Inspiration and Determination

Good morning everyone! As you know, yesterday and Friday I was at the Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium for yet another year. I’m glad to say that, as always, the whole thing wowed me to no end. I was able to sit in on great workshops by great authors ranging in topic from writing poetry to get the creative juices flowing to busting the myths of writing and the best way to work on getting an agent in this increasingly competitive field.

For two days I surrounded myself with other authors from all walks of life and, together, we all discussed the craft and what it takes to make it if writing is for you. I love it. Since attending this symposium I feel I’ve learned invaluable tips that have increased my prowess and allowed me to unlock my own abilities more and more each year. I am blessed each year to see that there are other people who, like me, are completely enamored with the written word and who have the same passion I do about writing. I love it.

This year, though, a lot of the workshops I attended had more to do with what to do after you’ve completed writing. As many of you know, I’ve decided to stop dragging my feet when it comes to Maverip. I’ve been working on this book for a collective 9 years. I’ve loved every minute of it, and I’ve made years worth of excuses as to why I haven’t put it out there just yet. I’ve decided, like I said earlier in the year, that I plan to combine what was originally intended to be three separate novels into one book with three parts. I plan to finish that opus this summer, and the symposium made me even more certain of that decision.

Seeing other authors who talked about having the same feelings of incredible inspiration countered, unfortunately, by days of doubt and near inability to push forward was inspiring in itself. As an author, or artist I know what it’s like to wake up and have to really push yourself to produce something or move forward with a project. That’s one place symposiums and events like this come in very handy. As always, I have to remind anyone who is struggling with this problem that one of the best ways to combat a non-productive day is to find something that truly inspires you. For me it can be music, nature, seeing someone else who had a positive experience with the craft or even going back and reading my own work and remembering how inspired I was at that time. Determination to succeed can also be one of the most powerful methods of moving forward with your work. No matter what, one thing that I always stress and something that is always pushed at these types of events is that you must never – EVER – give up. The worst thing you produce is still better than not producing anything at all.  Never let yourself fall to a lack of motivation or a negative notion. You are the only person who can produce your work, and the world deserves your work! If you’re feeling down or feeling stuck you have to remember that you have these ideas for a reason. It’s your gift, your purpose and you have to own it!

On another fun note, I was able to finally meet a fellow writer who I’ve connected with on social media. Mr. Tony Bowman, a fellow horror author, was at the symposium as well. Tony has five books under his belt so far and a great deal more that he’d like to write. His work is very good and I think many of you might find it interesting as well, so go check him out (http://thattonybowman.blogspot.com/).

So, after the symposium, I’ve decided that I am going to double down on my writing this summer and hope to have Maverip finished by the end of August at the latest. With this I also plan to develop a couple of related shorts that I will put out  either free or cheap to help make people aware of the novel. From there I plan to run through my first series of edits, and then proceed to find at least three strong beta readers. I would love to have some of you guys jump in here, if you’re willing. I need readers who will be brutally honest with me and tell everything they do or do not like. If that sounds like something you’re interested in just give me a shout and we’ll get it all set up. I hope you’re all enjoying “To Kill a Mockingbird.” That review will be up in a few weeks and we’ll move on to another book! I’d love to see more people get involved with this blog and the book club, so please share this as far and wide as possible and we’ll go down the road to publication together!

The Powers of Darkness: The Lost Version of Dracula

I loved diving into this lost piece of history. Dracula has long been one of my favorite works and one of my favorite literary characters. Reading this work and watching some of the more than 200 film adaptations of the character further inspired my love of vampires and helped me decide to be a vampirologist and Dracula scholar. From the first time I read Stoker’s novel I was pulled to Dracula with a vigor I’ve never been able to (or desired to) escape from. That fascination was renewed when I got my hands on a copy of Dacre Stoker’s co-written sequel that said the count hadn’t actually died after all. When I first heard this new retwlling had been discovered by Hans de Roos and others and was being translated and released I couldn’t believe it. For years I had dreamed of  even more workings of the menacing and misunderstood figure that has become synonymous with all things blood-sucker. After reading the book I have to say that I am both very pleased and still left wanting more.

Getting straight to the point I have to say that Valdimar Asmundsson wrote an incredible alternate version of the book that has become literary staple in the past century. Heading right out of the gate I was both shocked and intrigued to see that the book took a much more conversational tone than the original (granted, I’m sure at least some of that had to do with the translation from Icelandic to English). Originally Harker was strict, speaking … er, writing…. with professionalism and personalism. Here Harker, Thomas rather than Johnathon in this case, feels a bit looser to me, as if he’s less stiff than the original.

The blatant changes in Harker’s journey were fascinating to me, too. In the original novel it feels like Harker’s trip is swift and the people he encounters very stiff and cold. This version gave us a trip that felt almost casual rather than business in my opinion. Harker was hit hardest by superstition at the last leg of his journey in both cases, however. The people in the last village he stopped at all but begged him not to go to the castle they believed to house something wrong.

Harker’s stay at the castle dominates this particular version of the novel, taking up about three quarters of the piece. He is subjected to the same strange behavior from the count, right down to the destruction of his shaving glass and the often absent host that never eats. He explores the castle on his own, as before, but now he finds only one beautiful woman, rather than three illustrious vampiric wives. He is almost haunted by this woman, her power over his mind and spirit mentioned multiple times as he spends weeks in the castle with no escape. His only saving grace is the cross around his neck. Both the woman and the count are visibly turned away by this the cross, and he mentions multiple times that he believes the cross to be what saves him from an unknown, but surely terrible, fate.

