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!

A New Decade

April is coming to a close in yet another year, this one filled with nearly as many surprises as the last. Hopefully the first four months of 2021 have gone well for all of you. I can honestly say there have been some pretty interesting changes come about so far this year, not the least of which is my entrance into the third decade of my life on this big blue ball.

That’s right, last weekend I celebrated my birthday and the start of my 30th year of life. It hardly seems possible, if I’m being honest. I don’t feel a day over 75… wait? But seriously, I feel like 30 years old is a pretty good milestone. I don’t feel like I should be that old, though. I still find myself looking around for an adult when I have a question about something I’m working on, only to realize I am the adult. Nevermind that I typically know the answer I’m looking for anyway, my brain doesn’t want to accept that it has pondered life’s larger questions for three decades already.

I was able to celebrate my birthday in a pretty fantastic way, thanks to my amazing wife. We got some great food, and I got some fantastic gifts (not the least of which was the full series of “The Office” on DVD with more than 15 hours of extras) and we spent the actual day of my birthday enjoying the Flower and Food Festival at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tn. Arriving shortly before the park opened, we spent the entire day celebrating great rides, delicious semi-international cuisine, and wonderful Appalachian culture in the Great Smoky Mountains. It was definitely a day to remember.

All of that got me thinking, of course, about just what sort of wonderful memories I had created throughout the day and my life, and what others I would still be able to create within my life span. There are a lot of things I want to do in my life. Plenty of travel, cruising, writing, exploring nature, and having a fantastic life with my wife. Frankly, continuing to think about the things I want to do is making me quite excited for the years to come and what they will hold. But it is also making me beyond thankful that I have had the opportunities I have had already in this life.

I have seen a lot of things in my short 30 years (ouch, saying it that way kind of stings a bit…) and I have accomplished a fair bit as well. As of now my books are being sold, not only by me personally and on Amazon, but in several local stores as well. I have created a page for those locations here, to make it easy to find!

That being said, I have to admit I have been struggling recently with feeling like I have truly accomplished anything in my life. Between receiving more rejections than I care to admit on my recent agent queries for Maverip and seeing fluctuations in my sales for Moonlight and Tales of the Mysterious and the Macabre, it has been a touch and go situation for my own positivity lately. My wife has done an amazing job reminding me that I have plenty to be proud of and feel accomplished for, however. As of this writing, my books are being sold in 3 book stores and 3 local boutique and general store type locations. It’s kind of hard to believe, but I do fully appreciate the magnitude of that figure. To know that there are people in two states able to physically walk into a store and see my work on the shelves of a store is a fantastic feeling.

I plan to continue trying to expand my distribution to new locations and continue writing and publishing more work as well. Mainly, with this post, I just wanted to take the time to encourage you all and remind anyone reading that, no matter how old you are or what stage of life you find yourself in, you have unlimited possibilities for what you can accomplish. You might not have achieved every goal you wanted to achieve, and you might not feel like things are going exactly as planned, but the only way to change that is by not giving up. Believe me when I tell you I know it is not always easy, by any means, but it is definitely worth it. One day soon you will look back at when you didn’t think these things were possible and you won’t believe how much you have done!

As a tip for those days where you feel you haven’t accomplished anything worthwhile – because they will come, believe me, I recommend removing yourself from the situation for a moment and looking at your work with an outside view. Look at the creative works you have completed, especially if people are paying money to enjoy them and are talking about them in a positive way. Take a moment to truly examine the magnitude of what you have done. Look at the personal goals you have achieved and the things you have to hold dear. Frankly, seeing it in that light may well make you more proud than you ever thought you would have a right to be. From there, I recommend setting realistic goals to look back on later. Finish that chapter, that painting, complete the edits you have been putting off. It will make a difference, which may well be the thing that continues to inspire you and help you believe in your work and yourself in the long run. I am always available to help with encouraging and inspiring, too. Don’t hesitate to talk to me about the ongoing frustrations of being a creative in this climate – believe me I know!

Keep your eyes open for more news coming up, and enjoy every minute of your lives. Another year will be starting before we know it!

