A New Decade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If It Bleeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where All Light Tends To Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord of the Mountain

Hey there, friends and fans! We’re almost through the second month of 2020 and life goes on. As always, I’m devouring new literary material as much as possible, and I recently got to read a book that is incredible to me for a few reasons.
The book in question, Lord of the Mountain, by Ronald Kidd, is a tale that takes place during and after the famous Bristol Sessions. The Bristol Sessions is the two-week recording event that took place on State Street in Bristol, Tennessee that launched country music to the nation. Ralph Peer came to the Twin Cities with the dream of finding the music that had long been passed down among mountain families – and what he found changed the face of recorded music. 

Kidd’s book deals with a young boy who lives on the outskirts of Bristol, a city divided right down the middle by the Tennessee/Virginia state line, and his fascination with science and music, despite his father’s preaching, which includes a violent opposition to music. Nate, the narrator of our tale, finds himself in the middle of inner turmoil as he struggles to find his place in the world. He is facing either a life in his father’s world, where music is the devil and the voice of God can be heard in every whisper, or a world where he is free to pursue music and science and live in whatever way he pleases. Nate finds himself attending the Bristol Sessions, and helping the world famous Carter Family as they sing the songs of the mountains for Ralph Peer’s recording machines. He later even finds himself traveling with A.P. Carter and gathering songs from other mountain folks for a time. 

I found this book to be absolutely enthralling, from the very first line, to the very last period. I yearned to learn more about Nate and his struggle. Kidd is able to capture the feel of Appalachia in a way that some authors I’ve read have not. Living less than 20 miles from the place all this happened, I loved his use of local landmarks (and it didn’t hurt that he used Bristol Public Library, my place of work, as a hub for some of his research) to help tell his story. 

Nate’s struggle and internal displacement run rampant throughout this book, leading him to often compare himself to State Street, “torn right down the middle.” Nate, a 13 year-old living in a time when the world was a very different place, often broke my heart with these statements. Kidd gave Nate a huge heart, and a huge interest in what basically put this area on the map, and I loved every word. I’ve long been interested in the history of the region and its culture, although I admittedly have a love/hate relationship with country music. Appalachian life is a fascination and a lifestyle that I am very proud to uphold, and this book does a fantastic job of celebrating that. 

I found myself write down pages and pages of quotes from the book, as I do, and I think Kidd’s writing style is amazing as well. As he travels farther away from the tent his father preaches in and deeper into the mountain songs that call to him, Nate finally sees clearly what he wants. This quote, to me, speaks volumes of his struggle and his purpose. 

“I had a new life now, or a glimpse of one. It sparkled in the distance, like the silver microphone.”

The microphone Nate speaks of here is Peer’s microphone, where so many mountain songs were sung, recording the history and soul of the region in a way that never before had been done. 

Kidd, a resident of Nashville, Tn., brought forth a tale of  heartache, soul-searching, heritage, and culture that I think anyone with a familiarity with the Bristol region will love, and anyone who isn’t familiar with the area can still definitely enjoy. Nate’s story is one that we can all relate to, having sought our own place in the world both in relation to and away from our families and those things familiar to us. I highly recommend this book and plan to read it again and again. It’s really that good. 

*Featured image: front cover of the book, Lord of the Mountain, By Ronald Kidd. I own no rights to this image.

This is the Endgame

Hey there, friends and fans! I have to start by saying; don’t worry, there are no spoilers here.

As a lifelong Marvel fan, this movie was an absolute dream come true. From the moment I saw the very first Avengers movie come to life on the big screen in college, I have been awaiting this biggest Marvel masterpiece and, I’m ecstatic to say, it does not disappoint. It was even cooler for me because I got to see the film on early release on my birthday. Talk about a gift!

If you are a fan of superhero films, this is definitely a must-see. Bringing these characters together after such a devastating ending to “Infinity War” really allows you to feel what they’re feeling. You get the anger, sadness, hopeless desperation that was left after the events from last year’s film.

I feel situations like this, on screen or in a comic book panel, really allow you to feel the humanity of those individuals who often feel so much more elevated than us. It helps us rememeber that bad things can happen, no matter how hard we try or what skills we have. Basically, it allows us relate to these characters and remember why we love them.

