NEVER NEVER’s Cover Is Here, and It’s Super Cool

One of the most fun parts of being in the writing community is helping fellow authors shout their happy news from the rooftops. So when Brianna Shrum announced that her new novel NEVER NEVER’s cover reveal would be happening today, of course I had to get in on that! Enough from me, though. Let’s get to the good stuff. First, here’s the awesome cover.


Here’s a little bit about the book:

James Hook is a child who only wants to grow up.

When he meets Peter Pan, a boy who loves to pretend and is intent on never becoming a man, James decides he could try being a child—at least briefly. James joins Peter Pan on a holiday to Neverland, a place of adventure created by children’s dreams, but Neverland is not for the faint of heart. Soon James finds himself longing for home, determined that he is destined to be a man. But Peter refuses to take him back, leaving James trapped in a world just beyond the one he loves. A world where children are to never grow up.

But grow up he does.

And thus begins the epic adventure of a Lost Boy and a Pirate.

This story isn’t about Peter Pan; it’s about the boy whose life he stole. It’s about a man in a world that hates men. It’s about the feared Captain James Hook and his passionate quest to kill the Pan, an impossible feat in a magical land where everyone loves Peter Pan.

Except one.

Here’s where you can get it:


And finally, here’s your chance to get to know the author:

Brianna Shrum lives in Colorado with her high-school-sweetheart-turned-husband, two boys, and two big, floppy hound dogs. She thinks chai tea is proof of magic in the world, and loves all things kissy, magical, and strange. She’d totally love to connect with you. You can find her saying ridiculous things on Twitter @briannashrum

Brianna Shrum

How A Madman Organizes His Book’s Plot

So, while The Year of Lightning is being prepped for publication this fall, I’m also hard at work on book 2. In examining my creative process, there’s one stage that I realized I’m most fond of. Partly, I enjoy it because it helps me examine the story progression visually and identify areas that need further development or rearrangement. Partly, I also enjoy that it makes my office look like the lair of a semi-sane supervillain as he plots the downfall of his enemies.

Behold, my supervillain-style sticky note timeline!

Timeline for Book 2

I used the same process for The Year of Lightning, and it was actually a great way to manage the flow of the story without having to keep all the plot elements in my head.

What about you? If you’re a plotter, what type of outline do you prefer? If you’re a pantser, how much of the story do you have in mind when you sit down to write?

Whatever your process, suit up and get writing!

Official Announcement – My New Book Deal!


That word has been going through my head a lot these past few weeks! Wow because of how quickly the writing journey can change. Wow because the journey just got a lot more awesome and exciting, and I can’t wait to share every step with all of you. I’ve been talking about the news over social media for a couple days now, but here’s my big announcement OFFICIALLY.

Last week, I signed a contract with Jolly Fish Press to publish my teen sci-fi series! The first book, titled THE YEAR OF LIGHTNING, is due to be released this fall, and will be followed by two sequels. The team at Jolly Fish has already been a dream to work with, and I’m so excited to be partnered with them.

There will be lots more news to share as the publication date draws closer. For now, I want to thank everyone in the writing community who’s given such amazing moral support, and helped me grow and improve as a writer. There’s a little piece of all of you in these books, and I can’t wait to share them with you.

What the “How I Met Your Mother” Finale Can Teach Writers

Kids, if you’ve ever wanted an hour-long master class in how not to end a story, this is it. Let’s break down exactly what went wrong and how it can help us improve our writing.


First off, I’ll address the elephant in the room right away. The finale wasn’t a failure because it featured a sad ending. It was a failure because it featured an ending that was not earned by its nine years’ worth of stories. With that said, here are a few lessons that writers can learn:

1. Just because you planned it from the beginning doesn’t make it the right ending. Yeah okay, so they had this master plan all along blah blah. This ending was planned when they had no idea how many seasons the show would last. Since then, there have been nine years of character development that pointed us in completely the opposite direction of the “planned” ending. Because of that, in the last fifteen minutes they had to tear down the stories they’d spent years building just so they could shoehorn them into a nearly decade-old master idea that had long since outlived its relevance. That doesn’t make the ending a clever surprise. It makes it a betrayal of the promises that were made over years’ worth of episodes. Now, think about your own writing, whether it’s for one book or a whole series. Sometimes we plan for one thing to happen in the end, but by the time we get there something else is necessary. AND THAT’S OKAY. If it’s the best ending, if it serves the characters and the narrative, who cares if it’s not what you’d originally planned? If it works better, go with it and be grateful that your world and your characters grew to the point that a better ending was possible.

