Meet Semifinalists Jeff Gunhus & Michael Hilliard

Thank you to everyone who participated in the James Patterson Co-Author Competition and congratulations to the semifinalists! Today, we’d like you to meet MasterClass students and semifinalists Jeff Gunhus and Michael Hilliard!

Jeff Gunhus
Davidsonville, Maryland

Jeff GunhusWhat’s the most important thing you’ve learned from James’ class so far?
As a long-time fan of his work, James had already been a major influence on my style, so his Masterclass was right up my alley. I have pages of notes from the class, but the one thing that impacts me daily are the words on top of many of my outline pages, “Be there.” A reminder to anchor my reader in the time and place, especially for the pivotal scenes where I want to really pack a punch. I used this reminder in a recent scene where my character, a tough FBI agent, has a scene with her father with early Alzheimer’s. I slowed my pace for the scene, really tried to convey what the room felt like, the smells, the way her father’s hand felt to the touch. “Be there,” is a simple rule, but makes a great impact.

If you could spend 5 minutes with James, what questions would you ask him?
The MasterClass developed so much of the craft, so I’d use the five minutes to pick his brain as an entrepreneur. I’d also ask him how to successfully navigate a writing career across genres.

Who has been the most supportive of your writing? How do they help you?
My wife, hands down. I have five kids and a full-time gig, so the most essential block of writing time I have is from 5-8 AM (and from 10-1 AM when I’m really cranking on something good.) Sometimes it’s hard to roll out of bed that early, but my wife is good about giving me that extra shove (or kick!) when I need it. She reads my first drafts, endures me talking to her about my characters as if they’re real people and tolerates me interrogating anyone we meet at a party who has a job that could be useful in a book. It’s helpful in life to have a cheerleader. It’s almost unfair to have one as good as my wife, Nicole.

Michael Hilliard
Millersville, Maryland

What driveprofile pictures you to write?
My favorite quote is “The best vehicle to get you somewhere fast isn’t a plane, train, or a car. It’s a book.” Writing is something deep inside me. My mind is always working, and I get ideas that won’t leave me alone until I write them down.

How long have you been writing?
My entire life! When I was five years old my mother caught me stapling folded construction paper to write a book about birds. I still have it, as well as the hundreds of short stories that followed.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from James’ class so far?
I learned the importance of creating an outline and to not just strive to write a novel but a best-seller. Also, I like how James maintains a working notebook of ideas. I’ve started one and already see the benefit of being able to draw from it in the future.

How do you plan to keep readers engrossed in your story?
It all starts with the character and making sure they are interesting, believable, and likable. I thoroughly enjoy researching and sprinkling in bits of interesting and sometimes quirky information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *