March Like a Lion

Happy March, everyone! I hope February ended on a positive note for everyone. The third month of the year, which we’ve always heard can either come in like a lamb and go out like a lion, or the opposite, is definitely starting on a rough note in my region. With hard rain, wind, and flooding, we’re definitely seeing some rough and tumble behavior on the forefront of this one. On the positive side, I heard the first of the Spring Peepers yesterday evening, and I have been able to start the month out on a good note with some great news.

I recently wrote a short story entitled “Mountain Service” for a local writing contest. I began pondering the characters and letting their story flow a few weeks ago, after hearing about the contest. The main requirements for the contest were to present a 500-1,000 word short story that involved Appalachian living. From my love of the region, to my recent foray into the incredible writing of Appalachian author David Joy, I have been wanting to dive into a similar story for some time. I used this opportunity to begin exploring the lives of the Gardner family who lives in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains and embodies my idea of what it means to be an Appalachian. I have so much of their lives flowing through my mind already and I can’t wait to write more about them.

I turned “Mountain Service” in for consideration a few days after it was finished – coming in at 999 words. While hopeful for positive news, I like to try to put those things out of mind once I turn them in, otherwise I’ll never be able to think of anything else. It came as quite a pleasant surprise yesterday when I got the news I had won the contest! My prize for winning is a one year membership to the Appalachian Authors Guild, with whom I have worked closely in the past (especially during the unfortunately short-lived Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium) and inclusion in this year’s Guild sponsored anthology. It is incredibly humbling and quite an honor to officially be a part of the Guild for the first time. I hope I will be able to do the organization justice.

I think it almost goes without saying that this particular win is one that automatically put me in a good mindset. It is very easy to get down on yourself, as a creative, between times of new creative success. Granted, finishing one novel earlier in the year, working on another, and finishing a short story also count as successes. It’s not always enough to grant a reprieve from the negative thoughts that follow an unfortunate rejection – of which I have received my fair share this year, but that should not be the case. I think too often creatives, myself absolutely included, put more emphasis on the public side of the creative process. It is too easy to look at how much we have accomplished through the lens of how much of it is in the public eye rather than just how much we have to personally be proud of.

I have spoken several times since the pandemic began about how hard it is to maintain any level of consistent creativity with the added strain and stress of the current state of things, and that hasn’t changed much. From the stress and worry this current world climate is causing, to the general exhaustion so many of us have been feeling, sometimes it is honestly near impossible to realistically create with any level of regularity. But so many of us keep trying. That is amazing. So many of us have pushed through the barrier of stress and strain to fight for our creative voice and maintain the habit of bringing our works into the world and, frankly, that deserves to be talked about. Heck, that deserves a reward in and of itself. I know as much as anyone else how difficult it can be to keep pushing ourselves to write and create when the world around us seems to be doing everything it can to keep us down.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, though, I have come to realize that times like this are when we need our creativity more than ever. It’s one thing to write or produce our art on a bright, sunshiny day when nothing seems to be going wrong and we’re getting deals and requests from all around. Of course our creative spirit can bask in the ease and happiness that comes with positivity and demand. But times like this, when uncertainty lurks around every corner and rain is falling in torrents (literally and figuratively) around us, within and without, the spirit of creativity needs to be pushed and cherished with a renewed vigor. It is times of great stress and pain when the greater part of humanity find themselves in need of such an artistic boost. How many of you have found solace in binge watching your favorite shows or movies in the last year, or have devoured countless new books, or listened to hours of your favorite kind of music, or enjoyed other forms of art? How many of you honestly feel your current sanity and coping skills can be largely attributed to the ability to turn to art during such a difficult time? That is only the start of it. The world needs art in times of hardship, and it is no different for creators.

If you’re like me, you found a lot of peace with your favorite forms of art since the world started changing, and I’ve got to tell you, it doesn’t look like that need is going anywhere anytime soon. But, have you noticed the same thing goes for creating? When you put yourself in the world of your own creation it provides you with almost the same sense of euphoric peace that enjoying someone else’s creation can bring. The main difference being it is sometimes harder to open those doors these days. I have found myself feeling all the much more creative when I push myself to break through the walls of writer’s block and stress the world (not without my contribution) has placed on me to begin my work. It is often hard, and even the most powerful of personal accomplishments may not always have the power to shatter whatever chains are holding me back, but I know how important it is.

