Where All Light Tends To Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Checking In

Hey there, friends and fans! The world certainly looks a bit different from last time I reached out to say hello. I hope each and every one of you are safe and secure from the global illness we are experiencing, and all the challenges we are faced with in its wake. I understand many parts of the world are, for better or worse, locked down. The states are facing their own similar situation, with each state and local government making decisions for its citizens.

In my situation, living very near the border of several populous south-eastern states, we are seeing a varying degree of changes to everyday life. Everything that we never really thought about, never really considered a privilege, has been altered. Grocery stores are now limiting the amount of customers that can enter the facility at one time (the general rule for one large chain being no more than 5 people per 1,000 square feet of building space). Restaurants are now only allowing drive-thru, delivery, or curbside service. Many non-essential businesses have been forced to close their doors, although provisions in my state allow them to remain open as long as there are only 10 non-employees in the store at one time. Even outdoor social gatherings have been restricted, with new orders in place that prevent groups of more than 10 individuals meeting at once.

Fortunately, as a bit of a recluse and private-loving person (I know, a blogger being private, how is that possible?) that last regulation doesn’t hit all that hard for me. I think I’ve only been in a group of ten or more people two or three times in the last couple years. But, for some, it’s life-changing. Certainly everything else is. My fiancee and I have resorted to ordering groceries online and doing a contact-free grocery pickup. Many retail establishments in my area have offered this service for a while, and it’s great for people with busy lives and a lack of desire to deal with big crowds on an average basis. Typically you go online and schedule your order and you can have it ready for pick-up in a matter of hours, almost always on the same day, but now the service is so bogged down some stores have no time slots for days. Literally for days. One large retailer is drowning in orders to the point their service just allows you to fill a cart and asks you to check back daily for an opening.

Schools are another hard hit area of life, especially in my state. Our governor made the decision weeks ago to close schools for the remainder of the school year, affecting a lot of people’s lives and abilities. Entertainment and educational facilities went along with that. In other words, libraries, although not called out by name, were guided into closure. My own library has been closed to the public since March 17th or so. That’s nearly a month without patrons. Of course, the initial excitement of being in a building so filled with mental weapons (looking at you David Tennant) was hard to ignore. Walking in this massive building with its (at last estimate) more than 5 million titles was nothing short of exhilarating. Employees have been kept on for cleaning and digital services, all given the option to take their annual leave hours if anyone felt unsafe. At first no one did that. We all came in and it was business as usual – almost.

As the days drug on, COVID-19 grew more threatening, its tendrils slowly creeping even into our rural mountains, the feeling changed. A staff of around 30 people started to dwindle. Some are over the age of 65 and felt it was much safer to follow CDC guidelines, which state people over that threshold stay at home at all costs. Some are immunocompromised and felt it was better to be safe than sorry. As of this writing our maximum in-building staff is around 18 or so. Granted, not everyone is in the building at the exact same time, and there is usually enough space for moderate social distancing, but still that figure is pretty telling.

And the feeling in the building has definitely changed. I have always been a huge lover of libraries and all things literary. One of the first things I do when I move to a new town or city is go get a library card. I’ve always loved the atmosphere of a library and have worked in a few during my career, with each one having its own special qualities. But there is definitely something unsettling about a huge library completely devoid of patrons. No books being checked out (at least not by the public. That hasn’t stopped me from grabbing a couple or few dozen for our use in the Mathews household), no programs to tell people about, no public computers being used, no one asking reference questions, or any of the other things that make a librarian’s job important. Libraries are always quiet, even to the point of satire, but there is something eerie about literally being able to hear a pin drop in such a building. Especially on another floor.

With all of the other changes happening daily, it’s no surprise that creative motivation has also taken quite a hit. Shortly after the infection reached a notable level in the states I received my second or third rejection of 2020 and had a change in my job expectations and schedule. These things alone sent me off the creative rails for a little bit, but with the world undergoing such unprecedented experiences, I’ve found it harder than ever to focus on creating fictional material, or even writing blogs on a regular basis. I have been journaling almost daily and reading more than  I had been before the plague hit, but it hasn’t done a lot to lift that creative veil I’ve found sliding over my writing. I’ve completed a couple of short stories so far this year, and Maverip is currently being examined by another great beta reader. My book sales have been fluctuating, however I did discover that someone checked my short story collection out of the library alongside Slyvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, which was nothing short of flattering. But none of it has done anything to open the floodgates and allow me to really kick out the pages on any new material, unfortunately.

I’ve seen a lot of my creative friends posting on social media (our only means of public communication these days) about their own lack of creative motivation, and I definitely feel that burden. I hope none of you all have been hit by this block, but if so, I believe there has to be a way out. This creative constipation can’t last forever, especially in a time when the world needs creatives and escapes more than ever. I plan to keep pushing through until I find what works to collapse the wall being built between mind and hands and allow my words to flow. In the meantime, have any of you faced a similar challenge? Have any of you found yourselves unable to create, unable to escape from the real world into that of your own creation?

What challenges are you facing in your day-to-day lives? Have you seen similar quarantine efforts in your location? Feel free to reach out and share your experiences in this strange situation. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that it’s not just in your hometown. We’re all facing it. But we will make it through.

 

Rejection, Revisited

Hey there, friends and fans. The first month of 2020 was a doozy, and February promises to hold a lot of changes. I plan on discussing some very interesting topics in the months to come, so keep your eyes and ears open for that.

Recently I’ve found it a little difficult to steadily produce new creative work, often having an idea and starting or plotting it and just falling off the trail again. Or worse, falling back into the trope of over-editing, which I mentioned in a previous post. Through the month of January I began querying for two of my completed novels, as well as sending new pieces to various magazines and contests, trying to revamp my writing efforts and reawaken my own self-esteem and passion for my writing.

As many of you know, that game is a hard one to play, as once you submit your query it’s the longest waiting game known to man while you hope the agents in question like your work enough to ask for more. After what seemed like an eternity waiting on some sort of response, I finally received my first one yesterday. A rejection. Not only a standard rejection, but one from the agent I felt most excited about reaching out to, given their publishing history and interests.

It goes without saying that it was a tough blow to an already damaged and strained confidence. I allowed myself to immediately fall into a minor depression, telling myself that it was obvious I should just give up and not worry about writing anymore, because it obviously just didn’t seem to be panning out.

But I took a step back. I got words of encouragement I needed from someone very important to me, and I re-read the rejection. It wasn’t your standard, run-of-the-mill rejection. The agent took the time to address my work personally, address my query even. The rejection notice told me that the work was in the agent’s genre, but it just wasn’t an exact fit. Rather than being a simple “not at this time” or “no thanks” this agent took the time to address my work and my effort with some personalization, which did help soften the blow.

The irony of the whole situation is, upon looking back in my writing and blogging history, I realized that on this exact day four years ago I received the first rejection of that year. It was a very similar situation. I had submitted a short piece to a journal that I felt particularly interested in and excited for, only to be told that the piece didn’t fit what was needed for that issue.

