Preparing for dystopia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*Image rights remain with the creator.

New Page!

Hey everybody! I just wanted to pop in and say that I hope the first week of The 5th Wave is going well. So far I really enjoy the book and I’m taking plenty of notes about things I would like to discuss!

I also wanted to let you all know that I have developed a new Facebook page that is open for discussion from anyone on any book at all, not just limited to this particular book club’s monthly title.

As a literature lover, I am infatuated with discussing my passions, and I LOVE finding people who feel the same. I hope you’ll all jump over to the page and join it if you have Facebook. If not, feel free to contact me at any time with any lit discussion you’d like to have!

Here is the link to the page; https://www.facebook.com/litloverstalk/

Please help me share it far and wide so we can get some really good, wide open discussion!

9/11; How One Day Changed The World

Fifteen years ago the world was rocked by the news that planes had struck the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Virginia and a field in Pennsylvania. Just under 3,000 people in New York lost their lives in an act that is still under scrutiny by many, but that is not the point of this post. I’m sure you’re all aware I have my conspiracies about a number of things, but this is not the time. Those who lost their lives never had the chance to really consider who had put them in such a situation. They just knew they had to act if there was any chance of staying alive.

I remember the day fairly clearly – well parts of it. I remember being in school that morning and feeling like something was off. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I just felt something wasn’t normal. I was in fifth grade at the time, with more innocence than many fifth graders have these days, thanks to such acts, and my school pretty much left the decision of making the announcement in the hands of the teachers, from what I recall. I know, one way or another, that my teacher did not tell us what had happened. Being a kind, old-fashioned woman, I imagine she was still doing her best to shield us from the harsh reality that awaited us. Or perhaps she just thought it best to allow our parents to describe the situation to us.

Of course, the secret couldn’t really be kept. Some teachers did tell their students what happened, some even letting their students watch the news while the stories broke. The rumors spread between bathroom breaks and lunch break, one student who was friends with someone in a class that heard the news getting the scoop as best they could before passing it along. Before long we all knew that something had happened, but none of us at that time had the capacity for understanding how to describe just how bad it was.

After school I waited for my mother to pick me up, and heard the workers in the daycare programs talking about it in sort of hushed tones, as there were a variety of age groups gathered around. Still, I gleaned what I could from the conversation, not knowing exactly what buildings had been hit, but picking up that some planes had crashed, one not too far from my Virginia home. Once my mother arrived, the severity of the news began to sink in. She worked for a government agency at that time, in a production company that made parts for night vision goggles, missiles and mining equipment. She told me that many people had been afraid they would also be hit, adding to the panic she had felt. The radio produced a steady stream of news reports of bombings, fires, rescue attempts and a steadily rising death toll.

Once we got home I remember doing my homework and trying to study and read and write while my mother watched news reports that repeatedly showed video of the planes striking the World Trade Center, which I finally recognized as being one of the most memorable parts of the New York skyline. Reports came in of possible retaliation, and eventual bombing in the Middle East. Still with the videos coming in, the reports of death, knowing that many people had lost loved ones in the tragedy, there were two things that really brought it home to me and made me realize just how massive this was and how much it would change the world. They may seem odd, but many of you may also understand.

My mother insisted that we ride out later that evening to get gas because many reports were saying prices would begin to go up, some even suggesting a possible shortage, I think. I remember sitting in the passenger side of the car as we rode through our hometown, trying to find a gas station with lines short enough to wait in. Dozens of cars were lined up at every station we found, as everyone around us had heard the same thing we had – this was, I might add for anyone younger than myself, the last of the $1.00/gallon or less gas prices in our country – and wanted to fill up as quickly as possible. I don’t know for sure why this drove it home for me, but it was very shocking to see that sort of thing in my normally quiet town.

The other thing that really made it sink in was the radio reports that I heard while trying to sleep that night. For a bit of background; music is and has always been a huge part of my life. For many years I would sleep with the radio on all night, and eventually got a radio I could program to go off at a certain time and then be my alarm clock the next morning. Music has always been something that I use to make my life greater. That night, however, things were very different. On the Country station I listened to (I’m not that big of a country fan these days, but I was a product of my location) there was a heavy mix of news reports from all over the world about the event and the reaction to it and a barrage of exceedingly patriotic music (including, if I recall, at least one version of Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American”). On the rock station I listened to they played a lot of regular music, but it was often interrupted by news reports, sound bites of people crying and sirens. I think the sirens remain one of my most disturbing memories of trying to sleep that night.