The layout of the castle is another new piece of work, as are a number of new characters. Here Dracula and his “cousin” are in the castle with a deaf, mute (and once-blind) maid and a number of strange “ape-like” men who are only mentioned once outside of the demonic cathedral beneath the castle. I loved the scene where Harker first truly sees the evil inside his host. Young women are sacrificed by the count and his ape-men in this underground altar room and Harker finally stops denying that something is wrong.

I enjoyed the way the book picked up from this point. When Harker comes to the full realization that he has to get out, I kind of felt like I was on a roller coaster. I loved the way he continued to try to be impartial to Dracula and the way Dracula became even more fiendish to him. I was a bit disappointed by the big reveal of Dracula laying in the coffin, because even here there was no mention of what exactly Harker thought might be happening.

I liked the way the second part of the book is told in a standard novel format, as opposed to the journal/letter format of the original. It made the story flow a little smoother, in my opinion. I was really thrown off by how quickly and how entirely differently the story wraps up, however. It seemed to me like Asmundsson either just didn’t like the latter half of the original, or he got bored with his own retelling. Perhaps he was unable to finish filling in his own details and decided to publish the piece as is. I don’t know. The second part of the short novel felt more like a detailed outline than an actual part of a novel. We hear of the Demeter’s crash, we hear of Lucy (here Lucia) and her sleepwalking, but we are also given the representation of a drastically younger-looking count becoming a very social figure. Mina (here Wilma) and Lucia meet the character on multiple occasions, putting me in mind of the classic Bela Lugosi Universal flick, or one of the many others that borrow from a similar story line. Is it possible someone down the line might have had this version to look at and base one of the many cinematic versions on it? The ending of the book came very quickly. There was no great chase through the European countryside, no large final battle, no real threat to the main characters. They opened his coffin and killed him. It was simple, easy and clean. In a way I felt a little robbed of what could have been done with this new version of the classic monster.

Overall, I did like the book. I thought it was a very interesting retelling of a novel most of us know (whether we know we know it or not), and I think there is a lot of opportunity to work with this altered story line (Dacre, if you read this I’d love to be in on anything that could be in the future!) and character. I enjoyed the addition of more characters in the castle, and I do think I preferred the single mysterious woman to the three. It added a  heightened sense of fear in my opinion. One woman can hide much easier than three, vampires or not. I enjoyed this more cunning and commanding version of the count. I say more commanding because we actually get to see him command a large group of his “ape-men” through a very dark ritual and that in itself added another layer to the inert fear the character can inspire.

Of the things I was less than impressed with… There is a bit of a list, but I’ll only hit the high points. Before I do, however, there was one thing that I can’t decide if I liked or disliked. That is Harker’s seeming lack of ability to understand or unwillingness to admit what is going on. Where the word vampire is mentioned in the original, this version never suggests that his host may be a vampire. He does mention the idea that he fears they (Dracula and the mysterious woman) may want to suck his blood, but he doesn’t come right out and say the word. Even after watching this blood ritual in the altar room, seeing the ape-like men drink someone’s blood, he doesn’t make this connection. I’m torn about this because, on the one hand I think it almost makes Harker out to be a fool, that he either doesn’t get it or doesn’t believe what he is seeing. On the other, it reminds me of  one of my favorite vampire movies, “Near Dark.” This movie is one of the most under-rated I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. It tells the story of a roaming group of vampires that have run-ins with the law, etc… It discusses their need to drink blood, the fact they never age and heavily showcases the damaging effects of the sun’s rays, but never once in the film is the word ‘vampire’ ever used. Clever tool, if you ask me.

I think the biggest thing I didn’t like with this book was how fast paced it moved after a certain point. The beginning was well thought out, well planned, and perfectly executed, but the latter half seemed to stumble over itself. Particularly the second part of the book, after Dracula leaves his castle. I feel like the author went through Stoker’s notes and novel with a marker and highlighted what he liked and made up some of his own work, but never took the time to put the real detail into it. I was very disappointed with the absence of the Renfield character. I feel he gave interesting insight into the effect Dracula can have on the brain. Personally, I also wonder just how much of Renfield’s tendencies Harker might have taken on while in the nunnery (or if Dracula sought Renfield because he wanted a similar servant to what he expected of Harker). The possibilities with that character are endless. Finally, I was disappointed in the fact that Dracula’s death was just there.  You’re reading the book, noticing it going faster and faster, and suddenly Dracula’s dead and the book is over. As much as I hate to say it, it did leave something to be desired.

I do have to say that the foreword, footnotes and all accompanying text was very helpful, very interesting and helped make the book that much more enjoyable. It does also help pose the question of whether or not there are other alternate versions of this age-old classic out there just waiting to be discovered (aside from the Swedish version which is being translated as we speak)….

Make sure to share your thoughts on this unique piece of literary history and share this with anyone you think might be interested. Make your suggestions for future books and let’s keep the book club going! Summer is here, the kids are out of school, and it’s time for those summer reading lists, so let’s say this month’s book is going to be your favorite summer reading list pick! Leave them in the comments or message me directly via email or social media. I look forward to hearing from everyone. Keep reading!

