Interview With Rebecca Denton, Debut Author of This Beats Perfect!

Hello Tuesdays!

Today, I’m pleased to be joined by my fellow Swanky Seventeens member, Rebecca Denton, whose debut, This Beats Perfect, is scheduled to come out February 2, 2017 from Little Brown/Atom Books


Hi, Rebecca and thanks for joining us today!

JR: Before we begin, can you tell us a little bit about This Beats Perfect and the impetus behind writing it?

RD: It’s a love letter to being young and into music really.  When I was 16 I knew every single Cure song and could rattle off the track list to every album. At 17 it was Nirvana. By 18 I realized you could like several bands at once. So I worshiped them all. I worked hard to stay current. It was a kind of social currency.

the-cure(JR: I LOVE The Cure too!)

And alongside this, I played guitar and sang, but I had no confidence in playing live.

These are the lingering themes of my teenage years, so when I got that little gap in my life where I could write a book (thanks a lot, redundancy!) it was the most natural subject for me to write about. Well, that and TV.

JR: I read on your site, that you worked for MTV and also on some TV shows for kids. How was that experience?

RD: Oh music TV is so much fun, and is the best career in your twenties. Here I was traveling to Iceland to film bands I loved. The next month it was some festival in Japan. Then Vegas. In London (by day) I worked at Cartoon Network doing marketing and promotions stuff. I worked with some crazy ass talented people there. But life in TV got really awesome when I got to work on Being Human. The fans were insane.

cartoon-network-2(JR: That’s an impressive resume, but is it weird that the thing I’m most jealous of is working at The Cartoon Network?)

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

RD: My story is a bit of a fairytale. I got made redundant from my job and was like SHIT what am I going to do? I might try to write a book. I took 3 months out and wrote This Beats Perfect. I’d met a literary agent (Julian Friedmann at Blake Friedmann) on TV course several years before and so when I sent him a note to say I’d written a book, he was happy to read it.  I was so delighted when he took me on and married me up with super agent Hattie Grunewald. We submitted later that year. It was under one year from first word on the page to signed deal. With Atom (Little,Brown). I’m really amazingly lucky.


JR: What’s your writing process like?

RD: I like to write early in the mornings mostly. I’m not sure I’ve been an actual ‘writer’ long enough to know my process. Most of the time it seems to be just half my brain trying to distract me and the other half shouting ‘FINISH THE GODDAMN BOOK.’

man face with musical hair and gears

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

RD: My cousin Rachel Johns and her novel The Art of Keeping Secrets.


JR: What’s your favorite movie?

RD: Pans Labyrinth probably. Although sometimes it’s Little Miss Sunshine.


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


RD: I’m a kiwi by heart. Aussie by birth. Brit by passport. And I am currently living in a cabin in Austria.

(JR: Okay, I found more to be jealous of!)

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

RD: Not really. I write what I know so I don’t especially need to. Maybe when I write that historical novel ….


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?

RD: I was a part of a small writers group but whenever we met we tended to drink a lot of prosecco and gossip. However, out of the 5 of us, 4 are published authors now!


(JR: That’s great! And that’s the goal of every group, to push and support each other so everybody jumps that hurdle!)


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?

RD: ‘Just do it.’ From my amazing cousin.  But a dear friend and writer for Dr Who, the lovely @snazdoll gave me some sage advice – she said ‘get a draft down. Call it a zero draft. Show no one. Then you can start on your first draft.’ Its the same kind of advice really, and that’s just to get the damn thing done.


JR: What are you working on next?

RD: An unconventional sequel to This Beats Perfect. It’s about a girl who becomes a secret source for an online gossip website (think TMZ), but the story is interweaved with book 1.



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? 

RD: Join me on twitter @rebeccasbrain

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

RD: I would say Faran except he’s not in the ‘about us’ section of the website. Does he even exist?


JR: Well, I’d like to think there’s a little part of Faran in all of us. Anyway, thanks again, Rebecca! And all of you make sure to be on the lookout for This Beats Perfect, coming February of 2017 and in the meantime, if you have any questions for Rebecca,  Faran, or any of the rest of us, please make sure to leave them below. We’re running low and need to restock!


