Another Year, Another Path

2018 is winding down as we speak, everyone. From impossible situations, terrible storms, award-winning movies and novels, and countless memories – good and bad – this year has left many of us spinning.

My own year has shown me many things, about myself and others. As difficult as some of it has been, I do believe it has left me stronger. I’ve learned how much I can handle, what I do in unexpected situations, and a little more about who I am and who I want to be. I’ve grown quite a bit over the last 365 days and I can honestly say that there are days where I can’t believe everything that has happened since January 1st. It seems like there’s no way the year could have been so long, and it seems like half of it must have happened to someone else. But the lessons that year has taught me will never fade.

I have definitely learned not to take anything for granted. I’m blessed beyond measure, and I am determined to recognize that and remember it on the hard days. I’ve also learned that, when I do have hard days, my family is more than willing to be there for me. And my amazing wife is the best rock I could ask for. I can honestly say that I would not be in the state of mind I am right now if not for her. She’s saved me more times than I can count. Every experience I’ve had this year has brought with it a new lesson, a new bit of information, a new bit of clarity about who I am and who I want to be.

That’s the real point behind it all, I think. Life presents us with millions – billions – of situations, if we’re lucky, and we have to learn from them. Each notch in our belt, each calendar page that falls, gives us an opportunity to learn, to grow, to become more than we were before we experienced it. The real test of life is whether or not we learn from these attempted lessons. Do we listen as closely as we can to those attempts at making us stronger, better people? For that matter, how much of the message do we retain from day to day and how much do we let slip by us?

Those are the questions each of us has to examine, especially when we’re facing any form of hardship. Knowing that every problem, every challenge, every bad mood and tough situation we face is meant to make us stronger, better, more adapted and able, is one of the most important things we can take with us into every new day. If we look at every day like a chance to learn about ourselves, the world around us, then we’ll quickly find that there’s nothing out there we can’t handle. Personally, I often remind myself that God won’t give us more than we can take. That idea in itself is a powerful way to renew your strength on a rough day. But whether that is your personal reminder or not, one of the best ways to make sure we’re getting the most our of our lives is to learn to accept the things we can’t always change. Every situation we face is meant to help us grow and develop new skills and abilities.

So as we enter 2019, remember to always keep your eyes open for a new chance to learn, a new opportunity to be more than you were the day before. I know one of the most cliche and ridiculed things about entering a new year is setting resolutions. Often, we set our resolutions for renewed health, weight loss, new jobs, etc… But how long do they last? A week, maybe a month? It’s almost human nature that by at least the dawn of Spring, our resolutions are little more than collectors of dust in our lives, forgotten or abandoned because of the everyday world around us. So I decided to change it up a little. Rather than a long standing resolution that is almost certain to be lost in the clutter, I’ve built an ever-changing list of accomplishments for the year, a bucket list for 2019 that will be at the forefront of my decisions and my life. As I cross each obstacle off my list I will be that much more true to myself. I will be that much stronger and that much more accomplished, if only to myself. As I enter the new year, I have many ideas of what I want to accomplish, what I want to see happen, where I want to be 365 days from now. And I know that it’s up to me to make it happen.

The same goes for all of us. We can all be anything we choose to be. We can accomplish anything we attempt. In just a year, we can make our lives whatever we want it to be. It just takes making an effort and not letting anything set us back.

So what do you guys want to accomplish? What lessons do you hope to learn, and what obstacles do you want to overcome? Feel free to leave me comments or reach out to me another way. I’d love to see what you guys want to change this year. As the last few hours of 2018 wind down, I look forward to the beginning of a new year, and I wish each and every one of you a Happy New Year, an amazing 2019, and hundreds of memorable opportunities that will leave you happier than ever.

The Shape of Water

Hey there, friends and fans! I have been wanting to watch The Shape of Water since I first saw the announcement about it. I was beyond disappointed to miss it in theaters, but I am ecstatic to say that I finally got to see it this week. I can very easily say that I am not at all surprised that it won and was nominated for so many awards. The film absolutely oozes sophistication and originality. I can honestly say it is one my favorite films of all time.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the film, it’s a tale of a mute woman in 1960’s America who realizes the institution she works for is studying a creature that is basically a modern version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, this film studies a number of themes including race relations, equality, sexuality, and personal identity. Our main character, Elisa, goes from a monotonous life with her friends and coworkers, almost invisible to the powers that be, to a bold and courageous woman, a hero to this creature that has otherwise known pain and judgement from modern man (aside from apparently being treated like a god by an unnamed Amazonian tribe that is).

I was enthralled from the start of this movie and I truly didn’t want it to end. I found Elisa to be an incredible person, with a nearly infallible character. Elisa’s entire experience with the creature was that he accepted her, he loved her, he made her feel whole and special for the first time in her life. As a mute woman, she was no stranger to mocking and disrespect, a tertiary character in the film repeatedly referring to her as ‘mutie’ and ‘dummy’ (a common colloquial term for those unable to speak in the past was that they were dumb or , if they also could not hear, deaf and dumb). So it was very important for her that this humanoid creature didn’t see her in terms of her difference, the explanation of which is one of the more endearing and heartbreaking scenes in the film for me. The themes of acceptance and equality steer this movie in a direction that couldn’t even have been hinted at in the trailers. From the homosexual neighbor, the African American friend, the mute orphan woman with an unknown background, to the otherworldly creature – each and every one of them is discriminated against in this world. Each and every one of them is met with opposition and stifled in some way throughout the film. And they band together. They stand in light of adversity and they win. They are each targeted by the ‘average, white, American male’ and they come out on top.

Persistence, decency, and love basically run the film’s two hour run time and bring us a tale that honestly warms the heart. From Elisa’s friendship with Giles, to her instant attempt at understanding with the creature, dubbed Amphibian Man by the film’s credits, the characters show us a bit about what it means to be human. Even the moderate humorous elements of the film stand to teach a lesson in humility and understanding.

I was intrigued to see the continued use of water itself and its own importance in Elisa’s life even before meeting the Amphibian Man. From her daily bath, to the boiling eggs, to the very image of rain itself, water is one of the most important elements of life and of the film.

I think the only thing that really threw me off about the film was the ending itself. I do like the open-ended nature of the story, but the transformation element is one that was a little odd for me.

Overall the film is an absolutely incredible work of art. It is a love story written for love stories themselves. Guillermo del Toro wanted to create a story and film stronger than anything, that could fill any space and be exactly what it needs to be – just as water is. And The Shape of Water is exactly that. With an amazing cast, an incredible message, and a story that will remain as timeless as its presentation, this film is one that will forever be in the annals of film history. The message of equality and the almost demand for justice for all those affected by prejudice of any kind could not have come at a better time in this world, either. In a political climate consistently pushed toward discrimination and judgement and a social tendency for the same, this film is beacon of light in the darkness that has plagued mankind. To me, the message is clear: we all need to come together in love and understanding and put an end to the meaningless squabbles that arise over minor differences. The separation and judgement that affects daily life in this world has to come to an end before we truly destroy teach other, ourselves, and what beauty remains in this world. Of course, until such a thing happens, this film and works of art that hold similar themes will remain of the utmost importance.

But what did you guys think of the film? Have you seen it yet? Did you read as deeply into it as I did, or was it just another movie for you? I’d love to know your thoughts. As always, I’m definitely interested in hearing about what you guys want to read about here or hear about in the podcast. Leave me comments or reach out to me on my contact page on my website. I hope you guys are enjoying the holiday season, and I wish you all the best in the last few weeks of 2018!

**The featured image of this post is an original image by Edgewise Art (https://facebook.com/edgewise.art/): I retain no rights to the image, nor did I have any part in creating it.

The Holiday Season

It is officially the Holiday Season, guys! Halloween has passed us by and we’re well into the second week of November. Less than three weeks stand between us and Thanksgiving, and just over a month and a half await before Saint Nick makes his way around the world to visit us all in jolly peace. As I’ve stated before, the holiday season is my absolute favorite time of year. Of course, if I’m considering every holiday that I love, that means my favorite time of year is from October through the first week of July, but that’s beside the point. The typical holiday season is the focus of this post. The glorious time of year that brings us from All Hallows’ Eve, through Thanksgiving and Christmas, right into the start of a brand new year – which is really just a reset so we can do it all again, right?