My wife often reminds me whenever I mention feeling like I am unable to create at the level I’d prefer, or if I ever get down because I have gotten a rejection, that it should not be about how much I am creating, or what anyone else thinks about it. At the end of the day, I write because I feel it is what I was born to do. At heart, sure, I want the world to see and experience my creations. I want people to read and fall in love with the words I placed on paper the way I do. I want to be someone’s favorite author – preferably in my lifetime. But that those things are not guaranteed. Those things are not even what started my journey. I started writing because I heard the whisper of a story within myself. Because when my purpose was awakened within me, I needed it in a way I didn’t even fully understand. My passion for writing and for the written word as a whole come, not from a need for validation from others, but from a burning desire to bring these ideas that exist within myself out into the open. That should be the focus for all of us. We should not limit ourselves to creating just for others, or making art with the sole hope for making money. Sure, that can be a goal. I won’t pretend for a second I don’t (no so secretly) yearn for the day I can support mine and my wife’s lifestyle solely with the profit of my own creation. But that may not be in the cards.

That does not mean I should not create. Writing is a big part of who I am, just like your art is a part of who you are. The main reason we have for embracing our creative talent and passion are because these things make us happy. These things are a part of us, and in their own way they help make us complete when we embrace them. That is our purpose. That is our motivation. More than whether or not the world will see and enjoy these creations, more than whether pursuing those passions will one day pay our bills, more than whether anyone will ever know our name or consider themselves our fans is the fact that these talents and passions are within us because they are who we are. We need to openly embrace a culture of creating just for ourselves, for just enjoying our worlds and understanding they can be just as therapeutic for us as they can for anyone else. Emily Dickinson kept most of her work locked up, sharing only 10 of her nearly 1,800 poems and only one letter during her lifetime. It truly is not about whether anyone else ever reads or enjoys our work, it should be about us enjoying the creative process. We should have our worlds close to our hearts and minds, and use them to fully embrace who we are.

That’s the most important thing to take away from this message. Rather than pursuing your art like a lamb, giving small portions of your attention to your creative tendencies you should charge in like a lion. You are the king, queen, ultimate master of your creation. You were given your ideas, your creative spirit, your creative nature because only you can create the things you are meant to create. Only you can produce your creations the way you can, and no one else could ever do it the same way you can. If for no other reason than that, I urge each and every one of you to take charge. Grab that creative nature by the horns and make it your own. Don’t ever hesitate to produce and create. There are few things better for a creative than seeing your own world unfold before you, and few things worse than having your world stuck inside of you. Never betray yourself in such a way that you lock your world and your creation away from even your own enjoyment. Regardless of what negative things are going on in the world, we need to fully embrace our creative nature and push aside anything that holds us back from that. I say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, we all need to march forward like a lion. Only we can tackle our creations in the way we are meant to. So we owe it to ourselves to make it happen!

As always, I welcome your feedback and commentary. I love hearing from you guys and I look forward to seeing what you all have to say. Feel free to share this message with anyone who could use the boost, and be sure to jump over and check out my podcast The Modern Prometheus. Keep your eyes open for new posts, new episodes, and all the news I’ve got coming up. If you haven’t subscribed to my newsletter, subscribe today to stay up to date! Most importantly, take the time to day and every day to accept yourself and create!

Living, Creating, and Self-Investment

Happy February, everyone. We’re not quite two months into the new year and things are going quite well so far. I hope you all have found the start of this year to be better than the latter half of the dreaded 2020. I know the state of the world isn’t quite back to the previous normal, and it may never fully return to that, but I hope you have all found ways to adapt and create your own happiness in the new normal, such as it is. My wife and I have been very blessed to have plenty to enjoy and plenty of opportunities to adapt, and I can’t thank God enough for that. It has, so far, remained a strange year for travel hopes, job stresses, life stresses, and the like, but I have been able to power through and continue writing.

