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!!

Summer of Fun

Happy Summer, everyone! I hope you’ve all been doing well this year as things slowly slip into a semblance of an old version of “normal.” We have seen several changes lately, not the least of which is adjusting to a move and getting into the swing of Summer.

This summer has also seen plenty of book signings, with several more lined up, and I couldn’t be more thankful. I have been blessed to be able to share my work with a large number of my Appalachian neighbors and beyond, and it is fantastic knowing people are out there reading my work. I can only hope I am providing a good quality bit of summer reading material!

On another note, I am pleased to say I have been hard at work on producing a sequel to last year’s hit “Moonlight,” and I have been diving into round one of edits for my newly completed fantasy novel, for which I can’t settle on a title. Things are looking very interesting and productive in the near future and I am excited to continue sharing that progress with you all.

Finally, the biggest reason I am bouncing off the walls right now is that I am two days away from my one year anniversary with my incredible wife. She has helped make me happier than I have ever been. I can never repay the support and love she gives every single day. She has been by my side at every single event and signing I have had all summer and she continues to encourage me to produce new work and publish new material. She makes sure we are always looking at the positive things around us, keeps me on my toes, and never ceases to dazzle and impress me with the wonderful job she does every single day.

On top of doing all that, and working tirelessly with me to move and get everything set up in our new place, she planned our upcoming honeymoon/anniversary cruise that we’ve been yearning for! Because of God’s grace and my wife’s tireless dedication, we are embarking our first Carnival cruise on the exact day of our one year anniversary! We will be seeing most every state in the southeastern U.S. on the journey to port, and we will stop in the Bahamas as well as the Dominican Republic on the ship! We are so thankful for this opportunity and I can’t wait to share the experience with my favorite person in the world, and share the memories and inspiration it brings with all of you!

Needless to say, the last 12 months have been the best of my life, and I absolutely can not wait to see what the rest of our lives have in store for us. From travel, to laughter and great days at home, every second with you is an adventure, honey. Thank you for being amazing!

So what do you all have in store for the rest of the summer? Any vacations coming back to the schedule, or are you taking some time to relax at home? Feel free to share anything at all, and be sure to check out my events page to see where my next appearance is going to be. As of now I’ll be spending 3 days at the Virginia Highlands Festival in Abingdon, VA. during the week of July 25-31 so come on out!

To the Top of the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If It Bleeds

Happy book review day, everyone! It has been a little while since I’ve gotten to dive in and review a good book, but that’s something I definitely want to do more of as the year goes on. What better way to start the reviews back up than by discussing the latest book by one of my all time favorite authors?

The latest Stephen King release If It Bleeds is a collection of four short stories in the vein of Four Past Midnight, another masterpiece if I may say so. The thing that drew me to this book most was a stand alone title story featuring our favorite semi-neurotic citizen private eye, Holly Gibney. This story, the third in the book, gives Holly the chance to lead her own investigation rather than just assist in others. Holly uncovers the truth about a villain, similar to one she has encountered before, that has been hiding in plain sight for quite some time. I really loved this story because I feel like it really gave us a chance to dive into Holly’s everyday life without Bill Hodges or Ralph Anderson or anyone else there to hold her hand or keep her in check.

I feel like King has done a fantastic job developing Holly’s character and allowing her immense growth. She still isn’t the most sure of herself at times, and she still has to struggle with some of her freedoms and every day situations, but it is a fantastic new situation for Holly. I feel like her obsessive compulsive tendencies absolutely helped her in this story, and I sort of have to commend King on that. So many times OCD and similar disorders are seen as handicaps, crutches, or hindrances, but I love stories and characters that actually use them to an advantage. I feel like Holly has absolutely been allowed to do that.

In addition to the character development, I feel like this idea was immensely original and, although it showed us a new version of a villain we’ve seen in the past, it presented a very new story. I sincerely hope King gives this particular type of villain a fuller story, with more detailed explanation of where and how he/she originates. And, yes, I am being vague on purpose. I won’t spoil too much for this story. The last thing I have to say about the title story is that it makes a lot of sense after delving into it. As a former journalist the old statement “if it bleeds, it leads” has a lot of meaning to me, and every story in this book fit the mold, this one in particular, of course.

