It’s a Sin to Kill a Mockingbird

Ok guys, this month’s book was an incredible classic, of course. I have been enamored with the book since the first time I picked it up more than a decade ago. There is such a powerful message in the pages, and it has so much weight, even more than half a century later. If we’re being honest, it’s probably just as if not more relevant than before, given the rampant bigotry and racism ruling society these days, but that’s a completely different discussion. Let’s dive in!

First and foremost, as a true son of the South, I love that this book is set right in the heart of the area where racism has perhaps done some of the worst damage. Reading a book that was written in such a simple, uncomplicated and conversational style – yet with such a pregnant message – that included vernacular I’m familiar with is definitely something that makes the book a joy to come back to again and again. Scout is the quintessential rough-and-tumble girl that we all knew growing up. As a matter of fact, if anything, we realize that it is this exact quality that helps her be so strong in the face of what is happening in her town and her home. Of course, we see in the sequel – which was actually written first – that she never changes from this persona, her innocence and strength deriving from the influence this attitude has on her approach to life.

Scout herself is one of the reasons this book is so great for readers of all age groups. She can be understood by everyone who reads the words running through her mind. I can honestly say I have’t met anyone who didn’t relate to Scout in at least some way. her strength in the face of the things that try to break her down and her determination that Tom Robinson deserves justice – as well as her general disdain mixed with a lack of understanding for discrimination of any kind – makes her a character that has survived as a near heroin in my mind. One of the best scenes with Scout comes when she is speaking to the group of angry men outside the courthouse. Scout is doing nothing more than being polite, but she manages to single-handedly diffuse the situation and bring these angry men to their senses, very likely saving Tom and her father without even trying.

The themes of equality and misunderstanding and the blatant condemnation of racism in this book still fascinate me. I see the racism in the world around me now, with people being told to leave the country based on the color of their skin, regardless of where they were born, and entire races and groups of people being torn down by hatred on a daily basis, and I realize that even now it isn’t as bad as it was then. When a black man can be condemned for a crime he obviously didn’t commit just because of the color of his skin and no one bats an eye is insane. Granted, similar things do happen now, there are at least more people standing against such behavior. Knowing that Harper Lee wrote this book speaking out against such unfair treatment of people makes my heart soar. While knowing that so many people haven’t listened hurts deeply.

The character of Atticus has always stood out as a good, strong man in my mind as well –  let’s not discuss the negative comments in “Go Set a Watchman.” I admire the way he taught his children about equality and fairness. Atticus, despite the generalization of the time the book was written, was an amazing father to his children and he instilled in them the hope of a new generation, the essence of equality, and the role of acceptance that men of his own generation so clearly never exhibited. I think this really was Lee’s own dissatisfaction with the world coming out in her writing. She understood humanity and equality and she wrote it with strength and confidence. She stood strong in the face of adversity and showed the world how wrong this behavior was.

I think the biggest question the book raises is whether Boo Radley or Scout is intended to be the greater example of innocence here. Boo, a man who seems to be mentally disabled, is the subject of so much rumor and speculation (which happens too often in Maycomb) and is, in turn, a feared sort of boogeyman figure to the kids. They taunt each other and dare each other to go touch the house or sneak into the garden. And we never see Boo retaliate in anger. In the end we see that Boo, despite being feared, has actually been leaving gifts for the kids, fixes Jem’s pants, and even saves Jem’s life. Regardless, I love the character. He stands for so much in my opinion, that I could could go on for hours about the misconceptions he is faced with and who I think he really is both in the novel and to the literature itself. In a sentence; Boo Radley is the withdrawn control, not joining society, therefore not being damaged by it.

I don’t think I have any real critiques of the book that stand out, other than the fact that I still hate Scout’s aunt and don’t really care much for Dill. I understand their overall contribution to the book, but they were more like annoyances to be dealt with than beneficial characters in my opinion. My biggest problem would be that racism did, in fact, prevail in the case of Tom Robinson, even though he was obviously innocent. The fact that he was shot for committing no crime at all, while an abusive man was let off free is a harsh reminder of the way the world was – and still is – an entirely unfair place. But that’s the point of the book, right? We have to expose the negative behavior so we can fix it.

But what did you think? What are your thoughts on a book that has been so controversial over the years that it has even landed on banned book lists across the U.S.? I hope you’ll all weigh in on the discussion, and definitely let me know what your suggestions are for future reads! I love participation and comments. Share this far and wide and let’s have a big discussion!

Free Novel Tie-in Story!

