery would be enough for Tracy to deal with, but a boy from New York City (which is the center of Tracy’s universe despite never having been there in her life) moves in next door for the summer, her arch-nemesis Jasmine is always showing up like a rock in her shoe, and worst of all, Tracy and Ralph have to work with her little brother, Lester AKA Pig Face. At its heart, the story is about the meaning of friendship.



JR: I read on your site, that you grew up in the small town of St. Stephen. I went to the link and it looks beautiful. Has growing up in a small town as opposed to a larger city influenced the things you write about?

WMM: YES! So I grew up in a small town in one of the smallest provinces in Canada. And I love being from a place that most people have never heard of, where people spending the first five minutes upon meeting you to try to figure out if they know your mother or father.  In a small town, everything is about relationships. People know your strengths and your weaknesses and they just kind of accept them, and in a lot of ways, celebrate them, because you’re all in it together. So I’m pretty obsessed with that in It’s a Mystery, Pig Face!

st-stephen_nbI could definitely spend some time in a place like this!


JR: Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey getting to this point? 

WMM: Ack! Settle in with a cup of coffee and a piece of pie. I wrote the first draft of Pig Face in 1986. I’ll wait while you pick yourself up off the floor. Yes, I was two years old and a child genius. I sent it to exactly one publisher, who sent me the nicest rejection letter, and then promptly put it in a drawer. But I kept writing here and there and I kept wishing I was a children’s writer. I had this whole other career where I did pretty well – when I left Government, I was the head of the Department of Education in New Brunswick, but all I wanted to do was write. About a month before I turned 50 my last parent died and I said to myself “What do you have to lose?” I left my job. A lot of people thought I was brave, and a lot of people thought I was foolish. Thank heavens I had no idea what I was getting myself into. For example, I had to relearn how to write fiction. Since I already had the old manuscript, that’s where I started. I took courses, read books on writing, and then wrote and wrote and wrote. I began querying agents WAY too early, but some of them were complimentary despite the shape of my manuscript and I kept revising. I knew I had finally gotten the book in good shape by early September 2014; all of a sudden I was getting a lot of requests for full manuscripts and the week that I signed with my fantastic agent Lauren Galit at LKG Agency, I was offered representation by two other agents. But there were 48 other agents before Lauren. I’m always unsure as to whether to be proud of that number, or embarrassed, so I always choose pride! Anyway, Lauren had more changes for me and then we began the submission process in early 2015. Alison Weiss was interested early on and we went back and forth and then Sky Pony eventually bought the book in June of 2015. So while I started it 30 years before, the reality is that I went from beginning to write the book (because trust me it was a complete rewrite) in June 2013 to a deal in June 2015, which I know sounds crazy short to most of your readers, but which seemed really slow to me!


JR: What’s your writing process like?

WMM: Honestly, the most torturous thing for me now is finding a really good concept and refining it into something write-able. Initially, I was a pantser, but more and more I am becoming a hard-core plotter. I do sheets about all of my characters, I figure out the story ARC, and then I plot every scene. When I’m writing I usually pound out 2,000-3,000 words a day, but I don’t really write like that until I am ready to sit down and write the book. I managed to 100,000 words in six weeks for the first draft of my second book. And then I put it in a drawer for at least two weeks, at which point I take it out and marvel at the mess. And then I go for long walks and harangue my daughter into talking about it with me. Then I redo the plot on paper, figure out what new scenes are required, what darlings I must kill, and start again.



JR: What’s your favorite book and who’s your favorite author?

WMM: This is like a Sophie’s Choice question for me! My favourite childhood book was Anne of Green Gables and I would say that if I could only read one author for the rest of my life it would likely be Lucy Maud Montgomery or Charles Dickens. BUT can I say how much I love knowing that I live in the same world where Neil Gaiman and Susannah Clarke live and breathe? Because I really do.  As far as I am concerned he is a modern Charles Dickens and she is modern George Eliot – pure genius.



JR: What’s your favorite movie?

WMM: Jonathan, you seemed so nice before this question and the last one. Hands down, The Wizard of Oz, but if you allow me a double bill, I’ll add Casablanca and treat you to popcorn!

JR: I’ll allow it.



