What Does Local Mean To You?

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope you all have had an absolutely awesome spring so far. Aside from the allergies that try daily to smother me in my own fluids, it has been amazing for me. I love the sense of renewal and renaissance as fresh leaves push aside what remains of the old and stretch their green-veined fingers toward the sky. It thrills me to watch as, a little each day, fresh and beautiful flowers burst forth from the earth and claim their place under the sun. Personally, I’ve always found spring to arrive exactly when I need it most and give me a sense of renewed purpose and motivation.

Of course, as many of you know, I published my first print collection in February and have been marketing and spreading the word about it ever since. One thing I’ve been doing is reaching out to local libraries and seeing about getting my work in their circulation materials. As a former librarian and long time lover of the amazing institutions that promote reading as much as an individual can get their hands on, it thrills me to have an opportunity to have my work possibly be one of those bits of material that a person may discover among the stacks, having never heard of me before. Or, of course, my work being one people eagerly seek out and go on waiting lists for. But I digress.

Tuesday I found myself in my hometown visiting with my mother and was struck by the idea that I should go talk to the library there. After all, that squat, brick building houses so many memories for me, provided so many fresh literary experiences, that I couldn’t be more honored than to find my work shelved along with the well-read R.L. Stines and Stephen Kings that influenced my early life. As I was talking to the librarian there, he asked if I could show him a copy of my work, so I went to go grab a copy from my vehicle. As I did, a patron caught up with me and made my entire day.

She had overheard my conversation with the librarian and asked about my work, showing unbridled interest in the fact that I am a local author in the Appalachian region. After a description of my work, she purchased a copy and had me sign it. We talked for a few more moments and bade each other good day, but the interaction really made an impression on me.

Growing up, I would always be extremely excited to meet someone who could be considered a local author or artist, often going out of my way to start conversations with them and examine their work. But, until yesterday, I hadn’t had quite the same thing happen to me. Needless to say, I remain flattered, but it definitely makes me think. Each and every one of us can probably think of a time we’ve encountered a local artist – regardless of the medium. I’ve seen painters and authors everywhere from local coffee shops to flea markets half a state away from their home. And it always gives me a sense of pride. But it makes me sad in some ways as well.

As many people that stop to talk with the artist about their work or the craft in general, just as many people pass right by without so much as a second glance. Personally, I find that to be more damaging than someone saying they don’t care for the work. At least that person took the time to check it out. My interaction yesterday, coupled with those previous experiences really made me realize just how important it is to support the arts again.

There was a time in society when people would seek out artists and beg for examples of the work, staring for hours as a sculptor or painter created their masterpiece. At one point in history people would flock to the harbor in droves to get the latest edition in a serial that later was put together as the Dickens favorite “Great Expectations.” Our ancestors had an equivocal appreciation of and yearning for the arts. Of course, not everyone was subject to this love then either, but that’s another tale. My point for today is that we must make a real effort to embrace the arts again. With each passing day funding for the arts in public education is cut. Many schools are no longer able to provide music education or drawing classes because of a lack of material funds. New generations are growing up in a society where are education funds are cut so governments, both local and national, can pay for biased investigations, unnecessary private expenses, and a basic disregard for the general public and its future. So it’s up to each and every one of us to recognize the importance of art and those who make it.

Of course, my own opinions on that matter may be a little biased as a creator, but I still reflect on times when I had little to turn to except art. Whether it was art created by someone else or my own creative efforts, art has saved my life more times than I probably even realize. So, I’m encouraging all of you to reach out and find some local artists. Talk to a painter or an Indie author about their work, or the craft in general. Let them know what the work means to you. Show them that, even if sales aren’t in the triple digits, the work matters to someone.

I’ve been told, at some events, an artist is lucky if they make three sales. And I’m fine with that. I would love it if my writing could pay all the bills, supporting my wife and I and allowing us to pay off debts and advance. But that isn’t the only, or even the main reason I do it. I do it because I’m passionate about it. Because it’s what I was put here to do. Because the arts have shown me what life really means. And those who support the arts, sharing that same passion, can make all the difference.

So, as you go forward, keep an eye and an ear open for an artist who, like you, enjoys a passion for life. Talk to them about what that passion can lead to. Make a purchase or leave a review on a work you enjoyed. Make sure you recognize the importance of the arts before they disappear. After all, as we rapidly approach the release of that certain long-anticipated superhero movie this week, it pays to remember; without the arts, none of that would have been possible. Artists drew those characters, thought them up, gave them new life on the silver screen. If we let the arts die, nothing like that can happen again. With the right support, and enough effort we can all keep the arts alive. And, honestly, that’s one of the best ways to keep ourselves going.

Who is a local artist that has made a difference to you? What is one local work that has influenced you? Or, for that matter, if you’re a local or regional artist in your area, what’s an experience you’ve had that showed you your work and your effort was appreciated? Leave me comments, send me messages, and make sure to get out there and enjoy life!

Origin of a Classic

Count Dracula. The world’s most famous vampire. The very name brings to mind passages from the novel, images from black and white movies with bats on strings and Hungarian actors in flowing capes. For more than a century we have wondered about the tale of the vampire to beat all vampires. Well, we need wonder no longer. Dacre Stoker, great grandnephew of Bram Stoker, has teamed up with horror author J.D. Barker to bring us more of the tale.

It was through the journals, letters and accounts of Jonathan Harker, his beloved Mina, and their ragtag band of warriors that the world first learned of the mysterious Count Dracula and his blood drinking ways. But just how did a young Irishman named Stoker come across the account of that creature and his terrible deeds? Could it be that he already had some inside information on the issue? Stoker clearly states in his introduction that the pages of the novel have been organized and shared in the best order possible, but that story starts far from the beginning, doesn’t it? Bram’s original text included much more of the story than the version we all know now. Dacre and Barker worked together, using the diaries of Bram and the 101 pages that were cut from his first draft to bring us Dracul, a book that details what Bram declared the “true story” of his own encounter with the centuries old vampire and the terror the creature brought to the Harkers.

Introducing Bram and his siblings as children, the reader follows along with the boy as his life moves on from debilitating sickness to a thriving adulthood with a bit of mysterious help. Told largely through the journal of young Stoker, the story reads in a way that is naturally reminiscent of the original novel. The elements of mystery, juxtaposed with a well-working repetitive time jump throughout the first two acts, create a story that is very easy to become immersed in.

Heavy horror elements combined with a modern take on the Gothic flood the pages of this novel, giving us images of vampiric slaughter alongside classic references to Irish and English history, government, myth, and architecture that rival those of the original as well.

This novel brings vampire lore into the mix in even more in-depth ways than Stoker’s original publishing, with another aged mentor who knows more about the strigoi than even Van Helsing may have. The incredible history that is brought to life in this book connects with the original not only by bringing the reader to familiar locales, but by giving its author a voice. It is very easy to find yourself following along with this tale, feeling as if you’re living the story from the marshland of the Irish coast to the cliffside in Whitby – a location synonymous with the original novel.

