What Does Local Mean To You?

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope you all have had an absolutely awesome spring so far. Aside from the allergies that try daily to smother me in my own fluids, it has been amazing for me. I love the sense of renewal and renaissance as fresh leaves push aside what remains of the old and stretch their green-veined fingers toward the sky. It thrills me to watch as, a little each day, fresh and beautiful flowers burst forth from the earth and claim their place under the sun. Personally, I’ve always found spring to arrive exactly when I need it most and give me a sense of renewed purpose and motivation.

Of course, as many of you know, I published my first print collection in February and have been marketing and spreading the word about it ever since. One thing I’ve been doing is reaching out to local libraries and seeing about getting my work in their circulation materials. As a former librarian and long time lover of the amazing institutions that promote reading as much as an individual can get their hands on, it thrills me to have an opportunity to have my work possibly be one of those bits of material that a person may discover among the stacks, having never heard of me before. Or, of course, my work being one people eagerly seek out and go on waiting lists for. But I digress.

Tuesday I found myself in my hometown visiting with my mother and was struck by the idea that I should go talk to the library there. After all, that squat, brick building houses so many memories for me, provided so many fresh literary experiences, that I couldn’t be more honored than to find my work shelved along with the well-read R.L. Stines and Stephen Kings that influenced my early life. As I was talking to the librarian there, he asked if I could show him a copy of my work, so I went to go grab a copy from my vehicle. As I did, a patron caught up with me and made my entire day.

She had overheard my conversation with the librarian and asked about my work, showing unbridled interest in the fact that I am a local author in the Appalachian region. After a description of my work, she purchased a copy and had me sign it. We talked for a few more moments and bade each other good day, but the interaction really made an impression on me.

Growing up, I would always be extremely excited to meet someone who could be considered a local author or artist, often going out of my way to start conversations with them and examine their work. But, until yesterday, I hadn’t had quite the same thing happen to me. Needless to say, I remain flattered, but it definitely makes me think. Each and every one of us can probably think of a time we’ve encountered a local artist – regardless of the medium. I’ve seen painters and authors everywhere from local coffee shops to flea markets half a state away from their home. And it always gives me a sense of pride. But it makes me sad in some ways as well.

As many people that stop to talk with the artist about their work or the craft in general, just as many people pass right by without so much as a second glance. Personally, I find that to be more damaging than someone saying they don’t care for the work. At least that person took the time to check it out. My interaction yesterday, coupled with those previous experiences really made me realize just how important it is to support the arts again.

There was a time in society when people would seek out artists and beg for examples of the work, staring for hours as a sculptor or painter created their masterpiece. At one point in history people would flock to the harbor in droves to get the latest edition in a serial that later was put together as the Dickens favorite “Great Expectations.” Our ancestors had an equivocal appreciation of and yearning for the arts. Of course, not everyone was subject to this love then either, but that’s another tale. My point for today is that we must make a real effort to embrace the arts again. With each passing day funding for the arts in public education is cut. Many schools are no longer able to provide music education or drawing classes because of a lack of material funds. New generations are growing up in a society where are education funds are cut so governments, both local and national, can pay for biased investigations, unnecessary private expenses, and a basic disregard for the general public and its future. So it’s up to each and every one of us to recognize the importance of art and those who make it.

Of course, my own opinions on that matter may be a little biased as a creator, but I still reflect on times when I had little to turn to except art. Whether it was art created by someone else or my own creative efforts, art has saved my life more times than I probably even realize. So, I’m encouraging all of you to reach out and find some local artists. Talk to a painter or an Indie author about their work, or the craft in general. Let them know what the work means to you. Show them that, even if sales aren’t in the triple digits, the work matters to someone.

I’ve been told, at some events, an artist is lucky if they make three sales. And I’m fine with that. I would love it if my writing could pay all the bills, supporting my wife and I and allowing us to pay off debts and advance. But that isn’t the only, or even the main reason I do it. I do it because I’m passionate about it. Because it’s what I was put here to do. Because the arts have shown me what life really means. And those who support the arts, sharing that same passion, can make all the difference.

So, as you go forward, keep an eye and an ear open for an artist who, like you, enjoys a passion for life. Talk to them about what that passion can lead to. Make a purchase or leave a review on a work you enjoyed. Make sure you recognize the importance of the arts before they disappear. After all, as we rapidly approach the release of that certain long-anticipated superhero movie this week, it pays to remember; without the arts, none of that would have been possible. Artists drew those characters, thought them up, gave them new life on the silver screen. If we let the arts die, nothing like that can happen again. With the right support, and enough effort we can all keep the arts alive. And, honestly, that’s one of the best ways to keep ourselves going.