 

 

Preparing for dystopia

The world has certainly kept turning since January 20. But that’s really the only way we can say it. Global citizens have watched, many in unabashed horror, as the new leader of the free world has stomped on countless toes and attempted to create little more than an industrial, alienating wasteland of our once-great country. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the U.S.. I still see that, as a citizen of the United States I have countless opportunities to see and explore the world in ways others may not, and I fully respect the great country I live in. But the danger is here nonetheless.

Just in the last month we have heard about how certain people should be banned (but not banned) from the country, we’ve heard that actually counting the heads of those present to get a number is clearly a dated practice that doesn’t mean anything, we’ve heard how large a threat grizzly bears pose to the public school system, and we’ve realized that some people think an industrial pipeline is more important than preserving the resting place of the dead. And that’s just the drop of the hat.

I have kept my over-sized nose out of the discussions of politics that are rampant on every form of news and social media available, but I do want to share my very real concern for how much worse things may realistically end up getting before they get better.

Just today I’ve been seeing the news of an overturned regulation that now allows coal mines in my region to once more dump their waste into streams. This particular practice has led to filthy, sulfurous, uninhabitable water for a good portion of my area. The repercussions of this practice have only recently started to see a reversal. I honestly fear what problems may start to arise from these things alone. I look to the future and, sometimes, I find myself unable to see little more than a ruined, smoking hole in the ground that is not unlike the disaster showed us at the climax of countless apocalyptic movies. But, (and on a much less serious note)it would appear Mother Nature has also picked up on the problem and is working to rectify the situation.

Thousands of people in my region have been hit by a severe strain of the flu this week, leading to around a dozen counties in my neck of the woods going so far as to cancel school for multiple days in an attempt to slow the spread of the illness. I hope I’m not the only one who sees the truth here. We are now entering the real-life culmination of the events in Stephen King’s “The Stand” – and our new president is Randall Flagg.

What other explanation is there? He walks out, looking somehow less than human, feeding off of human suffering and strife, turning as many people as possible against one another, while the rest of the people around him are fighting a severe version of the flu that medicine doesn’t seem to be able to help. Schools are closing, streets are filling with people shouting for change and help, hospitals are being overrun …. My only question now is; where is Mother Abigail when we need her? Who else is going to throw down the Walkin’ Dude and bring us back to a moderate form of social peace? Or, if that can’t happen, where is Roland, who will stop the fall of the tower and bring order back to the realms. Shout out to those of you get the interconnected references of a King fiend here.

In all seriousness, though. There are some administrative decisions being made by “those in charge” that are going to continue to cause problems for those of us who, like Atlas, are left holding up the rest of the world. Wow, that was pathetically conceited and hopelessly deep. I’m in a league of my own today, huh? Basically I just wanted to share that the world is slipping into rough shape, but that we can still survive and use humor to get through life. Most importantly, we can compare the real-life horror story that surrounds us to literature and find true peace to comfort us as the world burns!

I’ve shared my own ideas of the lack of existence of true democracy many times, so none of you really need to hear that again, I’m sure. So the question of the day must be; what book are you reading now? What fictional world are you pushing your consciousness into in order to escape the harsh mundane reality of everyday life? And, more importantly, what’s next?! I hope all is well for everyone here, and I hope I’ve at least brought a smile to a few faces. Keep reading, writing, watching movies and enjoying the world while we have the chance. My review of Thirteen Reasons Why will go up next week and then I’ll be ton the lookout for the next big review, so send me your ideas and let me know what we should read. Have a good February, a good weekend, and make sure to take advantage of any half-priced candy you see!

 

*Image rights remain with the creator.

Don’t waste it

I’m the kind of person who looks at the world and wants to find the next great adventure. The entire world is out there for us to enjoy. That’s why it’s here. We have been given this incredible gift – really countless gifts if you look at it the right way – and more often than not we end up wasting it.

One thing that I’ve always wanted to do with my life is travel. I absolutely love getting out in the world and seeing things that I don’t normally see. Recently my wife and I decided we were going to get up and take a trip to Atlanta, Georgia. For some people that might not seem like much, but for us it was a very different world. Neither of us had ever been to Georgia, so it was just like opening up a brand new experience overall.

For us the trip was about five and a half hours each way, and it was an opportunity to see some very interesting things. Leaving from Virginia early in the morning, we unfortunately ran into fog, but that didn’t hinder our experiences at all. Even though we only did two things in Atlanta it was a wonderfully eye-opening time. I couldn’t help but feel an old spark rising back inside of myself, and it excites me beyond all reason.

When I was younger I had plans to travel the whole world. I planned to leave for California with one of my friends and just drive (or walk; we also discussed hiking) until we reached the other coast. I still remember the things we discussed, and I honestly still plan to do most of the things I always wanted to. The experience of traveling to a new place is incredibly invigorating to me. The sense of walking in a new place, looking at new sights, breathing new air… it’s all just awesome. The experience of going to a place you’ve never gone before is worth so much more than just sitting at home.

That brings me to the point of this blog. How many of you are drawn to travel the way I am? We can all say that we love to travel, but how much do we actually embrace it? How often do we make an effort to break our routine and try something new? Almost never. Humans are so much more content not getting into the world and wasting their time with electronics and other such things. Granted, as a product of my generation I have to admit that I love those things, too, but we have become way too reliant on them. We waste so much of our lives not seeing the world at all.