The main thing I want to say about this novel is that it is an absolutely fantastic read. From start to finish, I found myself consumed by the work. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in horror, vampires, the gothic, or just good great books, regardless of whether you’ve read the original. Dracul is a novel that stands on a strong foundation and is sure to bring a whole new generation of fans to the story of the legendary Count Dracula.

I want to thank Dacre Stoker and Putnam Publishing for giving me the opportunity to review this amazing novel before it hits the shelves. I also want to congratulate Dacre and J.D. Barker on a job well done. This novel promises to be a big hit, and I look forward to seeing what you guys think of it! Dracul flutters onto U.S. shelves on October 2, and onto U.K. shelves on October 18 (naturally, vampires can’t cross water without assistance). Feel free to share this review with anyone who may be interested in reading this novel, and be sure to let us all know what you think of the work. Happy reading everyone!

New Short story, Summer Blog-A-Day!

Hey there friends and fans! The day is finally here! It’s my day to contribute to the Summer Blog-A-Day event, and I’ve got something fun lined up for you, as promised. This short story is one that is actually a separate, but relatable prequel piece to one of my novels, currently awaiting its second edit. I’m ecstatic to present a bit of my version of the myth that you’ll all quickly come to recognize. It’s not explicitly explained in the story, but it’s pretty clear this story takes place quite some time in the past, and if I’ve embellished anything, I certainly did so for a reason, and I do hope it will be enjoyed. Without further ado, here is my brand new bit of work, tentatively titled “By the Light of the Moon.”

 

Moonlight shone brightly through the air, thick rays cutting the heavy fog that lay on the ground. The men crept silently forward through the forest, each fearing the next shadow would be guarding their quarry. Oiled rifles glinted in the night as six pairs of eyes darted nervously around in the hazy darkness, hunting a creature they weren’t sure of, each of them somewhat terrified it was also hunting them. They all froze as a twig snapped in the darkness, silencing the few night bugs that still filled the Autumn air with their song, sounding like an explosion to the overstrained ears of the hunting party. They were more on edge than ever as they looked around them in the darkness, each expecting an attack to come from the most unexpected place.

The men had been brought out by a string of cattle slaughter on their farms. More than two dozen animals had been killed between the six farms in the last week and a half. The killings started at the Jones farm on the far side of the mountain, progressing a bit farther over the mountain to a new farm each night. The farmers had dealt with the killing their own way for the last week, until the handful of men stumbled upon one another in town that morning. Each had come with his own story of hardship and gore. None of them had been able to kill the creature. In fact, none of them had even seen it. Until Josiah Ramey showed up.

At six foot six, the dirty farmer was larger than life and twice as ugly, and he came packing a tale that ran chills through the rest of them. He’d heard his horse being attacked in the night and had run outside with his gun, expecting to rustle up a coyote or even a bear. He’d had no idea what to do when the beast he saw there stood straight up and howled at the moon. He swore the beast was every bit of eight feet tall and looked fit to rip a house apart if it took the notion to.

Standing there in the square, discussing the beast Ramey claimed to have shot at, a plan had come together. The animal had been crossing the mountain killing one farm at a time, almost on a schedule. If it had hit the Ramey’s farm the night before, it was sure to be after the Randolph farm that night if the pattern held up. Assuming there was a pattern, that is.

The men all knew that Ben Randolph, the owner of the small sheep farm at the base of the mountain, was away downriver visiting his father. Word had come to some of them that his father died a couple of days prior and Randolph had been hooked into burying the old man, leaving his wife alone in the house on a night when the killer beast could be coming to destroy the place.

“If she’s there alone when it comes and nobody is there to help, there’s no tellin’ what ruin that man’ll come home to. Just had his Pa die, he don’t need to find his woman ripped to bits too,” Ramey encouraged.

Tom Jones, who felt certain the barbarous Josiah Ramey had more than the Randolph man’s best interest at heart, nonetheless was inclined to agree. He’d seen the way the beast had torn into his own small farm. Three hogs, a mess of ducks and his dog had all been taken in the night without so much as a peep that he had heard. Whatever the creature was, it was dangerous. No matter how queer the Randolph’s appeared to be, no man should be made to bury his father and his wife in the same week. So, he and the other men had agreed. They’d meet at the edge of the Ramey field in case the thing had more business to attend to there and make their way through the few miles of forest that led to the Randolph homestead.

Now, more than halfway through the journey, with nothing to show for it but a bunch of fear-and-sweat soaked farmers tugging their planks in the woods, he wondered if he might be regretting his decision.

“Sorry boys,” came a whisper from the darkness. “I can’t see a thing through this fog. Dern stick coulda jumped up and bit me.”

“Mayhap it will yet, if you don’t shut that hole in yer head, Bob White,” Jones threatened, feeling his own heart rate slow down a hair at the knowledge that their quarry hadn’t decided to make them its latest meal.

The other men snickered into the forest as they started moving again. Bob White whispered an apology as Jones lay a hand on his shoulder to let him know no harm had been done. The hearts of the men pumped with renewed ferocity as they went forward. Within minutes they had covered more than half a mile, entering the clearing that was the halfway point between the two farms. The smell of blood hung heavy in the air. They cautioned each other with just a glance, each of them nodding as the message was passed on. The moonlight illuminated the clearing like a spotlight, the fog rolling through the high grass in the small open area, exposing and once more hiding the body in the center.

Jones approached slowly, signaling the others to hang back. He could feel small bones under his feet as he got closer to the body. The putrid aroma of feces mixed with that of the blood, creating a cloud of scent that turned his stomach as he looked down into the eyes of a dead deer. The animal’s eyes were opened wide in what Jones assumed to be a mix of terror and pain. Organs were spread about the clearing, the animal’s limbs lying feet away from its torso. He realized as the fog rolled away for a moment that this is what he’d been walking on. He felt his gorge threaten to rise in his throat, a belch that tasted suspiciously like the night’s chicken and beans slipping through his lips with a whisper. Jones tensed as darkness fell all around him, a heavy rumbling rising from the distance. His heart skipped a beat as he looked skyward to see a thick cloud siding across the moon. Thunder. It would storm by dawn.

“Well,” came a whisper from just behind him. “I guess it started early.”

He whirled around in a flash, leveling his rifle at Josiah Ramey’s head before he came to his senses. The man shot him a dangerous grin and brushed by him, crouching to examine the deer. The other men crept forward as he looked over the kill.

“Still fresh,” he whispered again, his hoarse voice floating through the low mist like an apparition all of its own. Without a second’s hesitation he plunged his hand into the nest of viscera that was the deer’s open chest, releasing a burst of thin steam. “Very fresh,” he said, pulling his hand out and slinging steaming droplets of blood from his fingers. “Still warm.”

Jones heard one of the other men belch behind him, could almost feel the threat of the man’s vomit rising to his mouth. He crouched down beside of Ramey, leaning in to whisper in the larger man’s ear, a move which likely saved his life. With a rush of air and a ground shaking thud something landed just behind Jones. He whirled around again, raising his gun to see what was happening. Without warning his foot caught on one of the shattered leg bones he’d stepped on before, sending him to the ground under his own weight.