It brought me back to this blog post, and I have to say, it reminded me that this rejection of my novel is not the end of the world. It is not the end of my career as a writer. It is not even the only query currently awaiting response. My writing is still very important to me, and while I may not currently have the muse by in my control, the work I have already produced is something i am very proud of. So I will continue to push forward, attempting to write more, and seeking publication in as many places I can. In the meantime I encourage each and every one of you to take a look at whatever it is you’re passionate about, revisit just why it is that this thing (or these things) matter so much to you, and rekindle that flame. Refresh that connection. Strengthen the bond holding you to whatever future you are trying to create. As long as you remain true to your dreams, they can’t possibly die.

Einstein once said “you never fail until you stop trying.” That’s something I fully believe. If you don’t give up on yourself, there’s a good chance the rest of the world won’t either. So stand up and take a piece of the world, get the lead out, and make a change. It might not seem like it now, but one day this is all going to be a distant memory of your journey to absolute success

 

via Rejection

At Year’s End

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope the holiday season has treated everyone wonderfully. It has definitely been a wild ride for my family and I. From sharing first holidays with someone very special, to losing a loved one the day after Christmas, the season has not been without it’s rough moments. I wake up every day thankful for the wonderful blessings I have, and I hope each and every one of you take the time to do the same. As we wrap up December and say goodbye to 2019 (may it rest in peace), I look ahead toward the new year with bright and hopeful eyes. I have high hopes for great changes in the new year, and I feel very confident great things are waiting just around the corner.

I have written often over the last few years about the need for inspiration, presence, and peace within life, art, and creativity, but I’m the first to admit that I have really failed this year when it comes to producing new works. I have, unfortunately, fallen into the most dangerous trap of all for a writer who is nervous about a new piece of work: over-editing. As I type this post I am currently a short way into what may be my 6th or 7th edit of my long-completed novel, Maverip. I finished the more than 140,000 word monster on Thanksgiving morning in 2017 after a marathon writing session that left me mind-numbed and half-comatose in the wee hours of the pre-dawn holiday. From there I let the piece rest for a couple months while I recovered before diving in on the first of many alterations.

The book has been through two rounds of beta readers – none of whom have given me cause for concern I want to point out – and has seen more edits than any work I’ve published to date. I’ve queried it to a handful of agents with little to no response (to be expected in the market currently) and have considered self-publishing the piece as it stands. No matter what avenue I consider, though, I’m having trouble actually giving it my final approval and letting it prove itself. That conundrum, along with a plethora of other changes I’m planning to make in 2020, helped inspire this post.

As the month winds down, so does the  year and the decade. As we entered the 2010’s I was in my first year of college, writing the book I’ve just discussed (along with a handful of others. That other project count is now over 50), and had yet to publish a single work. Now, I’ve had more than a dozen titles published in several regional journals, and earlier this year I self-published my short story and poetry collection. Typing those things out makes me really step back and ask myself why I’m letting this novel get the better of me. I’ve been writing this blog for nearly as long, and I’ve had people the world over read the words that spill from my own twisted mind. So why is this piece giving me such pause?

The simple answer is because it’s my longest completed piece to date. It took ten years to complete it. It is the culmination of a lifetime of research, interest, and determination, and its success (in my head at least) is tied to my own prowess as a writer. Simply speaking: I’ve nearly convinced myself that if this book doesn’t do well, I’m doomed to fail entirely.

But that attitude is not carrying forward. In three days time we will be living in a new year, decade, time period, season. I will be that much closer to 30 years old, and if that’s not cause for getting a little wiser, I don’t know what is. In two days’ time we’ll be preparing to say goodbye to the teens and re-embrace the 20’s (and if that doesn’t thrill me to the core, I don’t know what ever could). So what better time than to leave behind the childish notion that all future success is based on whether this book – this one book out of the literally dozens of ideas I have – gets me a fast spot on the New York Times bestseller list?

While searching through some quotes and literature this morning, I stumbled upon a quote by Franz Kafka that I think embodies the spirit of every real creator better than most anything I’d seen before.

“This tremendous world I have inside of me. How to free myself, and this world, without tearing myself to pieces. And rather tear myself to a thousand pieces than be buried with this world within me.” – Franz Kafka

Of course, I don’t want to dwell on the quote too much, because that isn’t the point of the post, but to unpack it a little, I think Kafka is speaking volumes of power here. As a creator, there are worlds upon worlds and pieces upon pieces within you. For me, some of my story ideas are like a number of voices all talking at once, saying something a little different, hoping to come together just enough to make sense and gain their freedom. Whenever the words become clear enough I can write the tale, I can let this story out, I can keep it from tearing me to pieces and I can present it in its purest and most intact form. Sometimes, though, it isn’t that easy. The words jumble, they mix and mesh and writhe together in the pain of incommunicability until they die out from want of escape. Other times they seem as if they’ll burst forth from me whether I give them license to do so or not. Regardless of the idea, its strength, or where it comes from, I have a tendency to start it and let it get stagnant. I lose the power behind the words, or I lose confidence in my ability to tell the tale. For any number of reasons, I end up not completing the work that I feel only I can even come close to completing.

That is an attitude and a habit that I’m leaving behind. 2020 is going to be a year of huge changes. I’m going from letting life roll on around me, to taking charge. I’m finally standing up and taking the things I want in this world. I’ve actually already started doing this in my personal life and it has already led me to some of the greatest happiness I’ve ever known. As I move forward into my third decade on earth, I am taking charge and leaving behind wasteful attitudes and the habit of just letting life happen.

Rather than let these words and worlds tear me into a million pieces, I’m going to push through the struggle and the hesitation and release them. Rather than take the punches life offers, I’m going to stand tall and chase after my own happiness. As we enter the new year, I am standing tall and seeking out opportunities. I’m putting aside hesitations and demanding freedom from waste. In 2020, I will no longer just be going through life. I’m going to live it.

With these changes, I plan to see a great improvement in every aspect of my life, and I hope you will all feel the same motivation to make changes. Take charge of your own happiness. Find out what in this world is going to allow you to truly be free from stagnance and unhappiness and go after it. Don’t keep over-editing yourself or your work. Take the time to put it out there. Let it stand on its legs. Show the world who you are and take the chances you need to take. I hope you all enjoy the last couple days of 2019, and I look forward to seeing you all in the new decade – hopefully with fresh faces and brand new determination. Happy New Year, everyone.

“Love, Simon” vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

New Short story, Summer Blog-A-Day!

