The Hemingway Editor: What is it and Can it Improve Your Writing?

(originally published as a guest post on

If you want to be taken seriously as a writer, it’s imperative you become what Jerry calls a ferocious self-editor.

There’s no way around it.

Little irritates an agent or a publisher’s acquisitions editor more than having their time wasted by a writer who doesn’t edit and revise his own work before submitting it for consideration.

Given the vast array of training and resources for doing just that, now available on the internet, there’s no excuse.

You don’t have to be an English grammar expert to write well — but you do have to know how to self-edit. It takes work and perseverance, and most writers face a learning curve.

But in the end it’s worth it, and it can revolutionize your writing and your chance at success.

While learning to recognize and remedy your mistakes, an app like The Hemingway Editor can help save you time and frustration. And it can also make you a better self-editor, and thus, a better writer.

What is the Hemingway Editor?

Ernest Hemingway was a pioneer in a simple, direct writing style, exactly what the Hemingway App seeks to deliver.

It’s a web and desktop self-editing tool created by Adam and Ben Long that highlights the overuse of adverbs and passive voice, and flags wordy sentences — common errors writers make.

It does not, however, highlight most grammatical or spelling errors, and is not intended to function as a comprehensive editor.

The web version of the app is free. The desktop version carries a one-time $19.99 fee and is available for both Mac (OSX 10.9+) and PC (Windows 7+) systems.

How the Hemingway Editor Works

As editing apps go, this one ranks high in the easy-to-use category. Both versions allow you to work in write or edit mode and easily switch between the two.

Write Mode

The writing mode works like any word processor, but it won’t distract you by highlighting misspelled words as you go. To use the online version, simply highlight the sample text, delete it, and paste in or create your own.

But beware: There’s no automatic way to save or back up your work — so unless you copy and paste it into Word or something similar, if you lose your connection, you may lose your work.

You’re better off writing in a separate program and copying and pasting it into the Hemingway App before using the app.

Once you’re ready to edit, click on “Edit” mode in the upper right hand corner.

hemingway editor

Edit Mode

Edit mode displays formatting options at the top and allows you to view the Hemingway App’s suggested edits (highlighted), which are also summarized in the column on the right.

The varied colors allow you to easily identify each type of error.

In the case of words or short phrases, simply hover above the highlighted area for suggestions to appear.

Once you make the suggested edits, the highlights will disappear.

The Hemingway Editor also gives your writing a readability score, and displays just below it other specifics like word count and reading time.

Blue: highlights weak words, typically adverbs.

hemingway app editor mode

E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web and one of the authors of The Elements of Style, suggests you “Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives andadverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.”

For additional help, I recommend Jerry’s post 249 Strong Verbs That’ll Instantly Supercharge Your Writing.

Green: highlights the use of passive voice.

hemingway editor remove passive voice

Instead, eliminating as many state-of-being verbs as you can will tighten and clarify your writing.

For more on this common issue, read Jerry’s post, How to Fix Passive Voice.

Purple: highlights complicated words or phrases and sometimes suggests a replacement, aiming for clear, concise writing.

hemingway editor omit complex words

Yellow: highlights complex sentences and paragraphs and suggests shortening them.

Red: highlights complex, very hard-to-read sentences and paragraphs.

hemingway editor readability score

Free vs. Paid

Two primary differences between the free and paid versions:

  1.  The free version does not allow you to export or save your work.
  2. The paid version not only allows you to save and export your documents, but you are also given the option of publishing directly to WordPress or Medium.

Both versions offer the full Hemingway Editor analysis.

Bottom line, for short pieces and quick help, the free version is sufficient. If you’re writing anything longer, or planning to publish online, the paid version may be worth your investment.

Hemingway Editor Pros and Cons


  • It’s easy to use.
  • You can test it without obligation.
  • The offline editor is worth the price of the app.
  • The free online version is sufficient for editing short pieces, though you will have to cut and paste when you’re finished.
  • It’s great for helping you learn to be more concise.
  • The separate modes allow you to edit while you write, if you wish.


  • The free version doesn’t allow you to save your work.
  • It’s not a comprehensive grammar or spelling checker.

How Does the Hemingway Editor Stack Up Against the Competition?

If you’re looking for a free app to help you self-edit, The Hemingway Editor can be a great addition to your writing toolbox.

For a more comprehensive editing program, ProWritingAid or Grammarly may be a better fit.

Hemingway App vs. ProWritingAid

ProWritingAid helps you edit every aspect of your writing, so it’s far more thorough in helping review and analyze your writing.

ProWritingAid also offers a less comprehensive free version that allows you to try the program, as well as an annual membership option with or without the plagiarism check.

hemmingway app

Like the Hemingway App, you are able to download the ProWritingAid app for ease of use. It’s compatible with Microsoft Word, Scrivener, or any other writing program.

For more on ProWritingAid, click here to read Jerry’s full review.

Hemingway Editor vs. Grammarly

Grammarly is closer to the Hemingway Editor in terms of purpose, however, you must download the app to use it.

Grammarly beats the competition by spotting spelling errors and highlighting grammar and punctuation issues. It also spots passive voice, redundancies, and complex sentences.