As he lay there, peering through the rolling mist, a larger than possible shadow rose before him. He could see the matted hair of the beast standing out at all angles against the moonlight. His heart slammed into his ribcage, fear flowing through his veins with renewed vigor as he was sure the thing was facing him, preparing to slam into him and rip his life from his body. In an instant he pictured his own body lying shattered and empty like that of the deer. It wasn’t until the thing raised a huge hand-like paw that he realized that it wasn’t facing him, and that the hand he saw shadowed against the pale Autumn light was much more human than should be possible.

He was unable to move as the thing’s paw shot forward, clawing through the air until it met one of the men in front of it. From his angle, Jones was unable to see who. Whoever it was fell backward with a scream of pain and fear. He saw the darkened figure he recognized as his own closest neighbor, Jim Hall. Hall shoved his rifle forward into the beast’s face, his prized Remington getting one shot off before the thing grabbed his arm. He saw the beast flinch as the bullet struck it, a growl rising through the air, once more silencing all night life in the area. He could feel the warbling tone of the beast’s anger flowing through his body, as if the very air itself was vibrating with the beast’s malice. He watched as it swiped the gun out of Hall’s hand and grabbed him by the throat, lifting him off the ground as it released its hold on his arm.

Hall swung his arms forward, striking the creature about the face and shoulders, his feet flying forward and kicking every other part he could reach. Jones felt, rather than heard Ramey finally going into action. The big man was rising to his feet, leveling his powerful shotgun at the beast’s back. Jones could sense that it was going to do no good. As he watched, the beast pulled Hall toward its face and let out something that sounded like a mix between a bark and a scream that ended in a long, eerie, trailing howl as it raised its head to the sky. The men felt as if they could tell what was coming before it happened, but none of them were prepared for the violence and finality of it.

Hall took a deep breath as the thing loosened its grip on him for a moment. In the next instant the beast locked eyes with him, and he knew his life was nearly over. The other men all raised their guns, Jones raising to one knee as he watched the beast open its mouth wide than anything he’d ever seen. In the clearing five weapons prepared to fire as the beast darted its head forward, pulling Hall’s head into its gaping maw and slamming its jaws shut. They heard one whimper from the man before the beast let his body fall to the ground, crunching the bones of its prey in its jaws as blood and chunks of skull slipped out from between its lips.

The shotgun blast nearly deafened all of them. Ramey lunged backward with the force as his weak legs threatened to give out on him. The beast bent forward with the force of the blast that slammed into its back. Chunks of fur and blood rose into the air, splattering the three men closest to the beast and turning the thickening mist a dull pinkish red in the glowing moonlight. The beast rose slowly this time, heavy mist rising from its skin as the open wounds on its back slowly closed themselves, fresh flesh knitting itself together as if by some unseen hands. The thing turned around slowly, deep red eyes glowing like coals in the darkness as it met Jones’s gaze and began growling once more. He could sense the thing preparing to pounce on him as another shotgun blast tore through the night. This time it was the thing’s chest that ripped itself apart under the high-pressure buckshot, sending the thing flying off its feet and right on top of the twitching heap that was all that was left of Hall.

“Run boys,” Ramey shouted from beside them as he reloaded. “We gotta get there now.”

Without a second thought, Jones took off, hearing the other men behind him. They ran like none of them ever remembered running before, thinking only of getting to the Randolph farm ahead of this thing and, hopefully, of finding a way to put it down once they got there. For just a moment he wondered if maybe they were acting a little harshly, knowing the kind of damage a close shot with Ramey’s shotgun should do to any animal that lives and breathes. With that kind of spread and stopping power hitting it in the chest at such a close range, it should have blown a hole clean through it. But hadn’t he seen the same shot take it in the back? And the thing had literally healed right before his eyes. Is it possible anything different would happen with a shot to its chest?

As if in answer to his question he heard the enraged snarl of the thing cut through the night just before he broke the tree line. One of the other men let out a cry that was either fear or pain. Jones honestly didn’t have time to tell. He was plunging into the forest, cutting through the thick brush until he burst on the beaten horse track that had been used by anyone hunting in these woods for years. His feet flew, his muscular body carrying him faster than the others. Soon he could hear the panicked footfalls of the other hunters behind him, the clodding sound of Ramey seeming just behind him. With another snarling howl and crash of brush, he heard the beast hot on their trail. His heart raced faster at the thought of the gigantic terror slamming into the ground, gaining precious inches as it pursued them. Cold sweat ran down his back as he felt the ground shake beneath the thing’s long gait. What in the world had they discovered in the woods tonight? Just what dreaded beast from Satan’s own court had disrupted life in his mountains? And how in the name of God were they supposed to get rid of it?

These questions and more flowed through the minds of all the men as they scurried through the darkened forest, hoping their not-so-fearless leader was taking them in the right direction. The last man in the line, the oldest and slowest, was pushing himself as heard as his heart, lungs, and legs would allow him to. He could feel the beast’s thunderous footfalls seeming just inches behind him. “I’ve just got to get there. I’ve just got to get there,” he told himself over and over again as his lungs screamed for more oxygen and his legs told him of their pain. As he was beginning to worry that he just wouldn’t make it, he spied ahead the break in the trail that meant the forest was coming to an end. Hope blossomed in his heart. If they were at the forest’s end they were only about half a mile from the Randolph place. There they would be able to make a stand against this thing. His wife’s face flashed before his eyes as he gained renewed energy. He pushed himself along a little faster as he began to think this wasn’t the end after all. Keeping his eyes on the edge of the forest and the silhouettes of his fleeing comrades, he didn’t see the pine root sticking out of the path. The same pine root that had caused his wagon to hang up more than once on this path. The same pine root that now snagged his boot and sent him flying forward, his iron flying out of his hand and striking his nearest companion in the back, leaving him temporarily empty-handed.

The man slammed into the ground hard enough to make his teeth snap together, severing the tip of his tongue and shattering a handful of his remaining good teeth. The sensation rang through his head as if he’d shoved his head into a clanging church bell. His body slid forward on the bare earth, scraping his chest and arms in a dozen different places and gouging a hole in the side of his cheek that nearly tore through to the inside of his mouth. Confusion set in instantly once he finally came to a halt. He was unsure of where he was and why he appeared to be lying on the ground in more pain than he’d felt in years. The sound of the creature coming to a halt behind him, snarling in victory and revenge brought him back to reality. He flipped over, his hands shooting out to reach for his missing rifle, but it was nowhere to be found. Trembling like a leaf in the wind, he looked up, directly into the eyes of the beast they’d come to find, regretting his decision to join the men on this suicide mission. His bladder loosened as the thing crouched in front of him, looking at him with both a bestial rage and a human curiosity. It scented the air before his face, not making any sudden movements. The man was suddenly painfully aware of his wounds, of the blood pouring down the back of his throat and running out of his split lips and down his chin.

Saliva dripped from the thing’s mouth as its thick, red tongue licked its lips.  He could smell blood and rot on the beast’s hot breath. His heart was beating faster than ever as the beast opened its mouth and loosed another of its snarling howls, sending ropes of bloody saliva over his face.