Of course. Many people share my love of this time of year, with decorations galore and festivity so thick you can cut it with a knife, but are we celebrating quite like we should? It’s no secret to many of you that it seems like the older you get, the faster the years go by. It seems like just yesterday I was a senior in high school, when realistically my ten year reunion is next year. Yeah, that reminder hit me today. Talk about feeling old, but that’s life. In all it’s fast-paced glory. And what more could we ask for? We’re a species that is always looking to tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. But is that really a good thing? Our holidays can be great for us, but often we find ourselves thinking of the cleanup while everyone is tearing into gifts, instead of just letting the paper build up. We think about how to improve next year’s celebration before this year is even over. But, what’s the best way to improve the moment?

Be in it.

Slow down. Take it all in. Let the magnificent fun of the celebration seep into your very bones, and just … be there. I’ve always been one to enjoy the present, look to the future and remember the past. I’ve also, unfortunately, been known to compare present celebrations to those past, which can be dangerous and vastly unproductive. As much as I would like to caution everyone against this behavior, I can’t pretend I won’t likely be doing the same thing this year. This will be my family’s first holiday season without my grandmother. No matter what was going on in the world, she was the first person to make sure the holidays were planned for, often going above and beyond in every way she could, regardless of her own health or situation. My family has always been one that doesn’t always find it easy for everyone to get together at once, but the holidays always gave us that. My grandmother would plan for weeks on end to hold our celebrations on a day that would see as many of us as possible under the same roof. It meant the world to her.

As the holidays she loved most approach us with an ever-quickening pace, I want to hold on to the spirit of the season, the reason for the season, and the amazing way I always felt during this time of year growing up. Thay is the best way, in my opinion, to really enjoy the season.

The main reason I wanted to present this post goes back to what I said earlier – slow down. We are all guilty of that “tomorrow” attitude, being so worried about what the future holds that we can’t stop to take a breath and enjoy things right where we are. I’m quite guilty of this myself at times. Whenever I start to slide into that habit, I try to remind myself of the bible verse:

“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” – Matthew 6:34

Of course, there, Jesus was cautioning us about worrying about money, food, and the like. He was telling us that God will provide these things for us, because we are his beloved children. I know that was the meaning behind this verse, but I do believe it can be applied to everything. Don’t spend your day off wondering what the following day of work will bring you. Don’t keep yourself up at night worrying about the morning commute. Don’t squander the opportunity to love and celebrate with your family this holiday season, worrying about things that are or are not going to come regardless of your concern.

When your family is right in front of your face, put aside everything else. Live in the moment. Make memories, instead of comparisons or regrets. As the holidays approach us, I think we should all take a moment to prepare ourselves for the amazing time we can have this year if we just celebrate the moment. Personally, I plan to take every moment in stride, enjoying my family, friends, and loved ones with every second. I do hope you’ll all join me in that resolution (oh no, it’s almost time for those again, too!) and make an effort to live in the moment this holiday season. There will never be another today, but there may be any number of tomorrows. Let them deal with themselves. Instead of wondering about that hypothetical future moment, let’s keep our brains trained on the moment we’re in. After all, it’s the only one we’re certain we’re going to have.

In light of the holiday season, I’d love to hear about the traditions you guys hold dear. I think as Thanksgiving and Christmas approach I’m going to write a post or record a podcast talking about the traditions that have helped make my own holidays so memorable. In the meantime, I thank each and every one of you all for reading my blog and listening to my podcast. If you can think of anyone that would enjoy either or both of them, I invite you to share away. I’m always happy to reach a new mind and enjoy new ideas, as well. Feel free to share this post, and share your ideas and traditions with me, either in the comments or by going to my contact or social media pages. I love hearing from you guys, and I appreciate the feedback more than you all know. I hope you had an amazingly spooky Halloween, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season. Until next time, friends and fans.

The featured image for this post is one of the dual Christmas trees in Bristol, Virginia from 2016.

Fallout 76 and Appalachia

Reclamation Day has finally arrived! October 23 has come and gone, and Vault 76 officially opened to show us dwellers just what post-apocalyptic West Virginia looks like. In case you haven’t followed the series, the latest Fallout game, which puts players in various parts of the U.S. (and occasionally an alien vessel) years after nuclear bombs have laid waste to the world as we know it, began B.E.T.A. testing last night.

In addition to being set far in a 1950’s-esque future, with strangely advanced machinery, and a renewed hatred of Communism, the Fallout series presents players with a myriad of radiation-altered enemies; humanoid, robot, and animalistic in nature.

The latest game, Fallout 76, allows players to leave their respective nuclear fallout shelter, or vault, about 25 years after the bombs fell. That’s about 200 years earlier than any other Fallout game so far. That’s one of the most exciting things about this game, for me. With such a short time frame after the war, we’re not only going to see things that haven’t had as much time to readjust, but we’re going to be in an area that hasn’t yet been explored by the games. This game is also completely different, in that it’s an entirely online platform. You’re playing on a server with a limited number of other people, but all other human interaction is actually via other players in real time. Of course, you can go off on your own and explore, but you’re encouraged to build teams and play as a unit.

After playing the four hour B.E.T.A. (Standing for Break it Early Test Application), I’m pretty impressed by the game so far. When it comes to game play and the general feel of the game, this one compares to part 4 for me. I feel the graphic engine upgrade has done a lot for exemplifying the beauty of West Virginia, an area I’m very familiar with, having grown up half an hour from the border. Movement in the game was pretty similar to previous ones, as is the “junk” you pick up through the world that assists you through the rest of the game. One new and interesting thing is the Pip Boy graphic, which can now be transferred from your arm module to lay over the screen in a hologram-style opaque screen. This makes the real-time gameplay a bit easier, since you can see the enemies around you.

Another factor that helps with the real time gameplay is that you have to eat and drink regularly or you’ll get dehydrated and starve. There are countless opportunities to pick up food through the world, including stripping meat from the animals you kill, but the new thing here is- it all spoils. If you get some meat from the doe you killed and don’t eat it for a certain period of time, it rots. At that point it can still be eaten, but it has a significantly increased chance to give you diseases and radiation damage.

Speaking of radiation damage, that’s another difference. Before if your radiation level got too high, you’d have some slight side effects, but usually nothing too noticeable during gameplay. In this game there are increased chances for radiation-influenced disease. One example I saw last night was during a fight with some feral ghouls. During the fight I saw the notice that I’d taken increased rad damage, and then every few seconds during the fight myself and the area around me would burst into flames. After taking some meds to lower the radiation levels I got the notice that I had recovered from an “unstable isotope” illness. This makes me very excited for what other possibilities await in that area.

As far as creatures to battle, I ran into a lot of ghouls, of course, a group of supermutants, some protectrons and other robots, but in this game there are some new and interesting creatures. I ran across a few supersized ticks, a couple of three headed opossums, and a new robot. But the most interesting thing I encountered was the Scorched. I just played in a few areas of the map, and for a limited time, but what I saw was; Scorched are everywhere.

Looking like a case of sunburn gone bad, the burnt-skinned creatures appear to be covered in glowing embers and growing green lesions all over their bodies. There are research areas dedicated to the creatures that give you some more details, but I can say they can be brutal if they gang up on you. Violent, vicious, and hard to see in the dark, they use weapons and can have a pretty decent health. They also move quickly and can sneak up on you if you aren’t careful.

One thing that has returned, but altered, is weapon and armor degradation. In previous games (except 4) your equipment would break down and eventually become unusable, but you could grab another of the same item and combine them to fix it. With this game, if something breaks, you have to have junk and go to an armor or weapon bench to repair it. That adds a new and interesting element to the gameplay and gives you an increased need for a good melee weapon as well. Leveling up is also a bit different, this game offering you perk cards rather than a perk map. You can only have certain cards active at a time, which allows you to build and change your character’s effectiveness in different areas for different things, and depending on whether you’re on your own or part of a team.

