Friday, January 31, 2014

Wild Giveaway Weekend 1/31 -- 2/2

It's a Wild Giveaway Weekend! I will give a FREE Kindle (MOBI file) or PDF copy of Embassy to ANYONE that likes my Facebook Page or subscribes to this blog and messages me about the Giveaway.

All I ask in return is a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or anywhere else you'd like to share.

More info? Watch my Live TV Interview HERE.

Attacking Myself with Seagulls

It's just like the title says. I did this last spring while in St. Petersbug, FL.

Basically, this is 90 seconds of me coaxing 30 seagulls to swarm around me. They were literally flying right on top of my head, less than six inches away.

And they said writers couldn't be crazy. Heck, if I ever got a professional publishing contract for Embassy, I'd go to the most seagull-infested place in the United States and swarm myself with as many as possible. THAT would be fun.

Does anyone have a fear of birds? This is not for you!

I was interviewed on Live TV last Tuesday! (January 28) I talked briefly about my YA novel Embassy and a bit of the process of writing it.

Check out that video HERE.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

10 Creative Writing Tips


Yes, I'm only 21 years old, but until last year I was always one to wait for inspiration because I couldn't think of anything to write. But at the end of December, I told myself:  "Write this novel next month."

And that's what I did. I started writing and writing and writing.  The more I wrote, the easier it got.  The easier it got, the more I wanted to write.  Granted, when I say "easy,"  I mean I spent less time thinking in front of a screen, and more time typing and thinking at the same time.  At first it took me about 8-9 hours to write 4,000 words a day, but I increased to a whopping 11,000 words a day!

Because I don't wait for inspiration.  I sit and WRITE until I meet my goal.  Sometimes I blow right on by and keep going.


Easy enough to say...practically impossible to follow.  But by all that is good on this earth, please, please, pleeeaaase avoid distractions at all costs.  Maybe warm up by looking at some writing quotes for motivation, but get off the internet as soon as possible. Hit the "internet connection key" on your laptop (yes, you can turn Wifi off on laptops), and open your book, short story, poem...whatever.

Your brain will feel this one in the morning.

If you are writing a blog, either write it on a word processor first, or force yourself to stay away from other websites.  If you have to be on the internet, take SHORT breaks.

But preferably, don't get online.  Go for a walk, drink some coffee, make a phone call.  Anything.  Distractions are bad unless they're good.  And for most writers, the latter isn't the case.


Why?  Because you do everything else there.  You eat, sleep, clean, use the bathroom, watch TV, cook, socialize...everything.

When I'm at my house, or in my dorm room at school, I cannot concentrate.  I get nothing done.  Ever.  I'm too distracted and end up on Youtube or Pinterest or Facebook, or watching TV, playing games, all that.  So I go to Starbucks.  And what do I do?


It has a nice view, doesn't it?

99% of the time I spend in Starbucks I spend writing. Write somewhere you can ONLY write.  Make it YOUR WRITING PLACE.  You will be so productive.  I guarantee it.  Make it routine.

Not your house, unless you lock yourself in a dusty attic.


The only way to get better at writing is to write every day.  No matter if it's a paragraph or 10 pages, GET IT DONE.
Every little bit is progress.  It's a step further than you were the day before...a.k.a. a step closer to your goal.  If it helps you reach your goal, why wouldn't you want it?

So write at the same time, every day.  Avoid switching it up.  You will train your body to settle into this and you will be every bit more productive because of it.  I promise.

Why did I go to Starbucks at the same time every day?  Because that was my routine.  That was my designated writing time. What do you do for classes?  Go to them at the same time every scheduled day.  What about work?  You go to work every day at the same time.  What about breakfast, lunch, and dinner?  They might vary, but still, almost the same time every day.

If everything else fits in so well, why should writing be any different?


Writing in a different style and genre helps you exercise your skills.  Developing this craft is not just learning how to write your book.  It's about learning how to write several.  Blogging, classwork, communication with followers, short stories, and poetry on the side.

Do it.