In an instant the beast locked eyes with the man and slashed one of its huge paws forward, ripping through the flesh of the man’s torso. He felt the creature’s claws scrape his ribs before sinking into his abdomen and tearing a fistful of his body away. Unable to move, or even scream, the man felt the creature push him onto his back and grab his rib cage. With barely any effort at all the thing tore his chest open and ripped his heart out of his body. The last thing the man saw was the beast, unlike anything he’d ever witnessed, toss his still-beating heart into its mouth and bite down.

Feeling its nearly insatiable hunger already rising again, the beast rose to its feet once more and looked toward the edge of the forest, seeing the last of the hunter’s shadows fading just out of reach of the forest’s reaching branches. Bounding forward, the beast once more put on the chase.

Jones heard the beast roaring behind them, heard his neighbor falling, but his legs wouldn’t stop carrying him away. He kept picturing the Randolph woman, a pretty young thing that he’d met once or twice in town, coming out to see what was causing a ruckus with their cattle. He could almost envision the terror on her face as the beast they’d encountered in the forest leapt toward her. She wouldn’t stand a chance if they didn’t warn her. He knew he couldn’t let this happen. A stitch formed in his side as he maintained his rapid pace down the nearly clear hill from the forest. He could see the roof of the Randolph farm over the dying corn stalks remaining in the field. It wouldn’t be much longer now, he knew, as the sound of the beast’s pursuit returned to his ears.

Jones rounded the corner of the garden first, nearly running headlong into Karen Randolph, holding a shotgun of her own.

“Ma’am turn around, we’ve got to get inside,” he panted, the long run finally catching up to him. The others fell in line behind him, ragged breaths filling the night air with even more steam.

“What in the Lord’s name is going on,” she asked them in a voice that could make the angels cry, raising her gun to point loosely at the group of men. “I heard this shootin’ and carryin’ on out here. What in the world are you men doin’?”

“There’s some kinda animal out there, ma’am,” Jones started, before Josiah Ramey cut him off.

“There ain’t no time to explain out here, Mrs. Randolph. We got to get inside ‘fore our death comes outta them woods.”

“I won’t be invitin’ a bunch of rough necked sweaty woodsmen in my house in the dark o’the night. Now tell me what in the world is goin’ on.”

“A beast ma’am, “Jones pleaded. “It’s taken two of us already. We have to get inside where it’s safe. Shotgun wasn’t strong enough to stop it for more than a minute. We have to go now,” he said as the beast let out a loud snarl, the sound of brush rustling coming from behind them.

Panic finally crossed the woman’s face as she realized what they were saying to her. Jones felt relief flood his heart as he thought she was finally seeing the problem. A cloud covered the moon once again, thunder rumbling heavily in the distance. He felt the first drops of rain pattering down on his bare arms. He kept his eyes locked on the woman’s, silently urging her to move, as the moon broke free of its cover, shedding fresh light on them all. In the sudden burst of illumination Jones could have sworn her eyes flashed a red-goldish color, but a sound from behind them broke his focus.

The beast tore through the underbrush and burst out of the forest directly behind them, less than half the distance it would have had to cover if it followed the path. Standing tall on its hind legs and howling at the moon the creature looked more human than beast, save its shaggy coat and long, canine head. Their time was running out. Jones and the others turned, backing away slowly, guns trained on the creature, until Jones felt his path blocked by the Randolph woman. She was staring straight ahead, eyes locked onto the creature, and she wasn’t budging an inch.

“Mrs. Randolph. Karen,” he shouted, hoping the use of her first name would shake her into action. “We have to get inside. Now.”

But it was too late.

The creature dropped to all fours and bounded forward, reaching them in three long strides of its full-bodied stance. All four of the men felt their hearts constrict in their chests. It was now or never. Josiah Ramey shouted a command, all the men following his lead and aiming for the beast. As the creature once more rose to its towering height above them, all four guns went off, sending more than two pounds of hot lead into the creature’s torso.

The beast was knocked off its feet again, the moon now running between the clouds as if to hide from the terror itself.

A hissing mist rose from the beast as the moon once again came out from behind the clouds, an almost human moaning coming from the blood-soaked shape in front of them. Rain began pelting down as the creature stirred on the ground. As the men watched, the beast stretched its hands and flexed its mighty paws, rising slowly to its feet again. None of them could move. They had put enough firepower to this creature to stop a charging bear, and it was still living. A whimpering scream rose from behind Jones, a sound that seemed to be a mix of fearful and triumphant. He turned quickly, remembering the woman was present. He felt a sliver of guilt for exposing her to such carnage, his own sorrow momentarily confusing what he saw before him.

Karen Randolph was aiming her shotgun at the back of Josiah Ramey’s head. He leapt forward as she pulled the trigger, knocking the barrel of the gun to the side as the creature regained its footing. Two full shells of buckshot were driven into the creature’s unexpectant shoulder, driving it to the ground again with a scream of pain like nothing any of the men had ever heard. Jones stopped short as Karen Randolph loosed a shriek to match that of the beast. With a strength he couldn’t have imagined her having, the woman threw him to the ground and drove a boot clad foot into his sternum, reloading her gun while she did so, aiming it at the men, who were once more aiming on the writhing creature on the ground.

The moonlight was hidden once again as lightning flashed in the sky, rain pelting them harder now. In a muzzle flash that nearly blinded him, Jones watched as the grieved woman emptied her weapon into the back of the man closest to her. With a scream of rage, the beast on the ground sat up, blood pouring from a wound that didn’t seem to want to heal. The buckshot had torn away half the thing’s shoulder, leaving its arm a dangling mess, and had ripped a good portion of its cheek off. Jones finally got his first close view of the creature in that instant, and it was then that he became certain the powers of Hell existed, and he was staring one of them right in the face.

The beast rose slowly to its feet, wolfish legs bringing it to a towering height of at least eight feet, just as Ramey had told them. Dark brown fur coated the thing’s body from head to toe, its blood-soaked torso more muscular than the largest farmhand Jones had ever seen. It hunched forward on its canine legs, a thick brown tail swishing back and forth in the mist. Thick, muscular arms took the place of what should have been the wolf-creature’s front legs. He saw, with an added horror that his earlier observation was correct: the beast’s fur-covered claws were almost identical to human hands. The beast’s head was long and wolfish, huge ears standing tall on the sides of its head. It was the face that made Jones gasp, his breath hitching in chest. Two large red-gold eyes peered out of the blood matted fur at the base of the monster’s snout, glaring at each of them in turn while its long snout, oozing with saliva and blood, showed them the teeth that had taken the lives of two of their friends. Jones was drawn to the left side of the beast’s face, however, certain that he could see something more inside the hole made by the woman’s stray buckshot.

With a howl that sent night birds flying for miles, the creature swiped forward and sunk its claws into the face of the man in front of it, crushing the skull beneath with Ramey hurriedly trying to reload his shotgun while Karen Randolph did the same. Jones regained his feet as the moon came out from behind the cloud again, leveling his gun the thing’s head and firing as Ramey loosed his shot as well. The two shots collided in the air before the beast’s face, causing an explosion that sent fire and shards of metal in every direction. The beast howled in a pained rage and dove forward at Jones, hitting him low across the torso and driving him back to the ground at the edge of the corn. Blood soaked Jones now as he saw the mist once more rising from the beast’s skin.