Overall, my first experience with Bethesda’s version of West Virginia has been a positive one. It was very interesting for me to explore the digital version of areas I’ve frequented in my life. I was able to cross the damaged New River Gorge bridge, see areas I’ve driven through countless times, and search Point Pleasant for the mysterious Mothman. Although I didn’t find him, I did harvest some of his eggs, so I have hope for his presence in the game. I also find myself wondering if the presence of what appeared to be drones in the sky just outside of Point Pleasant has anything to do with him. Point Pleasant lies on the edge of the map and I witnessed what appeared to be two drones flying over an area just beyond the edge of the map. Maybe that’s an area we’ll see opened in the future?

I’m very excited for the next B.E.T.A. session to open, and I very much hope I can join it. In the meantime, I hope you’ll all purchase the game if you haven’t already. I would love to build a team with you guys to explore the wild and wonderful West Virginia wilderness! I’m putting one of my gameplay photos as the cover photo here, and I may share a couple others on social media if you want to check them out. I may make some other posts as the official full game release approaches, so keep your eyes open for that. And if you do have access to the B.E.T.A., keep your weapons ready and share your experiences with me!!

New Short story, Summer Blog-A-Day!

Hey there friends and fans! The day is finally here! It’s my day to contribute to the Summer Blog-A-Day event, and I’ve got something fun lined up for you, as promised. This short story is one that is actually a separate, but relatable prequel piece to one of my novels, currently awaiting its second edit. I’m ecstatic to present a bit of my version of the myth that you’ll all quickly come to recognize. It’s not explicitly explained in the story, but it’s pretty clear this story takes place quite some time in the past, and if I’ve embellished anything, I certainly did so for a reason, and I do hope it will be enjoyed. Without further ado, here is my brand new bit of work, tentatively titled “By the Light of the Moon.”

 

Moonlight shone brightly through the air, thick rays cutting the heavy fog that lay on the ground. The men crept silently forward through the forest, each fearing the next shadow would be guarding their quarry. Oiled rifles glinted in the night as six pairs of eyes darted nervously around in the hazy darkness, hunting a creature they weren’t sure of, each of them somewhat terrified it was also hunting them. They all froze as a twig snapped in the darkness, silencing the few night bugs that still filled the Autumn air with their song, sounding like an explosion to the overstrained ears of the hunting party. They were more on edge than ever as they looked around them in the darkness, each expecting an attack to come from the most unexpected place.

The men had been brought out by a string of cattle slaughter on their farms. More than two dozen animals had been killed between the six farms in the last week and a half. The killings started at the Jones farm on the far side of the mountain, progressing a bit farther over the mountain to a new farm each night. The farmers had dealt with the killing their own way for the last week, until the handful of men stumbled upon one another in town that morning. Each had come with his own story of hardship and gore. None of them had been able to kill the creature. In fact, none of them had even seen it. Until Josiah Ramey showed up.

At six foot six, the dirty farmer was larger than life and twice as ugly, and he came packing a tale that ran chills through the rest of them. He’d heard his horse being attacked in the night and had run outside with his gun, expecting to rustle up a coyote or even a bear. He’d had no idea what to do when the beast he saw there stood straight up and howled at the moon. He swore the beast was every bit of eight feet tall and looked fit to rip a house apart if it took the notion to.

Standing there in the square, discussing the beast Ramey claimed to have shot at, a plan had come together. The animal had been crossing the mountain killing one farm at a time, almost on a schedule. If it had hit the Ramey’s farm the night before, it was sure to be after the Randolph farm that night if the pattern held up. Assuming there was a pattern, that is.

The men all knew that Ben Randolph, the owner of the small sheep farm at the base of the mountain, was away downriver visiting his father. Word had come to some of them that his father died a couple of days prior and Randolph had been hooked into burying the old man, leaving his wife alone in the house on a night when the killer beast could be coming to destroy the place.

“If she’s there alone when it comes and nobody is there to help, there’s no tellin’ what ruin that man’ll come home to. Just had his Pa die, he don’t need to find his woman ripped to bits too,” Ramey encouraged.

Tom Jones, who felt certain the barbarous Josiah Ramey had more than the Randolph man’s best interest at heart, nonetheless was inclined to agree. He’d seen the way the beast had torn into his own small farm. Three hogs, a mess of ducks and his dog had all been taken in the night without so much as a peep that he had heard. Whatever the creature was, it was dangerous. No matter how queer the Randolph’s appeared to be, no man should be made to bury his father and his wife in the same week. So, he and the other men had agreed. They’d meet at the edge of the Ramey field in case the thing had more business to attend to there and make their way through the few miles of forest that led to the Randolph homestead.

Now, more than halfway through the journey, with nothing to show for it but a bunch of fear-and-sweat soaked farmers tugging their planks in the woods, he wondered if he might be regretting his decision.

“Sorry boys,” came a whisper from the darkness. “I can’t see a thing through this fog. Dern stick coulda jumped up and bit me.”

“Mayhap it will yet, if you don’t shut that hole in yer head, Bob White,” Jones threatened, feeling his own heart rate slow down a hair at the knowledge that their quarry hadn’t decided to make them its latest meal.

The other men snickered into the forest as they started moving again. Bob White whispered an apology as Jones lay a hand on his shoulder to let him know no harm had been done. The hearts of the men pumped with renewed ferocity as they went forward. Within minutes they had covered more than half a mile, entering the clearing that was the halfway point between the two farms. The smell of blood hung heavy in the air. They cautioned each other with just a glance, each of them nodding as the message was passed on. The moonlight illuminated the clearing like a spotlight, the fog rolling through the high grass in the small open area, exposing and once more hiding the body in the center.

Jones approached slowly, signaling the others to hang back. He could feel small bones under his feet as he got closer to the body. The putrid aroma of feces mixed with that of the blood, creating a cloud of scent that turned his stomach as he looked down into the eyes of a dead deer. The animal’s eyes were opened wide in what Jones assumed to be a mix of terror and pain. Organs were spread about the clearing, the animal’s limbs lying feet away from its torso. He realized as the fog rolled away for a moment that this is what he’d been walking on. He felt his gorge threaten to rise in his throat, a belch that tasted suspiciously like the night’s chicken and beans slipping through his lips with a whisper. Jones tensed as darkness fell all around him, a heavy rumbling rising from the distance. His heart skipped a beat as he looked skyward to see a thick cloud siding across the moon. Thunder. It would storm by dawn.

“Well,” came a whisper from just behind him. “I guess it started early.”

He whirled around in a flash, leveling his rifle at Josiah Ramey’s head before he came to his senses. The man shot him a dangerous grin and brushed by him, crouching to examine the deer. The other men crept forward as he looked over the kill.

“Still fresh,” he whispered again, his hoarse voice floating through the low mist like an apparition all of its own. Without a second’s hesitation he plunged his hand into the nest of viscera that was the deer’s open chest, releasing a burst of thin steam. “Very fresh,” he said, pulling his hand out and slinging steaming droplets of blood from his fingers. “Still warm.”

Jones heard one of the other men belch behind him, could almost feel the threat of the man’s vomit rising to his mouth. He crouched down beside of Ramey, leaning in to whisper in the larger man’s ear, a move which likely saved his life. With a rush of air and a ground shaking thud something landed just behind Jones. He whirled around again, raising his gun to see what was happening. Without warning his foot caught on one of the shattered leg bones he’d stepped on before, sending him to the ground under his own weight.

As he lay there, peering through the rolling mist, a larger than possible shadow rose before him. He could see the matted hair of the beast standing out at all angles against the moonlight. His heart slammed into his ribcage, fear flowing through his veins with renewed vigor as he was sure the thing was facing him, preparing to slam into him and rip his life from his body. In an instant he pictured his own body lying shattered and empty like that of the deer. It wasn’t until the thing raised a huge hand-like paw that he realized that it wasn’t facing him, and that the hand he saw shadowed against the pale Autumn light was much more human than should be possible.