Create something besides what you are primarily focused on.  Not only will you gain new skills and learn new styles that could help you with different projects, but who knows?  Maybe you'll gain a fanbase.  Followers.  People who WANT to read what you write because you put yourself out there for them.

I think you took my advice too seriously.

Put your dignity aside.  Let people read that chapter, or that poem.  Let them enjoy it and criticize it.  It will help.  You will become better because they will catch things you didn't.  The only thing that is truly impossible is editing a whole book by yourself.  You will miss something.  Guaranteed, 100%.  But other people WILL catch mistakes, and your writing will benefit.


Yeah, exactly what I just said in the last tip.  Let people read your work.  Let them see your style.  Let them help.  Grow some thick skin.

Come on.  Get used to it.  If you want people to read your work later, why not start now.  Some might scoff, especially if it's a first draft (I cannot emphasize that enough).  IT'S A FIRST DRAFT FOR A REASON.  There are mistakes.  It's not pretty.  At all.  Don't even TRY to tell yourself it is.

Your first draft sucks, but you don't.  You're a writer.  Who put those words on that paper?  YOU.  Not the person who talks about writing a book one day.  They didn't write one.


So give it to a lot of people who want to read your work.  Different opinions are pure gold.  Here's a trick:  ask people to read for content.  What they think of the plot and events and characters.  They'll give you an honest opinion.


Some people like editing while in progress, and some wait till they are completely finished.  It's a personal choice.  But what I've found to work best for me is this:  If I repeatedly catch myself making an error, I fix it, then go back to random points in the story and fix it.  FIVE MAXIMUM.  Then I continue with the story.

Fixing in pieces lets your mind recuperate. Keep focused on one problem at a time and you'll keep moving along at the same pace.  Sometimes I discover a plot hole, or forget some part of the story's history, and have to search for it.  When I find what I'm looking for, I edit that paragraph, then return to the bottom of the story.

Try to wait a week (or more) after you write the last word before you delve into serious editing.  Your mind will be fresh and mistakes will pop out at you.


The worst thing you can do is lose sleep to writing.  Fatigue KILLS creativity.  You'll keep daydreaming.  Yes, daydreaming is good for writers, but not when you should be writing and your mind keeps going blank because you're so tired.

Get some sleep, THEN write.  Maybe write when you first wake up.  Write your dream.  Remember how I said writing in as many different genres and mediums is beneficial?  Writing dreams is the exact same thing.  Besides, our minds tend to come up with some pretty crazy stuff.  Maybe your next novel is hidden in them?

So sleep. You'll feel better, stay productive, and your brain might decide to give you a bestseller as an act of gratitude.


Every person you see, every animal walking across the road, every leaf in the wind, dent in the car, and cut on the knee has a story.  Find it.  No, don't go up and ask someone how they got into a car accident unless you really want to, but create a story for everything.  It's there.  Find it.  Make it.  Writers create anyways, so this can help develop more stories.

Don't stalk people.  That's creepy.

Just sit down and watch society function.  Watch workers deliver supplies, or students get their coffee before heading to class.  Write it down.  Your memory doesn't count.  WRITE IT DOWN.  Put your observations in a notebook or iPod or something.  Anything that you can hold in your hands.

"Oh God, what is it like in your funny little brains.
It must be so boring."

Do you want to cut open your head and hold your brain?  No.  So stick the observations somewhere else, because no matter how good your memory is, YOU WILL FORGET someday.  And if you don't, ASSUME YOU WILL.  Got it?


People will think you're crazy for writing every day.  They'll ask how you have soooo much time on your hands, or that you don't have a life, or any of the other million offensive things they don't realize they're saying (Click here to read 20 Annoying Things People Say to Writers).

Don't pay attention to them.  What do they do?  They have their own set of interests which they make time in their day for, yet they think they can dictate what we do with ours?

I know people who go to the gym at the same time every day.  Cool.  That's what they do.  We take the time to write.  We write books, and those same people might read those books.  If we didn't take the time to WRITE that book, they wouldn't have read it.  Make sense?