Hey there friends and fans! The day is finally here! It’s my day to contribute to the Summer Blog-A-Day event, and I’ve got something fun lined up for you, as promised. This short story is one that is actually a separate, but relatable prequel piece to one of my novels, currently awaiting its second edit. I’m ecstatic to present a bit of my version of the myth that you’ll all quickly come to recognize. It’s not explicitly explained in the story, but it’s pretty clear this story takes place quite some time in the past, and if I’ve embellished anything, I certainly did so for a reason, and I do hope it will be enjoyed. Without further ado, here is my brand new bit of work, tentatively titled “By the Light of the Moon.”

 

Moonlight shone brightly through the air, thick rays cutting the heavy fog that lay on the ground. The men crept silently forward through the forest, each fearing the next shadow would be guarding their quarry. Oiled rifles glinted in the night as six pairs of eyes darted nervously around in the hazy darkness, hunting a creature they weren’t sure of, each of them somewhat terrified it was also hunting them. They all froze as a twig snapped in the darkness, silencing the few night bugs that still filled the Autumn air with their song, sounding like an explosion to the overstrained ears of the hunting party. They were more on edge than ever as they looked around them in the darkness, each expecting an attack to come from the most unexpected place.

The men had been brought out by a string of cattle slaughter on their farms. More than two dozen animals had been killed between the six farms in the last week and a half. The killings started at the Jones farm on the far side of the mountain, progressing a bit farther over the mountain to a new farm each night. The farmers had dealt with the killing their own way for the last week, until the handful of men stumbled upon one another in town that morning. Each had come with his own story of hardship and gore. None of them had been able to kill the creature. In fact, none of them had even seen it. Until Josiah Ramey showed up.

At six foot six, the dirty farmer was larger than life and twice as ugly, and he came packing a tale that ran chills through the rest of them. He’d heard his horse being attacked in the night and had run outside with his gun, expecting to rustle up a coyote or even a bear. He’d had no idea what to do when the beast he saw there stood straight up and howled at the moon. He swore the beast was every bit of eight feet tall and looked fit to rip a house apart if it took the notion to.

Standing there in the square, discussing the beast Ramey claimed to have shot at, a plan had come together. The animal had been crossing the mountain killing one farm at a time, almost on a schedule. If it had hit the Ramey’s farm the night before, it was sure to be after the Randolph farm that night if the pattern held up. Assuming there was a pattern, that is.

The men all knew that Ben Randolph, the owner of the small sheep farm at the base of the mountain, was away downriver visiting his father. Word had come to some of them that his father died a couple of days prior and Randolph had been hooked into burying the old man, leaving his wife alone in the house on a night when the killer beast could be coming to destroy the place.

“If she’s there alone when it comes and nobody is there to help, there’s no tellin’ what ruin that man’ll come home to. Just had his Pa die, he don’t need to find his woman ripped to bits too,” Ramey encouraged.

Tom Jones, who felt certain the barbarous Josiah Ramey had more than the Randolph man’s best interest at heart, nonetheless was inclined to agree. He’d seen the way the beast had torn into his own small farm. Three hogs, a mess of ducks and his dog had all been taken in the night without so much as a peep that he had heard. Whatever the creature was, it was dangerous. No matter how queer the Randolph’s appeared to be, no man should be made to bury his father and his wife in the same week. So, he and the other men had agreed. They’d meet at the edge of the Ramey field in case the thing had more business to attend to there and make their way through the few miles of forest that led to the Randolph homestead.

Now, more than halfway through the journey, with nothing to show for it but a bunch of fear-and-sweat soaked farmers tugging their planks in the woods, he wondered if he might be regretting his decision.

“Sorry boys,” came a whisper from the darkness. “I can’t see a thing through this fog. Dern stick coulda jumped up and bit me.”

“Mayhap it will yet, if you don’t shut that hole in yer head, Bob White,” Jones threatened, feeling his own heart rate slow down a hair at the knowledge that their quarry hadn’t decided to make them its latest meal.

The other men snickered into the forest as they started moving again. Bob White whispered an apology as Jones lay a hand on his shoulder to let him know no harm had been done. The hearts of the men pumped with renewed ferocity as they went forward. Within minutes they had covered more than half a mile, entering the clearing that was the halfway point between the two farms. The smell of blood hung heavy in the air. They cautioned each other with just a glance, each of them nodding as the message was passed on. The moonlight illuminated the clearing like a spotlight, the fog rolling through the high grass in the small open area, exposing and once more hiding the body in the center.

Jones approached slowly, signaling the others to hang back. He could feel small bones under his feet as he got closer to the body. The putrid aroma of feces mixed with that of the blood, creating a cloud of scent that turned his stomach as he looked down into the eyes of a dead deer. The animal’s eyes were opened wide in what Jones assumed to be a mix of terror and pain. Organs were spread about the clearing, the animal’s limbs lying feet away from its torso. He realized as the fog rolled away for a moment that this is what he’d been walking on. He felt his gorge threaten to rise in his throat, a belch that tasted suspiciously like the night’s chicken and beans slipping through his lips with a whisper. Jones tensed as darkness fell all around him, a heavy rumbling rising from the distance. His heart skipped a beat as he looked skyward to see a thick cloud siding across the moon. Thunder. It would storm by dawn.

“Well,” came a whisper from just behind him. “I guess it started early.”

He whirled around in a flash, leveling his rifle at Josiah Ramey’s head before he came to his senses. The man shot him a dangerous grin and brushed by him, crouching to examine the deer. The other men crept forward as he looked over the kill.

“Still fresh,” he whispered again, his hoarse voice floating through the low mist like an apparition all of its own. Without a second’s hesitation he plunged his hand into the nest of viscera that was the deer’s open chest, releasing a burst of thin steam. “Very fresh,” he said, pulling his hand out and slinging steaming droplets of blood from his fingers. “Still warm.”

Jones heard one of the other men belch behind him, could almost feel the threat of the man’s vomit rising to his mouth. He crouched down beside of Ramey, leaning in to whisper in the larger man’s ear, a move which likely saved his life. With a rush of air and a ground shaking thud something landed just behind Jones. He whirled around again, raising his gun to see what was happening. Without warning his foot caught on one of the shattered leg bones he’d stepped on before, sending him to the ground under his own weight.

As he lay there, peering through the rolling mist, a larger than possible shadow rose before him. He could see the matted hair of the beast standing out at all angles against the moonlight. His heart slammed into his ribcage, fear flowing through his veins with renewed vigor as he was sure the thing was facing him, preparing to slam into him and rip his life from his body. In an instant he pictured his own body lying shattered and empty like that of the deer. It wasn’t until the thing raised a huge hand-like paw that he realized that it wasn’t facing him, and that the hand he saw shadowed against the pale Autumn light was much more human than should be possible.

He was unable to move as the thing’s paw shot forward, clawing through the air until it met one of the men in front of it. From his angle, Jones was unable to see who. Whoever it was fell backward with a scream of pain and fear. He saw the darkened figure he recognized as his own closest neighbor, Jim Hall. Hall shoved his rifle forward into the beast’s face, his prized Remington getting one shot off before the thing grabbed his arm. He saw the beast flinch as the bullet struck it, a growl rising through the air, once more silencing all night life in the area. He could feel the warbling tone of the beast’s anger flowing through his body, as if the very air itself was vibrating with the beast’s malice. He watched as it swiped the gun out of Hall’s hand and grabbed him by the throat, lifting him off the ground as it released its hold on his arm.

