Gwendy’s Button Box

This story is a perfect example of the amazing nature of King. He and Chizmar created a tale that is just phenomenal. The possibilities are endless with the concept they presented here, and I would LOVE to see it come back in a more lengthy work from either or both of them. I was excited to pick the novella up and I tore through it in a matter of hours. It was a very smooth and lively read that kept me guessing and kept me captivated.

Gwendy Peterson recieves this strange box from a strange man who seems to be something a little more than human – classic King characterization. I love that she just followed through with the situation, even though she questioned everything that was happening, she literally did the exact opposite of what she should have done when approached by a strange man who says he’s had his eye on her – right down to literally taking chocolate from a stranger. I loved seeing her questioning her actions and what is going on around her, but, like Pandora’s own secret-filled box, she can’t resist.

I liked the idea that this box, like many inanimate objects in King’s works, has a greater power over her life and over reality itself. Gwendy’s whole life is changed one small bit at a time. She starts to lose weight, she grows up to be a knockout, her parents stop drinking and those people who disrespect her seem to quickly get theirs. She pulls her levers and gets her silver dollars and her candy, and she avoids the buttons at all costs – until she doesn’t. The concept of a random strange box out there that contains the power to cause some sort of devastating natural disaster to any part of the world – or the whole thing – with just the push of a button is mesmerizing and terrifying. Gwendy handles that with a similar grain of disbelief, which leads to her pushing the red button for the first time.

I really loved the way the authors made the Jim Jones massacre a direct result of this curiosity. King is great at including actual historical events in his works, especially in the last ten years or so. She pushes the button after careful consideration, choosing a part of the world that was very sparsely populated just to see if it really did blow everything up. The next day she sees the story of Jones’ cult and its mass murder/suicide. The fact that King and Chizmar used this tragedy as a way to explain the power of the box was awesome to me, suggesting almost that the box itself had the power to make people go completely insane and do the most asinine things imaginable (an idea later supported by green teeth killing her boyfriend). I was interested in reading of Gwendy’s life after she accepted the true nature of the box. She continued to be affected by whatever power the box had, and she respected and feared it more than ever, not pushing the buttons again until she had to and even weaning herself off of the candy and trying to let the box be just a thing she rarely thought about.

I was a bit surprised at the way the book wrapped up after the box got its way, by causing the murder of the boy Gwendy loved. In regards to that event; I felt almost like it was like the box was telling her that she belonged to it as much as it to her, and it would not tolerate her indifference anymore. The boy who  had started making fun of her – whom the box sent on a terrible course in life – broke into her home and waited on her to come back. When she did Gwendy’s boyfriend fought to keep her safe until the box presented itself to the attacker. Gwendy gets to see the box that has sent her on this course be the very tool that takes her happiness from her. It definitely breaks something inside of her. I loved the fact that she used the red button to both kill the boy and make his body disappear. It was an insanely creative way to bring home the literal “this button will get you whatever you want” element. From this point on, though, I felt like the end was a bit rushed. We got some vague descriptions of Gwendy’s life and pursuits after those events, and then the man in black was there to take the box and be on his way.

I really enjoyed the story. I felt a lot of familiar vibes, with the nature of it reminding me a lot of King works like “From a Buick 8,” “11/22/63″and things in that vein. I love the idea that there are beings out there, sometimes with devices, sometimes without, who are charged with watching over the world and being the door between dimensions or timelines. That element has always fascinated me, so this story is definitely one of my new favorites.

That being said, the only real complaint I had was, as I mentioned, it was a bit short and the end came a bit quickly. I think it could have been fleshed out and become more novel-length, but at the same time it would really be a lot of the same thing if that were the case. Gwendy loves the box, it loves her, she forgets the box, it tortures her, etc… I would have liked to se what would have happened if she actually tried to get rid of it or destroy it. Would it have retaliated against her personally, killing or hurting her, or would it have gone after someone she loved because she was its designated protector? So many questions… I do think I would have gone a little more in depth in her life post box-murder, but that’s just me. I would like a few more words about what happened to her after, too. And, for that matter, how was she chosen? Who is the man who gave and took the box? Did he make the box or is he likewise charged with its protection? If it’s the latter, why does he give it to others to protect? I can ask questions all day, but the bottom line is this; the book was great, and I will remain somewhat hopeful for a related tale.

What did you guys think? Did you, like me, find yourself enthralled with the mysteries of the box and what it can do? What do you think of stories like this in general? If you have any suggestions of works in a similar vein, please share them. It’s right up my alley.

As always, make your comments on what you’d like to see and discuss next. I look forward to hearing what everyone likes to read, so it’s always fun for me! Also, in case you  haven’t been keeping up or need a reminder; I’ve returned to Wattpad! I’ve been using the free service to present a horror story that I’ve wanted to write for a while and to experiment with a noir detective fiction tale that I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from. I’d love it if you guys would check any of my Wattpad works out. Don’t forget to comment and vote on the stories so they can be exposed to more readers. Check it all out here (https://www.wattpad.com/user/DameanMathews)

I hope you enjoyed the book, and I hope you’re enjoying the book club. If you have any other ideas for what sort of content you’d like to see on the blog, let me know about that, too! I’m here for you guys and I want to make sure you get what you need and want! have a great rest of July and look for my August announcement in the general vicinity of the 2nd or 3rd!