So do what you do.  If you enjoy writing, nobody can stop you. Even if the world stripped us bare, we could still close our eyes and think about the same exact things we were writing about.  We would still live our lives...minus the luxury.  We can still tell stories with our minds and voices.  What would other people be?  Lost, or listening to us talk.

Hmm, maybe writers can rule the world!

What else can you do to stay productive as a writer? Comment below!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

5 Ways to Improve Your Writing by Reading Other Books

Have you ever seen this quote?  "The six golden rules of writing:  Read, read, read, and write, write, write." - Ernest Gaines

There is a lot of truth behind that.  Stephen King had another one:  "If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write."

So what can you do to improve your writing through reading? Let’s take a look.


Okay, read the book.  Enjoy it and take your time!  When you're done, go back and look at what you read.  Which parts did you like or hate?  Which parts went fast, and which parts went slow?  Did you cry, or feel angry, or smile uncontrollably at any point?

Look at those parts and examine the sentences.  Look at WORDS and PHRASES and how long the sentences are.  Long sentences (15+ words) are generally exposition, while short sentences (usually 3-6 words) are used to emphasize action.

Books ARE emotional puzzles, after all.
You should notice that generic words (it, that, like, the) missing, because they interfere with imagery.  Sometimes they are unavoidable, but you won't see them as often as distinct objects and actions.


We all know the 5-point structure:  Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Denouement.  But why should we follow this and why does it work?


There are no funny pictures for plot structure.
The reader meets the characters, befriends them, and gets to "know the normal."  Then BOOM!  Something happens that throws the characters off-track, something they may not have seen coming.  Now the reader wants to know what will happen and wants the problem to be solved.

If you can make the reader care, they WILL finish the story.  So study where the authorputs certain events, who they affect, and the choices they force upon the characters.  Adapt this to your own story.  You'll see how smooth the events work together and that it creates a believable setting for the reader to live in.


Seriously, listen to them.  Watch what words they use.  What they emphasize.  How do they make you feel?  Do you tense up, smile, laugh, or become embarrassed?  Dialogue is crucial.  Dialogue is the BASIS of characterization.  You can describe in straight-up prose exactly who your character is through his interests, fears, emotions, friends, family, pets, school grades, and more, but I GUARANTEE you readers will get bored and skip ahead.

I bet some of you skimmed that last sentence because you just wanted to get on to the next because DESCRIPTION IS BORING. It really is. Readers want to experience a character, not be handed a paper with a checklist of his likes and dislikes.  We want to see a character react.  We want to see them cry and laugh or yell in anger.  That's why good characterization matters.

And a conversation between two characters (or more) is interesting to read!

This picture is weird, but somehow illustrates my point.
Fun fact:  In his novel Hills Like White Elephants, Ernest Hemingway only describes ONE character:  "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table."  That is the only physical reference to ANY character in the entire book.


This is similar to what I said in my post "How to Create a Vile Villain." If readers care about the characters, and the villain kills someone or wreaks havoc that destroys a character's life forever, your reader will see how determined the bad guy is.

Create conflict and use it to no end.  Keep it reasonable, but put it in whenever possible because it drives up the story's tension and the reader won't be able to put the book down.

Think about Tony Stark's involvement in the world.
In Les Miserables, Javert keeps coincidentally encountering Jean Valjean.  If you know the story, you'll know Javert is seeking Valjean because of a previous crime and his obsessive drive for "justice" creates a tension between them.

Do that. Figure out how the villain and hero (or other characters) interact with each other, and how every choice forces a reaction.


Watch when the first "turning point" of the story occurs. You know, when the main character's life is changed forever and he must embark on a journey of self-discovery and bravery in order to right the wrong, or meet his goal. That part.

 Focus on how the author crafts that scene. What emotions are there? What words create the scene? Who is affected? Why is this important to the story overall?

