Every Day

Happy Friday! I hope this week went by swimmingly for you all. This is rather unexpected, as it came to me on a whim, but here is a surprise, mid-month book review! Recently I’ve been seeing the movie trailer for the upcoming release “Every Day,” and it has intrigued me in a major way. The concept as laid out in the trailer, of a person who wakes up every morning in a new body, a new person, with no solid life and no link to the rest of the world beyond that of their current host, called to me like crazy. I immediately knew I had to go see it. Needless to say, when I realized it was based on a book , I obviously had to read it.

As I’m on a strict reading schedule for the year (an idea my wife never ceases to giggle at when I fret about throwing an additional text into the mix) I wasn’t sure when the opportunity would arise. Yesterday afternoon I saw the trailer again and was once more convinced I had to read the book, preferably before the movie’s February 23 release. On a whim I decided to check the OverDrive app, a free app that allows you to check out ebooks from hundreds of participating libraries (an app that I’ve obviously fallen in love with) for the book. When I saw it was available the choice was made before I even realized it.

I was immersed in the story from the first word. David Levithan’s story of this person, this genderless, identityless, familyless, homeless person bouncing from consciousness to consciousness every single day, never able to control the transition, the destination, is incredible. Obviously, if you haven’t read it, you may want to put a pin in this post and do that. As you can tell, it’s pretty easy to read the book quickly, since I completed it in probably a combined reading time of 6 or 8 hours. So, go read. I’ll wait.

Now, I’m assuming you completed the book and are ready for discussion? Good, let’s!

The first thing I have to say about this book is that it is incredible. I do like my YA novels as well as most other forms of literature, and this book is a YA novel that reads like both classic and modern fiction. It is something that feels so natural that you sometimes find it easy to forget you’re reading a book and not just directly connecting with the thoughts of the main character, a loving but mysterious soul whose only identifier is the self-prescribed moniker of “A,” set up early in A’s 16-year life to give them (the most suiting pronoun) something to hang on to, something to anchor to to prevent themselves from going mad while bouncing from life to life with no control.

As I said, the concept is great. I was immediately drawn to feel sympathy for this character. As someone that puts a lot of stock in the protective and loving character of family, reading this tale of someone who has never been able to feel that solidity really made me invested in the book. A’s story is something that holds incredible strength, purpose, possibility, and much sadness. I loved the absolute unpredictability of the story as the reader is brought along with A to enter the lives of numerous individuals from all races, genders, levels of health, and family situations.

I enjoyed that we are brought in after A has lived this way for 16 years, no explanation of how or why they are living this life, and no certain answers of whether it is possible to stop or slow it down. We come into the story on day 5,994 in the body of Justin, who the reader is quickly ready to dislike. Before long we are introduced to shy, timid Rhiannon, who is the reason for everything that happens in the book. One thing I was drawn to throughout this novel is the undeniable feeling of love that A feels for Rhiannon almost instantly. As someone who has never spent more than 24 hours with any one person or group of people, the idea that such a powerful connection can be made almost instantly with Rhiannon is incredibly intense. Levithan throws A and the reader into this tale head first and keeps at it through the entire text, presenting a love story so complete, so without boundaries, so without restriction and full of possibility that it can literally leave you reeling.

I was enamored with A’s immediate connection with Rhiannon, their undeniable infatuation that even transcended Rhiannon’s connection with A’s host of the day, Justin. The description of A’s life being turned completely upside down by something as common as love is a concept that really put the world into incredible perspective. Knowing that this character, who has never had the time to experience something the rest of us take for granted and consider normal, is thrown completely through a loop by this one thing is extremely powerful. A running theme through this book that is lying just below the surface is that something as unbelievably thrilling as being able to bounce from life to life consistently, never having to worry about tomorrow, never having to face responsibility and knowing that no matter how good or bad your situation is, a change is literally less than 24 hours away is nothing compared to the unpredictability of falling in love. It’s something that you can get lost in.

I love the repeated mentions A makes of the experience they have had. Multiple times while speaking with Rhiannon as well as just reflecting on their own A talks about how they may not have had many consistent and average life experiences that a 16-year-old  would normally get, but that they have had countless experiences that are typically lost on individuals. The concept of getting to experience life from more than 6,000 sets of eyes in more than 6,000 settings and more than 6,000 family situations is both liberating and exhausting to me. I like to live my life thinking that every day brings us something new, but this expands on that concept to a point that I feel like I have trouble wrapping my head around it. It is just another of the many reminders of how small we all truly are.

Levithan touches many times on the concept of homosexuality and love, repeatedly speaking through A’s point of view while living in the bodies of males, females, transgender individuals all of varying sexuality. Here he touches heavily on the concept of humanity versus gender and identity. A feels just as much love for Rhiannon while in the body of a female as they do a male, just as much passion for this one girl while in the body of someone she’s never met as they do while in the body of her boyfriend of over a year. This speaks volumes to me. Many people in the world today have very differing ideas when it comes to sexuality and ‘normality’, right and wrong, and average and ‘weird.’ But A knew none of that. They knew just as much as they felt from day to day, minute to minute, and what they knew above all else was a love so intense that it literally transcended all else.

In my opinion anyone who reads this book can learn invaluable lessons from it. As a straight, white male born into a middle class Christian family I admittedly haven’t had to face much adversity on the forefront of my love life. But that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize it. Having friends of different sexual preferences, different identities, from different backgrounds, I do my best to be understanding of every situation that can present itself to my peers, but nothing could have prepared me for the raw description in this book. Levithan doesn’t stand up and turn this book into an in-your-face statement about love and life and acceptance, but I feel like it can definitely serve as one. A repeatedly tells Rhiannon that they have never felt like a boy or a girl themselves, they’ve only taken on the identity of the body they inhabited that day. Even with that explanation we see Rhiannon’s hesitation to consider anything beyond the standard she understands, reminding us all of the classic view of the world’s typical attitude toward anything that doesn’t seem “cookie cutter” and average.