New book, happy holiday

I hope everyone in the states had an awesome Independence Day yesterday! Naturally, for the rest of you, I hope it was a great Tuesday, as well. I spent my day catching up on Doctor Who and writing for the most part. It was quite pleasant. I wanted to take the time to thank everyone for reading my posts and participating recently. I’m working on some interesting pieces and still plan to try and have Maverip ready for beta readers by the end of August. It’s a rough go, and I’ve actually decided that, rather than handwriting first and then transcribing, I’m just going to type what’s left. This is as much a safety measure as a time saver.

That decision is somewhat bittersweet. Some of you know that when I started writing I wrote everything by hand, no matter what. For years that’s how I handled myself. I would write by hand for days, then type up what I’d written. That served as a sort of semi-editing process along the way, but it has been very slow going. Admittedly, I also have had dreams of leaving my original manuscripts for my children to look at someday – although my wife would argue that no one could read it anyway. I can still do that with everything leading up to this current point, but the rest may be just have to be typed so I can cut back on time and get my novel to a publisher by Halloween! Of course, that would be the perfect time to begin the publishing process on a horror novel, but I digress.  As always, anyone interested in being a beta reader for an modern, non-sparkly vampire novel please contact me and I’ll get everything set up!

But anyway, on to what we’re here for; July’s book selection! I decided to go with another new release with this month’s pick. Since the Summer is going strong, I’ve chosen a bit of a short work that promises to be really awesome. This month’s read will be “Gwendy’s Button Box,” by Richard Chizmar and Stephen King. It was released last month and has plenty of good reviews. Being a work even just partially created by King, I’m sure it will be an awesome piece. I’ll plan to post my review around July 26 or 27. I look very forward to discussing this piece with everyone and hope you enjoy your July!!

It’s a Sin to Kill a Mockingbird

Ok guys, this month’s book was an incredible classic, of course. I have been enamored with the book since the first time I picked it up more than a decade ago. There is such a powerful message in the pages, and it has so much weight, even more than half a century later. If we’re being honest, it’s probably just as if not more relevant than before, given the rampant bigotry and racism ruling society these days, but that’s a completely different discussion. Let’s dive in!

First and foremost, as a true son of the South, I love that this book is set right in the heart of the area where racism has perhaps done some of the worst damage. Reading a book that was written in such a simple, uncomplicated and conversational style – yet with such a pregnant message – that included vernacular I’m familiar with is definitely something that makes the book a joy to come back to again and again. Scout is the quintessential rough-and-tumble girl that we all knew growing up. As a matter of fact, if anything, we realize that it is this exact quality that helps her be so strong in the face of what is happening in her town and her home. Of course, we see in the sequel – which was actually written first – that she never changes from this persona, her innocence and strength deriving from the influence this attitude has on her approach to life.

Scout herself is one of the reasons this book is so great for readers of all age groups. She can be understood by everyone who reads the words running through her mind. I can honestly say I have’t met anyone who didn’t relate to Scout in at least some way. her strength in the face of the things that try to break her down and her determination that Tom Robinson deserves justice – as well as her general disdain mixed with a lack of understanding for discrimination of any kind – makes her a character that has survived as a near heroin in my mind. One of the best scenes with Scout comes when she is speaking to the group of angry men outside the courthouse. Scout is doing nothing more than being polite, but she manages to single-handedly diffuse the situation and bring these angry men to their senses, very likely saving Tom and her father without even trying.

The themes of equality and misunderstanding and the blatant condemnation of racism in this book still fascinate me. I see the racism in the world around me now, with people being told to leave the country based on the color of their skin, regardless of where they were born, and entire races and groups of people being torn down by hatred on a daily basis, and I realize that even now it isn’t as bad as it was then. When a black man can be condemned for a crime he obviously didn’t commit just because of the color of his skin and no one bats an eye is insane. Granted, similar things do happen now, there are at least more people standing against such behavior. Knowing that Harper Lee wrote this book speaking out against such unfair treatment of people makes my heart soar. While knowing that so many people haven’t listened hurts deeply.

The character of Atticus has always stood out as a good, strong man in my mind as well –  let’s not discuss the negative comments in “Go Set a Watchman.” I admire the way he taught his children about equality and fairness. Atticus, despite the generalization of the time the book was written, was an amazing father to his children and he instilled in them the hope of a new generation, the essence of equality, and the role of acceptance that men of his own generation so clearly never exhibited. I think this really was Lee’s own dissatisfaction with the world coming out in her writing. She understood humanity and equality and she wrote it with strength and confidence. She stood strong in the face of adversity and showed the world how wrong this behavior was.