Hall swung his arms forward, striking the creature about the face and shoulders, his feet flying forward and kicking every other part he could reach. Jones felt, rather than heard Ramey finally going into action. The big man was rising to his feet, leveling his powerful shotgun at the beast’s back. Jones could sense that it was going to do no good. As he watched, the beast pulled Hall toward its face and let out something that sounded like a mix between a bark and a scream that ended in a long, eerie, trailing howl as it raised its head to the sky. The men felt as if they could tell what was coming before it happened, but none of them were prepared for the violence and finality of it.

Hall took a deep breath as the thing loosened its grip on him for a moment. In the next instant the beast locked eyes with him, and he knew his life was nearly over. The other men all raised their guns, Jones raising to one knee as he watched the beast open its mouth wide than anything he’d ever seen. In the clearing five weapons prepared to fire as the beast darted its head forward, pulling Hall’s head into its gaping maw and slamming its jaws shut. They heard one whimper from the man before the beast let his body fall to the ground, crunching the bones of its prey in its jaws as blood and chunks of skull slipped out from between its lips.

The shotgun blast nearly deafened all of them. Ramey lunged backward with the force as his weak legs threatened to give out on him. The beast bent forward with the force of the blast that slammed into its back. Chunks of fur and blood rose into the air, splattering the three men closest to the beast and turning the thickening mist a dull pinkish red in the glowing moonlight. The beast rose slowly this time, heavy mist rising from its skin as the open wounds on its back slowly closed themselves, fresh flesh knitting itself together as if by some unseen hands. The thing turned around slowly, deep red eyes glowing like coals in the darkness as it met Jones’s gaze and began growling once more. He could sense the thing preparing to pounce on him as another shotgun blast tore through the night. This time it was the thing’s chest that ripped itself apart under the high-pressure buckshot, sending the thing flying off its feet and right on top of the twitching heap that was all that was left of Hall.

“Run boys,” Ramey shouted from beside them as he reloaded. “We gotta get there now.”

Without a second thought, Jones took off, hearing the other men behind him. They ran like none of them ever remembered running before, thinking only of getting to the Randolph farm ahead of this thing and, hopefully, of finding a way to put it down once they got there. For just a moment he wondered if maybe they were acting a little harshly, knowing the kind of damage a close shot with Ramey’s shotgun should do to any animal that lives and breathes. With that kind of spread and stopping power hitting it in the chest at such a close range, it should have blown a hole clean through it. But hadn’t he seen the same shot take it in the back? And the thing had literally healed right before his eyes. Is it possible anything different would happen with a shot to its chest?

As if in answer to his question he heard the enraged snarl of the thing cut through the night just before he broke the tree line. One of the other men let out a cry that was either fear or pain. Jones honestly didn’t have time to tell. He was plunging into the forest, cutting through the thick brush until he burst on the beaten horse track that had been used by anyone hunting in these woods for years. His feet flew, his muscular body carrying him faster than the others. Soon he could hear the panicked footfalls of the other hunters behind him, the clodding sound of Ramey seeming just behind him. With another snarling howl and crash of brush, he heard the beast hot on their trail. His heart raced faster at the thought of the gigantic terror slamming into the ground, gaining precious inches as it pursued them. Cold sweat ran down his back as he felt the ground shake beneath the thing’s long gait. What in the world had they discovered in the woods tonight? Just what dreaded beast from Satan’s own court had disrupted life in his mountains? And how in the name of God were they supposed to get rid of it?

These questions and more flowed through the minds of all the men as they scurried through the darkened forest, hoping their not-so-fearless leader was taking them in the right direction. The last man in the line, the oldest and slowest, was pushing himself as heard as his heart, lungs, and legs would allow him to. He could feel the beast’s thunderous footfalls seeming just inches behind him. “I’ve just got to get there. I’ve just got to get there,” he told himself over and over again as his lungs screamed for more oxygen and his legs told him of their pain. As he was beginning to worry that he just wouldn’t make it, he spied ahead the break in the trail that meant the forest was coming to an end. Hope blossomed in his heart. If they were at the forest’s end they were only about half a mile from the Randolph place. There they would be able to make a stand against this thing. His wife’s face flashed before his eyes as he gained renewed energy. He pushed himself along a little faster as he began to think this wasn’t the end after all. Keeping his eyes on the edge of the forest and the silhouettes of his fleeing comrades, he didn’t see the pine root sticking out of the path. The same pine root that had caused his wagon to hang up more than once on this path. The same pine root that now snagged his boot and sent him flying forward, his iron flying out of his hand and striking his nearest companion in the back, leaving him temporarily empty-handed.

The man slammed into the ground hard enough to make his teeth snap together, severing the tip of his tongue and shattering a handful of his remaining good teeth. The sensation rang through his head as if he’d shoved his head into a clanging church bell. His body slid forward on the bare earth, scraping his chest and arms in a dozen different places and gouging a hole in the side of his cheek that nearly tore through to the inside of his mouth. Confusion set in instantly once he finally came to a halt. He was unsure of where he was and why he appeared to be lying on the ground in more pain than he’d felt in years. The sound of the creature coming to a halt behind him, snarling in victory and revenge brought him back to reality. He flipped over, his hands shooting out to reach for his missing rifle, but it was nowhere to be found. Trembling like a leaf in the wind, he looked up, directly into the eyes of the beast they’d come to find, regretting his decision to join the men on this suicide mission. His bladder loosened as the thing crouched in front of him, looking at him with both a bestial rage and a human curiosity. It scented the air before his face, not making any sudden movements. The man was suddenly painfully aware of his wounds, of the blood pouring down the back of his throat and running out of his split lips and down his chin.

Saliva dripped from the thing’s mouth as its thick, red tongue licked its lips.  He could smell blood and rot on the beast’s hot breath. His heart was beating faster than ever as the beast opened its mouth and loosed another of its snarling howls, sending ropes of bloody saliva over his face.

In an instant the beast locked eyes with the man and slashed one of its huge paws forward, ripping through the flesh of the man’s torso. He felt the creature’s claws scrape his ribs before sinking into his abdomen and tearing a fistful of his body away. Unable to move, or even scream, the man felt the creature push him onto his back and grab his rib cage. With barely any effort at all the thing tore his chest open and ripped his heart out of his body. The last thing the man saw was the beast, unlike anything he’d ever witnessed, toss his still-beating heart into its mouth and bite down.

Feeling its nearly insatiable hunger already rising again, the beast rose to its feet once more and looked toward the edge of the forest, seeing the last of the hunter’s shadows fading just out of reach of the forest’s reaching branches. Bounding forward, the beast once more put on the chase.

