Class of 1998 (M.A.)
I started writing stories during third grade. My kind teacher, Mrs. Wolfe, encouraged me, even though I wrote crazy stuff: several tales about a fire-breathing chicken monster; a thriller about a racecar driver who crashed into a wooded ravine, only to be set upon by moaning zombies; and a chiller about a hulking Frankenstein knock-off I called "Gill," because he could breathe underwater.
Unfortunately, most of my middle and high school teachers didn't approve of the kind of stories I was scribbling. I went underground, writing things that I shared only with friends.
As a Penn State undergrad, I crawled back into the light to take a pair of creative writing courses. The first nearly destroyed my writing dream. The instructor wanted only literary fiction and frowned on my work. The second class, however, left me feeling energized and committed . . . and yet I still saw writing as a merely personal pursuit.
West Chester University changed that.
When I entered West Chester's English / creative writing graduate program, I was unpublished . . . and filled with uncertainty. Would the program force me to write only literary fiction?
Luckily, Luanne Smith, West Chester's creative writing guru, did not discourage me. To her, good writing and commercial fiction weren't mutually exclusive. Giving me free rein over content, she focused on quality. I could write horror or science fiction, fantasy or thrillers . . . as long as I wrote well.
Consequently, I loved the writing workshops and learned a ton from the feedback of Luanne and my classmates. Between classes, I evaluated critiques, decided which suggestions to implement, and revised my work. In this way, I first developed true stewardship over story.
When the university's literary magazine, Daedalus, printed "Cornfield at Night," I was overjoyed. My first publication! This experience validated my passion and gave me the confidence to start submitting stories to magazines and anthologies.
Since appearing in Daedalus, I've sold three novels and published dozens of short stories, earning glowing reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly and spawning audiobooks, reprints, a graphic novel project, translations into French, Portuguese, Italian, and Turkish, and the CBS television series Intelligence, which was based on my debut novel, Phoenix Island. ABC Studios hired me as a consultant, and now I'm a full-time writer. A professional member of the SFWA, HWA, and ITW, I've signed and spoken at writers' groups, universities, bookstores, libraries, and conventions, including the American Library Association, which featured me on the Pop Top Stage; New York Comic Con, where I signed two hundred books in forty-five minutes; and the Pennsylvania Literary Festival, where I served as the Guest of Honor.
I'll always be thankful that West Chester University saw me for what I was—a dedicated writer of commercial fiction—and rather than discouraging me or forcing me to change, gave me a quality education that helped me down the path toward writing professional fiction for mainstream audiences.
Finally, while attending WCU, I also met my first reader and most trusted critic: my beautiful wife, Christina.