The free version may be all you need, but the more comprehensive version will cost:

  • $30 per month for the monthly subscription
  • $60 every three months for the quarterly subscription
  • $144 for the annual subscription (billed as one payment)
hemingway app editor vs grammarly

For more on Grammarly, click here for Jerry’s full review.

The Hemingway Editor: Can it Really Improve Your Writing?

If you’re a beginning writer or just looking for a free or reasonably-priced app that helps you tighten your writing, the Hemingway Editor could be a useful tool.

The app is helpful in recognizing complex, wordy sentences and passive voice, but because it misses so many other issues, it ranks below ProWritingAid and Grammarly for me.

Nothing replaces actually doing the writing and learning to effectively self-edit. Tools like the Hemingway Editor can help you, but they won’t write for you.

Dynamic and Static Characters: The Difference and Why it Matters

(Originally published as a guest post on

Memorable, believable characters are crucial to every good story.

Consider what makes these literary classics so unforgettable:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Each has a cast of flawed characters whose growth—their character arcs—makes all the difference.

Two essential types of characters exist in a story: dynamic and static. Understanding them can help you compel readers to keep turning the pages.

What is a Dynamic Character?

dynamic vs. static

One who, because of the internal and external obstacles he faces, and the lessons he learns, experiences significant change by the end of a story.

The more challenges, the better the story. The toughest challenges beget the most radical transformations.

Lead characters are usually dynamic, but not always.

Dynamic Character Examples:

Katniss Everdeen: She begins The Hunger Games trying to feed and protect her family following the death of her father.

But when Prim, her sister, is selected as Tribute for District 12, Katniss knows she won’t survive, so she volunteers to take her place alongside the baker’s son Peeta, the chosen male Tribute.

Peeta has had a crush on Katniss since childhood, but does Katniss feel the same way, or does she merely pretend for strategic reasons?

As Katniss and Peeta fight to survive, the twists and turns of the game keep readers wondering if either will. In the end, Katniss becomes a hero who inspires hope (and a rebellion) in her countrymen.

Ebenezer Scrooge: He begins A Christmas Carol selfish, miserly, and miserable, an old man who seems to despise anything good, even carolers trying to spread cheer on Christmas Eve.

But that very night he’s visited by the ghost of his former business partner and then the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. He watches as not a single soul cares enough about him to mourn his death.

In the end, he becomes a generous, gracious, kindhearted gentleman bent on keeping the Christmas Spirit alive for the rest of his life.

Walter White: The main character in the hit AMC series Breaking Bad begins as a high school science teacher who learns he has cancer. His insurance company refuses to cover all his treatments, putting him on the verge of bankruptcy.

He’s already working two jobs and has taken out a second mortgage on his home. A ride-along on a drug bust with his DEA brother-in-law gives Walter an idea: he could use his scientific knowledge to develop quality meth and make a bundle.

A chance encounter with a former student results in an unlikely partnership, and so begins the secret life of Walter White. Not only is he able to quickly meet the financial needs of his family, but his drug business also becomes so lucrative it ultimately destroys everyone involved.

The opposite character arc from Scrooge, for example, White has gone from high school teacher to drug lord.

Dynamic vs. Static Characters

Static characters often get a bad rap, but that’s not always deserved.

While dynamic characters experience life-altering changes, the personalities, behaviors, and morals of static characters remain largely unchanged.

But that doesn’t have to mean they’re boring. It just means they don’t experience a major internal transformation like dynamic characters do.

Static Character Examples:

James Bond: In his 12-novel series, Ian Fleming created the perfect static character. Though he’s a charming, sophisticated, dangerous British Secret Service Agent who fights crime, he personally remains unchanged.

Smaug: The deadly, fire breathing dragon who captures Erebor in The Hobbit, sits atop a golden treasure he’ll protect at any cost.

When Bilbo steals a chalice, Smaug wakes and fights, which results in his ultimate downfall. His character remains unchanged throughout.

Albus Dumbledore: For most of the Harry Potter series, Dumbledore is seen as the beloved grandfatherly Headmaster at Hogwarts.

We readers grow fond of him too, as we learn his backstory, but his character remains unchanged during the series.

Only after his death do we learn more about his sins and virtues, and that he never fully rid himself of the dark side he hid so well.

How to Create a Dynamic Character

1. Give him a history.

Your character’s history—his backstory—shaped him into the person he is today.

The more thoroughly you know him, the easier it’ll be to determine where change can occur during your story.

Things you should know, whether or not you choose to include them:

  • When and where was he born?
  • Who are his parents?
  • Does he have brothers and sisters (include names and ages)?
  • Did he attend high school? College? Graduate school? Where and for how long?
  • What’s his political affiliation?
  • What’s his occupation?
  • How much does he make?
  • What are his goals?
  • What are his skills and talents?
  • What does his spiritual life look like?
  • Who are his friends?
  • Who is his best friend?
  • Is he single? Dating? Married?
  • What’s his worldview?
  • What’s his personality type?
  • What triggers his anger?
  • What gives him joy?
  • What’s he afraid of?

2. Give him human qualities.

To be human is to be flawed and vulnerable.

Even superheroes have weaknesses. Superman’s is Kryptonite. Daredevil’s is a high-pitched sound. Thor is stronger when he has his hammer. The Green Lantern can stop just about anything unless it’s made of wood.