Who is a local artist that has made a difference to you? What is one local work that has influenced you? Or, for that matter, if you’re a local or regional artist in your area, what’s an experience you’ve had that showed you your work and your effort was appreciated? Leave me comments, send me messages, and make sure to get out there and enjoy life!

Belief and Support

Hey there, friends and fans! I have had an incredible week, and yesterday provided me with quite a surreal experience to round it out. One of my friends and coworkers received their copy of my recent publication from Amazon. The second she ordered it she asked me to sign it when she got it. Of course, I agreed. I’ve done book signings before – I’ve even signed books with Jeffery Deaver – but this was different. Before, I’d signed my writings in various journals and publications where my work appeared alongside other authors and artists. But this one was mine.

I was handed a book entirely of my work and asked to personalize it. I’m honestly still beside of myself from the experience. It really hit me at that point just how blessed and lucky I am. God blessed me with the talent to create, to write, to paint with words – and then He gave me a way to share it with the world. Those things alone are incredible. I couldn’t imagine asking for more.

Then He gave me more anyway. He gave me people who believe in me, who support me. Throughout my life I’ve had an amazing support system, from my mother, grandmother and family to my friends and all of you guys. I’ve always been unbelievably thankful for the network of love and support that I’ve had, but it really hit me last night just how important those things are.

Having gifts and talents and publications and inspiration are all amazing, but without a support network it can all fall apart. The best artists and authors in the world would be so much dust in the wind now if there was no support for their work. It is of utmost importance for a creative individual to have support. There are countless examples throughout history of creatives without a support network who lose all faith and inspiration.

I am beyond blessed to say this is not so for me. I can never thank you all enough for the support you have provided me. It is more clear to me than ever that a support system can truly change the life of a creative individual. As I’ve said before, creating an original piece of work, of any kind, is more than just putting words to paper or paint to canvas or plugging notes on an instrument. It is, quite literally, baring a part of yourself, a bit of your soul, for the world to see. It’s never easy. But a good support system can change that. Knowing there are people out there eager to receive your work and support your efforts makes a big difference.

My point, I guess, is that everyone should support artists. If you find a piece of work that you enjoy, that resonates with you, that makes you feel something – tell the artist. Give them a review, give them a kind word, share it with friends, shout it from the rooftops and let the world know. Knowing their work is appreciated can and does make all the difference to an artist who has put themselves out there.

Speaking from experience, it makes you feel great knowing someone is excited for your work. So I thank you all again, and I encourage you to make sure you tell your favorite artists what it is you like about their work. It will mean more than you know.

Once again, I thank you all for your support. My collection is, of course, available for purchase from Amazon. I look forward to sharing more work and more experiences with you all soon. Keep your eyes open for any upcoming news, and if you’d like to purchase my collection, I’ll put a link at the bottom of this post. If you get a copy, don’t forget to leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or social media in general. They help exponentially, especially for indie authors.

As always guys, feel free to reach out to me with any comments or questions. I look forward to hearing from you all!

https://amzn.to/2tC2jOX

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.

“Love, Simon” vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Hey there friends and fans! A handful of months ago I wrote a review of the YA novel Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, linked below. I absolutely loved the book, as I said, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to check out the film version, Love, Simon. I finally got my chance over the holiday weekend, and I feel inspired to write this short follow-up post for anyone interested in watching it.

Love, Simon is a great cinematic piece of art. The story, of course, is the same. Simon, our beloved protagonist, is coming to terms with being homosexual in a climate that is still quite unforgiving, and trying to, frankly, learn how to “be” gay. The whole thing really starts with a post on a local social media page, where one of Simon’s classmates professes to being gay – anonymously, of course. Simon, also anonymously, responds with his own confession, leading him down a journey of self-discovery that we’re brought along for.

Simon’s tale is not one for the faint of heart, and certainly not one for the closed-minded. One of Simon’s classmates realizes his secret and uses it for his own benefit. This sends Simon reeling as he tries to cope with not only the demands of his classmate but his own attempts at connecting with the boy he now feels he’s falling in love with.

One of the things that I was really impressed with was the way the movie stayed in sync with the novel for the most part. I really feel Simon’s story, although slightly altered for the screen, was still true to its book counterpart. I think the actors were well selected, Nick Robinson doing a phenomenal job as the main character.

One of my personal favorite parts of the film was the attempt to show that Martin, the unfortunate antagonist, was not your typical high school bully. Rather than being the biker, the jock, or the general rough and tough kid in the halls, Martin was actually kind of the stereotypical nerdy loser character. Mascot on the football team, avid lover of graphic tees and magic, Martin was the kind of guy most people love to hate. His affinity for blackmail didn’t make it hard to dislike him, either.