Freestyle Friday – Romance Writer Bonnie Vanak

NYT Bestselling Author Bonnie Vanak

Bonnie Vanak and I have been friends since the big hair days of the eighties. Her first book, The Falcon and the Dove, came out in 2002.
With a long history of publication, it’s exciting to have her as our guest today.
Welcome Bonnie! I know you belong to organizations like Romance Writers and Mystery Writers. What do you love about organizations like theses?
Romance Writers of America helped me to get published. I won a contest sponsored by an RWA chapter, and the final judge was an editor for Dorchester, who liked the entry so much he requested to see the entire book. He read it and bought it. There’s a great support system in organizations like RWA and MWA, and the workshops are terrific, both in craft and marketing. You can’t beat the wealth of knowledge and experience they have to offer.
You’ve had a lot of books published since your first in 2002. The Falcon and the Dove. (I have my autographed copy!) How has your writing changed over the years?
My writing has gotten more mature, and much darker. I’ve written some lighter and funnier erotic romances with a publisher that is now defunct, but I found my stride in writing dark. It’s also much more emotional. I like creating characters who resonate with readers, characters that make readers feel good when the book is over. I always write happy endings, no matter how dark the book is, and I believe the darker the story, the more the happy ending is deserved. After I put my characters through hell, they need it!
We’re a critique group, so we’d love to know your experience with them. What can you tell us?
I’m not presently in a critique group due to lack of time, but I’ve had critique partners. The most important aspect is to be fair, but not so critical it leaves your partner demoralized. A good critique group will find holes in your plot, weaknesses in your characters, and other problem areas that might cause your manuscript to be rejected by a publishing house, but they’ll also leave you feeling good about your writing. My personal rule is to always end every critique on a positive note to encourage the writer. Right now I have two to three beta readers who love my books. They read over the drafts, and tell me what throws them out of the story and what resonated with them.
Of all your books, which is your favorite?
That’s a tough one! Right now I’m really enjoying writing the suspense books for Harlequin. Romantic suspense is a new genre for me, and I have a terrific editor. romance writersShielded by the Cowboy Seal (Feb. 2017) is my second romantic suspense book with Harlequin. I struggled to write that book because of the complex plot, but what I learned is invaluable. Every book is a journey, and with each book, I try to learn something and improve my writing.
I happen to know that you recently switched from working full-time to part-time in order to give yourself more time to write. What has that transition been like?
It’s been a tremendous blessing for me. I work for a large international NGO (non-governmental organization) and I’ve traveled to very poor countries like Haiti for 21 years. The travel had started to wear on my physical and emotional health. I now work three days a week and I  don’t travel. I’m still able to help the poor with my writing, but I’m much happier and less stressed. The rest of the week when I’m not working I am writing books. Having contracted deadlines has helped me to be disciplined with my free time. 
Thanks, Bonnie! Romance is such a huge part of publishing, it’s been our pleasure to have you as our guest!
What’s your favorite romance? Tell us in the comments!

Our Favorite Scary Books

There’s no better time than Halloween to curl up with a good, scary book. Here are some of our favorites–and I swear we didn’t collaborate on this. What’s your favorite scary book?

Stacie Ramey

Stacie Ramey

Stacie: October is one of my favorite months because of  the build up to Halloween. shiningScary movies are my jam. If I’m down in the dumps? Watch a scary movie. Tired? Scary movie. Sick? Same. So it’s hard to pick just ONE book or movie I love. I can pinpoint my favorite scary author, however… King. It’s gotta be King. But which book? I remember so clearly each time I picked up another Stephen King book. Carrie. Pet Sematary. Salem’s Lot. But of all of his books, The Shining is the one I reread over and over again. The buildup is so incredibly well done and the payoffs are enormous. Scariness abounds and it never disappoints! I know King hated the film adaptation, but I’ve got to say, I love it, also. Mark of a truly scary book? How many nights you can’t sleep after reading it. With The Shining, that’s gotta be N + 1. Read it if you dare.

funny-clownJonathan: It’s silly to call any book that scared me my favorite. I don’t like horror movies at all. I don’t mind scary, but horror, no. Though it’s funny that I never minded reading them. Several come to mind, but the one that stands out the most, is Stephen King’s IT. I hate clowns. Just hate them. Always scared me, and that’s even before this stupid wave of clown terror. But, reading about a creepy, maniacal clown? No. No way. No how. No thanks. I remember it keeping me up nights and checking everything in the room. Then when Poltergeist came along, forget it. In case this wasn’t clear, I HATE Clowns.