Life is hard, I get that. I think we all do once we reach adulthood. We get up and go to work through the week and by the time our weekend rolls around we are so tired and ready for a break that we tend to just sit around the house telling ourselves that we are resting and relaxing. But at what cost? Is it really worth it to just spend our down time not experiencing new things? Life should NOT consist of living to work and working to live. If we don’t get to actually enjoy our lives, what’s the point?

All of us are only given a certain amount of time in life. We have both the advantage and disadvantage of not knowing how long our time is. We could live for decades more, or we might not make it to next week. The question you really have to ask yourself is whether or not you want to waste it. Is it worth spending your life doing nothing but working and holding down your couch? Do you want to be on your death bed looking back at things and regretting the chances you didn’t take, the adventures you didn’t go  on, the life you didn’t live?

No. None of us want that. As a matter of fact, that is one thing that I truly fear. I don’t want to know that I cost myself  a good day, a new experience, a new country, or making a new friend. In my early adult life I have found myself occasionally falling into the routine of taking my weekends to rest and missing out on going to new places – or even just enjoying the place I live in. I mean, I live in the Appalachian Mountains. How hard is it to find something to enjoy? But things are changing. I have made the decision to make sure that I enjoy my life as much as possible, even if that just means taking more time to read and write and go sit on the porch at night rather than watch TV or play a video game.

Now I understand that some people have anxiety or other issues that keep them from being able to enjoy some of the things I’m talking about here. I also understand that some people’s idea of new things rests in watching new shows and movies, playing new games, etc.. One of my favorite ways to enjoy life is by reading, so believe me, I know what it’s like. Everyone definitely deserves to choose what makes them happy and then pursue it. That’s part of what I’m saying. If your idea of happiness is just relaxing in your home rather than going to new places, then by all means – take the initiative and enjoy it!

This world has more things to offer than we can ever hope to achieve. The real question you have to ask yourself is; how much do I want to do? What is one thing you’ve always wanted to do, one place you’ve always wanted to go, one experience you’ve always wanted to have? Well what’s stopping you?! YOU ARE! Make an effort to get out there and try something new.

So, as you go out (or stay in) and turn over this new leaf, make sure you share what you did (or plan to do) and how it goes! Tell me in the comments below or send me a message elsewhere I really want to know what changes you guys make and how it changes your life!

New Page!

Hey everybody! I just wanted to pop in and say that I hope the first week of The 5th Wave is going well. So far I really enjoy the book and I’m taking plenty of notes about things I would like to discuss!

I also wanted to let you all know that I have developed a new Facebook page that is open for discussion from anyone on any book at all, not just limited to this particular book club’s monthly title.

As a literature lover, I am infatuated with discussing my passions, and I LOVE finding people who feel the same. I hope you’ll all jump over to the page and join it if you have Facebook. If not, feel free to contact me at any time with any lit discussion you’d like to have!

Here is the link to the page; https://www.facebook.com/litloverstalk/

Please help me share it far and wide so we can get some really good, wide open discussion!

“Horns” by Joe Hill

Here it is, everyone, my first book club book review of the newly revamped club. I understand I’m a couple days late, but Thanksgiving schedules got bumped, so I’m doing it on a Monday. I’ll share it again a couple of times in case anyone misses it. But, without further ado, I’ll jump right into my review.

First and foremost, I have to say that “Horns” was in no way what I expected. I went into the book fully expecting to enjoy it and find it an interesting read. What I actually got a mind-blowing, pseudo-noir, absolute gold nugget. I LOVE this book. The storyline alone is just so skewed and out-of-this-world that I felt myself get lost in the piece every time I started reading. I actually yearned for the next page, the next word, the next section. I felt like I HAD to know what was going to happen. In the end, of course, I felt (mostly) satisfied, even though Hill left the reader to sort of develop their own reasons for why things happened. Most of the time in a book like that, I’ll feel a bit annoyed that the author didn’t explicitly lay out that “this is what happened, this is how and this is why”, but with this book I didn’t even care.

“Horns”, of course, is the story of a man who wakes up and finds that he has sprouted horns. Literal horns that, when anyone looks at them, cause people to divulge their greatest secret or sin. Ignacio is forced to use these horns to uncover the truth about what happened to his girlfriend a year after her murder, and the journey to the truth is one that will blow you away.

One of the coolest things about the book, for me, was the imagery. Seeing Ig transform from this almost hipsterish (in my head) character, to a literal devil was fascinating. When Hill talked about Ig grabbing the pitchfork and putting on the rotten skirt over his red, burnt skin, I could almost picture that classic image of a dancing devil with cloven feet and a bifurcated tail. In all honesty, I think I added those last two elements in my head and found myself a little surprised that it didn’t happen in the book.

Lee Tourneau was one that I just loved to hate. Or hated to hate. Regardless, I was glad to see him finally die. I loved the slow reveal of his sheer sociopathic insanity. It almost reminded me of the slow reveal of such classic characters as Norman Bates, who was always a little off, but was thrown right in your face in the blink of an eye. To see Lee progress from a little weird, to smash a cat’s head in really sunk the image home for me. Until that point I had been leaning toward Ig’s own brother, but I stopped doubting myself right then and there.

Ig’s family and their showcase of support really made me think about just how often people will tell each other lies in order to avoid confrontation. When Ig’s mother tells him the truth that is on her heart, I felt the despair and anger that was rising within him. I knew in that moment that there was no going back for Ig. They say that no matter what happens, the one place they always have to take you in is home. That is in no way always true, and I love that Hill pointed that out. Ig’s entire family, except Terry, basically all but told him that they wished he’d get out of their lives. Terry’s guilt rising to the surface was an incredible sequence as well.