Simon’s struggle with finding a way to tell his friends and family his secret was well described and heartfelt. In his attempt to be himself and find the best way to be himself he posits the question why straight is the norm. Why it’s only homosexuals who have to “come out” to their loved ones. Which is a strong question in and of itself. Rather than assuming everyone is attracted to the opposite sex, maybe it isn’t that difficult for us to stop assuming and allow our loved ones to tell us their preference in their own time. However, that would require the world being a much less judgmental place.

Of course, Simon’s secret does get leaked and he has to come to terms with everyone learning he is gay in a way he had no control over. Which, for me, was one of the most heartbreaking parts of the film, and led to one of the best lines and best deliveries in the film. Martin apologizes after seeing what damage he caused, and Simon, for the first time, truly lets go.

He tells Martin that no apology is good enough. He took something that was Simon’s, ruined his chance to let people know of his sexual preference in his way. In essence, this scene made the tone of the film for me. Apart from everything else that happened, this scene really showed the pain and anxiety that can be brought on by coming out – and even more so the pain that can come from not being able to make the decision yourself. Robinson’s performance here truly brought Simon’s struggle home for me.

Needless to say, this is a YA work, so there was a definite form of happy ending, which I won’t spoil, although that wait for the mystery poster was something that really brought the anxiety game to a new level.

Overall, I thought the film adaptation of Simon’s story was a great movie. It didn’t stick with what I felt were some of the more interesting or important areas of the novel – the focus on music, for instance (although there was a very prominent Elliot Smith poster), but it was a great movie. If you are at all interested in this movie, I urge you to give it a watch. If you liked the book, again – watch the movie. If you haven’t experienced either, I recommend both. I personally liked the book a little better, but that’s my natural go to.

What about you? Have you watched the movie or read the book? Which did you prefer, and why? What was your favorite part of either? Let me know in the comments. Also, check out the link below to see my review of the book if you haven’t already.

As always, thanks for reading and subscribing. There’ll be a new podcast soon, and plenty of new words written before year’s end. Stick around for the journey to stay updated on everything! Thanks again, and Happy Holidays!

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

What do you want?

Last night I was having a typical scroll through social media when I stumbled upon a question that got me thinking a lot about my work. It was a simple enough post from a publishing group I follow, but it held a weight that I hadn’t let myself feel in quite some time. It asked “what is the biggest goal you want to achieve as a writer?”

You know, typical question people often ask writers, especially ones who are just jumping into the game. Most of the time we have a typical answer to go with it. I want to get my book published. I want to break through writers block. I want to write a bestseller. And, of course, those answers came to me, too. But my brain refused to stop there. As you all know, I love literature. I read almost constantly and have been having a very sordid affair with the greater world catalogue for my entire life. To say the written word is my passion would be a hopeless understatement. It is part of the very fabric of my being, as God meant it to be, and I love every minute of it. So could I really be satisfied with such generic answers to such a pregnant question? Of course not.

The ideas ran faster than ever as I sat down and really thought about it. What do I want out of my writing? What is my biggest and most hopeful goal? Sure, I want that bestseller. I want to have my book sold in local bookstores. I want people I know to see my book and be able to buy my work with memories of me in mind. I want to have unique and interesting books. But it goes so much deeper. After I thought about it the answer flowed easily. I want to be great.

I want people to feel my work. I want it to stand the test of time and change the world. I want to build on the face of literature like the greats of past generations and tear asunder the ideas of stagnance and convenience. I want, in essence, to be truly great. After all, if we cant be great, what’s the point?

This realization, although admittedly daunting, is also immensely liberating. I have, once again, come to terms with my purpose, my desire, the very reason I wake up in the morning. I will stop at nothing to achieve my goals and realize my dreams. They wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t make it happen, right? Right.

So the journey goes on. I’ve entered what I hope to be the final content edit for Maverip before I hit agents with my queries, and I’ve found my second wind. I will make it happen, and I’ll take you all along for the ride.

But now I want to know what you guys think. What does this question mean to you? Let’s not even just limit it to writing. I know some of you are painters, musicians, and artists of various caliber and medium, so apply it to yourself. What is the biggest thing you want from your craft? Is is an idea of greatness? Is it just to overcome that next big project? What are your goals? But more importantly, what are your dreams? Never limit yourself. Let yourself dream. But, I could speak on that for hours. In the meantime, let me know what you think, what you dream. Leave me comments or shoot me messages. And, no matter what comes up, never let your dreams die. Fight for them tooth and nail. I know I am.

November Announcement

Happy November, everyone!! I apologize for this post being a bit later than normal, but such is the strife associated with NaNoWriMo! I hope you all enjoyed last month’s read, as well as the short break you’ve gotten here. 

