Action and Reaction

Happy Friday, everyone. We are officially slipping into the ‘Ber’ months and I am pretty pumped to be entering my favorite time of year again. Yes, those of you who know me personally know I am somewhat obsessed with the Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas seasons, and you can imagine I am leaping into the best time of year head first. I’ve been working hard at getting my recent releases out to as many new audiences as I can and trying to pick up some new events along the way, but unfortunately that has been difficult of late. With cases of this dreaded plague back on the rise two of the events I’ve lined up have been canceled and everyone – myself included – have returned to higher than average safety protocols. I fully support this, I might add. I would rather everyone be safe than run the risk of getting sick for a festival’s sake. I was fortunate, however, to attend one event on August 14th, and headline my own book signing last weekend. Both of these events proved to be a blast where I got to meet several new people and recieved some incredibly warm welcome that definitely made my day.

Free Comic Book Day on August 14th took me to my favorite comic shop, Cavalier Comics, in Wise, Va. I was set up with some other local artists and we had the chance to showcase our work to dozens of awesome folks who came in to chat with us. During this event I actually released my newest novel, Journey to the Winter Lands, in a limited first edition printing and it got great response. So much so that I have extended the first edition run and had to order a second printing (which I’m already about halfway sold out of). One young man stands out in particular during that day, which is kind of what I want to center this post around.

I met a young man early in the day who was thrilled to pick up my newest book and even wanted to have his photo with me and talked to me for a good few minutes about how exciting it was to meet a local author and get to have that face-to-face interaction. He quickly revealed he is also an author and artist and was very pleased to meet another. Needless to say, this made my mood soar. So often people ask how artists and authors stand ocassional rejection, being overlooked, not always making tons of money and other less than flattering facts of life. The answer is pretty simple when you consider reactions like that.

For myself as an author I have to say I have always been more interested in having people read and experience my work rather than focusing on the money it can bring. Don’t get me wrong, my dream is to ride the top of the best seller list and write something the whole world wants to read, but who doesn’t want that? It is so immediately thrilling and exceedingly gratifying for me to know that even just one person gained some inspiration and joy from my work, though. Being asked to give advice, and take photos, and talk about the craft and my methods of creating with an aspiring author and artist was an exprience that, above all, reminded me what it was like to be starting out.

I don’t consider myself a professional by any stretch of the imagination, but I do feel like I have a good deal of creative and publication experience to draw off of right now, so I like to use that to my advantage when possible. It was those types of connections that helped keep me motivated when I was starting out. I made contacts within my local authors guild, of which I am now a member, and got any and every piece of advice I could. Knowing that, if nothing else, my words may have helped inspire the next generation of creative success, is nothing short of flattering.

I have ridden that feeling for a while, right up until my latest event at Tall Tales Bookshop in Greeneville, Tn. on Saturday, where I received another incredibly warm welcome. A representative of Community Insurance in Greeneville came into the book store shortly after I got started and brought me a box of cookies to welcome me to the town and wish me luck on the event. That, honestly, is one of the things I love about our Appalachian region as a whole. Small town generosity and Southern charm never cease to amaze me. I had an incredible time at the event, feeling the warmest welcome from every person I encountered that day. I loved the bookstore as well, finding a few pieces of literary greatness I’ve been looking for for a while.

Overall one point behind this post is a pretty simple one to me. If you like an artist’s work, tell them. I know I’ve said that before, but it holds true even more the longer I am involved in the world of creative arts. Speaking with someone who enjoys my work is just an absolute blessing. I love being able to talk about my craft – particularly my personal contributions to the world of literature – with anyone who will listen, but knowing that person has read and enjoyed words that I created brings me a level of satisfaction I can’t even begin to describe. In short, it absolutely shows me that pushing forward through a lack of reviews or purchases or even a complete media blackout on my work is worth it for those few moments. When you encounter someone who truly enjoys your work and is not afraid to tell you it does a lot to remove doubt. And, believe me, for any creative out there doubt is a very real curse. Self-doubt is something that can utterly cripple a creative, so those brief moments of “hey, maybe I don’t totally suck” can be the difference between that person releasing another piece or throwing in the towel forever.

Another reason I wanted to make this post is to remind those creatives who have maybe forgotten what it’s like to be new to their craft how important it is to be kind and supportive of those joining our noble pursuits. An artist or creative just starting their journey into the world of releasing their products into the wind is, unfortunately, a fragile creature that often should be handled with care and encouragement. When someone who is just starting out reaches out for advice or even slight validation one bad experience can make them close that creative door forever. It is so important for those of us with some experience in the matter to be kind and uplifting if we are asked for advice or approached by someone wanting to talk to us about getting started. I’ve seen some people be outright nasty to fans or newcomers to the craft who are approaching them for help or advice and it is disgusting. I always try to be as kind as I can and encouraging, but honest. If someone is approaching something in a way that has traditionally been more trouble than it is worth I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I don’t want to steer anyone down a path that will be harder for them in the long run. In general, the most helpful thing I can say is we should always strive to uplift and help one another. Life is hard enough without us all being jerks to each other.