Answer these questions and then move on to the next conflict.  Do the same thing.  Find a pattern.  Then figure out how these conflicts are resolved.  I've seen many books work in this "scheme" of conflict-to-resolution:


This visual shows you is that the largest conflicts tend to show up first and disappear last. Conflicts of other degrees and importance rise and fall in this sort of "palindromic" fashion. The least important conflicts tend to happen near the middle, like an argument between a couple, a minor character friends/family with the main character is injured or sick, that sort of thing.

Tension that comes and goes.  See what I'm saying?

What are some other ways we can improve our writing by reading?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Live TV Interview!

Today I appeared on ABC 27 news out of Harrisburg, PA to promote my YA novel, Embassy.

Click Here to watch the interview!

Live Interview on ABC 27 news' "Good Day PA"

8 Myths about Writing (and the Truths, too)

Admit it. We have all Googled something along the lines of "How to get published fast," or "Easy Book Marketing." You know, we find ourselves in a rut so we want some reassurance that we can get our books out there for people to read.

*raises hand* Yup, I've been there and done that.

We end up clicking that link that says, "How to Become a National Bestseller Today!" or "Writing Secrets Nobody Else Will Tell You!!!" These are always followed by multiple !!!!!!!!

I'm here to tell you that those sites are just there to raise your hopes and make you feel good about writing for a while. Eventually the feeling will die and you'll be back in that rut. So my job today is tell you the TRUTH about writing. I'm going to take directly from my personal experiences, so you'll see what this process is like.


Nope. My very first science-fiction novel, Shadows: The Narlan Wars, was published on December 16, 2007. Want to see how bad it was? Click Here.

*shudders* Isn't it awful?

Anyways, I was convinced that I had written something truly great, dreamed of the movie and how I had just written the next Star Wars. When I self-published that book in 2007, I had a fanbase in my hometown, newspaper articles, website (the link I just told you to click...yes that's from 9 years ago). I had it all...except a professional publishing contract. I couldn't understand what was wrong. I spent 3 years of my life writing and editing that book. Why didn't anyone want it???

Here's a number: 22. What number is that? The number of rejections I got from publishers around the country before I wrote the sequel. Three years later, I self-published the sequel. Here's another number: 19. The number of rejections I got for the sequel. So I put my foot down, rewrote both books, combined them into one novel, and sent THAT off. In the meantime, I wrote half of the third book in the series. I got 14 more rejections.

This pretty much sums it up.
So what's the point I'm trying to make? Chances are, not matter how much time you put into it, your first book probably won't get published. And why is that? Simple...


Don't confuse this with "everyone has a story to tell." I believe that yes, everyone DOES have a story to tell...but not all everyone should sit down and start writing books. Not only would the world collapse (if it hasn't already...) but some people just, you know, can't tell stories well.

Don't lie to yourself: Do you like writing? If you stopped writing, would you truly forever feel as if a part of you was missing? If you're serious about writing, you need to love it with every ounce of your being, especially if you want to pursue writing as a career. If you think writing is easy, you probably aren't serious about it.

I've been writing novels since the summer after 6th Grade. People have tried to stamp the love of writing out of me just like Uncle Vernon tried to stamp the magic out of Harry. But guess what? NOTHING WORKS. I've been writing for 9 years and I enjoy it more now than ever before. If your passion doesn't grow overtime, maybe you should reconsider your profession.


You see that corner? Go sit in it and think about this until you don't believe it anymore.

There's a reason I'm working on my 4th draft of Embassy. I'm washing out the story and going through, chapter by chapter (AGAIN), to fix as much as possible and keep the story consistent with itself. You won't get this in one draft. Or two. Or three (maybe). Sometimes it can take upwards of 10 drafts or more to get a book exactly as it needs to be.

That should do it.
Fast Fact: I rewrote and revised the first chapter of Embassy forty-seven times.


I think it's something like 90% of published books never sell more than 5,000 copies. Most don't even come close to that. Then you've got to remember: just because some reads your book, that doesn't mean they'lllike it. They might read it and chuck it aside and never touch it again. Developing a platform is CRUCIAL to success.

