Bridge to Terabithia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stand, Sit, Whine

Anyone who sees any kind of mass media news, be it via TV, newspaper or even just Facebook, has seen the latest (although not really new) scandal rocking our nation’s collective conscience. Some athletes have chosen to sit, kneel, or stand and not participate during the National Anthem. How terrible! How can we ever overcome this latest threat to our once-great unified country? Surely this will bring the end of all happiness as we know it. Funny thing the sun’s still shining and we’re still free (for now), though, ain’t it? Since Kaepernick decided he was going to take a knee last year during the National Anthem in support of his desire for equality and unity, the whole country has more or less gone batshit crazy over it. Now, a number of others have chosen to take up this mantle and do the same, with entire professional teams making the choice to stand out of the public eye or drop a knee during the song that we have adopted to show our strength as a nation. Their reasons are similar, for the most part. This country is becoming more divided each day, with massive amounts of people waging active assaults against those they see as ‘different,’ ‘less equal,’ or ‘dangerous’ (read; bullshit excuse for racism). Sensible people want to see that behavior come to an end, and this is how some have chosen to make a difference.

Before I continue here, let me say that I don’t have a dog in this fight. I can stand, I can sit or I can play hopscotch – because I know it is my right. I’m not calling out the sitters or the kneelers any more than I am calling out the people who stand and shed tears every time they hear the words we all know by heart before first grade. What I am calling out is the ridiculous fight about the whole thing. I understand that many people feel it is their (our?) duty to stand and sing along with the National Anthem, perhaps while they imagine fighter jets circling overhead, fireworks exploding in the background and bald eagles laying eggs filled with freedom all around them. But then again maybe that’s a bit much. Regardless, a lot of people find it a point of pride that they are free enough to stand and belt out the tune that has stood the test of time in honoring our country and what it stands for. I get that and I fully respect it. As someone with family who has served in the armed forces and in-laws who both have and continue to serve, I feel that pride and honor as well. I’m insanely happy and grateful to live in this country and I can be the most patriotic individual you’ve ever seen in the most clichéd sense of the term – but along with that comes the knowledge that if I choose not to stand there is not a single thing that can make me.

My great-uncle, my friends, my in-laws have all served this country, fought for this county, had their lives inexplicably changed in service for this country, so that I can have the right and freedom to make the choices I want to make. While seeing the stories about this ridiculous controversy (why does everything have to be a controversy??), one of the things we see quite often is a large amount of people screaming about how generations of soldiers have died in battle so that people could stand while the National Anthem plays. This is often accompanied by the political cartoon that depicts soldiers in fatigues correctly stating they are actually fighting for our right to sit OR stand during the song. But you know, that must be an exaggeration, right? Soldiers who fought for our freedom can’t have been fighting for total freedom, right? They were fighting only for the freedom for us to live and work and worship freely, but there must be a clause in there somewhere saying we have to stand during the anthem. Wrong again.

One of the greatest things about this nation is the freedom we have to live and worship and serve as we please – as long as it is not damaging another’s right to do the same. So explain to me again how someone kneeling during the National Anthem hinders your right to stand and sing and hoop, holler and cry. That’s right. It doesn’t.

What hinders someone’s right to be free is thousands of people shouting about how someone kneeling is wrong. It is free citizens calling for the punishment and even imprisonment of people exercising their rights. It is the president calling those kneelers “sons of bitches” in front of the whole world and calling for their dismissal from their jobs. The only thing hindering anyone’s right here is the injustice being done to the people who are making a stand for unity. The National Anthem is a song of pride and strength, meant to symbolize the power and unity displayed by this country, even in its darkest hours. It is a song that is intended to fuel the strength and honor we as citizens of the United States are able to feel knowing that we live in a free country. There’s that word again. Free. A free country. That’s what we are. That’s one of the things that sets the United States apart from other countries. We are free. I am absolutely free to get up tomorrow morning and put on a T-shirt celebrating my favorite band or author or tourist destination and go to work listening to rock & roll music and, if I feel like it, I can choose to sit and observe while others sing the National Anthem. And, ideally, that would be perfectly acceptable. It hinders no one’s freedom and it harms no one’s right to stand and sing.

