Who I Really Am

My life has been filled with an uncanny love of literature, an unquenchable obsession with the written word, and a passion for the arts that absolutely can’t be rivaled. I have lived my entire life with a book in my hand, a pen in my pocket, and written words surrounding my every move. I have always been drawn to books and literature. The very thought of books ignites a fire in my heart like nothing else. I struggled for a bit in my youth with just what that meant for me, often finding myself reading where my peers were playing sports and writing in my free time when others were hunting and carrying on in their own way. More often than not I was the guy in school who would be seen with a novel as big as his head and more interest in the library than the gym or the football field. People often questioned why I loved books the way I did, and they often got various answers, but one thing always stayed the same, whether I voiced it or not; it’s who I am.

By the time I made it to high school and realized that I wanted to be a writer, another seed planted itself in my mind. My junior year of high school I found myself in Larry Hypes’s class. This was a man who had quite a reputation for being an excellent teacher at Tazewell High School – often noted as such by the various non-academically minded students who professed how little they liked his class. But it was here that I flourished. I found myself in the midst of literature I hadn’t covered before, and where new light was shed on works that I was familiar with, and something clicked inside of me. I realized, somewhere deep within myself that there was a whole new world of literature appreciation for me to embrace – in the form of teaching. I grew closer to Mr. Hypes through that year, finding his ideas often matched my own and his methods opened up the written word in ways I hadn’t experienced before. As I went through the year, reading and writing more than ever, the idea of teaching dug itself deeper in my conscious.

I had been asked about teaching before this, of course, and I had shrugged it off with little more than a thought. I was too young to know for sure what I wanted. I knew I wanted to travel. I wanted to see the world, to experience the incredible sensations the world has to offer, and I wanted to make a difference. Teaching was something for old men and women, for huge brains with more knowledge than they knew what to do with and too little adventure left in their hearts to care. It couldn’t be for me. But suddenly it was in my mind, in my heart. During those formative years the idea remained, although buried by the urgency of graduations and colleges, by new novel ideas and dreams of publication. I continued to embrace the craft, feeling with new heights the impressive weight and passion of literature and the world. As new concepts were introduced to me by new professors, I grew more and more fascinated with the concepts that lived through the centuries, feeling sometimes that they were put down on paper and flowed through the ebb of time to plant themselves in my very soul.

I explored this new literature with a ravenous passion as the seed that had planted itself within me grew to new levels. Subtly allowing myself to accept the possibility of education, I entered the teaching program in college. The concepts and ideas brought a sense of calm to my mind where before there was a mild form of panic when I considered what career path I could embark on while seeking publication. In addition to exploring theories and methods of standard education I was allowed the opportunity to observe. The very word itself is a disservice to what I experienced. I was able to join educators in their pursuit, spreading knowledge to kids of various ages. I observed in a number of classrooms in a number of grades, and always felt the same things. Wonder. Passion. A desire for education that encompassed all else – perhaps not from every student, but no matter what classroom I was in, the feeling was alive. As much as this feeling enlightened me, I allowed life to get in the way. Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say I put the idea of teaching on the back burner. Dreams were replaced with jobs. I placed myself in position to make money and allowed goals to slip into the background.

Recently, though, the urge to teach has raised its head again. The desire to spread my knowledge and love of literature to new generations has become such an immovable mountain within myself that I can’t ignore it. Each passing day brings new ideas, new elements of literature, new things I want to teach my future students. I can barely go an hour without having some new project, a new element of one of my favorite books or facets of literature that I can explain to students taking over my thoughts. It’s becoming more and more a yearning with each passing moment. My life is tied with literature, the art of the written word is fused into every fiber of my being, and nothing could make more sense than to share that passion with others. More than ever I want to give back to the world what my favorite professors have given to me. As the world changes, literature becoming more of an afterthought as technology rises to all new levels, it is ever more important to me to give it a voice. Despite its strong presence, the written word can’t pick itself up and introduce itself to the coming ages. So it’s up to teachers. It’s up to people like myself for whom the passion never sleeps. I will stand in the face of the darkness of the world and shed the light of passion on its battle-scarred face.

