Be True

It’s January 10, everyone. Have you stuck to your resolutions so far? If so, you’re doing better than a lot of people. Personally I’ve been doing a moderate job of keeping up with some, not so well at keeping up with others. It’s so easy to let life flow without a thought for what you’re doing, following the ‘norm’ and letting yourself fall into a bit of a rut. That’s a bit of what this post is going to be about. I do think it may end up being a two-parter, too, because I’ve seen a lot today that has motivated me to write my little heart out, but the basic message behind every word I’m going to say here is the same. You have to be true to yourself.

Going back to what I was saying at the start of this post, New Year’s Resolutions are notorious for being set on or around January 1st, and many are lucky if they make it out of the month. But I recently saw a very important question that stuck with me and made me think hard. Why is it that New Year’s Resolutions are such a big thing? Why should we focus so much on the beginning of the year – more importantly, why should we only set aside one time throughout the year to make changes? It’s a doozy of a question, and I honestly don’t have an answer for it. We are all (at least in theory) strong, free-willed human beings with the ability to make decisions to better ourselves at any time. So why do we place so much focus on the whole “new year, new me” fad?

I’ve seen people in March decide something about their lives is unsatisfactory and decide to make it a New Year’s Resolution and live with the unhappiness for 9 months rather than take a stand right then and there. Why? This life is so precious, so fleeting, and so important. How can any of us afford to live even one second being untrue to ourselves? You wouldn’t wake up hungry and say “oh, I’ll eat next month.” Or break your arm and say “oh, I’ll get it fixed eventually.” No. You’d stand up and take charge. Why, then, would anyone choose to wait to make themselves better, happier? Why would anyone decide to allow time to choose when they can make a change that may improve their lives infinitely?

We were placed on this earth with a certain amount of time, a certain purpose, and a sure freedom. God gave us the free will to make choices for ourselves – if he didn’t, there would obviously be no sin, because He just wouldn’t allow it to happen. That’s the surest way to know He wants us to choose for ourselves. I’ve often heard the old saying “if you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.” As much as I think the phrase has been misconstrued to mean something else at times, I do agree. God wants us to dream big. He wants us to take the life and the world He has given us and make it bigger and better than ever before.

If you’ve ever needed proof of that, examine the parable Jesus gave his disciples of the three slaves with talents (Matthew 25:14). Of course, there are multiple ways to interpret this, but I take it quite literally. Three slaves were given talents by their master. Two of them used their talents to make more, to create, to better themselves and their situation. When their master returned and asked about the talents, each had doubled what they were given for their master and because of this they were rewarded. But one of the three servants buried his talent where it would never be seen, but never be lost. When his master returned the man could only dig up and return what already belonged to his master, with no return and no use being made of the talent, and thus he was punished.

God has given us all a talent. He has given us all life, love, a desire for something and a way to get what we want. When we put that talent to use in whatever way we can, it will grow. Just like a muscle that is used and worked it will get stronger and bigger, more useful and worthwhile. Soon others will take notice. We can put our talents out  there and have them return to us even bigger. We can take each and every day of this life and inject ourselves, our dreams, our desires and our strengths into it, and when all is said and done, each day will have been bigger and better than the last.

I think that’s what we’re here for. It’s not about New Year’s Resolutions that often fail, leaving us to fall right back into the same routine. Obviously if we’re setting a resolution to change it, some part of us is tired of letting it happen, right? So why wait for a new year? Why wait until the world tells you it’s OK to make a change? Do it now. If you want that haircut, go get it. If you want to lose weight, do it. If you want to publish a book, write it and push it out there. None of us are given a promise that we will wake up tomorrow, or that there will even be a tomorrow. So why wait? Why let the man-made constructs of conformity and waste ruin the time we have left? Get out there and climb that mountain, lift those weights, write that book, go for that management position, travel the world. Will you be like the servant who hid his talent from the world and had nothing to show for it, or will you get out there and make the most of what you’ve been given and make your mark on the world? Be true to yourself, people. We have so little time here. None of us want to be on our death bed and realize we didn’t live to our fullest potential. I challenge each of you, before the week is over, to do something that your heart desires.

