The Holiday Season

It is officially the Holiday Season, guys! Halloween has passed us by and we’re well into the second week of November. Less than three weeks stand between us and Thanksgiving, and just over a month and a half await before Saint Nick makes his way around the world to visit us all in jolly peace. As I’ve stated before, the holiday season is my absolute favorite time of year. Of course, if I’m considering every holiday that I love, that means my favorite time of year is from October through the first week of July, but that’s beside the point. The typical holiday season is the focus of this post. The glorious time of year that brings us from All Hallows’ Eve, through Thanksgiving and Christmas, right into the start of a brand new year – which is really just a reset so we can do it all again, right?

Of course. Many people share my love of this time of year, with decorations galore and festivity so thick you can cut it with a knife, but are we celebrating quite like we should? It’s no secret to many of you that it seems like the older you get, the faster the years go by. It seems like just yesterday I was a senior in high school, when realistically my ten year reunion is next year. Yeah, that reminder hit me today. Talk about feeling old, but that’s life. In all it’s fast-paced glory. And what more could we ask for? We’re a species that is always looking to tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. But is that really a good thing? Our holidays can be great for us, but often we find ourselves thinking of the cleanup while everyone is tearing into gifts, instead of just letting the paper build up. We think about how to improve next year’s celebration before this year is even over. But, what’s the best way to improve the moment?

Be in it.

Slow down. Take it all in. Let the magnificent fun of the celebration seep into your very bones, and just … be there. I’ve always been one to enjoy the present, look to the future and remember the past. I’ve also, unfortunately, been known to compare present celebrations to those past, which can be dangerous and vastly unproductive. As much as I would like to caution everyone against this behavior, I can’t pretend I won’t likely be doing the same thing this year. This will be my family’s first holiday season without my grandmother. No matter what was going on in the world, she was the first person to make sure the holidays were planned for, often going above and beyond in every way she could, regardless of her own health or situation. My family has always been one that doesn’t always find it easy for everyone to get together at once, but the holidays always gave us that. My grandmother would plan for weeks on end to hold our celebrations on a day that would see as many of us as possible under the same roof. It meant the world to her.

As the holidays she loved most approach us with an ever-quickening pace, I want to hold on to the spirit of the season, the reason for the season, and the amazing way I always felt during this time of year growing up. Thay is the best way, in my opinion, to really enjoy the season.

The main reason I wanted to present this post goes back to what I said earlier – slow down. We are all guilty of that “tomorrow” attitude, being so worried about what the future holds that we can’t stop to take a breath and enjoy things right where we are. I’m quite guilty of this myself at times. Whenever I start to slide into that habit, I try to remind myself of the bible verse:

“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” – Matthew 6:34

Of course, there, Jesus was cautioning us about worrying about money, food, and the like. He was telling us that God will provide these things for us, because we are his beloved children. I know that was the meaning behind this verse, but I do believe it can be applied to everything. Don’t spend your day off wondering what the following day of work will bring you. Don’t keep yourself up at night worrying about the morning commute. Don’t squander the opportunity to love and celebrate with your family this holiday season, worrying about things that are or are not going to come regardless of your concern.

When your family is right in front of your face, put aside everything else. Live in the moment. Make memories, instead of comparisons or regrets. As the holidays approach us, I think we should all take a moment to prepare ourselves for the amazing time we can have this year if we just celebrate the moment. Personally, I plan to take every moment in stride, enjoying my family, friends, and loved ones with every second. I do hope you’ll all join me in that resolution (oh no, it’s almost time for those again, too!) and make an effort to live in the moment this holiday season. There will never be another today, but there may be any number of tomorrows. Let them deal with themselves. Instead of wondering about that hypothetical future moment, let’s keep our brains trained on the moment we’re in. After all, it’s the only one we’re certain we’re going to have.

In light of the holiday season, I’d love to hear about the traditions you guys hold dear. I think as Thanksgiving and Christmas approach I’m going to write a post or record a podcast talking about the traditions that have helped make my own holidays so memorable. In the meantime, I thank each and every one of you all for reading my blog and listening to my podcast. If you can think of anyone that would enjoy either or both of them, I invite you to share away. I’m always happy to reach a new mind and enjoy new ideas, as well. Feel free to share this post, and share your ideas and traditions with me, either in the comments or by going to my contact or social media pages. I love hearing from you guys, and I appreciate the feedback more than you all know. I hope you had an amazingly spooky Halloween, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season. Until next time, friends and fans.