Loss, Appreciation, and Thanks

Today’s post is one I have simultaneously contemplated and avoided for over a week. Often we take things in life for granted without even realizing we are doing so and, when faced with that realization, it can be a hard pill to swallow. Likewise, we may not always recognize just how much someone is in our corner, rooting for us and cheering us on. We might appreciate their friendship and support, but the real effort behind those actions may not always be clear. In short, we might not even realize just how much someone means to us until we don’t really have an opportunity to tell them.

Last Monday I got word that a dear friend and lifelong mentor of mine passed away. Jereial Fletcher, a professor at Southwest Virginia Community College, where I started my college career, passed suddenly after some health issues. Jereial was first my mother’s college professor in the early 90’s. I met him as a young kid and we became pretty fast friends even at that point. As I went into high school and began considering college and life after public education, he was more than willing to discuss options with me. Once I started at SWCC, Jereial was always there to help with any issues I had on campus and, often, opened his office just to have a chat if I wanted. He made sure I had every resource I could possibly need available to me, and often encouraged me to go above and beyond my own scope of ideas. I honestly can’t even remember who my actual college advisor was there, because I just went to Fletcher for everything I needed, every question I had.

My first short story publication, “The End,” was possible in large part because he encouraged me to submit my material to the college’s literary journal. I work-studied in the library and continued to write and do research into subjects that interested me because I had the undying support of my family, and my professor. This led to another friendship that I hold very dear to this day. My boss at the library, Teresa Yearout. Teresa and Jereial were very good friends and always remained in my corner, encouraging and supporting me more than I was even able to comprehend at the time.

Both of these amazing people were on the board in charge of setting up the Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium in the years it ran, and both encouraged me to attend for at least 2 years before I found the courage to do so. If you’ve been with me since the beginning, you’ll know the symposium itself it what inspired me to start blogging in the first place. I had never imagined building a platform I could share my thoughts with the world, much less ever attempted to write an idea that wasn’t fiction in the hopes someone would care to read it. Once I finally agreed to be part of the symposium, Fletcher took care of the tuition, and even went out of his way to offer to let me ride with him that first year. He knew I was a bit of a socially awkward person, often preferring to be more of a wallflower than a social butterfly (don’t worry, Fletcher, other than online that hasn’t changed much) so he made sure I was comfortable mixing and mingling with the other attendees of the symposium.

I was instantly out of my comfort zone, as a 19 year old with one publication under his belt, going to workshops with dozens of people varying in age from 30-70 many of whom had been writing and publishing for years. It was Fletcher who told people who I was, pointing out my publication and telling them how talented I was as an author and a scholar. Teresa did the same thing, both of them encouraging me to speak to those individuals they felt would offer the most assistance and ideas in my interest areas. The two day symposium opened me to a world I never truly imagined was out there; a group of authors who knew each other, workshopped with each other, shared ideas and experiences. A group that I am now a member of, thanks to Fletcher’s encouragement. A fact that, sadly, I was unable to even share with him before his passing.

I continued to write and pursue creative and educational publication thanks to the support, knowledge, and encouragement of Fletcher and Teresa. Jereial remained in consistent contact with me after I graduated SWCC (Summa Cum Laude, thanks to the support I received) and went on to UVa-Wise. I continued to attend the symposium for a few more years, even teaching a workshop there in its next to last year of existence. As I pushed forward in academia and creative writing Fletcher remained a close friend and I would often send him emails or make the hour long drive from Wise to SWCC to sit in his office and vent and catch up.

The support of my friends did not end with creative writing by any means, I found out when I had a paper on “The Great Gatsby” accepted into an undergraduate conference. Jereial and Teresa met and drove together from SWCC on a Saturday morning to attend the conference, held at UVa-Wise. They were both so visibly and vocally proud of my accomplishments and made me feel incredibly successful. It’s a feeling I definitely appreciated.

When I told Jereial I wanted to become a teacher after that, he became a resource of knowledge and support once again. He gave me tips and directions aplenty, never once making me feel like any goal I wanted to reach was unattainable. His friendship and mentorship meant more to me than I honestly knew. In January of this year I received my last communication from him. His message included the surprising information that he planned to retire this year. In my response I told him that I planned to come see him in his office before he said goodbye to the college. That’s a visit I will never get to have.