On average, there are 450-500 new books published each DAY in the United States. Most won't ever get touched. 1% might become international bestsellers. Some will become movies, some will become firewood. So your job as a writer is to just write, it is to MARKET, too. The publishers can only do so much. But they've got their own success to worry about. If your book doesn't sell, and especially if you don't try to market your book, then bye-bye.

Yes, my books didn't sell that well...but seeing as self-publishing got me through high school without a job, I consider that some success. I actively tried to get people to read my work. I hosted events at the library, promoted my website, and had several newspaper articles.

You are not J.K. Rowling.
And if you are, thank you for visiting my blog!
The point is to promote, promote, promote. GET OUT THERE AND PROMOTE. I've met strangers on airplanes and buses and walking around town who see me writing and ask about it. Word of mouth is the best way to gain exposure and get readers.


Me? No. I personally walk to Market Square in Pittsburgh, and right there, in the middle of Starbucks or outside, edit and write. It's noisy, it's crowded. The wind blows my papers. Sometimes it's cold, sometimes it's blazing hot.

But I personally LOVE writing in public.

Besides, remember that exposure I was talking about? I set the proof copy ofEmbassy next to me (the physical, 470-page book I'm editing as I speak), and people come up and ask what it is. They might flip through (now it's all marked up in red pen), a lot will read the back cover, and some ask for my website and Facebook.

The point is, if you have something to show, your credibility goes up like a rocket. People immediately become interested in you and your work if they can READ what you have written.

Even Snoopy didn't write in a dark hole.
So don't sit in a dark room. Grow some thick skin and get out there. You'll thank yourself later.


This will work for people who are looking to make a quick buck. Thank you Twilight for infecting our lives with Werewolves and Vampires. Seriously, like every new book on the teen shelves is a vampire/werewolf story these days. And the story that Twilight tells, at its core, is VERY unhealthy. But alas...luckily the Harry Potter and Hunger Games fans outnumber the Twilight fans, so we aren't completely screwed. And don't even get me started on 50 Shades of Grey *sigh*

Twilight fanfiction, people.
So would you rather write a story that's just like everything else out there right now....or write a story that is genuine and unique and not a copycat of every other cliche these days? Seriously, copying all that just makes you look bad, and once it passes, you'll be out of luck.

This is why there are only a few big names in popular genres...all the other stuff just copies them and it's dull and shameful. Maybe you can try writing "the next big thing," not just "the big thing."


I'm going to tell you this right now. Writer's Block doesn't exist. Woah. I'm crazy. But the way I see it, it doesn't. I believe in stretches of "bad ideas," not stretches of "not being able to put a word on the page." It's a term by people who haven't yet developed the discipline to get off the internet and JUST WRITE.

Here's what writer's block is: Those 5 hours you spent looking at cats and Doctor Who (but really, is that a bad thing?) instead of writing. Your brainwaves lowered to a state of "boredom" and you felt demotivated to do anything else. That's not the inability to put words to the page, that's LACK OF DISCIPLINE.

Apply generously to unaffected areas
Case in point: Embassy was 151,000 in the first draft. I sat behind the computer, turned off the internet, AND WROTE. Just wrote and wrote and wrote. I didn't let my creativity stop. I forced myself to JUST KEEP THINKING. I woke up, got breakfast and coffee, sat in Starbucks, and wrote till dinner.

I did that every day for 10 days, and BOOM. Don't tell me Writer's Block is a thing. It isn't. Lack of true discipline is a thing.

(This applies to people who waste time surfing the web instead of writing. I'm aware that not everyone has hours and hours of free time. But seriously, if you waste the time you do have, you can only blame yourself.)


If you think it's easy, you aren't trying hard enough. You can't craft a flawless story in one sitting. My characters have changed, my story has changed, some of the events have changed.

Deciding what to do is difficult. You have to make sure everything fits together and runs smoothly. If something doesn't make sense, you have to revise it until it does. You have to make things CLEAR. You have to make things easy to understand (usually).

Crafting a story is hard. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. If you aren't willing to put in the effort required, you aren't going to get anywhere.

Are there any myths you would like to add?

Comment below!