With this book so fresh on my mind and so high on my list of must-reads, I’m hard pressed to find much about it that I wasn’t impressed with. I would have liked a lot more explanation, or at least possibility about who or what A is, and how their life is possible. Of course, that could well be coming in the follow-up text this October. Throughout the book there are hints of possibility that A is not the only person with this gift/curse of freedom and experience. I would love more of an explanation about that. I would also love a first-hand account of someone who wakes up the day after A has lived in them. We get Nathan and Rhiannon’s explanations, as different as they are, but I feel like I need more. I would also be interested in a first hand POV of the experience the person has while A is running the show. I imagine we may get something of this during the follow up text “Another Day” that is out now. But since it’s not on OverDrive, I’ll have to make a trip to the library to find out.

I feel like I could ramble on if I wanted to, but I’d love to have more discussion with you all about your thoughts. Leave your comments about this book below and be sure to tell me what you think about the ideas in the text. Have you read the follow up from Rhiannon’s point of view? If so, how does it hold up? Did this book open your eyes in any way or make you think about the world? I hope so. A book that can make us think can change the world, right? I think that’s one of the most special things about this book. It reveals the importance of true, raw love. It shows us that nothing but love matters. Of course, if the world focused more on love than the anger and prejudice we are faced with daily, we wouldn’t have to have books expressing its importance, would we? Leave your comments, share your thoughts and tell me what other books you’d like me to review. Look for the series review of the Harry Potter books in April, and keep reading along with me!

Sign of Hope

Happy Monday, everyone! I trust February is going well for everyone. It’s almost that famous day of love that marks the halfway point of the second month of a new year. As always, time has been flying by faster with each passing day and the year has presented us with some bad weather days as well as some good ones. Over the weekend I found myself back in nature, enjoying the warm weather and getting closer to God, myself and the world around me. It was invigorating, but it didn’t end there. On my way home today I was greeted with the awesome sight of the first robins of Spring in my little nook of Virginia.

That has always been an incredibly welcome sight for me. Knowing the robins are back makes me feel like warm weather is just around the corner. That means it’s almost time for full, green trees, warm breezes, late nights, and bonfires. It means a cool night spent with the windows wide open, listening to the sound of the creatures that fill the darkness with their song. It means the freedom of a hot summer day and the blessing of warm summer nights. Needless to say these experiences have inspired me incredibly. I love being outside and enjoying the natural gifts this world has to offer. Being able to put myself back in nature, walking along the bank of  the Holston River, seeing the first robins of  the season, all put me in the mind of one thing. Hope.

As you all know, the last few months have been full of editing and new ideas for me. I’ve had my work in the hands of numerous beta readers while I work on preparing query letters and try to find agents to send them to. It has all been very eye opening and very stressful, and it’s left me feeling a bit drained and needing something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. This weekend did a lot to show me just what was needed. My inspiration.  It’s not a secret to those who know me that the time I spend in nature, being close to God and His creation, often inspires me like nothing else. When I was younger, I would often spend time sitting on my porch or by a cozy fire in the backyard, but after moving to a new location in 2016, that stopped being an option. Living in a town house, I don’t have much of a porch or a backyard to enjoy and I hadn’t realized just how important those facets of my life could be. I’ve missed the experiences since I moved here, but it hadn’t quite sank in just how much they cleared my head and brought me peace.

That brings me to the purpose of this post. We all have something in life that affects us like nothing else. For some of us it might be that first drink of coffee in the morning, or that nice burst of heavy metal madness we pump through our speakers on the way to work, or the endearing warmth of a hazy mountain sunset that brings us to peace and helps us connect with ourselves in the best way possible. Whatever it is, you often won’t know just how much it means to you until you don’t have it to rely on. Each and every one of us has our interests, our loves, our individual personalities that are all fed by the unique things that set us apart from the masses. When we find ourselves in a situation that doesn’t exactly allow us to embrace those things, some part of who we are is sure to suffer. So what we have to do is be sure to embrace it. Whether it’s that coffee, the music, the sunset or something else altogether, it matters to us for a reason. It is a crucial part of our lives and ourselves that will always be something we can fall back on – and it will always be something we will miss if it isn’t there, even if we don’t know just how much.

So, when you’re out and about this week, living your life as usual, look at everything about your life and figure out what it is brings you peace, inspiration, hope. Find one thing in your life that brings you peace and joy, one thing that makes you feel closer to yourself, your purpose, your destiny. Whatever that thing is, embrace it. Make time for it every single day. That thing is a crucial part of you, of your livelihood and it is something uniquely yours. I hope, whatever it is, you find a way to make it work to better yourself and your life. Find a way to make sure you can use it to get closer to your destiny with each passing day. It is that sign of hope that will help you make sure you’re on the right path in life. It’ll bring you more happiness than anything else, so make sure you stick with it! And, whenever you feel like something is missing, whenever you feel just a little off, take a moment to reflect on that thing and find your own little sign of hope. It will definitely make things better.

The mountains in my area are very photogenic, of course, so I  occasionally try to capture some of the beauty I in the world around me. The featured image for this post is one of the photos I took during my walk on Friday. Enjoy!

A Month In

Happy Monday, everyone! We are just days away from February and 2018 has been quite an adventure so far. In addition to spending nearly a whole month in this new year, I have been working on doing some new things with my life. I haven’t broadcast it much, and, although I may make the occasional post, I don’t plan on talking about it all the time, but I’ve been trying to get myself in better shape, mentally, physically, and creatively. It has been great. As far as the whole “sticking with resolutions” hoopla I discussed a couple of posts ago, this is something I’m proud to be sticking with, in every aspect, but I won’t beat myself up over a failed resolution if something happens to pause it – but more on that later.

