Today, I am lucky enough to have Serena Bell, one of the contributing authors from Samhain’s Strangers on a Train Anthology joining me as part of the blog tour. I’m excited to have her and she wrote an awesome post (below) about how the anthology came about, and then kindly answered some questions for me. So I hope you all enjoy and pick up her book (Ticket Home), as well as Ruthie Knox, Meg Maguire, Donna Cummings and Samantha Hunter.
Strangers on a Train – a brief synopsis
Romancing the rails…
Tight Quarters by Samantha Hunter
Reid isn’t happy about the mix-up that saddles him with a claustrophobic roommate on his New York train tour. Then his weekend with Brenna progresses to a weekend fling, and so much more.
Ticket Home by Serena Bell
Encountering her workaholic ex on her commuter train is the surprise of Amy’s life. Especially since Jeff seems hell-bent on winning her back.
Thank You for Riding by Meg Maguire
At the end of Caitlin’s commute, her extended flirtation with a handsome stranger finds them facing a frigid winter night locked in an unheated subway station.
Back on Track by Donna Cummings
A wine tour isn’t enough to take Matt’s mind off his baseball slump—until sexy, funny Allie plops into the adjacent seat and tells him three things about herself. One of them, she says, is a lie. Then Allie lets slip one truth too many…
Big Boy by Ruthie Knox
Mandy doesn’t want romance, but monthly role-playing dates with her stranger on a train—each to a different time period—become the erotic escape she desperately needs. And a soul connection she never expected.
Guest Post by Serena Bell:
I’m thrilled to be visiting Dee’s Book Blog this morning to talk about Strangers on Train, a series of five stories about railroad encounters of the very hot kind, including my novella, Ticket Home. Thanks for having me, Dee!
The Origins of the Anthology
People love to hear the story of how Strangers on a Train got started, and I love to tell it. Ruthie Knox (Big Boy) spotted a tweet about a Tumblr called Hot Guys on the Train, a mouth-watering collection of unsuspecting men photographed in transit. She and Samantha Hunter (Tight Quarters) started riffing on the vast number of excellent stories that could come out of such a scenario, I joined in, we recruited Meg Maguire (Thank You for Riding) and Donna Cummings (Back on Track), and before too long, Strangers on a Train was a thing.
Once we knew we wanted to do a series, the first step was staking our claim to train settings. Meg grabbed the Boston T, Ruthie wanted to write about a train museum, and the rest of us gradually fell in line. Then we ran story ideas and brief synopses past each other. The one thing I can’t emphasize enough is how insanely supportive all these authors have been of me and each other through this whole process—no ego, no infighting, no territorial disputes. I love these women.
Q&A with Serena
1. If we were to get a peek at your nightstand (or wherever you keep books you are currently reading), what books/authors would we see?
Oh, whatever you do, don’t look at my nightstand, or at any other part of the upstairs of my house, which is the last place I ever get to with the vacuum or feather duster. But if you did breach my defenses, you would find Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Call Me Irresistible, which I’m enjoying partly because the heroine is so very un-heroine like—broke, stranded, and generally a mess. I love unconventional heroes and heroines.
Then, on my Kindle, in addition to the mammoth collection of Warriors books courtesy of my kids, you’d discover another kind of total disorder—multiple books at once, which is pretty rare for me. I think it’s the effect of my own release week overstimulation on my brain!
In addition to reading many (terrific) manuscripts for my critique partners, I read a lot of books by people I’ve met online or in the real world, so right now, I’m in the middle of books by Charlene Teglia, who just became my neighbor, and Violet Duke, who released her debut the same week I did. I’ve just finished Charlotte Stein’s Addicted, which like pretty much all of Charlotte’s books had me in a total trance, and am about to start Hot Island Nights from the backlist of Sarah Mayberry, who (along with Charlotte) is one of my auto-buys.
I’m also reading Catherine the Great (a biography) by Robert K. Massie, for my book club. I’m at fifty-three percent and … well, let’s just say, as interesting as I’m finding it, it’s not the thing I always want to pick up at the end of a long, frying day. Romance wins out.
2. What is the one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring writer?
Finish. Finish your WIP, start another WIP, finish that one. It’s too easy to get bogged down, put other priorities ahead of the writing, or set something aside when you get discouraged by criticism. I believe that for most writers, mastery comes around the time you finish your fifth or sixth novel. Which isn’t to say the first five will end up in drawers. As you finish subsequent books, you can go back and apply what you’ve learned to revising earlier books, and if you’re lucky, by the time you find yourself a editor who’s an advocate for your voice and style, you’ll have several books ready to go. And for some people, it doesn’t take that long—but having a finished book is the pre-requisite for making a career!
3. Are you a planner or a pant-ser when it comes to your writing?
Mostly a pantser. I do some limited planning—I write a synopsis, lay out the main characters’ goals/motivations/conflicts (both internal and external), and do free-writing and character interviews to develop the characters. But then I just write and let what happens happen. I’m very willing to toss out a synopsis that isn’t working for me, and I often find that the characters’ GMCs change in the course of the writing. If I don’t stay flexible, I’ll eventually write myself into a corner and stall out. If I let the characters take me where they want to go, things work much better.