As much as I hate the cliché way it sounds, I think I lost a good portion of my innocent view of the world that night. My mother told me at least once during the evening that the world as we knew it was over. I didn’t have a clue what exactly that might mean, but as the next 15 years shaped me and made me the man I am today, I think I have a clear understating of it. Looking back at how things were before that day – a task which, for me, largely just means looking back on the 90’s – I almost can’t fathom that the world used to be such an easier place to live in. People used to care so much more about one another and be so much more free with their security measures. I will never again walk up to a building with a bag and be certain it won’t be searched. I will never be able to run into an airport ten minutes before a flight takes off and be able to make it onto the plane. My children will never know what it is like to take a plane from one place or another without having their entire person searched relentlessly.. My children will never get to see a (recent) movie about New York and see those two, gallant towers dominating the skyline.

I could go on and on about what has changed since that day, but I’m sure those of you who have read this far have probably had enough, as many of you may remember life before the events that shaped the future of U.S. Homeland Security. I would like to hear what you all remember about the day. Leave me a comment below or send me a message sharing the story of your day on September 11, 2001. Were you near one of the sites? How has your life changed since that day? I would love to hear from you and I would really appreciate it if you would share this with anyone who has a story to tell about the day.

Huge Announcement and New Work

Hello friends and fans!! I’m coming to you live on my brand spanking new site, and it feels great! As many of you know I used to have a separate site from my blog that, although fairly successful, left something to be desired for me. After this year’s writers symposium I found myself in a state of improved ambition and confidence, as is usually the case, and I came home to tell my wife that I wanted to make some changes and set some goals for myself and that I needed her to help. She didn’t hesitate for a second.

We put our heads together and worked out some things that needed to happen, the first of which was to get a new website going for me and keep it going and updated regularly. I relied on her expertise to build the site, and together we got the ball rolling. So, here, with a whole new round of current headshots, the migration of my old blog and followers and the inclusion of a brand new newsletter (which I sincerely hope you’ll all subscribe to) I give you my new site! Take some time and browse through at your leisure, but not before taking a peek at one of the things I have been most excited about in recent weeks.

On the bottom of this post I am going to include my latest short story, completely free and exclusively for followers of my blog! I got this story idea while working on the presentation I was teaching at last year’s symposium and I let it cook for a while before jotting a version down.  After this year’s event I looked at it again and decided that I would update it and put it out to give you all the first chance to read it! The story itself draws from folk tale styles and local color writing in my area, and is honestly unlike anything I’ve done before.  I hope you’ll all take the time to read it and give me some honest feedback, because it may end up being part of a larger announcement and project soon. Anyway, I hope you all enjoy the story and the site and I’ll be writing again soon!

Lefty Smith and the Right Handed Corn

“I’ve seen some mighty queer things in my travels,” the old man said.

I nodded and smiled, agreeing with him without saying much. I didn’t really have any plans that I needed to hurry and fulfill, and somehow I thought I wouldn’t have been able to walk away even if I wanted to. I don’t know what it was about the man, but just hearing that phrase and seeing his strange brand of fashion and body language, I felt like I had to listen to him.

I settled into the seat across from him, looking over his tattered jeans and faded deep blue button down shirt that he wore over dirty, scuffed boots. I had seen him once or twice in the last ten years while I helped my father work the store, usually sitting around the woodstove right where he was now, where all of the old timers in five counties eventually end up at some point or another.

“Yep,” he said as I nodded for him to continue. “Some mighty queer things.”

The store was empty that morning and I could tell I was in for the long haul, so I reached to the pot on the stove beside of me and poured myself a cup of coffee, topping off his chipped mug as he held it out.

“I went to the deep South to lay claim to my heritage,” the old man said, his dark eyes meeting mine and seeming to pin me to my chair. “My father fought in the Civil War before moving north to Ohio. I made a straight shot to the Mason-Dixon line and stayed a night near the border of North Carolina before heading down to Georgia.”

“I camped out in a field under the stars on the border of Virginia, eating a bit of the road provisions I’d packed and passing out in no time, the sounds of the night always make for the best lullaby,” he added, a smile on his face.

“I woke up the next morning when the sun got just over the tops of the rows of corn to the east of me and began driving. Before long I came across a batch of cars and machinery set up in a field and stopped in to see what proved to be a lively county fair.”