Going back to the beginning, the story “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” gives the feeling of familiarity to me, but still provides some originality. Presented in a marvelous bit of first-person point of view, it tells a seemingly simple story starting out. A young man who works for an elderly gentleman in the beginning of the smart-phone era helps introduce the rich mogul to the wonders of modern technology. We get a relatively innocent view of the young man’s life right up until his benefactor’s death, when the young man decides to bury the man’s phone with him. From here we get to experience something that King loves to play with; the possibility of life after death, or existence within and beyond the grave. I won’t give anything major away, but I feel like I got some Gwendy’s Button Box vibes from this story for sure. Kind of an “ask and ye shall receive” sort of mentality that sends our narrator on a mental and emotional roller coaster that is not easy for him to handle.

Some first-person stories have a feeling of strained placement and conversation, in my opinion, but I feel like King is very good at writing in that point of view. I don’t often feel like it’s difficult to stay in the mind of his characters like it can be for some stories in that POV. I enjoy the call back to a simpler time as well, as old as that makes me sound. Remembering the early days of smart phones when everyone wasn’t so used to having an information terminal in their pockets was a bit refreshing.

The second story in this book, “The Life of Chuck,” presents us with an idea that wasn’t explicitly presented up front, but one I figured out by the end of the first section of the story. As much as I want to be ambiguous about this one and not give spoilers, I am having a hard time with that. It’s so difficult not to commend King for putting such an immense view of life on paper. I, like most I assume, was very confused about the story when I first dove in. We are thrown into the tale of a man driving home from work (as a teacher of all things. My, how things come full circle.) in a sort of apocalyptic seeming world. All we know really is that there are sinkholes opening all over the city, food is scarce, transportation is a mess, communications grids are collapsing, the internet has crashed and is not having any consistent luck rebooting and similar things. Our main character first notices a strange new billboard (39 Great Years, Thanks Chuck!) on his way home, and soon starts seeing this same message everywhere, but no one he encounters seems to know who Chuck is.

The story goes on until we do meet and encounter Chuck, learning along the way a lot about the man and his tenure. I feel like the central idea here is something much deeper and philosophical than the reader may give it at face value, and I’ve come to appreciate the thought behind it, despite my initial confusion.

Finally, the last story in King’s bloody good latest masterpiece is “Rat.” This tale is pretty straightforward and resonates with me in ways that are quite appealing to the more questioning nature of my profession. Our main character for this one is an author who, despite years of trying, has only completed a few short stories, and has never been able to keep the words working for him long enough to complete a novel. This, we learn, is his greatest dream.

His own sanity, even, seems to hang in the balance at times if he can’t get at least one novel completed. As an author who often takes years to write novels, I feel that yearning in a very real way. Drew, our would-be novelist, finally gets an idea that he thinks he can truly carry through to completion and decides the best course of action is to take himself and his idea to a family cabin in the woods near the Canadian border for a few weeks, leaving his family and every day life behind.

A storm rolls through while he is there, and between that and coming down ill, Drew finds himself stuck miles from anyone who can help him with a partial novel and an unraveling idea. This fact is something that creates an anger and an almost urgent panic in Drew. While not quite to the level of Jack Torrance, it is still pretty rough going. When an almost fairy-tale encounter leaves Drew with a decision that could change his entire life, King brings the story home with a bit of horror that only the master could muster.

The situation in this story presents the reader, especially if that reader is an author who has struggled to get words from mind to matter, with a situation that gives you chills for days. I absolutely loved this one, and even though I am a huge fan of Holly Gibney’s journey and her first solo outing, I have to say “Rat” is my favorite story in this four-pack. I am also very pleased with the presence of said rat in the cover, featured above. Not my art work, just a photo of the book on my desk!

Overall, If It Bleeds is quite a good book, and well worth the read. King still has a talent few to grab my attention like few authors can. If you are interested in a good collection of short stories/novellas, I highly recommend this one. If you’re already a fan of King, this book will not disappoint, and if you’re just looking to get into his writing this is not a bad place to start. Granted, the story “If It Bleeds” may confuse you since you won’t the character histories or completely understand some of the references, but that’s a horse of a different color.