JR: Something people would be surprised to learn about you?

WMM: If I’d never gotten published, I was going to open a shoe store! I may have a shoe shopping problem.



JR: Do you do a lot of research when you write?

WMM: I did a ton of research for my second book, and I am currently doing a lot of research on two different topics for the next books I want to write. I am thinking of learning Scrivener, because I am not the world’s best organizer of all of my research. I read how Elizabeth Gilbert had this elaborate filing card system for her book The Signature of All Things, but I know that as much as I admire that kind of approach, I am wholly unable to replicate it!


JR: Here at the Tuesdays, a big part of our success and the purpose of this site, has been being involved in a critique group. Are you involved in one and if so, how has it helped you?

critique 2

WMM: I am!  I love my critique group because we write in all different genres and so we have a completely different perspective about each other’s work. They are so good at catching all of my flaws in logic and ill-constructed characters. I also have a critique partner who lives half a continent away in the U.S. – we meet by Skype regularly. What I’ve found in both cases is that it took us a while to get good at critiquing one another, but with patience and perseverance, we’ve gotten very good at it!  I absolutely need them. And what I love best about them all is that they are very kind and generous. That means everything! You have to trust your critique partners!


JR: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received and is there any advice you can give to writers looking to break in?

WMM: The best piece of advice I’ve ever read is to write the book you want to read. If you’re passionate about your story, that can’t help but some through! My advice: don’t query too early, but don’t work the book to death either. Listen to all advice and keep revising until you find the agent that’s willing to represent you or the publisher willing to publish you. I had decided to query Pig Face 78 times (don’t ask me where the number 78 came from, it escapes me now!) and then I was going to write another book and try again.



JR: What are you working on next?

WMM: I’ve written a fantasy MG novel that there will be some big news about soon! Right now I’m researching three possible MG novel ideas. I also have a half-dead YA fantasy novel that I hope to raise from the dead sometime in the future!


JR: Is there anything that else you want to share with our readers or perhaps tell them how they can follow you on social media?

WMM: Please – don’t give up. As a now professional dream chaser, I can’t stress again how worth it is to try!  And I am all over social media and would love to hear from you:  – I blog once a week there and share news that gets sent out once a week to subscribers


JR: Before we go, I always like to ask, who’s your favorite member of The Tuesdays?

WMM: Despite my admiration for all of the Tuesdays, I’m going to have to pick Cathy Castelli, because, you know, middle grade.

Cathy Castelli

BUT I love the title of your book Jonathan as much as I love my own title. I would buy a book with that title no matter what. It always makes me laugh!!!


Thanks again, Wendy!


…Okay, editorial note. See if we can edit out the part about Cathy being her favorite and really highlight the part where Wendy said she loved the title of my book. And please don’t forget this time, I always come off looking foolish when my comments are seen here at the end.











Sticking with it often the answer

By Faran Fagen

Freestyle Friday

When I was my son’s age, I loved Sesame Street. Snuffaluffagus was easily my favorite character.
I was an even bigger fan of the “word of the day.” It was repeated by Elmo or a celebrity throughout the show.
That’s how I feel this week about a certain word that keeps popping up like those plastic moles in the carnival game “whack-a-mole”.
So I decided to make this recurring word the basis for my Freestyle Friday.
The word of the week is … Perseverance.
It popped up when my wife, Kara, and I attended Parent University at my son’s elementary school. The faculty repeatedly referred to the perseverance the students need to pass the end of the year FSA test (thankfully my wife, a kindergarten teacher, is already preparing Spencer – more evidence that marrying her was the smartest thing I ever did)
It’s been all over the news. Perseverance for racial tension in the country, for the shortcomings of both presidential candidates that flood the media.
The word has surrounded so many of my friends and family this week. Perseverance for a friend of mine whose son is battling cancer. For a family who’s been trying to sell a house for six months. For my wife’s family who lost a loved one. They must persevere through grief.
Then, at a journalism/writers summit at my school yesterday, it came up several times. Ethan Skolnick of The Miami Herald and 790 the Ticket talked about how he persevered through many internships to get his first job covering the Miami Dolphins.
Our very own Jonathan Rosen, a member of the Tuesday’s, spoke about the many years it took him to find the right agent and secure a book deal. He told 100 students how you persevere through many rejections as a writer.
All this got me thinking about my writing journey. It took years to get the job as a major league baseball writer. Years of nos and just not quite good enough until the door opened.
Years of building on mistakes as well as successes.
I thought about the Tuesday’s – all the obstacles Jonathan, Stacie and Melody overcame to become published. And the perseverance of me, Cathy and Joanne.
In the end I guess that’s what we all do – we persevere. And in doing so we learn from mistakes, pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and step back into the batters box and wait for that next pitch.
As I sit and wait for a response from three agents who are mulling my manuscript – the one I’ve sculpted for the last decade – I suppose no matter the reaction, I’m taking a swing at it, like my son, my friend with the son battling cancer, and everyone who wants to achieve more somehow.
When I was in college I sold educational books door to door one summer to buy my first car. It was probably the toughest job I ever had. We used to say that for about every 10 no’s, if you were lucky, you’d hear one yes and make one sale. There was a famous quote we all carried around with us for inspiration by former president Calvin Coolidge:
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

