Where the Crawdads Sing (2022)

As many of you know, I have an extreme love and respect for the book by Delia Owens. It has been one of my favorite pieces of literature since the day of its release. From paragraph one, the book had my attention and would not let me go. Needless to say, when I heard the official announcement it was getting the silver screen treatment I was beyond nervous. How could anyone do such fantastic, eloquent prose justice? I’m thrilled to say my worries were exceedingly unfounded.

Last night I finally got to watch the film that took the world by storm, and I’m proud to say that from the opening scenes to the last seconds of credit scrawl I was hooked once again. Owens’s world and character were brought to life in such a fantastic and thrilling manner that I was almost ashamed at being concerned. Daisy Edgar Jones breathed such a refreshing breath of life into Kya and her harsh, pain-filled early life that I found my heart reaching out to this character again. With a narration by Jones that allowed some of Owens’s more poignant lines (a phrase that is honestly such a shock it’s not even funny) to live and thrive on the big screen.

The story, if any of you are unfamiliar, is of a small town on coastal North Carolina that is rocked by the death of one of its star young men. Chase Andrews, a regular jock and good ole’ boy, who came from an old money family, is found dead in the marshes. When police consider the possibilty that this may have been a murder, the first suspect they seek is someone the townspeople call “Marsh Girl.” This opens into the sad story of Kya Clark, a sad young woman who was abandoned by her mother, siblings, and finally her abusive father in their family home. We learn of the hardships of Kya’s life, including her relationship with the dead man and the attempted rape that led her to fleeing for her life.

As a native Appalachian who grew up just a few hours from these coastal marshes, I was blown away by the cinematography and the beauty of the film. The marshland is truly a whole other world, and one that offers its own set of power, grace, and beauty. Kya’s story as told through the cinematic lens, under the production power of none other than Reese Witherspoon with close consultation by Owens herself, made my heart break again and again. I laughed, I gasped, I even found tears in my eyes on multiple occasions throughout the 2 hour film, and I would not have it any other way.

Kya’s life in the marsh was by no means easy, but the power of a pure mind and heart is exemplified in her ability to find the true beauty nature has to offer. The marsh raised Kya in its own way, and the world made sure she knew she wasn’t accepted. The strength behind a young woman’s determination is exemplified in this story, and Kya’s connection with nature is one that we can all be jealous of. I know I am. Long story short, I highly recommend this movie, and the book that gave it life, of course. Book first, of course. Once you enjoy both I’d love the hear your thoughts, too. Comment, message, whatever makes your little heart happy. I look forward to hearing from you! As always, read on, happy people.

Using Personal Success/Creative Encouragement

Happy late August, everyone! Summer is quickly drawing to a close as Fall and the holiday seasons creep ever closer. Personally, I find the cooler months tend to either be nominally more successful for creative endeavors – or they kill them completely. Rarely is there an in between. Usually that thought would mortify me, but I am working harder at understanding to allow my body and mind to work at their pace and accept that sometimes the muse just is not there.

That does not mean, however, that I am not successful. The same goes for all of you. Past accomplishments are just as important today, tomorrow, and years in the future as they were the day you achieved them. That is something that is a little difficult to believe or maintain as a creator. When we look back at a huge project we finished at an earlier date and see that we haven’t done anything of similar magnitude today, it can be a little discouraging. You may even be tempted to feel guilty about it.

Don’t. Regardless of what horrible things your mind tells you, you are still a creator, and you are still doing amazing things. Knowing that you have accomplished huge things in the past should be enough to make you excited for your potential for the present and the future. When these feelings of inadequacy spring up, and I wish I could say they wouldn’t, but they probably will, it is important to look at what encourages us as a creator.

Personally, I find there are several things that encourage and inspire me – anything from the right music, to heavy exposure to nature and peaceful surroundings. Whatever it may be, it is important that you delve into these things anytime you are feeling even moderately less than awesome. It is also crucially important that we make an effort to reach out and encourage our fellow creators. If we know that we get down and start feeling like our work isn’t good enough sometimes it only stand to reason that other creators feel the same way. I actually spoke a lot about encouragement and inspiration in a recent podcast that I’ll link here in the bottom of this post.

I have noticed a lot of times lately that people will endlessly consume the arts, and let’s face it, that’s a lot better than losing yourself in reality. That is not at all a problem, of course. The problem comes when we lose ourself in these magnificent works of art, love them to bits, but say nothing of that love to the creator. I know each and every one of you who have shared your work with others have experienced what it’s like to have someone look at your piece or listen to your song or read your story and give it no reaction or the most minimal one. It sucks.

