Category Archives: Renegade

Fiction and Storytelling as a Way of Visualizing Success

Authors are often surprised by the reactions of readers who seem to find things in our stories or arguments that we didn’t even see ourselves. I’m no exception. In fact, the way readers peel back the layers of my stories and characters energizes me as a writer as well as me personally.

I recently experienced this as I read reviews of A Warrior’s Soul, my middle-grade novel that traces the lead character’s evolution from a self-doubting and fearful victim to a leader willing to use his martial-arts skills to confront his middle school’s bullies. The martial arts could easily be seen as a plot device for ensuring the good guy, in this case Luke, wins, much like James Bond’s gadgets and high-tech weapons allow him to get out of impossible situations. I didn’t see Luke’s story that way, but I could see where some readers (and critics) might.
However, most readers, kids and parents alike, have recognized a more complicated plot line. A Warrior’s Soul is a story about a kid who needs to believe in himself more than anything else. His martial-arts skills, in fact, are useless because he doesn’t believe in himself. It’s only when he develops his own self-confidence that he begins to use the martial-arts skills for what they are: tools for solving a problem. Readers in the real world, it turned out, see in Luke’s story (and his best friend Lucy’s) a path toward resolving a seemingly intractable problem. In other words, my fictional story provided a way to visualize a real world solution.
I didn’t quite think of my story in this way until I read Tori Eldridge‘s excellent book Empowered Living: A Guide to Physical and Emotional Protection (a book I highly recommend). Tori’s book is a slim volume but chock-full of insight, common sense, and hard-earned practical wisdom. Among the nuggets that starting churning through my brain was something I knew from years of public speaking and participating in rigorous sports: Visualization is a critical component of success, even if the visualization is imaginary. As Tori says (p. 31), “The imagination is a powerful tool…. Studies have proven that repetitive visualization of a task results in the same, if not greater improvement than physically practicing the task.” 
And this is what A Warrior’s Soul (and probably Renegade) does for kids experiencing bullying. Luke’s path becomes a way for kids to visualize a way out of a nasty situation, even if they aren’t martial artists. Luke’s courage becomes their courage. Luke’s discovered faith in his own self worth and ability to stand up against violence becomes a way for real kids to think about how they can follow in similar foot steps. When a eighth grade teacher in Florida asked one of her students what he liked most about A Warrior’s Soul, his response was that it just seemed “really real.” He could see himself as Luke.
And adults respond similarly. For example, 
  • Becca Bryant writes at “With bullying being such a huge problem in today’s society I think this book really opens the door to teach not only young boys that they have a voice but also girls.
  • Pamela Wilson writes: “I would recommend this book to any pre-teen/teen boy or girl. It shows them what bullied children are going through, and positive ways to resolve the situation.
  • Adrian Moore writes: “I think this book will help teach kids to take charge of their problems, when adults can’t help them.
Honestly, I was taken aback at first by these comments (which are small parts of their larger reviews) because I didn’t intend for the book to be a “how to” guide on dealing with bullies. In fact, I include a disclaimer at the beginning so that it wouldn’t. This was supposed to be a good story with good characters, albeit grounded in a contemporary public school setting. 
What I’ve come to realize, however, is that fiction serves a very important role in the real world by allowing readers, whether young or old, to visualize, and perhaps even take, different paths toward solving problems in their everyday lives. That’s a very powerful, and humbling, insight into the power of our medium. 
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While I’ve Been Gone…..

Apologies to my readers for my neglect of my blog for the past few months. I’ve been busy getting my latest book, Renegade, into press and launched. Fortunately, I have good news to report!
Renegade was successfully launched on October 19, 2012 as part of a web-based broadcast during national bullying week at the Quest Center for Study of Martial Arts in Dayton, Ohio. The following weekend, I launched the Renegade in Florida with a book signing at the Bookshelf at Midtown in Tallahassee, Florida. Most recently, we found out that Renegade won 2nd place in the nationally competitive Seven Hills Literary Contest!