I look very forward to seeing the next King works rolling out later this year, and I will probably have to dive back into an oldie-but-goodie very soon to satiate that need for more horror! If you have any suggestions for either my book reviews, or just for me to read in general, feel free to comment or reach out! Until next time: Happy Reading!

Celebrating Christmas in the Smokies

Hello everyone! I hope 2021 has been a great adventure for everyone so far. One thing we want to be able to do with our travel and lifestyle series here at The Mathews Experience is discuss some of the great adventures and fun times we get to have. Of course, with the current climate, work, the seasons, and general lack of time, travel just hasn’t happened much so far this year. So, to remedy that, we want to take some time to talk about some of our past adventures. The most recent one we had took us to one of our favorite places in the world; the Great Smoky Mountains!

Amanda and I left from our mountain home around the middle of December and went to our mountain home away from home to celebrate the Christmas season and get a nice break from everyday life. The trip began with a fantastic drive, with plenty of great holiday music and fun conversation. Once we arrived in the Smokies we were immersed in the season, with lights on every available space they could be strung or placed, and holiday music coming from every speaker in existence. Despite not having a fresh blanket of snow on every surface we looked at, it was a Winter Wonderland.

While on this trip we found ourselves staying on the Gatlinburg parkway, so close to most of the attractions we were interested in we didn’t even move our vehicle to get to most places. Walking on the parkway was an enjoyable experience. There was quite a crowd most of the time, but the vast majority of people we saw were wearing their masks and making at least some effort to maintain distance from anyone they weren’t with. From the smells of food coming from every restaurant, to the sounds of Christmas, and the decorations surrounding us, we were definitely greeted by that mountain holiday feeling we were looking for.

While trying to cram as much Smokies experience as we could in our short trip, we decided to go to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and see the fish and fun there. We managed to arrive at a time when the aquarium was almost empty, and were one of the few customers wandering the aquatic wonderland. The whole place was decked out in holiday decorations, with ornaments and lights everywhere, even in several displays. It was very easy to take our time and look at all the various exhibits without being rushed – or being held back by crowds. This was, perhaps, one of the most peaceful aquarium trips either of us had ever experienced. The only down side being that we did not get to see the beautiful Green Sea Turtle, Sally, despite making our way through the Shark Tunnel twice. No matter! We saw plenty of awesome sea life, including a couple of baby Bonnethead sharks, so our trip was a great one.

Not to play favorites among the Ripley’s attractions nestled into the foothills of the Smokies, we also made our way to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum to see the wonderous exhibits there. This attraction also did not disappoint. Though a little more crowded, most everyone in attendance was sure to maintain a respectful distance and be cautious with their masks, which is something you really can’t be too careful with during such a time. The displays, however, were a little surprising in that some of the interactive ones were still uncovered and in working order. Some of the more hands-on ones were, of course, roped off or closed to the public, but there were several exhibits that had a button or switch you could use to turn this light on or uncover that bizarre fact, etc.. and several of them were nowhere near a sanitizing station. We also did not notice many employees coming by to clean as often as we would have expected, but we were more than prepared with our own wipes and sanitizers. None of that took away from our trip, but it was worth noting. The entire museum was enjoyable to us, particularly the large matchstick model of Hogwarts, and (for me at least) the shrunken head exhibits and the Devil and the Damsel rotating statue, based on the German epic poem, Faust.

The highlight of our trip, and reason behind it, was Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas. The day started with a nice breakfast at Crockett’s Breakfast Camp and such a massive amount of food that much of it went home with us. The quality of the meal was very good, and the environment, made to look like a novelty lumber camp of the 1800s, was quite appealing to me. From there we made our way to the park to bask in the down-home holiday traditions of those amazing mountains. From the second we got to the entrance to the park we felt the spirit of the holidays and the happiness of the park everywhere. Despite the cold, we were in awe at the millions of lights and fun displays that adorned the buildings and trees, filled the windows, and lit the park with every color imaginable. We started our Dollywood experience with a classic ride through the mountains on the Dollywood Express. Once a free for all, now the conductor requires tickets to board the train, which you can get from an employee for pretty much any scheduled time through the day. We felt this was a definite benefit and a way to, hopefully, help people maintain distance by limiting the amount of people who climb aboard the old passenger train.