Cathy Castelli

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: When I was a kid, I read everything Stephen King wrote. salemslot-gift300dpiWhen I got a little older, I was reading The Dead Zone and I had to stop. King has a way of making the real more scary than straight up horror. Before that I read Salem’s Lot at least five times. I thought it was brilliant and was not happy with any movie produced based upon it. I remember reading in my bedroom on summer nights. The window open to let in the breeze. There’d be a scratching at the window, and I knew not to look because if the vampire looked me in the eye, I’d have to let him in.


Faran Fagan

Faran: My favorite scary book is a classic novel by Stephen King called Night Shift. night-shiftIt’s actually a whole bunch of spooky, bizarre short stories, many of which were made into movies (Graveyard Shift, Children of the Corn, Trucks). But my favorite chapter is a story called The Boogeyman, which never made it to the big screen. It’s about a man who sees a psychiatrist about his fear of a murdering boogeyman, who hides out in closets. After he spills his guts out from the doctor’s couch, the man leaves in a state of confusion. But he forgets something, and returns to the doctor’s office. The doctor is nowhere to be found, but the closet door is ajar, and what slips out will give you chills down your spine. I know it did mine.

Joanne Butcher

Joanne Butcher

Joanne: I never liked to read scary books or watch scary movies when I was young. the-shining-scariest-bookI had a nightmare that kept me away. One day a few years ago we were talking about well-written horror. Stacie suggested I read Stephen King. Since then I’ve read a number of his books, but the one that stands out to me as the scariest is The Shining. King built a haunted house and filled it with scary details, weaving in primal fear and dysfunctional family dynamics through the eyes of the inner child. Talk about concept. I can’t imagine being trapped in a building with someone in an unstable mental condition, especially as a child. I think I’ll re-read it to examine more closely how it’s done.

Melody Maysonet

Melody Maysonet

Melody: I’m not a big reader of scary books, but the book that scared me the most was Stephen King’s It. it_coverIs there anything more terrifying than a scary clown? How about one that feeds on children? The fact that the kids in that book (who dub themselves the Losers Club) are so incredibly likeable makes it even worse—and I mean that in a good, shudder-inducing way.

Revision times four and a new beginning!

Hello Tuesdays!

Welcome to Wrap-it-up-Wednesdays!

Feels like it’s been a while since I’ve done this. Maybe it’s because we hadn’t had class in a while due to different circumstances. In any event, it was nice to be back in group and hear everybody’s stories again. For that reason, I look forward to Tuesdays. I like hearing everyone read as well as getting feedback on my own chapters.

And yesterday sure didn’t disappoint. Everyone had really good reads. Not that they don’t usually, but after everyone left, I was thinking about it and realized that for the most part, there weren’t new chapters in class, but revisions of previously read ones.


And the thing is? Everyone nailed it. Not just saying because we’re in group together. Everyone made adjustments based on feedback they had received in previous meetings and that’s really what the whole point of group is. That’s the point of this site, to show what a critique group goes through. The endless hours of work and fixing and fixing until it’s something we see as perfect or as perfect as it’s going to get.


Today, Stacie, Melody, Cathy and Joanne all read chapters that they had done previously and in each and every case, you could pick out all the things they had worked on and made changes to and in each and every case, their stories were much-improved. That’s nice to see when it happens and makes the whole experience of torture and agonizing we writers go through, worthwhile.


Non-writers don’t get how much goes into this. And it’s very tough to explain it to them. It’s nice to have a haven where people, who are similar to you, can understand what you’re going through and help us out. And today, I’m proud of the group because everyone improved upon previous work.

The sole exception to bringing in a revised chapter?


That’s because I finished my last story a couple of weeks ago and have started new ones. I’m weird when I start new projects. Well, weird other times also, but when I start new stories, I start a couple at once and see which one sticks. Last week, I read chapter one of a story and it got good feedback and positive reviews and I liked it. But, this week, I read chapter one of an entirely different story and it dwarfed everything I got last week. So, guess which story I’m going to pursue?