Thinking back on the influence he has had on my life, from encouraging me to pursue education and writing, to steering me away from things he felt would not have benefited me in the long run, I can not be thankful enough. If not for his encouragement, I don’t know that I would have ever gotten a work published. I certainly don’t think I would now be sitting on the print collection and novel that are in publication. I can pinpoint so many areas in my life where I know the support and encouragement of Jereial Fletcher helped make me the man I am today. What hurts, what made me hesitate to even put these thoughts out to the world, is that I don’t think I ever fully expressed to him how thankful I was for it all. I don’t know that I ever told him how much it meant to me to have him in my corner, going out of his way to make sure I could be a success. My wife told me she fully believes that he knows now just what he meant to me, even if he didn’t get told in so many words before he passed, and I believe that. I hope he knew then just how much I appreciated everything he did, but I am certain he now has that knowledge.

I hope that I can be even a fraction of the amazing, supportive, influential person that Jereial Fletcher was to me and thousands of other students over his four decades of teaching. I will strive to be that kind of teacher, writer, human, and friend throughout my life, and I hope I can do Fletcher’s memory justice. I would like to extend a heart felt thank you to Jereial Fletcher for everything he did for me, every ounce of support he gave, every encouraging word. I truly feel I owe him more than I even know. And to Teresa Yearout, Gillian Huang-Tiller, Larry Hypes, and every other professor and mentor who has invested their time and friendship into me and my future – thank you so much. If you have someone who has been this kind of influence, friend, and supporter in your life, don’t waste a moment of time. Make sure you thank them for what they have done, for all they mean to you. Furthermore, if you are in a position to be this kind of mentor and friend to another person, don’t hesitate. It isn’t about getting thanks, it’s about changing lives. Don’t be afraid to go out of your way to invest in someone you feel has a talent or ability. Don’t be afraid to provide a kind word of a bit of knowledge with someone who could benefit from what you have to say. We’re all in this together, and everyone deserves to have someone in their corner. Don’t be afraid to be that someone.

Rest in Peace, Jereial. I will miss you, my friend.

March Like a Lion

Happy March, everyone! I hope February ended on a positive note for everyone. The third month of the year, which we’ve always heard can either come in like a lamb and go out like a lion, or the opposite, is definitely starting on a rough note in my region. With hard rain, wind, and flooding, we’re definitely seeing some rough and tumble behavior on the forefront of this one. On the positive side, I heard the first of the Spring Peepers yesterday evening, and I have been able to start the month out on a good note with some great news.

I recently wrote a short story entitled “Mountain Service” for a local writing contest. I began pondering the characters and letting their story flow a few weeks ago, after hearing about the contest. The main requirements for the contest were to present a 500-1,000 word short story that involved Appalachian living. From my love of the region, to my recent foray into the incredible writing of Appalachian author David Joy, I have been wanting to dive into a similar story for some time. I used this opportunity to begin exploring the lives of the Gardner family who lives in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains and embodies my idea of what it means to be an Appalachian. I have so much of their lives flowing through my mind already and I can’t wait to write more about them.

I turned “Mountain Service” in for consideration a few days after it was finished – coming in at 999 words. While hopeful for positive news, I like to try to put those things out of mind once I turn them in, otherwise I’ll never be able to think of anything else. It came as quite a pleasant surprise yesterday when I got the news I had won the contest! My prize for winning is a one year membership to the Appalachian Authors Guild, with whom I have worked closely in the past (especially during the unfortunately short-lived Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium) and inclusion in this year’s Guild sponsored anthology. It is incredibly humbling and quite an honor to officially be a part of the Guild for the first time. I hope I will be able to do the organization justice.

I think it almost goes without saying that this particular win is one that automatically put me in a good mindset. It is very easy to get down on yourself, as a creative, between times of new creative success. Granted, finishing one novel earlier in the year, working on another, and finishing a short story also count as successes. It’s not always enough to grant a reprieve from the negative thoughts that follow an unfortunate rejection – of which I have received my fair share this year, but that should not be the case. I think too often creatives, myself absolutely included, put more emphasis on the public side of the creative process. It is too easy to look at how much we have accomplished through the lens of how much of it is in the public eye rather than just how much we have to personally be proud of.