To know that you put that piece of yourself out there and someone just walked by it and barely gave it a reaction makes you feel lower than low. To know that this story that makes your heart pound and made you so proud you wanted to share it is just given the most cursory response is like a knife in the back. So don’t do this to other creators! Make sure if there is something out there that inspires any kind of emotion in you, you tell the person who made it happen! I have a lot more to say about this in my podcast, so head on over there and check it out. “The Modern Prometheus” podcast is available pretty much anywhere you listen to podcasts.

https://anchor.fm/damean-mathews/episodes/Creative-Encouragment-e1mfgc7

I also have started a Patreon geared toward writers and creators, if you haven’t heard that news. I have two tier levels that each have their own benefits, but both will offer you tips, writing exercises, free samples of my work, and more. Head on over there to become a patron and start reaping the benefits!

https://www.patreon.com/DameanMathews

As always, thank you for listening to what I have to say, and I hope you will all interact, listen to my podcast, and join me on my Patreon journey. Keep your eyes open for new work, news on my upcoming events and more! Have a great week!

Experience the Fullness

Good morning, everyone! We are fast approaching June and, hopefully, another full month of Summer fun. Between hot days, starry nights, and the wide world of creativity and inspiration, the world is ours for the taking. I have been doing my best to take advantage of that creative potential floating around during while awaiting a new year of teaching and students to come flowing back into my classroom. I’ve been working on getting myself in shape – mentally as well as physically – and I’ve been writing and reading like mad. I actually got a novel completed, with a proof en route to me as I type this. On top of that, I’ve been working on several short pieces and other novels. Needless to say, it has been a busy month.

In the midst of the bustle of the every day, I have been trying to reach myself at a more peaceful mindset as well. Just last night I went out back and built a fire in our firepit, turning on some background music and relaxing. The night was immensely peaceful, with mostly clear skies, a cool breeze, synchronous fireflies dancing amid the leaves of the trees around me, and frogs serenading me. I found particular moments of near transcendant peace when, while staring at the stars and absorbing the wonder of the night, Pink Floyd began playing in the background. From Floyd, to Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Third Day, Jeffrey Munks and more, my brain floated on heightened frequencies until story ideas started flowing .

I took turns staring into the night sky, watching the heavens unfold above me, and looking deep into the flames of the fire, where the very fabric of reality was being torn asunder and sent skyward to join the particles of times past and future. It was a mesmerizing and humbling experience, and it brings me to the overall point I want to make here. During those moments, I wasn’t looking for creativity. I wasn’t bent over a keyboard or notebook hammering out ideas for my next story or novel. I wasn’t considering that part of things. They just came to me, because that’s who I am. Those stories flow from the universe right into me, making me their medium, their liason with reality. That is my purpose in this world, and it finds me in peace.

Too often we push ourselves so hard trying to accomplish goals, and while that is noble and fantastic, it should not be every second of our lives. Goals and dreams are of the utmost importance, but just as important is whether or not you are enjoying the journey. There are times I focus too much on my writing, and times I focus too little on it. I typically can recognize both, but my experience last night reminded me how important equilbrium can be. During an experience of true inner and outer peace, story ideas came to me from the world around me. I didn’t have to seek them, push myself to create something from nothing, pound my head against the wall to make the ideas flow. I didn’t have to.

How many times have you found yourself pushing yourself so hard in your work or craft – whether it be professional or creative – and just come up blank? You try and try to make something happen, to crack that next egg or break down that wall where you’re sure the next great idea lies, but nothing works. You are drained, exhausted, perhaps even find yourself disliking the journey you are on. It’s easy to do, but not always easy to admit. We tend to be single-minded as a species, to a fault. But I recommend breaking that habit.

Create for yourself an equilibrium, a balance between work and play. A set time for you to not only live in this world, but enjoy it. It is so important that we not lose sight of the fact that we are not solely put here to work. There are so many amazing facets of this world that we can use to entertainment as a crutch rather than a freedom. On top of the dreams and goals that help you set a path for yourself, you also have a varied list of interests that help you form your own individual self. Why would you ever ignore them?

That is the important thing to take away from this post, in my opinion. You are given passions and talents, as well as hopes and dreams, but overall forcing any one of these things while ignoring the others is not good. You must take life in your own hands and find the balance. By diving into the freedom of the world of interests at your fingertips, your brain might take the chance to relax and those ideas might flow through on their own, riding waves of peace and calm. Next time you feel bogged down and stressed by your journey, take some time to relax with peace. Or, if you really want to push the boundaries, relax every day and don’t let yourself get overburdened. What possibilities, eh?

Embrace Your Passions

Happy Sunday, everyone! June is upon us, and with it comes the exciting realization that I have the entire summer to write, edit, and publish more work for the next two months. Knowing I have the freedom to create at my leisure is a wonderful feeling. I have plans to write and publish several of my long-awaited works this summer, and it thrills me to think those pieces will soon be out in the world. I have a number of festivals and appearances booked for the next couple months, which promises to be an ongoing good time.

One of these events, the 2022 Clinch River Days Festival, just wrapped up yesterday. A weekend long celebration of Appalachian culture and crafts that is held on the banks of the mighty Clinch, this festival gave me the opportunity to connect with tons of new readers and discuss my writing with an entirely new audience. I had my work compared to Anne Rice and Stephen King, and even managed to spot one of my fellow vendors who purchased one of my books on the first day of the event who brought it back to read it the second day. I do have to admit seeing someone unabashedly reading my work out in the open like that thrilled me to the core.

