On writing about the Subject and not the Story

I’m currently reading Stephen King’s classic, On Writing, for like the twentieth time. If you’ve never read it, and even if you have no writerly aspirations, do so. If you ever want to write for a living, then definitely read it, along with Writing Down the Bones and Bird by Bird and Writing 21st Century Fiction.

Through re-reading King’s advice, I realized what I did wrong with my failed manuscript. I wrote about the subject matter of the story and not the story itself. That may seem like semantics, but the approach in storytelling matters. Instead of spending time with my characters, I asked my characters to spend time focusing on things I wanted them to discuss. Classic mistake.

The characters always guide.  They do what they want based on who they are as people and what motivations drive them. This makes them real, human, flawed, worth reading about.

This was not a pleasurable epiphany, but one I’m glad I had. And I bring it up because I believe in our current climate this type of scenario may happen with other writers and creative individuals. We are so infuriated with our current environment, we want to do something about it with the tools we have, words. But regardless of the skill set of the person wielding any tool, the approach is still everything.

If a carpenter built  “about a house” instead of actually building one, I’m not sure the results would be desirable. Same with writing. It’s perfectly fine to have a mental sense of what the story is about, but that’s only because of the action that’s taking place, the emotions on the page, the push and pull of characters as they move through this life they’re living.

I know you know this. I know I know this, but a little reminder can’t hurt.

And while I’m realizing things and making changes, I’ve also decided to put my YouTube channel to use. I have my book trailers there, but I also think it would be a great benefit to librarians trying to book talk my work, or to any reader who is researching who I am, to have a face with the name and stories. Therefore, I’m thinking of posting on Fridays, and for the next few weeks will cover my books, one at a time. After that, I’m open to any suggestions.

So, if you want to see where I write or what my outlines look like, or what books have most influenced my career, or how I get my inspiration, let me know. Do so here, via my email contact, or leave notes on my YouTube channel.

Additionally, there’s still time to win a copy of Look Past over at Goodreads, but make sure you enter before the clock runs out today.

In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying the change of the season and the beginning of new things in your life, be them old things remembered, or new avenues to travel 😉

Pub Day Q&A

In case you didn’t know, it’s PUB DAY! 

But before that, as promised, the winner from Challenge #5 is Megan Cruz, a local news reporter who admitted to living dangerously by riding in the trunk of her friend’s car. All right, Megan, for your honesty, you win a signed copy of Dare Me. Send me your mailing address 🙂

*Drum roll* *Confetti* *Champagne* (You get the idea)

Dare Me has finally made its way into the world and I can only hope those copies find some good homes. I know you all are providing such. And for those who want a little more info about this daredevil tale, I’ve provided a Q&A that my publisher is using for promo purposes. The insight should add to your reading pleasure.

So, read, enjoy and thank  you all for supporting me. I sincerely hope you like this story so much you’ll force others to read it. At gunpoint. Or just talk about it a lot on Facebook and Twitter, whatever’s more your style.

I raise my glass as you raise your books. Cheers!

Q: This whole book is based on the premise of completing dares.  Did you get the idea for this book because of a dare you witnessed? If so, what was the dare?

The premise is more from the culture of teens watching dares and stunts via YouTube, Facebook, Jackass, and Tosh. O. If teens are spending time devoted to anything, there has to be an allure, and then something deeper. I wanted to see what that would look like and why these boys would continue beyond one stunt into the elaborate game of one-upmanship they enter.

Also, there was no one stunt that I witnessed that set this in motion, but rather the collage of them, both in my own life and vicariously. The bridge jump has many factual elements. It’s safe to say I have been there and have done that.

Q: Ben becomes a part of the Daredevil Crew initially to become a legend at his high school.  Why do you think most teens participate in these groups, and how do you believe it helps them cope with today’s societal pressures?

I believe teens today—as teens of my youth and prior—push envelopes to see how far is too far. Because of the stage the internet provides, these actions now have a greater audience, and with that comes sweeping feedback.

Teens and adults love the risk-taker. Our legends are built on such men and women. It only makes sense that the combination of this classic desire to risk, coupled with the unique elements of today’s virtual existence, creates a perfect vehicle for being seen, which, at heart, is what everyone wants, regardless of age.

The actions get reinforced from an online community who values the behavior, and that recognition turns into reinforcement, and becomes acceptance.

To risk it all may seem unintelligent, but I think the activity speaks from a very emotional place.

Q: Do you personally identify with characters in your book, or have you, as a high school teacher, based your story off students you have taught?

Some author once said that all of our characters are a part of us, and I agree. I identify with all of mine for different reasons. Do I agree with everything they do? Not even close. But I understand their motivations, and hope what I provide with these individuals offers others a chance to consider alternate perspectives.

I have also based characters off students. Not exact replicas, because that, by its very nature, is no longer fiction. Rather, I use traits, reactions, quirks, etc. I am surrounded by uniqueness and thousands of stories on a daily basis. It would be a disservice to my students if I didn’t incorporate them in some way.

Q: What do you believe is the real thrill that teenagers experience from completing dares like the ones mentioned in your book?

The short answer: it’s fun. The rush of risking your life—or at minimum, injury—is visceral on a biological, neuro-chemical level. The body loves it.