If you want readers to identify with dynamic characters, those characters must have human weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

Just make sure those faults aren’t irreparable—don’t make your protagonist a fearful, wimpy slob who can do nothing right.

3. Give him heroic qualities, too.

Plunge him into terrible trouble and allow him to learn valuable lessons as he tries (and fails) to fight his way out. But eventually allow him to show readers what he’s made of.

Have him develop courage and conviction. Make him grow strong, selfless, honest, and determined. Give him moral integrity.

Maybe he begins as the underdog deathly afraid of spiders or heights, or has an unhealthy addiction. But in the end, he must rise above his flaws, overcome the challenge, and become the hero who keeps readers turning the pages

4. Make sure there’s internal and external conflict.

dynamic vs. static

Conflict is the engine of fiction—and that’s usually external.

But what happens to your character internally is also important. What your hero thinks, feels, and tells himself directly influences his eventual transformation.

Draw upon your own experience to create a whole character, inside and out.

What are your innermost doubts and fears? How do you respond to danger?

Mix and match behaviors from yourself and others to determine your hero’s natural internal and external responses.

5. Show, don’t tell.

Like Jerry always says, this is the cardinal rule of fiction.

Show readers who your character is through his thoughts, actions, and dialogue. Then trust readers enough to let them deduce the rest.

That gives readers the best reading experience.

Start Developing Dynamic Characters

Positive growth or not, a dynamic character always changes over the course of a story.

Explore dynamic characters in stories you read to learn what makes them work, and how you can do it.

Develop dynamic characters who feel real, and they’ll become unforgettable.

For additional help developing your characters, visit:

12 Character Archetypes You Can Use To Create Heroes Your Reader Will Love

(originally published as a guest post on

There’s no way around it:

If you want to write a story that pulls in readers, you must include compelling characters.

They need to feel:

  • Believable
  • Mysterious
  • Relatable

But that’s difficult to pull off—one reason most stories are unpublishable.

Maybe you’re feeling this tension right now.

Maybe you’ve created a character with an amazing backstory that includes everything from where he was born to his hair and eye color, where he works, who his best friends are, and what hobbies he enjoys.

Yet it’s obvious something is still missing. And you can’t put your finger on what that is.

That’s why I wrote this character archetype guide: to give you a shortcut to giving your characters a set of desires, fears, and struggles that feel familiar—and because of that, believable.

For a character to be believable, he needs to be realistic.

[I use male pronouns inclusively here to represent both genders to avoid the awkward he/she or him/her, fully recognizing that many lead characters are female, as are a majority of readers.]

For him to be realistic, he needs to fit a certain psychological profile. Within that profile, there’s lots of wiggle room—things like motivation, his reaction to the variety of circumstances you’ll plunge him into, his background are all important—but who is he?

  • What does he fear?
  • What motivates him?
  • What does he care about most?

In other words, what makes your character tick? Figure that out, and your character’s archetype will jump off the screen and give your readers a character they’ll love.

character archetypes

What Is a Character Archetype?

Merriam-Webster defines archetype as “the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies.” 

A character archetype is a pattern of behavior inherent in a vast number of people.

If you think this method will make your writing too predictable, remember: you’re in control of the story. A character archetype is merely a pattern—and, just like real human beings, every character has his own quirks and idiosyncrasies that make him unique.

So then, how do you take a character archetype and use it as a starting place to create a unique character?

How to Use Character Archetypes

While the study of character archetypes can be helpful for character development, be careful not to let it influence you too much.

Educate yourself, read stories that feature the kind of characters you wish to create, then set everything aside and let your imagination take over.

Create unique characters that make sense and tell your story.

12 Common Types of Character Archetypes (with Examples)

The 12 Main Character ArchetypesThere are hundreds of character archetypes with their own categories and subcategories—far too many to list in one post. All can be useful tools in creating believable characters.A few of the most common (based on personality tests like the Enneagram):

1. The Reformer

Always a leader. He has a deep desire to do right, to feel useful and valuable.

He’s rational, idealistic, principled, and at his best has self-control.

At his worst, he’s a perfectionist. He fears failure.

Conflict comes easily. Others must see things his way, or he becomes critical and cutting.

Examples: Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird and Lady Isobel Crawley in Downton Abbey 

2. The Helper

Always focused on improving the lives of others, he truly feels privileged that others choose him to be a part of their lives.

He does everything to keep people from harm. He’s humble, thoughtful, compassionate, generous, and loyal.

He has a tendency to be overprotective and loyal to a fault. He’s a people pleaser. He wants to be loved and will bend over backwards to make that happen. He manipulates people with his good nature.

The helper wants to avoid conflict, to the point that he often plays the martyr.

Example: Robert McCall in The Equalizer

3. The Individualist

By definition, he likes to be alone but doesn’t necessarily always prefer it.

He’s a creative visionary who hates restrictions. I’m sure it won’t shock you to learn that he’s also an independent thinker.

At his worst, he’s fragile. He cares deeply about what others think of him.

While he wants to be loved, he feels no one knows him well enough to love him fully—so, he usually ends up alone, or just aloof when he’s with people.

The individualist is a bear when it comes to conflict, because he loves to dredge up the past.