We’ve also started getting a few excellent reviews; check them out at

So, I’ve been out and about even though I haven’t been blogging. Now that Renegade is out, I plan to get back to regular posts right here.

Thanks for everyone that has helped make Renegade a reality in 2012! 

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“Renegade” Wins 2nd Place in National Competition

“Renegade” Wins 2nd Place in National Literary Competition

Middle Grade Novel Explores Bullying, Urban Gangs and Self Defense

Tallahassee, Florida, November 26, 2012—The Tallahassee Writer’s Association (TWA) has announced that Renegade, a middle grade novel about urban violence, bullying, and self-defense by SR Staley, won second place in the Children’s Chapter Book division of the 2012 Seven Hills Literary Contest ( The first and third place winners in the chapter book division included authors from Maryland and California. All winners from all divisions are featured in Volume 18 of the Seven Hills Review, now available on

Renegade tells the story of Maria, a seventh grader in an urban middle school, whose world is turned upside down when she is targeted by her school’s most powerful gang. Faced with escalating threats and violence, she has to choose between new ways to defend herself or sticking with familiar streetwise skills.

Eighth graders one Minnesota middle school to their teacher, Charlene Irvin-Brown, “that all teachers and staff…should be required to read Renegade” because they felt that “Renegade explains a lot about why kids behave the way they do.”  Donna Meredith, a former high-school English teacher and author of The Color of Lies, writes: “The pacing of Renegade makes it an entertaining novel for all young people and an especially fine choice to engage reluctant readers. The action is relentless.”

 “I believe that this book should be in every 6th grade program across the country,” writes anotherreader at “It reminded me so much of when I was a young and misunderstood teenage girl. The choices she makes when faced with her day to day problems are heartwarming. It also made me take a second look at how I react with my own children.”

Renegade is the second book in the Path of the Warrior series by SR Staley ( and his third young adult novel. The series examines contemporary violence, bullying and self- using a modern martial arts perspective. The first book in the series, A Warrior’s Soul, follows the story of Luke and Lucy as they face down bullies in their suburban middle school. SR Staley’s first young-adult novel, The Pirate of Panther Bay, tells the tale of Isabella, an escaped slave who finds herself captaining a pirate ship in the violent and tempestuous 18th century Caribbean Sea.

DISCLOSURE: SR Staley is a professional member of the TWA, but all entries in the Seven Hills Literary Contest are blind reviewed anonymously by experts in their respective genres.

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Renegade Release Set for October 19th!

Renegade, the second book in the Path of the Warrior series, is set to officially launch on October 19, 2012 as part of a public event at the Quest Center for Martial Arts in Dayton, Ohio.

Through a special arrangement with the Quest Center, we are offering a 25% discount on pre-orders placed by September 30, 2012.

One review is already in! “Students said that all teachers and staff, including administration, at [our school] should be required to read Renegade after it is published. They feel that Renegade explains a lot about why kids behave the way they do.” C.IB., middle school English teacher, Minnesota.

From the back cover:

Maria’s world turns upside down when she becomes the target of a gang taking over Carson Middle School. She soon learns her street smarts and savvy ar no match for the bullies and thugs that make up her school’s biggest gang.

Maria finds some hope when she unexpectedly finds herself under the instruction of two mysterious martial arts instructors. But is it too little, too late? Can the streetwise tough girl re-learn everything she knows about fighting and survival to keep the gangs at bay?

Ultimately, the choice of how to confront the thugs and gangs is hers alone, and Maria must choose between the way she knows and a new way forward. And the stakes couldn’t be higher: Her life, and her school, depend on making the right choice. 

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What’s in a Log Line?