Following along behind that old steam engine, we got to see the massive park from all angles, catching glimpses of rides in progress, lights on display, even the newer developments that are almost always happening these days. It was a great, if frigid, way to start our Dollywood day. Most of the rides we wanted to go on were either down due to the weather, or had some very long lines, but we were able to cover nearly every inch of the park – and I’ve got the photos and video to show it! We were very impressed by the level of professionalism shown by the in-park retail locations and restaurants, many of which seemed to have one door designated as an entrance and another as an exit only, which kept the lines of customers flowing in one solid direction for the most part. We stayed in the park from opening (around 2) until after dark, loving the lights and the holiday celebration, but absolutely wore ourselves out walking around the park. Between grabbing a bite to eats at Red’s Drive-In and finishing our day by buying a little Dolly-approved merchandise, the park was absolutely fantastic. With the changes that take place from one year to the next, I think we will be happy to return year after year to see the wonderful Christmas displays and experience the warm Christmas spirit.

One of the last things I must mention about this trip was our great dinner at Dolly Parton’s Stampede. It had been years since either of us had ever been, but the show did not disappoint. This was one of the few places we ran into people who were a little reluctant to follow mask regulations, but it did not ruin our experience by any means. With a fantastic four-course Southern meal and a heart-warming show filled with positive messages and good, fun comedy, it was a great night for us. Overall, the trip was one that we will not soon forget and will hopefully only improve upon as years go by.

January is nearly over, which means we will hopefully have some warm weather to travel by soon, so keep your eyes open for more content. Follow our social media pages, and see the flashbacks of our past trips continue to roll out as we prepare for plenty of new adventures. In the meantime, feel free to share any great experiences you all have, or places you suggest we add to our list!

Goodbye 2020

Happy New Year, everyone! 2020 is coming to a close and, as the last 8 hours or so wind down, I just want to say that I have huge hopes for 2021. This year gave us all several challenges and honestly changed the face of every day life, possibly for good. From natural disasters, to celebrity deaths, to a global pandemic, none of us could have predicted the way things would look this time last year. I hope that each and every one of you have made efforts to remain safe and healthy through the year, and that you have plenty to be proud of coming out of it.

Personally, I can easily say, despite the hardships, this year has been one of the best of my entire life. In addition to surviving such trying times, I am glad to say I am coming out of this year as a high school english teacher, a dream I have chased for quite a while. In addition to this, I have recently published my first full novel, Moonlight, which is getting great response so far. If you are interested in purchasing, it is available internationally here, and for anyone with a U.S. address who would like to purchase directly from me, you can do so here.

Most importantly for me, this year has made me the happiest man alive because this is the year I was joined with the most amazing woman in the world. Early this year I was engaged to the love of my life, and we got married over summer. Being able to call this woman my wife is one of the most satisfying blessings I have ever received. I can not thank God enough for every happiness she has brought into my life and for how amazing this year has been with her. If not for the love and support we have been able to provide one another I have no idea how this year would have turned out for me.

As we burst into the new year with high hopes and higher expectations, I just want to take the time to wish you all a fantastic 365 days. I hope everything you could want for your lives comes true and I hope you don’t lose sight of the blessings and the important things you have each and every day. As 2021 blossoms with fantastic intentions, move ahead with gusto and intention. List your priorities and your goals and strive toward them. Keep them realistic, but make sure they matter to you. Not just to your parents or to your neighbor, your grocery store clerk or your mail carrier. Make sure they matter to you and they are something you will be proud of. Every small step is a step toward a completely happy you, so make it count, guys. As always, feel free to reach out to me and give me feedback or just say hello. We’re all in this together, so we should all be more than happy to keep each other going! Have a great end of the year and don’t let anything hold you back!