2. Never erase character growth just because it makes your story easier to tell. So once again, the problem here is over-attachment to the original plan. The showrunners had a particular “twist” ending in mind, yet they seemed to forget about it during all the seasons leading up to that ending. By the time we reached the finale, these characters had so obviously grown beyond their planned ending that they had to be artificially twisted back into grotesque caricatures of their first-season selves. Essentially, every step forward they had taken, every bit of growth they had earned over multiple seasons of experience and life lessons, was completely reversed in order to preserve the master plan. That’s the height of lazy, self-indulgent writing. Consider your own writing now. How have your characters grown from the first chapter to the last? How have they changed and improved? Whatever growth they’ve achieved, don’t ignore it. Embrace it and let it fuel your finale. Then you’ll achieve a conclusion that feels natural and, more importantly, earned.

3. Be true to your tone. I’ve read a few people’s comments that suggest the tone of the show foreshadowed this type of ending all along. If that’s you, I mean this with all respect – you are completely wrong. Take it from a Ted Mosby type of guy. I’m single and in my thirties, and I’ve been out there looking for a long time but still haven’t found the right person to spend my life with. Through the course of the show, there was SO much they got right about what it’s like to persist in the search even when it seems endless and, at times, tragic. Some days you have rousing successes, other days you get kicked in the teeth, and the show was able to capture those moments in ways that felt real and that resonated with me on an emotional level. Because of that, I can tell you that the overall tone of the show was not about tragedy. It was about hope. The finale betrayed that theme by giving Ted what he’d hoped and searched for all along, and then, mere moments later, casually and callously discarding the fulfillment of that hope in exchange for an arbitrary twist ending. Which leads me to my final point…

4. Deliver on your promise. Now, there will be people out there who say “but they never promised a happy ending, only that we’d meet the mother.” Which is, in a word, ridiculous. Sure, they may never have explicitly said, “Ted will meet the mother and she won’t die suddenly a few years later from some mystery disease.” And the fact that they never said that doesn’t matter one bit, because the premise of the show (at least, the part of the premise that they bothered to share with the audience) and the tone of the narrative (as discussed above) did make a promise. The promise was that the journey we were watching would end up being worthwhile. The promise was that the theme of hope would be delivered on. Sure, there may be bumps and surprises along the way after Ted gets his happily ever after, because that’s life. But the promise of the show – that we’d travel with the hero for all these years and finally get to celebrate with him as he finds “the one” and lives the life he’s always wanted – was ignored. They did not deliver. What about your story? What is its tone, and what is it promising? Now take another look at your ending. Does it deliver on those promises? Does it stay true to its tone? If not, you may have some work to do.

As I said at the start, this doesn’t mean that every ending has to be happily-ever-after. It’s not about that, but it’s also not about telling the ending you’ve always wanted – it’s about telling the right ending for the story and for the characters. “How I Met Your Mother” failed at this on a catastrophic level, so much that it will color many viewers’ feelings about every season of the show. Learn from their mistakes, kids, and your writing will be better for it.

Now suit up and get writing.

All About #MyWritingProcess

So I was tagged by the awesome Kelly Fiore (@kellyannfiore) for the #mywritingprocess blog meme. I love deconstructions like this, and I jumped at the chance to be involved. So if you ever wanted a peak behind the curtain, to learn how and why I write the weird stories that I write, this one’s for you!

What am I working on now?
I always have lots of irons in the fire. That thing they say about a writer’s brain being like a web browser with a thousand tabs open – yeah, totally true. When I’m not plotting world domination or figuring out how to catch the Joker, I’m usually writing or thinking about writing.