During the event I was able to make connections with readers from as far away as Arizona, a fact that really blew my mind. One of the young ladies who picked up a copy of one of my books asked me how long I had been writing. A simple enough question, but it really got me thinking. I have been writing seriously for 15 years, almost to the day. That is simply astounding. It does not feel like it has been that long. I remember vividly the day the idea for my first novel hit me. That one is still in the works all these years later. It is one that I continue to come back to and work on from time to time, but it does not seem to be in a hurry to be completed.

That’s more than respectable of course, but I have to admit it is more the fact of time that really got me thinking. A decade and a half, nearly half my life, has been spent with these stories flowing through me. I have created worlds, destroyed villains, cast caution to the wind, embraced darkness and pushed heroes to their breaking points. I have written works that I am immensely proud of, despite whatever difficulty they have put me through during their creation. I love every second of it. When I am putting those words down, recording the challenges and events of my characters’ lives I truly feel like I am doing what I was put on this world to do. If you have not felt that kind of exhilaration, words almost can’t do it justice. To truly embrace your purpose on this earth is an amazing sensation.

While talking about my writing and my various books to everyone this weekend, I was reminded again just how much I love my craft. It is not something I take lightly, but there are times these days when it becomes hard to find the time to dedicate to that creativity I love so much. Often, when the responsibilites of the average day have completed I find myself moving toward reading, video games, spending down time with my wife, traveling and more. Sometimes, despite the thrill I get writing, it is more attractive to break away from screen time. After teaching all day and using technology in the classroom, it is a very attractive option to do literally anything but be on the computer, and handwriting my work is a lovely substitute, but it is a much slower option.

Taking those things into consideration, it is all too easy to allow myself to slip when dedicating my time to my craft. I never want to feel I am taking away from any facet of my life, and sometimes it does feel selfish to consider dedicating time to write rather than spending time with my wife after we work 8 hours a day. That is something I think all creatives face when considering what it means to devote time to themselves after having to work for a living. Spending 8 hours a day dedicated to my career often leaves me feeling drained and distracted, which makes me feel I am taking away from my wife and the rest of my life, whether I rest or devote time to those passions. One way or the other it feels that there is a problem doing both – but that is not the case.

I have expressed these worries to my wife and she insists to me that it is nonsense. Being able to enjoy every bit of life outside of careers is a very important facet of life. Every creative, everyone with a passion, everyone who has intention of enjoying their life and not simply working themselves into the grave could stand to remember that fact. My wife encourages me to dedicate time to my passions – all of my passions – which makes a huge difference to allowing myself the freedom to do so. For all creatives who read this, I think it bears repeating that it is not selfish, it is not damaging, it is not wrong to dedicate time to your passions. All of your passions. Balance is the key to having a healthy life that you are happy with and proud of. You can take the time to work, and spend time on your career in order to make a living, but once those 8 hours are complete, you need to remember life should not just be work and preparation for more work.

It is all too easy for the world to encourage us to spend our days working only to come home and spend our nights and weekends preparing for or dreading returning to work for the next shift. This is not life. This is slavery. Take the time to dedicate your life to your passions, your loves, yourself. There is no excuse for merely living to work and working to live. Embrace your passions, work to push yourself to new limits, complete those new projects and work on the old ones as well. I admit it is not always easy to allow yourself that freedom, but it immensely important to invest in yourself like this. The last thing you want is to reflect on your life in 5, 10, 15 years and have regrets about what you did or did not do, what passions you did or did not embrace, what opportunities you stood in your own way of. It’s important that you allow yourself the freedom to enjoy your life.

At the end of the day, the biggest motivation I like to remember is that the reason you are given your passions, your loves, your creative inspiration is because no one can do what you can with it. No one can paint the picture you can, invent the new product the way you can do it. No one can write the story you have in your head. It is up to you, and believe me when I say the world needs your voice. You have those inspirations and you deserve to pursue them. Who knows, maybe it will be you sitting at an event, discussing your works with an interested person who will offer the advice that inspires someone to devote themselves to their own passion. Regardless of what life throws at you, just remember life does not own you. You own it.

Creative Freedom

Happy January, everyone! I hope this year has proven to be peaceful and calm for everyone so far. The last two years have, of course, proven difficult for most of us, but one thing I love about the human race is that we are ridiculously resilient. We keep fighting through the worst situations and do our best to overcome. One of my favorite ways to do this is with art. As always, I maintain that art is one of the most important, rewarding, and helpful facets of life. That is why, when my amazing wife got me the opportunity to teach some writing workshops in Lebanon, Va. I leapt at the chance.

The first of my workshops is a general creative writing workshop where I plan to discuss things ranging from journals, poetry, short stories, and longer fiction. It looks to be a great night with a community of like-minded individuals all of whom will hopefully walk away with some new ideas. I will put the information for the workshop at the end of this post for anyone who is interested. I want to use this post to discuss something I plan to push in this workshop, which is the importance of creating.

I feel, as creators, we focus too much on the results of our work. It is easy to get caught up in thinking about what our work can do, where it can go, what benefits it may reap, but in today’s society we are so focused on results and the return for our output that we have lost sight of the most important part of art – enjoying it. The creation of art is one of the most cathartic, relaxing, amazing parts of being a creator, and it is fast becoming an after thought. I am the first to admit that I have even been guilty of it in the recent past.