The problem comes when we try to force people to do what we want them to do. The more dangerous situation comes in when the government tries to step in and force people to stand, act or react a certain way to the anthem. Freedom means we’re free. If our government is allowed the power to tell us we have to stand and react a certain way to a song being played before a sporting event (or anywhere for that matter), that government is no longer supporting the rights of a free country. It is a totalitarian system that is infringing on the rights of everyone. In a perfect world everyone would be truly equal, would be treated as such, and there wouldn’t be a large faction of people being discriminated against. There wouldn’t be murder and racism dividing our country hundreds of years after we fought a war to help end it. And there wouldn’t HAVE to be people who feel the need to take a knee during our nation’s song in order to fight the injustice running rampant in its borders. But that is not the world we live in, is it?

Innocent people are ridiculed, judged, even murdered for the color of their skin or their place of birth EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. We are in the 21st century, people. We are all people, we all bleed red, we all deserve freedom and life and rights. Maybe instead of focusing so damn hard on what people are doing when a song plays over a loudspeaker, we should focus more on why they choose to do it. If we want to truly unify and be a country, we have to learn to stop trash-talking people who live, act or believe differently than we do. Then, and only then, will the National Anthem be able to stand for what it was truly intended to stand for. So next someone takes a knee during the song, how about you ask them why they made that choice instead of feeling offended. As much as it pains me to say it this way; snowflakes do melt. The cold weight of injustice doesn’t.

A Nation Torn (Again)

I’ve kept my mouth shut about this – largely because no one has any reason to care what I think, but the rioting in the states is getting stupider by the day. Since Saturday there have been daily riots and destruction, leading to at least one death when a self-proclaimed White Supremacist ran his car through a group of protestors who were marching against racism. Racism. In the 21st Century. Have we not lived long enough on this rock to get how absolutely freaking idiotic that is?

Since Saturday there have been riots of multiple people who are disagreeing about what to do with Confederate era statues. The removal of a couple of these is what sparked the two-sided protestors on Saturday, if you aren’t aware. Supremacists  (read “Nazis) were against the removal of these statues, and protested in very violent fashion, while the counter-protestors gathered in a somewhat less violent manner, only to be ran over by a car. Those vying for the removal of the statues are convinced they are a symbol of racism and discrimination that is somehow damaging their way of life, while those who wish to see them remain where they are are split between Nazis (which I DO NOT agree with) who believe the statues represent racism and that it is deserved, and the sane people who recognize that these statues are a piece of our history that should be preserved at any cost.

As a well-educated 26 year-old with Native American ancestry living near my ancestral land and the start of the Trail of Tears, I definitely get racism. I do. But do you see Native Americans up in arms about things that celebrate the racism against them – which, might I add, is pretty much everything that celebrates the arrival of the white man on this continent? No. Because we have better sense. We understand that if we revolt against the past, it changes nothing. It doesn’t bring back any of the millions of people who were killed in the largest genocide to ever disgrace the face of this planet. It doesn’t mean that the murders and mistreatment and centuries of harmful stereotypes are suddenly gone or repaired. It doesn’t magically make anything better.

What it does do is cause further discord between peoples who have been living together in the world long enough to understand that we are all the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, red, yellow, purple or orange as a pumpkin – the same blood runs through all our veins. The same creator made us all – no matter what you believe, we literally all come from the same place, whether you believe that it’s dirt shaped by God or space dust from the celestial fart scientists call the Big Bang. So what gives anyone of any color, creed or race the right to think they are superior because of the amount of melanin in their skin or their country of origin? Nothing more than pathetic, pointless ego. It’s nonsense.

This is 2017, not year 17. We know better than this. When science and religion and common sense and every single other sensible and factual thing on the planet can show you that the only differences from you and your black neighbor and her Asian neighbor and his Russian neighbor is the language your ancestors spoke and the food you grew up with (aside from predispositions to certain illnesses, of course – God knows if I don’t get completely medical and scientific here someone will call it out), why do you insist on acting like skin color and nationality matters?

In addition to this consistently pathetic ideology, how can this ridiculous and pointless violent behavior be the answer? It isn’t. Not in any possible sense of the idea. In no way is acting like a primitive moron the answer. It isn’t going to change the past and it sure isn’t going to change the future.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of this whole issue to me right now is the fact that those people who are out there protesting these Confederate statues – which in their minds celebrate racism, violence and discrimination – are now doing so with with violence and discrimination. What? Seriously? Seeing people get run down by a car wasn’t enough to make you realize that a violent reaction – from anyone involved – is the exact opposite of what we should be doing? Apparently not, because protestors in North Carolina were filmed tearing down a Confederate statue and then taking turns kicking, punching, spitting on and otherwise desecrating it.