All in all, a great day. Yay for the Tuesdays!

How’s everyone else’s writing going?

Revision class full of character

Tuesday Tips

By Faran Fagen

I recently took a class on revision with my friend and teacher, Marjetta Geerling, and thought I’d share some pointers from the class as this week’s Tuesday Tips.
A writing skill I’ve honed as a member of the Tuesday’s is character motivation – what does the character WANT in each scene.
One of the opening exercises in Marjetta’s class was to imagine yourself as a character other than the main character and write 200 words on the topic: “what do you want and what do you need?”
As I did this for different characters, I was able to see their hopes and dreams and make them more real.
Another way to get to know your main character is to do an interview with them. Marjetta provided a list of questions such as: “What do you love/hate?” and “What’s your biggest secret and who would you tell?” It was pretty interesting to see I didn’t know my main character as well as I thought.
The most powerful piece of the class had to be the “inventory” list.
Questions like “what ideas/feelings are implied about the book?” and “Why do you want to write the is book?” got to the heart of the purpose behind our novels.
We also covered the difference between action plot and emotional plot, and read poetry to touch on the power of structure and word use.
Thanks, Marjetta, for such a great class. Have you taken a class with her? If you’re interested, you can look her up on the web at

Media Monday: Joyce Sweeney on Critique

Our mentor, Joyce Sweeney at one time in her career ran three critique groups every week. Obviously well-practiced at her skill, I asked Joyce if she would share some of the wisdom she has gained over the years.

Joyce Sweeney,

Joyce Sweeney,

Jo: What should someone look for in a critique group?

Joyce: Anyone who is serious about writing should be in a critique group. They should look for other members who are roughly at the same skill level so that there isn’t one person who is much better than the rest of the group or one person who is always struggling.  It’s important that no one dominates the group. Everyone should be clear on what their goals are. The group should be consistent in their frequency of meetings.

I believe that the most important factor for anyone in a critique group should be trust. It’s important for people to be positive in their critique to build that trust. Every person in the group should feel like the rest of the group wants to see them succeed. The person giving the critique should be reading the reaction of the recipient. If it looks like the recipient is confused or overloaded it’s time to stop. The recipient won’t get anything out of the critique at that point.

Jo: One of your groups met for many years. What occurs within a critique group over time?

Joyce: Groups change and evolve over time. Some people drop out, others persist. I’ve always told my students to keep writing, keep improving.  The ones who persist will get published.  When a group meets for a long time you learn who is better at plot, who excels at voice or who is really good at revision.

Jo: What do you listen for when someone is reading?

Joyce: I listen for areas of craft like voice, concept or point of view. When something doesn’t sound right I ask myself what within the craft of writing is missing. Then I think about the best example from what has been read to use in my feedback and also include something that I liked. If the piece was fabulous, I look for one negative thing to mention.

Errors in voice could be something like using a phrase that is too mature for a ten year old. It could be that someone is using language that’s too high so it doesn’t sound like normal conversation. I also look for modifiers in dialogue like: Let me step into your gray car.

If you can’t tell what someone’s concept is in chapter one, they have a problem. If the book is historical, what’s the first impression being shared? Is it notably out of our time? I evaluate if the reader would be able to guess at the plot. For example: At the beginning of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy sings a song about being somewhere else.  It gives a hint about what is to come.

Jo: What are things that you listen for in an ongoing critique group?

Joyce: I listen for plot – does it feel like the beginning, the middle of a story or the climax. I ask myself if it feels like the proper plot point. If it’s the climax, is everything fast paced with high stakes?

Jo: What do you look for in structure?

Joyce: With structure I check to see if I had the emotion the writer wanted me to have. You don’t want to be in the middle of an exciting scene and stop for a flashback. I check out the arc of the scene being read. Does the scene escalate? Does it have a climax? I assess if the writer has used the setting to contribute to the structure of the story.

Jo: It’s amazing to me that you can diagnose these problems with such ease.

Joyce: It’s like you with your nursing career, Joanne. You’ve seen the diseases so many times you know when someone is yellow you need to take a look at their liver. I find that doing critique can be a lot like triage in that you decide the most important thing to say.