I am currently nearly 77,000 words into the sequel for my 2020 novel Moonlight, and I found myself trying to think about how my audience would react to a crucial plot point last week. I have known this was the way the plot is going since June, and I’ve been building toward it every time I write, but I became so focused on the end result I began second-guessing myself. It got so bad that I was stressing myself out over it to the point of being completely unable to produce more than a couple hundred words a day. Now, don’t get me wrong, that is a good amount of output, and there is nothing at all wrong with producing that much, but I felt like I had more to produce each day and was unable to do so. I walked away from each attempt to write feeling like I was holding onto more than I had been able to release, which is never helpful. My stress over my potential audience’s reaction was causing me to suffer from what I can only consider mental constipation, until I realized (after encouraging words from my wife) that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about it. This is my creation, a world that exists in my mind, and I know what it needs to move forward. I know how incredible it feels to have the release and freedom to create without considering what may happen in the future.

My point from all this is that we, as creators and artists for our respective crafts, owe ourselves the freedom of living in the moment. The sweet release of not thinking about our work in terms of return, end result, reaction, or anything else is so beautiful it can literally save our lives. I’ve mentioned several times before that my writing saved my life, and I know people whose talents and passions have done the same for them. If we offer ourselves the chance to create, without tangles, without expectations, without considering where it could go or where it could take us our art will feel richer and fuller than we could imagine. Utilizing the true freedom of passion and giving yourself the ability to create without thinking about the end result is the exact reason art exists.

I’ve often heard various quotes from different artists and influencers throughout history that, more or less, say it doesn’t matter how good or bad your creation is as long as you let yourself create it. That message has always been important, but it was only after dealing with this recent development that it hit me just how true it is. So, that is the challenge I want to issue to all of my creative readers here. Be free. Offer yourself the gift of creation without expectation. It doesn’t matter how good or bad your creation is. It’s yours. You need to do it for you, not for anyone or anything else. You should create because it is important to you, because it is your passion. You should not be afraid to create because you think you aren’t good enough. There is no such thing as good enough.

True creative freedom means it doesn’t matter how good or bad you are at something, you just DO. Create. Feel. Be alive. Be passionate. Let it out. The next time you set out to create, don’t think about the quality of the work. Just create. If you suck, suck. But do it honestly. If you are singer, don’t be afraid to belt it out, even if you sound like an elephant seal with laryngitis. If you play music, play to your heart’s content, even if you sound like a ghostly cacophony of rusted hinges. Do not allow fear of comparison stop your passion in its tracks. Just free yourself and let the passion flow.

I sincerely hope you will all take this message to heart and allow yourselves the freedom to create without expectations or limitations. If you are interested in some fun writing workshops, feel free to follow the link below to register. I know some of you aren’t anywhere near Lebanon, Va. and it won’t be possible to attend in person, but there is a Zoom option for the workshops if anyone is interested. We typically open the Zoom if we know someone is interested, so if you would like to attend that way please reach out to me and let me know that is your preference and we can make it happen. The first workshop is tomorrow, Thursday, 1/13/22. After this month, weather permitting, they will take place on the first Thursday of every month.

https://swcc-school-of-the-arts.square.site/

As always, I always love talking to anyone who resonates with my posts. If you feel like you can relate, or want to respond in any way feel free to reach out via comment or send me a message through my website.

Action and Reaction

Happy Friday, everyone. We are officially slipping into the ‘Ber’ months and I am pretty pumped to be entering my favorite time of year again. Yes, those of you who know me personally know I am somewhat obsessed with the Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas seasons, and you can imagine I am leaping into the best time of year head first. I’ve been working hard at getting my recent releases out to as many new audiences as I can and trying to pick up some new events along the way, but unfortunately that has been difficult of late. With cases of this dreaded plague back on the rise two of the events I’ve lined up have been canceled and everyone – myself included – have returned to higher than average safety protocols. I fully support this, I might add. I would rather everyone be safe than run the risk of getting sick for a festival’s sake. I was fortunate, however, to attend one event on August 14th, and headline my own book signing last weekend. Both of these events proved to be a blast where I got to meet several new people and recieved some incredibly warm welcome that definitely made my day.

Free Comic Book Day on August 14th took me to my favorite comic shop, Cavalier Comics, in Wise, Va. I was set up with some other local artists and we had the chance to showcase our work to dozens of awesome folks who came in to chat with us. During this event I actually released my newest novel, Journey to the Winter Lands, in a limited first edition printing and it got great response. So much so that I have extended the first edition run and had to order a second printing (which I’m already about halfway sold out of). One young man stands out in particular during that day, which is kind of what I want to center this post around.

I met a young man early in the day who was thrilled to pick up my newest book and even wanted to have his photo with me and talked to me for a good few minutes about how exciting it was to meet a local author and get to have that face-to-face interaction. He quickly revealed he is also an author and artist and was very pleased to meet another. Needless to say, this made my mood soar. So often people ask how artists and authors stand ocassional rejection, being overlooked, not always making tons of money and other less than flattering facts of life. The answer is pretty simple when you consider reactions like that.