The horns themselves, able to draw the most sinful confessions out of anyone who looks at them, are a bit of thematic genius that I like to think were inspired at least somewhat by The Silence from Doctor Who. Granted, I like to see Who references in most things, that may just be my inner nerd coming out. I was very intrigued to see just how far Ig could push those around him to get them to reveal what he wanted to know and was astounded by the uncanny love snakes suddenly had for him. The horns, along with his goatee presented an image that I don’t think I’d be able to forget. Yet that’s what happened, time and time again. Everyone who looked at Ig just couldn’t remember anything about the encounter minutes after speaking with him. I found that element of the story mesmerizing. It almost calls to the idea that we avoid thinking of our own sin so much that even being forced or coaxed to confess them is not enough of a jolt to make us remember it all.

Now, when we come to discussion of “Horns”, one can never leave Merrin out of the loop. In my opinion Merrin is the best and worst character of the entire book. For a long time we see Merrin as a total victim, a murdered damsel who did nothing but love those around her to the fullest of her ability. But we find out later that this may not have been the whole truth. Hill reveals to the reader that Merrin had broken things off with Ig, had encouraged him to find other women to sleep with, had generally broken the heart of the man we have watched all but fall apart. Many things are insinuated for much of this book, including the possibility that Lee’s delusions may have some weight. We are left to consider the possibility that Merrin may have had another man in mind when she was asking Ig for this separation. In all honesty, there were even times that I thought Hill was trying to insinuate the possibility that Merrin had a thing for her roommate (and speaking of the roommate, what was up with that puzzle thing?). In the end we find out that Merrin had actually broken Ig’s heart for the simple reason that she didn’t want to break his heart. She knew she was likely to die – albeit not by having her head bashed in – and didn’t want Ig to suffer like her parents had. That’s very noble, of course, and kind of puts me in mind of a Nicholas Sparks book (don’t judge), but ultimately is a decision that I think Ig should make for himself. I think we all know he would have stayed stateside, and likely would have married her had she told him about her illness, but I truly think that should have been his decision. I think Merrin should have told him the truth instead of kill his spirit the way she did. Does this also make her a villain? Does this make her just as responsible for what happened to Ig as anyone else is? Personally I think the answers here are difficult. I wouldn’t call her a villain, but I’m certain that, had she told him the truth, she and ig would have had a lot less pain in some ways.

Now, there honestly wasn’t much that I didn’t like about the book at all. One thing that I did find that I didn’t think fit was the fact that Merrin’s cross protected Lee from the horns. I understand the whole concept of the horns being a satanic gift (I see you and your treehouse L. Morningstar) and the cross is a religious symbol, but Lee was basically evil personified. It was like Ig, who was good at heart, had to take on the mantle of evil to fight an evil being lurking behind a symbol of good. I know that description may have lost some of you, but that’s my brain. Personally I feel that’s something Hill could have altered. I think in a world where we can accept the mystical possibility of sin-revealing horns sprouting from a man’s head, then we also should have been able to accept the fact that the cross would be able to see Lee’s evil and not protect him. Of course, there’s the possibility that we look at that element and say it was suggestive of evil people hiding behind a religious symbol and being able to avoid persecution. Personally, I like the idea that Hill may have intended something along these lines. Historically there have been many people who have hidden their evil and evil motives behind a religious symbol, and it’s definitely not above Hill’s history to suggest that.

Of course, I couldn’t make this post without making a slight mention of Hill’s parentage. For those that don’t know, Joe Hill is the son of none other than Stephen King. In my opinion, this makes him uniquely qualified to be an author of this magnitude, and I think that it shows in some aspects of his writing, particularly his subject matter. Over all I think this book was a bit of sheer genius, with few flaws. I very much enjoyed the subtle nuances and ‘easter eggs’ placed throughout and I feel the project was very excellently executed (no pun intended). I would love to have been a neuron in Hill’s mind and have a first-hand look at just how this idea came to be. But what did you guys think? What questions did the book leave you with? Was there anything that you particularly loved or particularly hated about the book? I really hope you guys will weigh in here and share this with anyone and everyone you know. Book clubs are a great way to interact with people and have a potentially intellectual discussion on many topics.

Finally, I want to know what you guys want to read. What book do you want me to do for December? I’ll try to have my decision made by the 3rd, so I’m hoping to hear a lot of good answers. Like I said before, if I get more than one suggestion for a certain title, or more than one person commenting on that title it will hold precedence. Of course, if I only have one suggestion, a number of people who make one suggestion with no response, or (God forbid) no responses, then I’ll make the decision and let you all know what it is. So jump in, dig your feet in and get into the discussion. I want to hear the most detailed idea possible about these books and I really want to have some in-depth discussions! I look forward to it, so let the comments begin!

Novels are coming…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Plans

Unfortunately plans don’t always work out. That’s something we learn from a young age, if we’re lucky (and find out the hard way once life gets its claws in us if we’re not). It’s basically just a fact of life. Just as people say rules are made to be broken, plans are, unfortunately, made to be unkept.

I’ve had some first hand experience with that, lately. I had some big plans for the first week of October, if you may remember. I was determined that I would get a novel sent to a publisher by no later than the tenth. Well, it’s the tenth and no publisher has seen my novel. Granted, the reasoning behind this change isn’t necessarily bad. Last week was my one year anniversary, and I obviously spent the day with my wife and didn’t focus on anything else. I wouldn’t have had that any other way! After that I spent the week researching as much as preparing my novel, as I went through my new copy of the 2017 Writer’s Market looking for the best place to send my work.

