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!

If It Bleeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Moonlight and the Holidays

Greetings, all! We are less than a week away from Christmas and several other end of the year holidays and life goes on here in the mountains. I have been writing much more lately than I did for several weeks throughout the earlier parts of the year, and I am very pleased to announce that my Appalachian werewolf novel, “Moonlight” is officially live and available for purchase internationally!

This novel, telling the story of a young man who moves to the Great Smoky Mountains and encounters a creature he never believed could exist, has been a pet project of mine for about five years. I wrote the original version of the novel in less than 3 weeks, putting pretty much everything else aside and immersing myself in the world I was working hard to create. I did research on countless versions of the werewolf legend, Appalachian myths and customs and so much more. To say I let the story take over my mind for a bit may be an understatement.

Once I had finished the book I decided to tear it apart and edit it from beginning to end before sending it to beta readers. Needless to say the story gained a life of its own. Over the last five years it has changed several times and has developed beyond my original idea into something that still surprises me on occasion. I am beyond excited to be able to present this novel to anyone who is interested, and I have set up a couple of different ways to purchase it. Of course, there is the classic Amazon purchase option here, which should allow anyone to purchase the book internationally. In addition to this, I have set up a secure purchase link that allows anyone with a U.S. address to purchase a copy of the book directly from me, with a chance to purchase either a plain or autographed copy. You can find both of those options here. I am also in talks with several local shops and vendors to host the book on their shelves and help promote local work, which absolutely thrills me. I will be happy to share more on that ASAP!

I can’t thank everyone enough for the immense outpouring of support I have gotten since announcing the release of this book. I hope you will all consider purchasing the book, and for those of you that do, I hope you enjoy the read. It is quite a journey, if I may say so. Please share this with anyone and everyone you think may be interested in such a book, and help get this one to an all new audience!

What is Your Legacy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where All Light Tends To Go

As many of you know, I am a proud Appalachian man with a serious love of literature and of my region. I try, on occasion, to immerse myself in regional pieces, and see my culture from the eyes of other local authors. I recently had the pleasure of diving into the incredible novel “Where All Light Tends To Go,” by David Joy. This amazing piece of Appalachian Literature, or Appalachian Noir as Joy considers it, explores the life of Jacob McNeely, the son of a drug addict and what passes for a drug kingpin in the small mountain town.

I’ve read several Appalachian works, and know several regional authors, and this tale stands at the pinnacle of Appalachian literature for me. I immediately felt drawn in by Jacob’s story. He is an outcast in his life, largely forgotten by a mother who spends most of her time riding her current high or pursuing the next one, and pushed aside by a father who finds him to be weak and useless. A dropout, Jacob can’t even rely on his peers for comfort.

Being from a small town myself, I related to Jacob’s plight as a young Applachian man, living in a town where opportunities aren’t exactly aplenty. Jacob feels he is limited in many ways, not the least being that, as a McNeely, he is almost instantly branded a failure. He talks several times throughout the first person narrative of being trash, nothing but trash, pure McNeely trash. Our main character perhaps it explains it best by saying;

“A name like Jacob McNeely raised eyebrows and questions. In a town this small all eyes were prying eyes.”

Joy’s writing explores the depth of the Appalachian region, while tugging the heart strings in an attempt to show the truth of the struggle some feel growing up in these beautiful mountains. The McNeelys are a family that has been condemned by their choices, their actions, and the unfortunate judgement of others. Jacob, who some say has a chance to become more, struggles throughout the entire book with the penalties associated with being a McNeely and the decisions he makes because of it.

An underlying, but interesting element of the text is the repeated conflict Jacob has with religion. From his early childhood Jacob was encouraged to go to church, his mother and grandfather religious individuals for a time. His father, whom he ends up living with, however, is not the religious type. Jacob says more than once that he doesn’t believe in God, but follows that up by saying that God doesn’t answer McNeely prayers. I found this element to be very interesting, as most Appalachian literature brings religion into the text by presenting us with the heavily (if not overly) religious individuals who do nothing but judge others based on their beliefs. We get none of that from Jacob.

Jacob’s relationship with the woman he loves, his childhood best friend, Maggie, is nothing short of remarkable. We enter Jacob’s life to see him watching Maggie graduate high school (from a distance, granted), and throughout his story he is insistent that Maggie has everything it takes to get be more, to escape their small town prison and do incredible things. In essence, Jacob puts everything into Maggie that he refuses to give to himself. She becomes romanticized and placed on a pedestal that I never could quite tell if she deserves.