Jones heard the beast roaring behind them, heard his neighbor falling, but his legs wouldn’t stop carrying him away. He kept picturing the Randolph woman, a pretty young thing that he’d met once or twice in town, coming out to see what was causing a ruckus with their cattle. He could almost envision the terror on her face as the beast they’d encountered in the forest leapt toward her. She wouldn’t stand a chance if they didn’t warn her. He knew he couldn’t let this happen. A stitch formed in his side as he maintained his rapid pace down the nearly clear hill from the forest. He could see the roof of the Randolph farm over the dying corn stalks remaining in the field. It wouldn’t be much longer now, he knew, as the sound of the beast’s pursuit returned to his ears.

Jones rounded the corner of the garden first, nearly running headlong into Karen Randolph, holding a shotgun of her own.

“Ma’am turn around, we’ve got to get inside,” he panted, the long run finally catching up to him. The others fell in line behind him, ragged breaths filling the night air with even more steam.

“What in the Lord’s name is going on,” she asked them in a voice that could make the angels cry, raising her gun to point loosely at the group of men. “I heard this shootin’ and carryin’ on out here. What in the world are you men doin’?”

“There’s some kinda animal out there, ma’am,” Jones started, before Josiah Ramey cut him off.

“There ain’t no time to explain out here, Mrs. Randolph. We got to get inside ‘fore our death comes outta them woods.”

“I won’t be invitin’ a bunch of rough necked sweaty woodsmen in my house in the dark o’the night. Now tell me what in the world is goin’ on.”

“A beast ma’am, “Jones pleaded. “It’s taken two of us already. We have to get inside where it’s safe. Shotgun wasn’t strong enough to stop it for more than a minute. We have to go now,” he said as the beast let out a loud snarl, the sound of brush rustling coming from behind them.

Panic finally crossed the woman’s face as she realized what they were saying to her. Jones felt relief flood his heart as he thought she was finally seeing the problem. A cloud covered the moon once again, thunder rumbling heavily in the distance. He felt the first drops of rain pattering down on his bare arms. He kept his eyes locked on the woman’s, silently urging her to move, as the moon broke free of its cover, shedding fresh light on them all. In the sudden burst of illumination Jones could have sworn her eyes flashed a red-goldish color, but a sound from behind them broke his focus.

The beast tore through the underbrush and burst out of the forest directly behind them, less than half the distance it would have had to cover if it followed the path. Standing tall on its hind legs and howling at the moon the creature looked more human than beast, save its shaggy coat and long, canine head. Their time was running out. Jones and the others turned, backing away slowly, guns trained on the creature, until Jones felt his path blocked by the Randolph woman. She was staring straight ahead, eyes locked onto the creature, and she wasn’t budging an inch.

“Mrs. Randolph. Karen,” he shouted, hoping the use of her first name would shake her into action. “We have to get inside. Now.”

But it was too late.

The creature dropped to all fours and bounded forward, reaching them in three long strides of its full-bodied stance. All four of the men felt their hearts constrict in their chests. It was now or never. Josiah Ramey shouted a command, all the men following his lead and aiming for the beast. As the creature once more rose to its towering height above them, all four guns went off, sending more than two pounds of hot lead into the creature’s torso.

The beast was knocked off its feet again, the moon now running between the clouds as if to hide from the terror itself.

A hissing mist rose from the beast as the moon once again came out from behind the clouds, an almost human moaning coming from the blood-soaked shape in front of them. Rain began pelting down as the creature stirred on the ground. As the men watched, the beast stretched its hands and flexed its mighty paws, rising slowly to its feet again. None of them could move. They had put enough firepower to this creature to stop a charging bear, and it was still living. A whimpering scream rose from behind Jones, a sound that seemed to be a mix of fearful and triumphant. He turned quickly, remembering the woman was present. He felt a sliver of guilt for exposing her to such carnage, his own sorrow momentarily confusing what he saw before him.

Karen Randolph was aiming her shotgun at the back of Josiah Ramey’s head. He leapt forward as she pulled the trigger, knocking the barrel of the gun to the side as the creature regained its footing. Two full shells of buckshot were driven into the creature’s unexpectant shoulder, driving it to the ground again with a scream of pain like nothing any of the men had ever heard. Jones stopped short as Karen Randolph loosed a shriek to match that of the beast. With a strength he couldn’t have imagined her having, the woman threw him to the ground and drove a boot clad foot into his sternum, reloading her gun while she did so, aiming it at the men, who were once more aiming on the writhing creature on the ground.

The moonlight was hidden once again as lightning flashed in the sky, rain pelting them harder now. In a muzzle flash that nearly blinded him, Jones watched as the grieved woman emptied her weapon into the back of the man closest to her. With a scream of rage, the beast on the ground sat up, blood pouring from a wound that didn’t seem to want to heal. The buckshot had torn away half the thing’s shoulder, leaving its arm a dangling mess, and had ripped a good portion of its cheek off. Jones finally got his first close view of the creature in that instant, and it was then that he became certain the powers of Hell existed, and he was staring one of them right in the face.

The beast rose slowly to its feet, wolfish legs bringing it to a towering height of at least eight feet, just as Ramey had told them. Dark brown fur coated the thing’s body from head to toe, its blood-soaked torso more muscular than the largest farmhand Jones had ever seen. It hunched forward on its canine legs, a thick brown tail swishing back and forth in the mist. Thick, muscular arms took the place of what should have been the wolf-creature’s front legs. He saw, with an added horror that his earlier observation was correct: the beast’s fur-covered claws were almost identical to human hands. The beast’s head was long and wolfish, huge ears standing tall on the sides of its head. It was the face that made Jones gasp, his breath hitching in chest. Two large red-gold eyes peered out of the blood matted fur at the base of the monster’s snout, glaring at each of them in turn while its long snout, oozing with saliva and blood, showed them the teeth that had taken the lives of two of their friends. Jones was drawn to the left side of the beast’s face, however, certain that he could see something more inside the hole made by the woman’s stray buckshot.

With a howl that sent night birds flying for miles, the creature swiped forward and sunk its claws into the face of the man in front of it, crushing the skull beneath with Ramey hurriedly trying to reload his shotgun while Karen Randolph did the same. Jones regained his feet as the moon came out from behind the cloud again, leveling his gun the thing’s head and firing as Ramey loosed his shot as well. The two shots collided in the air before the beast’s face, causing an explosion that sent fire and shards of metal in every direction. The beast howled in a pained rage and dove forward at Jones, hitting him low across the torso and driving him back to the ground at the edge of the corn. Blood soaked Jones now as he saw the mist once more rising from the beast’s skin.