The featured image for this post is one of the dual Christmas trees in Bristol, Virginia from 2016.

Freedom reigns

Greetings friends and fans! I know some of you are in the U.S. and some aren’t, and I apologize to anyone who finds this post irrelevant – but Happy Independence Day!

We’ve circled the sun one more time and we have arrived back at July 4th, celebrating the Independence of the United States and the freedom that grants me the ability to sit here tapping away at the keyboard. Thanks to the amazing sacrifices the masses have made to provide this country with its independence I can wake up in the morning and put on whatever clothes I choose. I can sit down and write my novels about whatever topic I want. I can listen to whatever music I choose to listen to, watch what I choose, sleep when I choose. I can be a part of whatever religion I feel most drawn to, and it is my absolute right.

Independence Day is, for those of you that haven’t thought about it, an incredible opportunity for us, as U.S. citizens, to just enjoy the country we live in. I’ve always been fascinated by the feeling surrounding the 4th of July. It’s always a great surge of patriotic movies, music and ideas. Barbecues dot the backyards and fireworks blaze through the air, painting the sky a myriad of colors to stun the eye.

I can remember the huge town gatherings when I was growing up. We would eat a great “all-American” dinner of burgers and hot dogs and gather near the town high school with family and friends and wait for the show to begin. The summer evening would grow cooler as the darkness spread over the sky, chasing the last of the sun’s rays across the world. Great conversations would ensue as we all prepared to enjoy a genuine display of aerial explosions. And it rarely disappointed.

Even now, as a 27 year-old man, those memories stand out in my mind as being great inspirations to me. I’ve always found myself feeling an exceeding passion for the written word around this time of year. Summer is such an amazing time for me. It’s a time to get out and explore the world around you, to embrace the extended daylight hours and enjoy the warmer nights. I’ve always been a traveler at heart. I love getting myself out there and experiencing the world in new ways, feeling the loving touch of nature as much as possible. One thing that I will never be able to get enough of is just the feeling of being in the fresh air, the amazing comfort that I feel just walking outside.

Some of you who have read my work know that I often try to convey that in my writing. Many of my characters feel that same connection with nature, some yearning the touch of a cool breeze above all else. To be able to put my work out there and put myself and my love of nature into it is one of my greatest desires. Obviously, I connect quite a bit with music and the night. These are things that make my words flow in all new ways, and recently I’ve found myself in a situation where I can’t always embrace those things. Working a night shift can definitely keep you from being able to celebrate the night. As much as I hate to admit it, I have felt it change my writing and my life as a whole. It’s something that I, so far, have had difficulty adjusting to.

This Independence Day, though, I want to work on changing that. I want to bring the word independence full circle and apply it to my life in new ways. I have allowed my mind to be too occupied with things that are not my writing, my purpose, my destiny. And it’s time to bring it back. I think I let myself disconnect for a time after sending out my first round of queries (which, honestly, may not have been terrible), but no author has ever gotten his or her work out there by not writing. So this independence day, I’ll move away from the things that hinder me and I will set my writing free once more.

I’m going to embrace summer and move back into the realm of my own creation as often as possible. After all, in a world known for the terrible bits of reality we have to face every day, a little fiction is exactly what we need sometimes to brighten things, right?

So that’s that, guys. I hope you all have an awesome Independence Day, with great family, friends, food, and fireworks. The best 4 f’s out there, right? What sort of memories do you cherish on the 4th of July? What plans do you have this year? Feel free to reach out and leave your comments, no matter where you’re from. Even if you don’t celebrate U.S. Independence Day, do you still find the same inspiration from those awesome summer nights? I’d love to hear what the warm season means to everyone else.

 

The Exorcist

Happy Halloween, everyone!! I trust October has been a spectacularly spooky month for everyone, hopefully made all the much eerier thanks to this month’s book club read. William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist” has been fascinating and terrifying audiences for nearly half a century now, but the text itself is written in a fairly timeless manner that allows the spooks and scares within to still affect readers today. The subject of many controversies of both religious and moral natures, “The Exorcist” still finds a way to worm its way into the minds of those daring enough to delve into its demonic depths.