Example: Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire 

4. The Achiever

An ambitious, successful individual usually seen as a role model. He’s success-oriented: practical, flexible, and driven.

But he’s very concerned about how others see him.

He needs to feel important and valuable to those he loves. One of his worst fears is becoming irrelevant or useless. In conflict, he needs to be right and will go to great lengths to prove he is.

Example: Frasier Crane in Frasier

5. The Investigator

By definition, he enjoys discovering why things work the way they do. Problem solving is what he does best.

He’s brave, determined, intelligent, and creative. He loves exploring the unknown.

At his worst, the investigator is a loner. To his credit, he’s also an observer. He feels it best to take things in from a distance and contemplate, keeping his information close to the vest. He trusts only a very few people.

In conflict, the investigator is usually the calm, rational one because, remember, he’s the problem solver. He’ll ask lots of questions and get to the bottom of it one way or another.

Examples: Fox Mulder in X-Files, Sherlock Holmes

6. The Peacemaker

More than anything, he wants everyone to get along. He’s content, easy going, modest, and unassuming. He trusts easily and is emotionally stable.

At his worst, he’s complacent.  He’s a worrier. He’s not someone who enjoys being assertive, unless he has to be. He avoids conflict and often will go along just to get along.

Example: Mr. Rogers in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

7. The Challenger

A strong leader who takes charge, he’s protective of himself and those he loves.

He’s self-assured and makes decisions quickly. Friends of a challenger never wonder where they stand.

He fears losing control. Because of this, in conflict, he’s going to win one way or another.

Example: Tony Soprano in The Sopranos

8. The Loyalist

That solid friend everyone wants in their corner, he can be trusted for the long haul, always the responsible one.

He needs loyal friends who trust and support him. He deals with stress by getting defensive and anxious.

The loyalist doesn’t deal well with conflict and easily believes he’s the persecuted one. He wants, more than anything, to feel secure.

Examples: George Costanza in Seinfeld, Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings

9. The Enthusiast

A fun person, he’s always the happiest in the room.

He’s uninhibited, flexible, and excitable. He’s always on the go and acts on impulse. He’s usually independent, smart, and productive.

At his worst, an enthusiast is scattered. He tends to take on too many things at once, because he never wants to miss a thing. Boredom is not acceptable.

In conflict, he’ll do anything to avoid pain, so he often becomes combative.

Example: Ace Ventura in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

10. The Sage

That wise, intelligent guy who always knows the right thing to do, he’s a mentor, a solid friend, and usually there to assist the hero in his quest for what’s right.

The sage is constantly studying to discover truth. He’s often a pastor, a teacher, sometimes an investigator, and always an observer.

At his worst, he can be prideful. Procrastination is his middle name. In conflict, he can tend to be a know-it-all.

Examples: Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, Professor Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter

11. The Protector

Great at both working alone and with people, he tends to accomplish more alone.

He leads by doing. He’s a warrior, an excellent teacher, compassionate, and honorable.

Watch out, though. The protector can often have a stubborn streak, and he gets impatient if he can’t help fix a problem. After a conflict, he struggles to forgive and forget.

Example: William Wallace in Braveheart

12. The Villain

Opposite the hero, this guy creates the need for a hero in the first place.

He has many likeable qualities—he’s a kind, worthy opponent, but something terrible in his past influenced who he has become—vengeful, proud, power hungry, merciless, and a guy who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

Examples: White Witch in Chronicles of Narnia, Joker in Batman.

Use these Character Archetypes to Develop Your Own Characters

Learn to recognize character archetypes in people you know, in magazine advertisements and television commercials, or in television shows and movies.

But remember, as you write, let your imagination take over.

Trust your gut.

Tell a story that makes sense, with realistic characters who possess real emotions. Be careful not to create cookie-cutter characters—instead, create unique characters your readers long to know more about.

That’ll keep them coming back for more.

(originally published as a guest post on


Tone in Writing: A Simple Guide for Authors

(originally published as a guest post on

If you’re confused about the difference between “voice” and “tone” in writing, you aren’t alone. Many writers conflate the two.

Whether you’re writing a novel, a blog post, an article, or a poem, it’s important to know the difference so you can communicate with readers in a way that resonates.

Your writing voice reflects who you are, your unique personality and character that should flavor everything you write.

Tone is the attitude with which you write it.

So, voice is what you say, and tone is how you say it. 

That sounds simple, so let’s dig deeper.

What is Tone in Writing?

We communicate tone when we speak (whether we’re aware of it or not).

Imagine you and I have an appointment and you get caught in traffic and show up half an hour late.

You always this punctual?I say with a grin.

My smile sends a clear message—I’m not upset, I’m being sarcastic. That’s tone.

Communicating tone in writing is no different.

Avoid the mistake of telling your reader what to feel. Instead, convey your attitude or emotion with carefully chosen words that create the perfect tone for your story.

Types of Tone in Writing

The list is nearly endless—show me a human emotion, I’ll show you a tone—but here are the basic ones:

  1. Formal
  2. Informal 
  3. Optimistic
  4. Pessimistic
  5. Joyful
  6. Sad
  7. Sincere
  8. Hypocritical
  9. Fearful
  10. Hopeful
  11. Humorous
  12. Serious

While tones can vary with every character and scene, the overall tone of your story must remain consistent to keep from confusing your reader and hindering your message.