Why? What good does this do? These statues, which in the minds of the protestors represent the bigotry and racism that pulled this country apart for centuries, are actually there to remind us of the time that racial and political strife almost caused us to destroy ourselves completely. They stand there to represent the type of brother-hating behavior that should be avoided for the rest of time. But these neo-Nazis and misinformed spoiled brats are literally using them to do the exact opposite. Rather than looking at them as reminders not to be complete assholes to our fellow man, they are using pieces of stone and metal as an excuse to lash out at those they feel aren’t as good as them.

How will tearing these statues down change the past? It won’t. It is nothing more than an attempt to hide and erase the history that built this country. Again, it’s a terrible history. That’s obvious. But by denying that we as a nation have overcome such harmful ideas, we open ourselves up to falling in the same hole again. By allowing ourselves to become divided because of a bunch of statues, we are weakening the bonds of civility that have kept us together since these statues were erected. If we literally find ourselves killing each other in the streets because we can’t just leave a statue alone, how can we possibly pretend that we are a civilized country the rest of the world should model itself after? How can we possibly pretend that we are worthy of being called a superpower – which, by definition, is a country with dominating power and influence in multiple regions of the world at one time? And if we are still considered a superpower, how can we possibly sleep at night knowing the influence we are spreading is full of hate and ignorance and pointless violence?

I don’t know that my words matter to anyone other than myself, but this has to stop. Leave the statues alone, pick up the pieces, and move on. Open a bible or even a science book. There is ample evidence all around you that we are all the same. We all need food, water, oxygen, human interaction. We all function thanks to our nervous and digestive systems and we must take care of both to make either remain functional. We can reproduce with anyone of any race or nationality. We can interact with most anyone through the most basic of universal symbols – even if it just comes down to pointing at our stomachs to symbolize hunger or thirst. We get it. We. Are. All. The. Same. Frankly, if none of these examples convince you, just look at the blood that has been shed. Streets run red with blood that leaks out of bodies with every color skin imaginable. The bodies lie broken in the gutters, all made of the same things, all torn to shreds because of hatred that means nothing. Just look at the blood and try to understand. Because, if you don’t, blood may soon be all that is left.

It Matters

Have you ever been down and out, feeling like things were going all wrong and life was a bit much, but you encountered a piece of art that changed everything? Have you ever looked on or listened to something that completely altered your mood, your mindset, your attitude, your entire day – or even your life? If you haven’t, don’t worry, you’ll find it when you need it most. And if you have, I want you to take a moment to think about it. Remember what you felt both before and after. Remember the way it felt to have everything change in that moment. Go on, I’ll wait.

There. You remember? What does it make you feel now? Grateful? Surprised? Genuinely happy for the art and artist that changed, and may well have saved, your life? Good. I want you to hold on to that and never let it go. That is what art is. That’s what it does. That is the complete and entire reason it exists. It is motivation. It is inspiration. It is emotion. It is pure, unadulterated soul laid bare on a piece of paper or in a note of music. It is the very core and essence of human life, passed down to us by God, or the universe or whatever it is you choose to believe. Art, in every form, from painting to drawing to music and literature, is here to help us and inspire us, to allow us to lay down our burdens and look into the timeless web that connects each and every soul that was, is and shall ever be in this universe.

I was taking a small social media break today, despite the damaging effects of such things on one’s creative ability at times, and one of my oldest friends sent me a video of Jim Carrey. Now, I can take a wild guess and say that your minds automatically went to one of his hilarious and memorable film roles that have been forever embedded in our hearts and minds, but that wasn’t it. It was a video of Carrey talking, painting and discussing why he paints. In the video he discusses what painting is to him and what it can be to everyone, the release it gives, the fact that it saved his mind and soul from incredibly dark times. It inspired me so much I couldn’t stop myself. I had to share it, I had to write about, I had to obsess over it.

Carrey has always been one of my favorite actors, and his influence has meant so much to me over the years. I know the things he’s been through. I’ve followed his life and career fairly closely a good portion of the time and, while I don’t fully agree with everything he’s done, I get why he’s done it.

So often people just look at the slapstick, hilarity inducing roles Jim Carrey plays, but they don’t look at the man. He does that on purpose. He understands the world around him. He understands pain, and sadness and remorse and guilt – and he understands joy. He uses his presence, his influence in the world, to instill the latter because he knows the world is torn from the inside out by all the rest. He understands that if he can make just one person laugh, get one sad human being to just crack a smile, then he has gone a great distance toward healing the human heart. And that is immensely important.