I think the biggest question the book raises is whether Boo Radley or Scout is intended to be the greater example of innocence here. Boo, a man who seems to be mentally disabled, is the subject of so much rumor and speculation (which happens too often in Maycomb) and is, in turn, a feared sort of boogeyman figure to the kids. They taunt each other and dare each other to go touch the house or sneak into the garden. And we never see Boo retaliate in anger. In the end we see that Boo, despite being feared, has actually been leaving gifts for the kids, fixes Jem’s pants, and even saves Jem’s life. Regardless, I love the character. He stands for so much in my opinion, that I could could go on for hours about the misconceptions he is faced with and who I think he really is both in the novel and to the literature itself. In a sentence; Boo Radley is the withdrawn control, not joining society, therefore not being damaged by it.

I don’t think I have any real critiques of the book that stand out, other than the fact that I still hate Scout’s aunt and don’t really care much for Dill. I understand their overall contribution to the book, but they were more like annoyances to be dealt with than beneficial characters in my opinion. My biggest problem would be that racism did, in fact, prevail in the case of Tom Robinson, even though he was obviously innocent. The fact that he was shot for committing no crime at all, while an abusive man was let off free is a harsh reminder of the way the world was – and still is – an entirely unfair place. But that’s the point of the book, right? We have to expose the negative behavior so we can fix it.

But what did you think? What are your thoughts on a book that has been so controversial over the years that it has even landed on banned book lists across the U.S.? I hope you’ll all weigh in on the discussion, and definitely let me know what your suggestions are for future reads! I love participation and comments. Share this far and wide and let’s have a big discussion!

Mockingbirds, writers, and vampires!

Happy June, everyone! I’m pretty excited to get the chance to make this announcement, because this book is one of my all-time favorites. Some of you who followed my video book club a couple of years back may remember that I did a video on the book there, and I’ll probably cover some of the same talking points with this – although hopefully more in depth. Without further ado, let’s all put down the sun tan lotion and get ready to read “To Kill a Mockingbird!”

This is an absolute classic – a treasure, if you will. The themes of this book still ring so true today that it makes the piece hopelessly timeless. The morals Harper Lee intends to inspire in the reader here are just incredible. Honestly, there is little to nothing about this book that I don’t enjoy, so the discussion post for this work may be a little long in tooth, but I’m sure you all won’t mind!

I also want to remind you all that I will attending the Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium this Friday and Saturday and I couldn’t be more excited! This has been one of my favorite things to do for the last half a dozen years or so, and every time I come out with a new outlook on the craft of writing in general and my own place in this great big literary world! Some of you may remember (I know I remind you at least annually) that I actually started this blog due to a lecture I attended at this symposium three or four years ago. It has been a great help and a great inspiration to me and my writing since I first stepped through the doors, and I look forward to what this year has to offer. I don’t think it’s too late to register, so if anyone is interested in attending a great symposium with some great regional authors, feel free to check out the details here; https://appheritagewritersym.wordpress.com

Last but not least, I have to tell you all that I have put myself into overdrive when it comes to getting Maverip ready for beta readers. I have decided that I am going to format the novel differently than previously planned, and I will be taking strides to get the project finished by the end of the year – if not the end of summer. If anyone is interested in being a beta reader for an awesome, intense vampire novel that calls back to the root of what makes a vampire a vampire, let me know and I’ll get your info ready for the day it’s complete!

Look for the Mockingbird review around June 28, friends and fans, and we’ll have a great discussion about this awesome classic. If you have any other suggestions feel free to leave them in the comments below, and if you’re interested in being a beta reader, hit me up!

The Powers of Darkness: The Lost Version of Dracula

I loved diving into this lost piece of history. Dracula has long been one of my favorite works and one of my favorite literary characters. Reading this work and watching some of the more than 200 film adaptations of the character further inspired my love of vampires and helped me decide to be a vampirologist and Dracula scholar. From the first time I read Stoker’s novel I was pulled to Dracula with a vigor I’ve never been able to (or desired to) escape from. That fascination was renewed when I got my hands on a copy of Dacre Stoker’s co-written sequel that said the count hadn’t actually died after all. When I first heard this new retwlling had been discovered by Hans de Roos and others and was being translated and released I couldn’t believe it. For years I had dreamed of  even more workings of the menacing and misunderstood figure that has become synonymous with all things blood-sucker. After reading the book I have to say that I am both very pleased and still left wanting more.

Getting straight to the point I have to say that Valdimar Asmundsson wrote an incredible alternate version of the book that has become literary staple in the past century. Heading right out of the gate I was both shocked and intrigued to see that the book took a much more conversational tone than the original (granted, I’m sure at least some of that had to do with the translation from Icelandic to English). Originally Harker was strict, speaking … er, writing…. with professionalism and personalism. Here Harker, Thomas rather than Johnathon in this case, feels a bit looser to me, as if he’s less stiff than the original.

The blatant changes in Harker’s journey were fascinating to me, too. In the original novel it feels like Harker’s trip is swift and the people he encounters very stiff and cold. This version gave us a trip that felt almost casual rather than business in my opinion. Harker was hit hardest by superstition at the last leg of his journey in both cases, however. The people in the last village he stopped at all but begged him not to go to the castle they believed to house something wrong.

