Belief and Support

Hey there, friends and fans! I have had an incredible week, and yesterday provided me with quite a surreal experience to round it out. One of my friends and coworkers received their copy of my recent publication from Amazon. The second she ordered it she asked me to sign it when she got it. Of course, I agreed. I’ve done book signings before – I’ve even signed books with Jeffery Deaver – but this was different. Before, I’d signed my writings in various journals and publications where my work appeared alongside other authors and artists. But this one was mine.

I was handed a book entirely of my work and asked to personalize it. I’m honestly still beside of myself from the experience. It really hit me at that point just how blessed and lucky I am. God blessed me with the talent to create, to write, to paint with words – and then He gave me a way to share it with the world. Those things alone are incredible. I couldn’t imagine asking for more.

Then He gave me more anyway. He gave me people who believe in me, who support me. Throughout my life I’ve had an amazing support system, from my mother, grandmother and family to my friends and all of you guys. I’ve always been unbelievably thankful for the network of love and support that I’ve had, but it really hit me last night just how important those things are.

Having gifts and talents and publications and inspiration are all amazing, but without a support network it can all fall apart. The best artists and authors in the world would be so much dust in the wind now if there was no support for their work. It is of utmost importance for a creative individual to have support. There are countless examples throughout history of creatives without a support network who lose all faith and inspiration.

I am beyond blessed to say this is not so for me. I can never thank you all enough for the support you have provided me. It is more clear to me than ever that a support system can truly change the life of a creative individual. As I’ve said before, creating an original piece of work, of any kind, is more than just putting words to paper or paint to canvas or plugging notes on an instrument. It is, quite literally, baring a part of yourself, a bit of your soul, for the world to see. It’s never easy. But a good support system can change that. Knowing there are people out there eager to receive your work and support your efforts makes a big difference.

My point, I guess, is that everyone should support artists. If you find a piece of work that you enjoy, that resonates with you, that makes you feel something – tell the artist. Give them a review, give them a kind word, share it with friends, shout it from the rooftops and let the world know. Knowing their work is appreciated can and does make all the difference to an artist who has put themselves out there.

Speaking from experience, it makes you feel great knowing someone is excited for your work. So I thank you all again, and I encourage you to make sure you tell your favorite artists what it is you like about their work. It will mean more than you know.

Once again, I thank you all for your support. My collection is, of course, available for purchase from Amazon. I look forward to sharing more work and more experiences with you all soon. Keep your eyes open for any upcoming news, and if you’d like to purchase my collection, I’ll put a link at the bottom of this post. If you get a copy, don’t forget to leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or social media in general. They help exponentially, especially for indie authors.

As always guys, feel free to reach out to me with any comments or questions. I look forward to hearing from you all!

https://amzn.to/2tC2jOX

At Long Last

Hey there, friends and fans! I’m beyond ecstatic to be able to announce to you all that my first ever self-published print work is available for purchase now!

In a rush of quiet editing and preparation I decided to get this short story collection off the ground this month. I have long wanted to be able to have a copy of my own work on the bookshelf, and with the grace of God it’s happened! I sat down and looked at the efforts I’ve made in the past and it dawned on me that for too long I’ve had a pipe dream that just having the book would make things happen. It seems silly, but after talking to some other indie authors (that’s right, even more than before I can count myself among the ranks of indie authors now!) I realized a lot of people make similar mistakes. Rather than accepting that we have the power to get our works to the world, we tend to think that just having them completed should make it happen. I mean, we put all that time into writing, right?

But that isn’t it. It’s got to be a full effort all the way, and I’m very happy I realized that. Having those proof copies come in and being able to hold a book completely full of my work that I put the effort into – needless to say, it awakened something in me. I truly feel, for the first time in a long time, that I have accomplished something as an author. For a long time, especially in the last part of last year, I feel I’ve let myself down in my writing. It’s been hard to focus and get a work out there, and I’ve often found myself just going through the vaguest motions in my publication efforts, content to hope an agent would grab me up based solely on my query letters. But I’m glad to say I’ve taken charge again. I’ve come into my own. I have reached for the stars and grasped my own shining moment. Lame, right? But it does feel amazing.