Jo: Thank you so much, Joyce for your contribution to the Tuesday Writers. Anyone interested in Joyce’s on-line classes can find her at

Guest Post by Gaby Triana, Author of Wake The Hollow! Top 5 Haunted Hotels in Florida!

Hello Tuesdays!

Today we are lucky enough to have as our guest, Gaby Triana! Besides being a friend, Gaby is a great writer and super crazy about Halloween, a fact that will be clearly evident when you read her new book, Wake the Hollow, which takes place in, you guessed it…Sleepy Hollow! And hey, this is really your lucky day, since it’s already out now from Entangled Teen! Go out and buy your copy TODAY! (Seriously, that plug was seamless! I’m so impressed with myself!)


And while we’re on the subject of scary things, Gaby is here to tell you about the top five haunted hotels in Florida! Well, Gaby isn’t scary, the hotels are and…never mind.

Take it away, Gaby!

Top 5 Most Haunted Hotels in Florida

By Gaby Triana
Ever since reading The Shining by Stephen King as a supernaturally curious 10-year-old, I’ve been fascinated by haunted hotels. So much that my first completed manuscript ever was Freddie and the Biltmore Ghost, a middle grade novel set at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables when it was closed and abandoned in the mid-80’s. I’ve always felt, “The more beautiful the hotel, the creepier.” Something about aging, structural beauties harboring the energies of long-forgotten souls in their carpeted hallways has always felt disquieting yet compelling to me.

Though most haunted hotels on TV shows seem to be located in New York or California or old cowboy towns, Florida has its share of spooky guest quarters. Just check them out on TripAdvisor, and the guests themselves will tell you! Those who survived anyway. *creepy grin*

Here are the Top 5:

  1. Marrero’s Guest Mansion, Key West: Built in 1889 by famous Cuban cigar producer, Francisco Marrero, this mansion is an elegant Victorian home turned modern-day bed-and-breakfast. Marrero built the home to lure his true love, Enriquetta, to Key West, but when Marrero passed away due to suspicious circumstances, his first wife came around claiming ownership of the property, rendering Enriquetta and their eight children homeless. Shh-yeah. Enriquetta said she’d always be there in spirit, so, true to her word, she’s there. In spirit. I’m not even kidding. Crying babies at night (it’s an adults-only establishment) and doors locking and opening by themselves. Guests claim to see her ghostly spirit wandering what used to be her bedroom, Room 18. Nighty-nite!


  1. Hollywood Beach Resort, Hollywood Beach: Not to poo-poo on the poor Hollywood Beach Resort, but it used to be a nice place back in 1926 when it served as stomping grounds for Al Capone, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and a bevy of other rich and famous who’s-who. Nowadays, it’s exchanged ownership several times and still struggles to maintain a decent rating on TripAdvisor, Yelp, and the like. But definitely mark this place as one of the most haunted hotels in Florida, especially the 7th floor, where ghostly apparitions and orbs have been spotted disappearing through the doors, and disembodied voices call out to guests. DING! DING! Checking out, please!


  1. Loew’s Don CeSar Hotel, St. Pete Beach: Another 1920s playground for the rich and famous, this tropical getaway, nicknamed “The Pink Palace,” was inspired by a love story – a common theme among many haunted hotels. Thomas Rowe had the place built for his young Spanish opera-singing love, Lucinda, whose parents didn’t allow her to marry him. Long after a loveless marriage, he learned of her passing then built a tribute to her, replicating a fountain by which they used to secretly meet in London. During WWII, the Pink Palace (like another hotel on our list) was used as a VA hospital, and to this day, guests still see the ghost of a 1940s nurse wandering the halls. Thomas Rowe himself, decked out in suit, hat, and cane, walks the beach, and it’s even said that Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig roam the grounds in search of a spring training game. Take me out of this ballgame!



