The Waiting Game

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

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

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

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

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

Harry Potter and the 8-book review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who I Really Am

My life has been filled with an uncanny love of literature, an unquenchable obsession with the written word, and a passion for the arts that absolutely can’t be rivaled. I have lived my entire life with a book in my hand, a pen in my pocket, and written words surrounding my every move. I have always been drawn to books and literature. The very thought of books ignites a fire in my heart like nothing else. I struggled for a bit in my youth with just what that meant for me, often finding myself reading where my peers were playing sports and writing in my free time when others were hunting and carrying on in their own way. More often than not I was the guy in school who would be seen with a novel as big as his head and more interest in the library than the gym or the football field. People often questioned why I loved books the way I did, and they often got various answers, but one thing always stayed the same, whether I voiced it or not; it’s who I am.

By the time I made it to high school and realized that I wanted to be a writer, another seed planted itself in my mind. My junior year of high school I found myself in Larry Hypes’s class. This was a man who had quite a reputation for being an excellent teacher at Tazewell High School – often noted as such by the various non-academically minded students who professed how little they liked his class. But it was here that I flourished. I found myself in the midst of literature I hadn’t covered before, and where new light was shed on works that I was familiar with, and something clicked inside of me. I realized, somewhere deep within myself that there was a whole new world of literature appreciation for me to embrace – in the form of teaching. I grew closer to Mr. Hypes through that year, finding his ideas often matched my own and his methods opened up the written word in ways I hadn’t experienced before. As I went through the year, reading and writing more than ever, the idea of teaching dug itself deeper in my conscious.

I had been asked about teaching before this, of course, and I had shrugged it off with little more than a thought. I was too young to know for sure what I wanted. I knew I wanted to travel. I wanted to see the world, to experience the incredible sensations the world has to offer, and I wanted to make a difference. Teaching was something for old men and women, for huge brains with more knowledge than they knew what to do with and too little adventure left in their hearts to care. It couldn’t be for me. But suddenly it was in my mind, in my heart. During those formative years the idea remained, although buried by the urgency of graduations and colleges, by new novel ideas and dreams of publication. I continued to embrace the craft, feeling with new heights the impressive weight and passion of literature and the world. As new concepts were introduced to me by new professors, I grew more and more fascinated with the concepts that lived through the centuries, feeling sometimes that they were put down on paper and flowed through the ebb of time to plant themselves in my very soul.

I explored this new literature with a ravenous passion as the seed that had planted itself within me grew to new levels. Subtly allowing myself to accept the possibility of education, I entered the teaching program in college. The concepts and ideas brought a sense of calm to my mind where before there was a mild form of panic when I considered what career path I could embark on while seeking publication. In addition to exploring theories and methods of standard education I was allowed the opportunity to observe. The very word itself is a disservice to what I experienced. I was able to join educators in their pursuit, spreading knowledge to kids of various ages. I observed in a number of classrooms in a number of grades, and always felt the same things. Wonder. Passion. A desire for education that encompassed all else – perhaps not from every student, but no matter what classroom I was in, the feeling was alive. As much as this feeling enlightened me, I allowed life to get in the way. Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say I put the idea of teaching on the back burner. Dreams were replaced with jobs. I placed myself in position to make money and allowed goals to slip into the background.

Recently, though, the urge to teach has raised its head again. The desire to spread my knowledge and love of literature to new generations has become such an immovable mountain within myself that I can’t ignore it. Each passing day brings new ideas, new elements of literature, new things I want to teach my future students. I can barely go an hour without having some new project, a new element of one of my favorite books or facets of literature that I can explain to students taking over my thoughts. It’s becoming more and more a yearning with each passing moment. My life is tied with literature, the art of the written word is fused into every fiber of my being, and nothing could make more sense than to share that passion with others. More than ever I want to give back to the world what my favorite professors have given to me. As the world changes, literature becoming more of an afterthought as technology rises to all new levels, it is ever more important to me to give it a voice. Despite its strong presence, the written word can’t pick itself up and introduce itself to the coming ages. So it’s up to teachers. It’s up to people like myself for whom the passion never sleeps. I will stand in the face of the darkness of the world and shed the light of passion on its battle-scarred face.