The creature rose up from its low position on his body, its eyes meeting his as blood and thick ropes of saliva coated his chest. His horror was renewed as he saw the disturbed flesh and bone exposed by the firestorm of the two gunshots. He could see the almost completely dislocated lower mandible, being held in place by a few ropes of sinew and gristle. As he watched the moon escaped the clouds once more, heavy mist rising from the edges of the wolf beast’s head where the light touched it. The creature looked up at the sky, exposing the face beneath the flesh that Jones was certain he’d seen. The torn flesh of Ben Randolph’s cheek was slowly hidden as the flesh knitted itself back over the exposed area.

Ramey, not seeing this, rapidly approached the beast from behind, swinging his gun with all his might. Blood gushed forward as the metal connected with the beast’s head, flowing over Jones’s face. Chunks of flesh and fur flopped forward exposing more of the face within. One red eye remained on the right side of the beast’s head, the mist rising heavily as new flesh knitted over the torn flaps. A scream rang out beside the group, followed by a gunshot that sent Ramey to the ground. At the sound of his wife’s voice, Ben Randolph’s one exposed eye fluttered open. A red-gold glint remained in the eye for a moment as his mouth opened.

“Krrrnnn,” came a guttural growl from within the split head. In an instant the Ben-beast was standing, dragging Jones with it. “Krrreennn,” came the growl again.

The woman stood weeping before the beast as it held Jones in its great paws.

“It’s OK, Ben,” she said to the beast, lightning splitting the sky as the moon was finally covered by the heavy clouds. Fat drops of rain slapped every available surface, pelting Jones’s skin with enough force to leave welts on his face. The beast’s claws flexed, leaving gouge marks in his chest as the woman reached out and touched the beast’s shoulder, the wound her gun had left now closed, only a bright white scar remaining to show where it had been.

Jones, aware the creature was now staring at Karen Randolph, reached slowly for his revolver, realizing it still sat snugly in the holster on his hip. As he drew the weapon slowly, praying the wet bullets would still fire, the beast shot its remaining eye to his face, attracted by the sudden flex of his muscles as he drew the weapon. With no warning, the beast released his shirt with one hand, and shoved its hand through his chest, shredding his left lung and half the organs in his body, before snapping his spine. White hot pain flashed in Jones’s mind as he felt his body fighting to stay alive. Using the last of his strength, he raised the pistol with a shaky hand, and pulled the trigger. The bullet drove through the beast’s chest and upward into Randolph’s chin, sending a gush of blood and gore surging out of the man’s nose and mouth.

He was dropped to the ground before he knew what was happening. The beast dropped to its knees, pulling its breath in in gasps and jerks. Ben Randolph opened his mouth, a whimper escaping from deep within his body. His wife stood over his body, her mouth opening and closing in shock.

The moon once more escaped its cloudy prison, sending thick beams of light down over the wounded body in front of her, steam rising from countless lesions and gaping holes in the thing’s flesh. As she watched this spectacle, Karen Randolph raised her gun once more, tears streaming down her face.

“Karen,” the growling voice from within the steaming body muttered clearly, looking into her eyes.

“Shhh, Ben. Everything is going to be just fine,” she said as she squeezed the trigger slowly.

Jones watched as Karen Randolph discharged her weapon, Josiah Ramey’s head exploding with the blast, sending hot blood and shards of bone cascading down over Ben Randolph’s head before he passed out on the ground and knew no more that night. Lightning split the sky once more as the darkness streaked Jones’s vision. Steam rose heavily from Ben Randolph’s body as the bloody fur seemed to melt away before Jones’s eyes. He felt his life slipping away as he watched the beast before him melt away, leaving the bruised and battered form of the man whose wife he’d come here to save. The wife who now stood over her husband, a grin on her face. As Jones’s life left his body, he met Karen Randolph’s eyes, seeing a shocking red-gold glint in them for just a moment before darkness fell over his world for good.

 

There we go, everyone. I know this was a pretty lengthy piece, but I hope you all enjoyed it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this story, and anything else you’re interested in. If you want to keep up with my work, check out more samples, or just see what else I’m up to, feel free to follow here or subscribe to my newsletter. I would also love it if you’d like my author page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/DMathewsBooks/) or follow me on Twitter (@DameanMathews) and keep the reading and writing going! Feel free to comment or message me at any time, and enjoy the rest of the Summer-Blog-A-Day event here (http://kaymacleodbooks.com/summer-blog-a-day-2018/).

2018 Is Here

Happy New Year, everyone! I can’t believe we are in an entirely new year. 2017 absolutely flew by, and it was definitely one of a kind! In addition to being able to make connections with plenty of awesome new people through my writing in various ways I was finally able to bring my longest work, Maverip to a close. That in itself is an accomplishment that will make 2017 hold an awesome place in my heart and mind.

2017 was also the year that brought me the chance to take a trip to Atlanta with my wife and see one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to. I was able to write some interesting stories as a reporter, that experience culminating in me winning the second place award for data journalism for the year from the Virginia Press Association before I moved on to a job with the longest running professional theatre in my country. I made a ton of professional contacts with my work and celebrated my two year anniversary with my wife. I also got to bring you guys an entire year of book reviews and have plenty of great discussion about some of my favorite (new and old) pieces of literature. Another one of the most amazing things that happened to me this year is one I’m still processing. Last week, less than three days before the year ended I received the first round of commentary on Maverip from one of my beta readers. If you’ve never had that happen I have to tell you it is one of the most surreal experiences an author can have. Especially when the reader loved the book and gives you detailed and extremely helpful comments on the work that has been your entire life for nearly a decade. I’m still kind of wrapping my head around the fact that another human has experienced my work and felt it was enjoyable. It’s a great thought.

Aside from the countless other blessings and great experiences I have under my belt from last year, there’s so much I have to look forward to in this year. I plan to use the commentary I received on Maverip to make another around of edits and then sending it on to professionals for consideration. That, although terrifying, is something I look very forward to. I’ve got plenty of other big plans for the year, including some travel, some new experiences and some great great memories to make. As always, I plan to keep you guys updated on everything as it goes, and I really hope I have an opportunity to meet some of you and have some awesome things to share.

In that light, I want to give you all an update on my plans for the book club for 2018. I’ve had a great time reviewing a variety of books each month, but there are a number of books I’d love to share reviews on that are a bit more involved. I’m talking about series. I am a huge fan of literature of all kinds from poetry and short stories to longer novels and intense sagas, and because of this one thing I’d love to do is review a number of series. I’m not positive how it will work, but that’s why we try things, right?

Obviously, when it comes to reading novels, it can be easy to read single works of various lengths, even when we get around 1,000 pages, but a saga of novels each with hundreds, if not 1,000 pages themselves, would be a bit too difficult to handle in a month, in my opinion. Because of this I’m planning to take four months to cover my first set of novels (keep in mind that is apt to change if need be). If it works well, I’ll split the year up and do three series throughout the year. If it doesn’t work well, I may go back to the original plan, no harm, no foul. But what do you guys think? Would you like to follow along on a journey through some major series with me this year? Make sure to leave your opinions on this idea so I can know what you think about it.