I could tell the man was getting into the story, his right leg thrown over the left, his foot bobbing higher and higher the more he talked.

“At first everything seemed fairly normal,” he continued. “There was music, food, some games… and a whole lot of corn. I didn’t think much of that, since the fair was set up in the middle of the largest corn field I’d ever seen. The more I looked, though, the weirder it got. I noticed something weird about the people, too,” he said, leaning forward and looking at me with squinty eyes set deep in his wrinkled face, a mischievous grin exposing his age-worn teeth..

“Everyone I saw eating this corn was eating it with their right hand. Only their right hand. Skewers were stabbed into one end of the corn and everyone was gripping it with their right hand while their left dangled freely, occasionally coming to life to swat a pest or pick at a piece of fabric in their shirts. I was a bit confused, I admit. I thought maybe I’d just stumbled into a community of overly-ambitious right-handers who still viewed Southpaws a thing of the devil,” he laughed as he imagined the sight again.

“Being adventurous in my youth I decided, come life or limb, to test my theory. I walked amongst the din of conversation between old friends and neighbors and plucked my dime down and got my own steaming ear, slathered butter up and down over the golden kernels and sat down in the middle of everyone, my left hand gripping the stick so tight the knuckles were white.”

He leaned back and cackled, drinking deeply of his coffee while I sipped my own, finding myself more interested in this mystery than I cared to admit.

“I noticed a few of those closest to me stop eating and look at me in horror,” he said, clearly loving the opportunity to share his tale. “As I took my first tender, juicy bite I felt the butter run down my chin as the corn rolled around in my mouth like hot coals, burning everything they touched.”

“As I chewed I noticed a low murmur run through the crowd. ‘Lefty’, I would hear one whisper, to another or to themselves I couldn’t tell. Before long all other sounds had stopped and most every eye was on me. Halfway through my corn I looked up and smiled, asking my neighbor what was the matter. He only shook his head at first, eventually cracking out the one word I’d heard for about five minutes. Lefty.”

“I couldn’t describe my confusion if I tried. Were they commenting on my eating habits alone, or trying to insult me by being derogatory,” the old man said, his amusement showing on every part of his face.

“Laying my corn down on the table and wiping my mouth with my shirt collar, I spoke up in my own defense.”

“ ‘I apologize if I offended anyone with my eating, but I’m not actually left handed,’ I told them.”

“At first no one spoke. Then a man, a little shorter than most, sitting a little straighter than others, made himself known.”

“ ‘It ain’t a matter of being left handed, sir,’ he said. ‘We’re all just shocked that you don’t seem to care about the curse.’ ”

“ ‘Curse,’ I laughed, ‘I didn’t know about any curse. I was just driving through and saw the fair and thought I’d stop in.’ ”

“A dull roar went through the crowd as they collectively relayed that a stranger was breaching some curse they were scared of.”

“ ‘The curse ought not to be ignored,’ said the man. ‘Maybe if you heard the story and find out what happens to them that don’t listen you’d respect it more.’ ”

“What could I say,” the old man asked me, his story still thrilling him, his foot bobbing higher than ever as he drained his cup, shaking his head and continuing the tale when I held out the pot to offer him more.

“ ‘I’m a guest in your town,’ I told them, putting on my best southern charm just as my father had taught me, ‘and I’ll listen to anything you’d like to tell me.’ ”

“ ‘Good,’ the little man said. ‘It ain’t something we take lightly around here. I’ll get Tom Hunter to tell the story, since he’s most directly involved.’ ”

“ ‘Thank ye, Doctor,’ said a man no younger than 60 who looked to be nearly as wide as he was tall. ‘I’ll ask ye to listen kindly, stranger.’ ”

“ ‘Fact of it is, my grandfather was the third Hunter in line that owned this here farm. The town nearby was still sorta new, made of a buncha cast-offs from the Civil War. Fact is, this very field was the site of a major battle in the area. Nigh 200 lives were lost in this place. ‘F ya ask me it’s the blood in the ground what makes the corn grow so tall.’ ”

“ ‘But anyway. ‘Twas the night before the town’s first fair and my grandfather was out with the mayor and some of the church deacons, pickin’ corn for the event. Knowin’ they’d need a lot, the men worked late into the night, only stopping to empty their baskets into the wagon they had.’

“ ‘Long ‘bout one in the mornin’, way he told, they finished one row and was movin’ to another when they saw ‘im.’ ”

“ ‘Saw who,’ I asked the farmer, genuinely unable to hide my curiosity.”