He was unable to move as the thing’s paw shot forward, clawing through the air until it met one of the men in front of it. From his angle, Jones was unable to see who. Whoever it was fell backward with a scream of pain and fear. He saw the darkened figure he recognized as his own closest neighbor, Jim Hall. Hall shoved his rifle forward into the beast’s face, his prized Remington getting one shot off before the thing grabbed his arm. He saw the beast flinch as the bullet struck it, a growl rising through the air, once more silencing all night life in the area. He could feel the warbling tone of the beast’s anger flowing through his body, as if the very air itself was vibrating with the beast’s malice. He watched as it swiped the gun out of Hall’s hand and grabbed him by the throat, lifting him off the ground as it released its hold on his arm.

Hall swung his arms forward, striking the creature about the face and shoulders, his feet flying forward and kicking every other part he could reach. Jones felt, rather than heard Ramey finally going into action. The big man was rising to his feet, leveling his powerful shotgun at the beast’s back. Jones could sense that it was going to do no good. As he watched, the beast pulled Hall toward its face and let out something that sounded like a mix between a bark and a scream that ended in a long, eerie, trailing howl as it raised its head to the sky. The men felt as if they could tell what was coming before it happened, but none of them were prepared for the violence and finality of it.

Hall took a deep breath as the thing loosened its grip on him for a moment. In the next instant the beast locked eyes with him, and he knew his life was nearly over. The other men all raised their guns, Jones raising to one knee as he watched the beast open its mouth wide than anything he’d ever seen. In the clearing five weapons prepared to fire as the beast darted its head forward, pulling Hall’s head into its gaping maw and slamming its jaws shut. They heard one whimper from the man before the beast let his body fall to the ground, crunching the bones of its prey in its jaws as blood and chunks of skull slipped out from between its lips.

The shotgun blast nearly deafened all of them. Ramey lunged backward with the force as his weak legs threatened to give out on him. The beast bent forward with the force of the blast that slammed into its back. Chunks of fur and blood rose into the air, splattering the three men closest to the beast and turning the thickening mist a dull pinkish red in the glowing moonlight. The beast rose slowly this time, heavy mist rising from its skin as the open wounds on its back slowly closed themselves, fresh flesh knitting itself together as if by some unseen hands. The thing turned around slowly, deep red eyes glowing like coals in the darkness as it met Jones’s gaze and began growling once more. He could sense the thing preparing to pounce on him as another shotgun blast tore through the night. This time it was the thing’s chest that ripped itself apart under the high-pressure buckshot, sending the thing flying off its feet and right on top of the twitching heap that was all that was left of Hall.

“Run boys,” Ramey shouted from beside them as he reloaded. “We gotta get there now.”

Without a second thought, Jones took off, hearing the other men behind him. They ran like none of them ever remembered running before, thinking only of getting to the Randolph farm ahead of this thing and, hopefully, of finding a way to put it down once they got there. For just a moment he wondered if maybe they were acting a little harshly, knowing the kind of damage a close shot with Ramey’s shotgun should do to any animal that lives and breathes. With that kind of spread and stopping power hitting it in the chest at such a close range, it should have blown a hole clean through it. But hadn’t he seen the same shot take it in the back? And the thing had literally healed right before his eyes. Is it possible anything different would happen with a shot to its chest?

As if in answer to his question he heard the enraged snarl of the thing cut through the night just before he broke the tree line. One of the other men let out a cry that was either fear or pain. Jones honestly didn’t have time to tell. He was plunging into the forest, cutting through the thick brush until he burst on the beaten horse track that had been used by anyone hunting in these woods for years. His feet flew, his muscular body carrying him faster than the others. Soon he could hear the panicked footfalls of the other hunters behind him, the clodding sound of Ramey seeming just behind him. With another snarling howl and crash of brush, he heard the beast hot on their trail. His heart raced faster at the thought of the gigantic terror slamming into the ground, gaining precious inches as it pursued them. Cold sweat ran down his back as he felt the ground shake beneath the thing’s long gait. What in the world had they discovered in the woods tonight? Just what dreaded beast from Satan’s own court had disrupted life in his mountains? And how in the name of God were they supposed to get rid of it?

These questions and more flowed through the minds of all the men as they scurried through the darkened forest, hoping their not-so-fearless leader was taking them in the right direction. The last man in the line, the oldest and slowest, was pushing himself as heard as his heart, lungs, and legs would allow him to. He could feel the beast’s thunderous footfalls seeming just inches behind him. “I’ve just got to get there. I’ve just got to get there,” he told himself over and over again as his lungs screamed for more oxygen and his legs told him of their pain. As he was beginning to worry that he just wouldn’t make it, he spied ahead the break in the trail that meant the forest was coming to an end. Hope blossomed in his heart. If they were at the forest’s end they were only about half a mile from the Randolph place. There they would be able to make a stand against this thing. His wife’s face flashed before his eyes as he gained renewed energy. He pushed himself along a little faster as he began to think this wasn’t the end after all. Keeping his eyes on the edge of the forest and the silhouettes of his fleeing comrades, he didn’t see the pine root sticking out of the path. The same pine root that had caused his wagon to hang up more than once on this path. The same pine root that now snagged his boot and sent him flying forward, his iron flying out of his hand and striking his nearest companion in the back, leaving him temporarily empty-handed.

The man slammed into the ground hard enough to make his teeth snap together, severing the tip of his tongue and shattering a handful of his remaining good teeth. The sensation rang through his head as if he’d shoved his head into a clanging church bell. His body slid forward on the bare earth, scraping his chest and arms in a dozen different places and gouging a hole in the side of his cheek that nearly tore through to the inside of his mouth. Confusion set in instantly once he finally came to a halt. He was unsure of where he was and why he appeared to be lying on the ground in more pain than he’d felt in years. The sound of the creature coming to a halt behind him, snarling in victory and revenge brought him back to reality. He flipped over, his hands shooting out to reach for his missing rifle, but it was nowhere to be found. Trembling like a leaf in the wind, he looked up, directly into the eyes of the beast they’d come to find, regretting his decision to join the men on this suicide mission. His bladder loosened as the thing crouched in front of him, looking at him with both a bestial rage and a human curiosity. It scented the air before his face, not making any sudden movements. The man was suddenly painfully aware of his wounds, of the blood pouring down the back of his throat and running out of his split lips and down his chin.

Saliva dripped from the thing’s mouth as its thick, red tongue licked its lips.  He could smell blood and rot on the beast’s hot breath. His heart was beating faster than ever as the beast opened its mouth and loosed another of its snarling howls, sending ropes of bloody saliva over his face.

In an instant the beast locked eyes with the man and slashed one of its huge paws forward, ripping through the flesh of the man’s torso. He felt the creature’s claws scrape his ribs before sinking into his abdomen and tearing a fistful of his body away. Unable to move, or even scream, the man felt the creature push him onto his back and grab his rib cage. With barely any effort at all the thing tore his chest open and ripped his heart out of his body. The last thing the man saw was the beast, unlike anything he’d ever witnessed, toss his still-beating heart into its mouth and bite down.

Feeling its nearly insatiable hunger already rising again, the beast rose to its feet once more and looked toward the edge of the forest, seeing the last of the hunter’s shadows fading just out of reach of the forest’s reaching branches. Bounding forward, the beast once more put on the chase.

Jones heard the beast roaring behind them, heard his neighbor falling, but his legs wouldn’t stop carrying him away. He kept picturing the Randolph woman, a pretty young thing that he’d met once or twice in town, coming out to see what was causing a ruckus with their cattle. He could almost envision the terror on her face as the beast they’d encountered in the forest leapt toward her. She wouldn’t stand a chance if they didn’t warn her. He knew he couldn’t let this happen. A stitch formed in his side as he maintained his rapid pace down the nearly clear hill from the forest. He could see the roof of the Randolph farm over the dying corn stalks remaining in the field. It wouldn’t be much longer now, he knew, as the sound of the beast’s pursuit returned to his ears.