The stories and poems in the collection are a mix of some older and newer works, a couple of which have been living solely in my computer for quite some time. I am very happy to have a chance to give them life in this collection. Many of the pieces are centered around an Appalachian setting, some even including regional culture. My heritage, of course, is very important to me, so I love giving my work that mountain twist. It means a lot to me to be able to present these works to you all, and I sincerely hope you’ll pick up a copy. If you do, please make sure to leave an Amazon review for the work. Reviews go a long way for indie authors, especially online, and it would mean the world to me!

Also, I do want to thank you all for your endless support. I hope you’ll enjoy the works in the book as much as I enjoy being able to present them to you. And, in case you’re wondering; yes, I’m already considering going the same route for one of my novels soon. Stay tuned! Here’s the link for the work: https://amzn.to/2tC2jOX

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.

It Isn’t Just a Word.

Each year millions of Americans are plagued by symptoms and feelings related to depression. From feeling alone, angry, sad, hurt, and like you don’t belong, feelings of depression can come in many forms. Some people find themselves feeling lethargic and separated, others feel so affected by it that they have thoughts of suicide. Some, sadly, even attempt to commit suicide. Others, still, succeed. Some statistics say that as much as 15 percent of those affected by depression will attempt or commit suicide.

I have no shame in admitting that I am one of those who faces depressive thoughts and feelings. I have no shame in admitting it, but I can’t pretend I haven’t had some hesitation about writing this post. I’ve told you all before that I had bouts with depression in my past that were none too pleasant. In the time following my grandfather’s death, I was a very changed young man. Depression attacked me from quite a few angles, leading me down a path of upset and confusion. It was only when I put pen to paper and began to allow my creative abilities to flow that I found how to combat those feelings of depressive displacement. In short, as I’ve said before, writing saved my life. Never would I imagine something could hit me so hard that even writing would have trouble combating it.

That was before I lost my grandmother.

In August, after a long battle with a myriad of health issues, my grandmother went home to be with God. My grandmother was a woman of untold love, amusement and happiness. Throughout my life she was someone who was always there for me, working to make sure I was safe and happy no matter where I was. Losing her was nothing short of devastating for me. In the two months since her passing I have fought myself tooth and nail to avoid what I knew was sitting just below the surface. With each passing day I became more and more depressed. Anger, sadness, displacement, loneliness, uselessness were among the things boiling in my very soul.

I tried as hard as I could to fight it, but just ignoring the issues do not work. I found myself feeling that nothing was right. I wasn’t right. Work, home, reading, writing, driving, sitting, sleeping, waking. It was all wrong, and I was wrong for doing it. I couldn’t think about her, and I couldn’t not think about her. If I remembered her, I was certain it wasn’t good enough. If I tried not to think about her, I was disrespecting her memory. How could I work knowing she passed while I was at work one night? How could I not work, knowing her work ethic was so strong she worked well beyond the age she should have retired? The thoughts affected every part of my life.

The tricky part of this most recent bout of depression is that it wasn’t constant. It wasn’t an insistent, unavoidable pain. It came and went. One day I would be so low that I couldn’t possibly get any lower, and the next week would be fine. Some days were just as sunny as they could be, all my memories good and my heart soaring with possibility. But recently the good days have been few and far between. The depression grew and grew until it came to a head earlier in the week, forcing me to face the truth, even if I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

I’m depressed. I’m sad. I’m in a place unlike any I’ve found myself in before. And that is OK. That is something I can handle. My writing, which has brought me through more than even I understand, has been affected by this as well. Ordinarily, it has been something that brought me to new levels of life and helped me through anything, but it hasn’t been able to do that this time. Yes, it has brought me through some of it. I have found myself able to cling to my work, produce new ideas, and work on old ones, distracting me from the worst of the pain, but I left a very crucial part of the matter out. I didn’t face the problem.

Rather than allowing myself to feel the depression and the loss, I tried to shove it aside, thinking if I didn’t admit it to myself, then it couldn’t hurt me. Obviously, that isn’t the case. The pain and depression I’ve dealt with, the pain and depression that so many of us deal with every single day can not be ignored. I think that is the real secret here. So often in society, in our own minds, and in the view of the greater world, ignoring problems is one of the biggest false solutions presented to us. If we don’t admit that we’re depressed, if we don’t admit that we’re in pain, if we don’t admit that everything is not A OK, then it will go away, right? No.