I have spoken several times since the pandemic began about how hard it is to maintain any level of consistent creativity with the added strain and stress of the current state of things, and that hasn’t changed much. From the stress and worry this current world climate is causing, to the general exhaustion so many of us have been feeling, sometimes it is honestly near impossible to realistically create with any level of regularity. But so many of us keep trying. That is amazing. So many of us have pushed through the barrier of stress and strain to fight for our creative voice and maintain the habit of bringing our works into the world and, frankly, that deserves to be talked about. Heck, that deserves a reward in and of itself. I know as much as anyone else how difficult it can be to keep pushing ourselves to write and create when the world around us seems to be doing everything it can to keep us down.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, though, I have come to realize that times like this are when we need our creativity more than ever. It’s one thing to write or produce our art on a bright, sunshiny day when nothing seems to be going wrong and we’re getting deals and requests from all around. Of course our creative spirit can bask in the ease and happiness that comes with positivity and demand. But times like this, when uncertainty lurks around every corner and rain is falling in torrents (literally and figuratively) around us, within and without, the spirit of creativity needs to be pushed and cherished with a renewed vigor. It is times of great stress and pain when the greater part of humanity find themselves in need of such an artistic boost. How many of you have found solace in binge watching your favorite shows or movies in the last year, or have devoured countless new books, or listened to hours of your favorite kind of music, or enjoyed other forms of art? How many of you honestly feel your current sanity and coping skills can be largely attributed to the ability to turn to art during such a difficult time? That is only the start of it. The world needs art in times of hardship, and it is no different for creators.

If you’re like me, you found a lot of peace with your favorite forms of art since the world started changing, and I’ve got to tell you, it doesn’t look like that need is going anywhere anytime soon. But, have you noticed the same thing goes for creating? When you put yourself in the world of your own creation it provides you with almost the same sense of euphoric peace that enjoying someone else’s creation can bring. The main difference being it is sometimes harder to open those doors these days. I have found myself feeling all the much more creative when I push myself to break through the walls of writer’s block and stress the world (not without my contribution) has placed on me to begin my work. It is often hard, and even the most powerful of personal accomplishments may not always have the power to shatter whatever chains are holding me back, but I know how important it is.

My wife often reminds me whenever I mention feeling like I am unable to create at the level I’d prefer, or if I ever get down because I have gotten a rejection, that it should not be about how much I am creating, or what anyone else thinks about it. At the end of the day, I write because I feel it is what I was born to do. At heart, sure, I want the world to see and experience my creations. I want people to read and fall in love with the words I placed on paper the way I do. I want to be someone’s favorite author – preferably in my lifetime. But that those things are not guaranteed. Those things are not even what started my journey. I started writing because I heard the whisper of a story within myself. Because when my purpose was awakened within me, I needed it in a way I didn’t even fully understand. My passion for writing and for the written word as a whole come, not from a need for validation from others, but from a burning desire to bring these ideas that exist within myself out into the open. That should be the focus for all of us. We should not limit ourselves to creating just for others, or making art with the sole hope for making money. Sure, that can be a goal. I won’t pretend for a second I don’t (no so secretly) yearn for the day I can support mine and my wife’s lifestyle solely with the profit of my own creation. But that may not be in the cards.

That does not mean I should not create. Writing is a big part of who I am, just like your art is a part of who you are. The main reason we have for embracing our creative talent and passion are because these things make us happy. These things are a part of us, and in their own way they help make us complete when we embrace them. That is our purpose. That is our motivation. More than whether or not the world will see and enjoy these creations, more than whether pursuing those passions will one day pay our bills, more than whether anyone will ever know our name or consider themselves our fans is the fact that these talents and passions are within us because they are who we are. We need to openly embrace a culture of creating just for ourselves, for just enjoying our worlds and understanding they can be just as therapeutic for us as they can for anyone else. Emily Dickinson kept most of her work locked up, sharing only 10 of her nearly 1,800 poems and only one letter during her lifetime. It truly is not about whether anyone else ever reads or enjoys our work, it should be about us enjoying the creative process. We should have our worlds close to our hearts and minds, and use them to fully embrace who we are.