Jones rounded the corner of the garden first, nearly running headlong into Karen Randolph, holding a shotgun of her own.

“Ma’am turn around, we’ve got to get inside,” he panted, the long run finally catching up to him. The others fell in line behind him, ragged breaths filling the night air with even more steam.

“What in the Lord’s name is going on,” she asked them in a voice that could make the angels cry, raising her gun to point loosely at the group of men. “I heard this shootin’ and carryin’ on out here. What in the world are you men doin’?”

“There’s some kinda animal out there, ma’am,” Jones started, before Josiah Ramey cut him off.

“There ain’t no time to explain out here, Mrs. Randolph. We got to get inside ‘fore our death comes outta them woods.”

“I won’t be invitin’ a bunch of rough necked sweaty woodsmen in my house in the dark o’the night. Now tell me what in the world is goin’ on.”

“A beast ma’am, “Jones pleaded. “It’s taken two of us already. We have to get inside where it’s safe. Shotgun wasn’t strong enough to stop it for more than a minute. We have to go now,” he said as the beast let out a loud snarl, the sound of brush rustling coming from behind them.

Panic finally crossed the woman’s face as she realized what they were saying to her. Jones felt relief flood his heart as he thought she was finally seeing the problem. A cloud covered the moon once again, thunder rumbling heavily in the distance. He felt the first drops of rain pattering down on his bare arms. He kept his eyes locked on the woman’s, silently urging her to move, as the moon broke free of its cover, shedding fresh light on them all. In the sudden burst of illumination Jones could have sworn her eyes flashed a red-goldish color, but a sound from behind them broke his focus.

The beast tore through the underbrush and burst out of the forest directly behind them, less than half the distance it would have had to cover if it followed the path. Standing tall on its hind legs and howling at the moon the creature looked more human than beast, save its shaggy coat and long, canine head. Their time was running out. Jones and the others turned, backing away slowly, guns trained on the creature, until Jones felt his path blocked by the Randolph woman. She was staring straight ahead, eyes locked onto the creature, and she wasn’t budging an inch.

“Mrs. Randolph. Karen,” he shouted, hoping the use of her first name would shake her into action. “We have to get inside. Now.”

But it was too late.

The creature dropped to all fours and bounded forward, reaching them in three long strides of its full-bodied stance. All four of the men felt their hearts constrict in their chests. It was now or never. Josiah Ramey shouted a command, all the men following his lead and aiming for the beast. As the creature once more rose to its towering height above them, all four guns went off, sending more than two pounds of hot lead into the creature’s torso.

The beast was knocked off its feet again, the moon now running between the clouds as if to hide from the terror itself.

A hissing mist rose from the beast as the moon once again came out from behind the clouds, an almost human moaning coming from the blood-soaked shape in front of them. Rain began pelting down as the creature stirred on the ground. As the men watched, the beast stretched its hands and flexed its mighty paws, rising slowly to its feet again. None of them could move. They had put enough firepower to this creature to stop a charging bear, and it was still living. A whimpering scream rose from behind Jones, a sound that seemed to be a mix of fearful and triumphant. He turned quickly, remembering the woman was present. He felt a sliver of guilt for exposing her to such carnage, his own sorrow momentarily confusing what he saw before him.

Karen Randolph was aiming her shotgun at the back of Josiah Ramey’s head. He leapt forward as she pulled the trigger, knocking the barrel of the gun to the side as the creature regained its footing. Two full shells of buckshot were driven into the creature’s unexpectant shoulder, driving it to the ground again with a scream of pain like nothing any of the men had ever heard. Jones stopped short as Karen Randolph loosed a shriek to match that of the beast. With a strength he couldn’t have imagined her having, the woman threw him to the ground and drove a boot clad foot into his sternum, reloading her gun while she did so, aiming it at the men, who were once more aiming on the writhing creature on the ground.

The moonlight was hidden once again as lightning flashed in the sky, rain pelting them harder now. In a muzzle flash that nearly blinded him, Jones watched as the grieved woman emptied her weapon into the back of the man closest to her. With a scream of rage, the beast on the ground sat up, blood pouring from a wound that didn’t seem to want to heal. The buckshot had torn away half the thing’s shoulder, leaving its arm a dangling mess, and had ripped a good portion of its cheek off. Jones finally got his first close view of the creature in that instant, and it was then that he became certain the powers of Hell existed, and he was staring one of them right in the face.

The beast rose slowly to its feet, wolfish legs bringing it to a towering height of at least eight feet, just as Ramey had told them. Dark brown fur coated the thing’s body from head to toe, its blood-soaked torso more muscular than the largest farmhand Jones had ever seen. It hunched forward on its canine legs, a thick brown tail swishing back and forth in the mist. Thick, muscular arms took the place of what should have been the wolf-creature’s front legs. He saw, with an added horror that his earlier observation was correct: the beast’s fur-covered claws were almost identical to human hands. The beast’s head was long and wolfish, huge ears standing tall on the sides of its head. It was the face that made Jones gasp, his breath hitching in chest. Two large red-gold eyes peered out of the blood matted fur at the base of the monster’s snout, glaring at each of them in turn while its long snout, oozing with saliva and blood, showed them the teeth that had taken the lives of two of their friends. Jones was drawn to the left side of the beast’s face, however, certain that he could see something more inside the hole made by the woman’s stray buckshot.

With a howl that sent night birds flying for miles, the creature swiped forward and sunk its claws into the face of the man in front of it, crushing the skull beneath with Ramey hurriedly trying to reload his shotgun while Karen Randolph did the same. Jones regained his feet as the moon came out from behind the cloud again, leveling his gun the thing’s head and firing as Ramey loosed his shot as well. The two shots collided in the air before the beast’s face, causing an explosion that sent fire and shards of metal in every direction. The beast howled in a pained rage and dove forward at Jones, hitting him low across the torso and driving him back to the ground at the edge of the corn. Blood soaked Jones now as he saw the mist once more rising from the beast’s skin.

The creature rose up from its low position on his body, its eyes meeting his as blood and thick ropes of saliva coated his chest. His horror was renewed as he saw the disturbed flesh and bone exposed by the firestorm of the two gunshots. He could see the almost completely dislocated lower mandible, being held in place by a few ropes of sinew and gristle. As he watched the moon escaped the clouds once more, heavy mist rising from the edges of the wolf beast’s head where the light touched it. The creature looked up at the sky, exposing the face beneath the flesh that Jones was certain he’d seen. The torn flesh of Ben Randolph’s cheek was slowly hidden as the flesh knitted itself back over the exposed area.

Ramey, not seeing this, rapidly approached the beast from behind, swinging his gun with all his might. Blood gushed forward as the metal connected with the beast’s head, flowing over Jones’s face. Chunks of flesh and fur flopped forward exposing more of the face within. One red eye remained on the right side of the beast’s head, the mist rising heavily as new flesh knitted over the torn flaps. A scream rang out beside the group, followed by a gunshot that sent Ramey to the ground. At the sound of his wife’s voice, Ben Randolph’s one exposed eye fluttered open. A red-gold glint remained in the eye for a moment as his mouth opened.

“Krrrnnn,” came a guttural growl from within the split head. In an instant the Ben-beast was standing, dragging Jones with it. “Krrreennn,” came the growl again.

The woman stood weeping before the beast as it held Jones in its great paws.

“It’s OK, Ben,” she said to the beast, lightning splitting the sky as the moon was finally covered by the heavy clouds. Fat drops of rain slapped every available surface, pelting Jones’s skin with enough force to leave welts on his face. The beast’s claws flexed, leaving gouge marks in his chest as the woman reached out and touched the beast’s shoulder, the wound her gun had left now closed, only a bright white scar remaining to show where it had been.