I’m writing this post just as much for myself as for anyone else. Just by writing these words, by admitting that I have been depressed, I feel the hold of the sickness lessening. If there is nothing else I can stress in this post, nothing else that you will all take from this, I hope it is the message that you have to face the issue head on. You have to look your depression in the face and tell it that you absolutely will not stand by and let it take you. Admitting that there is a problem is the first step in conquering it. We’ve all heard that for any number of issues, and I finally understand how true it is.

Having an outlet is exceedingly important in the fight against pain and depression. Without it, even admitting the issue is there will not bring an end to the pain. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers here, but after dealing with this for so long and in so many forms, I think I’m beginning to understand more than I ever wanted to be necessary. I can’t speak for everyone who is, has been, or will be depressed. Of course I can’t. But what I can say is that, for me at least, admitting you are depressed is one of the most important steps you can take to combating the depression. Once you realize the problem is serious, and is not going away, you will have more than enough freedom to find a way to combat it.

At this point in time, after realizing that I wanted to write this post and actually going through with it, I feel more like myself than I have since my grandmother died. The inspiration to write is really coming back, and I think doing so will actually begin making a difference in helping me get myself and my brain back to normal.

Being depressed is not something to be ashamed of. It’s not something that signifies weakness. And it is definitely not something that can be ignored. I understand that now. That’s the real difference between my life then and now. When my grandfather passed I was open with myself about the issue but, until now, I’ve told myself and others that I’m fine. I’m not. I see that. Depression is a very real issue, and it is something that must be accepted and honestly dealt with before it can be dispensed. I have been dealing with, or rather not dealing with, depression since August. But today, for the first time since I got the news about my grandmother, I honestly feel like things will be OK. I am depressed, but I can accept it now, and deal with it. I might be going through a rough time, but it is not the end of the world, and already the days ahead look a bit brighter.

Are any of you dealing with depression? Have you felt yourself slipping away, becoming someone else, becoming something you aren’t? I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. This isn’t all there is. If you’re depressed, there is more out there you can do. Reach out to someone who can help, someone who cares. Accept that you are having an issue. Find your outlet. That is the real step. Once you’ve accepted that you are depressed, you have to find what works to fight it. And then you stand strong against it. Get back to yourself. Be true to yourself. Depression is something we all face, but it does not have to be all we know. I’m always open to talk if someone needs a shoulder to lean on.

I want to thank everyone who encouraged me to write this post. It has been a real battle for me, and I have finally realized why. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I didn’t want anyone to think I was weak. I finally realize that battling depression is one of the strongest things you can do. And I will never forget it again. Thank you all for the support, and please – please – do not let depression win. Find what works for you, and stand strong against the pain of depression. You can do it, and you’ll be stronger than ever if you do.

The Waiting Game

Hey there, friends and fans! It’s been a crazy week, guys. Last Tuesday I took a huge leap that will lead to big things for my future as a writer. After editing and re-editing and debating and waiting and being a nervous wreck, I finally pulled myself up by my bootstraps and sent query letters to a number of agents. For those of you that haven’t done it, the query process is quite stressful at times, but it can be the difference between having a book on the shelves of your local literature haven – or gathering dust in your desk drawer.

Personally, I sought dozens of articles and opinions on what makes the best query letter. From different styles, different lengths, different organizational suggestions it was not hard to get bogged down in the insane possibilities. This type of novel should have this type of query, that type should have a different kind, your contact info should be one place vs. another. Needless to say it was quite daunting. Fortunately, while seeking out the help of as many print and web sources as I could deem fairly reliable I was also asking some close author friends of mine for advice.

Through all the muck and the mire one piece of advice really helped me organize my thoughts and figure out exactly what I could do to get myself moving in the right direction. A close friend told me that no matter how many bits of advice and how many query suggestions I read I needed to remember that they were all just opinions. As long as you include the necessary information and present your story in an understandable and exciting way, it’s going to ultimately be in the agent’s hands. If you send a query that doesn’t quite match what they expect, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s hitting the trash (unless of course you blatantly disregard some type of styling request the agent personally has).