Right now I have three active projects and several back-burner projects. In the number one spot, the full manuscript of my MG mystery novel THE YEAR OF LIGHTNING is currently sitting on several agents’ desks. Number two, my current work-in-progress, is a YA contemporary with hints of sci-fi, and I’m about 40% finished with the first draft. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever written and I’m relishing the challenge. Number three is something VERY different for me, and I haven’t revealed it to many people until now – I wrote a picture book called ARE THERE COOKIES IN SPACE? It’s quirky and whimsical and I had a ton of fun writing it, and last week I sent out the first query letters.

In between these projects, I’m always jotting down new ideas and chipping away at world building or character development for upcoming stories.

How does my work differ from others?
I’d love for anyone who’s read my work to share their thoughts below. What do you think?

In my own mind, I feel like I combine genres in a unique way. I never want a story to be just one straightforward thing, so it’s fun to twist genre conventions, and I always challenge myself to surprise the reader in a way they haven’t seen or thought of before. For instance, my aim for THE YEAR OF LIGHTNING was to create fun characters whose dialogue and interactions would make the reader laugh, but they also had to fit in a story that’s essentially a mystery thriller. I didn’t want any humor in the creepy scenes because it would undercut the gravity of the situation. So I had to balance the desire to have funny characters while also providing genuine scares and intensity. It was such a fun challenge, and so far people seem to like it, so hopefully I succeeded.

Why do I write what I do?
Mostly, I write what excites me. That could equally apply to pulse-pounding action or scenes of quiet dialogue. I write what engages me emotionally, and what keeps me writing (even through the rough patches) is the excitement of sharing those characters and those worlds with other people. Every time I sit down to write, readers come to my mind and I think, “Just wait until you see what I’ve got to show you today.”

How does my writing process work?
From start to finish, my typical writing process walks the line between order and chaos. When I first hatch a story idea, I don’t employ any structure at all to the process. I just think about it and jot down whatever seems like a good idea. At this point, nothing is off limits. My next step usually involves building a music playlist, as music plays a huge part in my process. I pick songs that fit the mood and intent of the story, and as I listen to them I get ideas for specific scenes and character moments. Usually, the characters and the world they inhabit begin to grow together organically and feed each other’s development.

Once I have a solid grasp on the characters and the story arc, I get more organized. This is when the outlining begins, and I typically use three types of outlines. Outline 1 is a broad overhead view of the world and the story, including the major story beats and character milestones. Outline 2 zooms in closer and fills in the spaces between those big moments, fleshing out character details and the cause-and-effect for each event. Outline 3 goes scene by scene and reads kind of like a film script, plotting out the characters’ actions and some of their dialogue. Once that’s done, I’m ready to write the finished product.

Having said all that, I believe a writer grows from challenging their own process and breaking out of their comfort zone. To that end, I’m using a completely different approach for my current WIP. No outlines, minimal planning ahead, just working through scenes and letting the characters breathe, while also keeping in mind the direction of the story. I’ve never written a full-length novel in this way before, and it’s a unique and exciting challenge.

How about all of you? Why do you write what you do, and how do you write it? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time, suit up and get writing!

The Problem With Superpowers

So, my friend Jolene Perry is an awesome writer. She has a new novel coming out today, and I’ve opened up the Batcave so she can tell you all about it (along with a few of her thoughts about superpowers). Enjoy reading Jolene’s thoughts on how she would join the superhero community, then check out the details about The Summer I Found You.

I guess I COULD have written a serious post for Ryan, but really, what would be the point of that???

The superpower I wish for most often is the ability to go without sleep.
I know this seems super lame, but all I can think about is how much I could get done!!!! I could write my books all night when even the animals are asleep. We don’t get phone calls. I don’t have to walk dogs or make lunches or ANYTHING. I imagine the downside of this would be that eventually, I’d start to get bored…
I hate to even say that b/c in a way I don’t believe in boredom, but STILL. I think I’d get bored.

My next superpower would be teleportation.
Right? Blink and I’m in Paris. No lines at airports, gross airplane seats, public bathrooms or annoying people. I actually get claustrophobic because of people, not small spaces. So yeah. Teleportation would be nice. But the downside of this is – wouldn’t it eventually be less special to travel if you could be anywhere? I mean, I guess I’d find my favorite spots, and could blink my way to Italy for gelato, but…
No. Actually. This might always be awesome.