Jones, aware the creature was now staring at Karen Randolph, reached slowly for his revolver, realizing it still sat snugly in the holster on his hip. As he drew the weapon slowly, praying the wet bullets would still fire, the beast shot its remaining eye to his face, attracted by the sudden flex of his muscles as he drew the weapon. With no warning, the beast released his shirt with one hand, and shoved its hand through his chest, shredding his left lung and half the organs in his body, before snapping his spine. White hot pain flashed in Jones’s mind as he felt his body fighting to stay alive. Using the last of his strength, he raised the pistol with a shaky hand, and pulled the trigger. The bullet drove through the beast’s chest and upward into Randolph’s chin, sending a gush of blood and gore surging out of the man’s nose and mouth.

He was dropped to the ground before he knew what was happening. The beast dropped to its knees, pulling its breath in in gasps and jerks. Ben Randolph opened his mouth, a whimper escaping from deep within his body. His wife stood over his body, her mouth opening and closing in shock.

The moon once more escaped its cloudy prison, sending thick beams of light down over the wounded body in front of her, steam rising from countless lesions and gaping holes in the thing’s flesh. As she watched this spectacle, Karen Randolph raised her gun once more, tears streaming down her face.

“Karen,” the growling voice from within the steaming body muttered clearly, looking into her eyes.

“Shhh, Ben. Everything is going to be just fine,” she said as she squeezed the trigger slowly.

Jones watched as Karen Randolph discharged her weapon, Josiah Ramey’s head exploding with the blast, sending hot blood and shards of bone cascading down over Ben Randolph’s head before he passed out on the ground and knew no more that night. Lightning split the sky once more as the darkness streaked Jones’s vision. Steam rose heavily from Ben Randolph’s body as the bloody fur seemed to melt away before Jones’s eyes. He felt his life slipping away as he watched the beast before him melt away, leaving the bruised and battered form of the man whose wife he’d come here to save. The wife who now stood over her husband, a grin on her face. As Jones’s life left his body, he met Karen Randolph’s eyes, seeing a shocking red-gold glint in them for just a moment before darkness fell over his world for good.

 

There we go, everyone. I know this was a pretty lengthy piece, but I hope you all enjoyed it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this story, and anything else you’re interested in. If you want to keep up with my work, check out more samples, or just see what else I’m up to, feel free to follow here or subscribe to my newsletter. I would also love it if you’d like my author page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/DMathewsBooks/) or follow me on Twitter (@DameanMathews) and keep the reading and writing going! Feel free to comment or message me at any time, and enjoy the rest of the Summer-Blog-A-Day event here (http://kaymacleodbooks.com/summer-blog-a-day-2018/).

Freedom reigns

Greetings friends and fans! I know some of you are in the U.S. and some aren’t, and I apologize to anyone who finds this post irrelevant – but Happy Independence Day!

We’ve circled the sun one more time and we have arrived back at July 4th, celebrating the Independence of the United States and the freedom that grants me the ability to sit here tapping away at the keyboard. Thanks to the amazing sacrifices the masses have made to provide this country with its independence I can wake up in the morning and put on whatever clothes I choose. I can sit down and write my novels about whatever topic I want. I can listen to whatever music I choose to listen to, watch what I choose, sleep when I choose. I can be a part of whatever religion I feel most drawn to, and it is my absolute right.

Independence Day is, for those of you that haven’t thought about it, an incredible opportunity for us, as U.S. citizens, to just enjoy the country we live in. I’ve always been fascinated by the feeling surrounding the 4th of July. It’s always a great surge of patriotic movies, music and ideas. Barbecues dot the backyards and fireworks blaze through the air, painting the sky a myriad of colors to stun the eye.

I can remember the huge town gatherings when I was growing up. We would eat a great “all-American” dinner of burgers and hot dogs and gather near the town high school with family and friends and wait for the show to begin. The summer evening would grow cooler as the darkness spread over the sky, chasing the last of the sun’s rays across the world. Great conversations would ensue as we all prepared to enjoy a genuine display of aerial explosions. And it rarely disappointed.

Even now, as a 27 year-old man, those memories stand out in my mind as being great inspirations to me. I’ve always found myself feeling an exceeding passion for the written word around this time of year. Summer is such an amazing time for me. It’s a time to get out and explore the world around you, to embrace the extended daylight hours and enjoy the warmer nights. I’ve always been a traveler at heart. I love getting myself out there and experiencing the world in new ways, feeling the loving touch of nature as much as possible. One thing that I will never be able to get enough of is just the feeling of being in the fresh air, the amazing comfort that I feel just walking outside.

Some of you who have read my work know that I often try to convey that in my writing. Many of my characters feel that same connection with nature, some yearning the touch of a cool breeze above all else. To be able to put my work out there and put myself and my love of nature into it is one of my greatest desires. Obviously, I connect quite a bit with music and the night. These are things that make my words flow in all new ways, and recently I’ve found myself in a situation where I can’t always embrace those things. Working a night shift can definitely keep you from being able to celebrate the night. As much as I hate to admit it, I have felt it change my writing and my life as a whole. It’s something that I, so far, have had difficulty adjusting to.

This Independence Day, though, I want to work on changing that. I want to bring the word independence full circle and apply it to my life in new ways. I have allowed my mind to be too occupied with things that are not my writing, my purpose, my destiny. And it’s time to bring it back. I think I let myself disconnect for a time after sending out my first round of queries (which, honestly, may not have been terrible), but no author has ever gotten his or her work out there by not writing. So this independence day, I’ll move away from the things that hinder me and I will set my writing free once more.

I’m going to embrace summer and move back into the realm of my own creation as often as possible. After all, in a world known for the terrible bits of reality we have to face every day, a little fiction is exactly what we need sometimes to brighten things, right?

So that’s that, guys. I hope you all have an awesome Independence Day, with great family, friends, food, and fireworks. The best 4 f’s out there, right? What sort of memories do you cherish on the 4th of July? What plans do you have this year? Feel free to reach out and leave your comments, no matter where you’re from. Even if you don’t celebrate U.S. Independence Day, do you still find the same inspiration from those awesome summer nights? I’d love to hear what the warm season means to everyone else.

 

The Waiting Game

Hey there, friends and fans! It’s been a crazy week, guys. Last Tuesday I took a huge leap that will lead to big things for my future as a writer. After editing and re-editing and debating and waiting and being a nervous wreck, I finally pulled myself up by my bootstraps and sent query letters to a number of agents. For those of you that haven’t done it, the query process is quite stressful at times, but it can be the difference between having a book on the shelves of your local literature haven – or gathering dust in your desk drawer.

Personally, I sought dozens of articles and opinions on what makes the best query letter. From different styles, different lengths, different organizational suggestions it was not hard to get bogged down in the insane possibilities. This type of novel should have this type of query, that type should have a different kind, your contact info should be one place vs. another. Needless to say it was quite daunting. Fortunately, while seeking out the help of as many print and web sources as I could deem fairly reliable I was also asking some close author friends of mine for advice.

Through all the muck and the mire one piece of advice really helped me organize my thoughts and figure out exactly what I could do to get myself moving in the right direction. A close friend told me that no matter how many bits of advice and how many query suggestions I read I needed to remember that they were all just opinions. As long as you include the necessary information and present your story in an understandable and exciting way, it’s going to ultimately be in the agent’s hands. If you send a query that doesn’t quite match what they expect, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s hitting the trash (unless of course you blatantly disregard some type of styling request the agent personally has).

At the end of the day, based on what I saw and what I’ve been told, the important thing to remember is making sure whoever reads your query is going to want to read your book. To the best of my ability, that’s what I did. I picked my first round of agents and sent the first communication to them with the best of hopes. Now I’m a week into the waiting game and every email I get sends new shivers down my spine. Of course, I’ll keep you all updated when that positive news comes rolling in (confidence, right?!). In the meantime, I plan to keep jotting down ideas and smatterings here and there. I’ve had some interesting inspiration hit recently and I’ve got a couple of works full of potential brewing, along with others that I’ve already started. The real task next will be to figure out which project I should pursue to completion now that Maverip is wrapped up (at least for now).