For myself as an author I have to say I have always been more interested in having people read and experience my work rather than focusing on the money it can bring. Don’t get me wrong, my dream is to ride the top of the best seller list and write something the whole world wants to read, but who doesn’t want that? It is so immediately thrilling and exceedingly gratifying for me to know that even just one person gained some inspiration and joy from my work, though. Being asked to give advice, and take photos, and talk about the craft and my methods of creating with an aspiring author and artist was an exprience that, above all, reminded me what it was like to be starting out.

I don’t consider myself a professional by any stretch of the imagination, but I do feel like I have a good deal of creative and publication experience to draw off of right now, so I like to use that to my advantage when possible. It was those types of connections that helped keep me motivated when I was starting out. I made contacts within my local authors guild, of which I am now a member, and got any and every piece of advice I could. Knowing that, if nothing else, my words may have helped inspire the next generation of creative success, is nothing short of flattering.

I have ridden that feeling for a while, right up until my latest event at Tall Tales Bookshop in Greeneville, Tn. on Saturday, where I received another incredibly warm welcome. A representative of Community Insurance in Greeneville came into the book store shortly after I got started and brought me a box of cookies to welcome me to the town and wish me luck on the event. That, honestly, is one of the things I love about our Appalachian region as a whole. Small town generosity and Southern charm never cease to amaze me. I had an incredible time at the event, feeling the warmest welcome from every person I encountered that day. I loved the bookstore as well, finding a few pieces of literary greatness I’ve been looking for for a while.

Overall one point behind this post is a pretty simple one to me. If you like an artist’s work, tell them. I know I’ve said that before, but it holds true even more the longer I am involved in the world of creative arts. Speaking with someone who enjoys my work is just an absolute blessing. I love being able to talk about my craft – particularly my personal contributions to the world of literature – with anyone who will listen, but knowing that person has read and enjoyed words that I created brings me a level of satisfaction I can’t even begin to describe. In short, it absolutely shows me that pushing forward through a lack of reviews or purchases or even a complete media blackout on my work is worth it for those few moments. When you encounter someone who truly enjoys your work and is not afraid to tell you it does a lot to remove doubt. And, believe me, for any creative out there doubt is a very real curse. Self-doubt is something that can utterly cripple a creative, so those brief moments of “hey, maybe I don’t totally suck” can be the difference between that person releasing another piece or throwing in the towel forever.

Another reason I wanted to make this post is to remind those creatives who have maybe forgotten what it’s like to be new to their craft how important it is to be kind and supportive of those joining our noble pursuits. An artist or creative just starting their journey into the world of releasing their products into the wind is, unfortunately, a fragile creature that often should be handled with care and encouragement. When someone who is just starting out reaches out for advice or even slight validation one bad experience can make them close that creative door forever. It is so important for those of us with some experience in the matter to be kind and uplifting if we are asked for advice or approached by someone wanting to talk to us about getting started. I’ve seen some people be outright nasty to fans or newcomers to the craft who are approaching them for help or advice and it is disgusting. I always try to be as kind as I can and encouraging, but honest. If someone is approaching something in a way that has traditionally been more trouble than it is worth I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I don’t want to steer anyone down a path that will be harder for them in the long run. In general, the most helpful thing I can say is we should always strive to uplift and help one another. Life is hard enough without us all being jerks to each other.

I hope this post finds you all doing well throughout another tough time with health and safety. We all are struggling along as best we can, but I understand how truly difficult it can be. Personally, I can report that it hasn’t been as much of a destroyer of inspiration and motivation as last year was. I have been able to work on some new projects that I am very excited about. I hope to have some announcements on upcoming projects, as well as upcoming events soon. Unfortunately, two of my September events have been canceled, but I do have a book singing lined up for September 18 at Appalachian Books in Norton, Va. This store is one of my absolute favorites so I hope to see as many of you there as possible. In the meantime, feel free to reach out to me with any stories of your experiences as a creative, reach out for any advice or comments on the craft in general, and by all means, please remember to review the work of any creative whose work you enjoy. It can make their day. I hope everyone who had gotten copies of my works has enjoyed them and will give them a review so they can reach all new audiences as well. Make sure to believe in your own work and don’t be afraid to reach outside of your comfort zone to get what you want. Art makes the world go ’round, so make sure you are doing your part!

A New Decade

April is coming to a close in yet another year, this one filled with nearly as many surprises as the last. Hopefully the first four months of 2021 have gone well for all of you. I can honestly say there have been some pretty interesting changes come about so far this year, not the least of which is my entrance into the third decade of my life on this big blue ball.

That’s right, last weekend I celebrated my birthday and the start of my 30th year of life. It hardly seems possible, if I’m being honest. I don’t feel a day over 75… wait? But seriously, I feel like 30 years old is a pretty good milestone. I don’t feel like I should be that old, though. I still find myself looking around for an adult when I have a question about something I’m working on, only to realize I am the adult. Nevermind that I typically know the answer I’m looking for anyway, my brain doesn’t want to accept that it has pondered life’s larger questions for three decades already.