First and foremost I have to say that, as a horror buff, this book has long been on my list of must-reads. The fact that I got to read it in October, for my Halloween book club choice admittedly makes it even better to me. The way Blatty tackles the very difficult subjects of possession and its effects on those around the possessed are still admirable qualities of the book. The helplessness that seems to drip off the pages from both Chris MacNeil and Father Karras are enough to give the reader cause for tears with each new chapter. The fact that Reagan’s consciousness is completely absent for the majority of the novel is something that differs from other exorcism tales of similar caliber. I like that, rather than being made to feel sorry for her because she begs us to, we are made to feel sorry for her because she doesn’t get the option of asking. I think that was an incredibly wise choice on Blatty’s part.

The continuous allusion to Karras’s failed faith, and the hints that he had done or said something wrong that wasn’t explicitly laid out by those around him is one of the endearing qualities of the novel for me. I loved the constant struggle between his science and medicine-based training for psychiatry and his religious need to see the meaning behind things and try to save Reagan’s life – even her soul. One thing that has seen slight controversy and confusion for critics of the work is the reveal of what Karras’s guilt may stem from. It comes from the end of the novel, when the demon is pushing him and screaming at him, and it’s one word in a part of the novel that moves about as fast as a bullet car. “homosexual.” The demon tells Karras what he has feared throughout the entire novel; he is not worthy. He is, in fact, so corrupt that worms won’t eat his corpse. The fact that this has slipped by without scrutiny and analysis for so long, to me, is a testament to both the author and the readers. Blatty spun the web so well that we see Karras’s worth, despite his worry. Even the critics of a time when being gay was seen as incredibly taboo didn’t have much to say about this because Blatty made it obvious that this made Karras no less worthy, no less of a holy man. I am rather fond of that and applaud him for it. I would have liked to see a short scene with Karras finally feeling his worth, but of course that could be his death scene if one chooses to interpret it that way.

I like the research that was put into this book as well. So often popular culture spins exorcism as an easy thing to get. You just tell a priest you  have a demon and soon there’s holy water and pea soup everywhere. But that’s not the case. The Church (notice that organizational classification) has rendered exorcism as a very taboo last resort. There are definitely hoops that must be jumped through and proof that has to be gathered before priests will be bringing The Host into your house and trying to rend the devil from within. The fact the Blatty emphasized that heavily here, and even presented us with a knife’s edge that could have led to Reagan’s death had the church gone in the other direction are further reasons I respect his work to no end. I loved the use of other languages, mentions of both religious and occult texts, and the overall feeling of added stress the reader is given at having to follow this proof-gathering quest. Had Karras been able to walk in and say “yeah, let’s do an exorcism” I don’t think the book would be nearly the great piece of work it is today.

There were a couple of things I had problems with, of course. One thing that I’m sure many of you noticed ( at least I hope it wasn’t just me) was Blatty’s style. He was great at setting up a scene for the most part, but there were times when his execution fell flat. A lot of times in the novel I found myself wondering why such pointless dialogue and irrelevant detail made it into the scene. I don’t know if Blatty just wasn’t good at dialogue, or if that was just his way. I haven’t read anything else from him yet, so I may have to return to that question at a later date. I also would have liked some sort of clear resolution of the strange priest that appeared to Karras in his room before Merrin was approved. We get a very tense conversation for a strange, crutched man who ends in Karras being warned to leave the MacNeils alone and to beware of Sharon, and then he wakes up, leaving us to think the conversation was just a dream before he finds the cigarette in his ashtray. One obvious interpretation would be that it was a nightmare visit from the possessing demon in an attempt to scare him away, but why the strange fat priest, why the crutches, why have him smoke the same imported cigarette as Chris, and why the warning to beware of Sharon? Am I missing something? One more minor thing I have a slight confusion about; Pazuzu is mentioned by Merrin, the statue of Pazuzu is the forefront of the beginning of the novel, and the name comes up again, but I don’t recall the demon or even Merrin explicitly saying that Pazuzu is the entity tormenting Reagan. I only bring this up because it has somehow become all but canon with the novel and the culture surrounding it, but I never got the solid affirmation I expected.