Have any of you sent query letters before? In your opinion what, if any, are the benefits of going the self-publishing route over traditional publishing or vice versa? I’d love to hear how this process went for you all and what your thoughts are on the various publication possibilities available to the 21st century author. Feel free to leave your comments here or send me a private message. I love hearing from you guys and I can’t wait to have good news to share with you! In the meantime, enjoy the beginning of your summer and get out there and take advantage of these warm summer nights – but don’t step too far into the shadows. You never know what might be lurking there!

Harry Potter and the 8-book review

Hey there friends and fans! It’s the end of May and, as promised, here is the first in a new kind of review for me. I apologize for being a bit later than intended, but between work and some personal challenges, here we are. Without further ado, let’s jump right in! Obviously, the appeal of the standard review isn’t something I can completely drop when a book particularly calls to me, but this has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while. In case you’ve had your head in the sand, I’m talking about my review of the Harry Potter series in its entirety. As someone who grew up with J.K Rowling’s amazing books (although I admittedly didn’t join the celebration until the release of the third book) I have been incredibly influenced by the ideas and art within them. My style, my interests, even some of my own moral ideas reflect some of those exhibited by The Boy Who Lived and his closest friends. One reason I wanted to do this review, aside from having an excuse to talk about them, was to make myself buckle down and read the series from beginning to end again. The last time I read each book in succession like this was immediately after the release of “Deathly Hallows,” and, after doing it again, I think I see why. I’m pretty sure my brain was saving me once again from the pain of having to deal with the end of this amazing series. However, in this instance I also had “The Cursed Child” to stave off the ‘ending pains.’ As a side note, since this book comes so long after the originals and acts as a very different sort of book, I’ll probably set up a separate paragraph about it as well.

To begin, this series is about Harry Potter, a young wizard who was attacked by the most powerful Dark Wizard who ever lived. Potter, after being raised by muggles (non-magic folk) for 11 years, is thrown into the wizarding world and his own fame with no knowledge of any of it. The series follows Harry’s footsteps through his 7 year tenure at Hogwarts, where he and his friends must face typical teenage angst, learning the facets of magic, and the return of Voldemort, who still wants nothing more than to see Harry dead.

As I said, I fell into this series at a young age and I was instantly hooked. From the first paragraph J.K. Rowling drives you into this fantasy world that, despite the silly antics littering the pages, is almost entirely believable. Even now, more than a decade later, I love reading about Harry’s adventures and his education at an antiquated, unusual, and wonderful school. The characters were, for the most part, incredibly relatable to me. I was very impressed to find out that this was still the case after all these years. As I read into these characters I found myself understanding their conflicts, their sadness, and their excitement.

One of the strongest things Rowling presents, in my opinion, is the threat of darkness that surrounds Voldemort’s return. Every one of his followers we are introduced to is more dastardly than the last – despite the blatant incapability of some of them. Harry’s link to his would-be murderer is something that, even at the end of the seventh novel, feels like it is much deeper and more involved than we could ever understand. This idea is, of course, further explored in “The Cursed Child,” but more on that later.

One of the things that continuously interested me with this series – even more so at this point in my life and the state of the world – was Rowling’s continued incorporation of the necessity of equality, between sexes, genders, sexualities, species and races. Time and time again our main characters (particularly Hermione) find the mistreatment of anyone who is different from the pure-blood, magical standard in the wizarding world deplorable. Organizations are started (S.P.E.W. – not spew), punches are thrown, spells are cast, and lives are lost in the name of equality. I love the repeated examples that show all species and races and sexes should have the same claim to the world and its happiness. Rowling doesn’t back down from bringing these issues to the forefront of the novels in many different ways, and I think the story and morals are all that much more important because of it.

Harry’s coming of age was something that made many of my generation feel a little less alone, a little stronger, and a little more at ease about our own lives. Rowling’s tale reflects some of the difficulties that can face all of us as we enter adulthood – with the hopeful exception of a murderous psychopath chasing you through your life. So many of us bonded incredibly with this tale, feeling the characters experience some of the same things we all felt, facing some situations we were familiar with, and it showed us all that everything would be fine. After all, if a 17 year old can handle battling most of the wizarding world and coming toe-to-toe with the most powerful wizard alive, we can surely handle high school, right?

Rowling’s nonchalant style throughout much of this saga makes the books very easy to read. Her often lighthearted approach at even the most difficult situations helps drive these novels home and make them stick with us long after we’ve closed the books. The saga is so immense and full that I’m not sure I have a favorite part, or even a favorite book, although I think “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” “Order of the Phoenix,” and “Deathly Hallows” are steps above the others for me.

Overall, I’m not sure there are many things I don’t like about the series. I would like to see more of Harry’s story played out. I would really love Rowling to write a book about the events before Harry’s birth. A nice long exploration of Dumbledore’s past, the true story of Voldemort’s rise to power, background on James’s family. Of course these things have been touched on in various ways since the original novels.

When it comes to “The Cursed Child” I had a good deal of inner conflict when reading the work. I was very excited to see the script released in novel format, and I would love to see the production, and I do think it could be a great movie. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, as this was my first reading of the book, even though I preordered it and have had it for well over a year. This continuation of Harry’s tale, bringing his family into focus and revisiting events of his past was a wonderful idea. I had a good deal of trouble relating to the adult Harry and his son, Albus, at first. I found the boy to be quite impetulant and much more like a Malfoy than a Potter, and I thought Harry did not feel like the same person he was in the series. As the story went on I did relate a bit more the characters, and I admittedly do enjoy the idea of Hermione as Minster of Magic. I won’t mention too many more spoilers here, because a good deal of people have missed the book. Suffice to say that I enjoyed the continuation, but still would have loved more mention of the past events of the wizarding world.

Overall, this series is by far one of the best things I’ve read in my life – and, believe me, that list is NOT a small one. The wizarding world continues to have immense appeal to me, particularly in that they have little to no need of the technology that continues to drive this world forward and diminish our connection with the universe. The continued use of quills and lanterns, a lack of trivial things like television and video games, and the obvious embrace of the natural world still warms my heart, too. But what did you think about it? Do you love the series, do you hate it? If you’d never read it before, how did it hit you, and if you were returning to the books did you still find yourself interested in the story? What, if anything, changed for you? Share your thoughts in the comments and share this as far and wide as you can to get plenty of people involved! For me Harry Potter was, and is, truly an inspiration. The laughter, the tears and the passion that filled these pages will never die and I am exceptionally glad that I can always turn to them. I am proud to have grown up on them. I will be happy to pass them on to future generations. Always.

New Experiences

“The sea is everything. It covers seven-tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and life-giving. It is an immense desert place where man is never lonely, for he senses the weaving of Creation on every hand. It is the physical embodiment of a supernatural existence… For the sea itself is nothing but love and emotion.” – Jules Verne.

Greetings friends and fans! It’s been a while since we’ve heard from one another. I’ve been adjusting to a new work schedule and working my way through some challenges. Currently I find myself sitting outside on break, staring at the mountains and pondering everything. As many of you know I’m a huge supporter of life, joy, adventure, and happiness.

Humans are made to thrive on excitement. After all, idle hands are the devil’s playground, right? We wake up in the morning needing stimulation, invigoration, not stagnation. If our minds and spirits are not elevated to new levels, we find ourselves bored and unhappy. We say we’re “in a rut” or just generally stuck in the mud. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Rather than allowing ourselves to fall into the same old routines day in and day out, we need to find new things to bring into our lives, new experiences to keep the “wow” factor strong and steady for us. Being someone who loves travel and excitement, I’ve always leapt at the chance to do new things, go to new places, add another notch to my proverbial belt. Recently I got a chance to do something that I had never before had the chance to do. As a 27-year-old man, I went to the beach.

I have lived in the Appalachian Mountains my entire life. The culture in these rocks is so ingrained in my bones my soul practically oozes the charm of the region. I have traveled to many places along the spine of these mountains, my travels taking me to many cities and small towns between Georgia and Maryland, most of these journeys within a day’s drive of my home near the birthplace of country music. I have always been intrigued by the idea of the beach, having seen the ocean once, at a glance through the window of a charter bus, so to have the opportunity to go there thrilled me to the core.