This month, I’m going to return to one of my tried and true authors, with a twist! I will be reviewing Stephen King’s newest work, “Sleeping Beauties.” This book is a collaboration King wrote with his son, Owen,  which makes it even better. The novel explores what happens in a small West Virginia town when women all over the world fall into a strange sleep that sees them wrapped in a strange cocoon. When waking the women proves deadly, men are given few options, while the women who have not yet fallen asleep will try nearly anything to stay awake and keep from knitting cocoons of their own. Can men find a way to come together and put an end to the Aurora sickness before it’s too late?

Admittedly I’ve already started the novel and I have to say I’m hooked. The book is set in the Appalachian Mountains, in a fictional county that would be around an hour from where I grew up. The idea of that setting had me quite excited when I realized exactly where fictional Dooling County was positioned on the map. 

I won’t say much more, because thisnisnt the review yet! Since it is so late in the month I think I will plan to post my reveal on December 4th, to give everyone a few extra days. This book falls in at 700 pages, so it’s not a rapid read, but it’s not grueling either.  I look very forward to discussing it with you all! 

For a quick update on my NaNoWriMo progress; my plans were changed a bit. I had hoped to finally bring Maverip to a close in October, but unforseen circumstances put a damper on that. Some of you may have noticed my originally planned work entitled “Last Christmas was replaced on my NaNo profiled by Maverip. I have decided that the time has come to really place the challenge on myself wholeheartedly. Part of me is terrified to finish this novel, as it is one book on my queue right now that I feel most compelled to push forward, and it is one that I have put a lot of pressure on. But this month will see it completed. I won’t let myself or you guys down any more! I look forward to sharing the completed work with you all ASAP, and as always, if anyone is interested in being a beta reader, just let me know! 

We’ll talk all things “Sleeping Beauties” in a few weeks, and from there we’ll examine a Christmas-themed work, so get some suggestions ready!!! 

Bridge to Terabithia

Happy Banned Books Week! I’ve always been a huge fan of celebrating banned books, partly to stick it to the ridiculous censorship-loving administration, but mostly because I find that the books that people don’t want you to read can often offer you the most. This book is definitely a part of that list. I absolutely LOVE it. My first experience came from the movie, but I was immediately enthralled. For the last ten years I have adored the movie and the book. It is actually one of the inspirations behind my own decision to move forward with my desire to be an author.

One of the greatest things about this novel, for me, is the fact that it points to the total liberation of mankind via the imagination. Being written in the 70’s, it was kind of published in that time when kids were first being encouraged to let their imaginations guide them through portions of their lives, and this book captures the cusp of that idea. Jess’s family and fellow students represent those who feel imagination is not something to be given in to. Jess’s parents, consistently burdened with the challenge of feeding the children and running the farm in the fragile economy they live in, can be seen as the old style of shunning imagination and things that aren’t ‘real,’ where others – Leslie in particular – represent the new and liberating views of allowing imagination its place in life.

Leslie’s introduction into Jess’s life really allows him to open up and be who he is meant to be. She doesn’t act or think like the rest of the kids, or even the adults (with the exception of Ms. Edmunds) that he is used to, and that makes him feel more free than he ever imagined. When Jess and Leslie create Terabithia I truly resonated with his description of the mythical magic of the place. He allows Leslie to bring him into this magical realm, but he still has his doubts. Many times he says that he can’t do it without Leslie, or can’t think of it the same as her. His love for Leslie and Ms. Edmunds is what allows him to embrace the creative side of his own life. After Leslie’s death Jess is obviously devastated, particularly considering the fact that his day had been spent further embracing his own love of art and imagination.

I love the way Paterson brings Jess to reality while allowing him to avoid everything involving Leslie’s death. He adamantly denies that she is gone, so much so that after he runs away and is brought home he wakes up almost completely convinced that it was all a guilt-ridden nightmare because he didn’t invite her to the museum. When he is forced to confront the fact of her death he reacts in much the way a child would, destroying memories of her in anger. Once he calms down he begins to instantly doubt himself again. The inspiration and freedom that Leslie brought him threatens to leave. When considering Terabithia he is terrified that he won’t be able to make the magic happen without Leslie, even worries that the make-believe kingdom won’t be there if he goes without her.

The fact that he is able to make the magic happen is, to me, a testament to the amazing power of love and imagination and creativity. Jess is able to keep the magic he and Leslie created, is even able to be in touch with her memory as he reflects on his friendship with her. I love that. I feel like it is a huge representation of the strength we all possess, even in the midst of a tragedy that threatens everything we hold dear.

