The Power of a Word

Hey there, friends and fans! It has been a fair while since I’ve met you here with fresh words of wisdom, advice, or even admission. For this I do apologize. Life has certainly thrown me for a loop lately, but that is another matter entirely. I hope whatever vacations or projects this warm summer has brought you have gone swimmingly (speaking of swimming, I’ve hope you’ve gotten some of that in as well). I’m working on getting all of my projects and inspirations back on track, and hopefully this will be the first step in jumping back in head first.

I’m currently re-reading the epic saga that is Stephen King’s magnum opus. The Dark Tower series has always called to me in a variety of ways, but for one reason or another it has always been too vast for to consume at once. I am glad to say that, as of this paragraph, I am less than 100 pages away from finishing book number six (“Song of Susannah,” for you newcomers) – the farthest I’ve ever been in the series, and I came across a word today that changed everything. Wordslinger.

Wordslinger. Such a simple word, but it contains a power I never thought I would consider so seriously. To understand the depth of this title, given to the great Sai King by Roland of Gilead himself, you must first understand a little of the tale. The gunslingers, of which Roland is technically the last (and the last teacher of the last generation – it’s all about the timeline), are revered gunfighters, peacemakers, lawbringers, warriors, and more. The very title of gunslinger is an elevated one reserved for those who, above all else, remember the face of their fathers. A gunslinger is someone born and bred to ensure the proper order is kept and justice is served wherever he goes.

All throughout the series, the title and position of gunslinger is revered to an almost holy level – some would even argue a fully religious respect of the gunslinger is given by certain characters. The legend of the gunslinger is similar to our tales of the good cowboy who rides into town to save the day, but holds more depth and meaning because, as previously mentioned, they are the law, the strength, the power of good that is represented by the line of Eld and given by birth and years of physical and mental training. Only the best of the best become gunslingers, and their title – their responsibility – is to bring equality, peace, justice, and strength to the world. The premise of Roland referring to King as a wordslinger comes from the fact that part of the story of the fifth and sixth books in the series is realizing that King is writing the tale of these characters, and the people are living the story. A bit of an old writer’s fantasy, of course, but no less powerful than any other version of the same idea.

Now you can see, perhaps, a little of why the term wordslinger gave me literal chills. To imagine that power, that sense of responsibility, being given to a writer is nothing short of breathtaking. My mind instantly soared when it dawned on me that the term wordslinger can hold the weight of the world. As an author, and one who has been met lately with quite a bit of creative resistance, that idea has an incredibly freeing power. I am a wordslinger. A love of the written word, for creative arts, for producing whole worlds with nothing more than my thoughts and some way to record them all work together to make that a reality. I am a wordslinger.

I want each and every one of you to ponder that idea for a moment. If you write, whether it’s long fiction, nonfiction, journal articles, blogs, or poems, the same is true for you. You are a wordslinger. Literature has long presented a means of freedom and escape for those who read it. Sometimes that may mean a book in the hands of a bedridden individual can help them soar above the highest peaks, or swim in the deepest ocean when they otherwise might not have been able to. It can mean that a depressed individual who otherwise may not have been able to cope with the day can break out of the darkness by opening a book and diving into the words inside. It can mean that countless people faced with countless problems can be united by the power of bound pages and have similar ideas and unique understandings of the words therein. There is no end to the power presented by a wordslinger.

That goes for all mediums of art as well. You can be a brushslinger, a stoneslinger (not a bad term for either a builder or a sculptor, I think), or a lensslinger. Whether you refer to it in those terms or not, the power of creativity is, as I’ve expressed before, one of the things that makes this life bearable. It brings joy, peace, and understanding to the masses. Creativity is ageless, sexless, nonjudgmental, and open for all manner of interpretation. It is one of the rewarding, and the most difficult, blessing to be given, and it is not something that should necessarily be taken lightly. Whether your creative work is intended just for you or for the masses, it is an outlet both during creation and for every experience it brings after.

That does not mean it doesn’t come without responsibility, however. Even if it is just for yourself, creating worlds and characters is a power like no other. For myself, as well as many other authors, it’s not so much like creating the worlds sometimes, as it is opening the gate and letting the world out, letting the characters dance over the pages and tell their tale. Or, as the novel version of King puts it, letting the stories flow from his navel and write themselves with his body. As a wordslinger, the power may sometimes slow to a trickle, may even tighten to a drip, but when the flow opens back up it can be quite a flood.

That realization has left me with a sense of renewed purpose, a direction to move in, a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel that I am now striving to move toward in an effort to regain sight of the things I have been missing. I am working on a new string of edits and brainstorming some new connections and stories, with the hope of jumping back on the creative wagon quite soon. In the meantime, I will keep my newest motivation in mind, beyond all things that may try to suppress my creative abilities, and I implore you to do the same. No matter what happens, no matter what life throws at you, there is one phrase to remember above all others when your task, your purpose, seems to be escaping you: I am a Wordslinger.