So far, I have found dozens of agents and publishers that could be helpful to me and my potential future in the literary world. That being said, I have developed a new plan; Pinpoint the best of the ones I have found that would work for me and begin making contact. With this plan in motion I hope/”plan” to have at least one novel out for consideration by the end of October.

Which brings me to the ultimate point of this blog post. It is always a great idea for an artist to set goals, make plans, have a set idea about where you want things to go and when. But it does not have be set in stone. In fact, most of the time, you’ll find that, no matter what plans you make, something is almost always going to change. I’ve often heard something to this regard that I think makes more sense than anything; “If you want to hear God laugh tell Him your plans.” To me it describes life perfectly. We can try to make our lives happen exactly how we want, but there’s no guarantee it will go our way.

Our end goal may come out the same, but the journey almost never is what we expect. The point is that you can’t give up. No matter how you come to the final stage, no matter what you have to go through to get there, it doesn’t matter as long as you keep trying.  Whenever the plan you make doesn’t work out then you make another one. Keep your end goal. Keep your passion. Life can throw anything at you at any time and will almost certainly always try to keep you on your toes. Sometimes it may seem like life doesn’t want you to succeed, but I’m not sure I fully believe that. I like to think that, for the most part, the world doesn’t care whether or not you succeed, but it want to make damn sure that you give it your all either way.

Success is not always a matter of luck, just as it is not always an impossibility, but more often than not it only comes after very hard work and dedication. So, no matter what it is you  are after, you have to be willing to make it an act of passion and determination if you truly have hopes or expectations of success. What goals do you have for your craft? How do you plan to make sure they are fulfilled? Furthermore, have you  had any experience with plans falling through like I have described here, and if so, how did you come back from it?  Comment, contact me, interact and enjoy, everyone. If you have anything you’d like me to discuss, feel free to chip in and make a suggestion. Best of luck with all of your plans, and I hope you’ll all take this message to heart!

Always keep working

I have been a terrible blogger lately. Life, it seems, can often get in the way of writing and blogging. Of course, the irony of that is that I write for a living. I was told before accepting a full time job as a reporter that if I wasn’t careful that writing for work could very easily replace writing for pleasure. I didn’t believe that, and to an extent I still don’t, but I do see the point  behind it and the truth in the statement.

I must begin my explanation for this by stating that I do, in fact, love being a reporter. I very much enjoy my job (although on a hard day I tend to complain about it as much as the next person, but that’s life), not least of all because it does allow me to write words that hundreds, if not thousands of people see on a daily basis. This is very gratifying and will certainly be good experience for the future, but the work does sometimes spill over into my free time.

Of course, such is the life of a reporter, but what some don’t understand is that when you write all day it can be very challenging to come home and write all night as well. Not only is the work writing in a very different format than novel writing, but it can be very hard on the hands, eyes, and brain to do both all of the time. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; writing is what I was made to do. It is literally what I was created for.

So the question remains; how does one manage this?

The answer is just as hard as it is easy. You have to maintain conviction, passion, and determination. As it is currently, I work around 45hours a week (getting paid for 40, but again, that’s life), come home and spend at least that much reading, watching a little television, and spending time with my wife. Somewhere in the midst of all of this I also have to find time to sleep and write. The break down makes the issue seem much more simple than it is, of course. What brings the complication in is finding motivation.

So how do you find the inspiration to write at night after writing all day? By pressing on as hard as humanly possible, of course. Personally I do my best to make time for everything, but it honestly can be hard, as I’m sure many of you know. Personally I have let the inspiration that still so frequently shows up unexpectedly to have full reign of my mind when it comes. Granted, it sometimes is fleeting and likes to toy with various ideas without settling on one, it still leaves me with a fair amount of new material.

One of my most recent accomplishments is a short story that I was able to completely revamp and elaborate on so I could send it to a journal for consideration. Even if I don’t make it into that particular publication, I can honestly say that I’m much happier with the current version of said short story than I was with the previous one. But the thing that I may be most involved in right now, aside from editing Maverip, is a new story that I have been inspired to write that (at least so far) has a very elaborate plot with a story spanning centuries. I don’t want to say much more about it currently, as the idea is still very fresh and I’m toying with plot lines, but I have decided to include a small sample that really excites me. I would love to have any and all feedback you all have on this piece. I would also love to hear how you all balance writing, motivation and everyday life. Leave me comments or send me messages, however you would like to communicate! I hope you all enjoy the small sample!

“Jonas woke suddenly, breathing heavily and sweating. He stared into the dark, waiting for his breath to slow. He felt himself drifting off to sleep when the image rushed back to his conscious. He saw the women, aged and wrinkled yet somehow vibrant, covered in blood and nothing else. Fire blazed in the middle of the clearing, filled with a shadow that made him scream aloud in the night. Looking into the fire Jonas was certain that he had looked into the very eyes of the devil himself.”

Huge Announcement and New Work

Hello friends and fans!! I’m coming to you live on my brand spanking new site, and it feels great! As many of you know I used to have a separate site from my blog that, although fairly successful, left something to be desired for me. After this year’s writers symposium I found myself in a state of improved ambition and confidence, as is usually the case, and I came home to tell my wife that I wanted to make some changes and set some goals for myself and that I needed her to help. She didn’t hesitate for a second.