I was able to celebrate my birthday in a pretty fantastic way, thanks to my amazing wife. We got some great food, and I got some fantastic gifts (not the least of which was the full series of “The Office” on DVD with more than 15 hours of extras) and we spent the actual day of my birthday enjoying the Flower and Food Festival at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tn. Arriving shortly before the park opened, we spent the entire day celebrating great rides, delicious semi-international cuisine, and wonderful Appalachian culture in the Great Smoky Mountains. It was definitely a day to remember.

All of that got me thinking, of course, about just what sort of wonderful memories I had created throughout the day and my life, and what others I would still be able to create within my life span. There are a lot of things I want to do in my life. Plenty of travel, cruising, writing, exploring nature, and having a fantastic life with my wife. Frankly, continuing to think about the things I want to do is making me quite excited for the years to come and what they will hold. But it is also making me beyond thankful that I have had the opportunities I have had already in this life.

I have seen a lot of things in my short 30 years (ouch, saying it that way kind of stings a bit…) and I have accomplished a fair bit as well. As of now my books are being sold, not only by me personally and on Amazon, but in several local stores as well. I have created a page for those locations here, to make it easy to find!

That being said, I have to admit I have been struggling recently with feeling like I have truly accomplished anything in my life. Between receiving more rejections than I care to admit on my recent agent queries for Maverip and seeing fluctuations in my sales for Moonlight and Tales of the Mysterious and the Macabre, it has been a touch and go situation for my own positivity lately. My wife has done an amazing job reminding me that I have plenty to be proud of and feel accomplished for, however. As of this writing, my books are being sold in 3 book stores and 3 local boutique and general store type locations. It’s kind of hard to believe, but I do fully appreciate the magnitude of that figure. To know that there are people in two states able to physically walk into a store and see my work on the shelves of a store is a fantastic feeling.

I plan to continue trying to expand my distribution to new locations and continue writing and publishing more work as well. Mainly, with this post, I just wanted to take the time to encourage you all and remind anyone reading that, no matter how old you are or what stage of life you find yourself in, you have unlimited possibilities for what you can accomplish. You might not have achieved every goal you wanted to achieve, and you might not feel like things are going exactly as planned, but the only way to change that is by not giving up. Believe me when I tell you I know it is not always easy, by any means, but it is definitely worth it. One day soon you will look back at when you didn’t think these things were possible and you won’t believe how much you have done!

As a tip for those days where you feel you haven’t accomplished anything worthwhile – because they will come, believe me, I recommend removing yourself from the situation for a moment and looking at your work with an outside view. Look at the creative works you have completed, especially if people are paying money to enjoy them and are talking about them in a positive way. Take a moment to truly examine the magnitude of what you have done. Look at the personal goals you have achieved and the things you have to hold dear. Frankly, seeing it in that light may well make you more proud than you ever thought you would have a right to be. From there, I recommend setting realistic goals to look back on later. Finish that chapter, that painting, complete the edits you have been putting off. It will make a difference, which may well be the thing that continues to inspire you and help you believe in your work and yourself in the long run. I am always available to help with encouraging and inspiring, too. Don’t hesitate to talk to me about the ongoing frustrations of being a creative in this climate – believe me I know!

Keep your eyes open for more news coming up, and enjoy every minute of your lives. Another year will be starting before we know it!

To the Top of the World

Hello there! As we prepare for some lovely travel experiences this year, we would love to share a short tale of our trip to, well, not the top of the world, but to the second highest peak in the state of Virginia. Whitetop Mountain, that colossus who thrusts his mighty peak up to a whopping 5,520 feet above the Commonwealth of Virginia, offers multiple hiking trails, nice picnic areas and photo opportunities, and an astounding view of three states. The view alone includes a good chunk of the Blue Ridge Mountains, beautiful farm land and mountainous wonder as far as the eye can see, and brings the sky so close you feel you could reach out and touch it. Whether you want to see Virginia, Tennessee, or North Carolina, you are in luck on Whitetop Mountain.

We started our journey, as many would, coming in off Interstate 81 at the edge of Chilhowie and driving past some beautiful farmland, climbing ever higher on state maintained roads until we reached the gravel turnoff to our destination. Immediately the thick forest closed in on the road and we rolled down the windows to breathe in the fresh air that, honestly, brings me so much joy I can never get over it. The higher we climbed, the rougher the road became, but we made it over the worst of the conditions and finally broke free of the forest to see the first of the vast views the site has to offer. Looking out over the farms and forest that surround nearby Grayson Highlands State Park (a visit for the near future we hope) we felt the awe of the height we had achieved already.

The main parking area, just short of the peak, was our destination, so we carried on up the mountain, watching as the view just got better and better. Once we reached the parking area, we were eager to get out and get our adventure moving. Despite the warm weather the air was obviously much cooler at such a high elevation, which probably helped some in the long run.