I am, as always, forever grateful for my favorite author, one of my greatest inspirations, and a man whose level of genius I hope to one day at least be able to touch for a moment. Without you and your words much of my current inspiration may have fallen to the wayside. To the ever brilliant, always creative, and bone-chillingly scary master of horror, the chief Wordslinger, Stephen King; Thankee-sai.

The Sublime Nature of Grief

Since the loss of my grandmother my life has been full of a lot of conflicting emotions. I’ve dealt with the loss as best I can, trying hard to honor her memory and move forward. One thing that is always painfully obvious when we lose someone close to us is that everyone deals with loss in their own way. What works for one person may not work for another, and one loss may not affect us the same as another. No matter how you handle the situation, sooner or later you will come to a time when you have to not only face the loss, but yourself.

This week I took some time on a particularly hard day and tried to do that. In an attempt to connect with myself, God, nature, and my grandmother I went to a local dam and nature area for some peace and quiet. If you’re unfamiliar with the summer season in the Appalachian mountains, we often have very hot days in the month of August. A number of summer afternoons often see some good thunderstorms or at least a nice passing shower or two. This, of course, can lead to amazingly beautiful foggy conditions. So much so that there is an old wives’ tale my grandmother used to remind me of often; if you count the foggy mornings in August that’s the amount of big snow events you’ll have that winter.

One of my favorite things in life is to find myself in the midst of a heavy fog, pondering the sublime mystery of the shrouded world around me. Is anyone else in the fog? Am I completely and utterly alone? What do the shadowy figures in the thick cloud represent? The feeling of floating in a cloud, the world around me oblivious of my own ideas and presence is marvelous. One of the best moments of my life has been in conditions like this. To say it has a special place in my heart and soul is a definite understatement.

When I arrived at my destination that evening, I had no idea the fantastic occurrence that awaited me. As soon as I rounded a curve in the road and my eyes fell on the river I was greeted with an amazingly thick, ghostly fog floating about a foot above the water. It snaked across the surface of the river like a living, breathing cloud. It rolled and swirled with the breeze, twisting like the spirit of the river itself. After a quick visit to top of the dam, I returned to the riverside and crossed a bridge to an island in the river, an island surrounded by fog.

I found a bench in the midst of this beauty and sat by the riverside, letting the sublime consume me. I communed with nature, God, my grandmother, and myself. I spent probably just under an hour there by the riverside, fog rising and rolling around me, taking photos and trying to find relief from my own strained internal presence. By the time I was ready to leave the fog had risen higher and was rolling over the top of the bridge that was my pathway.

Crossing this bridge, I was able to stand in the middle of the fog and feel the cool moisture settle on my skin. I breathed in the earthy mist and watched the world around me become veiled and reemerge anew over and over as the cloud rolled by. A sense of peace settled on me as this happened, bringing me some relief and allowing me to just enjoy the cool evening. It was a superb experience, and one that I won’t soon forget.

Before the loss of my grandmother, it had been years since I lost someone close to me. I haven’t dealt with loss in a way that other people do, depression and stress affecting me in a serious way. Because of this I feel like being able to express those issues and have experiences like I had this week are very important. If it has taught me anything it is that we all must find what works for us. Avoiding the mourning process and not allowing ourselves to grieve the way we need to is not helpful. It isn’t healthy. One thing that we have to admit and be aware of is that we may sometimes need more time than others to get over a loss. We may need time alone, or time with others, or even a mix. Whatever it is that you need in order to cope, you have to figure it out.

Embrace yourself, the world around you, and whatever helps make you more you. The things that bring you back to feeling like yourself are the things you need to cope with the loss. Don’t allow anyone, especially yourself, keep you from that healing magic. It can truly be life-changing. Honestly, it can be the difference between your own life and death.

Reach out to someone. Never be ashamed of your feelings, your hardships, your needs. Find the relief you need and make sure you are getting enough of whatever it is to help you return to the you you want to be. Accept yourself, accept your loss, but don’t let the grief and mourning consume you. Life can go on, if you find out how to let it. Happiness can return. Even if it’s just one step at a time.

Although I will never truly be over the loss of my grandmother, I now have an idea of what I can do to help me cope when things get tough. I will do what I can to make sure I am allowing myself the proper time and space to be able to let myself, and my grandmother’s memory, continue on.

If you are mourning, grieving, or otherwise in any emotional need, reach out to someone. I’d be more than happy to listen to anything you need. Find your method and make sure you’re returning your soul to its necessary health.