“ ‘Lefty Smith. A veteran of the great war that hadn’t lasted a month after coming home. Mean as sin and twice as scary is what his own wife said about him. Lefty was called Lefty because he got his right arm blowed off in the battle. It was an infection in his blood what finally killed him off.’ ”

“ ‘He was dead?’ ”

“ ‘Been dead about 3 months,’ Hunter told me. ‘ Infection took him quick. But not before he got mean. Terrorized the whole dern town, he did. Started claimin’ everything left and right as bein’ his left-handed property. That’s where the curse come from.’ ”

“ ‘From the dead man,’ I asked him, doing my best not to let my skepticism show.”

“ ‘Yessir. My granddaddy and half the church was out in this very field, like I said. They was pickin’ away for the fair when it happened. They went from one row to the next and seen him standin’ there.’ ”

“ ‘Lefty?’ ”

‘Yessir, Lefty Smith, a haint if a haint there ever was, standin’ there munchin’ a ear of corn. Granddaddy said they stopped dead and Lefty looked at ‘em with that mean old look in his eyes, threw down his ear of corn and grabbed another off the stalk.’

“ ‘Listen here,’ he said to ‘em, pullin’ the shuck off with his teeth, ‘Y’all better not be givin away my corn tomorrow.’ ”

“ ‘Your corn,’ my granddaddy spoke up, ‘Lefty Smith you know this is my field. Has been for 30 years.’ ”

“ ‘Your field or not, Jeb Hunter, you keep away from my corn. You can take all the right-handed corn you want, but you mark my words – all the left-handed corn in this field is mine and any man I see eatin’ it will pay the price.’ ”

“ ‘What happened then,’ I asked Hunter,” the old man told me, seeing I was just as interested as I could imagine he had been.

“ ‘Well they ran,’ Hunter said with a laugh. ‘They hauled tail out of that field and spread the word about the curse. That was almost 50 years ago and I’ll tell you now, only a handful of people in that time has eaten any left-handed corn – and each time it’s ended bad.’ ”

“ ‘I do appreciate the warning, Mr. Hunter but I’ve finished over half an ear with my left hand and I haven’t seen any trouble,” the old man said with a cackle. “Do you know what he said?”

“I have no idea,” I told him.

“He looked at me real serious and said ‘well, how’d it taste?’ ”

“I told him honest that it was actually pretty delicious. Then he asked me if it was hot or cold.”

“ ‘Quite hot,’ I told him.”

“ ‘Did it burn your mouth,’ he asked.”

“ ‘As a matter of fact it did cause a little discomfort,’ I told him.”

“ ‘That was the curse,’ he told me without hesitation. ‘I bet Lefty just decided to take it easy on you seein’ as how you didn’t know about his left-handed corn.’ ”

“ ‘Well if that is the case, then I certainly appreciate Lefty’s generosity, and I’ll keep it in mind until I’m out of danger,’’ I told him.”

“I finished my corn with my right hand and was accepted as the newest member of the community. I was so respected, actually, that when I left it was insisted that I stop on my way back through. As I climbed into my car the mayor himself handed me another ear of corn for the road, which I happily munched with my left hand once I was well out of eyeshot of the superstitious new friends I had made.”

The old man sat back when he was finished and gave me the biggest, crookedest grin I’d ever seen.

“Any more evidence of the curse,” I asked him, unable to help myself.

“Sure,” he said with a wink, “I felt like I hadn’t taken three bites before I realized all the corn was gone off the cob, and I hadn’t had near my fill.”

 

There you go guys! I would really appreciate it if you would let me know what you think about the story. Send me a message or leave me a comment and now go check out the new site!!

Exciting Announcement

I do apologize, friends and fans, for my absence so far this week, but I have been preparing to make a very exciting announcement. As many of you know I have been working as a library specialist for the last seven or eight months and I absolutely love it, although it doesn’t give me much of an opportunity to exercise and better develop my journalism skills.

I have always been fascinated by journalism, but had no opportunity to actually put my interest to the test until my final year of college, during which time I was made Head News Writer of my college newspaper. This job made me realize just how much I loved being a news writer/reporter and it allowed me to truly branch out and hone my skills as a writer. Upon graduation, I continued to blog and to write, but didn’t have many opportunities for practicing formal journalism – until now.