This film is no different. We get to see insight into what happens when those who seem to have a higher chance at beating any obstacle get a taste of the opposite. I feel like the best thing about the film is exactly that. At the end of “Infinity War” we saw the humanity in each hero, the true feeling of what makes them human and bridges the gap between what they have become over what some of them once were.

“Endgame” is a three hour adventure into a world that we have followed for more than ten years and 21 trips to the theater. It’s the longest Marvel universe film yet, but it doesn’t feel like it. I was pleasantly surprised that the movie flowed incredibly and gave me nearly everything I could have asked for.

If I say much more I will be in danger of spoiling something, so I’m going to wrap this up by saying this movie was the perfect bow on the gift that has been Phase 3. I am beyond excited to see what Phase 4 has in store for us. As far as emotion goes, “Endgame” is full of it. I wasn’t positive what was going to happen, but my theories did not prove correct. Did yours?

If you haven’t seen the film yet, stop waiting. Go see it. If you aren’t caught up on the other movies watch “Civil War” and “Infinity War.” Everything else will fall into place. Make sure to go see it. Enjoy every minute. But whatever you do, don’t spoil the Endgame.

After you see it, be sure to stop by and let me know what you think!

Writing, Learning, Publishing

Hey there, friends and fans! March has been a wild ride, so far, and I’ve enjoyed every minute! From self-publishing my collection, to presenting in an Appalachian Authors event, it’s been interesting.

Since publishing my short story collection, I’ve been enjoying the fact that people are reading a complete collection of my work. That is an incredibly surreal experience, honestly. Reviews have been coming in, either online or by word of mouth, and so far it seems people are enjoying the book. That couldn’t mean more to me. As someone who has struggled with getting their work out there, while simultaneously feeling like writing is absolutely my main purpose, I can tell you it’s a relief to see positivity coming in from you guys!

Yesterday presented me with an opportunity unlike any I’d had before. The C. Bascom Slemp Memorial Library in Big Stone Gap, Va. invited myself and three other local authors to read our works in an Appalachian Authors Day. This event was no sold out concert hall but rather a small, intimate meeting of like-minded individuals. Through the evening we discussed our work, our inspirations, movies, music and the craft itself. Frankly, it was eye-opening. Being in a room with other authors who value writing the way I do, who write similar works, and who have conquered the “beginning stages” of publication that I’m now in was nothing short of a relief. It was kind of like when you’re a freshman in school and a senior offers to help you learn the ropes.

The authors I was with: Neva Bryan (https://www.nevabryan.com/ ), Kari Kilgore, and Jason Adams (http://www.jasonadams.info/) are all amazing writers and awesome people. (Kari and Jason can also be found here http://spiralpublishing.net/ ). They all write stories of varying genre and length, and have been writing for quite some time. One thing we all have in common is a type of story that can be categorized as Appalachian Gothic. Of course, the Gothic is one of my favorite classic genres, and Appalachian Gothic is something I hadn’t really thought about in relation to my work until last night. But it perfectly describes a lot of my work.

One thing you need to know going forward is, if you give an author the chance to talk about his or her work – be prepared to listen. We may not always be great at promoting ourselves, but if you give us a chance to speak our mind and talk about our work, you won’t find many that will pass up the opportunity. Being in the zone last night and getting to talk about writing is something I haven’t done in a while, and it was quite refreshing. It made me remember many of the things I may have forgotten along the way about the joys of writing. Too often lately I think I’ve looked at parts of the process like a task that I must complete. I’ve looked at publication and the red tape more than embracing the feeling of allowing my mind to soar over the page and letting my ideas spill forth. Too much lately I’ve let myself be concerned with what I “have to do” instead of what I “want to do,” and it is a damaging concept. Letting yourself become too immersed with the musts and the have-to’s in any task is a way to surely make yourself lose the magic of why you started doing it in the first place. I fear, as much as I hate to admit it, that maybe it is that exact affliction that has hindered my creative process somewhat recently.