Themed Thursday: Apprenticing the Muse

“The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.”

—Arnold Toynbee

Most writers we know have a long list of jobs behind them—some menial, some meaningful. Yet even when our jobs had nothing to do with writing, we still managed to get creative. For today’s Themed Thursday, we’re shining a spotlight on jobs from our past that somehow supplemented our creative juices.

Stacie Ramey

Stacie Ramey

Stacie: I have always worked around children. Always. Almost every single job I’ve had centered around kids. I was a camp counselor for a day camp for years, worked at a day care center through college, worked with college aged students with disabilities at both University of Florida and Penn State. But it all started with babysitting. That may not sound exciting, but believe me, it was good times! I had regular kids I babysat and I was tried and true with those kids and those families, but those add-on people? Well, let’s just say after the kids went to bed, Stacie got to work. I used to go through all of their things. Horrible, right? I would read their mail and look in their drawers. I would look in their pantry and their freezers. I was sure that each of these families had a story only I could discover. Yeah. Not so cool. But in my defense…okay there’s no defense. Still, I never shared my new-found knowledge and never took anything or moved anything from its original place because that would be wrong. Most times I was totally disappointed and didn’t find anything salacious or remotely interesting. Now if it were today, there would be computers to hack and DVRs to check. I’m sure I would have uncovered way more dirt that way. Oh well. Needless to say we never used a babysitter for my kids. Yeah. Wasn’t going to put up with that kind of scrutiny. True story. So did any of these people informed my character development? No. Not really. But I will say my search for their story never stopped and maybe that’s what made me want to write.

Jonathan: I like to think that every job I’ve ever had has somehow played a part in contributing to my writing. It may sound like a copout, but it’s true. Honestly, every one of them has given me some ideas or stories that I’d love to use someday. I worked in a clothing store for a couple of weeks in high school, and once I was able to stock up on all the employee discounts and a full wardrobe, I left. I worked in Customer Service for a healthcare company and had the strangest phone calls. People asking about coverage for everything from their pets to every type of personal enhancement you can think of. Another personal favorite of mine was summer camp counselor, since, for some reason, parents confided things to me and I was only a college kid at the time. I traded stocks and saw ridiculous highs and depressing lows, which probably helped transition me into the same mood swings in writing. And lastly, being a teacher has probably given me the most insight into the mind of a student and hearing all the stories and excuses they come up with. So, once again, I think I took something out of every job I’ve had and have been able to use it in writing.



Melody Maysonet

Melody: I think it was my job as a grocery store cashier that most got my creative juices flowing. I worked the late shift, so I had a lot of time to think. To pass the time, I’d make up back stories for all the people who came through my line, based on, not only the way they looked and talked, but also on their hands, which I was able to study (and sometimes brush against) as I gave them back their change. A man with calloused palms might be a grave digger, and a girl with chewed-off fingernails might be worried that her friends were planning to ditch her. Ink-stained fingers meant a mid-level manager who hated his job, and dry skin was the hallmark of a surgeon who scrubbed his hands with powerful antiseptic. Looking at my own hands with their long fingers and knobby knuckles, I can’t help seeing a middle-aged woman who’s trying desperately to hold onto her youth as she strives to become a New York Times–bestselling author.