I am ecstatic to announce that I have been offered a reporter position with the Bristol Herald Courier, one of the most renowned papers in my region and I have graciously accepted. I will tentatively be starting my new job in the next two and half weeks or so and I couldn’t be more excited. I hope all of you will be able to check out my work with this paper. I plan to continue blogging at least once a week (but hopefully twice) while doing this job, but during my training and getting used to the flow of that job, things may get a bit jumpy. My wife and I are very excited about the changes coming in our near future and I can’t wait to be able to write stories and share the news of the region with all of the readers of this awesome production! Thank you all for your patience while I adjust to this much anticipated change of pace!

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Awesome Opportunity

I know I have spoken to you all before about the Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium, and I think it’s about time to mention it for this year, too. The event takes place on June 10 and 11 this year, and it promises great content and a great experience to all those interested in attending.

The keynote speaker this year is Sharyn McCrumb, an Appalachian writer who has tackled many topics during her career and has made quite a name for herself. The topics being discussed range from graphic novel design and fantasy writing, to the ever practical and useful topics of marketing and nonfiction writing and many things in between. This symposium, now in it’s seventh year, is one of the best writing events in my region and often has visiting writers from all over the country in attendance. We do, of course, typically hold the theme of Appalachian Heritage writing, but that isn’t all we focus on, either.

I have found that this symposium can be very useful and it has actually helped me develop my platform since my first year of attendance in 2012. I have seen a number of people leave the symposium with a lot of knowledge that they didn’t have before attending and have actually felt more encouraged with my own writing after speaking to the writers that attend. One of the most rewarding things about this particular event, in my opinion is that you are given multiple opportunities throughout the two days to have face-to-face and one-on-one interaction with these authors. Unfortunately with symposiums and events like this that isn’t always the case.

Another benefit of this experience is that, rather than being full of themselves and unkind, as some individuals in the spotlight tend to be, these authors are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet, often striking up a conversation with you before you even get the chance to start one with them. I have gotten to know most all of the Appalachian Heritage Writers Guild and most of the regular attendees of the symposium itself and I have to say that one of the reasons I find it so beneficial to keep attending is the level of camaraderie I feel whenever I go. This is a very important thing for an artist, especially one just starting out.

One thing that I also find very interesting about the event is that there is a writing contest (prizes included) that is all inclusive. As a matter of fact, you don’t even have to be in attendance to win! So if you find yourself unable to attend the conference, but would like to enter the contest, follow the link at the bottom of this post for more information.

So I want to invite you all to try and attend. I know some of you are quite far from Southwest Virginia, but I assure you it is worth the trip. I will attach a link to the symposium website at the bottom of this post for any interested in learning more about it. Of course, as this is an event with a set schedule and meals included (Ha! I left that part for those of you that stuck it out until the end! The food is very amazing every year, so that is always another benefit), so registration is required so they have a head count and know how much to purchase in terms of supplies, etc. Also, there is normally a gift bag upon entering that includes a folder for the event, at least one notebook and pen, and a copy of SWCC’s Clinch Mountain Review.  There is a book signing event at the end of the first day and more festivities that you’ll just have to attend in order to know about! If there is anyone who has any interest in attending but feels unable to pay for the experience, please contact me. I really hope to meet some of you at this awesome symposium!

https://appheritagewritersym.wordpress.com/

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Unicorns are Real

Yes, I know this statement brings a number of things to mind, and it may be one that some of you are already familiar with, but I wanted to make this title and write  few words on this seemingly silly topic because the message many of will get can be applied to a number of things, including potential success in virtually anything we really set our minds to.

Of course, I could turn this into a rant about how a great many creatures thought to be mythological have since been proven real and use that as an argument for the possibility of the existence of most other cryptids out there, but that’s another topic entirely.

My point for today is this; so many people throughout history have used the legend and the image of the unicorn to be silly and stand for something that is impossible, but the truth of the matter is that nothing is impossible. Granted, the creature being referred to as a unicorn by science was much more akin to a cross between a rhino and a woolly mammoth, as it stood around 6 feet tall and weighed in at approximately 8, 000 pounds. Personally I don’t think that guy is going to be flying through any clouds or running across any rainbows.

But I digress. The reason this information is important is simple; anything is possible. I usually try to coach you guys through a specific issue that can have a crippling effect on some artists, but today I’m just addressing the real basics. You need to have faith. There are so many people who have risen through the adversity that met them to be some of the most treasured and celebrated authors in history. Critics and agents alike have torn some of our favorite authors apart countless times, and they still get right back up and keep putting pen to paper because that’s just what you do. I’ll keep this short and sweet today, guys and just leave you with a simple reminder that I think we could all use sometimes.