Harker’s stay at the castle dominates this particular version of the novel, taking up about three quarters of the piece. He is subjected to the same strange behavior from the count, right down to the destruction of his shaving glass and the often absent host that never eats. He explores the castle on his own, as before, but now he finds only one beautiful woman, rather than three illustrious vampiric wives. He is almost haunted by this woman, her power over his mind and spirit mentioned multiple times as he spends weeks in the castle with no escape. His only saving grace is the cross around his neck. Both the woman and the count are visibly turned away by this the cross, and he mentions multiple times that he believes the cross to be what saves him from an unknown, but surely terrible, fate.

The layout of the castle is another new piece of work, as are a number of new characters. Here Dracula and his “cousin” are in the castle with a deaf, mute (and once-blind) maid and a number of strange “ape-like” men who are only mentioned once outside of the demonic cathedral beneath the castle. I loved the scene where Harker first truly sees the evil inside his host. Young women are sacrificed by the count and his ape-men in this underground altar room and Harker finally stops denying that something is wrong.

I enjoyed the way the book picked up from this point. When Harker comes to the full realization that he has to get out, I kind of felt like I was on a roller coaster. I loved the way he continued to try to be impartial to Dracula and the way Dracula became even more fiendish to him. I was a bit disappointed by the big reveal of Dracula laying in the coffin, because even here there was no mention of what exactly Harker thought might be happening.

I liked the way the second part of the book is told in a standard novel format, as opposed to the journal/letter format of the original. It made the story flow a little smoother, in my opinion. I was really thrown off by how quickly and how entirely differently the story wraps up, however. It seemed to me like Asmundsson either just didn’t like the latter half of the original, or he got bored with his own retelling. Perhaps he was unable to finish filling in his own details and decided to publish the piece as is. I don’t know. The second part of the short novel felt more like a detailed outline than an actual part of a novel. We hear of the Demeter’s crash, we hear of Lucy (here Lucia) and her sleepwalking, but we are also given the representation of a drastically younger-looking count becoming a very social figure. Mina (here Wilma) and Lucia meet the character on multiple occasions, putting me in mind of the classic Bela Lugosi Universal flick, or one of the many others that borrow from a similar story line. Is it possible someone down the line might have had this version to look at and base one of the many cinematic versions on it? The ending of the book came very quickly. There was no great chase through the European countryside, no large final battle, no real threat to the main characters. They opened his coffin and killed him. It was simple, easy and clean. In a way I felt a little robbed of what could have been done with this new version of the classic monster.

Overall, I did like the book. I thought it was a very interesting retelling of a novel most of us know (whether we know we know it or not), and I think there is a lot of opportunity to work with this altered story line (Dacre, if you read this I’d love to be in on anything that could be in the future!) and character. I enjoyed the addition of more characters in the castle, and I do think I preferred the single mysterious woman to the three. It added a  heightened sense of fear in my opinion. One woman can hide much easier than three, vampires or not. I enjoyed this more cunning and commanding version of the count. I say more commanding because we actually get to see him command a large group of his “ape-men” through a very dark ritual and that in itself added another layer to the inert fear the character can inspire.

Of the things I was less than impressed with… There is a bit of a list, but I’ll only hit the high points. Before I do, however, there was one thing that I can’t decide if I liked or disliked. That is Harker’s seeming lack of ability to understand or unwillingness to admit what is going on. Where the word vampire is mentioned in the original, this version never suggests that his host may be a vampire. He does mention the idea that he fears they (Dracula and the mysterious woman) may want to suck his blood, but he doesn’t come right out and say the word. Even after watching this blood ritual in the altar room, seeing the ape-like men drink someone’s blood, he doesn’t make this connection. I’m torn about this because, on the one hand I think it almost makes Harker out to be a fool, that he either doesn’t get it or doesn’t believe what he is seeing. On the other, it reminds me of  one of my favorite vampire movies, “Near Dark.” This movie is one of the most under-rated I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. It tells the story of a roaming group of vampires that have run-ins with the law, etc… It discusses their need to drink blood, the fact they never age and heavily showcases the damaging effects of the sun’s rays, but never once in the film is the word ‘vampire’ ever used. Clever tool, if you ask me.

I think the biggest thing I didn’t like with this book was how fast paced it moved after a certain point. The beginning was well thought out, well planned, and perfectly executed, but the latter half seemed to stumble over itself. Particularly the second part of the book, after Dracula leaves his castle. I feel like the author went through Stoker’s notes and novel with a marker and highlighted what he liked and made up some of his own work, but never took the time to put the real detail into it. I was very disappointed with the absence of the Renfield character. I feel he gave interesting insight into the effect Dracula can have on the brain. Personally, I also wonder just how much of Renfield’s tendencies Harker might have taken on while in the nunnery (or if Dracula sought Renfield because he wanted a similar servant to what he expected of Harker). The possibilities with that character are endless. Finally, I was disappointed in the fact that Dracula’s death was just there.  You’re reading the book, noticing it going faster and faster, and suddenly Dracula’s dead and the book is over. As much as I hate to say it, it did leave something to be desired.

