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.

Meet Semifinalists EJ Flynn & Veronica Forand

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 EJ Flynn and Veronica Forand!

EJ Flynn
Mamaroneck, NY

EJ FlynnHow long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing since I was fifteen, so nearly thirty years. I started writing because I wanted to imagine my life as an adult, so I wrote about myself and my best friends in our late twenties.

Which writers do you aspire to be like?
My favorite authors (other than Mr. Patterson) are Stephen King, John Saul, Dean Koontz, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Michael Connelly and Danielle Steel. If I could be half as talented and find half as much success as these authors, I would be blessed.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from James’ class so far?
The most important thing I’ve learned is to write everyday. Find a way, no matter what, to write for at least an hour every single day.

Who has been the most supportive of your writing? How do they help you?
My family has been the most supportive of my writing. My sister Lisa gifted me the James Patterson MasterClass because she truly believes in my writing and encouraged me to enter the contest. My cousin Patti is my fellow writer. She and I send each other our work for critique and motivation. My husband and my eight year old daughter support me the most everyday.

Veronica Forand
Newtown Square, PA

What drivVeronica Forandes you to write?
I love thinking up ideas for books I’d love to read. If I don’t enjoy reading my own book, no one else will either. Once an idea takes hold in my imagination, I sit down and plot out the story. Plotting a thriller is my favorite intellectual activity; a puzzle that has an infinite number of solutions, but only a few possibilities that will engage a reader all the way through. After I write the dreaded first draft, I dive into the language. I rewrite often so the words flow, allowing a reader to become absorbed in the story and not be bogged down by vocabulary or grammar.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from James’ class so far?
His focus on hard work and creating habits that will enhance his career really made sense to me. He spoke about writing at five am while working in advertising full-time. No excuses. By making writing a priority every day, my productivity has increased, but even more important, my enjoyment of writing has increased. This is not a chore, nor is it a hobby that I fit into a busy  schedule. This is my passion, and I take all the time I need to create stories others will want to read.

How do you plan to keep readers engrossed in your story?
My story follows two completely different women investigating a murder. One was raised on  Southern manners and charm, while the other is a gritty New Yorker who has no problem breaking the law to solve a crime. They need to work together despite their mutual hatred for each other. I hope the conflict between them and the outside forces working against them will  create a story that is hard to put down.

Who has been the most supportive of your writing? How do they help you?
My biggest support is the romance writing community. As a brand new writer, my local writing group, the Valley Forge Romance Writers, offered advice, looked over my early manuscripts,  and offered a shoulder to cry on. These remarkable women are always available to celebrate  successes and to commiserate over failure. I love them all.

Meet Semifinalists Kecia Bal & Lynette Eason

Thank you to everyone who participated in the James Patterson Co-Author Competition and congratulations to the semifinalists! For the rest of the week, we will be featuring two of the ten semifinalists each day, so that you can get to know them and learn about their backgrounds as writers. Today, we’d like you to meet MasterClass students Kecia Bal and Lynette Eason!

Kecia Bal
Somerset, Pennsylvania

KeciaWhat drives you to write?
A desire to make people care, make them feel something. And stubbornness. I’m going to show up and write, even when it’s not flowing because I know the reward: that rush that comes when something aligns – in a way that feels like magic – and it is working and I’m there, ready. There’s nothing like that.

How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing stories since I was able to draw pictures. Professionally, I sold my first story (a piece for a travel website) at age 17 for $50. I was a newsroom intern by 19 and a full-time journalist by 21.

How do you plan to keep readers engrossed in your story?
I’ll keep a heart-racing pace with high stakes, swift twists, compelling questions, and, eventually, satisfying answers. I want readers to feel bound to the characters, and I want to surprise them – or scare them or charm them – on every page and keep them guessing until the last page.

Who has been the most supportive of your writing? How do they help you?
I am blessed with loving, supportive family – but you never really know whether you’re on to something until someone who doesn’t have to love what you make says you’re on to something. I have honest teachers and friends who helped me most by being editors – telling me what’s not working and where to cut to let what is working shine. My sons remind me daily that playfulness and curiosity are what shine brightest.

Lynette Eason
Simpsonville, South Carolina

LynetteWhat drives you to write?
Writing started out being a way to ease the loneliness that was the result of a hard-working and traveling husband. Since then, it’s become my passion. It’s my job, and I love it.

If you could spend 5 minutes with James, what questions would you ask him?
What’s the one book that’s been written that you wish you’d thought of?

Which writers do you aspire to be like?
I admire and have learned from John Grisham, Debbie Macomber, Lee Child, James Patterson, Terri Blackstock, Dee Henderson and others. I don’t really aspire to be like them. I want to be myself. 🙂

Who has been the most supportive of your writing? How do they help you?
My family has been super supportive. I’m so thankful for their understanding when I need to write–and the fact that they like take out, know how to do laundry, and don’t hate me when I forget they’re in the room.