I recently submitted the manuscript to the second book in the Path of the Warrior Series, Renegade, to a literary competition sponsored by the Florida Writers Association. (Full disclosure: I’m a member.) One of the requirements was submitting a log line.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but I really didn’t know what a log line was. It turns out, a log line is a very short, one sentence “pitch” for your book or manuscript. A log line is an even shorter and more pithy “elevator pitch” that effectively assumes the person in the elevator is getting off at the next floor. Log lines are fundamental to selling screen plays, but I hadn’t run across them for novels. That’s a shame; writers should do this with all their work.

The essence of a log line is to distill the fundament conflict and story into one sentence to convey what is interesting about your book. Characters don’t need to be named, but the basic tensions and conflicts should be apparent. A site identifying the top 100 log lines for screen plays can be found here. Norman Hollyn has put together a quick analysis of good and bad log lines as well.

The log line I submitted for Renegade is:

“A 13-year old ‘tough girl’ finds herself in a harrowing struggle for survival when a Latina gang attempts to take over her school.”

Here’s a log line for A Warrior’s Soul:

“A ‘normal’ 13-year old boy is must grapple with his own insecurities when he is faced defending himself and his friends from a bully and his thugs by re-discovering martial-arts skills he considered useless.”

Here’s a log line for The Pirate of Panther Bay:

“A female ex-slave captains a pirate ship in the 18th century Caribbean and falls in love while fighting off mutineers, rival pirates, pirate hunters and a brutal Spanish colonial government.”

While a log line should ultimately be about provoking interest in your book, this is a great exercise because if forces an author to really dig down into their story and also establish for focused marketing efforts for their book.

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Does a Writer Have to Sacrifice Story for Action?

One of the more important dilemmas facing a middle-grade writer, particularly one that wants to target boys, is the trade-off between story and action. A good story is crucial to a successful novel as characters and setting are weaved together in a plot to keep forward momentum in the book.

In fact, that’s one of the first rules of writing: Keep the pace of the story moving forward. A good story is almost always moved forward through conflict. (For a great discussion and “how to guide” to using conflict as the basis for crafting story, see the book on screenwriting by Robert McKee titled Story.) But conflict comes in many forms, sometimes focusing on relationships (confict between people), sometimes focused on physical survival (man v. nature), sometimes focused on personal psychological obstacles (e.g., self-doubt or self-esteem).
Identifying the nature of the conflict is criticial for writing for boys. I discuss this is a recent video on Youtube (VL-7), but the gist of the issue is this: Boys are more in tune with action and physical sources of conflict. We hear it all the time (and parents know it’s true): Boys are impatient and are “bundles of energy.” They really don’t become engaged with emotional or interpersonal sources of conflict. Their perspective is framed fundamentally by their developmental stage, which, in the teen years, if more driven by physical development. More importantly, their emotional development is tied to this physical development. The twin forces–physical and emotional conflict–frames the way boys handle conflict. Novelists take note!

For writers focused on engaging boys, the trick is to fuse emotional conflict with physical action in order to create a story. In some ways, this requires the novel to be more layered and complex than in more traditional approaches to writing. Sometimes I think (incorrectly) that a novel for a girl could sustain itself solely on the emotional conflict between her and her mother or best friend. (Importantly, girls like action too, but they are also more open, willing, and accepting of emotionally driven stories.)

Writing action sequences is an art in itself. Combining the physicality of action with the emotional conflict that creates complex story lines can be dauntingt, but it’s not impossible. Thus, I don’t think writers have to sacrifice story for action. I think I achieved some of this goal with A Warrior’s Soul (at least if the reviews are a meaningful indicator). The action starts with the first sentence, but the emotional content is embedded in the lead character’s response:

Hands trembling, Luke crouched behind the plastic trash can and prayed he’d be okay. The crumbling brick wall should have been enough to hide him. The rattling chains from belts and scattering rocks from scurrying books warned him it might not.

The story really takes off from here, using the action to drive the plot and conflict that ultimately results in Luke making a critical decision in the book’s climax that resolves an essential emotional dilemma (and completes his character arc).

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