I made this post to let you all know that I’m on my way to doing something about it. I have started the application process to get my provisional teaching license in order to get the ball rolling. I allowed my dreams to sit on the shelf for far too long. Writing has been and always will be first and foremost. I am a writer by nature, by purpose, by passion – and in the same ways, I’m now all too happy to realize, I am a teacher. I let myself sit on this idea, this dream, this inexplicable desire, for far too long. I’m not afraid to admit that. I sought jobs and career choices that kept me in the written word and allowed me stay alongside of my desires, but now I am pursuing them all wholeheartedly. No more hiding, no more waiting. This is who I really am, guys, and I couldn’t be happier to admit that. I will be keeping you all updated as my pursuit continues. With any luck I’ll be teaching by the time the next school year starts and getting my life going in a direction that, until now, I’ve only dreamed of.

Bridge to Terabithia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College changed my life

It has been two years to the day since I walked across the stage at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise and accepted my new position as a college alumnus. When I think about the fact that it has been that long it really blows my mind. In some ways it doesn’t feel like two years, but in others it does. So much has happened in my life since then, and it can all be attributed to the blessings of God and the experience I got in college. And to think, I was one of the people who considered a gap year (not that there’s anything wrong with doing that, of course)!

Since my college graduation I have worked in a library, I have been a newspaper reporter, and now I am a marketing representative for one of the best and coolest theatres on the planet! I have married my college sweetheart, and we are fast approaching our own two-year anniversary (of marriage that is. She’s been putting up with me for closer to five years, God bless her). I have taught a writing workshop to authors with decades more experience than myself, I have been published in local journals and have continued to be true to my own writing both on this blog and in my novels and short stories, while also starting my own online book club. Personally, I think those things are some pretty big accomplishments.

The selfish and arrogant part of my brain almost wants to say “well, Damean, that’s because you’re awesome,” but how “awesome” would I be if I hadn’t gone to college? How many of those experiences never would have happened if I hadn’t decided to take six more years of my life for education?

I have been writing for most of my life, of course, but even that has changed because of college. Looking back at the original ideas and versions of some of my work I sometimes actually laugh at how immature my voice was. Because of my college education I have been exposed to centuries of incredible literature and writing methods. I have had mentors work with me on my academic papers and my personal writing, which has changed the way I see things in many ways. I have been given the chance to write for multiple newspapers and experience a completely different style of writing that has enhanced how I view and handle my personal work. In turn, because of my time as a reporter, I have had some awesome experiences and have been able to relay some heartwarming, as well as tragic, news to thousands of people.

On the employment front I have to openly admit that, in high school, I was qualified to do only a handful of things, including write and run a cash register. Now, I have written more, gone more into the retail element by running departments and managing employees, and I have entered the professional work front with some really awesome jobs. Because of the experience I received at UVa-Wise I was able to work as a library specialist at a local community college, I was able to share breaking and interesting news to thousands for a year as a county reporter, and now I’m working at the longest-running professional theatre in the nation! That thought still blows my mind. I grew up just an hour away from Barter Theatre and it was always an amazing thing to just come and witness, and now I’m a part of the team here. And I would never have been able to do it without my education and experience.

The point here is that, for all those graduating high school and thinking about your futures, college is often the best choice you can make. I remember how I felt graduating high school, though. I wanted to take a year off and ‘see the world’. Granted, my version of the world, without a good paying job, didn’t extend much farther than the middle of Tennessee, North Carolina or the other states surrounding my own. I made a choice, though. I chose, despite my own desire to rely on myself and my writing for a while, to go to college and get a degree and put my fate in the hands of the higher education system. And it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Because of my time in college I met some amazing people, and my life has been forever improved.

I know that a lot of the time it seems like 13 years of school is enough (14 if you did pre-k), but believe me when I say it’s the extra 2, 4, 6 or 7 (or more) years that really make the difference. You might think you have your life planned when you walk out of prom and prepare to get that cap and gown and start your post-public education state of life, but don’t be fooled. The world has changed quite a bit. It used to be very possible to walk into a local company and get an internship or apprenticeship with little more than a high school degree and a give ’em Hell attitude. Not anymore. Higher education is something most businesses require now. Without a college degree, the doors of the employment world kind of close tight.