4. Do you have any superstitions when it comes to writing? (same times, same place, certain habits?)
I’m pretty disciplined. I write in a little garret office next to an octagonal window, and I’m at my desk pretty much every moment the kids are in school. If anything, my problem is that I’m terrible about taking breaks—and I’ve paid the price for that with repetitive motion issues, so I advise other people not to do as I do. I don’t have any superstitions, but I do have this one quirk—if I’m getting blocked, I chew large amounts of Trident bubble gum. I’m not sure why it works—maybe because it distracts part of my brain from getting panicky about how the words aren’t coming—but it always does.
5. If you could be any Disney character, who would it be and why?
Love it! Well, I’m not sure who I aspire to be, but if you want to know who I am, it’s Marlin from Finding Nemo. There’s a part of my brain that tends to fuss and worry and naysay, but I’ve found that if I channel Dory, and very kindly and gently remind my Marlin-side to “just keep swimming,” I can make the whole journey and be tremendously proud of what I’ve accomplished. Um, so I guess you could say I’m Marlin and Dory, and then you could call the men in the white coats …
6. If you could have dinner with any person, dead or alive, who would it be?
My father’s mother. She died when I was fourteen, too soon for me to get to know her as a person and a woman. She had “acromegaly,” a type of gigantism that made her wide and ungainly, and an assortment of other health issues—she had to have all her thyroid and parathyroid glands removed, was diagnosed with Type II diabetes, etc. Plus my father and aunt strongly suspect her husband was cheating on her—before his untimely death when she was still a very young woman.
Despite all that, she went to college as a single mom, at a time when very few women went at all, and went on to educate blind and deaf children. Speaking of “just keep swimming!” I know she wasn’t always happy, but she lived a great life and I would love to know more about it from an adult perspective, not just the bits of her I saw as a kid—buttered corn muffins for breakfast and cribbage games and lots of presents every time we went to visit.
Since the theme of this Q&A has somehow become “just keep swimming,” here’s an excerpt from Ticket Home, in which the hero declares that he will not give up until he brings the heroine home with him:
“No more games.”
It was a command. It was a growl. She felt it, everywhere.
“Do you know what I spent my morning doing?”
She shook her head. From behind her, someone said, “Excuse me,” and Jeff sat abruptly in an empty seat and tugged her down to sit beside him. A group of passengers went by and distributed themselves into the seats beyond.
She tried to get up, but he held her firm.
“You’re hurting me.”
He released her instantly, and she rubbed the place where his fingers had dug into her.
“Your little stunt this morning with the conductor got me detained by the transit police for questioning. Apparently they take ‘See something, say something’ very seriously in the year of the tenth anniversary of September Eleventh.”
“It’s okay. It turns out I don’t have a police record or obvious links with terrorist organizations, and I haven’t traveled out of the country in the last couple of years.”
“Jeff, I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah, well. You can make it up to me by not running away. Okay? Just talk to me.”
She shouldn’t have sicced the MTA police on him, but that didn’t mean she wanted to be trapped here with him. It didn’t mean she wanted to rehash bits of their relationship better left behind. And it definitely didn’t mean she wanted his body a few inches from hers, tension rolling off him like fog off the early-morning Pacific Ocean. If she let her eyes flicker sideways, she could see that his thigh was tensed, the muscle straining the wool of his dress slacks.
“I’m not playing games,” she said. “I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to fix things up. I want you to get off the train and leave me alone. It’s over.”
“And I want you to come home with me.”
He said it so simply, it stopped her dead. She eyed his soft, wavy hair, the lean strength in his neck, the rough line of his shoulder under his dress shirt, and she couldn’t move.
The train began to pull out of the station, gathering speed in the dark tunnel. Her own mind started moving with it.
It was too late to put him off the train. He was going to ride with her now, and no matter where she ran, she wouldn’t be able to get away from him.
I want you to come home with me. Of course he did. He’d said as much this morning. But there was something about having it spelled out for her that made it more real.
“I’m not coming home. There is no home. There was, but there isn’t anymore.”
He turned his body more fully toward hers, his knees almost touching her thigh. His expression was earnest. “I had a lot of time to think today. And I decided something.”
For a brief, giddy moment, she imagined he was going to say what she’d always dreamed he would. I want to spend more time with you. I’ve been spending too much time on work stuff. I’m turning over a new leaf.
“I’m not going home without you.”
And if you managed to get this far into the tour (since I know it is a doozy of a post), Serena is giving away a copy of Ticket Home to a lucky commenter. So leave her (and me some love) and try your hand at answering one of the questions from her Q&A (Tell us about what Disney character you’d be, who (dead or alive) you’d like to have dinner with, or a time when you made yourself “just keep swimming.”) and I’ll warm-up the randomizer on the 22nd and pick a winner 😉
I hope you guys enjoyed Serena’s post and have some questions for her (otherwise, I might have to wrack my brain for some more and that might not be pretty…)