I think the most heart-wrenching part of Jacob’s life is the strained relationship he has with his father. Charles McNeely is, in essence, the worst kind of person. A drug pushing, abusive, womanizing fiend with no regard for life, he neglects his child and causes pain to everyone he knows. Between his father’s treatment of him, his mother’s abandonment, and his own inability to break free of the burdens placed on him, Jacob is haunted by the pain of a broken life. His pain bleeds from the pages in places, particularly during one of the hardest hitting lines in the text, which has Jacob mentioning how funny it is that it only takes one person taking the time to show you they care for the bad things in life to not seem so bad anymore.

I have no shame in admitting that I didn’t have any idea how this book would end, but, after reading it, I don’t think any other ending would have sufficed. Although not bogged down with the supernatural, or with the inescapable horror I usually seek out, this text has quickly risen to my top ten books right now. Jacob’s journey is not necessarily one for the faint of heart, but I feel like this is a book most anyone can enjoy. Fans of Appalachian literature in particular will love this representation of the difficulties of life in a small North Carolina town.

I’m the kind of reader who loves marking passages that I enjoy so I can go back and look at them later and explore their meaning and depth. Usually I try to do this with sticky tabs that I can slap on the page right beside of my preferred quote. I have no shame admitting that I used an entire stack of sticky notes for this novel, as the featured image above shows. I will absolutely be seeking out more of Joy’s writing in the near future, and will be keeping my eyes open for a chance to meet this fantastic author and delve into his creative genius. If any of you pick up this masterpiece, I would love to know what you think. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or send me a message. As always, if you have any suggestions for a future review, or even just a book recommendation feel free to let me know!

I must leave you with this final line, that I am convinced will go down in history right alongside “So we beat on…” Though it gives nothing away, I have to admit it literally gave me chills. It is only a part of the power this text holds, and I’m sure everyone will love it.

“Only the middle ground of this wicked world mattered, the vast gap that stretched between, and those who were born with enough grit to brave it.”

Rejection, Revisited

Hey there, friends and fans. The first month of 2020 was a doozy, and February promises to hold a lot of changes. I plan on discussing some very interesting topics in the months to come, so keep your eyes and ears open for that.

Recently I’ve found it a little difficult to steadily produce new creative work, often having an idea and starting or plotting it and just falling off the trail again. Or worse, falling back into the trope of over-editing, which I mentioned in a previous post. Through the month of January I began querying for two of my completed novels, as well as sending new pieces to various magazines and contests, trying to revamp my writing efforts and reawaken my own self-esteem and passion for my writing.

As many of you know, that game is a hard one to play, as once you submit your query it’s the longest waiting game known to man while you hope the agents in question like your work enough to ask for more. After what seemed like an eternity waiting on some sort of response, I finally received my first one yesterday. A rejection. Not only a standard rejection, but one from the agent I felt most excited about reaching out to, given their publishing history and interests.

It goes without saying that it was a tough blow to an already damaged and strained confidence. I allowed myself to immediately fall into a minor depression, telling myself that it was obvious I should just give up and not worry about writing anymore, because it obviously just didn’t seem to be panning out.

But I took a step back. I got words of encouragement I needed from someone very important to me, and I re-read the rejection. It wasn’t your standard, run-of-the-mill rejection. The agent took the time to address my work personally, address my query even. The rejection notice told me that the work was in the agent’s genre, but it just wasn’t an exact fit. Rather than being a simple “not at this time” or “no thanks” this agent took the time to address my work and my effort with some personalization, which did help soften the blow.

The irony of the whole situation is, upon looking back in my writing and blogging history, I realized that on this exact day four years ago I received the first rejection of that year. It was a very similar situation. I had submitted a short piece to a journal that I felt particularly interested in and excited for, only to be told that the piece didn’t fit what was needed for that issue.

It brought me back to this blog post, and I have to say, it reminded me that this rejection of my novel is not the end of the world. It is not the end of my career as a writer. It is not even the only query currently awaiting response. My writing is still very important to me, and while I may not currently have the muse by in my control, the work I have already produced is something i am very proud of. So I will continue to push forward, attempting to write more, and seeking publication in as many places I can. In the meantime I encourage each and every one of you to take a look at whatever it is you’re passionate about, revisit just why it is that this thing (or these things) matter so much to you, and rekindle that flame. Refresh that connection. Strengthen the bond holding you to whatever future you are trying to create. As long as you remain true to your dreams, they can’t possibly die.

Einstein once said “you never fail until you stop trying.” That’s something I fully believe. If you don’t give up on yourself, there’s a good chance the rest of the world won’t either. So stand up and take a piece of the world, get the lead out, and make a change. It might not seem like it now, but one day this is all going to be a distant memory of your journey to absolute success

 

via Rejection

A Decade of Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Learning Dracula

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope things are going well for you as we speed through spring and rapidly approach another glorious summer. Personally, I have had quite an eventful first handful of months, which came to a new climax last weekend.