Stand, Sit, Whine

Anyone who sees any kind of mass media news, be it via TV, newspaper or even just Facebook, has seen the latest (although not really new) scandal rocking our nation’s collective conscience. Some athletes have chosen to sit, kneel, or stand and not participate during the National Anthem. How terrible! How can we ever overcome this latest threat to our once-great unified country? Surely this will bring the end of all happiness as we know it. Funny thing the sun’s still shining and we’re still free (for now), though, ain’t it? Since Kaepernick decided he was going to take a knee last year during the National Anthem in support of his desire for equality and unity, the whole country has more or less gone batshit crazy over it. Now, a number of others have chosen to take up this mantle and do the same, with entire professional teams making the choice to stand out of the public eye or drop a knee during the song that we have adopted to show our strength as a nation. Their reasons are similar, for the most part. This country is becoming more divided each day, with massive amounts of people waging active assaults against those they see as ‘different,’ ‘less equal,’ or ‘dangerous’ (read; bullshit excuse for racism). Sensible people want to see that behavior come to an end, and this is how some have chosen to make a difference.

Before I continue here, let me say that I don’t have a dog in this fight. I can stand, I can sit or I can play hopscotch – because I know it is my right. I’m not calling out the sitters or the kneelers any more than I am calling out the people who stand and shed tears every time they hear the words we all know by heart before first grade. What I am calling out is the ridiculous fight about the whole thing. I understand that many people feel it is their (our?) duty to stand and sing along with the National Anthem, perhaps while they imagine fighter jets circling overhead, fireworks exploding in the background and bald eagles laying eggs filled with freedom all around them. But then again maybe that’s a bit much. Regardless, a lot of people find it a point of pride that they are free enough to stand and belt out the tune that has stood the test of time in honoring our country and what it stands for. I get that and I fully respect it. As someone with family who has served in the armed forces and in-laws who both have and continue to serve, I feel that pride and honor as well. I’m insanely happy and grateful to live in this country and I can be the most patriotic individual you’ve ever seen in the most clichéd sense of the term – but along with that comes the knowledge that if I choose not to stand there is not a single thing that can make me.

My great-uncle, my friends, my in-laws have all served this country, fought for this county, had their lives inexplicably changed in service for this country, so that I can have the right and freedom to make the choices I want to make. While seeing the stories about this ridiculous controversy (why does everything have to be a controversy??), one of the things we see quite often is a large amount of people screaming about how generations of soldiers have died in battle so that people could stand while the National Anthem plays. This is often accompanied by the political cartoon that depicts soldiers in fatigues correctly stating they are actually fighting for our right to sit OR stand during the song. But you know, that must be an exaggeration, right? Soldiers who fought for our freedom can’t have been fighting for total freedom, right? They were fighting only for the freedom for us to live and work and worship freely, but there must be a clause in there somewhere saying we have to stand during the anthem. Wrong again.

One of the greatest things about this nation is the freedom we have to live and worship and serve as we please – as long as it is not damaging another’s right to do the same. So explain to me again how someone kneeling during the National Anthem hinders your right to stand and sing and hoop, holler and cry. That’s right. It doesn’t.

What hinders someone’s right to be free is thousands of people shouting about how someone kneeling is wrong. It is free citizens calling for the punishment and even imprisonment of people exercising their rights. It is the president calling those kneelers “sons of bitches” in front of the whole world and calling for their dismissal from their jobs. The only thing hindering anyone’s right here is the injustice being done to the people who are making a stand for unity. The National Anthem is a song of pride and strength, meant to symbolize the power and unity displayed by this country, even in its darkest hours. It is a song that is intended to fuel the strength and honor we as citizens of the United States are able to feel knowing that we live in a free country. There’s that word again. Free. A free country. That’s what we are. That’s one of the things that sets the United States apart from other countries. We are free. I am absolutely free to get up tomorrow morning and put on a T-shirt celebrating my favorite band or author or tourist destination and go to work listening to rock & roll music and, if I feel like it, I can choose to sit and observe while others sing the National Anthem. And, ideally, that would be perfectly acceptable. It hinders no one’s freedom and it harms no one’s right to stand and sing.

The problem comes when we try to force people to do what we want them to do. The more dangerous situation comes in when the government tries to step in and force people to stand, act or react a certain way to the anthem. Freedom means we’re free. If our government is allowed the power to tell us we have to stand and react a certain way to a song being played before a sporting event (or anywhere for that matter), that government is no longer supporting the rights of a free country. It is a totalitarian system that is infringing on the rights of everyone. In a perfect world everyone would be truly equal, would be treated as such, and there wouldn’t be a large faction of people being discriminated against. There wouldn’t be murder and racism dividing our country hundreds of years after we fought a war to help end it. And there wouldn’t HAVE to be people who feel the need to take a knee during our nation’s song in order to fight the injustice running rampant in its borders. But that is not the world we live in, is it?