Obviously we’re not quite a month in, but I thought the title was acceptable. I’ve been thinking for a few days now about what I wanted to talk to you guys about, and I decided that the answer was looking me right in the face everyday – goals. Every morning when we wake up, we usually have some idea or hope of what the day will (or won’t) bring, but how many of us actually set goals? How often do we wake up and say “this will happen today” or “I’m doing this today?” More importantly, if you don’t, why not?

Life is a series of days, weeks, months, years, decades, etc. So often we look at it like something that is happening to us that we have little or no control over. But nothing could be farther from the truth! Our lives, as I say quite often, are our own. They are the very essence of us, giving us ample opportunity to reach out and put our own little twist on the world. Some of us will even go so far as to make a long-lasting mark on the world. So why should we be content to just bumble through the day-to-day? It’s something I’ve touched on before, but it really hit me again recently after looking at what I’ve been doing since the year started. Goals are something we can use to help push us to  make our lives better than they currently are. A lot of people look at the process and idea of setting goals and get immensely discouraged. This is typically because all too often we are made to think that goals have to be huge, enormous, new phases of life that can take years to accomplish. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with setting goals like that, but it doesn’t have to be that hard.

Goals can help us take our lives in our own hands and truly change our current and future situations. An important thing to remember about goals is that they can literally be anything. Do you want to get out of bed earlier? Make it a goal. Do you want to catch up on that sitcom you’ve been missing? Set a goal to watch an episode a day before bed. Do you want to get the next great novel finished before year’s end? Set a daily, weekly or even weekly word goal. Make it happen. There is absolutely nothing that goals can’t help us do if we stop letting the disappointing tropes of mankind get in the way. Our goals don’t have to be things like saving the rainforest or landing a man on Pluto – of course, if those are your goals there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The important thing to keep in mind when setting your goals is to remember that it doesn’t matter how big or small they are. You can plan to land on Pluto, or just plan on cleaning out the junk drawer. Goals are different for everyone, and they mean something different for everyone. Some of the goals that we have can be tied to memories of lost loved ones, potential opportunities, our future, our past, and everything in between. No matter what the goal is, the main thing we have to do in order to be successful is to never give up. Never let anything stop us. A man (or woman) with a goal is a force to be reckoned with as long he or she has the determination to make sure they stick with it. We are all here with a purpose, and we have hopes and dreams for a purpose. Goals can help us fulfill that purpose. God has given us all a destiny, a purpose, and He wants us to succeed. He wants us to live in happiness and be the best versions of us that we can be. So that’s the goal, right?

I hope that you are all setting plenty of goals as you read this. 2018 can be your year if you take the time to make it happen. If you haven’t started setting goals, or if you’re nervous about them, try starting small. For instance, try setting goals for a new routine or schedule, or set a word or project goal for the day or week. Get your end goal in mind and find the most comfortable way to build up to it. I’d love to talk to you about your goals, if you’d like. One of the best ways to make sure you stick with your goals is by finding someone to talk to about it. It’s very helpful to have someone to help keep you accountable. But, of course, there is always the possibility of a failed or postponed goal. Life is unpredictable sometimes, things can get in the way of our goals. That can sometimes be discouraging, but the important thing to remember is that a missed goal doesn’t equal a failure. The only way you ever fail is if you give up. If life gets in the way for a bit, just push through and keep the goal in mind. Whether you want to climb Mount Everest or just drop a few pounds, nothing is impossible if you set a goal and put your mind to it.

If you’ve done it before, how has goal setting worked for you in the past? What have you been able to achieve? Do you have any words of wisdom for those looking to make a difference in their own lives, or in the world as a whole? Feel free to leave me comments or send me a message!

Stay True

As promised, guys, I’m still here talking about being and staying true to ourselves. It’s very important that we all make the effort to do this, but there are a lot of things in the world that can hinder us. It could be someone telling us that what we want is not important enough, or someone putting their own opinions on us, or worse. When it comes down to it, there is always going to be something in front of you that is going to try and keep you from being you. I could make incredible lists and comments on this, but the one thing I really want to talk about here is other people’s opinions.

The basis for this today comes from a lot of those “inspirational” photos and memes out there that have some sort of famous celebrity making either a scolding or sensual face with overlaid words that say “You should be *insert action here*” Of course the ones I typically see repeatedly tell me I should be writing. Why? Of course, naturally an artist can’t get anywhere without producing. That’s what we’re here for. But why should someone else be able to push us to adhere to their schedule. Sure, most people share these things in a light-hearted gesture intended to give the rest of us that little push that we may sometimes need, but in the long run they are part of a human habit that can be very harmful.

As an artist one of the most important things we can do is set a schedule for ourselves, push ourselves to produce. But an artist who is already struggling with the day-to-day who finds themselves pressured to follow someone else’s schedule may very well find themselves losing any and all inspiration they’ve gained. Honestly, that’s how a lot of budding authors and artists end up losing their confidence in their work. It’s just terrible. That’s not to say these memes aren’t interesting and amusing, and it’s not to say that talking with others about their schedules and the necessity for artists to produce is not sometimes helpful and important. But when it comes down to chastising someone for living their lives in a way that pleases them because they don’t follow your idea of what they should be doing and when, it turns into a problem.

I’ve been writing seriously for more than a decade. I’ve scheduled and rescheduled. I’ve broken schedules and I’ve revived them. I’ve decided to leave the idea of schedules behind and I’ve picked them back up, and through it all I’ve seen these kinds of images and I’ve been subjected to the commentary of others about how I should be doing anything but what I’m doing at the time. WHY?