Another thing I loved about this book is the way Paterson makes Leslie and Ms. Edmunds strong female figures who refuse to fall into the social norms. The feminist themes that offer these two strong female characters a whole other kind of freedom were both embraced and feared when this book was published (and still are today). I find it very important that there is so much emphasis on Leslie and Ms. Edmunds breaking the norms and being their own women, without holding to social construct or listening to “girls can’t do that.” It is a huge testament to the nature of the piece and its deep running themes of freedom and exceptional behavior.

Of course, this is one of the things that has lead to the book being challenged. The language and the obviously difficult ending are two others. The fact that Paterson wrote such a strong and impactful book 40 years ago, that still stands the test of time today, says a lot about the topics and her own prowess as a writer. Putting my own hatred of literary censorship aside, I find these reasons to be abhorrent for shunning such an awesome work of literature. When children can pick up a book and see that their creativity and imagination should be embraced, find out that it is OK to be different, even see someone their own age faced with and learning how to handle death, that book is a treasure. To push it out of libraries, schools and off of reading lists is a real travesty and I shudder to think there are parents out there who think otherwise.

But I’ll get off my soapbox. I don’t have many faults with this book. I would like a little more explanation of why Jess’s father doesn’t show affection to him the way he does the girls. Granted, this was 40 years ago and many people, particularly in rural America, were still under the impression that showing too much love to boys made them ‘soft,’ I think that knowledge is lost on a lot of youth and they may come away with the impression that the father is just a jerk. Which is harmful to an overall interpretation of the text, I think.

Overall, this book will always have a huge place in my heart. Aside from being a piece of YA literature that truly has the means to empower kids, it is an easy-to-read work that is educational about real-life issues. I love it. I hope you all enjoyed it as well. But what are your thoughts? Do you agree with its challenged/banned status? Tell me your thoughts! And be sure to give me your ideas for the best horror novel we can cover in October!!

You Know Your Work

This has been a bit of a crazy week on the writing front. I’ve been doing this for quite some time, as you all know, and it still has the ability to absolutely blow me away. The unexpected can be both good and bad, and this week I had both. I stumbled across a really great contest offer on Wednesday, and by the time I found it I had less than nine hours to format and publish a novel through a particular service.

Of course I tried it. The only real regulation was that the piece had to be at least 24 pages in print. Not too difficult, and easy to do. I went through the formatting process, created a book cover and was ready to go through with it, when the service pinged a message back my way telling me that my novel was three pages short of being able to have my title fit on the spine. Three pages. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be a problem, but for some reason it got to me.

I’ve worked on that particular title for more than a year and have gone through edits at least three times. I felt so great about it that I’d been querying agents with it and trying to look into the best way to get it on the market. But after all that time and work it still came up three pages short of being able to be identified from the side. I know it sounds silly, but it really got me discouraged. I’ve never been one to really worry about how long a piece is. I write and listen to the characters and the story itself and let them tell me when the end is coming. That’s what feels natural to me.

Don’t get me wrong here, the novel was well over the limit for the contest, and it’s not too short overall, but it does fall short of the generic industry length suggestions for the type of novel it is. As much as I  hate to admit it, that hurt a bit. I’ve written in the past about how easy it can be to get discouraged if you set yourself up to follow strict industry guidelines. Not to say that you shouldn’t listen to your agent and at least make an effort to make your book match length and style guidelines, but if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work. I had to remember that the hard way.

I beat myself up for hours. I could have gone ahead and pushed through the issue and given myself over to the possibility of ridicule (or winning), but the whole situation really made me look at the book and at myself as a writer. I felt like a bit of a failure. I spent over a year on this book, telling this unique tale that I was so proud of, and it came in at only 97 pages in print. How could that be a good book when the industry standard is at least 150 for most similar pieces, and usually at least three times that (if we’re looking at Stephen King up to ten times that length)? I stopped the formatting, stopped the editing and let the contest timer run out. I spent the rest of the day considering what it takes to be a writer, what the industry standards really mean, and whether or not my work is worth the effort. I honestly felt lower than low for a little while.

Then it hit me. I am a writer. I always have been a writer. I was meant to be a writer. What does it matter how long a book is? Can a standard formality really tell me that my work isn’t worth as much as a book that may have an extra 50 or so pages of material? If my story only calls for 97 pages to run itself through and wow an audience (my beta readers have seemed to enjoy it), then should I allow someone else’s book length determine the worth of my work? The answer isn’t just no, but Hell no. I was put on this earth to be a writer. I eat, sleep, drink, breathe and bleed literature. It is one of the biggest parts of who I am, and I don’t see that changing. So who has the right to tell me that my book is too short, or too long for that matter? The industry standard says that a book shorter than 70,000 words is too short ( my own comes in at just under 69,000) and any longer than 100,000 is too long. To clarify and put a bit of a spin on these numbers The Great Gatsby comes in at right around 50,000 words – 20,000 words less than “industry standard”, while Stephen King’s The Stand comes in at more than 470,000 words – four times the length that is considered the cutoff.