I hope this post finds you all doing well throughout another tough time with health and safety. We all are struggling along as best we can, but I understand how truly difficult it can be. Personally, I can report that it hasn’t been as much of a destroyer of inspiration and motivation as last year was. I have been able to work on some new projects that I am very excited about. I hope to have some announcements on upcoming projects, as well as upcoming events soon. Unfortunately, two of my September events have been canceled, but I do have a book singing lined up for September 18 at Appalachian Books in Norton, Va. This store is one of my absolute favorites so I hope to see as many of you there as possible. In the meantime, feel free to reach out to me with any stories of your experiences as a creative, reach out for any advice or comments on the craft in general, and by all means, please remember to review the work of any creative whose work you enjoy. It can make their day. I hope everyone who had gotten copies of my works has enjoyed them and will give them a review so they can reach all new audiences as well. Make sure to believe in your own work and don’t be afraid to reach outside of your comfort zone to get what you want. Art makes the world go ’round, so make sure you are doing your part!

Progress Inspires Progress

Hello everyone! I hope this summer has proven to be wonderful for you all in as many ways as possible. Things have been quite busy on my end, between traveling, preparing for a new school year, and going to as many book signings and events I can possibly line up. Somewhere along the way I even managed, after endless encouragement from my incredible wife, to publish another novel! Just to give you a short heads up on all of these things, let me break it down.

Many of you will know or remember that I recently published my beloved novel, the long awaited vampire extravaganza, Maverip! I managed to swing it so the first printing of the Appalachian horror novel was published on the exact 124 year anniversary of Bram Stoker’s gothic powerhouse, Dracula. That alone is just jaw-dropping for me. That book has been such a huge part of my life for the last ten year that, to see the first part in print and being sold – sold out, I might add – is such an immense blessing.

This weekend, tomorrow (August 14, 2021 – Free Comic Book Day in the U.S.!) in fact, will see the debut of in person sales of my latest novel, a fantasy epic that explores the sword and sorcery tropes that have long fascinated me as a reader. The book, Journey to the Winter Lands: Shadow Slayer Saga Number One, explores the world of Turadorsa, a land where a literal darkness is threatening to consume the world again. Magic has been both stigmatized and sought after with ferocious intensity after many of those who could wield its dangerous power were eradicated. When shadows return and start attacking the people of Turadorsa, a group of travelers will be sent on a quest to find the mysterious “Bhaltair” with no explanation of who, or what, the word even refers to. Their search takes them into the heart of the mysterious Winter Lands, where snow never stops falling and legend has long since forgotten the challenges that face the wanderers.

This book is one that I have spent countless hours pondering over, doing research for, and developing history for. I loved the world-building element of fantasy writing. It’s not anything I had ever had to do for my horror novels, of course. Most of my work is set in the Appalachian Mountains, which are some of the oldest mountains in the world, so there isn’t a lot of geographical development that has to go into them, aside from placing my stories somewhere I could explain. With creating an entirely new world, however, I got to decide where my mountains, deserts, rivers, oceans would be. I got to create flora and fauna and myths and legends to my heart’s content. And, as the title indicates, the journey is far from over, so I still have plenty of creative license to build and destroy!

Seeing those books, any of my work really, in print, is an incredible inspiration to me. Writing has been a release for me most of my life, and has often brought me through some of the darkest times I have had. Often, it has gone hand in hand with reading. If ever I grew tired of creating, or hit a wall and needed a break, I could pick up a book and escape into a world created by another artitstic mind. The written word is an incredible life-saver, and its hypnotic hold on me will hopefully never cease. Despite how much I know the works of other authors has helped get me through some hard times, aside from just entertaining me and bringing joy, I have had a hard time reflecting that potential back to my own work. It has always been a hope that my words could bring someone through hard times and encourage them as much as I have been encouraged and empowered by the many authors whose words now make up part of my soul, but I never felt they were ready or worthy. I never felt like anyone would honestly want my work the way I want the work of others. So I tended to sit on them forever and not give them a chance. In essence, I smothered them.

My wife has been indescribably instrumental in encouraging me to give my books life by letting them out into the world. As much as I love reading the work of others and writing my own, it has been a whole new type of thrill seeing others get excited about my work. Seeing a look of interest or hearing an exclamation of excitement when I describe what my books are about is an instant sense of amazement. Could someone out there really be that interested in the words, the story, the idea that came from my head? After endless discussions with my wife, and much self-exploration, I leapt forward and gave these two novels the freedom from over-editing and over-thinking they deserved. The reception for Maverip has been nothing short of awesome, so far. I haven’t gotten written reviews, but everyone I have spoken to has been immediately drawn by the subject matter and hooked by the intro, which in itself makes me feel accomplished. I am hoping for a similar embrace for Journey to the Winter Lands tomorrow!