Regardless of those things I do think this book is well worth the read. For any lover of horror or even just mystery, this novel will keep you on your toes. I know there are a lot of religious arguments against it, but I don’t know if I understand that. The book certainly doesn’t encourage witchcraft or seeking demonic possession. If anything it does the opposite. Maybe it’s just the fictional representation that can be interpreted as supporting the attempts at exorcism. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, follow your own inclination when considering whether or not to read the novel. I recommend it, particularly keeping in mind the faults I mentioned. As always, I look forward to everyone’s contribution and comments. Feel free to comment on any and all posts or send me a private message anytime (you can send me a message on the website, and you’re welcome to send Facebook messages or DMs on Twitter). I look forward to conversation and further book suggestions! Keep your jack-o-lanterns lit tomorrow night to protect yourself, and keep in mind that, for myself and many others, Wednesday means Christmas will take over everything!!

“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens

This book is simply a classic. Of all of the stories in literary history, this is one that almost everyone knows about in some fashion. Even people who have never read it may have watched one of the dozens of movie adaptations that have been made over the years. Dickens, while not necessarily intending to, created one of the most called upon and cherished Christmas tales in the history of the holiday. The story of Ebenezer Scrooge finding his humanity and embracing the true meaning and love of Christmas is a tale that has never died and has only grown in popularity. Let’s jump right in!

First of all, this book is obviously written in that impeccably detailed and British style that Dickens is known for. The picture of a dreary, foggy, yet remarkably beautiful London  Christmas brings us right into the picture. When reading this book I feel myself walking around in this world, being a third (fourth??) party observer that even Ebenezer and his spirit guides don’t sense, much like the visages of Scrooge’s life don’t sense him watching them. Doesn’t that kind of set the stage for an unending spiral of who’s watching whom? But that’s a different story.

Dickens describes Scrooge as a miserly old man, coining a description that has since become synonymous with anyone unwilling to look  on favor at his fellow man. Scrooge is only happy sitting in his frigid counting house keeping count of his money, only happy as he gains more and more to add to his purse. Never one to spend money, Scrooge is described as being so cold that “no warmth could warm or wintry weather chill him.” I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds like a man I would never want to meet. Scrooge’s reaction to being told Merry Christmas is one of the most familiar phrases coined in classic literature. Bah Humbug. The harsh nature of Scrooge’s character runs so deep when we first meet him, that he refuses to believe in Marley’s ghost as it stands right in front of him.

Watching Scrooge’s transformation in this short novel may one of the most rewarding parts of the piece. We see his heart soften as he experiences the truth of his life, the truth of Christmas. He is immersed in the true spirit of Christmas from his past and gets to see the happiness of those people he thinks have nothing to celebrate before being bombarded by the possibility of what awaits him should he not change his ways. The truth of the story is almost biblical in nature in that it gives Scrooge a look at the damnation that awaits if he does allow peace, love and compassion into his heart.

The lesson that money is evil is one of the largest messages Dickens put forth here in an attempt to show people that material desires can not bring you happiness. Scrooge must come to terms with that fact in the book, and he does in a great way. He overcomes everything that he has built, everything he has destroyed and he is well on his way on Christmas Day.

The style of this book is one that stands out among a lot of other, for me. Dickens writes very candidly about the occurrences here and he takes the time to do it in an incredible way. Dickens does an awesome job of tackling this somewhat risky subject matter in a way that captures the minds and hearts of countless generations. One of the things that I’m most drawn to is the sheer conversational manner of the piece and the way that Dickens breaks the fourth wall. Granted, at this time I don’t even think there necessarily was such a thing as the fourth wall.

The linguistic stylings of the book, of course, are classic Dickens and follow closely to his other works. One thing that I really love to consider about the book is the idea that it can be classified as a gothic novel. Ooohhh… I just felt the chill of countless literary minds screaming at me in disagreement. But take a look at the material. Some of the things that makes a work a gothic novel are a haunted or ghost/monster visited house or castle, romance or love, madness, ghosts, and the classic one-dimensional character. For most of these I really don’t even have to give an explanation. Obviously there are ghosts. That’s one of the main points of the work. Scrooge’s very large mansion (in which he only occupies one part) is visited by four of these ghosts. Scrooge himself experiences a wide variety of love and madness throughout the novel. He goes from being an angry old man, to falling in love with life and Christmas, to being considered mad by it. This can also be attributed to The Sublime Sickness (which is a term I coined and an entirely different topic) but is the reason for the story. This change does kind of lead us away from considering Scrooge as one-dimensional and static, but we’ll put that aside for the rest of the qualifications.