So, as many of you graduate college, be thankful for that experience. If you’re going into the job market or going on to grad school, take the time to consider just what difference your choice made for you. What experiences have you had that wouldn’t have been possible without college? And for those of you who are in that limbo state of deciding to wing it or go to college in the first place; really think about it. The idea of taking the world in your own hands and trying to forge a path with a high-school diploma and a dream might seem great, but it won’t be easy. Not that college is a piece of cake, but that’s a different story. If you’re on the fence, the best advice I can give is this; take the summer. Put in some applications, take your three free months and experience something new. Think about you. Do what makes you happy. Go somewhere new, spend time with friends, let go of school for a while. And when you finally feel like you again, when your brain isn’t cowering in the corner of your skull at the thought of having more knowledge crammed into it, think about what kind of life you want. Decide who you want to be and what you want to do. Figure out what is going to make you feel the most satisfied in life. Then figure out what it’s going to take to make that happen. The answer just might surprise you.

Have a good week, a good weekend, a good summer and a good life. Congrats to all those graduates out there. Let’s all raise our glasses to those who survived high school, college, university, and grad school. There were most certainly times when you thought you wouldn’t make it – but you did. Congratulations. Now enjoy your life and do what makes you you!

Book number four, and special announcement

Hey everyone! It’s that time again! I’m really getting back into being able to have book discussions with those willing to participate. I’ve gotten a lot of satisfaction out of these last few months and I hope things will start to pick up even more and we’ll get more interaction soon. Regardless, the time has come to pick up this month’s book.

This particular book was suggested by one of my former teachers and a woman whom I have the utmost respect for. Mrs. Presley, of Tazewell high School, made this suggestion because some of her students have asked to cover the book. The piece in question, another YA novel, is the 2007 work “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher. This is a book that has kind of been on the back of my radar since my wife was asked to read it for a YA college course a few years ago. I really look forward to diving into the piece, but I have to admit that it may not be for everyone.

The book details the aftermath of a girl who committed suicide. She left 13 tapes for those who are responsible for or contributed to her suicide. For those of you who may face emotional pain, it may not be the best book to read, but I think it can be handled if it is read with care. Either way, I look very forward to this book and the discussion that will follow!

In other news; I don’t know if anyone noticed, but this blog is officially over 100 posts! That is just awesome. I’ve been blogging for around four years in total (of course, not all of those posts exist here). Of course, it has been touch and go at times, and some months were better than others, but it’s been something I’ve worked hard at improving. In light of the great news of the blog’s development, I decided that it was high time for an extra special giveaway!

For those of you who may not have seen the news before, I have been working on revamping my existing collection with updated stories, and perhaps some new material. The plan after that is to put the newly remade piece on a different platform and finally get it put in print! This is something I’ve been wanting to do for some time. Unfortunately I am also somewhat terrified of this prospect and have found reason after reason to put it off. But I’m done with that. I’m ready to get my work out to a new audience and see what else awaits!

In case you’re wondering why I brought this up again, it’s pretty simple. I want to give away that print book! Right now I’m planning to give away at least one signed copy of the book. All you have to do to enter the giveaway is like, comment on or share this post. The comment can be anything from giving me a book suggestion or telling me what you’ve thought about the blog in your time checking it out. Feel free to give me any and all suggestions on anything and everything you want. Everyone who does this will be entered to win an exclusive autographed first edition copy of this collection once it’s in print. I plan to run this contest until March 1, so we’ll have plenty of people to choose from!

Share this post far and wide to help me get the word out on both the book and the giveaway, ladies and gents! I look  forward to keeping everything going, and here’s to another 100!

Exciting Announcement

Hey everybody! I just wanted to pop in with this quick post to let you all know that I am starting my book club back up!

For those of you that don’t know, I did a book club for a short span of time in the summer of 2015. Unfortunately I had some outstanding issues that forced me to put a hold on the thing, but I’m back with a vengeance! I will be doing it in a more manageable way this time, with one book a month as opposed to one a week.

I would really love to see some good participation in this, and I know you guys love reading and writing so feel free to join me on any or all books! I’ll be openly accepting any suggestions you guys have that you would like to discuss, so feel free to shout them out either here in the comments or in a message to me. If there is a book you love discussing, one you’ve always wanted to discuss, or even just one you’ve always wanted to read and haven’t been able to get the support you needed to do it, here is your chance! Give me the suggestions and I’ll look into the ones that have been suggested the most or liked the most and we’ll have a discussion on it!