I do have to say that the foreword, footnotes and all accompanying text was very helpful, very interesting and helped make the book that much more enjoyable. It does also help pose the question of whether or not there are other alternate versions of this age-old classic out there just waiting to be discovered (aside from the Swedish version which is being translated as we speak)….

Make sure to share your thoughts on this unique piece of literary history and share this with anyone you think might be interested. Make your suggestions for future books and let’s keep the book club going! Summer is here, the kids are out of school, and it’s time for those summer reading lists, so let’s say this month’s book is going to be your favorite summer reading list pick! Leave them in the comments or message me directly via email or social media. I look forward to hearing from everyone. Keep reading!

 

 

Sink Your Teeth Into This!

Hey guys! I hope everyone has been having an awesome Spring. So far it’s been pretty great for me. I have to admit that I’ve been having an amazing time at my new job. I get to see in depth, behind the scenes things that make the theatre run smoothly, and I’m very impressed. I feel very fulfilled with my job, and the fact that it gives me a solid schedule – which means I don’t have to scrounge for time to read at night! Isn’t that exciting? Anyway, I wanted to give everybody our May book club read, and I promise it’s awesome.

For this book, I chose another new (yet pretty old) release; “Powers of Darkness: The Lost Version of Dracula.” Of course I chose this! It’s a book that was originally written by Valdemar Asmundsson in the early 1900’s (it was translated and released by Hans de Roos). It was first thought to be just a translation of the original text from English to Icelandic, but after it was examined researchers realized it is actually a complete retelling of “Dracula” that features an altered story, changed names, new characters and bits of text that coincide with Bram Stoker’s original ideas and notes for his classic novel. I know this book might not be the type of thing some of you look for, but I assure you it promises plenty of amazing scenes. Unlike “Dracula”, this book isn’t just told in the form of letters and such, but is written in a slightly more standard style, with the majority being told through Harker’s (Thomas rather than Johnathon in this text) journal entries.

Unfortunately, some book stores view this book as slightly more scholarly that what they typically carry, so you may have to specifically request it if you want to buy it. Since it is such an interesting topic it can be a little hard to track down in libraries as well. I had to have my copy shipped from a library in New York so I could dive in. But it’s definitely worth it to a vampirologist and “Dracula” scholar in the 21st Century.

Either way, I look very forward to diving into this book and I hope you’ll all join me in this awesome experience! Feel free to follow me on social media (https://www.facebook.com/DMathewsBooks ) if you haven’t. Now that I have more time at night I have been writing a lot more, and I think I’ll start making more regular posts and discussion on my various pages. With luck there may also be some discussion from a special guest once this review goes up! I’m thinking it will go up around May 25. I know that doesn’t give a lot of time, but this book isn’t as long as “Dracula” and, based on what I’ve read so far, will likely be consumed pretty quick by most people. There are also some interesting forewords and commentary, including a great one from Bram’s great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker, throughout the novel that I find fascinating.

I hope you guys will be able to track the novel down and enjoy it! If you do have any trouble finding it, feel free to let me know. As a former librarian, I know some tricks of the trade that might be able to help. Ok guys, let’s dive in to a retelling of one of the greatest Gothic novels of all time!

The Circle

This book was incredible. The parallels between this and other dystopian thrillers are immensely weighty. At times it was like I was literally reading a prequel to 1984. I was very eager to dive into this book after seeing a trailer for the movie in theaters a few months or so ago (I know, I know, sue me), and I knew I couldn’t see the movie without first reading the book! I finished the novel well before the release of the movie, which comes out today, so there are no worries there. Enough small talk, though; let’s jump right in.

First and foremost, as I said before, this book almost read like it could be a prequel to 1984. The ideas of the Circlers and their almost incessant need to make everything known was incredibly ominous. I can’t count the times that I thought it was almost like watching the development of Big Brother. The cameras, the mandatory participation, all the way to the ending. That ending! Man!

We enter the story with Mae, who seems just as innocent as one would imagine; a small-town girl moving to this huge opportunity. We see that she (and some around her) understands just how much bigger than her The Circle really is. As Mae immerses herself in the work she is given, we see her start to open up a little, but she has many questions. There are many instances where people like Eamon Bailey and others make comments about knowledge and the fact that they feel everything should be known. Mae is very taken aback by this idea at first. It seems like she understands the importance The Circle has in the future of the world, but she also sees the importance of privacy and separation. This quickly seems to die out.

Mae keeps herself slightly distant from The Circle at first, not attending many parties, leaving campus a lot and generally letting herself live as if she was working a standard 9-5 job. She left The Circle behind when she left The Circle. This didn’t work for the company. They addressed this a few times before Mae was faced with a situation that really threw her out of herself. In the middle of trying to fit in and find herself in The Circle family, Mae has some sexual encounters with a young, shy man named Francis and a slightly older, mysterious and impossible to find man who only tells her his name is Kalden. These encounters do a little bit of work towards making Mae a closer part of The Circle and helping her focus on the job itself. But this work is nothing compared to what happens as her parents continue to deal with her father’s MS and associate with her ex-boyfriend, Mercer. She had slowly grown more accustomed to being more open and public with her life, but it was Mercer’s first big resistant moment that made it sink in for her. He more or less told her that she was a part of what was wrong with the world, saying The Circle was crossing too many lines and she needed to grow up and see the truth. She left her parents house that night and had the experience that lead to her becoming the poster-child for citizen transparency.