Why should my choices not be good enough? Why aren’t yours? Why is it that anyone else on this planet should have a say in what we do and when? I know, like I said before, these interjections aren’t intended to be harmful. They’re supposed to be helpful and inspirational. But the thing is, they’re usually not. I’ve spoken to others who feel the same way. As a free-thinking human being who knows what is best and when, who has looked their life over and decided when, where and how their lives best work, having someone else say that we ‘should be’ doing anything other than what is currently making us happy is not OK.

It comes right back down to being true to yourself. There are more than 8 billion people on this planet. Each and every one of us have our own lives, our own personalities, our own desires and our own plans. We all know what is making us happy. Is that not what is the most important? Don’t get me wrong. I understand sometimes in this age of abrasive technology and hypnotic television, sometimes we may need a little reminder of what else is out there, but there is a limit. Our lives are ours to live in our best way, not for someone else to judge what we do and when.

My point here is that we all have to look at ourselves and our lives in the most serious way. We have to examine what we want, when we want it and how we want it. As I said in my last post, we have a very limited time on this rock and none of us want to realize that we wasted that time living our lives for someone else. You have to do what makes you happy when it makes you happy. Don’t let anyone discourage you from your life and your plan. Don’t ever fall into the rut of following what others want from you without giving yourself what you want as well. That’s something that everyone, artist or not, has to wrap their head around. Your life is yours. You have to live it your way. As long as you’re not hurting anyone else, impeding someone else’s happiness, you have the right and the freedom to be yourself. You have to be yourself. No matter what is going on around you, never forget to make your life your own. Do what makes you happy. Live your life to the fullest, and don’t be discouraged when others try to press their own opinions on you. Just let it roll off your back and keep being you. Stay true to yourself. Nothing is more important.

Be True

It’s January 10, everyone. Have you stuck to your resolutions so far? If so, you’re doing better than a lot of people. Personally I’ve been doing a moderate job of keeping up with some, not so well at keeping up with others. It’s so easy to let life flow without a thought for what you’re doing, following the ‘norm’ and letting yourself fall into a bit of a rut. That’s a bit of what this post is going to be about. I do think it may end up being a two-parter, too, because I’ve seen a lot today that has motivated me to write my little heart out, but the basic message behind every word I’m going to say here is the same. You have to be true to yourself.

Going back to what I was saying at the start of this post, New Year’s Resolutions are notorious for being set on or around January 1st, and many are lucky if they make it out of the month. But I recently saw a very important question that stuck with me and made me think hard. Why is it that New Year’s Resolutions are such a big thing? Why should we focus so much on the beginning of the year – more importantly, why should we only set aside one time throughout the year to make changes? It’s a doozy of a question, and I honestly don’t have an answer for it. We are all (at least in theory) strong, free-willed human beings with the ability to make decisions to better ourselves at any time. So why do we place so much focus on the whole “new year, new me” fad?

I’ve seen people in March decide something about their lives is unsatisfactory and decide to make it a New Year’s Resolution and live with the unhappiness for 9 months rather than take a stand right then and there. Why? This life is so precious, so fleeting, and so important. How can any of us afford to live even one second being untrue to ourselves? You wouldn’t wake up hungry and say “oh, I’ll eat next month.” Or break your arm and say “oh, I’ll get it fixed eventually.” No. You’d stand up and take charge. Why, then, would anyone choose to wait to make themselves better, happier? Why would anyone decide to allow time to choose when they can make a change that may improve their lives infinitely?

We were placed on this earth with a certain amount of time, a certain purpose, and a sure freedom. God gave us the free will to make choices for ourselves – if he didn’t, there would obviously be no sin, because He just wouldn’t allow it to happen. That’s the surest way to know He wants us to choose for ourselves. I’ve often heard the old saying “if you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.” As much as I think the phrase has been misconstrued to mean something else at times, I do agree. God wants us to dream big. He wants us to take the life and the world He has given us and make it bigger and better than ever before.

If you’ve ever needed proof of that, examine the parable Jesus gave his disciples of the three slaves with talents (Matthew 25:14). Of course, there are multiple ways to interpret this, but I take it quite literally. Three slaves were given talents by their master. Two of them used their talents to make more, to create, to better themselves and their situation. When their master returned and asked about the talents, each had doubled what they were given for their master and because of this they were rewarded. But one of the three servants buried his talent where it would never be seen, but never be lost. When his master returned the man could only dig up and return what already belonged to his master, with no return and no use being made of the talent, and thus he was punished.

God has given us all a talent. He has given us all life, love, a desire for something and a way to get what we want. When we put that talent to use in whatever way we can, it will grow. Just like a muscle that is used and worked it will get stronger and bigger, more useful and worthwhile. Soon others will take notice. We can put our talents out  there and have them return to us even bigger. We can take each and every day of this life and inject ourselves, our dreams, our desires and our strengths into it, and when all is said and done, each day will have been bigger and better than the last.

I think that’s what we’re here for. It’s not about New Year’s Resolutions that often fail, leaving us to fall right back into the same routine. Obviously if we’re setting a resolution to change it, some part of us is tired of letting it happen, right? So why wait for a new year? Why wait until the world tells you it’s OK to make a change? Do it now. If you want that haircut, go get it. If you want to lose weight, do it. If you want to publish a book, write it and push it out there. None of us are given a promise that we will wake up tomorrow, or that there will even be a tomorrow. So why wait? Why let the man-made constructs of conformity and waste ruin the time we have left? Get out there and climb that mountain, lift those weights, write that book, go for that management position, travel the world. Will you be like the servant who hid his talent from the world and had nothing to show for it, or will you get out there and make the most of what you’ve been given and make your mark on the world? Be true to yourself, people. We have so little time here. None of us want to be on our death bed and realize we didn’t live to our fullest potential. I challenge each of you, before the week is over, to do something that your heart desires.