At the end of the day, based on what I saw and what I’ve been told, the important thing to remember is making sure whoever reads your query is going to want to read your book. To the best of my ability, that’s what I did. I picked my first round of agents and sent the first communication to them with the best of hopes. Now I’m a week into the waiting game and every email I get sends new shivers down my spine. Of course, I’ll keep you all updated when that positive news comes rolling in (confidence, right?!). In the meantime, I plan to keep jotting down ideas and smatterings here and there. I’ve had some interesting inspiration hit recently and I’ve got a couple of works full of potential brewing, along with others that I’ve already started. The real task next will be to figure out which project I should pursue to completion now that Maverip is wrapped up (at least for now).

Have any of you sent query letters before? In your opinion what, if any, are the benefits of going the self-publishing route over traditional publishing or vice versa? I’d love to hear how this process went for you all and what your thoughts are on the various publication possibilities available to the 21st century author. Feel free to leave your comments here or send me a private message. I love hearing from you guys and I can’t wait to have good news to share with you! In the meantime, enjoy the beginning of your summer and get out there and take advantage of these warm summer nights – but don’t step too far into the shadows. You never know what might be lurking there!

What do you want?

Last night I was having a typical scroll through social media when I stumbled upon a question that got me thinking a lot about my work. It was a simple enough post from a publishing group I follow, but it held a weight that I hadn’t let myself feel in quite some time. It asked “what is the biggest goal you want to achieve as a writer?”

You know, typical question people often ask writers, especially ones who are just jumping into the game. Most of the time we have a typical answer to go with it. I want to get my book published. I want to break through writers block. I want to write a bestseller. And, of course, those answers came to me, too. But my brain refused to stop there. As you all know, I love literature. I read almost constantly and have been having a very sordid affair with the greater world catalogue for my entire life. To say the written word is my passion would be a hopeless understatement. It is part of the very fabric of my being, as God meant it to be, and I love every minute of it. So could I really be satisfied with such generic answers to such a pregnant question? Of course not.

The ideas ran faster than ever as I sat down and really thought about it. What do I want out of my writing? What is my biggest and most hopeful goal? Sure, I want that bestseller. I want to have my book sold in local bookstores. I want people I know to see my book and be able to buy my work with memories of me in mind. I want to have unique and interesting books. But it goes so much deeper. After I thought about it the answer flowed easily. I want to be great.

I want people to feel my work. I want it to stand the test of time and change the world. I want to build on the face of literature like the greats of past generations and tear asunder the ideas of stagnance and convenience. I want, in essence, to be truly great. After all, if we cant be great, what’s the point?

This realization, although admittedly daunting, is also immensely liberating. I have, once again, come to terms with my purpose, my desire, the very reason I wake up in the morning. I will stop at nothing to achieve my goals and realize my dreams. They wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t make it happen, right? Right.

So the journey goes on. I’ve entered what I hope to be the final content edit for Maverip before I hit agents with my queries, and I’ve found my second wind. I will make it happen, and I’ll take you all along for the ride.

But now I want to know what you guys think. What does this question mean to you? Let’s not even just limit it to writing. I know some of you are painters, musicians, and artists of various caliber and medium, so apply it to yourself. What is the biggest thing you want from your craft? Is is an idea of greatness? Is it just to overcome that next big project? What are your goals? But more importantly, what are your dreams? Never limit yourself. Let yourself dream. But, I could speak on that for hours. In the meantime, let me know what you think, what you dream. Leave me comments or shoot me messages. And, no matter what comes up, never let your dreams die. Fight for them tooth and nail. I know I am.

December Announcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book exchange and new opportunity

I hope this week finds you all well and safe. Summer is well underway here in the states and, as always, one of the greatest literary events is the summer reading list. Recently one of my friends on social media shared a post regarding a book exchange that allows one to get to know more about their online friends, and I thought it sounded like the perfect thing to try here! So what I am challenging each and every one of you to do is join the book exchange and share it far and wide to help inspire reading and literacy to everyone you know, and with any luck to everyone they know and so on and so on.

Joining is really very simple. All you have to do is like or comment on the blog post and I’ll send you a message with specifics. After that you just send a copy of your favorite book to the person who shares the exchange before you. In this case that would be me, of course. The book can be a new or used copy, whichever you’d prefer. The exchange provides all of us with a chance, not only to read the favorite books of our online friends, but also the opportunity to have hours and hours of conversation about what makes the book great.