So tell me, if two of the greatest and most well-known pieces of writing of the last 100 years don’t fit “industry standard” how can my work be considered lesser quality for the same fault? Who is to say that any novel less than or greater than a certain length has less worth than others? Granted, I understand industry standard also has just as much to do with economic printing costs, etc.. It’s a harmful restriction to put on someone who is trying to get their writing to the world. When self-publishing is not the option you want to use, and agents won’t look at your work if it’s outside of their span, what options do you have?

For a new author trying to come on the scene, being told that you have to adhere to a certain length requirement can be devastating. Speaking from experience, it’s a bit of a shock to find out that a piece of work is in some way restricted based on its length. But that’s ridiculous. No one on this planet can tell you that your book has to be a certain length. When you are writing a work and you feel it flowing from you, through you, and it tells you its done – or it tells you to keep writing – that’s it. It knows. YOU know what is best. You absolutely can’t let anyone out there tell you that they know your work better than you do. That’s not to say you can’t accept constructive criticism. If someone tells you they think you could add this or add that, or take this out or take that out, it probably pays to at least momentarily consider it and not get upset – that’s the point of beta readers after all. But that doesn’t mean you have to do what is suggested. Again, no one in the world knows the story like you and no one else on the planet can tell the story the same way you can. The same goes for any type of art. When it is ready, you’ll know. There are literally people out there who have sold blank canvases as a statement – and they are loved for it. You know what a piece should be.

As an artist you are endowed with power over your work that no one else has. The idea came to you. The story is coming from you. The characters are developing within you. Without you none of it would be possible. If you ask me, that’s pretty darn special. So follow your gut, follow your heart. When the story feels done, maybe it is, even if it could fit on the back of a Cracker Jack box. If the story tells you it’s not done, but you’re looking at a piece that would put Gone With the Wind to shame, listen to it. It knows how long it should be. Never let industry standards or the expectations of others discourage you or make you feel any less incredible. You have the power of the story with you. It is entirely in your hands. If changes are suggested and you think they work, give it a shot. If you don’t agree with them, stand your ground. It’s your masterpiece. Any given piece can be your Mona Lisa. Treat it as such. Hell, what if someone had told da Vinci she should have been  blonde, or should have had glasses? Can you imagine one of the world’s most famous paintings looking any different than she does (except the Mandela Effect’s smile issue; but that’s another post).

Be happy with your talent. Use it to the best of your ability and don’t ever allow anyone else to belittle it. Your book might not fit what others expect, but isn’t that part of the point? No one can say how long a book should be. No matter how hard they try. It doesn’t work. Be confident in your ability. Don’t ever give up. I won’t say don’t get discouraged, because I know it happens, but understand why it happens. Figure out what is bothering you and figure out how to overcome it. That will help you improve more than you can imagine. The world deserves your book. There are 8 billion people on the planet, all with different personalities and desires. If someone out there is waiting on your  book to be published in exactly the way you first write it, is it fair to deprive them of that? Just do you. Be yourself. Follow your own desires and your own instinct. You won’t regret it in the long run.

What discourages you? What advice would you give others? Have you had a similar experience to mine? Leave comments and share this with others to help give someone out there the encouragement they need to do something great! Look for the review of “Powers of Darkness” on May 29! Enjoy your weekend and keep up the good work!

“Horns” by Joe Hill

Here it is, everyone, my first book club book review of the newly revamped club. I understand I’m a couple days late, but Thanksgiving schedules got bumped, so I’m doing it on a Monday. I’ll share it again a couple of times in case anyone misses it. But, without further ado, I’ll jump right into my review.

First and foremost, I have to say that “Horns” was in no way what I expected. I went into the book fully expecting to enjoy it and find it an interesting read. What I actually got a mind-blowing, pseudo-noir, absolute gold nugget. I LOVE this book. The storyline alone is just so skewed and out-of-this-world that I felt myself get lost in the piece every time I started reading. I actually yearned for the next page, the next word, the next section. I felt like I HAD to know what was going to happen. In the end, of course, I felt (mostly) satisfied, even though Hill left the reader to sort of develop their own reasons for why things happened. Most of the time in a book like that, I’ll feel a bit annoyed that the author didn’t explicitly lay out that “this is what happened, this is how and this is why”, but with this book I didn’t even care.

“Horns”, of course, is the story of a man who wakes up and finds that he has sprouted horns. Literal horns that, when anyone looks at them, cause people to divulge their greatest secret or sin. Ignacio is forced to use these horns to uncover the truth about what happened to his girlfriend a year after her murder, and the journey to the truth is one that will blow you away.