I made this post to let you all know that I’m on my way to doing something about it. I have started the application process to get my provisional teaching license in order to get the ball rolling. I allowed my dreams to sit on the shelf for far too long. Writing has been and always will be first and foremost. I am a writer by nature, by purpose, by passion – and in the same ways, I’m now all too happy to realize, I am a teacher. I let myself sit on this idea, this dream, this inexplicable desire, for far too long. I’m not afraid to admit that. I sought jobs and career choices that kept me in the written word and allowed me stay alongside of my desires, but now I am pursuing them all wholeheartedly. No more hiding, no more waiting. This is who I really am, guys, and I couldn’t be happier to admit that. I will be keeping you all updated as my pursuit continues. With any luck I’ll be teaching by the time the next school year starts and getting my life going in a direction that, until now, I’ve only dreamed of.

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.

Waiting for the Muse

Hey there friends and fans! It has been a crazy couple of months for me. I feel like I’ve been pulled in a hundred different directions and have had everything in the world going on at once, which has kept me from my blogs, my writing, and my editing. Between waiting on beta readers to get back to me, having family members in the hospital, and trying to manage new story ideas March has flown by faster than I can grasp and has left me feeling less accomplished than I’ve felt in longer than I can remember.

It is officially Spring, and it’s almost time for those incredible late nights filled with crickets, lightning, and bonfires. Nights that, I don’t have to remind you, often inspire me like no others. Granted, in my neck of the woods the first full day of Spring has left us in the midst of a snow storm and 30 degree temperatures, but that can be inspiring in its own right. Unfortunately, I’ve found myself quite drained lately. As I slide into this new phase of life that is setting itself up before me, I’m hoping to return to the state of mind where stories flow and the flame of ideas both new and old is more than a smoldering spark. I think one of the most frustrating parts of the situation is that I’ve had a few ideas – really great ideas, if I may say so myself. But the second I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard it’s like a dam sets itself in my mind and completely stops the flow. Of course, I’ve written a number of posts in the past about such things and how you should just plod through them, but unfortunately I haven’t been great at taking my own advice.

I’ve taken notes, outlined and started some of the works, but at the end of the day I’m only kicking out a few paragraphs or a page or two at a time and feeling utterly unsatisfied by the finished product. But at least it’s progress. Fortunately, in light of that, I feel a change coming. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I sense things are going to start flowing again. I’m setting aside all of my excuses and putting Maverip through another edit and then I’m getting those query letters sent out. No more waiting, no more wasting my time and effort. Once I get that done, I think the floodgates will open and I’ll be back to normal. Of course, if that’s what I convince myself of, that’s what’ll happen, right? Right.

So, what’s the news for all of you? Any great things changing in your lives? March is fading fast and April is racing on its heels. I’ll keep you all posted on what’s happening with Maverip in the coming days and weeks, and when that acceptance letter comes back I’ll be sure to celebrate with you all. In the meantime, feel free to reach out to me in the comments on the blog or shoot me an email. I love talking with you all and any opportunity for some good conversation is always welcome! Enjoy the rest of March – and keep your eyes open in case it decides to go out like a lion. Spring is here, Summer’s coming and the inspiration is about to break wide open. Don’t let it miss you!

Every Day

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

As I’m on a strict reading schedule for the year I wasn’t sure when the opportunity would arise. Yesterday afternoon I saw the trailer again and was once more convinced I had to read the book, preferably before the movie’s February 23 release. On a whim I decided to check the OverDrive app, a free app that allows you to check out ebooks from hundreds of participating libraries (an app that I’ve obviously fallen in love with) for the book. When I saw it was available the choice was made before I even realized it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sign of Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sleeping Beauties 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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