Basically, what I have concluded is that I need to return myself to what I love – the bare bones of writing. Yes, I will continue my blog, I will continue publishing works, and I will continue pushing my novels to new readers, but I have a burning desire to get back to fresh creation. There are so many ideas in my head that I’ve let get stagnant. It’s time to revisit them. I plan to try to write more often, complete new works and actually remember what it’s like to pull myself back into the real world after being immersed in my writing and be shocked at the blood and visceral ideas spread across the page. I think by allowing myself time to dive back into my writing, I’ll find what it is I may have lost along the way. You all may see more posts and more pieces of my writing in the future, and I hope you’re going to enjoy everything you see. Keep your eyes open for new works and news, of course!

I want to give a huge shout out to Chris Smith and the C. Bascom Slemp Memorial Library for hosting the event, and to everyone who attended last night, from community members, to the authors. You all made my first post-publication book signing awesome, and you helped me kick myself into gear. For those of you that weren’t there in body, you were with us in spirit. If any of you find yourselves in Big Stone Gap, Va., I encourage you to make a pitstop at the library on the back side of town. I assure you, you’ll enjoy it. Anyone who wants to have a conversation about literature, feel free to reach out to me anytime. It’s my life, guys! Definitely check out the awesome works by Neva, Jason, and Kari. They are great people with great voices.

If any of you will be in the Abingdon, Va. area on April 13th, feel free to stop by the Washington County Public Library between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. as well. I’ll be there for the first ever Highlands Writers Fair. You can purchase a copy of my work and ask me any questions you’d like to ask about my writing or the craft in general. I’d love to meet you all and say hello! In the meantime, if you haven’t purchased your copy yet or you’d like to leave a review, I’ll link my collection below. If you’ve read the work I encourage you to leave a review (not just for my book – for any book) either on Goodreads, Amazon, or both. If you’d like to submit reviews to magazines as well, that’s also encouraged. The more reviews a work has, the more likely others are going to get word of that work. I know Amazon especially works on an algorithm that allows books with higher amounts of reviews to be seen by and suggested to more people. Even if you leave a one word review, that’s helpful. So review a book, read some new material, and talk to an author about their work. Believe me, you’ll make more than one person’s day.

https://amzn.to/2NuRveK

Who are “You” when no one is looking?

Hey there friends and fans! It’s been a great start to the year so far. I’ve been on track with a number of projects, and have some big announcements coming soon. One thing that I have been immersing myself in of late is the world created by the astounding author Caroline Kepnes. Recently I discovered the Lifetime/Netflix series “You,” based on the novel of the same name. It absolutely blew me away. The narrative is incredibly tight and it has a quality that I am enthralled with. Upon watching the series in less than 36 hours, I found the novel and its sequel and consumed them ravenously. The story of Joe Goldberg is one that is not at all for the faint of heart, but it is one that is ultimately incredibly rewarding to dive into. Needless to say, I absolutely had to discuss it with you all.

First and foremost what I have to emphasize is that, with Joe, Kepnes creates a character that is equal parts antagonist and protagonist. Joe starts out being a little odd, maybe slightly creepy, and jumps rather quickly into being an obsessive, terrifying individual. A mild-mannered bookstore manager by day, Joe Goldberg lives his life for the books at Mooney’s Rare and Used Books. His life is interesting but generally unremarkable – until Beck shows up. We watch the instant change in Joe from his first lines to his rapidly growing obsession with Beck, and with it we find ourselves both wanting him to succeed and wanting him to get what’s coming to him for the things he does.

I think one of the things I love most about “You” is the first person perspective. This almost stream-of-consciousness tale put its roots in my brain and dug deep. The series and the book both allow us to have a direct line into Joe’s mind. Much of the story is Joe talking in his mind, directly at Beck. He is an individual who I would classify as a megalomaniac with bi-polar tendencies – and I love every second of it. Joe’s need to be one with Beck and his determination to see this love story blossom is both refreshing and terrifying. Once Joe sees Beck and gets the hint of flirtation from her, he becomes a man on a mission that will literally do anything to make her his. Or, rather, from that moment on he thinks of her as his, and he will do anything in his power to make sure she realizes it as well.