Innocent people are ridiculed, judged, even murdered for the color of their skin or their place of birth EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. We are in the 21st century, people. We are all people, we all bleed red, we all deserve freedom and life and rights. Maybe instead of focusing so damn hard on what people are doing when a song plays over a loudspeaker, we should focus more on why they choose to do it. If we want to truly unify and be a country, we have to learn to stop trash-talking people who live, act or believe differently than we do. Then, and only then, will the National Anthem be able to stand for what it was truly intended to stand for. So next someone takes a knee during the song, how about you ask them why they made that choice instead of feeling offended. As much as it pains me to say it this way; snowflakes do melt. The cold weight of injustice doesn’t.

A Nation Torn (Again)

I’ve kept my mouth shut about this – largely because no one has any reason to care what I think, but the rioting in the states is getting stupider by the day. Since Saturday there have been daily riots and destruction, leading to at least one death when a self-proclaimed White Supremacist ran his car through a group of protestors who were marching against racism. Racism. In the 21st Century. Have we not lived long enough on this rock to get how absolutely freaking idiotic that is?

Since Saturday there have been riots of multiple people who are disagreeing about what to do with Confederate era statues. The removal of a couple of these is what sparked the two-sided protestors on Saturday, if you aren’t aware. Supremacists  (read “Nazis) were against the removal of these statues, and protested in very violent fashion, while the counter-protestors gathered in a somewhat less violent manner, only to be ran over by a car. Those vying for the removal of the statues are convinced they are a symbol of racism and discrimination that is somehow damaging their way of life, while those who wish to see them remain where they are are split between Nazis (which I DO NOT agree with) who believe the statues represent racism and that it is deserved, and the sane people who recognize that these statues are a piece of our history that should be preserved at any cost.

As a well-educated 26 year-old with Native American ancestry living near my ancestral land and the start of the Trail of Tears, I definitely get racism. I do. But do you see Native Americans up in arms about things that celebrate the racism against them – which, might I add, is pretty much everything that celebrates the arrival of the white man on this continent? No. Because we have better sense. We understand that if we revolt against the past, it changes nothing. It doesn’t bring back any of the millions of people who were killed in the largest genocide to ever disgrace the face of this planet. It doesn’t mean that the murders and mistreatment and centuries of harmful stereotypes are suddenly gone or repaired. It doesn’t magically make anything better.

What it does do is cause further discord between peoples who have been living together in the world long enough to understand that we are all the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, red, yellow, purple or orange as a pumpkin – the same blood runs through all our veins. The same creator made us all – no matter what you believe, we literally all come from the same place, whether you believe that it’s dirt shaped by God or space dust from the celestial fart scientists call the Big Bang. So what gives anyone of any color, creed or race the right to think they are superior because of the amount of melanin in their skin or their country of origin? Nothing more than pathetic, pointless ego. It’s nonsense.

This is 2017, not year 17. We know better than this. When science and religion and common sense and every single other sensible and factual thing on the planet can show you that the only differences from you and your black neighbor and her Asian neighbor and his Russian neighbor is the language your ancestors spoke and the food you grew up with (aside from predispositions to certain illnesses, of course – God knows if I don’t get completely medical and scientific here someone will call it out), why do you insist on acting like skin color and nationality matters?

In addition to this consistently pathetic ideology, how can this ridiculous and pointless violent behavior be the answer? It isn’t. Not in any possible sense of the idea. In no way is acting like a primitive moron the answer. It isn’t going to change the past and it sure isn’t going to change the future.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of this whole issue to me right now is the fact that those people who are out there protesting these Confederate statues – which in their minds celebrate racism, violence and discrimination – are now doing so with with violence and discrimination. What? Seriously? Seeing people get run down by a car wasn’t enough to make you realize that a violent reaction – from anyone involved – is the exact opposite of what we should be doing? Apparently not, because protestors in North Carolina were filmed tearing down a Confederate statue and then taking turns kicking, punching, spitting on and otherwise desecrating it.

Why? What good does this do? These statues, which in the minds of the protestors represent the bigotry and racism that pulled this country apart for centuries, are actually there to remind us of the time that racial and political strife almost caused us to destroy ourselves completely. They stand there to represent the type of brother-hating behavior that should be avoided for the rest of time. But these neo-Nazis and misinformed spoiled brats are literally using them to do the exact opposite. Rather than looking at them as reminders not to be complete assholes to our fellow man, they are using pieces of stone and metal as an excuse to lash out at those they feel aren’t as good as them.

How will tearing these statues down change the past? It won’t. It is nothing more than an attempt to hide and erase the history that built this country. Again, it’s a terrible history. That’s obvious. But by denying that we as a nation have overcome such harmful ideas, we open ourselves up to falling in the same hole again. By allowing ourselves to become divided because of a bunch of statues, we are weakening the bonds of civility that have kept us together since these statues were erected. If we literally find ourselves killing each other in the streets because we can’t just leave a statue alone, how can we possibly pretend that we are a civilized country the rest of the world should model itself after? How can we possibly pretend that we are worthy of being called a superpower – which, by definition, is a country with dominating power and influence in multiple regions of the world at one time? And if we are still considered a superpower, how can we possibly sleep at night knowing the influence we are spreading is full of hate and ignorance and pointless violence?