Find something that you have been wanting to do that you know will make you happy, break out of a routine that has been holding you back. Make a difference in your own life, and see just how much happier it makes you. It can be something as huge as getting a new car, or something as small as trying a new route to work. But do it. Break free. Find a way to take the life God has given you and truly be thankful for it. Dare to live a little, eh? That’s the end of this post. In the next couple of days I’m going to come back with another similar message regarding things that have been bugging me in this regard – namely suggestions that we have to base our lives on the lives of others.

In the meantime, get out there and showcase your talents. Bring yourself to a new level and take your life in your own hands. In the end, you’ll have something to show for it. Be true to yourselves, guys.

Submission Call: Crescendo of Darkness, HorrorAddicts.net

I’ll definitely have to jump on this! Maybe some of you would like to as well!

HorrorAddicts.net

Cover by Carmen Masloski

Crescendo of Darkness
Edited by Jeremiah Donaldson

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” -Victor Hugo

There’s a funny thing that can soothe the soul after a rough day at work, can put you in the mood to take on any challenge, or can transport you back twenty years in time. It’s the most widely enjoyed mode of entertainment and the most used form of mood alteration. Music.

Your story must involve music in some way. This could take the form of a specific genre or song, but also the creation of music, an instrument, or even the lack of music. What would you do if you didn’t have your favorite music to calm your mind or to motivate you? What horrible deeds are prevented on a daily basis because someone listened to their favorite song? How…

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Mockingbirds, writers, and vampires!

Happy June, everyone! I’m pretty excited to get the chance to make this announcement, because this book is one of my all-time favorites. Some of you who followed my video book club a couple of years back may remember that I did a video on the book there, and I’ll probably cover some of the same talking points with this – although hopefully more in depth. Without further ado, let’s all put down the sun tan lotion and get ready to read “To Kill a Mockingbird!”

This is an absolute classic – a treasure, if you will. The themes of this book still ring so true today that it makes the piece hopelessly timeless. The morals Harper Lee intends to inspire in the reader here are just incredible. Honestly, there is little to nothing about this book that I don’t enjoy, so the discussion post for this work may be a little long in tooth, but I’m sure you all won’t mind!

I also want to remind you all that I will attending the Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium this Friday and Saturday and I couldn’t be more excited! This has been one of my favorite things to do for the last half a dozen years or so, and every time I come out with a new outlook on the craft of writing in general and my own place in this great big literary world! Some of you may remember (I know I remind you at least annually) that I actually started this blog due to a lecture I attended at this symposium three or four years ago. It has been a great help and a great inspiration to me and my writing since I first stepped through the doors, and I look forward to what this year has to offer. I don’t think it’s too late to register, so if anyone is interested in attending a great symposium with some great regional authors, feel free to check out the details here; https://appheritagewritersym.wordpress.com

Last but not least, I have to tell you all that I have put myself into overdrive when it comes to getting Maverip ready for beta readers. I have decided that I am going to format the novel differently than previously planned, and I will be taking strides to get the project finished by the end of the year – if not the end of summer. If anyone is interested in being a beta reader for an awesome, intense vampire novel that calls back to the root of what makes a vampire a vampire, let me know and I’ll get your info ready for the day it’s complete!

Look for the Mockingbird review around June 28, friends and fans, and we’ll have a great discussion about this awesome classic. If you have any other suggestions feel free to leave them in the comments below, and if you’re interested in being a beta reader, hit me up!

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!

 

 

You Know Your Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College changed my life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sink Your Teeth Into This!

Hey guys! I hope everyone has been having an awesome Spring. So far it’s been pretty great for me. I have to admit that I’ve been having an amazing time at my new job. I get to see in depth, behind the scenes things that make the theatre run smoothly, and I’m very impressed. I feel very fulfilled with my job, and the fact that it gives me a solid schedule – which means I don’t have to scrounge for time to read at night! Isn’t that exciting? Anyway, I wanted to give everybody our May book club read, and I promise it’s awesome.