One of the things I found to be most incredible about Joe was his idealism about the world. From his very first words to the final page of the novel, Joe is a person determined to make the world work for him and only him. It’s a quality that many people envy, to be honest. Once he gets an idea in his head he won’t stop at anything until he makes it happen. Granted, sometimes that means there will be one less pretentious, privileged, rich kid in the world, but it also sometimes means that the person he wants to help gets helped. No matter what Joe does he is certain the world should be working in his favor and any time that doesn’t happen, he gets falls into a rage that leads him down an ever more dangerous path. His obsession with Beck is what fuels and runs the story, but I think it’s his ego that makes it resonate so realistically for the reader. We all know someone who thinks that everything in the world is a direct reflection on their life. Everything is either happening specifically for them – or specifically against them.

One difference between the series and the novel was Joe’s neighbor, Paco. I have to admit that I was waiting for the kid to slip into the novel for quite a while before I realized that he and his stepdad were just added for the show to, I assume, play more into the quality I mentioned a moment ago and show that Joe isn’t necessarily all bad. It gives him a more human and less sociopathic quality to see him work for the benefit of another person. Another thing I enjoyed was the shattered and disjointed nature of his flashbacks, both of Mooney and Candace. In the books these memories are much less intense and don’t play as much into the current nature of the story in some ways, but seeing that part of Joe’s life is something that allows us to see the damaged way he has grown up. In essence, it’s a way for the reader to see that Beck didn’t create the person Joe is in the story, but that he was already traveling down that path.

I do have to admit that in both the series and the book I was not exactly heartbroken to see Beck fall. Joe upheld her in his mind and made her almost a goddess, but the whole time she was just as self-serving and uninteresting a person as she could be. From her cheating with her therapist – which was admittedly overplayed in the series – to the distance she placed between her and Joe I was repeatedly stumped as to why he idolized her to such an extent. Granted, I do think her fate was a little drastic on Joe’s part, I can’t even pretend to act as if the way he made it happen wasn’t at least a little ironic. But that’s another thing I love about the character. He’s a heck of a smart guy, and when he puts his mind to it, he can really overcome almost any obstacle in his way to achieve his goal. In that way, at least, I think he’s someone we can all learn a bit from. Obstacles are meant to be tackled, right? Granted, in everyday life, we should probably do it a little less murdery.

Overall I was incredibly impressed with the series, and more so with the novel. I do have a bit of regret that I discovered the series first, but I was able to rectify that by tackling the sequel “Hidden Bodies.” I think Joe Goldberg should fall in line with some of those great, if a bit unreliable, narrators of literary history like Salinger’s Holden Caulfield and even Fitzgerald’s great Nick Carraway. He is someone who has a solid, if skewed, view of the world around him, and who is not at all afraid to get his hands dirty to make his own vision a reality.

I am quite excited to see season 2 of You, although I have no delusions that it will fall at all in line with Hidden Bodies, especially given that interesting ending we saw in season 1. One thing I do know – Joe will most definitely discover Love.

I hope you guys enjoyed Joe’s story as much as I have, and I hope you’re awaiting the third book as eagerly as I am. As I mentioned earlier, Kepnes’s writing style has dug itself into my brain and sparked a first person story that I’m excited to develop. As always, keep your eyes open for big news from me as well as more reviews and all things literature and awesomeness. Share this with anyone you think will enjoy it, and feel free to jump in on the conversation. Have a great week, everyone, and keep doing what makes you happy!

*The featured image for this post is from a recently released cover of the book, a snapshot from my reading experience.

The Shape of Water

Hey there, friends and fans! I have been wanting to watch The Shape of Water since I first saw the announcement about it. I was beyond disappointed to miss it in theaters, but I am ecstatic to say that I finally got to see it this week. I can very easily say that I am not at all surprised that it won and was nominated for so many awards. The film absolutely oozes sophistication and originality. I can honestly say it is one my favorite films of all time.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the film, it’s a tale of a mute woman in 1960’s America who realizes the institution she works for is studying a creature that is basically a modern version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, this film studies a number of themes including race relations, equality, sexuality, and personal identity. Our main character, Elisa, goes from a monotonous life with her friends and coworkers, almost invisible to the powers that be, to a bold and courageous woman, a hero to this creature that has otherwise known pain and judgement from modern man (aside from apparently being treated like a god by an unnamed Amazonian tribe that is).