To me it’s everything. If we, as artists, can use our gifts and talents and abilities instill that same joy, that same mirth, that same sense of happiness in at least one person, then things will be better. If you can relate to the feeling of needing something, anything, to make your life a little better, a little easier, a little happier, then you need to understand why you have the calling you do. If you take nothing else away from this, remember; when you have a calling – like Carrey’s comedy and his painting, like Bob Dylan’s music, like my writing – you don’t have it or use it just for you.

You use it because somewhere, somebody is needing exactly what you have to offer in whatever form you have to offer it in. Someone out there is struggling and, when they need it most, they’ll find your work – and it will change their life. You do it because one of the best and most worthwhile things we can have is to know that we made a difference in the world. You use it to fight as hard as you can to make this agonized rock a better place than you found it. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll succeed. Even if it’s just for one person. You’ll succeed.

I had to write this blog and share these ideas with you all, because there comes a time in every artist’s life that they question whether or not their work is even worth it. Whether the effort they are putting forth is ever going to make a difference for themselves or for someone else – whether or not any of it even matters. I’m here to tell each and every one of you now that it does. It absolutely does. I’ve said this before, but it’s well worth repeating; you have your ideas and your calling because there isn’t a single person out there who can produce what you can produce. Do you think artists like Van Gogh woke up every day and felt like painting? Do you think anyone in the history of the world has ever lived without experiencing at least a twinge of doubt, depression, even outright disgust at what they do? No. But they fought through. Van Gogh battled crippling depression to become one of the most famous and most notable artists in history. Edgar Allan Poe fought depression and a lifetime of death and despair to become one of the most prolific writers to ever live. Your gift matters. Your talent matters. Your work matters. You matter. Just keep going. Never give up. Even if you don’t see it pay off, someone else will. It’s all being produced for a reason.

Jim Carrey has always been a huge influence on me, and continues to be so. I’d love to meet him, spend just five minutes of time with him. I’d never be the same. I know that some of his work has made a huge impact on me, and I’m so glad I stumbled across that video at a time when I needed it most. I hope this blog has done something to help at least one person who was going through a tough time and questioning their work. If it has, then I’ve already succeeded. Please share it where it may be needed in the hopes that someone else in need may get a glimpse of it as well. Oh, and if any of you happen to have Jim Carrey’s number, feel free to pass my info along. I’d like to thank him myself.

Have a good day, and keep up the good work, everyone.

Make it Natural

As I’ve written about before, life can very easily get in the way of our crafts at times. Writing is a huge part of my life and, in essence, is literally who I am. So it should be the easiest thing in the world to belt out page after page day in and day out, right? Unfortunately that isn’t the case. With a full time job, a crazy and unpredictable schedule, and family that lives an hour away, life is very busy these days. So busy that I have had the unfortunate displeasure of seeing my writing dwindle in the past month or so.

I wake up each  morning and tell myself that I’ll write x amount of pages today, or I’ll spend x amount of time writing today- no matter what. How often do you think that happens? Not nearly as much as I’d like. I hate to admit it, but the most important things I’ve written in the last two weeks have been the short story I shared in a previous post and what I consider a fun twist in Maverip. And it hurts! I want to write more, and I know it’s my own responsibility to make it happen. That’s what I wanted to talk about today.

I read an article recently on the topic of time and it said the most cliche, blatant and helpful thing possible. More or less, it asserted that,  if you want to be a writer you have to do only one thing: write! Of course that’s painfully obvious, but it was a reminder. The article went on to enforce the idea that, no matter what is going on in life, you can make time for your writing – or any other craft, of course.

Yes, life crowds around us and responsibility sets in, but how much time do we spend watching TV or playing with our smart phones? How many hours in a week do we waste performing mindless tasks that take away from our lives?

That’s not to say we should abandon these things altogether, not at all. But, and I know this is true for me, if we’ve been called to write or produce any sort of art, then we have to do what it takes to make sure that we do it. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again; I was created to be a writer.  God put me on this earth to be an author, to produce written works unlike any other (not to sound too full of myself). So why should I allow life to take that from me? Why should any of us?

We shouldn’t! We are the people in charge of our lives. We have complete control over what we do, how we spend our time and how we use our gifts. Granted, that doesn’t exactly extend to when or how inspiration hits, but that’s a story all of its own. We, as artists, need to take control of our lives, assert ourselves against the mundane things that threaten to pull us away from our purpose.

We all know that every little bit of inspiration can lead to the next 30 chapters of a book, or our next Monet-esque masterpiece. So why not make it happen? One thing the article I mentioned pushed was that sometimes writing doesn’t come easy. Some days you can sit down and write a dozen chapters without blinking, but other days its hard to get a sentence to come out.  But WE HAVE TO KEEP TRYING.