One of the coolest things about the book, for me, was the imagery. Seeing Ig transform from this almost hipsterish (in my head) character, to a literal devil was fascinating. When Hill talked about Ig grabbing the pitchfork and putting on the rotten skirt over his red, burnt skin, I could almost picture that classic image of a dancing devil with cloven feet and a bifurcated tail. In all honesty, I think I added those last two elements in my head and found myself a little surprised that it didn’t happen in the book.

Lee Tourneau was one that I just loved to hate. Or hated to hate. Regardless, I was glad to see him finally die. I loved the slow reveal of his sheer sociopathic insanity. It almost reminded me of the slow reveal of such classic characters as Norman Bates, who was always a little off, but was thrown right in your face in the blink of an eye. To see Lee progress from a little weird, to smash a cat’s head in really sunk the image home for me. Until that point I had been leaning toward Ig’s own brother, but I stopped doubting myself right then and there.

Ig’s family and their showcase of support really made me think about just how often people will tell each other lies in order to avoid confrontation. When Ig’s mother tells him the truth that is on her heart, I felt the despair and anger that was rising within him. I knew in that moment that there was no going back for Ig. They say that no matter what happens, the one place they always have to take you in is home. That is in no way always true, and I love that Hill pointed that out. Ig’s entire family, except Terry, basically all but told him that they wished he’d get out of their lives. Terry’s guilt rising to the surface was an incredible sequence as well.

The horns themselves, able to draw the most sinful confessions out of anyone who looks at them, are a bit of thematic genius that I like to think were inspired at least somewhat by The Silence from Doctor Who. Granted, I like to see Who references in most things, that may just be my inner nerd coming out. I was very intrigued to see just how far Ig could push those around him to get them to reveal what he wanted to know and was astounded by the uncanny love snakes suddenly had for him. The horns, along with his goatee presented an image that I don’t think I’d be able to forget. Yet that’s what happened, time and time again. Everyone who looked at Ig just couldn’t remember anything about the encounter minutes after speaking with him. I found that element of the story mesmerizing. It almost calls to the idea that we avoid thinking of our own sin so much that even being forced or coaxed to confess them is not enough of a jolt to make us remember it all.

Now, when we come to discussion of “Horns”, one can never leave Merrin out of the loop. In my opinion Merrin is the best and worst character of the entire book. For a long time we see Merrin as a total victim, a murdered damsel who did nothing but love those around her to the fullest of her ability. But we find out later that this may not have been the whole truth. Hill reveals to the reader that Merrin had broken things off with Ig, had encouraged him to find other women to sleep with, had generally broken the heart of the man we have watched all but fall apart. Many things are insinuated for much of this book, including the possibility that Lee’s delusions may have some weight. We are left to consider the possibility that Merrin may have had another man in mind when she was asking Ig for this separation. In all honesty, there were even times that I thought Hill was trying to insinuate the possibility that Merrin had a thing for her roommate (and speaking of the roommate, what was up with that puzzle thing?). In the end we find out that Merrin had actually broken Ig’s heart for the simple reason that she didn’t want to break his heart. She knew she was likely to die – albeit not by having her head bashed in – and didn’t want Ig to suffer like her parents had. That’s very noble, of course, and kind of puts me in mind of a Nicholas Sparks book (don’t judge), but ultimately is a decision that I think Ig should make for himself. I think we all know he would have stayed stateside, and likely would have married her had she told him about her illness, but I truly think that should have been his decision. I think Merrin should have told him the truth instead of kill his spirit the way she did. Does this also make her a villain? Does this make her just as responsible for what happened to Ig as anyone else is? Personally I think the answers here are difficult. I wouldn’t call her a villain, but I’m certain that, had she told him the truth, she and ig would have had a lot less pain in some ways.

Now, there honestly wasn’t much that I didn’t like about the book at all. One thing that I did find that I didn’t think fit was the fact that Merrin’s cross protected Lee from the horns. I understand the whole concept of the horns being a satanic gift (I see you and your treehouse L. Morningstar) and the cross is a religious symbol, but Lee was basically evil personified. It was like Ig, who was good at heart, had to take on the mantle of evil to fight an evil being lurking behind a symbol of good. I know that description may have lost some of you, but that’s my brain. Personally I feel that’s something Hill could have altered. I think in a world where we can accept the mystical possibility of sin-revealing horns sprouting from a man’s head, then we also should have been able to accept the fact that the cross would be able to see Lee’s evil and not protect him. Of course, there’s the possibility that we look at that element and say it was suggestive of evil people hiding behind a religious symbol and being able to avoid persecution. Personally, I like the idea that Hill may have intended something along these lines. Historically there have been many people who have hidden their evil and evil motives behind a religious symbol, and it’s definitely not above Hill’s history to suggest that.