The way this will work, for the time being, is that I will read the book throughout the month and will post my thoughts on the book here as a blog post on the last Saturday of every month. I won’t be doing YouTube videos for them for 2016, but if you guys would like to see that I’ll definitely look into doing it for 2017. I’ll plan on making my announcement of which book we’re doing around the last day of the month or the first of the month (depending on how close the last Saturday is to the end of the month) and we’ll have at least three weeks to read everything!

I have always always always wanted to do a book club and this is something that could be really cool, so I hope you guys will join me in the experience! For the first book, I’ve decided that I really want to review the novel “Horns” by Joe Hill. This book is one I’ve wanted to read for years and have just recently gotten a copy of. I look very forward to discussing this one, because so far it’s a doozy!!

You’re all welcome to make any and all suggestions you have about what to read next, and I do encourage you to suggest any work of any size (preferably something that I can acquire an English translation of, of course) and make as many as five suggestions per month if you’d like. Of course, I’m not going to condemn you for more than five, but if we can get a good amount of people joined in, more than five suggestions from everyone could quickly bog us down. So please share this post on your blogs and with anyone who would be interested in having some good old-fashioned, in depth literary discussions with a lit. loving English major!! Thanks guys!

Light up the Darkness

A lot of things have happened in the world in the last week, and most of it hasn’t been very good. The hate and intolerance that holds us back as a species is still running rampant in our society, and it is something I don’t often address. I try to stay out of public affairs and generally avoid discussing things of this nature because I have a very strong opinion on the matter. I believe in love and peace. I believe in loving what we love and not having to hide who we are, no matter who we are around. Despite my sometimes near crippling social anxiety when it comes to being in a crowd, I still love making sure I have the opportunity to share my opinions – something which many people, even in the 21st century, are still persecuted for.

The world reacted roughly when acts of terrorism were announced in the last month; bombings, looting, a night club shooting that left 50 people dead just because someone didn’t agree with whom they loved. And the past week has been similar. In case you haven’t caught the news in your part of the world, a young black man was killed earlier this week in the U.S. by police officers in what can be considered nothing short of police brutality. Many people reacted harshly, calling all cops corrupt and racist, allowing the hate that has kept us back for so long continue to rule their lives. That hate led to a sniper opening fire on police in Texas and taking the lives of five officers who put their lives on the line to keep others safe.

While those matters are terrible, something that hasn’t gotten a lot of mass media attention is the fact that there were also two shootings in my part of the country within 24 hours of one another. The first, taking place early Thursday morning, claimed the life of an innocent woman who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That woman worked for the same newspaper that I work for. She was killed in cold blood while on the way to work, while four others were injured by the same shooter. The next day someone reported being shot by an unknown assailant for an unknown reason. Why? Why have we allowed ourselves to be bogged down by the senseless hate and racism and every other pointless thing that does nothing but cause pain?

I’ve been thinking on this for a bit and I think that one of the biggest problems is that we don’t address it unless we have to. In everyday life, when there hasn’t been an assault, a shooting or an act of terrorism, how often does racism and hate come across your mind? Even if you have a prejudice against someone, be it over race or not, how often do you look at yourself and say “wow, that’s racist/prejudiced?” Not at all. Because unless someone has performed an act that complies with the extreme ideas of racism and hate, we sweep it under the rug. Humans don’t want to live in misery and fear. We want to enjoy life and act as if there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way we live, even if deep within us boils a cauldron of hatred.

Realizing this got me thinking a lot about light and darkness. A bit cliché, but it makes a lot of sense to me. I thought about the difference between happiness, which is light and hatred, which is obviously dark. We look at the world with blinders on more often than not because it is easier to believe everyone is happy and there are no problems with anything than it is to look at the problems and try to find a solution. This leads to things like hate and racism being stored away to be ignored until we are forced, by some tragedy, to address them again. This lead me to thinking of the things that grow in light vs. things that grow in darkness. The concept might sound overly simple when saying it like that, but it does make sense.

If you put a plant in total darkness, does it flourish? No. It might struggle on feebly for some time, but it can’t be healthy because overall, most plants need sun to live. The same goes with love. You can’t shut it away and never use it. It won’t last. It needs exposure, it needs fresh air, it needs to be EXPRESSED.  But hate… you put hate in a dark corner of your soul and pretend it doesn’t exist and it will thrive. It will grow and grow and consume everything until you are full of the hatred that leads to innocent people being gunned down in the street.