I am beyond pleased to share that I have completed my as yet untitled fantasy novel after about five years of writing. It has been an incredible journey filled with quite a few days immersed in various fantasy movies, books, and games, with more medieval style music than I can name providing the background for my nearly 90,000 word first foray into the world I created. I have given the book to a couple of trusted beta readers to give their thoughts before I make my first edit, but it is very difficult parting from the world while I wait. I am incredibly excited to share this work with the world as soon as I feel it is ready. If you haven’t subscribed to my newsletter yet, make sure you do that, either through the pop-up window on my website or on the “Author Updates” tab on my Facebook page to get a sneak peak at the first few paragraphs of the book!

In order to maintain my writing habit, keep my craft strong, and move on to the next big thing, I have put my magic and fantasy down for a bit and have picked up my cutlass and bandana to dive back into the realm of swashbuckling pirates! I have always been fascinated with stories of pirates and high seas adventures and the like, but I really got slammed with my idea last year and started brainstorming and immersing myself in pirate literature and adventure tales through the summer – my awesome wife even treated me to a pirate-themed dinner show during our honeymoon to keep the creativity flowing. After I got my basic outline figured out and started a direction with my characters, I eventually put the pirates on the back burner so their story could simmer a bit longer. But now I am unfurling the sails and setting them free. I have big plans for my gang of pirates, from sailing to undiscovered places in search of the world’s mysteries, to encountering legends that have been passed down even to modern sea-farers. No stone will remain unturned, no body of water unexplored as I take on such a beloved topic.

On top of revisiting my pirates and eagerly awaiting feedback on my fantasy novel, I have begun working on a bit of Appalachian fiction again. I brainstormed a story about an Appalachian family last week and it has exploded with possibility in my mind. I wrote a story that came in at just under 1,000 words that gave me a feel for these characters and I have become increasingly excited to dive into their lives, as well. I am letting them roll around in my head and develop more of their personalities before I set them free on the page. I am very excited to see what their stories will be, and I think it could very well be a good, strong Appalachian tale that I will be pumped to develop.

Overall, it has been helpful for me to invest in myself and in my writing. I have been working hard to remind myself that I am, at heart, a writer. It is what I feel I was created for. It is the reason I have such a passion for the written word, and it feels great to allow myself to embrace that. I suppose, in essence, that is the point of this post. In light of the changing world and the stresses of change and pandemic, I allowed myself to stray from my writing. I fell off the track of investing and believing in myself, and I am working hard to get back on the right path. It is honestly because of my incredible wife that I am reminded of my purpose. She has encouraged me so much since we got together, and she convinced me to invest in myself again. It’s a great feeling knowing that she believes in me so much. I know not everyone has that type of support system in their lives, especially creatives, and that is devastating. I am telling you right now, I support you and and your dreams.

If you are a person who has a passion for art and creating, no matter your medium, you are incredibly important. Your creations matter more than you know. Even if no one but you is ever allowed to see them, you have been given your passion and ability for a reason. That reason may be so you can survive in such a crazy world by expressing yourself and your inner voice in an external way to release frustrations, or that reason may be so you can create something current and future masses will adore and consider amazingly influential to their own passion and creativity. From either extreme and everywhere in between, I fully believe everyone’s desires and passions exist within them for a reason, and they should be embraced. If your passions don’t involve hurting anyone else, I fully support you and your dreams and I promise that you deserve the chance to see them come true. So, I encourage anyone out there who has a passion to take a chance on yourself. Regardless of what anyone else may or may not have said about your craft (because, believe me, I know a lack of comment can be just as devastating as an insult), you deserve to invest in yourself.