Find something that you have been wanting to do that you know will make you happy, break out of a routine that has been holding you back. Make a difference in your own life, and see just how much happier it makes you. It can be something as huge as getting a new car, or something as small as trying a new route to work. But do it. Break free. Find a way to take the life God has given you and truly be thankful for it. Dare to live a little, eh? That’s the end of this post. In the next couple of days I’m going to come back with another similar message regarding things that have been bugging me in this regard – namely suggestions that we have to base our lives on the lives of others.

In the meantime, get out there and showcase your talents. Bring yourself to a new level and take your life in your own hands. In the end, you’ll have something to show for it. Be true to yourselves, guys.

2018 Is Here

Happy New Year, everyone! I can’t believe we are in an entirely new year. 2017 absolutely flew by, and it was definitely one of a kind! In addition to being able to make connections with plenty of awesome new people through my writing in various ways I was finally able to bring my longest work, Maverip to a close. That in itself is an accomplishment that will make 2017 hold an awesome place in my heart and mind.

2017 was also the year that brought me the chance to take a trip to Atlanta with my wife and see one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to. I was able to write some interesting stories as a reporter, that experience culminating in me winning the second place award for data journalism for the year from the Virginia Press Association before I moved on to a job with the longest running professional theatre in my country. I made a ton of professional contacts with my work and celebrated my two year anniversary with my wife. I also got to bring you guys an entire year of book reviews and have plenty of great discussion about some of my favorite (new and old) pieces of literature. Another one of the most amazing things that happened to me this year is one I’m still processing. Last week, less than three days before the year ended I received the first round of commentary on Maverip from one of my beta readers. If you’ve never had that happen I have to tell you it is one of the most surreal experiences an author can have. Especially when the reader loved the book and gives you detailed and extremely helpful comments on the work that has been your entire life for nearly a decade. I’m still kind of wrapping my head around the fact that another human has experienced my work and felt it was enjoyable. It’s a great thought.

Aside from the countless other blessings and great experiences I have under my belt from last year, there’s so much I have to look forward to in this year. I plan to use the commentary I received on Maverip to make another around of edits and then sending it on to professionals for consideration. That, although terrifying, is something I look very forward to. I’ve got plenty of other big plans for the year, including some travel, some new experiences and some great great memories to make. As always, I plan to keep you guys updated on everything as it goes, and I really hope I have an opportunity to meet some of you and have some awesome things to share.

In that light, I want to give you all an update on my plans for the book club for 2018. I’ve had a great time reviewing a variety of books each month, but there are a number of books I’d love to share reviews on that are a bit more involved. I’m talking about series. I am a huge fan of literature of all kinds from poetry and short stories to longer novels and intense sagas, and because of this one thing I’d love to do is review a number of series. I’m not positive how it will work, but that’s why we try things, right?

Obviously, when it comes to reading novels, it can be easy to read single works of various lengths, even when we get around 1,000 pages, but a saga of novels each with hundreds, if not 1,000 pages themselves, would be a bit too difficult to handle in a month, in my opinion. Because of this I’m planning to take four months to cover my first set of novels (keep in mind that is apt to change if need be). If it works well, I’ll split the year up and do three series throughout the year. If it doesn’t work well, I may go back to the original plan, no harm, no foul. But what do you guys think? Would you like to follow along on a journey through some major series with me this year? Make sure to leave your opinions on this idea so I can know what you think about it.

As someone who is a huge fan of long, elaborate stories I love sequels (if they’re done properly) and I love diving into a series of books. In this light, my first series if going to be the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I’ll read all seven novels from The Sorcerer’s Stone to The Deathly Hallows.  I haven’t gotten to sit down and read all these novels at once since the year the last one was released and I look very forward to the experience. I’ll plan to post this review of the Harry Potter series around April 25, unless things change. I know this is a pretty easy series to read, so I may take a little less time with it if it seems reasonable.

Anyway, I hope you guys had a great 2017, and I hope you have plans to have a great 2018. I’d love to hear from you all. What great memories do you have from 2017? What great things did the year bring you? What great ideas, hopes and plans do you have for this year? Be sure to share in the comments or shoot me a message and let me know!!

The Gift of the Magi

As 2017 winds down, it is time to post the final review of the year!! I hope you all had an absolutely wonderful Christmas (or whichever of the awesome year-end holidays you celebrate) and made some incredible memories. Personally, my Christmas was celebrated a couple of days early with my family and my in-laws and many great memories were made. I am also ecstatic to say that I received a most excellent new leather jacket and a new laptop that has come in wonderfully handy in working on my latest project, a fantasy novel like nothing I’ve ever attempted. But the details of that will come in a later post!

Today we are talking about the much beloved story “The Gift of the Magi.” This story has long held a special place in my heart and the hearts of many due to its strong moral suggestions and the selfless acts presented by our characters, Jim and Della. What instantly strikes me about the story is O. Henry’s nonchalant way of presenting a view that life is basically little more than a series of sniffles, sobs and smiles “with sniffles predominating.”

That statement is an incredibly powerful view of everyday life, and its cynicism makes the actions of the characters all that much more memorable and interesting. Jim and Della, of course, are near to celebrating Christmas, and both have sacrificed something very dear to them in order to help make the thing dear to the other more beautiful. I find it most enthralling that O. Henry makes Della of such a pure attitude that, when reflecting on the watch clasp, she does not say anything about the gift making James more presentable or proud – she instead says the item is “nearer to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.”