I was enthralled from the start of this movie and I truly didn’t want it to end. I found Elisa to be an incredible person, with a nearly infallible character. Elisa’s entire experience with the creature was that he accepted her, he loved her, he made her feel whole and special for the first time in her life. As a mute woman, she was no stranger to mocking and disrespect, a tertiary character in the film repeatedly referring to her as ‘mutie’ and ‘dummy’ (a common colloquial term for those unable to speak in the past was that they were dumb or , if they also could not hear, deaf and dumb). So it was very important for her that this humanoid creature didn’t see her in terms of her difference, the explanation of which is one of the more endearing and heartbreaking scenes in the film for me. The themes of acceptance and equality steer this movie in a direction that couldn’t even have been hinted at in the trailers. From the homosexual neighbor, the African American friend, the mute orphan woman with an unknown background, to the otherworldly creature – each and every one of them is discriminated against in this world. Each and every one of them is met with opposition and stifled in some way throughout the film. And they band together. They stand in light of adversity and they win. They are each targeted by the ‘average, white, American male’ and they come out on top.

Persistence, decency, and love basically run the film’s two hour run time and bring us a tale that honestly warms the heart. From Elisa’s friendship with Giles, to her instant attempt at understanding with the creature, dubbed Amphibian Man by the film’s credits, the characters show us a bit about what it means to be human. Even the moderate humorous elements of the film stand to teach a lesson in humility and understanding.

I was intrigued to see the continued use of water itself and its own importance in Elisa’s life even before meeting the Amphibian Man. From her daily bath, to the boiling eggs, to the very image of rain itself, water is one of the most important elements of life and of the film.

I think the only thing that really threw me off about the film was the ending itself. I do like the open-ended nature of the story, but the transformation element is one that was a little odd for me.

Overall the film is an absolutely incredible work of art. It is a love story written for love stories themselves. Guillermo del Toro wanted to create a story and film stronger than anything, that could fill any space and be exactly what it needs to be – just as water is. And The Shape of Water is exactly that. With an amazing cast, an incredible message, and a story that will remain as timeless as its presentation, this film is one that will forever be in the annals of film history. The message of equality and the almost demand for justice for all those affected by prejudice of any kind could not have come at a better time in this world, either. In a political climate consistently pushed toward discrimination and judgement and a social tendency for the same, this film is beacon of light in the darkness that has plagued mankind. To me, the message is clear: we all need to come together in love and understanding and put an end to the meaningless squabbles that arise over minor differences. The separation and judgement that affects daily life in this world has to come to an end before we truly destroy teach other, ourselves, and what beauty remains in this world. Of course, until such a thing happens, this film and works of art that hold similar themes will remain of the utmost importance.

But what did you guys think of the film? Have you seen it yet? Did you read as deeply into it as I did, or was it just another movie for you? I’d love to know your thoughts. As always, I’m definitely interested in hearing about what you guys want to read about here or hear about in the podcast. Leave me comments or reach out to me on my contact page on my website. I hope you guys are enjoying the holiday season, and I wish you all the best in the last few weeks of 2018!

**The featured image of this post is an original image by Edgewise Art (https://facebook.com/edgewise.art/): I retain no rights to the image, nor did I have any part in creating it.

“Love, Simon” vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Hey there friends and fans! A handful of months ago I wrote a review of the YA novel Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, linked below. I absolutely loved the book, as I said, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to check out the film version, Love, Simon. I finally got my chance over the holiday weekend, and I feel inspired to write this short follow-up post for anyone interested in watching it.

Love, Simon is a great cinematic piece of art. The story, of course, is the same. Simon, our beloved protagonist, is coming to terms with being homosexual in a climate that is still quite unforgiving, and trying to, frankly, learn how to “be” gay. The whole thing really starts with a post on a local social media page, where one of Simon’s classmates professes to being gay – anonymously, of course. Simon, also anonymously, responds with his own confession, leading him down a journey of self-discovery that we’re brought along for.