I don’t know that my words matter to anyone other than myself, but this has to stop. Leave the statues alone, pick up the pieces, and move on. Open a bible or even a science book. There is ample evidence all around you that we are all the same. We all need food, water, oxygen, human interaction. We all function thanks to our nervous and digestive systems and we must take care of both to make either remain functional. We can reproduce with anyone of any race or nationality. We can interact with most anyone through the most basic of universal symbols – even if it just comes down to pointing at our stomachs to symbolize hunger or thirst. We get it. We. Are. All. The. Same. Frankly, if none of these examples convince you, just look at the blood that has been shed. Streets run red with blood that leaks out of bodies with every color skin imaginable. The bodies lie broken in the gutters, all made of the same things, all torn to shreds because of hatred that means nothing. Just look at the blood and try to understand. Because, if you don’t, blood may soon be all that is left.

Gwendy’s Button Box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Know Your Work

This has been a bit of a crazy week on the writing front. I’ve been doing this for quite some time, as you all know, and it still has the ability to absolutely blow me away. The unexpected can be both good and bad, and this week I had both. I stumbled across a really great contest offer on Wednesday, and by the time I found it I had less than nine hours to format and publish a novel through a particular service.

Of course I tried it. The only real regulation was that the piece had to be at least 24 pages in print. Not too difficult, and easy to do. I went through the formatting process, created a book cover and was ready to go through with it, when the service pinged a message back my way telling me that my novel was three pages short of being able to have my title fit on the spine. Three pages. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be a problem, but for some reason it got to me.

I’ve worked on that particular title for more than a year and have gone through edits at least three times. I felt so great about it that I’d been querying agents with it and trying to look into the best way to get it on the market. But after all that time and work it still came up three pages short of being able to be identified from the side. I know it sounds silly, but it really got me discouraged. I’ve never been one to really worry about how long a piece is. I write and listen to the characters and the story itself and let them tell me when the end is coming. That’s what feels natural to me.

Don’t get me wrong here, the novel was well over the limit for the contest, and it’s not too short overall, but it does fall short of the generic industry length suggestions for the type of novel it is. As much as I  hate to admit it, that hurt a bit. I’ve written in the past about how easy it can be to get discouraged if you set yourself up to follow strict industry guidelines. Not to say that you shouldn’t listen to your agent and at least make an effort to make your book match length and style guidelines, but if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work. I had to remember that the hard way.

I beat myself up for hours. I could have gone ahead and pushed through the issue and given myself over to the possibility of ridicule (or winning), but the whole situation really made me look at the book and at myself as a writer. I felt like a bit of a failure. I spent over a year on this book, telling this unique tale that I was so proud of, and it came in at only 97 pages in print. How could that be a good book when the industry standard is at least 150 for most similar pieces, and usually at least three times that (if we’re looking at Stephen King up to ten times that length)? I stopped the formatting, stopped the editing and let the contest timer run out. I spent the rest of the day considering what it takes to be a writer, what the industry standards really mean, and whether or not my work is worth the effort. I honestly felt lower than low for a little while.

Then it hit me. I am a writer. I always have been a writer. I was meant to be a writer. What does it matter how long a book is? Can a standard formality really tell me that my work isn’t worth as much as a book that may have an extra 50 or so pages of material? If my story only calls for 97 pages to run itself through and wow an audience (my beta readers have seemed to enjoy it), then should I allow someone else’s book length determine the worth of my work? The answer isn’t just no, but Hell no. I was put on this earth to be a writer. I eat, sleep, drink, breathe and bleed literature. It is one of the biggest parts of who I am, and I don’t see that changing. So who has the right to tell me that my book is too short, or too long for that matter? The industry standard says that a book shorter than 70,000 words is too short ( my own comes in at just under 69,000) and any longer than 100,000 is too long. To clarify and put a bit of a spin on these numbers The Great Gatsby comes in at right around 50,000 words – 20,000 words less than “industry standard”, while Stephen King’s The Stand comes in at more than 470,000 words – four times the length that is considered the cutoff.

So tell me, if two of the greatest and most well-known pieces of writing of the last 100 years don’t fit “industry standard” how can my work be considered lesser quality for the same fault? Who is to say that any novel less than or greater than a certain length has less worth than others? Granted, I understand industry standard also has just as much to do with economic printing costs, etc.. It’s a harmful restriction to put on someone who is trying to get their writing to the world. When self-publishing is not the option you want to use, and agents won’t look at your work if it’s outside of their span, what options do you have?