The ability to FLY.
I mean, awesome, right?
I might even see Ryan all dressed up in his Batman suit once in a while (in case you didn’t know, he’s Batman) and we could fight crime together. Only, I do get airsick, and if you’ve ever flown in a small plane, you know it gets COLD when you get high up. I mean, I’d have to dress like the State Puff Marshmallow Man, and what’s the fun in that?

Yes. I’m aware Lazer is actually spelled Laser, but it just looks cooler with a Z, doesn’t it?
I think this would make cooking super easy and fast. I’d never dirty any knives, I could just cut up veggies with my super-eyes.
But part of me wonders what would happen if you didn’t use it often enough? Like, would the energy store up? And suddenly you blink wrong in your closet and accidentally slice up all your clothes? Or lose control of it and cut through your cabinets while chopping onions?
I don’t know…

Okay. No one can dispute that this wouldn’t be awesome, but just thinking about time travel and paradoxes hurts my brain. HURTS. MY. BRAIN. Also, I watched Fringe. I know what happens when you start messing around with time and universes and all that… it’s not pretty ;-)

Anyway. After my post, you probably are sure I’m here to promo some cool speculative fiction, but I actually wrote this cool love story about a nineteen year old guy who comes home from Afghanistan with one arm and without the career in the Army he thought he’d have. He meets this girl, Kate, who is filled with blurts of honesty that he finds more refreshing than annoying, and they find a great distraction with each other and then… Oh. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens next ;-)

Book Cover


~ Jolene

Hardback available now, ebook on March 4th.

Get it on AMAZON


Expanding My Editing Services

Writer friends, some of you know that in addition to my writing work, I’m also a professional editor. Most of my early work involved the more technical side of writing (business, tech news, etc.) but in recent years I’ve also been editing novels. Today, I’m announcing the official expansion of my editing services to include novels.

Details of my services and fees can be found below. If you know any writers looking for an editor, I’m happy to answer any questions at

Some reactions my work has received:

“Ryan Dalton has such a good eye. He has the capability to see the big picture and offer suggestions that take manuscripts to the next level. He’s the plot king. Not only does he know how to fix books from a large standpoint, but he also has the vision for the little details. He’s made my work so much stronger!” 

“Ryan has edited two manuscripts for me, and his critique made such a huge difference! He especially has a fantastic eye for plot and pacing, as well as knowing just what a story needs to make it that much better.”


For one price, edits will include:
– Correcting grammar, punctuation, spelling, syntax, and errors in language and sentence structure
– Suggesting replacement words where necessary
– Fact-checking commonly known details (geography, etc.)
– Providing feedback for the plot, structure, flow, and characters of your story. This may include anything from my general thoughts on tone and style to character arcs and the effectiveness of specific plot points. I will also note any inconsistencies in plot development.

The Editing Process

I typically ask for three weeks to complete the work, though it will likely be finished more quickly. Conversely, I may ask for a little extra time if the manuscript is longer than average. Time starts upon receipt of the electronic file or paper document. Please ensure that your manuscript is double-spaced with 12-pt. font.

When the work is complete, you’ll receive two documents. The first is an edited copy of your manuscript, with edits color-coded so you can spot them easily. The second is a report containing my feedback for the story itself.

Once you’ve had a chance to review the edits, my fee includes a thirty-minute phone call to discuss the details of your manuscript and clarify any editorial notes that you would like to discuss.

Once you’ve revised your manuscript, you may find it helpful to schedule a second round of edits. New issues and challenges can arise during the revision process, and a second round will help catch any errors in structure and execution. If you choose a second round, you’ll receive a discounted rate.


For one round of edits, plus a thirty-minute phone call, my basic rate is one cent per word. So if you have a 50,000 word manuscript, my fee is $500. If you prefer to receive edits in paper format instead of electronic, a small fee for shipping will be added.

If you choose to schedule a second round, my rate is one half-cent per word, or $250 for a 50,000 word manuscript. If you choose to schedule both rounds up-front, I offer a 10% discount. So the cost for a 50,000 word manuscript is $675 instead of $750.