Examples of Tone in Literature

Robert Frost begins his poem The Road Not Taken with a hopeful, contemplative tone.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

By the end, he’s switched to reflection and positivity.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

In The Old Man and the Sea, his final published work, Ernest Hemingway effects a tone of loneliness, sadness, defeat, and discouragement (at least on the part of the boy). 

But, you can also read into what’s not said and detect a tone of courage or expectation on the part of the old man. Who continues to fish day after day when they’ve caught nothing?

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week.

It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.

In The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis writes this passage with a clear tone of self-pity and sadness that shifts to fear. 

‘I do think,’ said Shasta, ‘that I must be the most unfortunate boy that ever lived in the whole world. Everything goes right for everyone except me…I was left behind…I was the one who was sent on…I got left out.’ And being very tired and having nothing inside him, he felt so sorry for himself that the tears rolled down his cheeks.

What put a stop to all this was a sudden fright. Shasta discovered that someone or somebody was walking beside him. It was pitch dark and he could hardly hear any footfalls. What he could hear was breathing. His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature. And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there. It was a horrible shock.

How to Develop Your Writing Tone

Have you ever written something you realized later fell flat? Here’s how to avoid this:

1. Remember your audience.

Every reader matters. Write in a straightforward, friendly manner as if having a conversation. Be real and avoid words that require a dictionary.

2. Layer in details.

Convey tone through descriptions that trigger the theater of your reader’s mind rather that being so specific that you leave nothing to his imagination.

3. Conflict is your friend.

Avoid a story that falls flat by creating what Bridget McNulty calls “an ebb and flow of tension”.

Plunge your main character into terrible trouble from the get-go and spend the rest of your story having him try to remedy the situation.

Tone can serve as one of the most important elements in writing because it gives life to a story.

Through the Tunnel to the Towers, This Foundation Honors 9/11’s Fallen Heroes

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” — Arthur Ashe

One gorgeous, sunny September morning in 2001, the “city that never sleeps” bustled like any other Tuesday morning, with students hurrying to school and professionals rushing to catch the next metro downtown to try and make it to work on time. A 34-year-old Brooklyn firefighter named Stephen Gerard Siller had just finished the late shift at Squad 1 and was on his way to play a round of golf with his brothers when his scanner crackled to life. A plane had just hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He raced back to the station to get his gear.

On his way, Siller called his wife, Sally, and asked her to postpone the golf date. He quickly retrieved his gear and attempted to drive across what was then known as the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel (now called the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel), a nearly two-mile route that connects Brooklyn to Manhattan. But the tunnel was already closed, and traffic was a nightmare.

He parked his black Ford pickup, strapped 60 pounds of gear to his back and set out on foot, running through the tunnel and straight into the scene that, by that time, had most of America frozen in disbelief, riveted to their televisions.

No doubt, Siller fought valiantly alongside his brothers that morning as they tried desperately to evacuate the doomed North and South Towers. He was last seen just outside the South Tower minutes before it collapsed at 9:59. Time seemed to stand still, as a blinding cloud of gray thundered through lower Manhattan.

When the dust began to settle, the only sound that could be heard was the shrill pitch of alarms attached to firefighters who would never make it out of the raging inferno. As the hours passed, the sounds grew less shrill, and before long, could barely be heard at all.

That terrible September day, in addition to thousands of civilians, 71 law enforcement officers and 343 firefighters perished, including 12 members of Siller’s squad. Survived by his wife of 10 years, five beautiful young children, and six siblings, by all accounts Stephen was one of a kind — full of life, and blessed with an abundance of friends and family.

It is because of his spirit and great sacrifice that the Siller family started the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, whose mission is not only to honor Stephen’s memory, but also to honor the “military and first responders who continue to make the supreme sacrifice of life and limb for our country.” In doing so, the foundation provides funds through the “Legacy of Love” program that provides for children who are orphaned both here at home and abroad, community programs like the one that provided millions in relief and aide for victims of Hurricane Sandy, the Fallen First Responder Home Program, the Gold Star Family Home Program, the Footsteps to the Future Endowment, the National Run, Walk & Climb Series, and the 9/11 Never Forget Mobile Exhibit.

The foundation is perhaps best known for “Building for America’s Bravest” — a program that “builds high-tech ‘smart homes’ around the country for the most catastrophically injured service members.”

Tunnels to Towers 5K 2016-26
Photo credit: Tunnel 2 Towers

These programs wouldn’t be possible without the amazing annual fundraising efforts in memory of Stephen Siller. Since the foundation’s creation 18 years ago, millions have been raised through the NYC Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5k Run & Walk, an event that retraces the steps Siller took that fateful day on September 11, 2001. In 2019, 55 cities hosted (or will host) the event, including Myrtle Beach, SC; North Conway, NH; Orlando, FL; Perry, GA; Cape Girardeau, MO; Buffalo, NY; Alpena, MI and many others. Thousands of runners and walkers of all ages from all over the world join the effort.

The latest fundraising effort to benefit Tunnel to Towers happened two weeks ago when Nike chose to pull their latest design that included, in their estimation, the “racist” Betsy Ross flag. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh acted quickly, got his team to design a t-shirt featuring the Betsy Ross flag, and chose to donate all proceeds to T2T. To date (9/1/19), Rush has raised and donated more than $3 million.