Personally it is conversation about literature that makes the reading experience even more amazing for me. As a writer I have tons of ideas flow through my mind as I read a book and I love to discuss these ideas with others. It’s particularly great when I can discuss my favorite book with someone else and when I can discuss someone else’s favorite book with them. So please like or comment on this post if you are interested in joining a book exchange and I’ll send you the details. After that, make your own post on your blog or on social media (or both!) and start spreading the joy!

On another note, I have sent one of my recent short stories in to attempt publication in a new journal an author friend referred me to. If I get in the journal, I will be published in the very first edition of a brand new literary journal! Hopefully I’ll hear something about the piece soon, and I’ll let you all know when I do. In the meantime I’ll keep writing and reading and I hope you’ll all join in on the book exchange and help make the experience bigger and better than ever!

The Inspiration of Life

Last week the world suffered one of the worst tragedies the year has seen – which is saying a lot considering the vast amount of talent 2016 has cost us. Dr. Ralph Stanley, one of the greatest artists in the world, a man who contributed even more than he ever understood to my region, went to his Heavenly home on Thursday. I can honestly say this loss cut me very deeply. As a lover of music (and a player of it when time allows, although I would say even at my best I’m on the very bottom of mediocrity) and an artist who strives to bring my region a strong voice, Ralph Stanley meant a lot to me.

Growing up in Southwest Virginia, the culture and roots of bluegrass and folk music always struck something deep within me (even if I often prefer the power of a good hard rock song) but the voice of Ralph Stanley was one of the ones that always stuck with me. The wailing vibrato that brought to life some of the greatest hymns and folk tunes to ever be written was and is one of the most powerful and recognizable and meaningful voices I’ve ever heard and I will never forget the power it brings to the table. And honestly, as an artist, that is all we can ever really hope for, is it not? To know that at least one person out there who encounters our work finds something so powerful and meaningful within it that it even inspires them to create something of their own is, to me, one of the most rewarding experiences imaginable.

So how do we make this happen? How do we rise above the masses of other individuals who have interests similar to our own in order to be at the top of our game? Passion. Knowledge. Individuality. These things can have so much more impact than we realize sometimes. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it countless more times in my life I’m sure, but passion is something that completely alters everything. You may not have to be passionate about everything you do, but you definitely need to make a real effort to do the things that you are passionate about. That is one thing that made Ralph Stanley so monumental. He had an extreme passion for music and he had an incredible passion for the region he called home. So often in his music he called out to his home, his family, his history and his savior. These are what were important to Ralph. These are the things he knew and loved, and these are the things that brought people to his music and made them want to come back again and again.

When it comes to individuality, there are a number of ways to make yourself different from others. The way Ralph did it was often by using his natural gift, which was the voice God gave him. He was quoted as saying that it was his voice that set him apart from others. It was something no one else had. God had given it to him. The same goes for the ideas in our head. Some say that there isn’t a story out there that hasn’t been told, and that may be true. But I would put money on the fact that, similar idea or not, no one has ever told the story in quite the same way you would. So why wait? Why hesitate? Your ideas, your talents, your strength are all unique to you, and you owe it to the world to set those things free, whether it be through writing, music, painting or anything else.

I’ll leave you something that has always given me a little motivation, no matter what mood I’m in when I think of it, but I read a quote some time ago that had a similar message to this post, but it ended with words that truly gave me chills and inspired me immensely; someone out there needs your book. So get up, go paint, go write, go play your music. Whatever it is, get out there and do it, because someone out there NEEDS your work.

Thank you all for coming back and checking out this post. If you haven’t yet, please check out the rest of the new site and go read my last blog post which includes a free and exclusive story that I wanted my subscribers to have first crack at. Leave me comments and let me know what you think of my posts, my stories, the site, or just whatever you’d like to say!

Huge Announcement and New Work

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

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

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

Lefty Smith and the Right Handed Corn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ ‘He was dead?’ ”

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

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

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

“ ‘Lefty?’ ”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have no idea,” I told him.

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

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

“ ‘Quite hot,’ I told him.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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