The world we live in may not be the one we’re used to, and it may never reflect the past as much as we’d like, but it is ours, and we deserve to make it such. So get out there and draw, paint, sing, dance, write, do your podcast, act, whatever it is that you feel a pull for, make it happen. Take a little time each day to invest in yourself, believe in yourself, or even just allow yourself to do that thing. You won’t regret it. Even if it’s something you do in private and keep it tucked away in a closet no one else ever goes into, do it anyway. You deserve it. The stress of the world melts away for that little bit of time when you are taking a moment for yourself, trust me. It makes a world of difference to know that you embraced that part of yourself that allows you to express your innermost thoughts and creativity. It is a great thing. I want to give a thank you to my family and friends and everyone who has encouraged and supported my craft and passion throughout my life, and I want to give a huge shout out and a booming thank you to my incredible wife who reminded me, above all else, that I deserve to invest in myself, and that my writing and my creativity are important. Amanda, you are an inspiration to me every day, and you don’t know how much that means to me.

So, get out there and take the world by storm. Put your art out there and be yourself. Believe in yourself. Allow yourself. Invest in yourself. It’s an investment you can’t lose on.

How have you all fared through our mighty changes over the last 11 months or so? Have you found yourselves on a creative down-spiral, or have you kept your head up? Feel free to comment your stresses, your successes, your fears, anything at all. I’m open to any and all discussion, and I look forward to hearing from you all as the world continues to move around us.

Flowers for Vases/descansos Album Review

Happy Friday, everyone! I haven’t done a lot of music reviews in my day, but this album definitely deserves tons of attention. I knew a new Hayley Williams solo album was coming after seeing some hints earlier in the week, but I had no idea when. I saw the news last night that we would get the full album today, so I jumped on it as soon as I got the chance. To say I’m impressed may be an understatement. I’ve been a fan of Hayley Williams and Paramore for years, and I loved Petals for Armor, so I was super pumped to hear this one, which Williams calls “a prequel, or some sort of detour between parts one and two of Petals.”

From the album’s first notes, I was drawn right in. The tone of the entire album felt like a discourse in heartache and isolated growth. I have always been drawn to Williams’ musical choices, from the range she uses with her vocals to her instrumental choices over the years, and this album furthers that beyond even my expectations. Flowers for Vases, written and performed entirely by Williams in her home studio, plays with a low, light melodical tone that is very pleasing to the ears.

With song titles like “First Thing To Go,” “Good Grief,” and “My Limb” the album reads like a letter to the pain and trauma Williams has experienced through her career. From the confines of a year of quarantine, the album and its inspiration are fantastically strong, an ode to the independence Williams has been embodying since starting her solo pursuits.

One of my favorite songs on the album (I’ll have to have a few more listens to pinpoint a single favorite) was “Trigger.” Beginning with a haunting piano melody which is soon joined by the low tones of Williams’ voice, the song is a testimony of the determination the artist has after suffering heartbreak.

“At first it seems easy, I vow not to give up

Let ’em debase me, while keeping my chin up”

-Hayley Williams, “Trigger”

Just some of the lyrics from this song, detailing the strength Williams is portraying as the album gains its footing.

Another great track, “Inordinary” details Williams’ move to Tennessee in her youth, discussing the hardships of moving and relationships, as well as the feeling of shattered trust that can result in a broken relationship. I feel like this track showcases some of the impressive lyric writing Williams is sure to continue to build on. She tells an entire story in around 4 minutes, with a chorus that is somewhat repetitive but never tiresome, and verses that are weighted with memories of betrayal and change that are very relatable to most anyone.

Between the lyrics, the low-toned melody, the piano and acoustic accompaniment, this album is a great continuation of the impressive work Hayley Williams has given us since she first hit the charts. I am certain the next album in her solo career will be just as, if not more impressive, and I look forward to listening to Flowers quite a few more times. If you haven’t listened to the album yet, I highly recommend it. If you have listened to it, what did you think?

**It goes without saying, but the featured photo here is not my art work, and I own none of it. Simple screenshot of me listening to the album on a streaming service!

What Does Local Mean To You?

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope you all have had an absolutely awesome spring so far. Aside from the allergies that try daily to smother me in my own fluids, it has been amazing for me. I love the sense of renewal and renaissance as fresh leaves push aside what remains of the old and stretch their green-veined fingers toward the sky. It thrills me to watch as, a little each day, fresh and beautiful flowers burst forth from the earth and claim their place under the sun. Personally, I’ve always found spring to arrive exactly when I need it most and give me a sense of renewed purpose and motivation.