Of course, I couldn’t make this post without making a slight mention of Hill’s parentage. For those that don’t know, Joe Hill is the son of none other than Stephen King. In my opinion, this makes him uniquely qualified to be an author of this magnitude, and I think that it shows in some aspects of his writing, particularly his subject matter. Over all I think this book was a bit of sheer genius, with few flaws. I very much enjoyed the subtle nuances and ‘easter eggs’ placed throughout and I feel the project was very excellently executed (no pun intended). I would love to have been a neuron in Hill’s mind and have a first-hand look at just how this idea came to be. But what did you guys think? What questions did the book leave you with? Was there anything that you particularly loved or particularly hated about the book? I really hope you guys will weigh in here and share this with anyone and everyone you know. Book clubs are a great way to interact with people and have a potentially intellectual discussion on many topics.

Finally, I want to know what you guys want to read. What book do you want me to do for December? I’ll try to have my decision made by the 3rd, so I’m hoping to hear a lot of good answers. Like I said before, if I get more than one suggestion for a certain title, or more than one person commenting on that title it will hold precedence. Of course, if I only have one suggestion, a number of people who make one suggestion with no response, or (God forbid) no responses, then I’ll make the decision and let you all know what it is. So jump in, dig your feet in and get into the discussion. I want to hear the most detailed idea possible about these books and I really want to have some in-depth discussions! I look forward to it, so let the comments begin!

Novels are coming…

NaNoWriMo is coming fast. I know for some people the idea of writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days is quite daunting – for others it seems just next to impossible – but it can happen! I’m living proof that perseverance with this contest can really pay off in the long run. I had tried my hand at Nano around 5 times before last year, with college always bullying me away from writing for pleasure and forcing me to focus on school work. Granted, I guess that’s what I get for doing an English major with a communications minor and (almost) an education certification. It was tough.

But the weight was shed last year, allowing me to blow Nano out of the water. I had a new job at a library that allowed me to have time on the side to write while enjoying that awesome career choice. By utilizing every spare minute I had within the first couple of weeks in November, I not only won Nano, I wrote a 68,000 word novel in 18 days. That is an accomplishment that I will always be proud of.

This brings me to the real question for this article. Are you participating in the competition? I’ve heard a lot of people say they feel that Nano is just garbage and that a good novel shouldn’t be written under a “challenge.” Personally I say that’s codswallop. It doesn’t matter if your novel is written in 30 days or 30 years. If it’s a novel, it’s a novel. I’ve read (and written, let’s be honest) some really terrible pieces of work that took weeks and months and years to finish, and I’ve read pieces that were literally written overnight that blew my mind.

For me it often comes back to the old saying that “Your first version will be shit.” There are tons of articles and books written on this idea, which suggests that it’s really the editing that makes a novel great. Now, I’m not saying it’s necessarily always the case, but I do think it holds weight. In my own stories and books I think I make a much better product after I’ve taken it through the editing rigmarole, but with others I think the author may hit gold the first time (not usually, but positivity is key, right?). For me that’s why it’s difficult to understand the opinion of those who are so against helpful challenges like NaNoWriMo. I think it’s always good for an artist to challenge themselves, and we all know I’ve written and spoken about deadlines a few times. It’s important. That’s the bottom line.

While you definitely may not be able to produce a masterpiece by giving yourself only 30 days to produce a brand new 50,000 word piece of literature, you can certainly get a start on it. For me it’s not so much about the type of work that I see on November 30, but how far and how fast I can produce the piece through the month and what I have to work with after December starts. Sometimes that’s the most rewarding, really. To know that I have a good idea to work with to start the new year, and that most of the writing has already happened is honestly a bit of a relief. That’s why, after finishing my work last year, I jumped on the first edit and had the piece ready for beta readers in December.

This year, though, who knows what will happen. I have a new, more demanding job which also requires me to write for a living. Not to mention the fact that I have multiple ideas floating around in my head and I haven’t quite hammered enough out about them to be sure of just how long they are going to be. Of course, I don’t necessarily know that I believe you can ever be sure of that. I’ve had many pieces that I thought were only going to be a few hundred words that ended up with thousands before I was finished. It’s something, for me, that the story decides. Or rather, that it knows. You see, nothing knows a story like the story itself. We’re just a conduit for the reveal. But I’ve written about that a number of times, and I’m sure I will again.

For now I’ll leave you with the question I’ve already asked; Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Have you before? Do you even know about it? Feel free to answer these questions or ask your own in the comments or in a personal message. I love seeing interaction here and I love talking to you guys! Keep up the work and enjoy the approach of the holidays!