Some people will tell you that you shouldn’t force it. You shouldn’t push the writing or the craft. When it’s ready it’ll come. That’s crap. I’ve told you all before; it’s yours. You are in the care of it. You have the unique pleasure of cultivating this lovely bit of art, whatever form it is in, and you have to take the time to make it happen. So that’s my advice for today, friends and fans.

It gets hard sometimes, it does, but there is not another other person on the planet who can do what you can do with your ideas. There’s no one who can produce the same thing you can. There is no one who can do it for you. So my challenge to each of you is this; take one hour a day for yourself.

No matter what else you have going on in your life, take an hour every single day for yourself,  for your craft. If you’re pressed for time, write in those few minutes between appointments. Jot down a sentence here and there, while you’re waiting on your coffee, while you’re on hold during a phone call with those people who get paid for wasting our time, whenever. Make it happen.

I read somewhere once that it only takes 21 days to form a habit. Three weeks to create an automatic repeated motion, an action that you literally don’t have to think about anymore. It becomes NATURAL. So try it. Find that hour every day and make it happen. Take an hour of your own time back and dedicate it to the gifts you have been given. You won’t be doing it alone, by any means. I’ll be doing it, too. Try this for one whole month and see what difference it makes for you. Does it become a habit? Does it open the floodgates from 8-9 p.m. every night? Do you find yourself anticipating the coming hour? Keep me posted! Of course, I’m not saying limit yourself to one hour – that time frame is a minimum! I’m hoping that this will literally open the doors and inspire you to be able to reclaim your craft in the best possible way. So let’s do it. Let’s take back our gifts, our skills, our crafts, our purpose. Let’s make it as NATURAL as it should be.

Starting today, take an hour for yourself. Write, paint, draw, do whatever it is that makes you happy, and don’t accept anything less any more. I’m certain you’ll notice a difference in yourself, and I’m excited to hear all about it!  Keep me posted in the comments, or send me a private message and let’s take back our lives! Remember to read “Gwendy’s Button Box” for the July review and keep your eyes open for the post in a couple of weeks!

I Still Can’t Breathe

Hey there friends and fans! About two years ago I had a small snippet of a story pop into my head and I wrote it down quickly, placing it both in a blog and on my Facebook page to get outside opinions.

At the time I wasn’t sure exactly where it had come from or what it meant, and I’ve returned to it on and off through the years. At this point I’m thinking it may be the inspiration for  a potentially non-supernatural serial killer story. I’ve dabbled a bit in standard fiction, and I always prefer including the supernatural and horror elements in my work, but I think this piece has promise. I wanted to share it again here, so you could check it out. I’d love to have anyone and everyone’s opinion on this short piece of writing. What do you think as you read it? What do you feel? Can you even breathe, because sometimes I can’t.  Anyway, here is the piece, please give me feedback!!

I can’t breathe. My heart is pounding, my legs are throbbing and I can’t breathe. I don’t know how long I’ve been running or how much longer I can keep it up, but I know I can’t stop. The sun has been down for what seems like forever and the faint light is still clinging to the autumn day. My lungs are on fire; my chest feels like it’s going to explode. It’s just when I think things can’t get any worse that I make a terrible decision. I glance behind me to see how close my pursuer is and my foot finds a hole I hadn’t expected to be there. I feel my ankle snap like a twig, the sound ringing out like a shot in the silence. I hit the ground, feel the wind rush out of me and grab my leg. I don’t even have enough breath to scream as I roll over, mouth open in a terrible grimace and find that my attacker is on me.

                I see now that he is brandishing a knife and realize instantly that he means to use it on me. In the faint light I notice the tell-tale stain of rust on the blade as it arcs toward me, catching the reflection of the tree line I’d intended to be my salvation just before it plunges into my chest and out of sight. My first thought, rather than of my life, is of such a poorly manicured knife and what sickness it could bring if used in a culinary fashion.  I don’t have time or energy to react to the man’s attack, and soon it’s too late.

                I feel the pressure first, like being in school and having the pencil in your pocket stab your skin when you sit down. Before I know it the pressure becomes a white hot poker of misery as split and severed nerve endings begin screaming in a hellish, tortured chorus, the warmth inside my chest spreading outwards as my blood flows from newly opened veins. My last thought is a realization that both allows and solidifies my outcome; I am dying. 

Inspiration and Determination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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!

Preparing for dystopia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*Image rights remain with the creator.