Mae getting arrested really broke something in her, I think. The fear she felt at knowing she could lose her position changed how she looked at everything, and Eamon Bailey helped push that through her head. He encouraged her to feel that showing everyone everything at all times was the best way to live her life. This way of thinking, needless to say, was a game changer.

Mae started wearing her camera and documenting everything, helping The Circle with its attempt at closing in on the world and consuming everything to be consumed. The story really gains so much weight at this point. Mae slowly becomes a different person. She goes from a girl who is mortified at the thought of one person seeing her perform a moderate sexual act to being perfectly fine with taking millions of followers into the bathroom with her. The Circle’s (for lack of a better term; or is this the best term?) brainwashing of Mae really culminates and reaches its most dangerous level when she speaks up and suggests developing the mandatory voting technology that is Demoxie. The very name of this program, to me, sounds like poison. Demoxie influences everyone around the world to make their voice heard, which, although a great idea, has consequences. In addition to recording the answers, The Circle has the power to record who answers, and how. Much like Mae was able to look and see who voted her as not being awesome in a demonstration of the technology (that in itself is an experience that really allowed us to see into the damaged psyche Mae has developed, or maybe just revealed, through the text), any government organization may have been able to convince The Circle to allow them to see how its citizens voted. For that matter, Circlers themselves have access to the information. Anyone who may have voted against a popular idea could thus be singled out for their voices.

The real life-changer for this comes when Mae is given control over the technology to look for people – any person – all over the world. The first instance is likely helpful. Circlers and audience members are able to help find a fugitive and bring her to justice. But then Mae decides to take the situation further. She decides she wants to look for Mercer, who had AWOL after deciding to go “off the grid” in an attempt to hide from Mae and The Circle.

This search would have been all fine and dandy, had she known when to call off the dogs. I literally cringed as I read how intense the unnecessary chase scene became after Circle followers tracked Mercer to a house in the woods. He fled in fear and anger as Circlers and Mae followed him with no explanation as to why. Mae used The Circle’s technology to literally chase Mercer to his death. He drove off a bridge because he became so desperate to find a way to get away from the power of The Circle. That moment was very powerful to me.  I feel like it represented everyone who has ever stood up to a government or an organization that has too much power. There is so much that can be said about that scene, that idea.

But Mae couldn’t see it. She was wounded by his death, but not enough. Kalden (who turned out to be Ty, the FOUNDER of The Circle) tried to get her to  help him shut the whole thing down before it became too powerful. But she wouldn’t have it. She couldn’t. She talked so many times of feeling the black tear in her mind, her soul, and by the end of the book she was convinced the tear, rather than representing the innocence and humanity that was being walled off, represented “not knowing”, which is something The Circle was strongly against, of course.

The final insight we really get into Mae’s mind is all it took for me to both lose the last of my respect for her character and make me want ten more books. Mae’s friend Annie has literally become comatose due to the stresses of The Circle (can we be sure it isn’t something Bailey or Stenton did on purpose?) and all Mae can think about is how she finds it an unbelievable injustice that she can’t see into her friend’s mind. She can’t read the thoughts of the woman who is lying on the bed in front of her. Obviously, my first thought here was the budding idea for the Thought Police, but I digress.

Overall, I thought this book was absolute genius. David Eggers did an amazing job, and I look forward to checking out other works from him. From the time I started reading until the last word, I was enthralled. That being said, this book isn’t exactly the type of thing I typically choose to read for pleasure. But it’s easily in my list of top books. Whether that’s top 50, top 25, or even top 100, I couldn’t begin to tell you. I’ve read so much that the list does change fairly often. But this one is there. The style Eggers wrote this book in is very conversational and matter-of-fact. I didn’t get hung up on any dialogue issues and I don’t recall anything that was over-exaggerated or unclear.

My biggest compliment and biggest complaint for the book would likely be the same. It was very open-ended. From the point we leave Mae, as she considers talking to the founders about finding a way to expose thoughts to the same transparency as everything else, I feel like anything could happen. We know that Kalden (Ty) is still a part of The Circle, but we don’t know where, in what capacity, or what punishment may have been applied to his position. In other words; we have no idea of his motives, or if the mention of his position is even correct. They may well have just told Mae that as a cover. If it is true, what’s to stop him from either continuing to attempt to coerce Mae, or find someone else to help him overthrow the totalitarian organization that grew from his brainchild? Even more, I still feel like there is some way Mercer could be alive. Maybe he jumped from the truck and clung to the bottom of that bridge until it was safe to walk away. Maybe Ty knows this and he’s going to work with Mercer to overthrow The Circle. One way or another, I do think there’s enough possibility to bring this idea back for another round. Come on Eggers, what do you think?