Joanne in scrubs

Joanne: The job that helped me most with my writing is nursing. I worked in many aspects of nursing throughout my career but my favorite places to work were in critical care. ICU, CCU and PACU created the most challenge for me. All of my writing has had some medical component to it. Be it articles or poems published in nursing journals, or aspects of my experience that I bring into my stories, the nurse in me is always there.  Aside from the medical knowledge, nursing taught me to be a good listener and to watch a person closely for things physical or mental that could be lurking below the surface. I find that helpful in characterization. In our critique group, The Tuesdays tap into my medical knowledge too, asking questions for their scenes involving illness, injury or hospitalization. I had a lot of amazing experiences with my career in nursing and I work to pay that forward in my writing.


Cathy Castelli

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: In 1984, my life and not the book, there was a summer job fair held at the University of Illinois. It was a bunch of summer camps looking for counselors.

Cheryl Olson (aka Gator) and me (aka Abbott)

Cheryl Olson (aka Gator) and me (aka Abbott)

There were some really cool sleep away camps in the Northeast, but I was practical. How would I get to Maine? And would it take all the money I earned for the summer to get me there and back? Then I found Girl Scout Camp Pokonoka located in Ottawa, IL twenty minutes from where my parents lived. I could get there and back easily.  When I arrived for staff orientation, I was told I needed to have a nickname. You know how nicknames are…better pick a good one before someone else gives you an awful one. It should have been obvious to pick Red as my nickname. Maybe it was because that’s what I heard people call my dad my whole life. It somehow seemed masculine.  There was also Big Red chewing gum at the time, and I did not want to be called that either.  Other counselors had names like Gator, Mex, Puddin, Coxy. I needed to hurry. So I decided that people should call me Abbott, as in Abbott and Costello which was sort of close to my name Castelli. God that was lame! I still have a heck of a time naming characters. But I loved the summer of platform tents, latrines, mice nesting in our tent flaps, and all the Girl Scout cookies I could eat.  My Nicole Tinker novel is essentially set in this area, so I guess that summer was more important than I thought.

Faran Fagen

Faran Fagen

Faran: As a freelance reporter for, sometimes I’d write 4-5 stories a night. Part of the excitement of driving into Marlins stadium three hours ahead of game time and interviewing the players was, you never knew who was going to have a big night or who was going to be traded or brought up from the minors, etc. Every night was a new adventure. But because each game has its share of excitement and drama, that means a lot of news had to be reported. And all these story lines come with deadlines. Sometimes, I have less than an hour to write up a pitcher’s leg injury, or a half hour to send a quick blurb on the manager’s ejection for arguing with the umpire. While it’s neat sitting in the press box for free, the intense pressure of writing on the clock is there.

That’s why my job as a freelance writer for taught me so much about writing under pressure. One night, there was a three-hour rain delay, and then the game went into extra innings. At 2 a.m., I had a to write a clean game wrap-up in less than 10 minutes because Josh Willingham hit a game-winning homer with two out in the 12th inning. Pumping out these pieces night after night trained me to write clean, meaningful, stories that meant something to my audience. Sound familiar? So now, when I get ready for Tuesday’s critique group, and I need 10 pages in less than 24 hours, or an agent requests my manuscript and I need to quickly finish a revision, I think to those days at Marlins Stadium. I remember running after Miguel Cabrera in the rain, in desperate need of a quote, my wi-fi going in and out, only 22 minutes to deadline—and I feel like I can accomplish anything.



Wrap-It-Up Wednesday: The Deeper You Go

dogdiggingholeIt’s amazing what you can see in your own writing when you let it sit for a few weeks. I had a chapter ready to read last week but ended up missing group, so I read it this week instead. I’d gone over it a million times and I thought I’d fixed all the flow problems, but reading it with fresh eyes really showed me where I needed to tighten things up. Funny how that works.

I got a lot of praise for the chapter, which was awesome, because, believe me, you have to earn praise from the Tuesdays. But they did have a problem with the last paragraph. My main character was telling another character something she’d gone through, and because what she had gone through had just happened in the previous chapter (and was therefore fresh in the reader’s mind), I chose to summarize her telling of it rather than going through the dialogue.