Your ideas came to you, so no matter what anybody says you owe it to yourself and to the world to keep at it. People who never thought they would see success are changing the world every day. Keep writing that book and don’t ever give up on your self. Remember, unicorns are real and anything is possible

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Is It Still Mine?

Sometimes as artists we have a piece that resonates with us so deeply and becomes so precious to us that it takes a very long time to go from start to finish. Now, that’s not to say that this particular piece is going to be any better or worse than any other thing that we produce, but it is just more uniquely “us”, I think. One such instance of this comes from (of course) Stephen King and his work on the Dark Tower series. King got this idea decades ago and just recently published the final piece (at least for now) of the Dark Tower puzzle. The books, a series of 7 with a stand alone follow-up, tell the tale of Roland Deschain and his urgent attempt to right what is wrong with the world by find and fixing the Dark Tower. Each book is deeper and more dense than the last and, with the exception of the stand alone (which I own but haven’t yet read), each one is larger than the last. King has called this series his magnum opus and has actually found a way to weave most of his other pieces into the world of Roland and his Ka-Tet. At the beginning of each book there is a foreword, at the end an afterword, and in almost each one King explains that the world of Roland grows a little more every time he attempts to visit it, the story becoming more complex every time he begins to work on it.

This is what I’m talking about. Speaking from experience, my own magnum opus (Maverip and its prequel/sequels) have gone through more phases than I ever imagined when the idea hit me some 9 years ago. That’s almost a decade of work. Each novel has taken me more or less three years to complete so far (yes, that means I only have two of them fully ready for beta readers), and the ideas keep coming. I can look at the notes I made when the idea first hit me, can actually still remember the experience of the idea flowing through my brain while listening to music in the car riding through the mountains on a warm summer night, and I can see how much the piece has grown and changed without effort.

But what does that mean? Has my idea gone from one thing to another? Have I butchered my own work by adding to it and allowing it to change? As an author, when that big piece comes to you and rides the years in your brain, letting every single day of your life affect the outcome and progression, I can promise you that you will end up asking that question at least once. I have asked it of myself and my work more times than I care to admit. But it’s nonsense. As I’ve talked about countless times before, when a piece that is really alive comes to you, begging to be written, it will often times end up writing itself and using you as a tool. Your ideas will put themselves on paper with little or no effort from you, with the exception of punching the keys or holding the pen and flipping the page. This is when you know that you are meant for the work and that the work is meant for you.

So why should it scare us when the work guides itself in a different direction than we originally saw? The answers may differ from person to person, but in my experience they often come back to one simple and brutal concept; Failure. We are afraid that if we can’t guide the work along exactly as we thought when we first humored the idea then we will never be able to convince someone else to read it. This is crazy. Why should we be afraid of our own abilities? The ideas that come to us in such depth that they allow us to build an entirely new world based on our own concepts are not ones that will fail us. We need to have faith in ourselves, our talents, our abilities and our ideas. Basically, we have to give ourselves artistic freedom if we ever hope to have real and true success in whatever craft we have chosen. Personally I would love to discuss this more in depth with anyone who is willing, so I would like for anyone who has felt this fear or questioned their work in this way to leave a comment or send me an email regarding what inspired the feeling and how you handled it. I hope you’ve all found this useful!

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Preparing for Advancement

In addition to trying to always write helpful and inspiring blog posts for all of the budding artists out there, I occasionally like to let those of you who are fans of my work know a little about what’s going on in that part of my life. 2016 has treated me fairly well so far, allowing me to submit pieces to a number of different venues, some of which I am still eagerly waiting to hear back from. In addition to this, I have begun taking the first steps in preparing Moonlight, my latest novel, to send to an agent.

To be brutally honest that process somewhat terrifies me. In the past it has always made my heart stop when I sent works out, but this feels even more serious. Obviously it is, but I think many of you will know what I mean. I put blood, sweat and tears into this novel, and stayed up much later than I should for I don’t even know how many nights trying to write it, only to have to sort through the last few paragraphs in front of me the next morning to make sure I hadn’t jotted down some inexplicable jumble of nonsense. So far in this process I have been trying to work with beta readers, some of which have been much less helpful than I’d hoped, and have gone through three previous edits. I tell myself that I would love to have a few more opinions, but at the same time I wonder if that’s just me trying to put off the rest of the process.