Right away we made note of just how close the sky looked to us, how intense and beautiful the clouds were, and how far we could see thanks to the clarity of the day. Amanda and I, no stranger to mountain and forest hiking, made our way through a short forest path that gave us some lovely views of the flora and fauna of the high elevation, with thick pine and brilliant green ferns galore, it was like falling into an ancient wilderness. As multiple signs will tell you on your way up the mountain, Whitetop is really its own ecosystem. There was no shortage of lovely flowers, brilliant colors, and the scent of deep forest air to enjoy high above the nearby towns and cities. As we trekked our of the forest again, we saw our immediate destination in a rock and grassy outcropping a little further down from the peak.

It was a relatively easy hike down, the shin-high mountain grass blowing gently in the cool breeze with giant cottony clouds floating just out of reach overhead. The sun played on the grass and stone as we approached our area of interest. We could see for miles, the gorgeous haze of the Blue Ridge Mountains standing broad in the distance. The clouds sent enormous shadows scurrying over the land below as they played across the bright blue sky, the colors of the world around us shining in mesmerizing clarity as we snapped pictures at first, and then just paused to admire the beauty. We explored the outcropping for a while, sidling through the tall grass, climbing stones for better views, and just breathing in the air high above the every day world.

The hike back to the vehicle was a bit exhausting once we were ready to leave. We quickly got a bit warm as the breeze died down. Thicker, darker clouds moved mercifully over the sun as we climbed back up the mountain and got closer to our return to reality. With what seemed to be a potential for a nice summer storm, a lot of the people who had been enjoying the mountain’s sublime beauty began flocking to the parking lot as we were. Many people were leaving as we reached our vehicle, taking one last look at the scenery and getting one last breath of fresh air before we started our return to the lowlands.

In short, Whitetop Mountain is an incredible destination for anyone with a passion for beautiful scenery. It can be a bit of a daunting drive, sitting at around 40 minutes outside of Chilhowie with some pretty quick changes in elevation, but it is absolutely worth the wait. While there aren’t attractions per se, there are several places to rest and take in the beauty of the natural world around you, which is honestly something we could all stand to do every now and again. We would highly recommend this trip, and hope if you all take the time to go here you will share your experiences as well. A word of caution we can offer is to remember to take account that however far you hike down the mountain, you have to come back up! It’s easy to become enraptured by the beauty of this incredible place, but don’t exhaust yourself to the point of misery. That’s no good for anyone!

With warm weather hopefully here to stay, we hope to have plenty more adventures to enjoy and share with you all, so keep your eyes open for the future posts. If you have a suggestion for a place we can go or an adventure we can leap into, share them with us! Check The Mathews Experience out on social media for more pictures and some videos of our adventures!

March Like a Lion

Happy March, everyone! I hope February ended on a positive note for everyone. The third month of the year, which we’ve always heard can either come in like a lamb and go out like a lion, or the opposite, is definitely starting on a rough note in my region. With hard rain, wind, and flooding, we’re definitely seeing some rough and tumble behavior on the forefront of this one. On the positive side, I heard the first of the Spring Peepers yesterday evening, and I have been able to start the month out on a good note with some great news.

I recently wrote a short story entitled “Mountain Service” for a local writing contest. I began pondering the characters and letting their story flow a few weeks ago, after hearing about the contest. The main requirements for the contest were to present a 500-1,000 word short story that involved Appalachian living. From my love of the region, to my recent foray into the incredible writing of Appalachian author David Joy, I have been wanting to dive into a similar story for some time. I used this opportunity to begin exploring the lives of the Gardner family who lives in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains and embodies my idea of what it means to be an Appalachian. I have so much of their lives flowing through my mind already and I can’t wait to write more about them.

I turned “Mountain Service” in for consideration a few days after it was finished – coming in at 999 words. While hopeful for positive news, I like to try to put those things out of mind once I turn them in, otherwise I’ll never be able to think of anything else. It came as quite a pleasant surprise yesterday when I got the news I had won the contest! My prize for winning is a one year membership to the Appalachian Authors Guild, with whom I have worked closely in the past (especially during the unfortunately short-lived Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium) and inclusion in this year’s Guild sponsored anthology. It is incredibly humbling and quite an honor to officially be a part of the Guild for the first time. I hope I will be able to do the organization justice.

I think it almost goes without saying that this particular win is one that automatically put me in a good mindset. It is very easy to get down on yourself, as a creative, between times of new creative success. Granted, finishing one novel earlier in the year, working on another, and finishing a short story also count as successes. It’s not always enough to grant a reprieve from the negative thoughts that follow an unfortunate rejection – of which I have received my fair share this year, but that should not be the case. I think too often creatives, myself absolutely included, put more emphasis on the public side of the creative process. It is too easy to look at how much we have accomplished through the lens of how much of it is in the public eye rather than just how much we have to personally be proud of.