It’s not difficult to imagine what Stephen Siller would say were he here to witness the many fundraising efforts that allow this abundance of work to continue in his name. Stephen’s life was guided by the philosophy of St. Francis of Assisi: “while we have time, let us do good.” And that’s exactly how he lived his life, to the very last moment.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” — John 15:13

(portions of this article, written by me, appeared on Opportunity Lives on October 2, 2015. It was edited to fit current events. Photo credit: Tunnel to Towers)

How to be Gluten Free Without Annoying Everyone

So, you’re gluten free.

Regardless of how you got there, it stinks to be told you can’t have the very ingredient central to the staple of the standard American diet. There’s no question about it, it’s a challenge.

Slightly worse than that may be the reaction you get when you share your news, order in restaurants, or are forced to politely refuse repeated offers of foods you previously accepted with enthusiasm.  Watch carefully, and you’ll probably catch loved ones rolling their eyes in disgust because they’re fully convinced you’re making it all up.

I know, I’ve been there.

If you ever wonder why it is that some people think you’re so full of baloney when it comes to the gluten free diet stuff, funny guy J.P. Sears created a video that really pinpoints it perfectly.


So how can you not be this guy?

I think I can help.

How to Live a Gluten Free Lifestyle Without Annoying Everyone in Your Life

#1 Be kind.

Don’t be the obnoxious fool who loudly insists everyone bend to your dietary needs, especially if you don’t have Celiac or a gluten intolerance.  It ruins things for those of us who do.

Do you ever eat out with people who face the same struggles you do with gluten and cringe when they begin to order? Being condescending to a waitress is never going to gain you any favors.

Whether you are dealing with family, friends, or wait staff, be gracious. Explain things kindly, with respect.

Ask questions, but don’t be insulting.

Explain that your need to eat gluten free is due to illness, not a fad diet. There is never a need to explain in detail what will happen should you ingest gluten. Trust me, they don’t want to know.

#2 Be grateful.

While there are plenty of people who roll their eyes and choose not to believe you truly cannot have gluten, there are many more who do hear you and make every effort to accommodate you.

Be thankful and careful to show it. Be gracious on those occasions where, despite their best efforts, you still cannot eat what has been prepared for some reason.

I’ve had friends go to great lengths to prepare a gluten free alternative especially for me, only to realize it wasn’t done so in a place free from contamination. In the beginning, I ate the treat anyway and suffered the consequences. I don’t recommend going that route.

Just be honest, explain your reason(s), and thank them profusely for making such a huge effort on your behalf.

We love to eat out, but because my daughter and I have to eat gluten free, our choices are limited. We are blessed with friends who always ask us to make restaurant choices that work for us. I don’t thank them enough for remembering.

Wait staff who listen and are extra careful deserve an extra measure of gratitude, and when possible, an extra tip.

Always remember that showing gratitude matters–not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because you are laying a foundation for how people in your world perceive the gluten free community.

#3 Be realistic. 

You’re gluten free…you’re not dying of cancer. Remember that.

While this news can be devastating for those of us on the receiving end, the remedy–with effort–is easier today than it has ever been. Keep that in perspective.

You may have had severe illness that led to your diagnosis and in NO way am I trying to downplay that. For you, the gluten free diet is literally your lifeline. For others, it’s simply a safer, cleaner way of eating that helps them feel better.

Regardless, we are blessed enough to have something that can be cured or greatly helped by making different food choices. This is rare. Embrace and enjoy those changes rather than allowing them to devastate or define you.

#4 Be consistent.

There are few things more irritating than someone who says they’re gluten free, but occasionally eats gluten. Not only are you hurting yourself when you do so, you are telling those around you that gluten-related illness is really no big deal.

My doctor put it like this: Draino is poison. You know that. So you wouldn’t occasionally take a sip of Draino, right?

The same goes for gluten. For those of us with celiac or a severe gluten intolerance, the body treats gluten as poison and reacts to it accordingly. Knowing that, does it make sense to eat just a little gluten on purpose every now and then?

No way.

#5 Be quick to teach.

Teach others about gluten, what it is and why some people are resistant to it, but don’t lecture.

There is nothing more irritating than a know-it-all. (trust me, the rest of the world is sick to death of hearing from those)


Graciously educate people in your world about the challenges we face so that the next time they encounter someone with the same struggles, they know better and can help.

It’s not all about you.

While the video posted above is satire, for me it drives home a point worth noting–it’s not all about me. Or you.

When we put so much focus on the fact that we are gluten free, and do so rudely, forcefully, and often dishonestly, it does none of us any favors.

If you have Celiac Disease or a severe intolerance to gluten, you have a significant health  issue that, if not properly treated, can have devastating and long lasting, life altering effects on your body.

That’s a huge deal.

So, be gracious. Communicate with others in a way that lets them know you’re grateful for their understanding. Educate humbly so that others in our community will benefit from your experiences, and most importantly, consistently take care of yourself so that you can live the life God created you to live!