Many editing services charge double (or more) than my rates while offering far less in the way of support and feedback. For me, it’s a matter of pride to help your work be the best it can be.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. If anyone you know is searching for an editor, they can feel free to contact me with any questions at

1,270 Reasons You Should Attend an SCBWI Conference

Are you a children’s book writer or illustrator? Then what I’m about to say can help your career and save the galaxy! (Okay, so I can’t actually prove that it will save the galaxy, but can you prove that it won’t?)

This past weekend, I attended the International SCBWI Conference in L.A. for the second year. While I loved the experience last year, I had nothing to compare it to and so I didn’t speak much about it publicly. Now I’m a two-year vet and feel like I can say something informative – and what I have to say is GO TO THIS CONFERENCE! Start saving your money today and reserve your spot as soon as registration opens next year. I can’t speak as much to illustrators, but to all you writers out there, here are 1,270 reasons why:

Reason 1: Inspiration
The creative vibe at this conference is so palpable, you can practically scoop it up and bottle it. Also, much of the program focuses on encouragement and support – pushing you to keep going, assuring you that you’re not alone and that success comes to those who never give up. The cumulative effect is that you leave with your batteries recharged, with new ideas, and with fresh determination to succeed.

Reason 2: Instruction
Even if you’re a veteran, there’s always something to learn. It could be an insight about the industry, a new way of looking at an old piece of writing wisdom, or an approach or technique you’ve never thought of before. For instance, I was fortunate enough to attend a breakout session led by none other than Richard Peck. We spent much of the session workshopping opening lines for attendees’ manuscripts, and the experience was revelatory. Peck’s approach to creating masterful opening lines was simple yet powerful, and I have no doubt it will affect every manuscript I write from now on.

Reason 3: Networking
Editors, agents, and writers at every possible career milestone walk the halls of this conference. While there are certain rules of etiquette that are wise to follow, most people want to make meaningful connections. Casual approaches are better, and hard sells are generally looked down upon, but an SCBWI conference is the perfect opportunity to get to know industry pros as real people in a casual and relaxed setting. If you go with the goal of treating people like people and making new friends, chances are you’ll make at least one connection that will positively affect your writing career. Last year I walked away with two awesome new crit partners. The results of this year remain to be seen, but Arthur Levine did compliment my 40’s era fedora at Saturday’s black-and-white ball. :-D Where else would that ever happen?

Another great experience is reconnecting with existing friends and allies in the industry. I attended the 2012 conference knowing about three people, and the 2013 conference knowing dozens. One new attendee even observed, “Everyone here knows you!” It was so exciting to come back and see all the friends that I normally only see on Twitter or Facebook. We hug, we laugh, we catch up and generally act silly together.

Reason 4: Support
You can’t underestimate the power of spending three days with people who know your struggles intimately. They’ve gone through them, too. Many writers share the same basic experiences while trying to make their way in this crazy publishing world, and seeing that first hand works wonders in recharging the batteries. Then you can go home and pick up again, diving back into the fray with renewed vigor and determination.

Reasons 5 – 1,270: Everyone and Everything
About 1,266 people attended the 2013 conference, and each one of them is a reason to go. Some of the benefits of this conference are difficult to quantify, but they add up to a weekend of creativity and support that I now consider to be a necessary part of my yearly schedule. The conference is a series of moments – whether it’s watching a thousand writers cut loose and dance to “Thrift Shop” or sitting around a fire at 2 a.m. and debating about the importance of word origins – that add up to an experience that is both valuable and unforgettable.

Buy My Friend’s Book or Be Locked In a Pyramid Forever!

Why hello! Thank you for coming to visit me voluntarily and without any threatening or coercion whatsoever. You won’t be sorry because I’m going to tell you about a book that you should read. Not only is it a super cool premise, but it’s written by a super cool person.

Katie Teller’s new novel Kiya: Hope of the Pharaoh debuts today, and you can buy it on Amazon and Kobo! Here are some links, which you should follow if you want to receive full credit and avoid the aforementioned pyramid lock-up. I would, as a courtesy, enclose you within your eternal tomb with a few favorite belongings and a month’s supply of bacon and egg biscuits, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. You don’t want to follow the path of any pharaohs, I’d imagine, and while pyramids are awesome to look at, they’re not exactly air conditioned. Anyway, here are the links:

Katie’s post about the release and blog hop. You can still sign up!