But that wasn’t a good choice. Faran pointed out (and the others agreed) that, because I summarized the conversation between the main character and her friend, the reader missed out on the friend’s reaction to what she was telling him. So now I have to figure out how to write the dialogue so it doesn’t feel repetitious. Thinking about it now, it occurs to me that I can make the dialogue interesting by filtering the telling through the main character’s fears and inhibitions. What details might she gloss over when she’s telling her friend what happened? What parts would it pain her to talk about? And most importantly, what would her friend say? How would he react?

Wow! This bit of dialogue I didn’t want to include could be fertile ground for character development. So I have to conclude that (a) the Tuesdays rock, and (b) every critique I receive challenges me to go deeper. For me, writing well means digging deep, and if left to my own devices, I’d probably dig a few shovelfuls and quit. Maybe that’s why this writing thing is so daunting at times. I want to be lazy, but the Tuesdays won’t let me—and that’s a good thing because it makes me a better writer.


How Not to Suck as a Writer (Tuesday Tips from Stacie)

How not to suck as a writer


For my Tuesday Tips post I wanted to write from the heart. I wanted to talk about what we all fear deep down. How not to suck. I mean, if we’re going to be honest with ourselves, we’ve got to start there.

Let’s face it; writing is one of those things that it’s hard to know where you fall on the not-sucking line. The Doubt Monster is always present in the life of a writer, but when should you pay attention to the nervous feeling in your stomach that asks if you’re good enough?

Writing takes a ton of time, constant reflection, and complete dedication. You can’t expect to write novels, poems, or picture books worthy of publication without an almost indecent amount of immersion in every aspect of the process. Start to finish most people take between five and ten years of devoted practice to get published. For me it took 7 years of writing (between 20 and 30 hours a week) before I broke in.

So how do you know if you have what it takes?

  1. Ask yourself if you are willing to dedicate 5-10 years of constant work in order to get published. Stop telling yourself that you are the exception to that rule; that you learn faster than everyone else, that you are such a natural and with such interesting stories to tell that it will happen faster for you. It won’t.
  2. Join whatever organization supports the writers in the genre that interests you. I write for young adults so I am a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It’s a lousy acronym for a wonderful organization. I joined the moment I decided I was serious about writing (i.e. 7 years before I broke in). If you write romance, Romance Writers of America has fabulous programming. Join and join in. Same for mystery writers. Nonfiction writers. You get the picture…
  3. Get feedback. If you are in a critique group that’s working for you, awesome. If not, find one. Or at least find critique opportunities or critique partners. The organizations I mentioned above will offer all sorts of places to find good critique opportunities and critique partners.
  4. Get education. There are so many different kinds of workshops and conferences and classes available online or in person devoted to nurturing, supporting, and educating writers. Find them. Invest in these. Take the time to learn how not to suck.
  5. Be relentless when it comes to revising your work. Getting through that first rough draft is wonderful. Once you’ve let it sit and have the time to return to it with fresh eyes, do that.
  6. Be cool with failure. I’m not just talking about rejections because those will be in abundance, for sure. I’m talking about being okay with the fact that at every part of this learning curve, you will realize your understanding of the writing process is so limited and that you couldn’t possibly learn all there is to know about writing if you spent your entire life trying. You don’t get better as a writer until you stare into the abyss of what-if-I’m-never-going-to-be-good –enough, and decide you want to keep going.


I know I’m making this writing gig seem so glamorous. Not!

But the thing is you have to spend a lot of time sucking before you learn how not to suck.

You have to be obsessed with getting better.

You have to hear a lot of hard truths.

You have to be willing to stand in the front of that 360 degree mirror that Stacy London uses on What Not to Wear and get comfortable with your flaws before you can change and emerge a not-so-sucky writer.

frog-in-mirror-with-purse                                                                                                                                            (I look gooooood!!!)


You’ve heard me say it before:  #writingisabadboyfriend— he is incredibly demanding and standoffish and way too much. Writing can be a total jerk. He asks you to bleed for him and then has the nerve to be bored if you don’t make the hemorrhage entertaining enough.


You don’t need that. Not when you could have so much more fun growing orchids or making cookies or painting wooden benches.