Happy Summer, everyone! I’ve toyed around with the idea of creating short stories that take place in the same universe as my novels for quite a while. Recently I was talking to an author friend of mine who has done this in order to bring people’s attention to his novels and help expand on the world he created. I decided it was time to give it a shot and it has been a great experience so far. I released this short piece as a first-look offer for those who have subscribed to my newsletter, but I’ve had such demand and reaction to the piece that I wanted to share it here as well. So here is the short semi-flash-fiction piece that will serve as a tie-in to my upcoming novel “Moonlight.” I’d love to hear what you think about the piece and whether it makes you interested in checking out the full-length novel as well. Make sure to subscribe to my blog and my newsletter (https://www.facebook.com/DMathewsBooks/app/100265896690345/) for exclusive deals and content and stay tuned to see all the latest news about “Moonlight” all other upcoming projects I’ll be sending your way!
Moonlight: Return
     The ground shifted slightly as something beneath the surface moved. The sound of splintering wood rose through the loose soil, followed by a dirty, blood covered arm. The hand opened and closed in the night air, the light of the full moon glinting off the matted fur as yellowed claws found purchase in the solid ground. The soil bulged slowly as the arm flexed, pulling its hairy body free, knocking over the carefully made marker bearing only the letter “T.”
     Red eyes glowed in the darkness as the beast rested on the dewy grass. The thing breathed deeply, wheezing gasps soon becoming a steady grunting growl as it worked its legs free of the ground. It rolled onto its side and looked into the night sky, its hairy body steaming as scratches closed up, the thing’s once shredded torso sealing itself again. It felt the itch of flesh on its head knitting back together, covering its exposed skull as a gaping wound healed in the moonlight.
     The sounds of the night stopped as the thing gained enough strength to stand on its shaky legs. Splintered bones and torn muscles were coming together again as the thing looked down and examined its body, relishing in its new freedom. One clawed hand raised to its chest, feeling three large white scars on its otherwise renewed body. It felt the slightly uneven beat of its monstrous heart behind one of the old wounds and memories came flooding back.
     The beast raised its head to the sky and let loose a long, mournful howl that drove flocks of night birds from their roosts. It breathed deeply again, listening at the sounds of animals running from the horror that had returned to the forest. It had a mission, it knew, but first it had to feed.

Inspiration and Determination

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mockingbirds, writers, and vampires!

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Sink Your Teeth Into This!

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

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

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

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

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

The Circle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life announcement and this month’s book!

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re off to see the wizard

I hope everyone enjoyed this month’s book. It was definitely a treat, as most books are for me. This month, of course, we read L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” I have to make the obvious statement here and say that the 1938 musical has surpassed the book in popularity for the most part. Because of this it was a little difficult to differentiate between the two at first. Once I began reading the book again, it became pretty easy to notice the difference – particularly Dorothy’s projected age and the entire ending of the movie. I also have to make a full disclaimer here; the movie has long been one of my favorites (the Cowardly Lion being my favorite character, if you’re wondering), so this was great!

No matter the differences, I really enjoyed the book. Baum presented a world that both called for a lot of description and didn’t need much at all. The great thing about this book is the matter-of-fact nature of it all. Baum presents the book in a quick, easy, conversational tone. When he’s describing things like the lion, the Emerald City, the Munchkins, he does so in such a way that we don’t have to think about it. He presents the descriptions of his world so simply that we don’t even question what we’re reading. That’s the mark of not only a great children’s book, but a great author in general. He doesn’t overdo it, he doesn’t underplay it, he just SAYS IT.

The witty remarks by the scarecrow remain one of the best parts of the book, in my opinion. Satire was a strong part of literature at the time this book was published, and I loved seeing it float across the pages here in the dialogue of the “brainless” character. Scarecrow considers himself stupid, but remains one of the smartest characters in the novel. His comments on intelligence and nature are something that really leads the book in some parts.

The story of the tin man is very fun to look at here as well. The wicked witch cursed his axe and caused him to cut himself to bits, but he somehow managed to be rebuilt out of tin. Ironically enough, the craftsman managed to put his brain and nervous system into the tin body, but somehow couldn’t figure out how to make the heart work. But again, that’s a kid’s book for you.