So often we want to look at ourselves and say that nothing is wrong with the way we think or feel, that we are fully happy and fully right in our way of life. But do you avoid certain people because of what they look like or what they believe? Racism and prejudice aren’t just about killing someone who is different than you. It often starts just by thinking “that’s different. I don’t care for that.” But that can’t be the case, can it? Just because you instinctively cross the street if you see a black man walking towards you, or you wait for the next elevator because the woman who just got on this one is wearing a hijab, that isn’t racism, is it? Yes. And it’s the denial of that fact that leads to the problems in this world.

We can’t go on acting like it’s OK to bash someone because of how they live. That is not human, guys. You can’t wake up one morning and give change to a homeless man and then go home and talk about how dumb your neighbor is because he buys a new car every year. That’s hate. You can’t say that the person who hung a black man 70 years ago was racist and then call a black man you see on the street a thug because he dresses differently than you. That’s not how life should work. We can not keep acting like being different is wrong. You are not going to find a single person on the face of this planet who likes everything you do in the same way that you do. That would make us all robots.

We have the free will to make out own choices for a reason. God put us all here on this rock and said “Love thy neighbor”. Are you loving your neighbor when you walk down the road and badmouth someone for having darker skin than you? No. Are you loving your neighbor when you drive by a mosque and think about how ridiculous the people inside look as they pray facing Mecca? Absolutely not. It is one thing to recognize that someone is different, but it is another thing entirely to feel they are inferior because of it.

This is an issue, people. It is not something that we need to continue letting go un-discussed. Racism will not go away until we stop hiding it. We are all on this planet together and it is meant for us all to live in peace. We can’t do that if we keep pretending we don’t have a problem. People are going to keep dying if we can’t learn to accept that everyone is different. That’s all it takes. We need to look at the world and say “there are over 7 billion of us here, and not one of us is completely alike. And that is perfectly fine.” Until we learn to do that, innocent lives will continue to be lost and pain will continue to be felt. I will leave you with a quote from one of the best human rights advocates I’ve ever studied; Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley.

“Light up the Darkness.”

That is what we have to do. We have to look at the world and look at ourselves and stop hiding what issues exist. If we have a problem with someone due to race, religion or anything else we have to stop acting as if that is normal and OK. Because it is not. We have to shine a light on those bits of darkness and accept that we have an issue with something. And then we need to find a way to deal with it that does not involve violence. Taking the life of someone we don’t agree with is not a solution. We have to find a way to live together in peace. As much as I hate to say it, in times like these I see a group of leaders like those in “The Giver”, and I think they may have had some good points. They did away with religion and race and even the ability to see color – because mankind couldn’t handle it. Unfortunately with that went the chance for individuality, opinion and emotion. Is that what we want, people? An existence that is literally just that? This world, this life, is precious. For everyone. Not just the people you agree with. We have to learn that before it is too late.

Light up the darkness.

An Incredible and Humbling Experience

Hey there friends and fans. I hope you are all doing well and that your craft and passion is going smoothly. My own work has been up and down as usual, leading me to feel a bit of self doubt and woe, made all the much worse by the fact that I have graduated college for the second time and still find myself having trouble getting full-time employment. But I digress.

As many of you may know or have remembered, this weekend brought one of the things I most look forward to in the year; the Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium. I first started attending the symposium four years ago and quickly fell in love with it. The opportunities provided by this convention are almost endless. A large portion of the Appalachian Heritage Writers Guild are present every year. These individuals are all successful authors, many of whom have a good portion of publications under their belts. The symposium consists of two days worth of workshops where these authors are asked to present and teach about an element of the craft, a specific genre or something of the sort (publication, editing, etc…always something that will be helpful to other authors). Each year there is one, at least slightly more famous, author who is asked to be the keynote speaker.

My personal experience with this symposium is that it is wonderful. Each year I have left the events feeling more confident in my work, my abilities and my future as a writer. In fact, some of you may remember that it was the symposium itself that led me to creating this very blog. How’s that for awesome? Anyway, this year’s experience was one that stood apart from my three previous ones for a number of reasons. Lately I have been a bit worried that my work isn’t quite up to par, that I haven’t accomplished anything, that I haven’t done anything positive or made anything of myself. I now realize that is because I haven’t done it all yet. My list of accomplishments (please forgive me here, I’m not trying to boast. I’m merely trying to show you all that accomplishments aren’t just huge goals or obstacles to overcome) is fairly large. As a student I was managing editor of a literary journal for two years and head news writer for a newspaper for one, because people had confidence in my writing. I have completed two of the three (or four) novels in my Maverip series. I have met the love of my life and gotten engaged. The list goes on and on.