Either way I really want to make an active attempt to get myself published and get my work out to a larger audience and use the gift that I feel God has given me. I have a feeling this process may be a long and arduous one, but I am more than ready to get it started. I have worked with small journals and publications for almost six years now, taking the route of self publishing when I felt the smaller venues weren’t getting me where I wanted to be. I think I chose this route, for one, out of curiosity, but also largely because there is a part of me that is terrified of allowing someone else the opportunity of breaking my work down and tearing it to shreds. But that’s the whole point isn’t it? Centuries later and we are still tearing Shakespeare apart and trying to find his meaning, his purpose, utilizing every tool we have to analyze his voice and his work.

Isn’t that what writing is all about; letting others read it? In addition to trying to get this novel figured out, I am still tweaking on my Maverip series and trying to make sure that it is getting completed and trying to make sure that I haven’t strayed away from my original plan and purpose for the works, which is something that I seriously worry about after having worked on the pieces for 9 years. Again, I know a lot of you will probably know what I mean when I say that. The longer you work on a piece, the longer it takes to get it finished, the more you will worry that the work has altered from what you originally intended and has instead become something very different. This isn’t always a bad thing, of course, but that is a topic for another time.

I will wrap this informative piece up by letting you all in on one of my more exciting accomplishments of recent weeks. I entered a writing competition around the end of December with high hopes. At the time of entry the reveal was set for January 16th. The 16th came, with a notification from the contest runners (the contest was Neoverse, for anyone interested) that the reveal was actually pushed back to February 29th due to the fact that they had actually received several thousand entries, a fact which blew me away. So i waited for another month, as patiently as I could, until February 29th came and went. I checked my email almost hourly that entire day, finally going to bed a little before midnight only to wake up the next morning with some exciting news. Out of several thousand entries the judges had narrowed their possibilities down to 5% of the entries- and I was on that list! I know that might not seem like a big deal to some, but it made my heart absolutely SOAR. So now I am waiting to see if my piece will be picked for a spot in the winner’s circle (which consists of 20 pieces) and will get published online and in print via Neoverse. I’m not sure when that particular announcement will be made, but rest assured, when I know so will all of you!

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Confidence in Your Craft

I’ve touched on this a few times in recent posts, and some of what I have to say is a repeat of previous statements, so I won’t take too much space to say it in today. One thing that artists of every kind need to remember is that confidence is very important to our craft. If you look at ourselves in the mirror every day and think about how terrible you are and how you are never going  to amount to anything then you’re probably sealing your own fate. In the same light it is equally harmful if we look at our work and get the mindset that we are the best there ever was and any one who doesn’t think so is obviously wrong. Going in to speak to a publisher with an attitude like that will pretty much guarantee you’ll get thrown out on your ear.

In reality the attitude that we need to have is that we, and our contribution to the craft, are unique and are the best that we can do. When you get a new story idea and you do your research and see that there aren’t any stories out there that are quite on the same page as your plan, then you should be able to move forward with the confidence that, at the very least, you are progressing on a path the few have been on before. Often realizing that will allow you the exact amount of confidence needed to put your best foot forward and get that work on paper.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the most inspirational quotes I’ve ever read says that the reason your story is so important is because it’s YOURS and no one else can tell it like you can. And that absolutely has immense validity. If you ever have doubts about this get someone to do a collaboration with you where one of you writes one section and the other continues it. Go back and forth like that and see just how different the story turns out from what you originally had in mind for it. It’ll blow you away.

Finally, one of the main reasons confidence is so important to artists is because, for many of us, art (whichever the medium) is what we truly feel we were put on this planet to do. When you feel in your soul that you were created for one large purpose the idea of thinking that you are going to fail at that purpose is what often drives some of us to drink or drugs. You can’t let yourself fall into the mindset that your calling is anything less than intentional. We all have been put here for a reason, and I honestly don’t think that reason is to fail. So why think that way? You just have to give it your all and work as hard as you can at whatever it is you are doing. After that, the going gets easier.

Pick yourself up, look at your work and realize that, no it might not be the best book ever written or the best painting to ever hit canvas, but it is absolutely the best that you can do and no matter how hard they tried, chances are that no one else could do it quite like you. Realizing the truth within those facts alone makes you more successful than you were before you started the project. So pick up your tools and get to work, people. We have a whole new world to build, and no one can do it like we can.

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