Simon’s tale is not one for the faint of heart, and certainly not one for the closed-minded. One of Simon’s classmates realizes his secret and uses it for his own benefit. This sends Simon reeling as he tries to cope with not only the demands of his classmate but his own attempts at connecting with the boy he now feels he’s falling in love with.

One of the things that I was really impressed with was the way the movie stayed in sync with the novel for the most part. I really feel Simon’s story, although slightly altered for the screen, was still true to its book counterpart. I think the actors were well selected, Nick Robinson doing a phenomenal job as the main character.

One of my personal favorite parts of the film was the attempt to show that Martin, the unfortunate antagonist, was not your typical high school bully. Rather than being the biker, the jock, or the general rough and tough kid in the halls, Martin was actually kind of the stereotypical nerdy loser character. Mascot on the football team, avid lover of graphic tees and magic, Martin was the kind of guy most people love to hate. His affinity for blackmail didn’t make it hard to dislike him, either.

Simon’s struggle with finding a way to tell his friends and family his secret was well described and heartfelt. In his attempt to be himself and find the best way to be himself he posits the question why straight is the norm. Why it’s only homosexuals who have to “come out” to their loved ones. Which is a strong question in and of itself. Rather than assuming everyone is attracted to the opposite sex, maybe it isn’t that difficult for us to stop assuming and allow our loved ones to tell us their preference in their own time. However, that would require the world being a much less judgmental place.

Of course, Simon’s secret does get leaked and he has to come to terms with everyone learning he is gay in a way he had no control over. Which, for me, was one of the most heartbreaking parts of the film, and led to one of the best lines and best deliveries in the film. Martin apologizes after seeing what damage he caused, and Simon, for the first time, truly lets go.

He tells Martin that no apology is good enough. He took something that was Simon’s, ruined his chance to let people know of his sexual preference in his way. In essence, this scene made the tone of the film for me. Apart from everything else that happened, this scene really showed the pain and anxiety that can be brought on by coming out – and even more so the pain that can come from not being able to make the decision yourself. Robinson’s performance here truly brought Simon’s struggle home for me.

Needless to say, this is a YA work, so there was a definite form of happy ending, which I won’t spoil, although that wait for the mystery poster was something that really brought the anxiety game to a new level.

Overall, I thought the film adaptation of Simon’s story was a great movie. It didn’t stick with what I felt were some of the more interesting or important areas of the novel – the focus on music, for instance (although there was a very prominent Elliot Smith poster), but it was a great movie. If you are at all interested in this movie, I urge you to give it a watch. If you liked the book, again – watch the movie. If you haven’t experienced either, I recommend both. I personally liked the book a little better, but that’s my natural go to.

What about you? Have you watched the movie or read the book? Which did you prefer, and why? What was your favorite part of either? Let me know in the comments. Also, check out the link below to see my review of the book if you haven’t already.

As always, thanks for reading and subscribing. There’ll be a new podcast soon, and plenty of new words written before year’s end. Stick around for the journey to stay updated on everything! Thanks again, and Happy Holidays!

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Fallout 76 and Appalachia

Reclamation Day has finally arrived! October 23 has come and gone, and Vault 76 officially opened to show us dwellers just what post-apocalyptic West Virginia looks like. In case you haven’t followed the series, the latest Fallout game, which puts players in various parts of the U.S. (and occasionally an alien vessel) years after nuclear bombs have laid waste to the world as we know it, began B.E.T.A. testing last night.

In addition to being set far in a 1950’s-esque future, with strangely advanced machinery, and a renewed hatred of Communism, the Fallout series presents players with a myriad of radiation-altered enemies; humanoid, robot, and animalistic in nature.

The latest game, Fallout 76, allows players to leave their respective nuclear fallout shelter, or vault, about 25 years after the bombs fell. That’s about 200 years earlier than any other Fallout game so far. That’s one of the most exciting things about this game, for me. With such a short time frame after the war, we’re not only going to see things that haven’t had as much time to readjust, but we’re going to be in an area that hasn’t yet been explored by the games. This game is also completely different, in that it’s an entirely online platform. You’re playing on a server with a limited number of other people, but all other human interaction is actually via other players in real time. Of course, you can go off on your own and explore, but you’re encouraged to build teams and play as a unit.