The really interesting thing about the book, for me was that Dorothy was cool with all of this. She went about her way in Oz barely questioning anything, which takes me back to Baum’s style. We don’t question, because Dorothy doesn’t have to. I think the characterization here does speak to a difference in the personality and upbringing of children now compared to 100 years ago. Dorothy’s house gets picked up by a tornado and she just goes to sleep and wakes up in this random place with a bunch of little people to find out her house landed on someone and killed them. Now any one of those things would be enough to cause a kid to freak out and need all kinds of therapy and everything else. Dorothy was like “Oh bother. I bet Aunt Em misses me. Let’s set out across this weird country and ask a wizard for help.” Granted that was more or less her only option (unless of course we look a little deeper into the fact that the good witches knew the shoes could send her straight home but chose to endanger her life rather than just tell her), so it’s a little understandable. But honestly, even in my mid 20’s I can’t say that I wouldn’t freak out at least a little in a similar situation.

I wasn’t overly wild about the speed of the book, I must admit. It may just be me, but I felt like we were no sooner introduced to a new, weird species of animal of some strange race of people than they were little more than a memory. For instance we come across the hammer-heads and within minutes Dorothy calls on the flying monkeys to help them out. The entire scene involving the new race lasts maybe two pages and we barely have time to digest their existence. I’m aware there are a ton more Oz books, and these characters may come back, but it was  little off putting to see that buildup only result in  a couple of lines of description, almost no dialogue and then they’re a thing of the past. This happens a few times in the book, and it kind of makes it feel like Baum runs through it a bit too quickly. It could be fleshed out a fair amount, in my opinion. But that’s alright. It all works out in the end, and gives us a very beloved book.

What did you guys think? Are you fans of the classic? Or would you just as soon stick with the movie? Do you like the way the children’s book element plays out here? Hopefully you’ve been enjoying the book club and enjoying the books we cover. As always, I look forward to next month’s selection and I hope to hear all of your opinions about it. This month I want to look into a good dystopian work that can really make us think about the state of the world. In other words, let’s get paranoid! Make your suggestions below or message me! Tell me what you thought of the book and let’s keep reading, guys. Share this as far and wide as you can and help me get eyes on it!

Spring is here

The seasons have changed again, and it is a great feeling! The days are longer, the air is fresher, the morning birds are singing again and – most importantly – motivation is coming back! I’ve been hit with a few new ideas in the last week, and have found myself writing some new material again in what little bit of free time I have.

So far I have worked on starting two new pieces that I feel pretty positive about. For the most part these works just came to me out of the blue (one even as an interesting, albeit slightly disturbing, half-dream while I was dozing off one day) and they’re pretty interesting. I know I tend to make a similar post every spring and summer, if not every season, but to me the changing of seasons really is a magical thing. I really love to see the sunshine come back and the days start to stretch. There’s nothing like enjoying a late evening on a warm Spring or Summer night. Granted, I no longer have my private balcony to write on, but that’s a different story!

The change of seasons can work inexplicable magic in the lives of artists. Just as I’ve written before, muses and inspiration can take infinite forms, but one that works for many of us is the feeling of peace at the end of a long Summer night. Seeing the light fade as the lightning bugs start to flash through the air, and hearing the night come alive around you. There’s not much better, especially when you’re in the mountains. Of course, I don’t have much city-living to compare that to, I’ll take it at face value. Regardless, we are coming on that time again, and I’m excited for what it might bring my way. I would love to get a few more great works out and get some print material circulating.

Speaking of that, I’m still well underway on getting my Amazon collection revamped so I can get it in print. I actually have an opening to try and sell the print copies at this year’s Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium ( June 10, 11, link here; https://appheritagewritersym.wordpress.com/ ) and I’m hoping for some great feedback.

In other great and awesome news, I wanted you guys to be the first to know that I have been accepted as a contributing author to this year’s Spring edition of Jimson Weed. Many of you may remember that this is the journal that I was Managing Editor of for about two and half years, so it’s a great honor to be back in the running as a contributor. I can’t wait to see my name in the journal again! My story “Lefty Smith and the Right-Handed Corn” was the work selected for this issue, and I’m excited for the chance to read it in front of people. It’s a story I came up with while teaching at the aforementioned writers symposium in 2015, and I’m excited to see it get some attention. It’s a very folk-tale type of work and it’s not really like anything I’ve done before. Hopefully it will be a hit!

What sort of news is happening in all of your lives? What changes are you seeing come with the new season’s appearance? What are you looking most forward to in the Spring and Summer? Do you even like these seasons? The questions are endless.

Just a reminder, my review on “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” will go up Thursday, March 30, since this month ends on a Friday. I’m going to go ahead and start soliciting everyone for book choices for April’s review as well. I really want to reading frightening sort of dystopian-type novel this time, so wow me with suggestions! That choice will be announced on Tuesday, April 4.

Anyway, I hope you’re all well, and I look forward to seeing your suggestions and your comments on the seasons!