  1. Casa Monica Hotel, St. Augustine: As the oldest city in the U.S., St. Augustine has its fair share of ghostly activity. At Casa Monica Hotel, the staff tries to pretend like nothing is out of the ordinary, but guests and locals know better. Tons of paranormal activity have been reported at this gorgeous establishment built in 1888, everything from the sound of children running up and down the halls late at night when nobody is there, to ghostly people standing around Room 411, to a woman in white captured in photos. Oh, you want more? Okay. A child’s handprint keeps reappearing in one mirror, despite the hundred of times it’s been cleaned, a radio turns on and off by itself on the 1st floor, housekeepers will not clean certain rooms, and the ghost of a gentleman in white has been seen walking through the hotel then disappearing. Add guests reports of icy winds and cold spots, and you won’t ever need to visit the Haunted Mansion in Disney World for your spooky fix. Just head over to Casa Monica Hotel in St. Augustine. Oh, who’m I kidding? The Haunted Mansion is still my favorite spot in all of Florida!



5.  Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables: I left the best for last. One, because it’s in Miami, and I’m from Miami, and two, because it’s my favorite and I wrote this guest post, so I can if I want to…nyeah. The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida, was built in 1926, because developer of Coral Gables, George Merrick, wanted to attract the country’s rich and famous to the area back when Miami was still a 3-dog town. This gorgeous, 400-room, Mediterranean-style hotel still boasts a championship golf course, the East Coast’s largest swimming pool, and a glamorous past. The Biltmore used to host fashion shows, beauty pageants, and swimming classes by Johnny Weissmuller, back before he became Tarzan on the big screen. During WWII, the hotel became a VA hospital, the beautiful travertine floors were covered with government-issue linoleum, and its windows were sealed with concrete. In 1973, the hotel closed down and was abandoned for 10 years during which time the author of this blog post and other trespassing children and teenagers would visit the grounds to witness ghostly lights in the windows as viewed from the golf course. Famous ghosts of the hotel include gangster Thomas “Fatty” Walsh, the spirit of a young woman who fell to her death trying to save her baby from plummeting off a balcony, soldiers wearing hospital gowns standing in guest rooms, a transparent couple dancing in one of the ballrooms, and sometimes…pretty women are taken past their floors on the elevator, given access to the higher-level suites past the 13th floor by some unseen, smitten spirit. Besides being haunted, the 5-star hotel has an amazing Sunday brunch, gorgeous statues of Greek gods and goddesses surrounding the pool, and a killer, luxurious lobby, caged birds and all.


Well, that’s it! I hope you liked my tour of Florida’s most haunted hotels! I’m still trying to book stays in each and every location, but they won’t let me in with my EVP audio recorder, magnetic field detectors, or team of paranormal investigators. Oh, well. Guess I’ll have to stay as a guest instead. Happy Haunted Hotel Season!



Thanks again to Gaby Triana! I’m happy to say that I did stay at one of these, the Don Cesar. Unfortunately, no ghosts, but there were lots of relatives, which can sometimes be even scarier.

Anyway, if anyone else is interested in doing a guest post, please feel free to contact me and in the meantime, let me hear if any of you have ever stayed in a haunted hotel!

Books We Read in Secret

Faran Fagen

Faran Fagen

Faran: My parents were very open-minded, so there weren’t too many books I wasn’t allowed to read. pet-semataryHowever, I had an older brother who was protective of his things, and he had quite the Stephen King collection. One night, I swiped a copy of Pet Sematary and read it under my covers. I was only twelve at the time, and it scared the crap out of me. But I couldn’t put the book down and stayed up all night reading. We had these creaky wooden steps that led to the bedrooms. Every time I heard a creak, I thought it was either my brother, or little Gage coming up the steps with a knife. Both with harmful intentions. I guess that’s my penance for taking something that wasn’t mine.

Joanne Butcher

Joanne Butcher

Joanne: One evening while babysitting for a work associate of my mother, I came across The Insiders. insiders-novel-i-read-in-secretSex, rape, lesbian sex. It scared me so much that I went and got a butter knife from the kitchen and jammed it in the door casing thinking I was protecting myself and the sleeping kids as I devoured the kind of book that would never enter my parents’ house. I was so engrossed in the book, I didn’t hear the homeowners pull in the driveway. As they opened the front door, the butter knife bent in half and came flying toward me. I dropped the book on the floor as I leapt from my seat, red-faced while I tried to explain myself. They never asked me back.