The long answer: it’s all about the identity ritual. Every group has a way of marking itself, be it fashion or music or language. Teens who participate in such risky behavior are no different. They want to show others that this is who they are: unafraid, brave, a bit crazy, and willing to do whatever. It sets them apart from the rest, builds a bit of cred, and for someone with nothing to lose, is the sort of validation sought.

Q: Ben is constantly thinking about how Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Relativity compare to his everyday life, budding romance, and the dares he is performing with the other boys.  What inspired you to use Newton as a control piece in your story?

I began it as an interesting juxtaposition, a demonstration of the missed warning signs life throws at us—the ones we see in hindsight—but also as a play on the inability for any of us to overstep the natural laws. It was during my conversation with Lisa Cheng about the necessary revisions to the first draft that the idea solidified. She enjoyed the scientific touch and wondered if I could play it up more. It became one of the best threads throughout all of the dares.

DARE ME Countdown Giveaway Challenge #5

All right, here we are at the last challenge. Which means two things. One, we have a winner from yesterday, and two, Dare Me hits the shelves tomorrow. Make sure you are buckled in and the seatbelt is secure. Yesterday’s winner is Mark Ayotte. Check out the amazing stunt compilation below from him and then meet me on the other side of the craziness.

That was awesome, right? Thanks, Mark! Send me your details 🙂

And now, the last challenge. But first, some required reading–the first paragraph in the Acknowledgements section of Dare Me:

This story is about our culture, our desire to be seen, and what we are willing to risk for that visibility. It is not a glorification of the daredevil, but rather an examination of why.

The challenge: What is the craziest stunt/dare you performed AND what did you learn?

Tell me your story. Post anonymously if you need to, and tomorrow, when Dare Me drops, I’ll be sharing your feat of awesomeness with the world.

Go, dig into your memory and consider about all the crazy things you’ve done. Then examine what you learned. Drop that story here, on Facebook or on Twitter. I look forward to them. And thanks for playing along.

DARE ME Countdown Giveaway Challenge #4

Thank you all for taking yesterday’s science challenge. I knew it would be difficult, but also that someone would rise to Newton’s standards.

Fortunately Beth Fehlbaum’s answer hit the mark: I think that Law # 1 most applies to life, because unless a person decides to take responsibility for their own lives, they have no one to blame but him/herself if it’s not going well. I’d sum it up as, “You have to be your own best friend.”

That’s perfect, and part of what Ben comes to realize throughout the story. So, Beth, hook me up with your contact info and a copy of Dare Me is coming your way.

And for today’s challenge, something easier, but equally educational…

The challenge: Send me the best YouTube dare that you can find.

Ben, Ricky, John and Trevor do some insane stunts, but I know what else is out there from my hours and hours of research. So find those awesome dares and shoot me the link here, on Facebook or on Twitter. The best dare will air tomorrow and you win a signed copy of Dare Me.

Please make sure the dare is awesome, but I am uninterested in seeing anyone getting seriously injured. Let Tosh. O handle that.

Go, have fun, enjoy Sunday, send me links, and tomorrow I will reveal the last challenge.

Why Dare Me?


All teenagers want to be seen. Today they can achieve visibility in an instant, but they face the same challenge as we all have, rising above everyone else and into the limelight.

This is Dare Me.

This is why I wrote Dare Me:

  1. I wanted to explore YouTube culture and the way it is shaping our teens, who constantly want to be seen, and see themselves. Or some idea of that.
  2. Being a daredevil–or lacking “good judgment”–has plagued me since I was a teen, and it continues to plague teens today. Combine this with YouTube and something powerful emerges.
  3. Need proof of #2? Tosh. O.
  4. On that note, I’ve always wondered why we as a culture derive pleasure from others’ pain. We watch, cringe, and then watch again. I hear, “Watch this, Mr. D,” from my students daily.
  5. Tap Out was dark, as in I-can’t-see-my-hand-in-front-of-my-face-is-that-a-gun? dark. I wanted less dark, but equal intensity. Having characters risk their lives on a monthly basis fulfilled that goal.
  6. Money. Today, it’s everything, on par with the visibility quotient of #1. Adults have limited ability in this economy to turn things around quickly. So, what if? What if a teen knew of a way to make money, lots of it, risking something he doesn’t truly think he can lose, but is worth everything? Mhmm, that’s a great layer.
  7. Romance. For real. I wanted to see of I could write sparks. They are as genuine as can be for this would-be couple, in this volatile situation (Don’t think of that terrible line from Speed–it’s much more innocent and honest than that).
  8. Exploration of friendships. Risking your life is easy. Having emotions is difficult. You cannot do the former without having the latter. So, what are those emotions when they’re tied to your friends? And what if you haven’t been that close since middle school? What if this type of behavior was your undoing in the past? What now?
  9. Identity. Every story is about identity. Loss of it, a search for it, a confusion about it, a disillusionment over it, a false belief in it… Every story I write looks at this dynamic, and Dare Me asks how one can stay true to oneself when everything is up in the air.
  10. The one barometer I have for my stories is this question: Is it awesome? The answer has to be yes. And not just for the plot or for the characters or for the deeper, thematic issues. ALL. OF. IT.

I hope that provides some insight. Because BEA kicks off on Wednesday and runs through Saturday. At some point, Running Press will be giving away Advanced Reader Copies of Dare Me.

I hope that every copy disappears and that all turn to this site and find this post. Then when they head to Goodreads they can score me on my success or failure regarding my goals. Especially #10.