That’s the most important thing to take away from this message. Rather than pursuing your art like a lamb, giving small portions of your attention to your creative tendencies you should charge in like a lion. You are the king, queen, ultimate master of your creation. You were given your ideas, your creative spirit, your creative nature because only you can create the things you are meant to create. Only you can produce your creations the way you can, and no one else could ever do it the same way you can. If for no other reason than that, I urge each and every one of you to take charge. Grab that creative nature by the horns and make it your own. Don’t ever hesitate to produce and create. There are few things better for a creative than seeing your own world unfold before you, and few things worse than having your world stuck inside of you. Never betray yourself in such a way that you lock your world and your creation away from even your own enjoyment. Regardless of what negative things are going on in the world, we need to fully embrace our creative nature and push aside anything that holds us back from that. I say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, we all need to march forward like a lion. Only we can tackle our creations in the way we are meant to. So we owe it to ourselves to make it happen!

As always, I welcome your feedback and commentary. I love hearing from you guys and I look forward to seeing what you all have to say. Feel free to share this message with anyone who could use the boost, and be sure to jump over and check out my podcast The Modern Prometheus. Keep your eyes open for new posts, new episodes, and all the news I’ve got coming up. If you haven’t subscribed to my newsletter, subscribe today to stay up to date! Most importantly, take the time to day and every day to accept yourself and create!

The Modern Prometheus – Relaunch!

Greetings everyone! I am super excited to announce the official relaunch of my podcast The Modern Prometheus! It has been a long time since I scrapped the idea, but I have brainstormed and decided I want to give it another run. This first episode is a bit of an introduction to the idea, and a way to announce the return of the program, so feel free to share, listen, and stay tuned for more!

Living, Creating, and Self-Investment

Happy February, everyone. We’re not quite two months into the new year and things are going quite well so far. I hope you all have found the start of this year to be better than the latter half of the dreaded 2020. I know the state of the world isn’t quite back to the previous normal, and it may never fully return to that, but I hope you have all found ways to adapt and create your own happiness in the new normal, such as it is. My wife and I have been very blessed to have plenty to enjoy and plenty of opportunities to adapt, and I can’t thank God enough for that. It has, so far, remained a strange year for travel hopes, job stresses, life stresses, and the like, but I have been able to power through and continue writing.

I am beyond pleased to share that I have completed my as yet untitled fantasy novel after about five years of writing. It has been an incredible journey filled with quite a few days immersed in various fantasy movies, books, and games, with more medieval style music than I can name providing the background for my nearly 90,000 word first foray into the world I created. I have given the book to a couple of trusted beta readers to give their thoughts before I make my first edit, but it is very difficult parting from the world while I wait. I am incredibly excited to share this work with the world as soon as I feel it is ready. If you haven’t subscribed to my newsletter yet, make sure you do that, either through the pop-up window on my website or on the “Author Updates” tab on my Facebook page to get a sneak peak at the first few paragraphs of the book!

In order to maintain my writing habit, keep my craft strong, and move on to the next big thing, I have put my magic and fantasy down for a bit and have picked up my cutlass and bandana to dive back into the realm of swashbuckling pirates! I have always been fascinated with stories of pirates and high seas adventures and the like, but I really got slammed with my idea last year and started brainstorming and immersing myself in pirate literature and adventure tales through the summer – my awesome wife even treated me to a pirate-themed dinner show during our honeymoon to keep the creativity flowing. After I got my basic outline figured out and started a direction with my characters, I eventually put the pirates on the back burner so their story could simmer a bit longer. But now I am unfurling the sails and setting them free. I have big plans for my gang of pirates, from sailing to undiscovered places in search of the world’s mysteries, to encountering legends that have been passed down even to modern sea-farers. No stone will remain unturned, no body of water unexplored as I take on such a beloved topic.

On top of revisiting my pirates and eagerly awaiting feedback on my fantasy novel, I have begun working on a bit of Appalachian fiction again. I brainstormed a story about an Appalachian family last week and it has exploded with possibility in my mind. I wrote a story that came in at just under 1,000 words that gave me a feel for these characters and I have become increasingly excited to dive into their lives, as well. I am letting them roll around in my head and develop more of their personalities before I set them free on the page. I am very excited to see what their stories will be, and I think it could very well be a good, strong Appalachian tale that I will be pumped to develop.