Melody Maysonet

Melody Maysonet

Melody: The book I read in secret was Forever… by Judy Blume. foreverGirls at my junior high school were passing it around for the sex scenes (remember Ralph?), but I wanted to read the whole story. And yet, I didn’t want anyone to know I was reading it, so I only read it at home, in my room, where I knew no one would “catch” me. I thought I had to read it in secret because it was somehow shameful, but my adult self can see how much that book helped me. It didn’t glamorize teenage sex. It didn’t promote it. In fact, it did the opposite because the girl in the story who thinks her love with her boyfriend is “forever” ends up moving on from that relationship. That opened my eyes, and thanks to Judy Blume, I grew up with a realistic idea of teenage “love.”

Stacie Ramey

Stacie Ramey

Stacie: On the subject of a book I hid or read in secret? Sorry, Tuesday readers, I got nothing. Big stinking goose egg. I have been known to read everything from John Steinbeck (one of my faves) to Calvin and Hobbs books to Archie comics to Douglas Adams (for the hubs) to  Harold Robins and Danielle Steele and Alice Hoffman and David Guterson. Stephen King was followed by Mary Higgins Clark. If people don’t get my eclectic style, no big. Although once one of our neighbors in Maryland called my mother and told her I was taking out steamy and inappropriate books. Her response: she gave the caller a polite beating down and then when she hung up she told me, “Never let anyone tell you what to read or what to think.” Mom was the best.

Cathy Castelli

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: Here I go ruining this week’s post, but I didn’t really read any books in secret when I was growing up. I read The Godfather in fifth grade. I have no idea where I even got a copy, but I can picture it. It was a paperback. I think the book had the phrase “bun in the oven” which I thought was very funny. I also remember that a lot of times, I didn’t understand a lot of what the sexual references were in the books I read. I just kept reading. I was lucky that my parents let me make those choices for myself. As I grew, so did my taste in books.

Jonathan: This week, I’m going to be a party pooper, but the truth is, as a kid, I never really had books that I read in secret and as an adult, who cares what I read? My parents were very permissive with what I read. I don’t recall ever having to hide anything. They were very happy I was reading, so they never put restrictions on me. Maybe, it was just a fact that the books that I got weren’t threatening to them, but I never had to feel like I had to hide them or read in secret. I, many times, read books which were listed above the suggested age for me. So, as far as secret books go, this week I don’t have any. Now, if we were talking about movies we watched in secret, then that’s a whole different matter…

It seems we’re pretty transparent here at the Tuesdays. Is there a book that you’ve read in secret? We’d love to hear from you.


Habits of Successful Writers

In order to improve upon my craft of writing, I’ve been studying the habits of successful writers. butt-in-chair-for-writing

I’ve looked at some of my favorite books, started an on-line class and thought about changes I’ve made and would like to make. Here are some of the habits I strive for on a daily basis.


Stephen King is a huge proponent of reading. I always have a book on my bedside table and a stack of others I’d like to read. I started reading more after going through Stephen King’s book On Writing.



Here’s what he says: “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write. You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true.”


Write Shorter

I’ve learned to write shorter. When I started out I wrote long paragraphs, like I’d seen in old favorite novels. I’ve switched to shorter paragraphs, with a few sentences. I find it helps with pacing and looks better on the page. I’ve shortened my sentences to make every word count. I’ve learned to use shorter words too. I had a tendency to want to show creativity in my vocabulary but I found that when I did, The Tuesdays would tell me my lovely, fluffy word was slowing the pace. Now I stick more to basics. Numbers are an exception to my self-imposed shorter rule.  Unless it’s a really big number, or the year someone is born, I almost always write it out.


I do my best to follow the advice posted here by Copyblogger regarding first drafts.






















Our mentor, Joyce Sweeney got us all in the routine of using proper punctuation.  Joyce believes if your sentence is read wrong you lose the meaning you are trying to convey to the reader. She stressed knowing the difference between a hyphen, a dash and an M-dash.  I must say I’ve struggled using comas with an identifier.  I try to use a comma when the identifier is describing a unique person or thing: My daughter, Christine, is awesome. (I have just one daughter.) I wouldn’t use a comma if it wasn’t unique: My daughter Christine is awesome. (If I had more than one daughter.) Punctuation can be tricky at times. While you’re reading you can see how it’s done.

That’s some of what I work on in my quest to be a great writer. What about you?

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.


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 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!