Saturday I had the awesome opportunity to attend an event that I’ve been eager to be a part of for quite some time. Author Dacre Stoker, great grand-nephew of the infamous Bram Stoker, held his Stoker on Stoker lecture in Sevierville, Tennessee – and naturally I made it my mission to attend.

I have been in touch with Dacre on and off for a little more than a decade and I leapt at the chance to finally attend his discussion on all things Dracula. In addition to that, I reached out to Dacre, and we arranged a lunch meeting to discuss things that much deeper.

Dacre and I dove right in after meeting, discussing his family history, his involvement with 2009’s Dracula; the Undead, and last year’s prequel Dracul, and vampires in modern culture. Many of the details of our discussion will be used for various blog posts and more to come, but there was one thing that stuck out that I wanted to discuss here. That is the presence of connection and rediscovery of Bram’s work – essentially learning who Bram was after all this time.

Dacre told me from the start that growing up with the Stoker name had been an interesting experience in its own right. The Canadian-born author said that, until the Gothic text became a classic in 1962, it was primarily movie and literature buffs that knew a lot about it. It was ten years after that, when the infamous text In Search of Dracula: the History of Dracula and Vampires, by Radu Florescu and Raymond T. McNally hit shelves before Dacre really questioned his family’s connection with the Irishman who single-handedly helped make vampires a household legend.

“I finally asked my dad, ‘what is all this,'” Stoker told me with a laugh. His first experience with the novel came when his father pulled a family heirloom from the shelf – a first edition copy of Dracula Bram had signed to his mother.

From there, Dacre said, it was life as usual. Apart from the occasional Halloween related joke from friends, he sought his own way in life, knowing his connection with Bram, but not seeing it have much of an effect on his day-to-day experiences. Aside from a term paper written on his great grand-uncle, Dacre said he was aware of the interesting impact Bram had on the world, but he didn’t dwell on it.

“I would think about it from time to time, but it didn’t really determine my path in life or change the way I behaved, “Stoker said.

His focus changed when he was contacted by Ian Holt in 2003 to discuss the possibility of a sequel to Dracula.

Dacre told me the decision wasn’t an easy one to make, but after talking with his family members, they all decided he would be the one to pursue the opportunity. The next six years saw Dacre diving into family records, museum records and talking to scholars who “knew more {about Bram} than I did” until the official release of Dracula: the Undead in 2009.

From there, Dacre saw a world that accepted and appreciated Dracula. The character, now having appeared in thousands of cinematic and literary locations in some way, shape, or form, is one of the most well-known figures in horror history. The 2009 novel explored the possibility of what may have come after the events of the original. Personally I find the tale filled with amazing possibilities and a great continuation of Bram’s text.

But, Dacre told me, he felt there was more. His mind had started working around the idea of what might have come before Jonathan Harker set foot in the Borgo Pass. He pondered the idea for a while, eventually realizing he wanted to tell the story, so he got in touch with co-author J.D. Barker to start the recently-released prequel, Dracul.

This tale is set before the events of Dracula, told once again in the infamous epistolary style that allows the reader insight into the characters own mind. This time, however, Bram himself, is one of our main characters. Dacre said that is important to him.

“It allows me to really let the world know what Bram Stoker is like.”

Dacre and I went on to discuss much of the research he has done for the books and the uncle he never knew. Since starting researching Dracula in 2003, Stoker has visited many places significant to the novel and his great grand-uncle’s life. He told me of walking the beaches Bram used to walk, sitting on rock outcroppings where Bram used to write, connecting with the memory of his uncle in new ways. Stoker discussed many of his discoveries about his family with an interest, his lecture going into detail in ways even my own mind didn’t anticipate.

If you ever have the opportunity to see the Stoker on Stoker lecture, absolutely treat yourself. If you are a fan of Dracula, you will absolutely love the lecture. Dacre is an amazing speaker, with a great mind and a love of his family’s history. Even if you aren’t familiar with the story of the novel’s author or either of the subsequent works the lecture will open new worlds of horror and interest. You can find more information about Dacre and his works, as well as tour information and bits of Stoker history at his website: http://dacrestoker.com/.

Being a lifelong fan of Dracula with an obsession with vampires, this was an opportunity I’ll never forget. I appreciate the chance to sit down with Dacre and discuss his family history and learn more about the Stoker legacy. I plan to analyze the information I have and have more discussions with you all about it! Keep your eyes open for more posts about Dracula, vampires, and literature! Have you had an experience with someone like this? Have you been able to discuss your literary idol with someone who can truly understand? Let me know!