For a new author trying to come on the scene, being told that you have to adhere to a certain length requirement can be devastating. Speaking from experience, it’s a bit of a shock to find out that a piece of work is in some way restricted based on its length. But that’s ridiculous. No one on this planet can tell you that your book has to be a certain length. When you are writing a work and you feel it flowing from you, through you, and it tells you its done – or it tells you to keep writing – that’s it. It knows. YOU know what is best. You absolutely can’t let anyone out there tell you that they know your work better than you do. That’s not to say you can’t accept constructive criticism. If someone tells you they think you could add this or add that, or take this out or take that out, it probably pays to at least momentarily consider it and not get upset – that’s the point of beta readers after all. But that doesn’t mean you have to do what is suggested. Again, no one in the world knows the story like you and no one else on the planet can tell the story the same way you can. The same goes for any type of art. When it is ready, you’ll know. There are literally people out there who have sold blank canvases as a statement – and they are loved for it. You know what a piece should be.

As an artist you are endowed with power over your work that no one else has. The idea came to you. The story is coming from you. The characters are developing within you. Without you none of it would be possible. If you ask me, that’s pretty darn special. So follow your gut, follow your heart. When the story feels done, maybe it is, even if it could fit on the back of a Cracker Jack box. If the story tells you it’s not done, but you’re looking at a piece that would put Gone With the Wind to shame, listen to it. It knows how long it should be. Never let industry standards or the expectations of others discourage you or make you feel any less incredible. You have the power of the story with you. It is entirely in your hands. If changes are suggested and you think they work, give it a shot. If you don’t agree with them, stand your ground. It’s your masterpiece. Any given piece can be your Mona Lisa. Treat it as such. Hell, what if someone had told da Vinci she should have been  blonde, or should have had glasses? Can you imagine one of the world’s most famous paintings looking any different than she does (except the Mandela Effect’s smile issue; but that’s another post).

Be happy with your talent. Use it to the best of your ability and don’t ever allow anyone else to belittle it. Your book might not fit what others expect, but isn’t that part of the point? No one can say how long a book should be. No matter how hard they try. It doesn’t work. Be confident in your ability. Don’t ever give up. I won’t say don’t get discouraged, because I know it happens, but understand why it happens. Figure out what is bothering you and figure out how to overcome it. That will help you improve more than you can imagine. The world deserves your book. There are 8 billion people on the planet, all with different personalities and desires. If someone out there is waiting on your  book to be published in exactly the way you first write it, is it fair to deprive them of that? Just do you. Be yourself. Follow your own desires and your own instinct. You won’t regret it in the long run.

What discourages you? What advice would you give others? Have you had a similar experience to mine? Leave comments and share this with others to help give someone out there the encouragement they need to do something great! Look for the review of “Powers of Darkness” on May 29! Enjoy your weekend and keep up the good work!

College changed my life

It has been two years to the day since I walked across the stage at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise and accepted my new position as a college alumnus. When I think about the fact that it has been that long it really blows my mind. In some ways it doesn’t feel like two years, but in others it does. So much has happened in my life since then, and it can all be attributed to the blessings of God and the experience I got in college. And to think, I was one of the people who considered a gap year (not that there’s anything wrong with doing that, of course)!

Since my college graduation I have worked in a library, I have been a newspaper reporter, and now I am a marketing representative for one of the best and coolest theatres on the planet! I have married my college sweetheart, and we are fast approaching our own two-year anniversary (of marriage that is. She’s been putting up with me for closer to five years, God bless her). I have taught a writing workshop to authors with decades more experience than myself, I have been published in local journals and have continued to be true to my own writing both on this blog and in my novels and short stories, while also starting my own online book club. Personally, I think those things are some pretty big accomplishments.

The selfish and arrogant part of my brain almost wants to say “well, Damean, that’s because you’re awesome,” but how “awesome” would I be if I hadn’t gone to college? How many of those experiences never would have happened if I hadn’t decided to take six more years of my life for education?

I have been writing for most of my life, of course, but even that has changed because of college. Looking back at the original ideas and versions of some of my work I sometimes actually laugh at how immature my voice was. Because of my college education I have been exposed to centuries of incredible literature and writing methods. I have had mentors work with me on my academic papers and my personal writing, which has changed the way I see things in many ways. I have been given the chance to write for multiple newspapers and experience a completely different style of writing that has enhanced how I view and handle my personal work. In turn, because of my time as a reporter, I have had some awesome experiences and have been able to relay some heartwarming, as well as tragic, news to thousands of people.

On the employment front I have to openly admit that, in high school, I was qualified to do only a handful of things, including write and run a cash register. Now, I have written more, gone more into the retail element by running departments and managing employees, and I have entered the professional work front with some really awesome jobs. Because of the experience I received at UVa-Wise I was able to work as a library specialist at a local community college, I was able to share breaking and interesting news to thousands for a year as a county reporter, and now I’m working at the longest-running professional theatre in the nation! That thought still blows my mind. I grew up just an hour away from Barter Theatre and it was always an amazing thing to just come and witness, and now I’m a part of the team here. And I would never have been able to do it without my education and experience.