After playing the four hour B.E.T.A. (Standing for Break it Early Test Application), I’m pretty impressed by the game so far. When it comes to game play and the general feel of the game, this one compares to part 4 for me. I feel the graphic engine upgrade has done a lot for exemplifying the beauty of West Virginia, an area I’m very familiar with, having grown up half an hour from the border. Movement in the game was pretty similar to previous ones, as is the “junk” you pick up through the world that assists you through the rest of the game. One new and interesting thing is the Pip Boy graphic, which can now be transferred from your arm module to lay over the screen in a hologram-style opaque screen. This makes the real-time gameplay a bit easier, since you can see the enemies around you.

Another factor that helps with the real time gameplay is that you have to eat and drink regularly or you’ll get dehydrated and starve. There are countless opportunities to pick up food through the world, including stripping meat from the animals you kill, but the new thing here is- it all spoils. If you get some meat from the doe you killed and don’t eat it for a certain period of time, it rots. At that point it can still be eaten, but it has a significantly increased chance to give you diseases and radiation damage.

Speaking of radiation damage, that’s another difference. Before if your radiation level got too high, you’d have some slight side effects, but usually nothing too noticeable during gameplay. In this game there are increased chances for radiation-influenced disease. One example I saw last night was during a fight with some feral ghouls. During the fight I saw the notice that I’d taken increased rad damage, and then every few seconds during the fight myself and the area around me would burst into flames. After taking some meds to lower the radiation levels I got the notice that I had recovered from an “unstable isotope” illness. This makes me very excited for what other possibilities await in that area.

As far as creatures to battle, I ran into a lot of ghouls, of course, a group of supermutants, some protectrons and other robots, but in this game there are some new and interesting creatures. I ran across a few supersized ticks, a couple of three headed opossums, and a new robot. But the most interesting thing I encountered was the Scorched. I just played in a few areas of the map, and for a limited time, but what I saw was; Scorched are everywhere.

Looking like a case of sunburn gone bad, the burnt-skinned creatures appear to be covered in glowing embers and growing green lesions all over their bodies. There are research areas dedicated to the creatures that give you some more details, but I can say they can be brutal if they gang up on you. Violent, vicious, and hard to see in the dark, they use weapons and can have a pretty decent health. They also move quickly and can sneak up on you if you aren’t careful.

One thing that has returned, but altered, is weapon and armor degradation. In previous games (except 4) your equipment would break down and eventually become unusable, but you could grab another of the same item and combine them to fix it. With this game, if something breaks, you have to have junk and go to an armor or weapon bench to repair it. That adds a new and interesting element to the gameplay and gives you an increased need for a good melee weapon as well. Leveling up is also a bit different, this game offering you perk cards rather than a perk map. You can only have certain cards active at a time, which allows you to build and change your character’s effectiveness in different areas for different things, and depending on whether you’re on your own or part of a team.

Overall, my first experience with Bethesda’s version of West Virginia has been a positive one. It was very interesting for me to explore the digital version of areas I’ve frequented in my life. I was able to cross the damaged New River Gorge bridge, see areas I’ve driven through countless times, and search Point Pleasant for the mysterious Mothman. Although I didn’t find him, I did harvest some of his eggs, so I have hope for his presence in the game. I also find myself wondering if the presence of what appeared to be drones in the sky just outside of Point Pleasant has anything to do with him. Point Pleasant lies on the edge of the map and I witnessed what appeared to be two drones flying over an area just beyond the edge of the map. Maybe that’s an area we’ll see opened in the future?

I’m very excited for the next B.E.T.A. session to open, and I very much hope I can join it. In the meantime, I hope you’ll all purchase the game if you haven’t already. I would love to build a team with you guys to explore the wild and wonderful West Virginia wilderness! I’m putting one of my gameplay photos as the cover photo here, and I may share a couple others on social media if you want to check them out. I may make some other posts as the official full game release approaches, so keep your eyes open for that. And if you do have access to the B.E.T.A., keep your weapons ready and share your experiences with me!!