I came to this realization because of the symposium. This year was particularly unique for me for a couple of reasons. One; I was asked to present a workshop. Me. The guy who feels like he’s a failure at least half the time. Members of the committee asked me if I would lend my expertise in the field of the supernatural to do a panel on Zombies and the Un-Dead in relation to Appalachian Literature. I humbly accepted and worked hard on a presentation that I may discuss later this week.

It was a success. People from all walks of life- at least one of whom was not the least bit interested in the topic until hearing me speak on it- attended and raved about the workshop. I had a number of people tell me how great it was and how much I made them think. One even thanked me for the ideas I had given her. On the second day I had people who had been unable to attend my workshop approaching me throughout the entire day telling me they’d heard such wonderful things that they wished they’d prioritized better. This made me feel like I was doing something right. I was beyond humbled to have these successful authors suddenly become my peers, while others became my temporary students. And the feeling that I was absolutely blessed only grew as I got the compliments I’ve mentioned. But one experience remains.

This year’s keynote speaker was the author Jeffery Deaver. For those of you who don’t know, Deaver is the author of the book The Bone Collector (and many more). I was able to get this genius’s autograph, speak to him face to face and even take a selfie with him. But the true humbling and mystifying part was that I got to be in a book signing with him. By that I don’t just mean that I fanboy’d and got his signature (which I did, obviously), but I was actually sitting at my own table, with some of my work in front of me, being asked for MY autograph. I literally signed my work while an international bestselling author was one table over signing his own. I’ve never felt anything like that.

I told you all of this because I was trying to make a point. I wasn’t trying to brag or exalt myself, I do promise that. My point here is this; We can’t let ourselves get down about things. No, I’m not a Nobel Prize winner yet. Not am I on the New York Times bestseller list. But I am an author. I am a good author (at least based on what I’m told). I have completed works, and even self-published some pieces on Amazon. Too often do we allow ourselves to believe that we haven’t done anything with our lives in one way or another. We are our own worst critic, and if we aren’t careful that experience can ruin us. If we wake up every day and tell ourselves that we are failures and haven’t or won’t achieve anything then we are setting ourselves ip for failure. We have to look at the things we have done, set minor goals and proceed. We are strong and we can do whatever we intend, whatever we dream. Don’t forget that. Stand strong, believe in yourself and try hard!

Networking is Key

Greetings people! It has been a while since I made an honest to goodness blog post that wasn’t just an update on myself. This one, long overdo, is going to be moderately short unless I run into a rant, which many of you know is very possible for me. I want to talk a little bit about networking, though.

Networking is incredibly important for any author, from the newcomer that was just published an hour ago to the man who has had 50 books published over 20 years. Without networking hundreds, if not thousands, of books (and authors) can go unnoticed, fall through the cracks and be left by the wayside. This is the last thing any of us want to happen to ourselves- and the last thing I want for any of you, faithful friends and fans! So what do we do to combat it? Network. Network. Network.

What is networking,some of you may ask. It is, quite simply, spreading your name and work as far and wide as you can, especially to those people whom you know are interested in your particular style or genre.Networking might sound like an easy thing to do, but believe me, that isn’t always the case. There are 7 billion some odd people in the world, and while the chances of anyone else writing your exact same piece are fairly slim, there are countless others who are writing in a genre or style comparable to yours, don’t kid yourself for a second to think otherwise. That’s not to say your work isn’t important, don’t get me wrong. Like I’ve said before; if there is a work inside you that wants out, it is for a reason and you owe it to yourself, the world and the work itself to get it out there to the best of your ability.

Networking can help with that. One way to do this, of course, is to blog about your work to others who may be interested. Another, and very important way, is social media. Social Media can be a huge help, or a huge dud for authors. There are hundreds and hundreds of pages of people trying to promote their own work, or the work of someone else (and I’m a part of a number of them for this very reason) but there are going to be people on there who will want to hear what you have to say. This is one thing that can be your saving grace. If you can find the right circle of people to market to on social media, a good portion of your networking is kind of done for you.

