Progress Inspires Progress

Hello everyone! I hope this summer has proven to be wonderful for you all in as many ways as possible. Things have been quite busy on my end, between traveling, preparing for a new school year, and going to as many book signings and events I can possibly line up. Somewhere along the way I even managed, after endless encouragement from my incredible wife, to publish another novel! Just to give you a short heads up on all of these things, let me break it down.

Many of you will know or remember that I recently published my beloved novel, the long awaited vampire extravaganza, Maverip! I managed to swing it so the first printing of the Appalachian horror novel was published on the exact 124 year anniversary of Bram Stoker’s gothic powerhouse, Dracula. That alone is just jaw-dropping for me. That book has been such a huge part of my life for the last ten year that, to see the first part in print and being sold – sold out, I might add – is such an immense blessing.

This weekend, tomorrow (August 14, 2021 – Free Comic Book Day in the U.S.!) in fact, will see the debut of in person sales of my latest novel, a fantasy epic that explores the sword and sorcery tropes that have long fascinated me as a reader. The book, Journey to the Winter Lands: Shadow Slayer Saga Number One, explores the world of Turadorsa, a land where a literal darkness is threatening to consume the world again. Magic has been both stigmatized and sought after with ferocious intensity after many of those who could wield its dangerous power were eradicated. When shadows return and start attacking the people of Turadorsa, a group of travelers will be sent on a quest to find the mysterious “Bhaltair” with no explanation of who, or what, the word even refers to. Their search takes them into the heart of the mysterious Winter Lands, where snow never stops falling and legend has long since forgotten the challenges that face the wanderers.

This book is one that I have spent countless hours pondering over, doing research for, and developing history for. I loved the world-building element of fantasy writing. It’s not anything I had ever had to do for my horror novels, of course. Most of my work is set in the Appalachian Mountains, which are some of the oldest mountains in the world, so there isn’t a lot of geographical development that has to go into them, aside from placing my stories somewhere I could explain. With creating an entirely new world, however, I got to decide where my mountains, deserts, rivers, oceans would be. I got to create flora and fauna and myths and legends to my heart’s content. And, as the title indicates, the journey is far from over, so I still have plenty of creative license to build and destroy!

Seeing those books, any of my work really, in print, is an incredible inspiration to me. Writing has been a release for me most of my life, and has often brought me through some of the darkest times I have had. Often, it has gone hand in hand with reading. If ever I grew tired of creating, or hit a wall and needed a break, I could pick up a book and escape into a world created by another artitstic mind. The written word is an incredible life-saver, and its hypnotic hold on me will hopefully never cease. Despite how much I know the works of other authors has helped get me through some hard times, aside from just entertaining me and bringing joy, I have had a hard time reflecting that potential back to my own work. It has always been a hope that my words could bring someone through hard times and encourage them as much as I have been encouraged and empowered by the many authors whose words now make up part of my soul, but I never felt they were ready or worthy. I never felt like anyone would honestly want my work the way I want the work of others. So I tended to sit on them forever and not give them a chance. In essence, I smothered them.

My wife has been indescribably instrumental in encouraging me to give my books life by letting them out into the world. As much as I love reading the work of others and writing my own, it has been a whole new type of thrill seeing others get excited about my work. Seeing a look of interest or hearing an exclamation of excitement when I describe what my books are about is an instant sense of amazement. Could someone out there really be that interested in the words, the story, the idea that came from my head? After endless discussions with my wife, and much self-exploration, I leapt forward and gave these two novels the freedom from over-editing and over-thinking they deserved. The reception for Maverip has been nothing short of awesome, so far. I haven’t gotten written reviews, but everyone I have spoken to has been immediately drawn by the subject matter and hooked by the intro, which in itself makes me feel accomplished. I am hoping for a similar embrace for Journey to the Winter Lands tomorrow!

My point in all this is that we, as creatives, should never feel fear to release our work to the world. We have been given incredible talents and motivation to create a piece that no one else could create. That goes for any medium. Whether you excel at writing 3,000 word epic poems, or you’re just really good and sip and paint type art pieces, that work is yours and you need – deserve – to own it. Those words that you strung together, those brush strokes that give your work its unique flare, that little bit of extra twang you can pull from an instrument that lets everyone know that piece is YOU, it all deserves to be cherished and shared. Granted, I know some people literally only create for themselves and I am in no way disparaging that. If that is your intention, I will never deny the validity of that desire. But for those who want others to see their work, who yearn to make a difference with something they created from the ideas in their head, I am here to tell you the time is now. You can edit and re-edit, and edit a third, fourth, tenth time. But that work needs a life. It desires to be enjoyed by others, just as you desire for others to enjoy it.