The point here is that, for all those graduating high school and thinking about your futures, college is often the best choice you can make. I remember how I felt graduating high school, though. I wanted to take a year off and ‘see the world’. Granted, my version of the world, without a good paying job, didn’t extend much farther than the middle of Tennessee, North Carolina or the other states surrounding my own. I made a choice, though. I chose, despite my own desire to rely on myself and my writing for a while, to go to college and get a degree and put my fate in the hands of the higher education system. And it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Because of my time in college I met some amazing people, and my life has been forever improved.

I know that a lot of the time it seems like 13 years of school is enough (14 if you did pre-k), but believe me when I say it’s the extra 2, 4, 6 or 7 (or more) years that really make the difference. You might think you have your life planned when you walk out of prom and prepare to get that cap and gown and start your post-public education state of life, but don’t be fooled. The world has changed quite a bit. It used to be very possible to walk into a local company and get an internship or apprenticeship with little more than a high school degree and a give ’em Hell attitude. Not anymore. Higher education is something most businesses require now. Without a college degree, the doors of the employment world kind of close tight.

So, as many of you graduate college, be thankful for that experience. If you’re going into the job market or going on to grad school, take the time to consider just what difference your choice made for you. What experiences have you had that wouldn’t have been possible without college? And for those of you who are in that limbo state of deciding to wing it or go to college in the first place; really think about it. The idea of taking the world in your own hands and trying to forge a path with a high-school diploma and a dream might seem great, but it won’t be easy. Not that college is a piece of cake, but that’s a different story. If you’re on the fence, the best advice I can give is this; take the summer. Put in some applications, take your three free months and experience something new. Think about you. Do what makes you happy. Go somewhere new, spend time with friends, let go of school for a while. And when you finally feel like you again, when your brain isn’t cowering in the corner of your skull at the thought of having more knowledge crammed into it, think about what kind of life you want. Decide who you want to be and what you want to do. Figure out what is going to make you feel the most satisfied in life. Then figure out what it’s going to take to make that happen. The answer just might surprise you.

Have a good week, a good weekend, a good summer and a good life. Congrats to all those graduates out there. Let’s all raise our glasses to those who survived high school, college, university, and grad school. There were most certainly times when you thought you wouldn’t make it – but you did. Congratulations. Now enjoy your life and do what makes you you!

“Logan” movie review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 5th Wave

The first thing I have to say about this book is that it was incredible. Simply fantastic. In my opinion, if you’re ever tired of reading standard literature, contemporary adult fiction or anything of the sort, pick up a YA novel. Young adult is one genre type that I always try to keep up with, and it always keeps me on my toes. Personally I’m a little sad that I didn’t decide to just do the entire trilogy with this review, but I don’t think any of us have time to read that much in one month!

Diving right in, I think the style of this book is very familiar and interesting. It falls in with the usual tropes associated with YA novels, and it is very easy to relate to. The fact that Yancey basically plays alongside the fourth wall the entire time is something that I enjoyed, although I have to admit if I thought too much about the style it could get a bit confusing. If Cassie is writing in her journal about writing in her journal about Evan reading her journal, we tend to get a bit bogged down by the details.  Of course, as with some things in YA novels, it may be easiest to just take this at face value and not overthink it.

Yancey does a good job, I think, delving into the psyche of people – particularly teenagers and children – who are facing a disaster like this. To see the descent into distrust and near madness of these kids is very revealing of Yancey’s view of humanity. It’s one thing to talk about one 16 year old girl and her opinions, but to see multiple viewpoints from multiple ages and multiple walks of life suggests that the nature of humanity is to both feel fear and fight back whenever possible. Humanity’s willingness and ability to fight back in the face of this disaster definitely provides hope for the possibility of disaster (not that this is necessarily the future). The Others tried to turn kids on the rest of the world, but the children of the world were able to overcome and fight back – at least some of them were. To me, this is Yancey making a statement about the strength of humanity, which I feel is important in a YA novel.

One of the most interesting things for me was the small insight we got into Evan’s thoughts. He finds himself cruel no matter what decision he makes. If he helps the Others, he is cruel to humans. If he helps the humans, he becomes a traitor to “his people.” To me that is the real issue with the aliens depositing their sleeper agents into the minds of humans. In order for the aliens to be truly adapted to humans, they have to develop and sleep in humans- but this also obviously produces a margin for “errors,” like Evan. By spending so many years inside of a human, asleep but absorbing, it’s very easy to see that aliens could absorb too much and become more human than intended. Maybe that is a statement in itself. Humanity is a virus. You try to infest us, and we end up infesting you. It’s the gift of a curse to those who try to invade. That’s the story inside the story that I think Yancey may have tried to slip in there. The greater story might tend to cover this for some, but for me it was a shining idea in an already brightly told tale. It makes me wonder just how many other of these sleeper agents have defected and become human enough to turn against the aliens. Evan does say that he was on a side that was against the invasion. Will the rest of this faction show up in later books? Will they help the remaining humans? It raises so many questions!