As someone who is a huge fan of long, elaborate stories I love sequels (if they’re done properly) and I love diving into a series of books. In this light, my first series if going to be the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I’ll read all seven novels from The Sorcerer’s Stone to The Deathly Hallows.  I haven’t gotten to sit down and read all these novels at once since the year the last one was released and I look very forward to the experience. I’ll plan to post this review of the Harry Potter series around April 25, unless things change. I know this is a pretty easy series to read, so I may take a little less time with it if it seems reasonable.

Anyway, I hope you guys had a great 2017, and I hope you have plans to have a great 2018. I’d love to hear from you all. What great memories do you have from 2017? What great things did the year bring you? What great ideas, hopes and plans do you have for this year? Be sure to share in the comments or shoot me a message and let me know!!

December Announcement

Happy December,  everyone! As we enter the final leg of 2017, I hope we all get to enjoy a month filled with joy, warmth, family and great times. Last month’s book was a great, long read, so this month I’m picking something that is light, easy, and meaningful.

For our December read, we’re going to cover O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” This tale of selflessness and love is a timely story that we all know, even if not by name. It’s a very short piece, the shortest I’ve reviewed for the book club, so it should be very easy for us all to read even during the mad rush that is December!

I’ll plan to publish my review of this story in the first week of the new year to get us started right,  so keep your eyes open for that.

In the meantime I am absolutely beside myself to announce that I have finally finished Maverip. This novel has been nearly a decade in the making and I couldn’t be happier that it has come to a conclusion. At the moment I’m writing this I’m a little over two thirds of the way through my first edit,  with the novel coming in over 141,000 words. I plan to send the book to beta readers ASAP and take it through at least one more round of edits before sending out query letters.

That’s a very surreal realization. This book has been such a huge part of my life for so long that I almost don’t know what to think with it being at this stage. I love it. Through the years I’ve had an incredible amount of support from everyone in my life and it means the world to me. Thank you all for everything.  If anyone else would like to be a beta reader, feel free to reach out and let me know. With any luck I’ll have queries going out by the time 2018 gets here.

Either way, this has been one doozy of a year and I look forward to riding it out with a story of love and sacrifice. I look forward to hearing what you all think!!

Sleeping Beauties 

Another King great tackled! In case you need another reminder, Stephen King is obviously my favorite author and, as I said with my review of “Horns,” he obviously passed his talent on to his children. That remains true in regards to this novel as well, in my opinion. “Sleeping Beauties” jumps right in to Dooling County, West Virginia to present us with a quite fantastical tale of a world where females who fall asleep develop strange cocoons and find their collective consciousnesses transported to an alternate reality, dimension or mental locale that is free of men. Meant to give the women a fresh start, the worlds are very much strained by this occurrence and the decisions made by both sexes regarding their futures and the present.

First off, I did enjoy this novel. I would not place it as high on my favorites list as things like “Dreamcatcher” or “IT,” but it was good. One of the appeals for me, naturally, was the fact that it takes place in fictional Dooling County, West Virginia. The hefty little bit of fiction is located around an hour from where I grew up in Virginia, so the descriptions of the mountainous regions of my youth were interesting to say the least.

I really enjoyed the story itself. Putting women in this alternate reality and placing men in the position of figuring out what to do next was very interesting to me. I liked the way the Kings pushed the sleep element, having some of their characters stay awake for days and use all sort of methods to do so. The fact that sleep was the gateway to this new reality poses an interesting situation in itself, for me, as it hints at the age-old possibility that our dreams are literal gateways to alternate universes and all sorts of incredible places. 

The character of Eve Black was a mystery that I feel really added a lot to the story in the form of King’s classic supernatural element. Not that women developing their own personal weirdo cocoons wasn’t supernatural enough, of course. I really enjoyed the dynamic Eve presented with her mysterious past, strange powers and obvious knowledge of what was happening and why. The fact that she played the devil’s advocate between Frank and Clint (the opposite ends of the male reaction spectrum in this situation) definitely adds to her mysterious role in the overall event. Her behavior and attitude did make her a character that I couldn’t get a feel for. I’m still not sure if I like her or not. 

The Kings presented us with a view of mankind that, as sad as it is to admit, is scarily accurate. Men are often the more gung ho, shoot-first-ask-questions-later, self preserving type, while women tend to consider consequences more often. Granted that is very much a generalization, it is the large basis of the book. Some men decide the only way to fix the issues at hand here is to burn the sleeping women in their cocoons and hope for the best. Why these men didn’t realize this would make reproduction, and thus further life in this reality,  virtually impossible, I really don’t know, but that’s a different issue altogether.

I enjoyed the way the Kings worked in morals on both sides of the large tree that represents the gateway between the two worlds represented in the novel. Seeing how the men, both logical and illogical, choose to handle the situation helps us to get a handle on the representation of mysoginisitic versus logical ways of thinking presented in the book. Seeing the characters that would rather burn the women in their cocoons than find a cure, I think, represents the people in this world who choose the “attack first” method of solving problems. Those who are more careful, who want to figure out what is going on and why, represent the elements of mankind that, more or less, are more apt to allow us to have a real future.

To me that is really the core of the book itself. Eve’s purpose, and the reason the women are in the cocoons in the first place, is to emphasize the flawed nature many men exist under (i.e. men have ruined the world with violence) and to give women the option to “start over” without that tainted method of influence. 

Overall, the Kings present a very interesting book with a strong “1984-esque” message warning us as a species to stop resorting to violence and start understanding we need to work together to survive. At least that’s what I took from it. The book itself was very enjoyable, if a bit of an odd take on things, but it definitely was not without its faults. 

I had a bit of an issue with the overall representation of life in the Appalachian Mountains, being a native and resident of the mountains myself. The Kings repeatedly insinuated, if not outright said, that the area is nothing more than a hole filled with drug addicts, uneducated people, abusive men and adulterers. Which is very much an exaggeration of Bromdingnagian proportions. While these things do exist in the mountains, they do everywhere else as well, and it is a very unfortunate representation of an area that is already often considered to be deplorable and sordid in nature by mainstream media.

Furthermore,  I feel there was a lot of things left to be desired in the Eve storyline. Like who was she and where did she come from in the first place. Obviously the name Eve calls us to biblical origins with a possible holy connotation, but that was never confirmed for me. I also got a similar vibe from this book that I received from Under the Dome, where (spoiler alert) we realize aliens are actually in control of the Dome. This wasn’t mentioned, but Eve’s talk of herself and her mission led me to consider it. I also would have liked more of an explanation as to why Clint was the man she chose to save her, or for that matter why Dooling, West Virginia and it’s residents, which, based on King’s own description aren’t worth the trouble, were the basis for the rest of the planet. The women of Dooling got to decide the fate of every other woman in the planet when they chose to leave “their place.” Not to mention Frank and Clint and the other men of the town were the ones who decided the world’s fate in this reality. Why? Was it random? Was it thought out? What was so special about this town and its people? Furthermore, has Eve done this before? Will she do it again? And in general, what was up with the moths? And just what in the world was Eve in the first place?? And will the men and women of earth understand what happened well enough to make real changes to their lifestyles to keep it from happening again?