Regardless, this was a great book and it really makes you think about the dangers of continuing down the path of total technological control that we are going on. What did you think of it? Do you agree with Mae that knowledge should supersede privacy? Or should we cherish the privacy of the independent human? There are so many questions! And for that matter, there are so many things that I didn’t really have the space to address here (the terrible things this expansion of knowledge uncovered about Annie’s family, for one) that I would love to hear your thoughts on. Leave me comments or send me messages and let’s have some great discussion on this book! As always, share your ideas for future books at any time and let’s spread the club far and wide.

Life announcement and this month’s book!

Hey there friends and fans, I have to apologize for posting this so late, but it has been a crazy week. I know you all were expecting April’s book club announcement on Tuesday, but I was working on getting paperwork and everything in order so I could make another announcement. Many of you know that I have spent the last year as a county reporter for my local newspaper. During that time I have written stories on everything from local government meetings to the return of a once regionally extinct species of fish. I learned a lot during that time, but I have now accepted a position in another area that promises to be equally rewarding.

Beginning April 12 I will be a Communications Associate with the Barter Theatre. Those of you in the U.S have probably heard about the theatre, but for those that aren’t or haven’t; the Barter is the State Theatre of Virginia and has a very rich history in Abingdon. It was founded in the 1930’s and offered local farmers the chance to trade some of their excess vegetables in lieu of cash for a ticket to a play. It has always been a really amazing place to go and I am beyond excited to have the opportunity. In this position I will be doing a lot of social media marketing and interacting as well as working with advertising and general media information for the theatre. I’m excited to see what awesome things await! I hope some of you will be able to come visit the theatre and give me a shout ahead of time so I can say hello!

On another note, next week is also a big deal for me because I will be presenting my work “Lefty Smith and the Right-Handed Corn” at the opening night for this Spring’s issue of Jimson Weed, the journal I used to manage. This piece is one that I really enjoy, partly because it is my first published attempt at including local folklore in a short story. Of course this legend is completely fabricated, but it is still enjoyable to me. The event will be held on April 11 at 6:30 p.m. on the campus of UVa-Wise if anyone in the area wants to attend!

Finally, in the interest of keeping this post fairly short, I’ll tell you about this month’s book. I think the idea works very well, since the movie adaptation of this particular book comes out at the end of the month. After looking at a number of dystopian and semi-dystopian possibilities, I chose Dave Eggers’ “The Circle.” This book, published in 2013, follows the life of Mae, the newest employee of the ever-involved Circle. The book highlights Mae’s journey through an increasingly transparent life as The Circle breaks into every possible means of modern technology, even getting to the point where people are convinced to wear body cameras 24/7 in the interest of making their lives known to the public. The book explores a lot of themes, but heavily focuses on whether or not all of the convenience and involvement introduced by The Circle is actually an advantage or a problem.

As one more aside; the revamping of my collection is coming along nicely and I have decided to include some additional works, including some exclusive, never-before-seen work! I will hopefully have a rough version of this work ready in the next month or so, and I may well seek out some beta readers! If any of you are interested in that possibility, just let me know and we’ll get it figured out!

I think we’ll have a great month with this book and I look very forward to discussing the work! I apologize ahead of time if I post a little sparsely as I adjust to the change of employment, but fortunately I won’t have to deal with a 100+ mile move this time! I hope you all have had a great beginning of April, and I look forward with speaking to everyone about “The Circle,” the job, or anything else. As always, share this far and wide to get plenty of eyes on it!

We’re off to see the wizard

I hope everyone enjoyed this month’s book. It was definitely a treat, as most books are for me. This month, of course, we read L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” I have to make the obvious statement here and say that the 1938 musical has surpassed the book in popularity for the most part. Because of this it was a little difficult to differentiate between the two at first. Once I began reading the book again, it became pretty easy to notice the difference – particularly Dorothy’s projected age and the entire ending of the movie. I also have to make a full disclaimer here; the movie has long been one of my favorites (the Cowardly Lion being my favorite character, if you’re wondering), so this was great!

No matter the differences, I really enjoyed the book. Baum presented a world that both called for a lot of description and didn’t need much at all. The great thing about this book is the matter-of-fact nature of it all. Baum presents the book in a quick, easy, conversational tone. When he’s describing things like the lion, the Emerald City, the Munchkins, he does so in such a way that we don’t have to think about it. He presents the descriptions of his world so simply that we don’t even question what we’re reading. That’s the mark of not only a great children’s book, but a great author in general. He doesn’t overdo it, he doesn’t underplay it, he just SAYS IT.

The witty remarks by the scarecrow remain one of the best parts of the book, in my opinion. Satire was a strong part of literature at the time this book was published, and I loved seeing it float across the pages here in the dialogue of the “brainless” character. Scarecrow considers himself stupid, but remains one of the smartest characters in the novel. His comments on intelligence and nature are something that really leads the book in some parts.

The story of the tin man is very fun to look at here as well. The wicked witch cursed his axe and caused him to cut himself to bits, but he somehow managed to be rebuilt out of tin. Ironically enough, the craftsman managed to put his brain and nervous system into the tin body, but somehow couldn’t figure out how to make the heart work. But again, that’s a kid’s book for you.