Overall, it has been helpful for me to invest in myself and in my writing. I have been working hard to remind myself that I am, at heart, a writer. It is what I feel I was created for. It is the reason I have such a passion for the written word, and it feels great to allow myself to embrace that. I suppose, in essence, that is the point of this post. In light of the changing world and the stresses of change and pandemic, I allowed myself to stray from my writing. I fell off the track of investing and believing in myself, and I am working hard to get back on the right path. It is honestly because of my incredible wife that I am reminded of my purpose. She has encouraged me so much since we got together, and she convinced me to invest in myself again. It’s a great feeling knowing that she believes in me so much. I know not everyone has that type of support system in their lives, especially creatives, and that is devastating. I am telling you right now, I support you and and your dreams.

If you are a person who has a passion for art and creating, no matter your medium, you are incredibly important. Your creations matter more than you know. Even if no one but you is ever allowed to see them, you have been given your passion and ability for a reason. That reason may be so you can survive in such a crazy world by expressing yourself and your inner voice in an external way to release frustrations, or that reason may be so you can create something current and future masses will adore and consider amazingly influential to their own passion and creativity. From either extreme and everywhere in between, I fully believe everyone’s desires and passions exist within them for a reason, and they should be embraced. If your passions don’t involve hurting anyone else, I fully support you and your dreams and I promise that you deserve the chance to see them come true. So, I encourage anyone out there who has a passion to take a chance on yourself. Regardless of what anyone else may or may not have said about your craft (because, believe me, I know a lack of comment can be just as devastating as an insult), you deserve to invest in yourself.

The world we live in may not be the one we’re used to, and it may never reflect the past as much as we’d like, but it is ours, and we deserve to make it such. So get out there and draw, paint, sing, dance, write, do your podcast, act, whatever it is that you feel a pull for, make it happen. Take a little time each day to invest in yourself, believe in yourself, or even just allow yourself to do that thing. You won’t regret it. Even if it’s something you do in private and keep it tucked away in a closet no one else ever goes into, do it anyway. You deserve it. The stress of the world melts away for that little bit of time when you are taking a moment for yourself, trust me. It makes a world of difference to know that you embraced that part of yourself that allows you to express your innermost thoughts and creativity. It is a great thing. I want to give a thank you to my family and friends and everyone who has encouraged and supported my craft and passion throughout my life, and I want to give a huge shout out and a booming thank you to my incredible wife who reminded me, above all else, that I deserve to invest in myself, and that my writing and my creativity are important. Amanda, you are an inspiration to me every day, and you don’t know how much that means to me.

So, get out there and take the world by storm. Put your art out there and be yourself. Believe in yourself. Allow yourself. Invest in yourself. It’s an investment you can’t lose on.

How have you all fared through our mighty changes over the last 11 months or so? Have you found yourselves on a creative down-spiral, or have you kept your head up? Feel free to comment your stresses, your successes, your fears, anything at all. I’m open to any and all discussion, and I look forward to hearing from you all as the world continues to move around us.

Flowers for Vases/descansos Album Review

Happy Friday, everyone! I haven’t done a lot of music reviews in my day, but this album definitely deserves tons of attention. I knew a new Hayley Williams solo album was coming after seeing some hints earlier in the week, but I had no idea when. I saw the news last night that we would get the full album today, so I jumped on it as soon as I got the chance. To say I’m impressed may be an understatement. I’ve been a fan of Hayley Williams and Paramore for years, and I loved Petals for Armor, so I was super pumped to hear this one, which Williams calls “a prequel, or some sort of detour between parts one and two of Petals.”

From the album’s first notes, I was drawn right in. The tone of the entire album felt like a discourse in heartache and isolated growth. I have always been drawn to Williams’ musical choices, from the range she uses with her vocals to her instrumental choices over the years, and this album furthers that beyond even my expectations. Flowers for Vases, written and performed entirely by Williams in her home studio, plays with a low, light melodical tone that is very pleasing to the ears.

With song titles like “First Thing To Go,” “Good Grief,” and “My Limb” the album reads like a letter to the pain and trauma Williams has experienced through her career. From the confines of a year of quarantine, the album and its inspiration are fantastically strong, an ode to the independence Williams has been embodying since starting her solo pursuits.