I have spoken several times since the pandemic began about how hard it is to maintain any level of consistent creativity with the added strain and stress of the current state of things, and that hasn’t changed much. From the stress and worry this current world climate is causing, to the general exhaustion so many of us have been feeling, sometimes it is honestly near impossible to realistically create with any level of regularity. But so many of us keep trying. That is amazing. So many of us have pushed through the barrier of stress and strain to fight for our creative voice and maintain the habit of bringing our works into the world and, frankly, that deserves to be talked about. Heck, that deserves a reward in and of itself. I know as much as anyone else how difficult it can be to keep pushing ourselves to write and create when the world around us seems to be doing everything it can to keep us down.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, though, I have come to realize that times like this are when we need our creativity more than ever. It’s one thing to write or produce our art on a bright, sunshiny day when nothing seems to be going wrong and we’re getting deals and requests from all around. Of course our creative spirit can bask in the ease and happiness that comes with positivity and demand. But times like this, when uncertainty lurks around every corner and rain is falling in torrents (literally and figuratively) around us, within and without, the spirit of creativity needs to be pushed and cherished with a renewed vigor. It is times of great stress and pain when the greater part of humanity find themselves in need of such an artistic boost. How many of you have found solace in binge watching your favorite shows or movies in the last year, or have devoured countless new books, or listened to hours of your favorite kind of music, or enjoyed other forms of art? How many of you honestly feel your current sanity and coping skills can be largely attributed to the ability to turn to art during such a difficult time? That is only the start of it. The world needs art in times of hardship, and it is no different for creators.

If you’re like me, you found a lot of peace with your favorite forms of art since the world started changing, and I’ve got to tell you, it doesn’t look like that need is going anywhere anytime soon. But, have you noticed the same thing goes for creating? When you put yourself in the world of your own creation it provides you with almost the same sense of euphoric peace that enjoying someone else’s creation can bring. The main difference being it is sometimes harder to open those doors these days. I have found myself feeling all the much more creative when I push myself to break through the walls of writer’s block and stress the world (not without my contribution) has placed on me to begin my work. It is often hard, and even the most powerful of personal accomplishments may not always have the power to shatter whatever chains are holding me back, but I know how important it is.

My wife often reminds me whenever I mention feeling like I am unable to create at the level I’d prefer, or if I ever get down because I have gotten a rejection, that it should not be about how much I am creating, or what anyone else thinks about it. At the end of the day, I write because I feel it is what I was born to do. At heart, sure, I want the world to see and experience my creations. I want people to read and fall in love with the words I placed on paper the way I do. I want to be someone’s favorite author – preferably in my lifetime. But that those things are not guaranteed. Those things are not even what started my journey. I started writing because I heard the whisper of a story within myself. Because when my purpose was awakened within me, I needed it in a way I didn’t even fully understand. My passion for writing and for the written word as a whole come, not from a need for validation from others, but from a burning desire to bring these ideas that exist within myself out into the open. That should be the focus for all of us. We should not limit ourselves to creating just for others, or making art with the sole hope for making money. Sure, that can be a goal. I won’t pretend for a second I don’t (no so secretly) yearn for the day I can support mine and my wife’s lifestyle solely with the profit of my own creation. But that may not be in the cards.

That does not mean I should not create. Writing is a big part of who I am, just like your art is a part of who you are. The main reason we have for embracing our creative talent and passion are because these things make us happy. These things are a part of us, and in their own way they help make us complete when we embrace them. That is our purpose. That is our motivation. More than whether or not the world will see and enjoy these creations, more than whether pursuing those passions will one day pay our bills, more than whether anyone will ever know our name or consider themselves our fans is the fact that these talents and passions are within us because they are who we are. We need to openly embrace a culture of creating just for ourselves, for just enjoying our worlds and understanding they can be just as therapeutic for us as they can for anyone else. Emily Dickinson kept most of her work locked up, sharing only 10 of her nearly 1,800 poems and only one letter during her lifetime. It truly is not about whether anyone else ever reads or enjoys our work, it should be about us enjoying the creative process. We should have our worlds close to our hearts and minds, and use them to fully embrace who we are.

That’s the most important thing to take away from this message. Rather than pursuing your art like a lamb, giving small portions of your attention to your creative tendencies you should charge in like a lion. You are the king, queen, ultimate master of your creation. You were given your ideas, your creative spirit, your creative nature because only you can create the things you are meant to create. Only you can produce your creations the way you can, and no one else could ever do it the same way you can. If for no other reason than that, I urge each and every one of you to take charge. Grab that creative nature by the horns and make it your own. Don’t ever hesitate to produce and create. There are few things better for a creative than seeing your own world unfold before you, and few things worse than having your world stuck inside of you. Never betray yourself in such a way that you lock your world and your creation away from even your own enjoyment. Regardless of what negative things are going on in the world, we need to fully embrace our creative nature and push aside anything that holds us back from that. I say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, we all need to march forward like a lion. Only we can tackle our creations in the way we are meant to. So we owe it to ourselves to make it happen!

As always, I welcome your feedback and commentary. I love hearing from you guys and I look forward to seeing what you all have to say. Feel free to share this message with anyone who could use the boost, and be sure to jump over and check out my podcast The Modern Prometheus. Keep your eyes open for new posts, new episodes, and all the news I’ve got coming up. If you haven’t subscribed to my newsletter, subscribe today to stay up to date! Most importantly, take the time to day and every day to accept yourself and create!