To me that is the worth the world. Even in their poverty – having to sell their precious items to give each other gifts – Della still sees the worth of humanity and love over the material world. She is not at all concerned with the way James looks with his leather watch clasp, but instead wants something that is worthy of being attached to Jim’s watch.

A similar mention of humanity’s worth over the material comes from Della describing her hair. It is said that, if given the chance, she would dangle her hair out the window in order to depreciate the Queen of Sheba’s jewels. I absolutely love this. O. Henry presents us with a pair of characters who live life with an immense appreciation for simplicity. Jim and Della literally sell their precious things – Jim’s watch and Della’s hair – in order to give the other a gift to celebrate the possessions they love.

An act like this – a selfless sacrifice made in order to benefit the happiness of another – is a gift that we should all be so lucky to offer someone in this lifetime. Indeed, the author finds the sacrifice such a high honor that he compares Jim and Della to the Wise Men who crossed great distances to bring gifts to the Christ child, the original magi. It is the acts of selflessness, of love, of sacrifice that give us all hope. O. Henry knew this centuries ago and we, as a literary people, have been reading about it ever since.

I don’t have any negative comments to make about this short work. I could dwell on the magic of sacrifice and love for hours, but I think the most important thing to say is that we, as a people, should remember to always find more value in humanity and love than in the material world. We should always find ways to express our love to each other selflessly and stop putting so much value on things. In the end, it’s more often the love we shared that we will be remembered by, not the things we had.

Anyway, that’s the last review of 2017, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you’ve enjoyed this year of my book club, and I look forward to revisiting the whole thing next year. As always, I’d love to have your suggestions for future reads. I hope you all have a great New Year’s Eve and Day, and be sure to go into 2018 with high hopes, plenty of love and a smile on your face!!

December Announcement

Happy December,  everyone! As we enter the final leg of 2017, I hope we all get to enjoy a month filled with joy, warmth, family and great times. Last month’s book was a great, long read, so this month I’m picking something that is light, easy, and meaningful.

For our December read, we’re going to cover O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” This tale of selflessness and love is a timely story that we all know, even if not by name. It’s a very short piece, the shortest I’ve reviewed for the book club, so it should be very easy for us all to read even during the mad rush that is December!

I’ll plan to publish my review of this story in the first week of the new year to get us started right,  so keep your eyes open for that.

In the meantime I am absolutely beside myself to announce that I have finally finished Maverip. This novel has been nearly a decade in the making and I couldn’t be happier that it has come to a conclusion. At the moment I’m writing this I’m a little over two thirds of the way through my first edit,  with the novel coming in over 141,000 words. I plan to send the book to beta readers ASAP and take it through at least one more round of edits before sending out query letters.

That’s a very surreal realization. This book has been such a huge part of my life for so long that I almost don’t know what to think with it being at this stage. I love it. Through the years I’ve had an incredible amount of support from everyone in my life and it means the world to me. Thank you all for everything.  If anyone else would like to be a beta reader, feel free to reach out and let me know. With any luck I’ll have queries going out by the time 2018 gets here.

Either way, this has been one doozy of a year and I look forward to riding it out with a story of love and sacrifice. I look forward to hearing what you all think!!

Sleeping Beauties 

Another King great tackled! In case you need another reminder, Stephen King is obviously my favorite author and, as I said with my review of “Horns,” he obviously passed his talent on to his children. That remains true in regards to this novel as well, in my opinion. “Sleeping Beauties” jumps right in to Dooling County, West Virginia to present us with a quite fantastical tale of a world where females who fall asleep develop strange cocoons and find their collective consciousnesses transported to an alternate reality, dimension or mental locale that is free of men. Meant to give the women a fresh start, the worlds are very much strained by this occurrence and the decisions made by both sexes regarding their futures and the present.

First off, I did enjoy this novel. I would not place it as high on my favorites list as things like “Dreamcatcher” or “IT,” but it was good. One of the appeals for me, naturally, was the fact that it takes place in fictional Dooling County, West Virginia. The hefty little bit of fiction is located around an hour from where I grew up in Virginia, so the descriptions of the mountainous regions of my youth were interesting to say the least.

I really enjoyed the story itself. Putting women in this alternate reality and placing men in the position of figuring out what to do next was very interesting to me. I liked the way the Kings pushed the sleep element, having some of their characters stay awake for days and use all sort of methods to do so. The fact that sleep was the gateway to this new reality poses an interesting situation in itself, for me, as it hints at the age-old possibility that our dreams are literal gateways to alternate universes and all sorts of incredible places. 

The character of Eve Black was a mystery that I feel really added a lot to the story in the form of King’s classic supernatural element. Not that women developing their own personal weirdo cocoons wasn’t supernatural enough, of course. I really enjoyed the dynamic Eve presented with her mysterious past, strange powers and obvious knowledge of what was happening and why. The fact that she played the devil’s advocate between Frank and Clint (the opposite ends of the male reaction spectrum in this situation) definitely adds to her mysterious role in the overall event. Her behavior and attitude did make her a character that I couldn’t get a feel for. I’m still not sure if I like her or not. 

The Kings presented us with a view of mankind that, as sad as it is to admit, is scarily accurate. Men are often the more gung ho, shoot-first-ask-questions-later, self preserving type, while women tend to consider consequences more often. Granted that is very much a generalization, it is the large basis of the book. Some men decide the only way to fix the issues at hand here is to burn the sleeping women in their cocoons and hope for the best. Why these men didn’t realize this would make reproduction, and thus further life in this reality,  virtually impossible, I really don’t know, but that’s a different issue altogether.