As you can see, there are plenty of questions I feel could have been answered by the text or offered through consideration. Granted there are likely questions and answers that I missed, I think you all get the point. One thing I didn’t delve too much into was the obvious misogyny offered in various ways, either through women who were described more by their appearance than anything else, or by those who were overly reliant on others or something else of the sort. Just know that I did notice, and I don’t agree with it, but delving too much into it in this review would bring this to a whole new level. If you’d like to discuss it in the comments, I’m more than willing! 

I hope you all enjoyed this nice fantastical read for the month of November. It certainly was interesting and I look very forward to discussing it!! I’ll be making another post in the next few days regarding our December read, and a very special announcement of my own. In the meantime, I would love to get everyone’s opinion on a possibility I’ve considered recently. I’ve noticed that podcasts are coming back as a popular way for people to reach out to each other with news and ideas and I’m considering giving it a whirl. I’ve thought about posting a podcast to help me delve further into discussions of my book club reads, or maybe discussing my work or answering questions about writing, or maybe just as a discussion piece for us all to come into contact – the possibilities are endless, but I wanted to get your opinions. Would you guys like to check out a podcast on my site every now and then? Would you like to join in discussions in that way, or maybe even see some guests authors come in and record one here and there? Let me know what you all think! Leave me comments or shoot me a message! 

Bridge to Terabithia

Happy Banned Books Week! I’ve always been a huge fan of celebrating banned books, partly to stick it to the ridiculous censorship-loving administration, but mostly because I find that the books that people don’t want you to read can often offer you the most. This book is definitely a part of that list. I absolutely LOVE it. My first experience came from the movie, but I was immediately enthralled. For the last ten years I have adored the movie and the book. It is actually one of the inspirations behind my own decision to move forward with my desire to be an author.

One of the greatest things about this novel, for me, is the fact that it points to the total liberation of mankind via the imagination. Being written in the 70’s, it was kind of published in that time when kids were first being encouraged to let their imaginations guide them through portions of their lives, and this book captures the cusp of that idea. Jess’s family and fellow students represent those who feel imagination is not something to be given in to. Jess’s parents, consistently burdened with the challenge of feeding the children and running the farm in the fragile economy they live in, can be seen as the old style of shunning imagination and things that aren’t ‘real,’ where others – Leslie in particular – represent the new and liberating views of allowing imagination its place in life.

Leslie’s introduction into Jess’s life really allows him to open up and be who he is meant to be. She doesn’t act or think like the rest of the kids, or even the adults (with the exception of Ms. Edmunds) that he is used to, and that makes him feel more free than he ever imagined. When Jess and Leslie create Terabithia I truly resonated with his description of the mythical magic of the place. He allows Leslie to bring him into this magical realm, but he still has his doubts. Many times he says that he can’t do it without Leslie, or can’t think of it the same as her. His love for Leslie and Ms. Edmunds is what allows him to embrace the creative side of his own life. After Leslie’s death Jess is obviously devastated, particularly considering the fact that his day had been spent further embracing his own love of art and imagination.

I love the way Paterson brings Jess to reality while allowing him to avoid everything involving Leslie’s death. He adamantly denies that she is gone, so much so that after he runs away and is brought home he wakes up almost completely convinced that it was all a guilt-ridden nightmare because he didn’t invite her to the museum. When he is forced to confront the fact of her death he reacts in much the way a child would, destroying memories of her in anger. Once he calms down he begins to instantly doubt himself again. The inspiration and freedom that Leslie brought him threatens to leave. When considering Terabithia he is terrified that he won’t be able to make the magic happen without Leslie, even worries that the make-believe kingdom won’t be there if he goes without her.

The fact that he is able to make the magic happen is, to me, a testament to the amazing power of love and imagination and creativity. Jess is able to keep the magic he and Leslie created, is even able to be in touch with her memory as he reflects on his friendship with her. I love that. I feel like it is a huge representation of the strength we all possess, even in the midst of a tragedy that threatens everything we hold dear.

Another thing I loved about this book is the way Paterson makes Leslie and Ms. Edmunds strong female figures who refuse to fall into the social norms. The feminist themes that offer these two strong female characters a whole other kind of freedom were both embraced and feared when this book was published (and still are today). I find it very important that there is so much emphasis on Leslie and Ms. Edmunds breaking the norms and being their own women, without holding to social construct or listening to “girls can’t do that.” It is a huge testament to the nature of the piece and its deep running themes of freedom and exceptional behavior.

Of course, this is one of the things that has lead to the book being challenged. The language and the obviously difficult ending are two others. The fact that Paterson wrote such a strong and impactful book 40 years ago, that still stands the test of time today, says a lot about the topics and her own prowess as a writer. Putting my own hatred of literary censorship aside, I find these reasons to be abhorrent for shunning such an awesome work of literature. When children can pick up a book and see that their creativity and imagination should be embraced, find out that it is OK to be different, even see someone their own age faced with and learning how to handle death, that book is a treasure. To push it out of libraries, schools and off of reading lists is a real travesty and I shudder to think there are parents out there who think otherwise.

But I’ll get off my soapbox. I don’t have many faults with this book. I would like a little more explanation of why Jess’s father doesn’t show affection to him the way he does the girls. Granted, this was 40 years ago and many people, particularly in rural America, were still under the impression that showing too much love to boys made them ‘soft,’ I think that knowledge is lost on a lot of youth and they may come away with the impression that the father is just a jerk. Which is harmful to an overall interpretation of the text, I think.

Overall, this book will always have a huge place in my heart. Aside from being a piece of YA literature that truly has the means to empower kids, it is an easy-to-read work that is educational about real-life issues. I love it. I hope you all enjoyed it as well. But what are your thoughts? Do you agree with its challenged/banned status? Tell me your thoughts! And be sure to give me your ideas for the best horror novel we can cover in October!!

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.

Today’s the day!

I hope you’ve all gotten plenty of rest after that long-haul read last month. I wanted to give you all a few extra days to recover before I made this month’s announcement, but today is the day! In more ways than one, you’ll see soon enough.

For this month, I thought we would read a classic banned book, since Banned Book Week is at the end of September. I chose “Bridge to Terabithia” as the book for this month. This is a great YA novella that has been adapted into a good-quality film as well. I have a soft spot for this work, because it’s on the list of books that helped inspired me to really tackle my own desire to write. It’s relatively short and a really good read, so I’m sure you’ll all enjoy the break after August’s marathon with “IT.”

Speaking of “IT,” today is the official unofficial movie release in my region! I’ll be seeing the new film tonight and I couldn’t be more excited! I may even be inspired to do a movie review post as a companion to the book review, depending on how inspired I am after seeing the movie. I hope you’ll all be able to hit some early premieres and let us know what your thoughts are as well.