Schitt’s Creek and the Message to Change the World

Happy November everyone! The holidays have officially begun and I hope everyone’s Halloween was awesome. The end of 2020 is surging toward us full steam now, and we can only hope 2021 will bring us a much better world.

In our search for a good laugh and a fresh artistic experience, my wife and I recently binged the series “Schitt’s Creek” on Netflix, and it was absolutely everything we needed it to be. The show, a six-season story of a wealthy family who is forced to move to a small town and basically start over from scratch after losing their fortune, has pretty much everything you could ask for. Comedy, drama, love, anger, family, friends, motivation, and heartache all have their place in Schitt’s Creek. Created by Daniel Levy, his father Eugene, and his sister Sarah, the show follows the Rose family through their struggle to restart their lives and build themselves from the ground up. Amid metric tons of character growth, realization, and relationship building, we see the Roses coming to terms with who they are and just how different their lives must be from what they have grown used to.

One thing that never failed to amaze and impress us with the show is that, despite the small town atmosphere and the polar opposite social circles the characters all come from, there is never a question of their acceptance of one another. Acceptance is a perfect word to describe this show, honestly. There are no questions of racism, discrimination, sexism or any other form of making someone feel less than. It is perfect.

Dan Levy’s David Rose, a pansexual who “is into the wine, not the label,” falls in love with a local man and runs a general store with him. Their love is on display for three seasons and no one ever questions it. Not a single resident of the town has a problem with David and Patrick’s relationship, and the entire town supports their love from the minute it blooms until the very last episode of the show.

There are people of all races, genders, and sexual orientations through the town, even in positions of authority and there is never an issue. Schitt’s Creek is a town that is open and accepting of everyone, even the socially awkward and former upper class Rose family who may not always be understanding of how things work without a lot of money, but who always end up seeing the good in their situations and neighbors.

I think that acceptance is one of the most important messages the show has to impart on its audience. I continue to use the word acceptance because it has an entirely different meaning than tolerance. I find tolerance to be a disgusting word in regards to other people. It suggests that you look at those of other genders, identities, or preferences as somehow less than yourself and, rather than accept and attempt to understand them and their lives, you ‘tolerate’ them. I find it a terrible ideation and one that should be removed from all vocabulary. Other people are not here for you to ‘tolerate.’ No one should be expected to exist under the ideals of someone else.

One of the best things about Schitt’s Creek and its marketing and subsequent fanbase is the consistent freedom and lack of judgement amongst everyone in the show. Creators, actors, characters, and fans alike love each other and that love has spread farther than even Dan Levy and his father and sister thought it would when developing the show. Coming from a small town, where many people aren’t always open-minded and accepting, I feel an overwhelming love for this show and the message it sends to this world.

We are all equal on this planet, we all deserve the freedom to be who we are, love who we want to love, and live the way we want to live. As long as the thing that makes you happy is not harmful to someone else, you should be free to do it. I will always stand in support of that. In the state of the world today I think it is very important to have such a pop culture powerhouse standing up for acceptance and freedom. I truly think this show could be vital in helping create a world like Schitt’s Creek, where people don’t have to live in fear of judgement from their peers. It may seem like a dream, but it is one I very much hope comes true.

If you haven’t watched the show, by all means, jump into it and you’ll be hooked in the first ten minutes. It is a pretty great piece of history, and I am honestly ready to watch it again. I commend the Levys and every other cast and crew member who helped make the show and its message possible – and I admire them for the incredible way they have carried the message of love and acceptance across the world since the show’s premiere. Excellent job, Dan. Your idea has truly become the perfect reality.

What is Your Legacy?

Happy Spooky Season, everyone! I hope October has started strong for all of you. Personally, I have been working my days away as a teacher and enjoying feeling like I am finally on the career path I have been waiting for. I have been doing my best to enjoy Autumn’s welcomed arrival with some scary television and movies, as well as enjoying nature’s bountiful beauty as the leaves exhibit their brilliant hues, giving us one last show as their lives fade with the warm weather.