The creature rose up from its low position on his body, its eyes meeting his as blood and thick ropes of saliva coated his chest. His horror was renewed as he saw the disturbed flesh and bone exposed by the firestorm of the two gunshots. He could see the almost completely dislocated lower mandible, being held in place by a few ropes of sinew and gristle. As he watched the moon escaped the clouds once more, heavy mist rising from the edges of the wolf beast’s head where the light touched it. The creature looked up at the sky, exposing the face beneath the flesh that Jones was certain he’d seen. The torn flesh of Ben Randolph’s cheek was slowly hidden as the flesh knitted itself back over the exposed area.

Ramey, not seeing this, rapidly approached the beast from behind, swinging his gun with all his might. Blood gushed forward as the metal connected with the beast’s head, flowing over Jones’s face. Chunks of flesh and fur flopped forward exposing more of the face within. One red eye remained on the right side of the beast’s head, the mist rising heavily as new flesh knitted over the torn flaps. A scream rang out beside the group, followed by a gunshot that sent Ramey to the ground. At the sound of his wife’s voice, Ben Randolph’s one exposed eye fluttered open. A red-gold glint remained in the eye for a moment as his mouth opened.

“Krrrnnn,” came a guttural growl from within the split head. In an instant the Ben-beast was standing, dragging Jones with it. “Krrreennn,” came the growl again.

The woman stood weeping before the beast as it held Jones in its great paws.

“It’s OK, Ben,” she said to the beast, lightning splitting the sky as the moon was finally covered by the heavy clouds. Fat drops of rain slapped every available surface, pelting Jones’s skin with enough force to leave welts on his face. The beast’s claws flexed, leaving gouge marks in his chest as the woman reached out and touched the beast’s shoulder, the wound her gun had left now closed, only a bright white scar remaining to show where it had been.

Jones, aware the creature was now staring at Karen Randolph, reached slowly for his revolver, realizing it still sat snugly in the holster on his hip. As he drew the weapon slowly, praying the wet bullets would still fire, the beast shot its remaining eye to his face, attracted by the sudden flex of his muscles as he drew the weapon. With no warning, the beast released his shirt with one hand, and shoved its hand through his chest, shredding his left lung and half the organs in his body, before snapping his spine. White hot pain flashed in Jones’s mind as he felt his body fighting to stay alive. Using the last of his strength, he raised the pistol with a shaky hand, and pulled the trigger. The bullet drove through the beast’s chest and upward into Randolph’s chin, sending a gush of blood and gore surging out of the man’s nose and mouth.

He was dropped to the ground before he knew what was happening. The beast dropped to its knees, pulling its breath in in gasps and jerks. Ben Randolph opened his mouth, a whimper escaping from deep within his body. His wife stood over his body, her mouth opening and closing in shock.

The moon once more escaped its cloudy prison, sending thick beams of light down over the wounded body in front of her, steam rising from countless lesions and gaping holes in the thing’s flesh. As she watched this spectacle, Karen Randolph raised her gun once more, tears streaming down her face.

“Karen,” the growling voice from within the steaming body muttered clearly, looking into her eyes.

“Shhh, Ben. Everything is going to be just fine,” she said as she squeezed the trigger slowly.

Jones watched as Karen Randolph discharged her weapon, Josiah Ramey’s head exploding with the blast, sending hot blood and shards of bone cascading down over Ben Randolph’s head before he passed out on the ground and knew no more that night. Lightning split the sky once more as the darkness streaked Jones’s vision. Steam rose heavily from Ben Randolph’s body as the bloody fur seemed to melt away before Jones’s eyes. He felt his life slipping away as he watched the beast before him melt away, leaving the bruised and battered form of the man whose wife he’d come here to save. The wife who now stood over her husband, a grin on her face. As Jones’s life left his body, he met Karen Randolph’s eyes, seeing a shocking red-gold glint in them for just a moment before darkness fell over his world for good.

 

There we go, everyone. I know this was a pretty lengthy piece, but I hope you all enjoyed it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this story, and anything else you’re interested in. If you want to keep up with my work, check out more samples, or just see what else I’m up to, feel free to follow here or subscribe to my newsletter. I would also love it if you’d like my author page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/DMathewsBooks/) or follow me on Twitter (@DameanMathews) and keep the reading and writing going! Feel free to comment or message me at any time, and enjoy the rest of the Summer-Blog-A-Day event here (http://kaymacleodbooks.com/summer-blog-a-day-2018/).

Summer Writing Extravaganza!

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope your July went great and you’re all ready for August. In about two months we’ll all be knee deep in leaves and smothered in hoodies, chugging more pumpkin lattes than you can wag a finger at. But for now, Summer is still king. As the hottest days of the year come to a head, I’ve got some great projects under way, and I’m very excited to tell you about them! Let’s start things off by going straight for the event of the the summer – Summer Blog-a-Day!

What’s Summer Blog-a-Day, you ask? It’s an awesome opportunity developed by fellow author Kay Macleod, which allows authors and bloggers from all walks of life a chance to expand their audiences in a number of new ways. Kay has arranged for a new blogger to be featured every day in the month of August, giving that blogger a chance to show off an original story, a short excerpt of a longer original work, or a recommended summer reading list on their assigned day. Every day a link will be shared to the author’s post, prompting unique views, starting today with fantasy author Chrys Cymri. Frankly, I think this is a great idea. This way authors can find a new way to connect with other authors while sharing work and inspiration, and their audiences can immerse themselves in new works. Basically, it’s a win-win!! If you want to check out the schedule and find all new authors to enjoy, here’s the link for the event; (http://kaymacleodbooks.com/summer-blog-a-day-2018/). My day on Kay’s schedule is August 8th, so be sure to keep your eyes open for a brand new post coming up that day, featuring an exclusive new bit of work by yours truly. Also be sure to visit the site and give these great authors your support – and share the event with everyone you think will be interested!

On another note: I have had a bit of excitement in the last week. I now have a new furry friend, fresh out of a bush at my old newspaper office. The long haired, ginger feline has since become the newest member of my little family, and is loving her new life indoors. It has been quite an experience raising a kitten again, and I must say she is a fun little friend. It’s both tiring and inspirational to have a new little life running around the house. Possibly due to said inspiration, I’ve been able to nail down what my next story is going to be, and get a start on it in the last week. Little Mary Jane, M.J. for short (complete Spiderman reference – no shame at all for my nerdiness) is definitely a hoot and you will all be seeing plenty of her on social media, without a doubt.

In addition to the rest of my news, I have actually been able to line up quite a doozy of a review for the near future. I’m going to be taking a peek at an advance copy of a book by one of my favorite authors and a friend of mine. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but the book is a prequel to a classic novel that is like no other. I look very forward to getting to share this with you all. I haven’t set a date for the review yet, but I will be keeping you all updated as things progress.