We put our heads together and worked out some things that needed to happen, the first of which was to get a new website going for me and keep it going and updated regularly. I relied on her expertise to build the site, and together we got the ball rolling. So, here, with a whole new round of current headshots, the migration of my old blog and followers and the inclusion of a brand new newsletter (which I sincerely hope you’ll all subscribe to) I give you my new site! Take some time and browse through at your leisure, but not before taking a peek at one of the things I have been most excited about in recent weeks.

On the bottom of this post I am going to include my latest short story, completely free and exclusively for followers of my blog! I got this story idea while working on the presentation I was teaching at last year’s symposium and I let it cook for a while before jotting a version down.  After this year’s event I looked at it again and decided that I would update it and put it out to give you all the first chance to read it! The story itself draws from folk tale styles and local color writing in my area, and is honestly unlike anything I’ve done before.  I hope you’ll all take the time to read it and give me some honest feedback, because it may end up being part of a larger announcement and project soon. Anyway, I hope you all enjoy the story and the site and I’ll be writing again soon!

Lefty Smith and the Right Handed Corn

“I’ve seen some mighty queer things in my travels,” the old man said.

I nodded and smiled, agreeing with him without saying much. I didn’t really have any plans that I needed to hurry and fulfill, and somehow I thought I wouldn’t have been able to walk away even if I wanted to. I don’t know what it was about the man, but just hearing that phrase and seeing his strange brand of fashion and body language, I felt like I had to listen to him.

I settled into the seat across from him, looking over his tattered jeans and faded deep blue button down shirt that he wore over dirty, scuffed boots. I had seen him once or twice in the last ten years while I helped my father work the store, usually sitting around the woodstove right where he was now, where all of the old timers in five counties eventually end up at some point or another.

“Yep,” he said as I nodded for him to continue. “Some mighty queer things.”

The store was empty that morning and I could tell I was in for the long haul, so I reached to the pot on the stove beside of me and poured myself a cup of coffee, topping off his chipped mug as he held it out.

“I went to the deep South to lay claim to my heritage,” the old man said, his dark eyes meeting mine and seeming to pin me to my chair. “My father fought in the Civil War before moving north to Ohio. I made a straight shot to the Mason-Dixon line and stayed a night near the border of North Carolina before heading down to Georgia.”

“I camped out in a field under the stars on the border of Virginia, eating a bit of the road provisions I’d packed and passing out in no time, the sounds of the night always make for the best lullaby,” he added, a smile on his face.

“I woke up the next morning when the sun got just over the tops of the rows of corn to the east of me and began driving. Before long I came across a batch of cars and machinery set up in a field and stopped in to see what proved to be a lively county fair.”

I could tell the man was getting into the story, his right leg thrown over the left, his foot bobbing higher and higher the more he talked.

“At first everything seemed fairly normal,” he continued. “There was music, food, some games… and a whole lot of corn. I didn’t think much of that, since the fair was set up in the middle of the largest corn field I’d ever seen. The more I looked, though, the weirder it got. I noticed something weird about the people, too,” he said, leaning forward and looking at me with squinty eyes set deep in his wrinkled face, a mischievous grin exposing his age-worn teeth..

“Everyone I saw eating this corn was eating it with their right hand. Only their right hand. Skewers were stabbed into one end of the corn and everyone was gripping it with their right hand while their left dangled freely, occasionally coming to life to swat a pest or pick at a piece of fabric in their shirts. I was a bit confused, I admit. I thought maybe I’d just stumbled into a community of overly-ambitious right-handers who still viewed Southpaws a thing of the devil,” he laughed as he imagined the sight again.

“Being adventurous in my youth I decided, come life or limb, to test my theory. I walked amongst the din of conversation between old friends and neighbors and plucked my dime down and got my own steaming ear, slathered butter up and down over the golden kernels and sat down in the middle of everyone, my left hand gripping the stick so tight the knuckles were white.”

He leaned back and cackled, drinking deeply of his coffee while I sipped my own, finding myself more interested in this mystery than I cared to admit.

“I noticed a few of those closest to me stop eating and look at me in horror,” he said, clearly loving the opportunity to share his tale. “As I took my first tender, juicy bite I felt the butter run down my chin as the corn rolled around in my mouth like hot coals, burning everything they touched.”

“As I chewed I noticed a low murmur run through the crowd. ‘Lefty’, I would hear one whisper, to another or to themselves I couldn’t tell. Before long all other sounds had stopped and most every eye was on me. Halfway through my corn I looked up and smiled, asking my neighbor what was the matter. He only shook his head at first, eventually cracking out the one word I’d heard for about five minutes. Lefty.”

“I couldn’t describe my confusion if I tried. Were they commenting on my eating habits alone, or trying to insult me by being derogatory,” the old man said, his amusement showing on every part of his face.

“Laying my corn down on the table and wiping my mouth with my shirt collar, I spoke up in my own defense.”

“ ‘I apologize if I offended anyone with my eating, but I’m not actually left handed,’ I told them.”

“At first no one spoke. Then a man, a little shorter than most, sitting a little straighter than others, made himself known.”

“ ‘It ain’t a matter of being left handed, sir,’ he said. ‘We’re all just shocked that you don’t seem to care about the curse.’ ”

“ ‘Curse,’ I laughed, ‘I didn’t know about any curse. I was just driving through and saw the fair and thought I’d stop in.’ ”

“A dull roar went through the crowd as they collectively relayed that a stranger was breaching some curse they were scared of.”