Unfortunately, not every loss is as beautiful and peaceful as leaves warming the mountains with their fiery colors. Yesterday the world lost one of the most talented and influential musicians of recent decades. Eddie Van Halen, guitar playing genius, icon of the 1980’s, generally amazing musician and human, lost his battle with throat cancer Tuesday morning. Eddie has been a staple of my own musical preference for most of my life, his wailing cords and mournful yet lively notes inspiring me to purchase my own guitar and begin playing more than a dozen years ago. Granted, as college and adult life brought changes and responsibility my way, my guitar playing took a back burner to writing (which is as it should be). Nonetheless, music is one of the key elements of my life to this day.

Hearing the news of Eddie’s passing hit me hard in a few of ways. For one, it was just another instance of the pain of loss and ridiculous theivery 2020 has been presenting us with. It really hurts to know there will never be another new lick played by Eddie Van Halen. His style and music have influenced me in countless ways, his dauntless energy and manic playing often leaving me speechless, even decades later. Most of all, however, it got me thinking about my influence and legacy. Eddie was the reason endless numbers of wanna-be musicians have picked up, and will pick up, guitars and begin to play. He has been a staple of innovation for his entire life, and his work can be heard in places some people don’t even realize.

Like Eddie’s music has inspired people, so can literature. A powerful quote, line, or work of art can influence, inspire, hurt, amaze, and realistically change lives. I have, of course, always been a reader. I have been built up, torn down, made happy, and been brought to tears by literature in the course of my life. One thing I have wanted since feeling the tug of writing within myself, the pull of the words writhing to escape my brain, has been to inspire those things in someone else. I want, above most anything else, to evoke that strong sense of emotion within an audience, to know I have brought them to a new way of thinking or made them feel a certain way with the words that came from my brain.

Feeling the loss of one of the biggest musical inspirations of the last 40+ years made me realize I have not been making that possible. I have allowed things to hinder me, slow me down in both production and marketing of my own work. I have recently been working more at the production side, but I still fall short on the marketing element. I have a hard time dedicating the time to explore and try new channels to get my work out there. Worse, even when I find those new avenues I tend to fall short of working them to their full potential. I think it would be fair to say I have a fear of failure, a lack of confidence that this route or that route may be best to get my work out there to readers the world over. No more. I can’t keep getting in my own way.

Yesterday the world lost one of the best guitar players to ever pick up the instrument, one of the most creative minds to ever write a note, or pluck a cord. In an instant the possibility of hearing new work played by those talented hands flew out the window. It got me thinking: how do I hold up? How will anyone out there be affected by my work if I never get it out there to them? How can I hope to touch the masses (or even one single person) with my creation if it lives forever on my computer or, God forbid, if half of it still lives in my head? That can’t be allowed to happen. I don’t know if I’ll be anywhere near as influential as Eddie, but I want to give my work a shot. I want to give me a shot.

That’s the real point of what I have to say with this post, I think. Giving ourselves a shot. Eddie Van Halen was just a kid from the Netherlands until he made a connection with music and developed his skill. He made a real effort and put himself out there for the world to judge and enjoy. Eddie broke countless rules with his work, and forged a path for an untold number of musicians and artists. That is the legacy he is leaving behind. Musicians and music lovers will know his work forever. He will go down in history like Mozart and Beethoven. So where will I be? If I don’t take chances and push myself to get my work out there, people can’t be moved by it. It could spend the rest of its days half-finished and unpublished. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. I have the ability, the courage, to carry it forward, to see it finished and released to the world. I can push myself to new limits, try new things. Bottom line is that I will, in no way, allow myself to fail. None of you should either. Failure is not an acceptable outcome.

Too often we suffer the inexplicable hindrance of bonds we place on ourselves. We are limited by the amount of faith and confidence we have in ourselves, and too often those limitations do not allow us to come anywhere close to the person we could be, the talent we could bring into the world. I’m going to do my best to shatter those bonds, and I suggest you all try to do that, too. You don’t want to find yourself looking back on your life and realizing you should have invested more into yourself. You don’t want to realize there could have been a very different outcome for your work, your talent, your passion. So I encourage everyone to challenge themselves. Give yourself a shot at greatness. Push yourself to reach new limits and be something you never knew you could be. You won’t regret it. Feel free to tell me something you plan on working toward changing. Give me details about how you plan on making the change. What challenges are you going to present yourself? What skill do you want to allow a chance to breathe? It’s not something you should hesitate on. Make a bet on yourself. Trust me, you’re worth it.