The really interesting thing about the book, for me was that Dorothy was cool with all of this. She went about her way in Oz barely questioning anything, which takes me back to Baum’s style. We don’t question, because Dorothy doesn’t have to. I think the characterization here does speak to a difference in the personality and upbringing of children now compared to 100 years ago. Dorothy’s house gets picked up by a tornado and she just goes to sleep and wakes up in this random place with a bunch of little people to find out her house landed on someone and killed them. Now any one of those things would be enough to cause a kid to freak out and need all kinds of therapy and everything else. Dorothy was like “Oh bother. I bet Aunt Em misses me. Let’s set out across this weird country and ask a wizard for help.” Granted that was more or less her only option (unless of course we look a little deeper into the fact that the good witches knew the shoes could send her straight home but chose to endanger her life rather than just tell her), so it’s a little understandable. But honestly, even in my mid 20’s I can’t say that I wouldn’t freak out at least a little in a similar situation.

I wasn’t overly wild about the speed of the book, I must admit. It may just be me, but I felt like we were no sooner introduced to a new, weird species of animal of some strange race of people than they were little more than a memory. For instance we come across the hammer-heads and within minutes Dorothy calls on the flying monkeys to help them out. The entire scene involving the new race lasts maybe two pages and we barely have time to digest their existence. I’m aware there are a ton more Oz books, and these characters may come back, but it was  little off putting to see that buildup only result in  a couple of lines of description, almost no dialogue and then they’re a thing of the past. This happens a few times in the book, and it kind of makes it feel like Baum runs through it a bit too quickly. It could be fleshed out a fair amount, in my opinion. But that’s alright. It all works out in the end, and gives us a very beloved book.

What did you guys think? Are you fans of the classic? Or would you just as soon stick with the movie? Do you like the way the children’s book element plays out here? Hopefully you’ve been enjoying the book club and enjoying the books we cover. As always, I look forward to next month’s selection and I hope to hear all of your opinions about it. This month I want to look into a good dystopian work that can really make us think about the state of the world. In other words, let’s get paranoid! Make your suggestions below or message me! Tell me what you thought of the book and let’s keep reading, guys. Share this as far and wide as you can and help me get eyes on it!

Spring is here

The seasons have changed again, and it is a great feeling! The days are longer, the air is fresher, the morning birds are singing again and – most importantly – motivation is coming back! I’ve been hit with a few new ideas in the last week, and have found myself writing some new material again in what little bit of free time I have.

So far I have worked on starting two new pieces that I feel pretty positive about. For the most part these works just came to me out of the blue (one even as an interesting, albeit slightly disturbing, half-dream while I was dozing off one day) and they’re pretty interesting. I know I tend to make a similar post every spring and summer, if not every season, but to me the changing of seasons really is a magical thing. I really love to see the sunshine come back and the days start to stretch. There’s nothing like enjoying a late evening on a warm Spring or Summer night. Granted, I no longer have my private balcony to write on, but that’s a different story!

The change of seasons can work inexplicable magic in the lives of artists. Just as I’ve written before, muses and inspiration can take infinite forms, but one that works for many of us is the feeling of peace at the end of a long Summer night. Seeing the light fade as the lightning bugs start to flash through the air, and hearing the night come alive around you. There’s not much better, especially when you’re in the mountains. Of course, I don’t have much city-living to compare that to, I’ll take it at face value. Regardless, we are coming on that time again, and I’m excited for what it might bring my way. I would love to get a few more great works out and get some print material circulating.

Speaking of that, I’m still well underway on getting my Amazon collection revamped so I can get it in print. I actually have an opening to try and sell the print copies at this year’s Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium ( June 10, 11, link here; https://appheritagewritersym.wordpress.com/ ) and I’m hoping for some great feedback.

In other great and awesome news, I wanted you guys to be the first to know that I have been accepted as a contributing author to this year’s Spring edition of Jimson Weed. Many of you may remember that this is the journal that I was Managing Editor of for about two and half years, so it’s a great honor to be back in the running as a contributor. I can’t wait to see my name in the journal again! My story “Lefty Smith and the Right-Handed Corn” was the work selected for this issue, and I’m excited for the chance to read it in front of people. It’s a story I came up with while teaching at the aforementioned writers symposium in 2015, and I’m excited to see it get some attention. It’s a very folk-tale type of work and it’s not really like anything I’ve done before. Hopefully it will be a hit!

What sort of news is happening in all of your lives? What changes are you seeing come with the new season’s appearance? What are you looking most forward to in the Spring and Summer? Do you even like these seasons? The questions are endless.

Just a reminder, my review on “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” will go up Thursday, March 30, since this month ends on a Friday. I’m going to go ahead and start soliciting everyone for book choices for April’s review as well. I really want to reading frightening sort of dystopian-type novel this time, so wow me with suggestions! That choice will be announced on Tuesday, April 4.

Anyway, I hope you’re all well, and I look forward to seeing your suggestions and your comments on the seasons!