Finally, the last bit of news that I have before I stop boring you all with my words, is that I have completed one of the final steps remaining before I can attempt to get my provisional teaching license and begin inspiring others the way my favorite professors have inspired me. Of course, I’ll continue to keep everyone updated on this progression as well. In the meantime, I’ll be working on my new novel, playing with my new cat, and planning for the special bit of work coming your way in a week. Keep yourselves happy and inspired, make the most of the summer, and don’t let anything slow you down! Feel free to reach out to me with any questions or comments you have, and I’ll be back soon with something exciting for you all to enjoy!

The Waiting Game

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

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

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

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

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

Harry Potter and the 8-book review

Hey there friends and fans! It’s the end of May and, as promised, here is the first in a new kind of review for me. I apologize for being a bit later than intended, but between work and some personal challenges, here we are. Without further ado, let’s jump right in! Obviously, the appeal of the standard review isn’t something I can completely drop when a book particularly calls to me, but this has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while. In case you’ve had your head in the sand, I’m talking about my review of the Harry Potter series in its entirety. As someone who grew up with J.K Rowling’s amazing books (although I admittedly didn’t join the celebration until the release of the third book) I have been incredibly influenced by the ideas and art within them. My style, my interests, even some of my own moral ideas reflect some of those exhibited by The Boy Who Lived and his closest friends. One reason I wanted to do this review, aside from having an excuse to talk about them, was to make myself buckle down and read the series from beginning to end again. The last time I read each book in succession like this was immediately after the release of “Deathly Hallows,” and, after doing it again, I think I see why. I’m pretty sure my brain was saving me once again from the pain of having to deal with the end of this amazing series. However, in this instance I also had “The Cursed Child” to stave off the ‘ending pains.’ As a side note, since this book comes so long after the originals and acts as a very different sort of book, I’ll probably set up a separate paragraph about it as well.

To begin, this series is about Harry Potter, a young wizard who was attacked by the most powerful Dark Wizard who ever lived. Potter, after being raised by muggles (non-magic folk) for 11 years, is thrown into the wizarding world and his own fame with no knowledge of any of it. The series follows Harry’s footsteps through his 7 year tenure at Hogwarts, where he and his friends must face typical teenage angst, learning the facets of magic, and the return of Voldemort, who still wants nothing more than to see Harry dead.

As I said, I fell into this series at a young age and I was instantly hooked. From the first paragraph J.K. Rowling drives you into this fantasy world that, despite the silly antics littering the pages, is almost entirely believable. Even now, more than a decade later, I love reading about Harry’s adventures and his education at an antiquated, unusual, and wonderful school. The characters were, for the most part, incredibly relatable to me. I was very impressed to find out that this was still the case after all these years. As I read into these characters I found myself understanding their conflicts, their sadness, and their excitement.

One of the strongest things Rowling presents, in my opinion, is the threat of darkness that surrounds Voldemort’s return. Every one of his followers we are introduced to is more dastardly than the last – despite the blatant incapability of some of them. Harry’s link to his would-be murderer is something that, even at the end of the seventh novel, feels like it is much deeper and more involved than we could ever understand. This idea is, of course, further explored in “The Cursed Child,” but more on that later.

One of the things that continuously interested me with this series – even more so at this point in my life and the state of the world – was Rowling’s continued incorporation of the necessity of equality, between sexes, genders, sexualities, species and races. Time and time again our main characters (particularly Hermione) find the mistreatment of anyone who is different from the pure-blood, magical standard in the wizarding world deplorable. Organizations are started (S.P.E.W. – not spew), punches are thrown, spells are cast, and lives are lost in the name of equality. I love the repeated examples that show all species and races and sexes should have the same claim to the world and its happiness. Rowling doesn’t back down from bringing these issues to the forefront of the novels in many different ways, and I think the story and morals are all that much more important because of it.

Harry’s coming of age was something that made many of my generation feel a little less alone, a little stronger, and a little more at ease about our own lives. Rowling’s tale reflects some of the difficulties that can face all of us as we enter adulthood – with the hopeful exception of a murderous psychopath chasing you through your life. So many of us bonded incredibly with this tale, feeling the characters experience some of the same things we all felt, facing some situations we were familiar with, and it showed us all that everything would be fine. After all, if a 17 year old can handle battling most of the wizarding world and coming toe-to-toe with the most powerful wizard alive, we can surely handle high school, right?

Rowling’s nonchalant style throughout much of this saga makes the books very easy to read. Her often lighthearted approach at even the most difficult situations helps drive these novels home and make them stick with us long after we’ve closed the books. The saga is so immense and full that I’m not sure I have a favorite part, or even a favorite book, although I think “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” “Order of the Phoenix,” and “Deathly Hallows” are steps above the others for me.

Overall, I’m not sure there are many things I don’t like about the series. I would like to see more of Harry’s story played out. I would really love Rowling to write a book about the events before Harry’s birth. A nice long exploration of Dumbledore’s past, the true story of Voldemort’s rise to power, background on James’s family. Of course these things have been touched on in various ways since the original novels.

When it comes to “The Cursed Child” I had a good deal of inner conflict when reading the work. I was very excited to see the script released in novel format, and I would love to see the production, and I do think it could be a great movie. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, as this was my first reading of the book, even though I preordered it and have had it for well over a year. This continuation of Harry’s tale, bringing his family into focus and revisiting events of his past was a wonderful idea. I had a good deal of trouble relating to the adult Harry and his son, Albus, at first. I found the boy to be quite impetulant and much more like a Malfoy than a Potter, and I thought Harry did not feel like the same person he was in the series. As the story went on I did relate a bit more the characters, and I admittedly do enjoy the idea of Hermione as Minster of Magic. I won’t mention too many more spoilers here, because a good deal of people have missed the book. Suffice to say that I enjoyed the continuation, but still would have loved more mention of the past events of the wizarding world.

Overall, this series is by far one of the best things I’ve read in my life – and, believe me, that list is NOT a small one. The wizarding world continues to have immense appeal to me, particularly in that they have little to no need of the technology that continues to drive this world forward and diminish our connection with the universe. The continued use of quills and lanterns, a lack of trivial things like television and video games, and the obvious embrace of the natural world still warms my heart, too. But what did you think about it? Do you love the series, do you hate it? If you’d never read it before, how did it hit you, and if you were returning to the books did you still find yourself interested in the story? What, if anything, changed for you? Share your thoughts in the comments and share this as far and wide as you can to get plenty of people involved! For me Harry Potter was, and is, truly an inspiration. The laughter, the tears and the passion that filled these pages will never die and I am exceptionally glad that I can always turn to them. I am proud to have grown up on them. I will be happy to pass them on to future generations. Always.

Every Day

Happy Friday! I hope this week went by swimmingly for you all. This is rather unexpected, as it came to me on a whim, but here is a surprise, mid-month book review! Recently I’ve been seeing the movie trailer for the upcoming release “Every Day,” and it has intrigued me in a major way. The concept as laid out in the trailer, of a person who wakes up every morning in a new body, a new person, with no solid life and no link to the rest of the world beyond that of their current host, called to me like crazy. I immediately knew I had to go see it. Needless to say, when I realized it was based on a book , I obviously had to read it.