Homeless Teen Becomes One of America’s Greatest Influencers

Andy Andrews dug a hole for himself — literally and figuratively. As he tried to make himself comfortable in his hollow beneath the Gulf State Park Pier in Gulf Shores, Alabama, it’s safe to say he never once dreamed the New York Times would one day hail him as one of America’s great influencers.

Andrews was born and raised in Alabama, and lost both his parents at a young age. He was only 19 years old when his mother succumbed to cancer. His father was killed in a car accident only a few months later. Reeling from that loss and what he saw as his “abandonment,” life changed drastically for Andrews.

“I’ve always had the ability to take a bad situation and make it worse,” Andrews told Opportunity Lives. “So I did. I made some bad choices and ended up literally homeless and living under a pier on the Gulf Coast and in and out of people’s garages — which is not safe or smart — but I did it.”

Without a home, a steady job or a vehicle, Andrews lived under the pier. He bathed by swimming himself clean in hotel pools or showering at the beach. He earned money doing odd jobs cleaning fish or selling bait to tourists, and often found food left in the garage refrigerators and freezers of empty vacation homes. During the winter, those same garage appliances provided heat when he positioned himself just right on the floor. Life wasn’t easy and prospects were dim.

What unfolded next is chronicled in the first chapter of his 2009 New York Times bestseller, “The Noticer.” Andrews, who was 23 at the time, was settling in for the night in his spot under the pier when an old man found him and introduced himself as “Jones.” Startled and a bit hesitant, an unsuspecting Andrews shook the man’s hand — and began a relationship that would completely reshape his life.

Andrews and Jones talked a good long while that night, and as Jones turned to leave, he handed three books to Andrews and asked him to read them. They were biographies — “adventure stories,” the old man said — of Winston Churchill, George Washington Carver and Will Rogers.

“Remember, young man,” Jones told Andrews as he walked away, “experience is not the best teacher. Other people’s experience is the best teacher. By reading about the lives of great people, you can unlock the secrets to what made them great.”

That advice would turn out to be perhaps the most valuable of Andy Andrews’ life. Until then, he’d wondered if life was just a lottery ticket, or if there were decisions he could make that would direct his future?

He didn’t just read those first three “adventure stories,” he practically devoured them. Jones delivered three more books — biographies of Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln and Viktor Frankl. Andrews found a note tucked neatly inside the Frankl book that said simply, “I’m proud of you.” It brought tears. It had been a long time since anyone had said they were proud of him.

The next three books were about Harry Truman, Florence Nightingale and King David. The next, Harriet Tubman, Queen Elizabeth I and John Adams, then Eleanor Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and Joshua Chamberlain. In all, Andrews read more than 200 biographies under the pier. As he read, he began to scour each book for similarities. What made these men and women successful? What qualities did they possess that he lacked?

All that reading ignited a fire in Andrews. For the first time, he says he felt like he had something to say that would help others. Long before he ever felt compelled to put words to paper, his life’s mission became “to help other people live the lives that they would live if they only knew how to do it.”

As Andrews read the biographies, he connected the dots in his mind, and before long, the list he now calls “The Seven Decisions” was created. This list eventually became the basis of “The Traveler’s Gift,” a book he submitted to publishers 51 times before it was finally published in 2002. It became his first New York Times bestseller.


Still Andy’s best selling work, “The Traveler’s Gift” remained on the Times’ bestseller’s list for four and a half months, and was one of “Good Morning America’s” book-of-the-month selections in 2003. Now printed in over 40 languages, it tells the story of a man who faces a great deal of adversity in his life, and travels back in time to meet seven different historical figures who are also facing tough challenges — people like Anne Frank, Abraham Lincoln and Christopher Columbus. Each of them explain a different principle to him that, if applied, will ensure success in life.

The seven decisions Andrews discovered as he mined the content of those 200 biographies were life changing for him. He would go on to author 26 books, including a third Times bestseller, “How Do You Kill 11 Million People?” (2012) — a book that brilliantly answers the question its title poses, and issues a stern wake up call to voters on both sides of the political aisle. He met and married Polly, his wife of 27 years, and together they have two sons, Austin and Adam. He became a world-renowned storyteller, has spoken at the request of four U.S. presidents, and toured military bases around the world to share his principles at the invitation of the Department of Defense. He routinely speaks to sports teams, corporations and civic groups, sharing the principles he’s learned over the course of his life, and — given that he was twice named “Comedian of the Year” by over 1,000 colleges in the 1980s — it should come as no surprise that he always adds a bit of humor.

Years ago, when Andrews met Jones under the pier, he says the old man told him something that stuck with him. He was mad about his circumstances, and maybe having just a bit of a pity party. Jones, ever the encourager, said: “Andy, I have a feeling this is exactly where you’re supposed to be right how.”

That made him mad, so he asked Jones why he would say such a thing.

“Sometimes you just have to slow down and think,” Jones explained. “And boy, you’re living under a pier. You can’t do anything but slow down and think things through. Son, as you lay your head down tonight, I know you think you’re sleeping on sand…but I believe you’re sleeping on fertile ground.”

How true it was. What if Andy Andrews, one of America’s great storytellers and influencers, hadn’t been under that pier that night when the old man came walking by? Yet he was, and — like one of his seven decisions so eloquently says — he persisted without exception. Andy Andrews found a way where there was no way, and in doing so, has overcome the greatest of odds and is living the American dream.