All that being said, there were things that I had problems with. First and foremost on this list is the stereotypical sexism of the book. Cassie consistently talks about being in love. She literally at one point says that she wants to have Ben Parish’s babies. She’s 16. Come on, now. I get that she might have a crush on the guy, maybe even want to sleep with him, but in the midst of an alien apocalypse she literally says she wants to have his babies. I find problems with that. In addition to this she ends up falling for Evan. Yes, it’s great he saved her. He nursed her back to health. I get that that sort of things is a bit of a standard clichéd idea in many books and movies, but I feel it’s misplaced here. Evan is Cassie’s second love interest (even though she never made a move on Ben or anything), and she goes nuts over him. To me this makes it seem way too much like a ‘damsel in distress’ type of story.

Hearing Cassie repeatedly talk about boys in such a stereotypical manner kind of takes away from the story, in my opinion. And the scene where Evan finds Cassie and Ben with Sam has the distinct possibility of almost turning into a love triangle. I’m very glad that didn’t happen.

Personally I wanted to get more of an insight into the aliens and their journey and purpose. Of course, with any luck that will come in one of the other two books. I’m hoping to learn the full truth of what happens to Evan and learn more about the reality behind the invasion and the nature of the Others.

What did you think of the book? What did you like or not like? What elements did you have problems with? Is there anything in particular that threw you off or put you off about the book? Overall the book was awesome and I look forward to eventually reading the other two parts. I hope you all enjoyed this book like I did, and I hope you enjoyed the review! What book would you like to cover next? Is there a specific genre you would like to see represented? Let me know in the comments. I really want to see lots of feedback! Jump in on the discussion and share away!

Novels are coming…

NaNoWriMo is coming fast. I know for some people the idea of writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days is quite daunting – for others it seems just next to impossible – but it can happen! I’m living proof that perseverance with this contest can really pay off in the long run. I had tried my hand at Nano around 5 times before last year, with college always bullying me away from writing for pleasure and forcing me to focus on school work. Granted, I guess that’s what I get for doing an English major with a communications minor and (almost) an education certification. It was tough.

But the weight was shed last year, allowing me to blow Nano out of the water. I had a new job at a library that allowed me to have time on the side to write while enjoying that awesome career choice. By utilizing every spare minute I had within the first couple of weeks in November, I not only won Nano, I wrote a 68,000 word novel in 18 days. That is an accomplishment that I will always be proud of.

This brings me to the real question for this article. Are you participating in the competition? I’ve heard a lot of people say they feel that Nano is just garbage and that a good novel shouldn’t be written under a “challenge.” Personally I say that’s codswallop. It doesn’t matter if your novel is written in 30 days or 30 years. If it’s a novel, it’s a novel. I’ve read (and written, let’s be honest) some really terrible pieces of work that took weeks and months and years to finish, and I’ve read pieces that were literally written overnight that blew my mind.

For me it often comes back to the old saying that “Your first version will be shit.” There are tons of articles and books written on this idea, which suggests that it’s really the editing that makes a novel great. Now, I’m not saying it’s necessarily always the case, but I do think it holds weight. In my own stories and books I think I make a much better product after I’ve taken it through the editing rigmarole, but with others I think the author may hit gold the first time (not usually, but positivity is key, right?). For me that’s why it’s difficult to understand the opinion of those who are so against helpful challenges like NaNoWriMo. I think it’s always good for an artist to challenge themselves, and we all know I’ve written and spoken about deadlines a few times. It’s important. That’s the bottom line.

While you definitely may not be able to produce a masterpiece by giving yourself only 30 days to produce a brand new 50,000 word piece of literature, you can certainly get a start on it. For me it’s not so much about the type of work that I see on November 30, but how far and how fast I can produce the piece through the month and what I have to work with after December starts. Sometimes that’s the most rewarding, really. To know that I have a good idea to work with to start the new year, and that most of the writing has already happened is honestly a bit of a relief. That’s why, after finishing my work last year, I jumped on the first edit and had the piece ready for beta readers in December.

This year, though, who knows what will happen. I have a new, more demanding job which also requires me to write for a living. Not to mention the fact that I have multiple ideas floating around in my head and I haven’t quite hammered enough out about them to be sure of just how long they are going to be. Of course, I don’t necessarily know that I believe you can ever be sure of that. I’ve had many pieces that I thought were only going to be a few hundred words that ended up with thousands before I was finished. It’s something, for me, that the story decides. Or rather, that it knows. You see, nothing knows a story like the story itself. We’re just a conduit for the reveal. But I’ve written about that a number of times, and I’m sure I will again.

For now I’ll leave you with the question I’ve already asked; Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Have you before? Do you even know about it? Feel free to answer these questions or ask your own in the comments or in a personal message. I love seeing interaction here and I love talking to you guys! Keep up the work and enjoy the approach of the holidays!