Goodreads page for Kiya: Hope of the Pharaoh

Kiya’s Amazon Page

Kiya’s Kobo Page

Kiya’s Book Trailer

Coping With Failure – Part 2, or How I Nearly Killed Myself with a Potholder

After years of constant practice and countless hours of absorbing Food Network programming like it holds the secret to world domination, I feel like I’ve become a pretty good amateur chef. This story, however, will make you doubt my skills, not only as a chef but as a functional human being.

Let’s rewind the clock 5 ½ years. I’d recently packed up everything I owned and moved out West with dreams of making it big as a discount death ray salesman. I’d also decided that it was time to become a real adult (at least on the outside), and that required learning to cook. I started cooking less than a month after the move, and threw myself into it with fearless determination. Observers might have called it reckless abandon. They might also have called it an elaborate plot to assassinate myself and make it look like a cooking mishap.

On this fateful night, I’d only been cooking for a few months and even the simplest meals felt daunting. I was attempting seared chicken breast, roasted lemon-pepper potatoes, and pan gravy – a meal that Future Ryan could accomplish today with one pan, one cookie sheet, and about thirty minutes. Past Ryan, though, had somehow managed to use up 1 ½ hours, two pans and two pots, both cutting boards, and his will to live. This dinner was kicking me up and down the kitchen like I’d stolen something from it.

To top it all off, my chicken was burning. The accursed glass-top stove (which I hate to this day – give me a gas range and open flame) kept switching the burner on and off in order to “manage” the heat, if “manage” really stood for “force chef to contemplate murder”. Past Ryan had no clue how to balance the cooking temperature under these conditions. The chicken breasts began to blacken on the outside while staying a nice shade of raw on the inside. Mm-mm delicious burned/raw chicken!

I turned the burner off, but it still held massive residual heat. I needed to lower the pan’s temperature quickly, but all the other burners were occupied with various pots of failure, and I hadn’t learned yet that I could set it on the granite countertop. I was stuck, and soon my chicken breasts would be raw-centered cinders. Then I got a flash of inspiration, a bright idea that could save the day – the idea that nearly killed me.

My eyes fell upon a bright red potholder. It stared at me as if to say, “Hey I protect stuff from heat all the time, man. Let’s save your chicken together.” I grinned from ear to ear. “Good point, Red Potholder! I’m overwhelmed by how clever we are.”

With the type of joy that only a man who’s about to die from his own stupidity can experience, I lifted the searing hot pan and slid the potholder underneath, effectively shielding it from the worst of the burner’s heat. That should take care of it. A few minutes off the direct heat and my main course would be back on track.

It might have worked except for one minor detail – that red potholder talked a good game, but it was cheap. Like, Dollar Store kind of cheap. This meant that all the nice materials you find in quality, high-end potholders were nowhere to be found. In their place were lots of polyester and near-plastic fabrics. And what do those materials do when they come in contact with extreme heat? They don’t melt.

They vaporize.

Within two minutes, I noticed odd tendrils of a smoke-like substance wafting from underneath the pan. “Hmm,” I thought, “maybe this wasn’t the best idea.” Feeling equally clever for figuring out that my previous clever plan was ridiculous, I lifted the pan to retrieve my poor, misused red potholder. And that’s when it attacked.

A wave of gray-white fog puffed up and engulfed my face. This wasn’t smoke. Oh no, smoke would’ve been too easy. It was a noxious cloud of death fumes, the vaporized remains of my potholder back from the fiery depths to seek toxic vengeance upon me. This cloud decided that I didn’t deserve oxygen, and proceeded to suck every bit of it from my lungs. In seconds it expanded to fill my kitchen, then my living room, then it called my family and tried to invade their houses, too.

In a panic, I threw open the patio door and burst outside, drinking in the sweet night air and questioning where I’d gone wrong in my life. Soon, though, I had to dive back inside and open every window to let the rolling wave of doom find its way out. After a half-hour walk I came back to find that the cloud had moved on, no doubt to travel the world and murder innocent cooks in defense of potholders everywhere. I’m pretty sure it’s still out there somewhere, though I do my best to treat all potholders with respect now.

I’d like to say that was the last time I nearly killed myself in those first six months of cooking…but it wasn’t.

That, however, is another story.