LinkedIn and other sites of the like are sometimes helpful, particularly if you can find other authors who are in your boat. Building relationships with other authors and readers is another way that you can be exceedingly successful. If your audience knows you on even the most superficial of personal levels, they’ll be more interested in hearing what you have to say and reading your work. One way to build this relationship and allow others in for interaction is by making a website. It gives you a way to show everything you do and allows others to comment directly to you in any way they’d like. Being a part of chats, symposiums and anything that allows authors and readers to interact can be hugely helpful. Really, anything that allows your potential audience to see the human side of you and make you more than just a name on a piece of paper. This is what is going to help.

I’m preparing to begin taking the symposium route this summer, as I have been asked to present at the Appalachian Heritage Writer’s Symposium at Southwest Virginia Community College in June. I made a post about that late last year, but as a recap I’m doing a presentation on a topic that, right now, is roughly titled; “Zombies and the Undead in Appalachian Literature”. All of the information about the symposium can be found here; https://appheritagewritersym.wordpress.com/ The site will be updated with specifics on each presenter and their workshops soon, so check back on it often. Hopefully some of you will attend, because I’d love for you all to have the experience- because I can attest to how enriching it truly is- and because I’d LOVE to meet you all.

In addition to this, I have created a vlog channel in order to attempt to let you all and fans of my other work see a bit into my life and see who I really am. The vlog channel will also include advice and talks of my works, and will see much more regular entries than this site does. That’s not because I favor it or anything, but because it’s much easier to pull out my phone and film a few minutes of me talking than it is for me to rush to a computer (or just an area with good phone signal) and pull up a website or an app and type everything out. The link to that channel is here; https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2EU_YW9qBDfFWAB01Nc6wA It’s very new, but I hope you’ll all watch and subscribe.

Anyway, I’ll cut this off for tonight. Anyone with comments, questions or any concerns is always welcome to contact me in any way possible. I look very forward to hearing from everyone! Good luck, Good year, and Happy Writing!!

New ways to broadcast yourself!

One of the most important things to any up and coming author or artist of any sort is finding an audience, reaching your audience, getting your name and work out there. However you want to phrase it, that’s the issue. In honesty, it shouldn’t be as much of an issue as it is, given today’s society and technology, etc. But that’s really where the problem comes into play. Not only are there a plethora of people in the world today, there is an untold number that want to be artists and writers and all manner of things. Unfortunately, however, there are so many ways and places one can be placed online or advertised online that it is easy for others to overlook them, and in turn overlook their own opportunity and so forth. I want to share a little bit of information that I have found somewhat helpful in the last few days especially; blogging having your work advertised on other sites makes an unequivocal difference. One of the best things to do on blog sites, actually is to network and share. Which is where I think we could all help each other here. We need to share each other’s work and blogs and everything that we can. This will help each and every one of us to reach a new network of people, and if those people are asked to do the same, soon we will be in the presence of audiences we never could have reached on our own!

Recently I have submitted my work for display on two very important and high-traffic literature sites in the hopes that it will help spread my name, and so far it’s worked fairly well. I encourage each and every one of you to do the same. Goodreads.com and Authorsden.com are great places to advertise your work.

Another thing that is immensely helpful, as I’ve said, is blogging. Ask other bloggers to share your work and your sites and give you reviews. If you have shares, reviews and a fan base, others will be attracted to your work. I really want to help everyone here, so I’m going to extend the first invitation. If any of you would like me to share your blog, a portion of your work, or even just mention your name anywhere in my own network, please let me know. All I ask is that the favor be returned. Share my blog, my website, my name, anything and everything you can in your network and we will share the links with one another so we can see how many people see it. This can seriously start a chain reaction if we treat it right and can lead to a great number of us getting in the market in a great way. One of the biggest things we absolutely have to remember is that we are indeed a team, and teamwork is sometimes exactly what it takes to move mountains.