But if you’re a true writer, you won’t be able to stop yourself. You will be seduced by the story so entirely that you will gladly endure it all. Morphing from sucky to not-so-sucky to pretty-good to really good requires exquisite pain but it pays off with so much glory.  True story.

If you are a true writer/sadist, you will continuously return to the 360 mirror and look at your WIP with the eyes of a perfectionist and a sculptor and a scientist and a teacher and an artist and you will carve out your story. It may take eight years and five other manuscripts to get it right, but none of that will matter, because the journey, all 10,000 plus hours of work will be worth it when #writingisabadboyfriend puts a ring on it and you have your first book birthday. Trust me.




Media Monday – Geoff Herbach

 Geoff HerbachI was fortunate to be on the Florida Teens Read committee when we selected STUPID FAST for our annual list. I was able to meet Geoff in person at the April is for Author event in Palm Beach County a few years later.  Author and college professor, Geoff Herbach, answers questions for us today. By my count, you have seven published novels. What is your favorite and why?
Geoff Herbach

I will always love Stupid Fast most, I think. I wrote the book to get my son to read something and it just sort of crashed out in big chunks that felt important and funny at the same time. Most writing doesn’t come like that!  I really do like the book called Anything You Want, too. The kid is so weird and so delusional and so sweet… But the title and cover are pretty awful (I think it should be called This Taco is a Keeper!), so I have a hard time getting entirely behind it.

We’re a critique group, so we’re interested in people’s experience with them. What has been your experience?

I’ve had good experiences, generally. I think getting a critique requires the writer to be a code breaker. You know what you’re trying to get at. The group by nature does not. You have to hear the critique through the filter of what you want to write and figure out how to make fixes based on your artistic vision. The danger comes from trying to write what the critique group wants you to write instead of completing the task you’ve set out for yourself. Those group think books don’t turn out, I don’t think.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever taken?

To write with all your senses. Remember the complete package of how it feels to experience an emotion and make sure you have a sense vocabulary to hang on it (smells, sounds, touches, tastes, and sights — not just adverbs and adjectives).

YA Writer Geoff Herbach

Since you are a college writing instructor, what is your favorite piece of writing advice?

See projects through. Don’t repeatedly start over. If you have a good idea, do your best to work it out to the end. Beginnings are just easier, but writing ten of them won’t add up to writing one good story to the end.

What is your writing routine?

It changes and changes. Right now I am working from index cards a lot. I’ll scope out a whole story using the cards, then write scenes on cards, then write full scenes in notebooks, then write on the computer. I’m working four or five days a week, usually in the mid-afternoon.

Geoff Herbach

I have been a morning writer, a thousand words a day writer, a three page a day writer, a pantser, a hardcore outliner, a 10,000 words a day get-a-book-done-in-two-weeks writer. it just depends on the project, I think. I’d say try something and stick with it for a whole project (like writing 3000 or 5000 words a week in 500 or 1000 word days…). No matter what, it’s writing that counts not whether or not you’ve blown your routine! (Yes, I know writers who are derailed by screwing up their routines…this is sad!).

I’m a big fan of Felton Reinstein your main character in three books, STUPID FAST, NOTHING SPECIAL, and I’M WITH STUPID. (I think I also love YA football stories with heart.) What made you create Felton?

Felton’s voice had been rattling around in my head for a few months. Then my son was hit by the puberty train, stopped reading — told me that books no longer applied to him, and woke up one morning with one of his armpits having gone really smelly (hilarious). We went to Target and I told a worker that we were looking for deodorant because my son’s left armpit had gone through puberty overnight and that made me laugh really hard (my son didn’t laugh). When we got home, I started writing a book I thought would “apply” to him. Sports, humor, music, a little romance. Felton just popped right out in the first 500 words of the book (beginning of chapter 2 now).

What are you working on (that you can tell us about)?

I’m doing edits on a basketball book called Farmer Reed Picks Up The Rock, which HarperCollins-Katherine Tegen Books is putting out in January of 2018 (I think that’s the date). I’m pretty excited about it. I also have a picture book coming out next year about a kid with very unruly hair.

I’m looking forward to seeing both of those! Thanks for joining us today!