I enjoyed the way the Kings worked in morals on both sides of the large tree that represents the gateway between the two worlds represented in the novel. Seeing how the men, both logical and illogical, choose to handle the situation helps us to get a handle on the representation of mysoginisitic versus logical ways of thinking presented in the book. Seeing the characters that would rather burn the women in their cocoons than find a cure, I think, represents the people in this world who choose the “attack first” method of solving problems. Those who are more careful, who want to figure out what is going on and why, represent the elements of mankind that, more or less, are more apt to allow us to have a real future.

To me that is really the core of the book itself. Eve’s purpose, and the reason the women are in the cocoons in the first place, is to emphasize the flawed nature many men exist under (i.e. men have ruined the world with violence) and to give women the option to “start over” without that tainted method of influence. 

Overall, the Kings present a very interesting book with a strong “1984-esque” message warning us as a species to stop resorting to violence and start understanding we need to work together to survive. At least that’s what I took from it. The book itself was very enjoyable, if a bit of an odd take on things, but it definitely was not without its faults. 

I had a bit of an issue with the overall representation of life in the Appalachian Mountains, being a native and resident of the mountains myself. The Kings repeatedly insinuated, if not outright said, that the area is nothing more than a hole filled with drug addicts, uneducated people, abusive men and adulterers. Which is very much an exaggeration of Bromdingnagian proportions. While these things do exist in the mountains, they do everywhere else as well, and it is a very unfortunate representation of an area that is already often considered to be deplorable and sordid in nature by mainstream media.

Furthermore,  I feel there was a lot of things left to be desired in the Eve storyline. Like who was she and where did she come from in the first place. Obviously the name Eve calls us to biblical origins with a possible holy connotation, but that was never confirmed for me. I also got a similar vibe from this book that I received from Under the Dome, where (spoiler alert) we realize aliens are actually in control of the Dome. This wasn’t mentioned, but Eve’s talk of herself and her mission led me to consider it. I also would have liked more of an explanation as to why Clint was the man she chose to save her, or for that matter why Dooling, West Virginia and it’s residents, which, based on King’s own description aren’t worth the trouble, were the basis for the rest of the planet. The women of Dooling got to decide the fate of every other woman in the planet when they chose to leave “their place.” Not to mention Frank and Clint and the other men of the town were the ones who decided the world’s fate in this reality. Why? Was it random? Was it thought out? What was so special about this town and its people? Furthermore, has Eve done this before? Will she do it again? And in general, what was up with the moths? And just what in the world was Eve in the first place?? And will the men and women of earth understand what happened well enough to make real changes to their lifestyles to keep it from happening again?

As you can see, there are plenty of questions I feel could have been answered by the text or offered through consideration. Granted there are likely questions and answers that I missed, I think you all get the point. One thing I didn’t delve too much into was the obvious misogyny offered in various ways, either through women who were described more by their appearance than anything else, or by those who were overly reliant on others or something else of the sort. Just know that I did notice, and I don’t agree with it, but delving too much into it in this review would bring this to a whole new level. If you’d like to discuss it in the comments, I’m more than willing! 

I hope you all enjoyed this nice fantastical read for the month of November. It certainly was interesting and I look very forward to discussing it!! I’ll be making another post in the next few days regarding our December read, and a very special announcement of my own. In the meantime, I would love to get everyone’s opinion on a possibility I’ve considered recently. I’ve noticed that podcasts are coming back as a popular way for people to reach out to each other with news and ideas and I’m considering giving it a whirl. I’ve thought about posting a podcast to help me delve further into discussions of my book club reads, or maybe discussing my work or answering questions about writing, or maybe just as a discussion piece for us all to come into contact – the possibilities are endless, but I wanted to get your opinions. Would you guys like to check out a podcast on my site every now and then? Would you like to join in discussions in that way, or maybe even see some guests authors come in and record one here and there? Let me know what you all think! Leave me comments or shoot me a message! 

Looking back

Sometimes in life we find ourselves so wrapped up in the “right now” that we find it nearly impossible to look at the past. We tend to put our heads down and pay no attention to the world around us, barely even looking up to see where we’re going, much less where we’ve been. I was granted a prime view of my own past as I found myself riding around in the town I grew up in yesterday. It was very eye-opening. I saw things that I remember from my past, and new things that weren’t there before.

It has been about 6 years since I lived in Tazewell, Virginia full time and about three years since I moved away altogether, but I can still smell the air, still see the first stars piercing the deepening blue veil of the night sky. I can remember so much without even trying, but the flood of memories that came back to me while I was riding around shocked even me. From seeing the old high school, to the first place I ever worked- Grant’s Supermarket, where I served just under two years as a bagger and cashier during high school –  my childhood was nearly tangible to me in those moments. Just riding the roads helped bring me back through the years to memories that I’d even forgotten I had. I saw things I’d enjoyed as a child and things that I’d never seen there before. Despite the years since my residence, little has changed in the old place. The roads are a little wider in places, the storefronts a little more modern, but the thing that struck me most was that the shape of the town is still the same. The mountains that looked over my youth, shaped my adolescence, sheltered me when the world around me threatened to press in too tightly, are still the same. They are the same mountains that looked over generations before me, are currently looking over my friends and family that remain there, and will look over the generations of future residents.

Isn’t that a comforting thought? Once upon a time I might not have thought so. I can remember, as I’m sure many of us do (perhaps particularly those of us who grew up in Tazewell, where sometimes you could literally just sit and watch the grass grow) I wanted nothing more than to put my hometown behind me and move on to bigger and better things. Now I’m a little older and, I like to think, a little wiser, and I do miss it. I miss the way the sun rises over the mountains in the winter, the fresh, hot rays pulling steam from the icy roadways and frigid waters. I miss the sounds of summer rolling through the fairground as the town prepared for the demolition derby – because who doesn’t like a bit of destruction, right? I miss the quiet that settled down over the town at night. I used to have bonfires with my friends in my backyard, and sometimes we would be laughing and talking and joking until sunrise, but even on the most raucous nights there would be times that we would just grow quiet and be in awe of the silence, the world seeming to end at the edge of the light produced by our tiny fire. Those were times of peace.