For this book, I chose another new (yet pretty old) release; “Powers of Darkness: The Lost Version of Dracula.” Of course I chose this! It’s a book that was originally written by Valdemar Asmundsson in the early 1900’s (it was translated and released by Hans de Roos). It was first thought to be just a translation of the original text from English to Icelandic, but after it was examined researchers realized it is actually a complete retelling of “Dracula” that features an altered story, changed names, new characters and bits of text that coincide with Bram Stoker’s original ideas and notes for his classic novel. I know this book might not be the type of thing some of you look for, but I assure you it promises plenty of amazing scenes. Unlike “Dracula”, this book isn’t just told in the form of letters and such, but is written in a slightly more standard style, with the majority being told through Harker’s (Thomas rather than Johnathon in this text) journal entries.

Unfortunately, some book stores view this book as slightly more scholarly that what they typically carry, so you may have to specifically request it if you want to buy it. Since it is such an interesting topic it can be a little hard to track down in libraries as well. I had to have my copy shipped from a library in New York so I could dive in. But it’s definitely worth it to a vampirologist and “Dracula” scholar in the 21st Century.

Either way, I look very forward to diving into this book and I hope you’ll all join me in this awesome experience! Feel free to follow me on social media (https://www.facebook.com/DMathewsBooks ) if you haven’t. Now that I have more time at night I have been writing a lot more, and I think I’ll start making more regular posts and discussion on my various pages. With luck there may also be some discussion from a special guest once this review goes up! I’m thinking it will go up around May 25. I know that doesn’t give a lot of time, but this book isn’t as long as “Dracula” and, based on what I’ve read so far, will likely be consumed pretty quick by most people. There are also some interesting forewords and commentary, including a great one from Bram’s great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker, throughout the novel that I find fascinating.

I hope you guys will be able to track the novel down and enjoy it! If you do have any trouble finding it, feel free to let me know. As a former librarian, I know some tricks of the trade that might be able to help. Ok guys, let’s dive in to a retelling of one of the greatest Gothic novels of all time!

The Circle

This book was incredible. The parallels between this and other dystopian thrillers are immensely weighty. At times it was like I was literally reading a prequel to 1984. I was very eager to dive into this book after seeing a trailer for the movie in theaters a few months or so ago (I know, I know, sue me), and I knew I couldn’t see the movie without first reading the book! I finished the novel well before the release of the movie, which comes out today, so there are no worries there. Enough small talk, though; let’s jump right in.

First and foremost, as I said before, this book almost read like it could be a prequel to 1984. The ideas of the Circlers and their almost incessant need to make everything known was incredibly ominous. I can’t count the times that I thought it was almost like watching the development of Big Brother. The cameras, the mandatory participation, all the way to the ending. That ending! Man!

We enter the story with Mae, who seems just as innocent as one would imagine; a small-town girl moving to this huge opportunity. We see that she (and some around her) understands just how much bigger than her The Circle really is. As Mae immerses herself in the work she is given, we see her start to open up a little, but she has many questions. There are many instances where people like Eamon Bailey and others make comments about knowledge and the fact that they feel everything should be known. Mae is very taken aback by this idea at first. It seems like she understands the importance The Circle has in the future of the world, but she also sees the importance of privacy and separation. This quickly seems to die out.

Mae keeps herself slightly distant from The Circle at first, not attending many parties, leaving campus a lot and generally letting herself live as if she was working a standard 9-5 job. She left The Circle behind when she left The Circle. This didn’t work for the company. They addressed this a few times before Mae was faced with a situation that really threw her out of herself. In the middle of trying to fit in and find herself in The Circle family, Mae has some sexual encounters with a young, shy man named Francis and a slightly older, mysterious and impossible to find man who only tells her his name is Kalden. These encounters do a little bit of work towards making Mae a closer part of The Circle and helping her focus on the job itself. But this work is nothing compared to what happens as her parents continue to deal with her father’s MS and associate with her ex-boyfriend, Mercer. She had slowly grown more accustomed to being more open and public with her life, but it was Mercer’s first big resistant moment that made it sink in for her. He more or less told her that she was a part of what was wrong with the world, saying The Circle was crossing too many lines and she needed to grow up and see the truth. She left her parents house that night and had the experience that lead to her becoming the poster-child for citizen transparency.