“ ‘The curse ought not to be ignored,’ said the man. ‘Maybe if you heard the story and find out what happens to them that don’t listen you’d respect it more.’ ”

“What could I say,” the old man asked me, his story still thrilling him, his foot bobbing higher than ever as he drained his cup, shaking his head and continuing the tale when I held out the pot to offer him more.

“ ‘I’m a guest in your town,’ I told them, putting on my best southern charm just as my father had taught me, ‘and I’ll listen to anything you’d like to tell me.’ ”

“ ‘Good,’ the little man said. ‘It ain’t something we take lightly around here. I’ll get Tom Hunter to tell the story, since he’s most directly involved.’ ”

“ ‘Thank ye, Doctor,’ said a man no younger than 60 who looked to be nearly as wide as he was tall. ‘I’ll ask ye to listen kindly, stranger.’ ”

“ ‘Fact of it is, my grandfather was the third Hunter in line that owned this here farm. The town nearby was still sorta new, made of a buncha cast-offs from the Civil War. Fact is, this very field was the site of a major battle in the area. Nigh 200 lives were lost in this place. ‘F ya ask me it’s the blood in the ground what makes the corn grow so tall.’ ”

“ ‘But anyway. ‘Twas the night before the town’s first fair and my grandfather was out with the mayor and some of the church deacons, pickin’ corn for the event. Knowin’ they’d need a lot, the men worked late into the night, only stopping to empty their baskets into the wagon they had.’

“ ‘Long ‘bout one in the mornin’, way he told, they finished one row and was movin’ to another when they saw ‘im.’ ”

“ ‘Saw who,’ I asked the farmer, genuinely unable to hide my curiosity.”

“ ‘Lefty Smith. A veteran of the great war that hadn’t lasted a month after coming home. Mean as sin and twice as scary is what his own wife said about him. Lefty was called Lefty because he got his right arm blowed off in the battle. It was an infection in his blood what finally killed him off.’ ”

“ ‘He was dead?’ ”

“ ‘Been dead about 3 months,’ Hunter told me. ‘ Infection took him quick. But not before he got mean. Terrorized the whole dern town, he did. Started claimin’ everything left and right as bein’ his left-handed property. That’s where the curse come from.’ ”

“ ‘From the dead man,’ I asked him, doing my best not to let my skepticism show.”

“ ‘Yessir. My granddaddy and half the church was out in this very field, like I said. They was pickin’ away for the fair when it happened. They went from one row to the next and seen him standin’ there.’ ”

“ ‘Lefty?’ ”

‘Yessir, Lefty Smith, a haint if a haint there ever was, standin’ there munchin’ a ear of corn. Granddaddy said they stopped dead and Lefty looked at ‘em with that mean old look in his eyes, threw down his ear of corn and grabbed another off the stalk.’

“ ‘Listen here,’ he said to ‘em, pullin’ the shuck off with his teeth, ‘Y’all better not be givin away my corn tomorrow.’ ”

“ ‘Your corn,’ my granddaddy spoke up, ‘Lefty Smith you know this is my field. Has been for 30 years.’ ”

“ ‘Your field or not, Jeb Hunter, you keep away from my corn. You can take all the right-handed corn you want, but you mark my words – all the left-handed corn in this field is mine and any man I see eatin’ it will pay the price.’ ”

“ ‘What happened then,’ I asked Hunter,” the old man told me, seeing I was just as interested as I could imagine he had been.

“ ‘Well they ran,’ Hunter said with a laugh. ‘They hauled tail out of that field and spread the word about the curse. That was almost 50 years ago and I’ll tell you now, only a handful of people in that time has eaten any left-handed corn – and each time it’s ended bad.’ ”

“ ‘I do appreciate the warning, Mr. Hunter but I’ve finished over half an ear with my left hand and I haven’t seen any trouble,” the old man said with a cackle. “Do you know what he said?”

“I have no idea,” I told him.

“He looked at me real serious and said ‘well, how’d it taste?’ ”

“I told him honest that it was actually pretty delicious. Then he asked me if it was hot or cold.”

“ ‘Quite hot,’ I told him.”

“ ‘Did it burn your mouth,’ he asked.”

“ ‘As a matter of fact it did cause a little discomfort,’ I told him.”

“ ‘That was the curse,’ he told me without hesitation. ‘I bet Lefty just decided to take it easy on you seein’ as how you didn’t know about his left-handed corn.’ ”

“ ‘Well if that is the case, then I certainly appreciate Lefty’s generosity, and I’ll keep it in mind until I’m out of danger,’’ I told him.”

“I finished my corn with my right hand and was accepted as the newest member of the community. I was so respected, actually, that when I left it was insisted that I stop on my way back through. As I climbed into my car the mayor himself handed me another ear of corn for the road, which I happily munched with my left hand once I was well out of eyeshot of the superstitious new friends I had made.”

The old man sat back when he was finished and gave me the biggest, crookedest grin I’d ever seen.

“Any more evidence of the curse,” I asked him, unable to help myself.

“Sure,” he said with a wink, “I felt like I hadn’t taken three bites before I realized all the corn was gone off the cob, and I hadn’t had near my fill.”

 

There you go guys! I would really appreciate it if you would let me know what you think about the story. Send me a message or leave me a comment and now go check out the new site!!