Regardless of whether or not you think it is a gothic novel, what do you think of this book? Is it something that you read (or watch) every year? Or was this the first time you’d actually read the tale of Scrooge’s trial (yes, I just moderately compared this to a Herculean tale, and that can definitely spark something in the comments – hint hint). I look very forward to hearing what you all think about this book, and I would love to know if you plan on making it or keeping it a part of your Christmas celebrations!

Finally, I’m hoping to get a lot of suggestions for my January book, which will start a whole new year of writing efforts. Expect that post after the first, of course. Make your suggestions in the comments or shoot me a message on any form of social media or via email. I hope you all enjoyed this book the way I did, and I hope you all had a great Christmas (or any and every holiday you celebrate!) and Happy New Year! Here’s to a great 2017 and a great year of awesome books and book discussion. As always, share this with anyone who will appreciate it and read on!

All Hallows’ Eve

In just one week Halloween will be on us again. The time of the year when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest is fast approaching. As always, this time of year is one that both excites and disappoints. The excitement comes from an extreme love of all things horror. My entire life has been full of a love of the paranormal, supernatural, spooky and strange. Legends and myths of monsters and their interactions with humans have always fascinated me.

I can remember being a kid and always having an extreme love for monsters, ghosts and the like. Of course vampires have always been my personal favorite. There is just something about the sly, charming and unnatural life in the shadows that has always drawn me in. I don’t really know what sparked my love of bloodsuckers, but it’s something that tends to consume my whole life at times. I’ve got tones of movies on them, at least a few dozen books on the subject and I’ve written extensively on it myself. I’ve always had the dream of seeking out one of the historic myths to see what I get from it. But that’s a story for another time.

The disappointment I spoke of comes from the background I have with the holiday itself. Growing up in the 90’s I had the best Halloween experience. Movies were still scary, decorations were still terrifying and the sense of horror still surrounded the holiday. Any given year you could still turn on the television and see Disney’s Halloween Treat, accompanied by real horror movies and shows about hauntings that weren’t all just camera tricks and jokes. Now movies can be frightening, stories can still have a nice turn and haunted houses are all the rage. But it isn’t exactly the same. Halloween decorations now are more often goofy and silly, while the commercial end of the holiday has become a joke. Trick or treating is even less what it was in my day. The magic of the holiday does still exist, however.

For me it comes from keeping a love of the unexplained, the unexplainable and trying as hard as possible to seek out all things frightening. In my opinion, if you work in that manner, keep yourself immersed in the mystery of life, the magic of the world still remains. What I’m curious about is, how do you keep the holiday? I know things are different in other countries and even other states from my own, so I want to hear about your traditions. What sort of things set this time of year apart in your lives? Do you go to graveyards and haunted houses looking for ghosts and werewolves and things that go bump in the night? Or do you put out jack-o-lanterns, either made from pumpkins or turnips (as they started) to keep away the dead?  Let me know in the comments what sort of traditions you have for Halloween and what the season means to you. I look forward to hearing about some traditions from other places and other families!

Halloween Collection!!!

Just as a reminder on this most epic of holidays, I have been featured in a very awesome Halloween collection of shorts and I would love for everyone to get it and let me know what you think. Below are links for both a paid and free version of the collection (the free one is in PDF format) and I would love it if everyone would get it, share it and read at least my story (because I want you all to love it) and let everyone know about it. There are a lot of authors in here who really deserve the recognition, so let’s help them out!!!

FWG Presents: Hallowe’en Drabbles (FREE FICTION)

http://www.amazon.com/Jack-o-Lantern-Tales-Treats-Tricks-Halloween-ebook/dp/B00OZ1SI36/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1414763282&sr=8-1&keywords=Jack-o-lantern+tales+of+treats+and+tricks