Mae getting arrested really broke something in her, I think. The fear she felt at knowing she could lose her position changed how she looked at everything, and Eamon Bailey helped push that through her head. He encouraged her to feel that showing everyone everything at all times was the best way to live her life. This way of thinking, needless to say, was a game changer.

Mae started wearing her camera and documenting everything, helping The Circle with its attempt at closing in on the world and consuming everything to be consumed. The story really gains so much weight at this point. Mae slowly becomes a different person. She goes from a girl who is mortified at the thought of one person seeing her perform a moderate sexual act to being perfectly fine with taking millions of followers into the bathroom with her. The Circle’s (for lack of a better term; or is this the best term?) brainwashing of Mae really culminates and reaches its most dangerous level when she speaks up and suggests developing the mandatory voting technology that is Demoxie. The very name of this program, to me, sounds like poison. Demoxie influences everyone around the world to make their voice heard, which, although a great idea, has consequences. In addition to recording the answers, The Circle has the power to record who answers, and how. Much like Mae was able to look and see who voted her as not being awesome in a demonstration of the technology (that in itself is an experience that really allowed us to see into the damaged psyche Mae has developed, or maybe just revealed, through the text), any government organization may have been able to convince The Circle to allow them to see how its citizens voted. For that matter, Circlers themselves have access to the information. Anyone who may have voted against a popular idea could thus be singled out for their voices.

The real life-changer for this comes when Mae is given control over the technology to look for people – any person – all over the world. The first instance is likely helpful. Circlers and audience members are able to help find a fugitive and bring her to justice. But then Mae decides to take the situation further. She decides she wants to look for Mercer, who had AWOL after deciding to go “off the grid” in an attempt to hide from Mae and The Circle.

This search would have been all fine and dandy, had she known when to call off the dogs. I literally cringed as I read how intense the unnecessary chase scene became after Circle followers tracked Mercer to a house in the woods. He fled in fear and anger as Circlers and Mae followed him with no explanation as to why. Mae used The Circle’s technology to literally chase Mercer to his death. He drove off a bridge because he became so desperate to find a way to get away from the power of The Circle. That moment was very powerful to me.  I feel like it represented everyone who has ever stood up to a government or an organization that has too much power. There is so much that can be said about that scene, that idea.

But Mae couldn’t see it. She was wounded by his death, but not enough. Kalden (who turned out to be Ty, the FOUNDER of The Circle) tried to get her to  help him shut the whole thing down before it became too powerful. But she wouldn’t have it. She couldn’t. She talked so many times of feeling the black tear in her mind, her soul, and by the end of the book she was convinced the tear, rather than representing the innocence and humanity that was being walled off, represented “not knowing”, which is something The Circle was strongly against, of course.

The final insight we really get into Mae’s mind is all it took for me to both lose the last of my respect for her character and make me want ten more books. Mae’s friend Annie has literally become comatose due to the stresses of The Circle (can we be sure it isn’t something Bailey or Stenton did on purpose?) and all Mae can think about is how she finds it an unbelievable injustice that she can’t see into her friend’s mind. She can’t read the thoughts of the woman who is lying on the bed in front of her. Obviously, my first thought here was the budding idea for the Thought Police, but I digress.

Overall, I thought this book was absolute genius. David Eggers did an amazing job, and I look forward to checking out other works from him. From the time I started reading until the last word, I was enthralled. That being said, this book isn’t exactly the type of thing I typically choose to read for pleasure. But it’s easily in my list of top books. Whether that’s top 50, top 25, or even top 100, I couldn’t begin to tell you. I’ve read so much that the list does change fairly often. But this one is there. The style Eggers wrote this book in is very conversational and matter-of-fact. I didn’t get hung up on any dialogue issues and I don’t recall anything that was over-exaggerated or unclear.