Of course, I thought my life was hard sometimes. I went to school, I worked, I did chores, and I maintained a social life. I was a regular marathon man. Looking back on it now, after graduating college twice, being a regular part of the full-time workforce and paying bills for years, I wish things could go back to being that simple. I wish I hadn’t taken the small town life for granted. Riding through the old park, below the lake where my grandfather and I used to go fishing, I saw a glimpse of the old town theater through the trees. I used to live within walking distance of the place, and memories of countless movies came flooding back. Midnight releases of the latest Harry Potter movie, watching “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” there no less than six times, seeing Toy Story there for the first time. Granted I remember the trip to the theater to see that more than I remember the full movie, but it’s the memories that brought me back to who I was in those days, who I still am, who I occasionally lose sight of when the bills seem too expensive or the days seem too short.

My experiences really inspired me to think about my life and who I am, and it hit me that I owe so much of my own life to where I came from. I can pinpoint so much of Tazewell and the surrounding areas that played crucial parts in helping create the man I am today. Most importantly I can look back at that life and remember the things that led to me being a writer, a lover of literature, a lover of music, a lover of family and laughter and happiness. Those things that I hold dear, the things that I was always sure would get me out of that small town life, are things that I can directly attribute to being part of that very thing. If I hadn’t had Larry Hypes as a teacher in high school I may not have such a love of “The Great Gatsby.” If I hadn’t had Jill Vogel (then Rhudy) as a teacher, I may not have been given the right nudge toward my writing. If I hadn’t had the friends I did, I may not have the lust for life that lets me know waking up in the morning is one of the most crucial and rewarding things I can do.

My point is that sometimes in life we have to look back on our past to appreciate where we are in the present, and remind us where we want to go in the future. Life is a huge and multi-faceted thing. Sometimes you’re on the top, sometimes you aren’t. Sometimes you’re the bug and sometimes you’re the windshield. But no matter where you are or where you go, there are memories that you hold dear that keep you going when times are tough. The older I get, the more I appreciate the place I came from. I told myself for years that I wanted nothing more than to get out of the town and never look back, but now I’m more than grateful for the things it gave me, for the person it made me. More importantly I’m beyond thankful to God for putting me there and giving me the life I’ve had.

As my ten year high school reunion grows nearer, I realize a part of me has been worried of where I will be at that time in my life. Often in popular culture we see references to high school reunions that indicate it should be little more than a one-up contest. Who got old? Who got fat? Who went to jail? Who has kids? Is anyone famous? Naturally, that worries me. As someone who has been writing for more than a decade I always expected to be able to walk into that reunion with a novel or two under my belt, maybe even be able to walk into the school library and find my own title on the shelves. So far that hasn’t happened. I’m still plugging away, blogging and writing, publishing when I can. I’ve got a couple of novels complete, but for one reason or another I haven’t pushed them out to publishers yet. Maybe it’s because I’ve been afraid of NOT being able to have the pleasure of putting that on my resume for anyone interested in seeing what Damean Mathews is up to. Yesterday showed me how wasteful that is. When I go back to that place and see all the people I grew up with again, I’ll going with my amazing wife and some amazing memories to share with everyone. Sure, there will hopefully be a book or two along for the ride, but those things won’t be what makes me who I am. It’s the love and the memories I have and the ones I continue to make that contribute to who I will become.

I fully believe – and have since I first seriously put pen to paper – that God put me on this earth to write. I have stories in me that are bigger than even I understand, and I know that this is my purpose. Seeing the things that helped inspire my writing, visiting my old haunts where I used to write for hours, and seeing the places that I still associate with some of my favorite memories really showed me that I have a lot left to do to get where I want to be in that aspect. But it also showed me that my dreams have never been more attainable. I’m a happily married, hard-working, fully dedicated man with a passion and a destiny, and I see that now more than ever. The dedication and determination that helped put me through the tough times in my life were reignited with a fiery passion in those moments, and I know now that I can’t rest until I make it happen. And it’s all because I took the time to stop and revisit the past.

If you’re having a hard time in life, feeling a little lost, or even if you’re on top of the game and loving every aspect of your life, take the time to stop and revisit where you came from. Step out of your present and leap into the memories of the past. See what you saw before, put yourself in the shoes of the person you used to be and see if you’ve accomplished what you intended. See if there is anything you can do to be be truer to yourself. There’s nothing like a blast from the past to remind you what you want for your future. Looking back I would probably take the time to breathe in the night air more often, enjoy the simple things. I would spend a few more hours on the front porch, take the time to throw a few extra logs on the bonfire and ride out the sunrise one more time. I wouldn’t complain so much at the slow speed of things in town. Life will be speeding up plenty soon enough.

Have you revisited your past? When was the last time you rode through the town you grew up in? What has changed? What did you learn? I look forward to seeing if this has happened to anyone else, and if you’re out there reading this and you feel like you need a nudge to push you in the right direction in your life, I suggest taking a step backward and looking where you were and using that knowledge to help you take a step forward and go where you want to be. Trust me, it’s worth it.

I’d like to say a special thanks to my beautiful wife, my amazing friends, and my awesome family who have helped me be the man I am today. I know I sometimes let the rough patches in life make me step back from my purpose, but I think now I’ve got a great way to combat that. Thank you all for your support through the years, and thank you for helping me build the life I have, and the life I’m continuously working toward.