I am of the mindset that, no matter what we create, it has an audience. There are 8 billion of us on this rock, and there are things out there for all of us. This world is virtually overflowing with art in all forms and formats and unique elements that we are all able to love. The more I create, and the more I publish and let my work have the freedom it desires, the more I realize we should all make that a priority. We create these works of art, much as our beloved Gothic Swiss doctor pieced together his creature, and they deserve the same spark of life that sallow-skinned newborn did. I encourage you, when you finish your art, don’t hoard it (unless that’s why you create it of course). Make it the best you possibly can, and by all means, understand that may take differing amounts of time for each piece. There is no one size fits all solution to art. But, once you have improved as much as you can, once that piece is no longer in need of polishing, or you have run out of polish to give, provide it with freedom. Breathe into your art the life-giving breath of publicity. Spew your work of art forth into the maw of humanity and wait for the right person to grasp and cling to it for dear life. Don’t let it suffocate in a darkened closet, because, as much as it hurts to admit, that decay will seep out. It will infect everything you do. The fear of imperfection and lack of outside enjoyment will become a scar on everything new you produce and, if allowed, it can even stop up the creative fount as it is.

So, what are you waiting for? Release those works, put yourself and your art out there. Inspire the masses with your ability, but, most importantly, inspire yourself with your courage, your accomplishments, your creations. What’s the point of struggling to win a trophy if you just lock it in a closet and keep the light off? Bring it out, let the sun shine on it, let others see it and enjoy it with you. And, don’t forget, if anyone rains on your parade with their negativity, open your umbrella and shake that nonsense right off. You are an incredible human for being able to create – no one else can do it like you can do it. That’s why it’s YOUR creation, not theirs.

If you’re in the Wise County, Virginia region on Saturday August 14th, swing into Cavalier Comics in Wise to say hello and grab your copy of any of my print works. There will be a selection of free goodies, as well as a sale by the store owner, so there will definitely be plenty of fun for everyone. I hope to see you all there, and I hope to see all your work flourish very soon!!

This is the Endgame

Hey there, friends and fans! I have to start by saying; don’t worry, there are no spoilers here.

As a lifelong Marvel fan, this movie was an absolute dream come true. From the moment I saw the very first Avengers movie come to life on the big screen in college, I have been awaiting this biggest Marvel masterpiece and, I’m ecstatic to say, it does not disappoint. It was even cooler for me because I got to see the film on early release on my birthday. Talk about a gift!

If you are a fan of superhero films, this is definitely a must-see. Bringing these characters together after such a devastating ending to “Infinity War” really allows you to feel what they’re feeling. You get the anger, sadness, hopeless desperation that was left after the events from last year’s film.

I feel situations like this, on screen or in a comic book panel, really allow you to feel the humanity of those individuals who often feel so much more elevated than us. It helps us rememeber that bad things can happen, no matter how hard we try or what skills we have. Basically, it allows us relate to these characters and remember why we love them.

This film is no different. We get to see insight into what happens when those who seem to have a higher chance at beating any obstacle get a taste of the opposite. I feel like the best thing about the film is exactly that. At the end of “Infinity War” we saw the humanity in each hero, the true feeling of what makes them human and bridges the gap between what they have become over what some of them once were.

“Endgame” is a three hour adventure into a world that we have followed for more than ten years and 21 trips to the theater. It’s the longest Marvel universe film yet, but it doesn’t feel like it. I was pleasantly surprised that the movie flowed incredibly and gave me nearly everything I could have asked for.

If I say much more I will be in danger of spoiling something, so I’m going to wrap this up by saying this movie was the perfect bow on the gift that has been Phase 3. I am beyond excited to see what Phase 4 has in store for us. As far as emotion goes, “Endgame” is full of it. I wasn’t positive what was going to happen, but my theories did not prove correct. Did yours?

If you haven’t seen the film yet, stop waiting. Go see it. If you aren’t caught up on the other movies watch “Civil War” and “Infinity War.” Everything else will fall into place. Make sure to go see it. Enjoy every minute. But whatever you do, don’t spoil the Endgame.

After you see it, be sure to stop by and let me know what you think!

“Logan” movie review

I don’t think I’ve ever actually reviewed a movie on this site before, but if there is a movie that deserves it, it is definitely “Logan.” I’m going to warn you all now; if you haven’t seen this movie, you may want to hold off on reading, because there will definitely be spoilers ahead.

For those of you that may not know it, Wolverine is my absolute favorite comic book character of all time. There are so many awesome things about this animalistic little brute that blow my mind. With that in mind, there are almost as many representations of the character as there are comic strains with him in it. Of course, the various representations within those strains adds an infinite amount as well, but that would almost definitely send us down a rabbit hole, and who knows where we’d land. My favorite  of the many representations of Wolverine is definitely Hugh Jackman, followed at a close second by the cartoon version voiced by Cathal J. Dodd in the 1990’s hit X-Men: The Animated Series. This was the absolute best Saturday morning cartoon by far (of course, it was followed closely by Spiderman, but again, rabbit hole).

I’ve followed Jackman’s take on the character since he first donned the spiked hair and adamantium claws in 2000 and I’ve loved the way he does it. The pain and absolute rage he can portray capture Wolverine like I don’t think anyone else could. “Logan” brought both of those things to a whole new level. In this movie we find James Howlett making money driving the rich and privileged around in a limo in Las Vegas. He’s a little older, a lot grizzlier, and a whole lot worse for the wear. The man who once popped his claws with barely a second’s thought  now limps around, his grey hair blowing in the wind.