As my wife and I made the more than half a dozen hour drive across the state of Virginia, we relished in the sight of the mountains we love, the thrill of watching them fade to flat, swampy coastal land putting a smile on our faces. My first sight of the ocean that day, with my wife by my side and adventure in my soul is one I’ll never forget- but it pales in comparison to my first time wading out into the turbulent water.

The feeling of the cool surf surging against my body as I waded further out, the Atlantic occassionally clashing against itself, salt water splashing in my face, is an experience that truly changed me. I knew the power the sea had, having felt its draw my whole life, but nothing could have prepared me for the calm that washed over me with those waves. Even in the cool, cloudy, windy state we found ourselves. I was, and am, enamored.

My reason for writing this is simple; that experience reminded me that, no matter what life throws at us, no matter what hardships we face, the world – all of God’s amazing creation- is still there, waiting for us. For me, the opportunity to see the beach, and experience it, not only with my wife, but with some of our dearest friends, came exactly when I needed it. For me it was a reminder that adventure, experience, and love are things we should never cease to seek out.

Our hearts, minds, and souls are hardwired to search for the beauty and adventure of this world, whether we realize it or not. For as long as mankind has been on this rock we have spoken and written about this fact. It has gone by many names over the years. The unknown. The Sublime. Colonization. I would even venture to say things as commonplace as the search for the New World and the various gold rushes would fall under this mantle.

The bottom line is that we, as a species, need experience. We need adventure. We need to wake up and seek out things that we haven’t seen or done before, fill our lives with something other than routine. No matter how far we go or what we do, nothing will compare to the feeling of seeing and swimming in your first ocean, climbing your first mountain, crossing into a country or state previously unexplored by you. We can’t let the monotony of life bring us to a stopping point, wear us down, or distract us into forgetting about our lives. I know many people who live to work and work to live, never stopping to smell the roses or appreciate the things around them. If you let yourself fall into this trap, you need to find a way out before you wake up one day and realize how many opportunities have passed you by.

I challenge each and every one of you reading this to find a way out of that rut right now. Pick yourself up and find a new experience. Take a new route home, go to a new city or town, try a new type of food. Do something you’ve never done before. Break your rut and remember just how much the world has to offer, before it’s too late. I’d love to hear how you guys break the rut. Feel free to reach out to me in the comments or in a message. Let me know what new things you try and how the experience made you feel. This life is ours, guys. We can’t let it go to waste.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Happy Monday, everyone. This was an awesome book. Obviously, even though I made my schedule for the year and said I was only doing series reviews this year, the review bug and the need to discuss literature is absolutely irresistible. Call it the teacher in me. (It’s also indescribably thrilling to say that). Anyway, let’s dive into the discussion about this great work of art.

First and foremost I have to say that this book was a pleasant surprise. I first got the urge to read it after seeing the trailer for the movie (which, if you haven’t noticed, tends to happen a lot. When the worlds of art mediums collide I go a little nuts at times). I thought, based on the trailer and the reviews, that the story would be an interesting experience, and I was very right. The writing was something that I was automatically able to relate to, YA novels being easy going and workable in the best way.

The author, Becky Albertalli, presents her audience with a story that encompasses generations and breaks a lot of emotional barriers. I was instantly impressed with Simon’s maturity. For a junior in high school, he is already more than capable of understanding himself and has an immense threshold for emotion. Although it was a decade ago, I don’t think I remember many of the people I went to school with being capable of quite his level of adulthood.

Simon is a kid who realizes that he is gay. In today’s society coming to terms with that is obviously not quite as shunned as it was, say 20 years ago, but it is still one of the most difficult things some people can ever admit. This book does a fantastic job of delving into the problems with our world and the issues people have just letting other people be themselves. One of the biggest conflicts Simon faces is his own worry of how people will perceive the truth about his sexuality – the very nature of who he is. He is convinced that his family and friends, as well as his peers in school, will react negatively to his coming out. The high possibility of this fear being completely justified is driven home by our introduction to Simon, who starts his tale by being blackmailed by a guy in his school who has discovered his secret. Martin finds out Simon’s truth and decides to use it to benefit himself – by getting a date with one of Simon’s best friends. Great guy, right?

From here Simon’s tale turns into a roller coaster of emotion and experience. I found myself repeatedly blown away by Simon’s life. He has amazing friends and a great family. For the first half of the book we go with Simon on his journey of emailing his crush and dealing with his fear that the world will throw him aside and destroy him if they find out what he’s holding from them. The dynamic between Simon and his friends and family leaves nothing to be desired here. Even after he is unwillingly outed to the world, Simon’s close peers are more understanding than he could have ever imagined. His father, who has made lighthearted gay jokes for his entire life, is forced to face the music and comes to terms with how hurtful these words can be to his son. Something that he accepts and immediately apologizes for. As a whole, the reader is almost able to breathe a sigh of relief with Simon as he immerses himself into his life after everyone knows his secret. Very little changes for Simon once he goes back to school. Of course, there are a handful of immature people who make their remarks and poke fun, but the author is very careful to spin the story away from that. I do feel that she is trying to speak to new generations about how different the world is today, giving Simon a support base that provides him with everything he needs to understand that he is still loved for who he is, which hopefully will allow teens facing similar issues a doorway for the same.

I really don’t want to give much of the detail of this book out, because it is really something you just have to read. Simon’s story is absolutely his own, and I won’t take that from him. I feel no consternation saying that this is a book every single person with a pulse should read, regardless of your sexuality. Albertalli is very good at giving her audience everything they need to slide seamlessly into the scene. For much of the book I honestly related more to Simon’s life than I ever expected to.

For me one of the most important things this work brings to the table is the crucial need for humans to be accepting of one another. For decades the issue of gay and LGBTQ rights have been on the forefront of most news outlets. People have protested and marched, people have written letters and books, people have stood and fasted and done all nature of things to draw attention to this. As a Christian man in America I have heard so much about this issue, and I’ve always found it painful. For me the biggest problem with this entire issue is the very idea that we as a species feel we have any right to even question the desire of another person.

The issue of “the norm” is brought up repeatedly in the novel, and it spoke to me above all else. Simon repeatedly posits why straight and white are the norms, and it really drives the whole novel home. Anyone who has seen the movie trailer knows this is also a facet of the movie, and the question itself is one of the most important things Albertalli brought to the public eye. For me, everyone is important. Everyone is special. Everyone is worth living and loving. There is no such thing as “normal.” Living in a very rural area, I have unfortunately seen the culture of unacceptance, and I’ve never really understood it.

The idea that anyone feels they have a right to tell another person who they have a right to love is one of the biggest issues we can discuss in relation to Simon’s conflict. Every human on this planet is their own person, with their own reality, their own personality. Who we love is not the business of others and it is not for anyone on this planet to say who we can and cannot love – who we can and cannot be. I think the dichotomy of Simon’s unfortunate blackmail experience accompanied by his fear of this harsh possibility is something that speaks volumes as well.

Overall, I can’t think of much that I would change about this book. I would love to get more of a perspective of how Simon’s life changed after he figured out who Blue was (I won’t spoil that here!), of course. We get some of that experience, naturally, but I would really like to get a sort of long-haul look. Maybe a follow-up novel detailing Simon’s senior year, or his transition to college would be a good idea (hint hint, Becky!). I would also like to see more of an internal scope of Martin’s point of view about the whole thing.

Regardless, I definitely recommend this book. It will open your eyes to a point of view that some people intentionally avoid and it will give you a new perspective on life. As always, I’m working on my own writing as well behind the scenes and I am enjoying my journey as well. My review of the Harry Potter series will be up later this month as planned, and I’ll be looking into another series review after that if my work schedule permits it. Of course, there will likely be another few books that insist I discuss them as well, so be sure to tag along for the journey!! Feel free to share your comments about this book or any of my other reviews, and leave me any suggestions you have about a future review. I love to check them out! Have an awesome week, and stay tuned for the updates I’ll have for you on my many projects.