This article was written by me and originally published by Opportunity Lives on May 4, 2016. Photo credit: Andy Andrews.

This Man Turned the ‘Worst Village in Togo’ Into A Community of Hope

One morning in 2010, in a world far removed from the comforts of home and family, David Whetstone woke to the noise of whispers and giggles. When he peeked through the zippered opening of his tent, he saw a crowd of beautiful children. Every one of them that eagerly awaited his emergence, he would later learn, were orphans whose parents died of waterborne illnesses that continually plague this sub-Saharan region of Africa.

Continue reading

After Witnessing the Horrors of India’s Sex Trafficking, This Woman Decided to Help the Women in Need

Nearly 21 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking, according to the International Labor Organization. Of that number, approximately 10 percent are forced into state labor. Of the remaining 18.7 million, nearly three-quarters are trapped in other forms of forced labor. A little over one in four are children and 55 percent are women and girls.

While those statistics boggle the mind, none is quite as heartbreaking as the 22 percent that are forced into sexual exploitation.

Though most Americans believe slavery to be a thing of the past, the harsh reality is it’s a thriving $150 billion a year industry. Modern-day slavery simply exists under a different name and no country is free, especially India.

When Shannon Keith took her second trip to India in 2005, what she witnessed in the red-light districts absolutely broke her heart. Working alongside the women there, she heard story after story firsthand of little girls being sold into slavery by families and orphans snatched off the street by pimps and rented out to the highest bidder. She met young mothers who were just trying to earn enough to feed their hungry children. She also met women who were being held against their will.

All longing for an escape, all desperate to survive, but without any other alternative. This was a life that had been chosen for them. There was little, if any, hope.

After all, they were the untouchables.

1266603_977872542284979_7916521381114917019_o-300x300Though Keith had visited India once before, and witnessed much of the same in Nigeria during another trip, this time was different. Her heart was stirred like never before to do something to help, and a sudden realization crossed her mind — all kinds of help could be given to these women. Ultimately, however, because of the caste system into which they are born, she realized the only thing that would ever give them a true hand up out of their horrific situation would be to provide them with a way to support themselves and their children. Keith knew that a job is what they really needed, and with her background in corporate sales, she immediately knew this was something she just might be able to provide.

Without a single doubt in her mind, Keith immediately began to devise a plan. No market research was needed initially; the decision wasn’t a difficult one to make. India is known for its gorgeous, colorful textiles, so she purchased a bunch of fabric and headed home with an idea in mind. Women’s pajamas and loungewear would be the perfect thing, she thought. Simple to make, and something every woman loves.

Soon after she arrived home, Keith got her girlfriends on board. She purchased some simple patterns, held a sewing party and together, they created a simple design that would be easy enough to teach anyone with the desire to learn how to sew.

Then began the market research. How much would people be willing to pay for a simple, beautiful pair of pajamas? Would American women be compelled to support their sisters in India by purchasing them?

Soon, a nonprofit organization called the International Princess Project was formed, and Shannon Keith became a pioneer of sorts — the very heart and soul of her entire idea centered around employing women from the red-light districts in India who wanted a better life for themselves and their children. In 2005, little was known about the horrors of human trafficking, yet with a heart broken for women who suffer under such bondage, she forged ahead, determined to be successful.

In 2006, International Princess Project — now named Sudara, a word inspired by the Sanskrit word “Sundara,” which means “beautiful” — hired six women in their “first-ever sewing center partnership,” and began teaching them how to sew. Before long, the first pair of “punjammies” was made.

“Stitch by stitch,” says the Sudara website, “the women gained confidence not only in their newfound trade, but also in their newfound hope and freedom.”

Punjammies were a huge hit, and the nonprofit began to thrive over the next nine years — so much so that it soon became evident that something more than a nonprofit was needed. Finally, in 2015, the two entities separated, Keith purchased the side of the business that makes and sells loungewear, formed a B-Corporation and rebranded as Sudara, Inc. The 501(c)3 nonprofit, renamed Sudara Freedom Fund, remains in place and the mission of both remains united: job creation that provides a pathway out of sex slavery for women in India.

Sudara Freedom Fund helps to provide much needed housing, and education for the women who work in the sewing centers, and their families.

C90B6A79-6B61-418C-BCBD-9D64EBEF25E4“The more pants we can sell,” Keith told Opportunity Lives, “the more shirts and robes and bracelets and other accessories that we can sell, the more jobs we can create, and that provides the opportunity for women who would otherwise have to sell their bodies for hire just to feed their family.”

Sudara works closely with trusted, carefully vetted partners in India. The company places very large orders — and pays premium prices.

“We overpay for our products on purpose,” Keith explained. “We pay a premium.” All proceeds go to help the women in India, who are paid an above fair trade wage in the sewing centers.

Because of Sudara, Inc. and the Sudara Freedom Fund, women in India who are suffering under modern day slavery now have a new hope — a way out. They are never forced to work in one of the Sudara sewing centers; they come because they want healing and a new beginning. Because women all over the world have chosen to purchase the beautiful products they are working so hard to make, they are providing for themselves a new life — a life of hope and freedom — and being given a new story to tell.


This article was written by me and published by Opportunity Lives on April 14, 2016. Photo credit: Sudara.