When we first encounter him he’s forced to “come out of retirement” to save what’s his as some punks try to strip his car. With a shotgun blast to the chest that doesn’t want to heal and claws that will no longer fully extend, the old man struggles for a good few minutes to take out the threat. He eventually gets pissed off enough to get the job done, taking arms and legs off of the thieves as they pump him full of bullets. We see him full of wounds, covered in scars, and having to force the bullets out, where they once would have just pushed their way out a matter of seconds. And we have no idea what’s going on.

The story continues as Logan goes to Mexico and we get little bits and pieces of the story along the way, from the rogue Caliban who is helping Wolverine care for an ailing Xavier, to the Reavers who are hot on the trail of some secret experiment, Logan is thrown back into the fight that he has tried so hard to escape. This movie gives real insight into the pain and torture Logan and Xavier feel. The world they live in – in 2029 – I might add, is now devoid of mutants. No new mutants are being born, and the old ones have disappeared or been killed. We are given to understand that the three mutants we encounter are all that remains, but there isn’t much of an explanation for why that is until much later in the film.

The story of the most brutal mutant anti-hero’s final hour is also the darkest and most brutal story in the franchise to date. The raw emotion and turmoil Mangold hands us here is just phenomenal. Wolverine is now nearly defunct, literally having to pull his claws out by hand at one point, his body not healing itself much at all. This isn’t explicitly said to be fact, but at one point Logan suggests that it is the adamantium – the very thing that makes him unbreakable – that is breaking him down. That alone gives you a huge insight into the mood of this movie.

As the strange little girl who we soon realize is X-23 comes into  the mix, the story grows more and more intense, with Wolverine having to uproot his plans to sail to the middle of the ocean with Xavier in order to take the little girl to what she is sure is a haven. Of course, the bad guys don’t want that. Trouble follows the trio (Wolverine, Xavier, and Laura) through half the country as they attempt to flee to safety. More is slowly revealed about the state of the world, even giving a mention of the possibility that Xavier’s fits of psychic attack due to his degenerating brain may be why the X-Men are no longer there to save the day.

For me, despite the fact that this is the last of Jackman’s Wolverine films, it is absolutely his best. He is such a dynamic actor that he can go from playing a savage, angry brute one second, to a pained and dying mutant the next in the blink of an eye. The biggest surprise for me in this movie was that, after all of the battles Wolverine has been through, he is finally pitted against a more brutal and angry version of himself in two scenes. X24 (something largely made up for the movie, but loosely based on some androids and genetic experiments from the comics) is a clone of Wolverine that exhibits all of the rage and none of the conscience of the weapon-turned-savior. I loved seeing Jackman’s older, more fragile Wolverine duke it out with what may be the best enemy possible – the beast that he used to be.

With a strong Western theme, a lot of cursing, (almost) enough violence, and a story that seriously broke my heart, I give Logan five and a half out of six claws way up in the air. For me, the only thing that could have made this movie better would have been the reveal that Jackman would remain in the roll and the character would live on. Of course, another couple of hours would have made saying goodbye a little easier as well.

I really didn’t have any problems with the flow of this movie, or its execution, other than to say that I would have welcomed even more violence as our anti-hero was getting his last hoorah. Although I won’t spoil how it happens, I will admit that I do find the death of Wolverine to be a bit flat in a way. To be taken out the way he is after surviving blades, bullets and even nuclear bombs, is a little sad – yet fitting. It’s the one thing that hadn’t really been tried yet, honestly. And, in my opinion, it does beat the way he died in the comic strain from 2014. Being covered in molten adamantium was a terrible way to go.

After  seeing the way the movie was brought about, and seeing the way it was done, it is no surprise whatsoever that it dominated the box office to become the #1 movie in the world. The biggest question I really find myself having to ask at this point is; where do we go from here? If you’re a comic fan, you know that these characters die almost as much as they breathe and they (almost) always come back. From the multiverse, to clones, to time travel, somebody somewhere finds a way to bring back our favorites. But will it happen with Wolverine? Jackman has already mentioned a couple of people he thinks could rock the claws in a successful way, including Tom Hardy and Shah Rukh Kahn. But how could it happen? Is some fluke going to bring him back from the dead as is, or is someone going to pull an alternate version out another universe (more importantly, can the Marvel Cinematic Universe handle that kind of mind-screw)? The latter could explain why he looks different, of course. I don’t know. All I know is that this piece of the puzzle fit incredibly well and definitely didn’t see us deal with chromed claws or a weird, mute Deadpool.

If I don’t stop myself here, I’ll talk about the movie for days – believe me. So what did you think of “Logan?” Are you a fan of the way Mangold wrapped up the solo story of the larger-than-life Wolverine? How about that amazing, heart-wrenching performance from Dafne Keen as Laura/X-23? Or the emotionally destroyed Xavier who barely registers as the man from previous films? Leave your comments below or send me a message let me know what you thought! And keep this review going for those who may be interested!