Of course, as many of you know, I published my first print collection in February and have been marketing and spreading the word about it ever since. One thing I’ve been doing is reaching out to local libraries and seeing about getting my work in their circulation materials. As a former librarian and long time lover of the amazing institutions that promote reading as much as an individual can get their hands on, it thrills me to have an opportunity to have my work possibly be one of those bits of material that a person may discover among the stacks, having never heard of me before. Or, of course, my work being one people eagerly seek out and go on waiting lists for. But I digress.

Tuesday I found myself in my hometown visiting with my mother and was struck by the idea that I should go talk to the library there. After all, that squat, brick building houses so many memories for me, provided so many fresh literary experiences, that I couldn’t be more honored than to find my work shelved along with the well-read R.L. Stines and Stephen Kings that influenced my early life. As I was talking to the librarian there, he asked if I could show him a copy of my work, so I went to go grab a copy from my vehicle. As I did, a patron caught up with me and made my entire day.

She had overheard my conversation with the librarian and asked about my work, showing unbridled interest in the fact that I am a local author in the Appalachian region. After a description of my work, she purchased a copy and had me sign it. We talked for a few more moments and bade each other good day, but the interaction really made an impression on me.

Growing up, I would always be extremely excited to meet someone who could be considered a local author or artist, often going out of my way to start conversations with them and examine their work. But, until yesterday, I hadn’t had quite the same thing happen to me. Needless to say, I remain flattered, but it definitely makes me think. Each and every one of us can probably think of a time we’ve encountered a local artist – regardless of the medium. I’ve seen painters and authors everywhere from local coffee shops to flea markets half a state away from their home. And it always gives me a sense of pride. But it makes me sad in some ways as well.

As many people that stop to talk with the artist about their work or the craft in general, just as many people pass right by without so much as a second glance. Personally, I find that to be more damaging than someone saying they don’t care for the work. At least that person took the time to check it out. My interaction yesterday, coupled with those previous experiences really made me realize just how important it is to support the arts again.

There was a time in society when people would seek out artists and beg for examples of the work, staring for hours as a sculptor or painter created their masterpiece. At one point in history people would flock to the harbor in droves to get the latest edition in a serial that later was put together as the Dickens favorite “Great Expectations.” Our ancestors had an equivocal appreciation of and yearning for the arts. Of course, not everyone was subject to this love then either, but that’s another tale. My point for today is that we must make a real effort to embrace the arts again. With each passing day funding for the arts in public education is cut. Many schools are no longer able to provide music education or drawing classes because of a lack of material funds. New generations are growing up in a society where are education funds are cut so governments, both local and national, can pay for biased investigations, unnecessary private expenses, and a basic disregard for the general public and its future. So it’s up to each and every one of us to recognize the importance of art and those who make it.

Of course, my own opinions on that matter may be a little biased as a creator, but I still reflect on times when I had little to turn to except art. Whether it was art created by someone else or my own creative efforts, art has saved my life more times than I probably even realize. So, I’m encouraging all of you to reach out and find some local artists. Talk to a painter or an Indie author about their work, or the craft in general. Let them know what the work means to you. Show them that, even if sales aren’t in the triple digits, the work matters to someone.

I’ve been told, at some events, an artist is lucky if they make three sales. And I’m fine with that. I would love it if my writing could pay all the bills, supporting my finances and allowing me to pay off debts and advance. But that isn’t the only, or even the main reason I do it. I do it because I’m passionate about it. Because it’s what I was put here to do. Because the arts have shown me what life really means. And those who support the arts, sharing that same passion, can make all the difference.

So, as you go forward, keep an eye and an ear open for an artist who, like you, enjoys a passion for life. Talk to them about what that passion can lead to. Make a purchase or leave a review on a work you enjoyed. Make sure you recognize the importance of the arts before they disappear. After all, as we rapidly approach the release of that certain long-anticipated superhero movie this week, it pays to remember; without the arts, none of that would have been possible. Artists drew those characters, thought them up, gave them new life on the silver screen. If we let the arts die, nothing like that can happen again. With the right support, and enough effort we can all keep the arts alive. And, honestly, that’s one of the best ways to keep ourselves going.