So there is your challenge, fans. Tell me you want me to boost or promote you in my own network, and do the same for me and we will both reach a broad new fan base. In addition to promoting you, I’m going to go further and commit that anyone who shares my work and I see it or get a link for it, etc. you will receive a free copy of my next publication, just because. Here is the link to my Author’s Den profile for your own viewing and to give you all an idea of what to put in your own.
http://www.authorsden.com/visit/author.asp?id=183154

Just to refresh your memory. The ways to reach new audiences;
1) Broadcast! Talk about and share your links and work anywhere you can
2) Author’s/Artist’s profiles; there are a number of web sites that exist only to help promote the starving artist- use them!
3) Coordinate; Help each other, advertise for each other, promote each other. Become a family and work together for the better of everyone
4) Blog; Share your work on your blog, share your blog on other sites, and especially reach to bloggers (particularly professional bloggers who a lot of people listen to)
5) HAVE CONFIDENCE AND FAITH! You have to believe in yourself and your work in order for someone else to do the same. Be proud of your work, it’s who you are. If you love it, others will too. Just share it and spread it and help spread that of your peers and let them do the same for you and let the fear of inadequacy or failure or whatever it is you’re afraid of melt away.

As always, thanks for reading and comments are very welcome. Please share my work and allow me to share yours, it really can change a huge number of lives.

Your Work, Your Audience, Your Knowledge

I know I’ve written on and touched on this subject a number of times, but it has once more surfaced in my mind and in my work. For any artist there is a very specific thing, or a number of things about which you are going to be most passionate and in turn, most knowledgeable about. This is what your subject matter should be. It seems a bit obvious, but the amount of people out there who try to write on something about which they are completely clueless is surprising and disturbing. You should never betray what you know and love. You know what you love, and more importantly you KNOW what you love. The things that you are inspired to write about are often going to be things which you have an outstanding knowledge of, because you already love them. Granted, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not going to have to do research on anything by any means. Just as much as you can have outstanding knowledge of or passion for such things as the specific laws of your hometown, you can also have a passion for a general subject, such as life on the beaches of North Carolina that you’ll have to do some research on for specifics. Whatever it is that you’re passionate about, that is what you need to write about. Don’t listen to anyone who says that your desired subject matter is not going to sell. That’s complete crap. If you love, someone else out there is going to love it too, and even if it isn’t their favorite subject your passion will bleed into the work if you do it right, and they will feel that. Don’t think for a second your audience isn’t going to feel your love. If you are truly loving your work, no matter the subject matter, your audience will feel your passion in their hands and their very hearts while they read it. That is the mark of a truly great writer; make your audience FEEL. But that’s another post entirely. I just felt the need to remind all of my readers here that no matter what else you do, you HAVE to write your passion. A very dear friend of mine, and extreme supporter of my writing has given me some flack about my subject matter on a number of occasions, but afterwards he always stops me with a very serious piece of advice that I would like to share here before I go. Coming from a professional, published author (myself) and an even more successful likewise published author and member of one of the most prestigious writing guilds in the country here it is in my own words.

Don’t listen to others. Don’t write what others write just because they write it. You know what you want to write. You know what is in your heart, soul and mind. That’s what you have to write. You know it best. You carry it with you all of the time and you know it at a depth that others can only wonder at, but no matter how obscure the subject matter might seem you the world it’s yours. You know it and you love it, and if you put that onto the pages and into the work, the audience will feel it and then THEY’LL know and love it too. Don’t think for a second they won’t. That’s their job after all. You’re the story teller and they’re the receivers.

That is the best advice I can give anyone I think. I’m going to wrap up with a few more pieces of advice from my own mind and experience. Don’t forget these statement; they’ll get you far. Feel free to comment and contact me with anything you have to say and remember these pieces of advice. If you can’t provide them (your audience) with something to feel then there is no proper exchange. You have to feel it first and put those feelings into your work- put your blood, sweat and tears into the work, so the audience can feel them as well. Only then can there truly be an exchange of literature. If you don’t believe that, go back and read works from the Romantic Period. Those authors had true feelings that they spilled into their work, and no matter how much or how little you know about the subject, you’re enthralled because you can FEEL the piece itself. Feelings bring work to life. You have to remember that. So please, I ask everyone who has any sort of artistic passion, DO NOT work on something you aren’t passionate about. Don’t try to pass off dead work. You HAVE to give it life, you have to give it feeling and passion. That is the only way to bring literature, or any sort of art, to life and make it worthwhile for you and for the audience. Don’t ignore that passion that’s in your heart, no matter how much you’re afraid someone won’t like it or will criticize it. It’s your passion, and someone else WILL love it too, if only because they feel your own love within it. So don’t keep that from the world. It’s your job, your calling, your duty even to share this passion with a slowly dying and passionless world. We are the lifesavers, and we can’t let the world die with us. Remember that. Thank you all for reading.