As I’m on a strict reading schedule for the year I wasn’t sure when the opportunity would arise. Yesterday afternoon I saw the trailer again and was once more convinced I had to read the book, preferably before the movie’s February 23 release. On a whim I decided to check the OverDrive app, a free app that allows you to check out ebooks from hundreds of participating libraries (an app that I’ve obviously fallen in love with) for the book. When I saw it was available the choice was made before I even realized it.

I was immersed in the story from the first word. David Levithan’s story of this person, this genderless, identityless, familyless, homeless person bouncing from consciousness to consciousness every single day, never able to control the transition, the destination, is incredible. Obviously, if you haven’t read it, you may want to put a pin in this post and do that. As you can tell, it’s pretty easy to read the book quickly, since I completed it in probably a combined reading time of 6 or 8 hours. So, go read. I’ll wait.

Now, I’m assuming you completed the book and are ready for discussion? Good, let’s!

The first thing I have to say about this book is that it is incredible. I do like my YA novels as well as most other forms of literature, and this book is a YA novel that reads like both classic and modern fiction. It is something that feels so natural that you sometimes find it easy to forget you’re reading a book and not just directly connecting with the thoughts of the main character, a loving but mysterious soul whose only identifier is the self-prescribed moniker of “A,” set up early in A’s 16-year life to give them (the most suiting pronoun) something to hang on to, something to anchor to to prevent themselves from going mad while bouncing from life to life with no control.

As I said, the concept is great. I was immediately drawn to feel sympathy for this character. As someone that puts a lot of stock in the protective and loving character of family, reading this tale of someone who has never been able to feel that solidity really made me invested in the book. A’s story is something that holds incredible strength, purpose, possibility, and much sadness. I loved the absolute unpredictability of the story as the reader is brought along with A to enter the lives of numerous individuals from all races, genders, levels of health, and family situations.

I enjoyed that we are brought in after A has lived this way for 16 years, no explanation of how or why they are living this life, and no certain answers of whether it is possible to stop or slow it down. We come into the story on day 5,994 in the body of Justin, who the reader is quickly ready to dislike. Before long we are introduced to shy, timid Rhiannon, who is the reason for everything that happens in the book. One thing I was drawn to throughout this novel is the undeniable feeling of love that A feels for Rhiannon almost instantly. As someone who has never spent more than 24 hours with any one person or group of people, the idea that such a powerful connection can be made almost instantly with Rhiannon is incredibly intense. Levithan throws A and the reader into this tale head first and keeps at it through the entire text, presenting a love story so complete, so without boundaries, so without restriction and full of possibility that it can literally leave you reeling.

I was enamored with A’s immediate connection with Rhiannon, their undeniable infatuation that even transcended Rhiannon’s connection with A’s host of the day, Justin. The description of A’s life being turned completely upside down by something as common as love is a concept that really put the world into incredible perspective. Knowing that this character, who has never had the time to experience something the rest of us take for granted and consider normal, is thrown completely through a loop by this one thing is extremely powerful. A running theme through this book that is lying just below the surface is that something as unbelievably thrilling as being able to bounce from life to life consistently, never having to worry about tomorrow, never having to face responsibility and knowing that no matter how good or bad your situation is, a change is literally less than 24 hours away is nothing compared to the unpredictability of falling in love. It’s something that you can get lost in.

I love the repeated mentions A makes of the experience they have had. Multiple times while speaking with Rhiannon as well as just reflecting on their own A talks about how they may not have had many consistent and average life experiences that a 16-year-old  would normally get, but that they have had countless experiences that are typically lost on individuals. The concept of getting to experience life from more than 6,000 sets of eyes in more than 6,000 settings and more than 6,000 family situations is both liberating and exhausting to me. I like to live my life thinking that every day brings us something new, but this expands on that concept to a point that I feel like I have trouble wrapping my head around it. It is just another of the many reminders of how small we all truly are.

Levithan touches many times on the concept of homosexuality and love, repeatedly speaking through A’s point of view while living in the bodies of males, females, transgender individuals all of varying sexuality. Here he touches heavily on the concept of humanity versus gender and identity. A feels just as much love for Rhiannon while in the body of a female as they do a male, just as much passion for this one girl while in the body of someone she’s never met as they do while in the body of her boyfriend of over a year. This speaks volumes to me. Many people in the world today have very differing ideas when it comes to sexuality and ‘normality’, right and wrong, and average and ‘weird.’ But A knew none of that. They knew just as much as they felt from day to day, minute to minute, and what they knew above all else was a love so intense that it literally transcended all else.

In my opinion anyone who reads this book can learn invaluable lessons from it. As a straight, white male born into a middle class Christian family I admittedly haven’t had to face much adversity on the forefront of my love life. But that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize it. Having friends of different sexual preferences, different identities, from different backgrounds, I do my best to be understanding of every situation that can present itself to my peers, but nothing could have prepared me for the raw description in this book. Levithan doesn’t stand up and turn this book into an in-your-face statement about love and life and acceptance, but I feel like it can definitely serve as one. A repeatedly tells Rhiannon that they have never felt like a boy or a girl themselves, they’ve only taken on the identity of the body they inhabited that day. Even with that explanation we see Rhiannon’s hesitation to consider anything beyond the standard she understands, reminding us all of the classic view of the world’s typical attitude toward anything that doesn’t seem “cookie cutter” and average.

With this book so fresh on my mind and so high on my list of must-reads, I’m hard pressed to find much about it that I wasn’t impressed with. I would have liked a lot more explanation, or at least possibility about who or what A is, and how their life is possible. Of course, that could well be coming in the follow-up text this October. Throughout the book there are hints of possibility that A is not the only person with this gift/curse of freedom and experience. I would love more of an explanation about that. I would also love a first-hand account of someone who wakes up the day after A has lived in them. We get Nathan and Rhiannon’s explanations, as different as they are, but I feel like I need more. I would also be interested in a first hand POV of the experience the person has while A is running the show. I imagine we may get something of this during the follow up text “Another Day” that is out now. But since it’s not on OverDrive, I’ll have to make a trip to the library to find out.

I feel like I could ramble on if I wanted to, but I’d love to have more discussion with you all about your thoughts. Leave your comments about this book below and be sure to tell me what you think about the ideas in the text. Have you read the follow up from Rhiannon’s point of view? If so, how does it hold up? Did this book open your eyes in any way or make you think about the world? I hope so. A book that can make us think can change the world, right? I think that’s one of the most special things about this book. It reveals the importance of true, raw love. It shows us that nothing but love matters. Of course, if the world focused more on love than the anger and prejudice we are faced with daily, we wouldn’t have to have books expressing its importance, would we? Leave your comments, share your thoughts and tell me what other books you’d like me to review. Look for the series review of the Harry Potter books in April, and keep reading along with me!