Anyway, this month’s book will hopefully impress everyone and help bring you to a heightened and effective state of mind and spirit! Have you ever  read this book before? Did you see the movie? Do you like them? Let me know what you think in the comments below. And, as always, if you have any suggestions of what you’d like me to review in the future, leave me a comment or shoot me a message! Have a great weekend, everyone!

IT

Good Thursday to all of you! As fall approaches with heavy, dried and dying hands, so comes the release of the new “IT” movie adaptation. King has actually released his review of the film, in which he says he was “unprepared for how good it was.” This gives me immense hope for the film and its impending sequel. Being a diehard fan of all things King (I even stuck it out through most of the final season of the atrocious “Under the Dome” adaptation) I had to make sure we all had a chance to re-read the masterpiece that started the truly terrifying clown trend. I hope you all covered your boats in paraffin and remembered to thrust your fists against the post, because by the end of this, we’ll all be seeing the ghost!

First and foremost, this book is awesome. The length of the novel is something that often intimidates nearly everyone who looks at it, but once you dive in the pages seem to turn with a mind of their own. As always, I was instantly drawn in by King’s almost nonchalant description of the terrible goings on in Derry. I feel like he fills the pages with all of the tragedy and evil, but it isn’t forced and it doesn’t seem out of place like the villains in some horror works. From the first time we get a mention of Pennywise a sense of almost manic dread falls over the text. From the very beginning we see the clown as a symbol of everything evil which, when it has a mind to, can utterly destroy anyone and everyone it sees. Of course, it typically goes after children who tend to fear more, believe more and harder, and have a much higher energy force (as described in countless other King works).

The first hard murder we learn of, Georgie’s, brings us face to face with the leader of the Losers Club and throws us in the thick of childhood problems, love, and a sense of complete isolation from those who should be protecting the kids. This is one element I absolutely adore. King does an immense job of bringing these kids into the center of their own fears and making them face it all with only each other to turn to. No adult in this novel, save Officer Nell, can be remotely helpful when the kids are in need. In my mind, this is indicative of the sense of helplessness and isolation most kids feel even today as they go through puberty and coming-of-age, which is why so many of them slip into depression and begin to go to drastic measures both to gain attention of their elders and to feel like something they do matters.

Watching the devastation that rips through each of them, bringing them closer together and pitting them against this ageless, formless relic of a demon is something that never gets old for me. The idea that the extravagant minds and wills of seven fearful and angry children are enough to tear this ancient being from the fabric of the universe is something I find incredible. To me it’s a testament to what our minds are able to accomplish in reality. We can survive so much trauma, fear, and heartache and still come back with a vengeance. This is something King never has trouble describing.

The sense of companionship in this novel is one of my favorite elements, as well. Knowing that these children have bared their very souls to one another, and are consistently putting their lives in each other’s and Bill’s hands is amazing. King does a great job giving each of the children a reason to want personal revenge against It and he does it without making any of them seem petty. Some would argue that Bill’s initial motivation, to get revenge for Georgie’s death, is a bit immature – but they are 12. Come on, people! But seriously, it is such an awesome concept to get inside each of their heads and see what truly terrifies them. And the idea of a creature that can take the form of whatever you are most afraid of is something that has been around for millennia, but never becomes less terrifying.

I think the writing style in this novel is incredible as well. The various sections of the book go from a third-person omniscient point of view where we can see everything everyone is thinking based on what the narrator wants us to know to seeing Mike’s first-hand account of his own end of the tale in his journals. I think this is the first book I read where I got such varying and alternating points of view. Granted, I first read it in the third grade, so I’m sure that had something to do with that.  It has definitely inspired my own work and how I approach a novel. To see an author use this sort of method is very liberating after watching so many novels pass by in the third person. Of course, that doesn’t make them of any lesser quality, it is always a breath of fresh air to get a fresh take every now and then.

The thing that really makes this novel exquisite for me is the absolute terror the monster brings. Nothing is safe. From the man next door, to an abandoned refrigerator, from your kitchen sink to the 30 foot tall plastic statue in the center of town – anything can and will be a vessel for It to terrify and/or devour you. I love that. I love the absolute helplessness that fills this novel to the brim. No matter where you go or what you do, the only people you can be sure aren’t doing It’s work for for It are your six 12 year old friends. Nothing could bring our young heroes and heroin to a more exalted state while simultaneously dropping them into the deepest, darkest pit of despair than knowing that they have no one else to turn to to save themselves and their town. They are completely and utterly on their own – except for The Turtle.

This tie in to classic world mythos and King’s own other worlds is impeccable. The icing on the proverbial cake. The fact that The Turtle, this celestial force that vomited out the universe is not only exceedingly familiar with the ancient evil that lives under Derry, but that it is also doing as much as it is able (however little that may be) to help the kids defeat It is awesome.

Finally, the description in this novel, as with other King works, is perfect. I always feel like I can see everything he is writing about as if it’s playing out in my mind like the coolest 35mm projector in the world. And I LOVE it. When the end of the book rolls around I can seriously see the huge spider being torn apart from the inside out by this mental and existential Ritual of CHUD the Losers are forcing it into. I feel like I’m in the cavern with them while the acidic web (another King trope) is falling down around them. I am one with them as they collectively lose their memories and are released from the curse It laid on them. I love the conclusion, with Ben and Bev finally together, Audra getting her soul back (that’s how I think of it) and Mike finally able to move on as well. It is a truly novel resolution to the 30 years of pain and suspense these heroic individuals have been trapped in.

All of that being said, I do have some questions. First and foremost, of course is one that has eluded even my own overly critical mind for more than a decade. If It only awakens once every 25-30 years, how can the guise of Pennywise, or Bob Gray, be seen and photographed numerous times in these periods of hibernation? Many of the photos and incidents that are described in the book take place while It should be asleep in its lair, including, if I remember correctly, the infamous shootout and the axe murder in the bar. Both times multiple people saw Pennywise in various locations. Granted, I don’t think King ever explicitly says “yeah, he’s always sleeping in these periods,” I feel it’s sort of implied.

The other main issue I had with the book was how fast the ending happened. I know some of you are probably groaning that I said a 1,000+ page novel was over too fast, but I feel like some of the lesser involved portions of the book could have been removed in order to give us that much more of a struggle in the end. Obviously a lot is happening, between changing perspectives and different characters and a universal voyage of consciousness with the ‘eater of worlds’ ( you didn’t think I’d make this without a Tim Curry nod, did you?), I would still like to see the final battle drawn out a little more. There was a bit of a race, which again I know was intentional, to get the battle over and find a victor in this decades long battle, but I would love a little more actual banter between the characters. I really want to see into the mind and heart of It, get more of an answer of what It is, where It came from, whether more of them exist, what It wants, etc… But, alas, I guess the remainder of that information will remain in King’s own head! Unless, of course, he can offer us a sequel… but that may be too hopeful even for me.

Anyway, what did you think? Are you a fan of “IT?” Did “IT” give you nightmares, or make you despise clowns in the worst way? What was favorite, or least favorite, part? Comment below, send me an email, whatever works best for you. Let me know your thoughts. And let’s share this far and wide in anticipation of the movie!!