James Patterson’s Co-Author Semifinalists

“There are a lot of people who have the talent, but haven’t been shown the door to walk through.”—James Patterson

James Patterson has been so impressed by students in his MasterClass that 8 weeks ago he announced that he would pick one student to become his newest co-author.

We received thousands of submissions for the James Patterson Co-Author Competition. We are blown away not only at the quality of the submissions, but even more importantly the encouragement, advice, and collaboration we saw in the class community.

Today, we’re excited to announce the 10 semifinalists who have been selected based on their submissions. These semifinalists will receive a $1,000 cash prize and 3 will move on to the final round where they will receive $2,500 and submit an outline for a chance to become James’ co-author.

So, without further ado, here are the ten semifinalists for the James Patterson Co-Author Competition!

  • Kecia Bal
  • Lynette Eason
  • EJ Flynn
  • Veronica Forand
  • Jeff Gunhus
  • Michael Hilliard
  • Ellery Kane
  • Theresa Schultz
  • Sarah Smothers
  • Jacob Turner

Congratulations to everyone who participated in the competition and to our semifinalists! It was an incredibly difficult decision, and we’ve been amazed by the number of great submissions. Be sure to come back to learn more about the semifinalists. Tune in on April 12th when we announce the top three finalists and on May 24th when we announce James’ newest co-author!

Student Highlight: Paula Bast

Bast Vagabond ALv

Photo Credit: Barbara Schucko

A collector of experiences, feeling and love. That’s how Paula Bast, a student in Usher’s MasterClass (and soon Christina Aguilera’s class) describes herself. Paula recently shared the music video for her song, “Angel of Love,” with the class and we gotta say, it fits her description pretty well.

Originally from Bogotá, Colombia, but constantly on the go, Paula is an artist who is sharing her heart with the class and we love that. We wanted to know more about Paula and her experience in Usher’s MasterClass so we decided to make her our first Student Highlight!

Check out Paula’s music video and what she’s learned from Usher’s class below.

What type of performer are you and how did you get your start?

I am very new to performing. I love to entertain. Above all, I love to create and share those creations. The only experience I’ve had performing live thus far has been doing improvised painting. I got started when a friend invited me to tour with her band painting on-stage. Since then, I’ve started making my own music as well and I’m trying to strengthen skills that will enable me to share more art and music with the world.

Who are some of your greatest performance inspirations?

Marina Abramović, FKA Twigs, and Shakira. I love the artistry, authenticity and creativity that is projected through each of their performances. They’re edgy, bold, and raw.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from Usher so far?
Get out there. It’s okay to be vulnerable, that is the most important part about being fearless.

What is the next step in your performance journey?
I’m currently in the pre-production stage of my first album. My next step is to build up confidence so I can perform all the new creations myself, live. I signed up for Christina’s vocal MasterClass to gain confidence with my voice and strengthen my vocal technique. I want to keep performing and collaborating with artists from all disciplines. I think some of the most creative projects come from a collection of creative minds.

Want to learn more about Paula? You can connect with her in Usher’s MasterClass and check her out on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. You can also sign up to be one of Paula’s supporters on Patreon and keep the music coming!

Are you interested in being featured as a future student highlight? Share your work with the class in your class’s Student Group and you could be featured next!

Exciting News

We have exciting news. Since launching in May, we’ve been blown away by the response to our classes. We couldn’t ask for more amazing instructors or students! Today we are announcing that we’ve raised $15 million in Series B funding to continue our mission to make it possible for anyone in the world to learn from the very best. The Series B was led by New Enterprise Associates, Inc. (NEA) (Partner: Rick Yang). Before this latest round, we raised a $4.5 million Series A led by Javelin Venture Partners (Partner: Alex Gurevich) and two seed rounds totaling $1.9 million both led by Harrison Metal (Founder: Michael Dearing). Our other investors include: Bloomberg Beta, Novel TMT Ventures, Advancit Capital, WME Ventures, Downey Ventures, Usher, Yan-David Erlich and Matthew Rutler (MX Investments).

We couldn’t ask for better investors and are very excited to create more classes, build more interactive tools and grow the MasterClass team.

Give the Gift of MasterClass!


Give the gift of mastery this year with MasterClass! Check gifts off your shopping list with online classes by Dustin Hoffman (acting), Serena Williams (tennis), James Patterson (writing), Usher (performance), and Kevin Spacey (acting).

You can send a MasterClass Gift Card by mail for delivery by December 24th (order must be placed by December 13th) or email for delivery on a date of your choosing.

To purchase a gift, select any of our classes and click the “give as a gift” button!