One of my favorite songs on the album (I’ll have to have a few more listens to pinpoint a single favorite) was “Trigger.” Beginning with a haunting piano melody which is soon joined by the low tones of Williams’ voice, the song is a testimony of the determination the artist has after suffering heartbreak.

“At first it seems easy, I vow not to give up

Let ’em debase me, while keeping my chin up”

-Hayley Williams, “Trigger”

Just some of the lyrics from this song, detailing the strength Williams is portraying as the album gains its footing.

Another great track, “Inordinary” details Williams’ move to Tennessee in her youth, discussing the hardships of moving and relationships, as well as the feeling of shattered trust that can result in a broken relationship. I feel like this track showcases some of the impressive lyric writing Williams is sure to continue to build on. She tells an entire story in around 4 minutes, with a chorus that is somewhat repetitive but never tiresome, and verses that are weighted with memories of betrayal and change that are very relatable to most anyone.

Between the lyrics, the low-toned melody, the piano and acoustic accompaniment, this album is a great continuation of the impressive work Hayley Williams has given us since she first hit the charts. I am certain the next album in her solo career will be just as, if not more impressive, and I look forward to listening to Flowers quite a few more times. If you haven’t listened to the album yet, I highly recommend it. If you have listened to it, what did you think?

**It goes without saying, but the featured photo here is not my art work, and I own none of it. Simple screenshot of me listening to the album on a streaming service!

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!

Starting the Year Strong

Happy Monday, everyone! I hope January has been a good start to a new year for everyone. I know the world is still going through quite a difficult time right now, and we are seriously adjusting to what may remain the new norm for a very long time.

Personally I have found the year already has a lot to offer, and I have had a pretty amazing couple of weeks. As I have announced in earlier posts, I recently published my novel, Moonlight, (buy it here) and it has already been moving pretty well. Several copies have been purchased from all over the place and reviews are starting to come in, making me very happy.

For everyone who has read the book and left reviews, thank you. Reviews are one thing that breathe life into the work of an indie author. So many platforms that allow indies to host their works use algorithms that are based on reviews to promote works. If work A has 300 reviews, but work B only has 100, work A will be promoted to a much broader audience. Even if the reviews are worse for work A. It’s not the most helpful, by any means. I know a lot of people may not be interested in providing online reviews and feedback about the books they read, whether they liked it or not, but it is a very important step in today’s digital world. That being said, if you have read the book, please leave a review either on Amazon, as linked earlier, or on Goodreads here.

Saturday I actually had my first book signing event of the year, at a local store opened by some college friends. Appalachian Books, in lovely Norton, Va., hosted the event and held a live stream where I read a sample of the book and had a chance to answer some questions about my work and my methods. You can view that video here. It was an incredibly humbling experience, and an honor like no other. To be able to present and introduce my work in a local shop, so close to where the idea for Moonlight originated was nothing short of awesome.

I can’t thank everyone who attended, either digitally or in person, enough. You are all simply awesome. It makes me feel like I’ve done some good work when people are interested in getting their hands on it, and that is something that makes an author absolutely giddy. And to Appalachian Books, I can’t thank you all enough for hosting the event on my behalf, and for giving my books a local home where readers can come and get a little slice of Appalachian literature. Thank you to everyone over the years, from my mother and other family members, to my friends, to professors and mentors, who have all given me words of encouragement and bits of advice.

Most of all, I want to give a huge shoutout to my amazing wife, who has been supporting me and encouraging me to get this book out to the world for more than a year. She was right by my side when I took the book through another edit, worked out glitches and problems with my formatting, obsessed over my cover, my marketing and every other little detail I could possibly freak out about. Most importantly, she was there with me during the whole event Saturday, cheering me on and sharing the news every day leading up to it. Thank you so much, Amanda, for helping keep me grounded and keeping me confident in myself. Thank you for everything you do for me. I truly don’t know what I would do without you.

As 2021 rolls on, I hope to have more works released, and certainly will have more works finished, and I hope you will all remain on board for the ride. This week I have a few news interviews about my works, and I have some plans to hopefully bring one of my projects to a close before the end of the month as well. Again, I can’t be more thankful and appreciative of the support system I have. It means the world to me. Anyone with questions or comments, feel free to reach out, as always. Until next time, keep creating, keep reading, and keep your heads up.

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!