A Decade of Change

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope things are going swimmingly for you as we rapidly approach another change of season. Days are growing shorter and (if almost imperceptibly in some areas) cooler, football has started again, leaves are falling, and geese are flocking. With the cooler, foggy mornings comes the inevitable spookiness of Autumn and Halloween. It is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the beginning of my favorite time of year. That’s something that, for me, has never changed over the years. But, like the seasons, many things have.

Over the weekend I celebrated my ten year high school reunion. Many alumni of the Tazewell High School Class of 2009 reconvened in our home town and spent days catching up, remembering those we’ve lost, and reliving old glories. It was an absolutely fantastic series of events and gatherings, and, while I couldn’t join in all the festivities, I am beyond ecstatic for what I attended. It was wonderful to catch up with my classmates. Realizing that you spent somewhere between 4 and 12 years of your life seeing the same people nearly every day for at least 8 months out of the year and then just scattered to the wind after graduation is crazy. Of course, some people are able to reconnect or stay connected thanks to social media and more conventional means of communication, but in a class of more than 100, sometimes people disappear.

As those of us who made it to the reunion discussed our lives, our accomplishments, our future plans, we realized something that I’m sure everyone can relate to. Our lives were not at all what we anticipated they would be. Old plans and career goals transitioned to new ones, old looks and styles changed with the times. Ultimately, what makes us happy sometimes changes.

This inspired me a lot. Seeing the things that have changed about all of us, the ways we have grown and become, for lack of a better term, adult, is incredible. As I pondered this, though, I also noticed the things that didn’t change. Entering the company of our peers was, surprisingly, effortless. Once we got past the initial questions of reacquaintance it was like the years melted away. Laughter rolled as we shared memories and experiences from bygone days.

This was accompanied by the deep-seated comfort that, of the things that have changed, some things remain the same. Of the small alterations in my ideology and personality my love of music, travel, arts, and literature are still huge parts of my life. My writing remains my ultimate goal, the core of my person, and one of my biggest personal accomplishments. That thought brings me a comfort. Each of us showed, despite the ways we are different, we are also the same people we were a decade ago.

My senior class developed a farewell video that each of us got a copy of shortly before graduation. In it many of our classmates were asked to give a quick statement about what they planned to do after school. It’s no real surprise that some of those ideas changed over time, of course. We watched the video together and had a good laugh at how differently our lives turned out from what we anticipated. From some of us planning to own businesses or follow certain educational paths, to those who were planning to leap into the world of professional sports, few of us made accurate predictions. Yet, I saw something of the past in each of us. No matter where our lives took us, our spirits followed, stayed strong.

The point of this post, especially for anyone going through an altering state of life, whether it be a graduation, a job change, or something else is is: don’t forget who you are. Whether your plans go exactly as you’d imagined or not, you are still the person you were when you made them. I believe there are some fundamental things that make us who we are and, no matter what else may come or go, these things still remain. For myself writing, reading, music, and travel are some of these. Whether I think about it very often or not, I’m always aware that those things are there. It’s a comfort in the day-to-day and a window, not only to my past, but to myself.

That’s what I advise you to hold on to as life batters us about. Grasp those fundamental qualities that make you who you are and cling to them. It can be difficult at times, as life’s challenges get tougher, but it can be done. When you look back on your past, whether it be one year or one hundred years later, knowing that, at your core, you remain the same person can make a lot of difference. As we all go forward and pick up life’s reins again, leaving our reminiscing for another day, I implore everyone to try and focus on at least one thing that makes you who you are. Think of something you have, love, or do, that makes you feel like you. Then keep an eye on it going forward. You might be surprised to see just what happens.

The featured image here is the facade of my high school and the statue of our mascot, taken while our reunion weekend was going strong,

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!