Who is a local artist that has made a difference to you? What is one local work that has influenced you? Or, for that matter, if you’re a local or regional artist in your area, what’s an experience you’ve had that showed you your work and your effort was appreciated? Leave me comments, send me messages, and make sure to get out there and enjoy life!

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

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.

Stay True

As promised, guys, I’m still here talking about being and staying true to ourselves. It’s very important that we all make the effort to do this, but there are a lot of things in the world that can hinder us. It could be someone telling us that what we want is not important enough, or someone putting their own opinions on us, or worse. When it comes down to it, there is always going to be something in front of you that is going to try and keep you from being you. I could make incredible lists and comments on this, but the one thing I really want to talk about here is other people’s opinions.

The basis for this today comes from a lot of those “inspirational” photos and memes out there that have some sort of famous celebrity making either a scolding or sensual face with overlaid words that say “You should be *insert action here*” Of course the ones I typically see repeatedly tell me I should be writing. Why? Of course, naturally an artist can’t get anywhere without producing. That’s what we’re here for. But why should someone else be able to push us to adhere to their schedule. Sure, most people share these things in a light-hearted gesture intended to give the rest of us that little push that we may sometimes need, but in the long run they are part of a human habit that can be very harmful.

As an artist one of the most important things we can do is set a schedule for ourselves, push ourselves to produce. But an artist who is already struggling with the day-to-day who finds themselves pressured to follow someone else’s schedule may very well find themselves losing any and all inspiration they’ve gained. Honestly, that’s how a lot of budding authors and artists end up losing their confidence in their work. It’s just terrible. That’s not to say these memes aren’t interesting and amusing, and it’s not to say that talking with others about their schedules and the necessity for artists to produce is not sometimes helpful and important. But when it comes down to chastising someone for living their lives in a way that pleases them because they don’t follow your idea of what they should be doing and when, it turns into a problem.

I’ve been writing seriously for more than a decade. I’ve scheduled and rescheduled. I’ve broken schedules and I’ve revived them. I’ve decided to leave the idea of schedules behind and I’ve picked them back up, and through it all I’ve seen these kinds of images and I’ve been subjected to the commentary of others about how I should be doing anything but what I’m doing at the time. WHY?

Why should my choices not be good enough? Why aren’t yours? Why is it that anyone else on this planet should have a say in what we do and when? I know, like I said before, these interjections aren’t intended to be harmful. They’re supposed to be helpful and inspirational. But the thing is, they’re usually not. I’ve spoken to others who feel the same way. As a free-thinking human being who knows what is best and when, who has looked their life over and decided when, where and how their lives best work, having someone else say that we ‘should be’ doing anything other than what is currently making us happy is not OK.

It comes right back down to being true to yourself. There are more than 8 billion people on this planet. Each and every one of us have our own lives, our own personalities, our own desires and our own plans. We all know what is making us happy. Is that not what is the most important? Don’t get me wrong. I understand sometimes in this age of abrasive technology and hypnotic television, sometimes we may need a little reminder of what else is out there, but there is a limit. Our lives are ours to live in our best way, not for someone else to judge what we do and when.

My point here is that we all have to look at ourselves and our lives in the most serious way. We have to examine what we want, when we want it and how we want it. As I said in my last post, we have a very limited time on this rock and none of us want to realize that we wasted that time living our lives for someone else. You have to do what makes you happy when it makes you happy. Don’t let anyone discourage you from your life and your plan. Don’t ever fall into the rut of following what others want from you without giving yourself what you want as well. That’s something that everyone, artist or not, has to wrap their head around. Your life is yours. You have to live it your way. As long as you’re not hurting anyone else, impeding someone else’s happiness, you have the right and the freedom to be yourself. You have to be yourself. No matter what is going on around you, never forget to make your life your own. Do what makes you happy. Live your life to the fullest, and don’t be discouraged when others try to press their own opinions on you. Just let it roll off your back and keep being you. Stay true to yourself. Nothing is more important.

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!

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 knowing that I wanted to make some changes and set some goals for myself .

I 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. 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!!