My biggest compliment and biggest complaint for the book would likely be the same. It was very open-ended. From the point we leave Mae, as she considers talking to the founders about finding a way to expose thoughts to the same transparency as everything else, I feel like anything could happen. We know that Kalden (Ty) is still a part of The Circle, but we don’t know where, in what capacity, or what punishment may have been applied to his position. In other words; we have no idea of his motives, or if the mention of his position is even correct. They may well have just told Mae that as a cover. If it is true, what’s to stop him from either continuing to attempt to coerce Mae, or find someone else to help him overthrow the totalitarian organization that grew from his brainchild? Even more, I still feel like there is some way Mercer could be alive. Maybe he jumped from the truck and clung to the bottom of that bridge until it was safe to walk away. Maybe Ty knows this and he’s going to work with Mercer to overthrow The Circle. One way or another, I do think there’s enough possibility to bring this idea back for another round. Come on Eggers, what do you think?

Regardless, this was a great book and it really makes you think about the dangers of continuing down the path of total technological control that we are going on. What did you think of it? Do you agree with Mae that knowledge should supersede privacy? Or should we cherish the privacy of the independent human? There are so many questions! And for that matter, there are so many things that I didn’t really have the space to address here (the terrible things this expansion of knowledge uncovered about Annie’s family, for one) that I would love to hear your thoughts on. Leave me comments or send me messages and let’s have some great discussion on this book! As always, share your ideas for future books at any time and let’s spread the club far and wide.

Life announcement and this month’s book!

Hey there friends and fans, I have to apologize for posting this so late, but it has been a crazy week. I know you all were expecting April’s book club announcement on Tuesday, but I was working on getting paperwork and everything in order so I could make another announcement. Many of you know that I have spent the last year as a county reporter for my local newspaper. During that time I have written stories on everything from local government meetings to the return of a once regionally extinct species of fish. I learned a lot during that time, but I have now accepted a position in another area that promises to be equally rewarding.

Beginning April 12 I will be a Communications Associate with the Barter Theatre. Those of you in the U.S have probably heard about the theatre, but for those that aren’t or haven’t; the Barter is the State Theatre of Virginia and has a very rich history in Abingdon. It was founded in the 1930’s and offered local farmers the chance to trade some of their excess vegetables in lieu of cash for a ticket to a play. It has always been a really amazing place to go and I am beyond excited to have the opportunity. In this position I will be doing a lot of social media marketing and interacting as well as working with advertising and general media information for the theatre. I’m excited to see what awesome things await! I hope some of you will be able to come visit the theatre and give me a shout ahead of time so I can say hello!

On another note, next week is also a big deal for me because I will be presenting my work “Lefty Smith and the Right-Handed Corn” at the opening night for this Spring’s issue of Jimson Weed, the journal I used to manage. This piece is one that I really enjoy, partly because it is my first published attempt at including local folklore in a short story. Of course this legend is completely fabricated, but it is still enjoyable to me. The event will be held on April 11 at 6:30 p.m. on the campus of UVa-Wise if anyone in the area wants to attend!

Finally, in the interest of keeping this post fairly short, I’ll tell you about this month’s book. I think the idea works very well, since the movie adaptation of this particular book comes out at the end of the month. After looking at a number of dystopian and semi-dystopian possibilities, I chose Dave Eggers’ “The Circle.” This book, published in 2013, follows the life of Mae, the newest employee of the ever-involved Circle. The book highlights Mae’s journey through an increasingly transparent life as The Circle breaks into every possible means of modern technology, even getting to the point where people are convinced to wear body cameras 24/7 in the interest of making their lives known to the public. The book explores a lot of themes, but heavily focuses on whether or not all of the convenience and involvement introduced by The Circle is actually an advantage or a problem.

As one more aside; the revamping of my collection is coming along nicely and I have decided to include some additional works, including some exclusive, never-before-seen work! I will hopefully have a rough version of this work ready in the next month or so, and I may well seek out some beta readers! If any of you are interested in that possibility, just let me know and we’ll get it figured out!

I think we’ll have a great month with this book and I look very forward to discussing the work! I apologize ahead of time if I post a little sparsely as I adjust to the change of employment, but fortunately I won’t have to deal with a 100+ mile move this time! I hope you all have had a great beginning of April, and I look forward with speaking to everyone about “The Circle,” the job, or anything else. As always, share this far and wide to get plenty of eyes on it!