My point in all this is that we, as creatives, should never feel fear to release our work to the world. We have been given incredible talents and motivation to create a piece that no one else could create. That goes for any medium. Whether you excel at writing 3,000 word epic poems, or you’re just really good and sip and paint type art pieces, that work is yours and you need – deserve – to own it. Those words that you strung together, those brush strokes that give your work its unique flare, that little bit of extra twang you can pull from an instrument that lets everyone know that piece is YOU, it all deserves to be cherished and shared. Granted, I know some people literally only create for themselves and I am in no way disparaging that. If that is your intention, I will never deny the validity of that desire. But for those who want others to see their work, who yearn to make a difference with something they created from the ideas in their head, I am here to tell you the time is now. You can edit and re-edit, and edit a third, fourth, tenth time. But that work needs a life. It desires to be enjoyed by others, just as you desire for others to enjoy it.

I am of the mindset that, no matter what we create, it has an audience. There are 8 billion of us on this rock, and there are things out there for all of us. This world is virtually overflowing with art in all forms and formats and unique elements that we are all able to love. The more I create, and the more I publish and let my work have the freedom it desires, the more I realize we should all make that a priority. We create these works of art, much as our beloved Gothic Swiss doctor pieced together his creature, and they deserve the same spark of life that sallow-skinned newborn did. I encourage you, when you finish your art, don’t hoard it (unless that’s why you create it of course). Make it the best you possibly can, and by all means, understand that may take differing amounts of time for each piece. There is no one size fits all solution to art. But, once you have improved as much as you can, once that piece is no longer in need of polishing, or you have run out of polish to give, provide it with freedom. Breathe into your art the life-giving breath of publicity. Spew your work of art forth into the maw of humanity and wait for the right person to grasp and cling to it for dear life. Don’t let it suffocate in a darkened closet, because, as much as it hurts to admit, that decay will seep out. It will infect everything you do. The fear of imperfection and lack of outside enjoyment will become a scar on everything new you produce and, if allowed, it can even stop up the creative fount as it is.

So, what are you waiting for? Release those works, put yourself and your art out there. Inspire the masses with your ability, but, most importantly, inspire yourself with your courage, your accomplishments, your creations. What’s the point of struggling to win a trophy if you just lock it in a closet and keep the light off? Bring it out, let the sun shine on it, let others see it and enjoy it with you. And, don’t forget, if anyone rains on your parade with their negativity, open your umbrella and shake that nonsense right off. You are an incredible human for being able to create – no one else can do it like you can do it. That’s why it’s YOUR creation, not theirs.

If you’re in the Wise County, Virginia region on Saturday August 14th, swing into Cavalier Comics in Wise to say hello and grab your copy of any of my print works. There will be a selection of free goodies, as well as a sale by the store owner, so there will definitely be plenty of fun for everyone. I hope to see you all there, and I hope to see all your work flourish very soon!!

The Modern Prometheus – Relaunch!

Greetings everyone! I am super excited to announce the official relaunch of my podcast The Modern Prometheus! It has been a long time since I scrapped the idea, but I have brainstormed and decided I want to give it another run. This first episode is a bit of an introduction to the idea, and a way to announce the return of the program, so feel free to share, listen, and stay tuned for more!

Schitt’s Creek and the Message to Change the World

Happy November everyone! The holidays have officially begun and I hope everyone’s Halloween was awesome. The end of 2020 is surging toward us full steam now, and we can only hope 2021 will bring us a much better world.

In our search for a good laugh and a fresh artistic experience, my wife and I recently binged the series “Schitt’s Creek” on Netflix, and it was absolutely everything we needed it to be. The show, a six-season story of a wealthy family who is forced to move to a small town and basically start over from scratch after losing their fortune, has pretty much everything you could ask for. Comedy, drama, love, anger, family, friends, motivation, and heartache all have their place in Schitt’s Creek. Created by Daniel Levy, his father Eugene, and his sister Sarah, the show follows the Rose family through their struggle to restart their lives and build themselves from the ground up. Amid metric tons of character growth, realization, and relationship building, we see the Roses coming to terms with who they are and just how different their lives must be from what they have grown used to.

One thing that never failed to amaze and impress us with the show is that, despite the small town atmosphere and the polar opposite social circles the characters all come from, there is never a question of their acceptance of one another. Acceptance is a perfect word to describe this show, honestly. There are no questions of racism, discrimination, sexism or any other form of making someone feel less than. It is perfect.

Dan Levy’s David Rose, a pansexual who “is into the wine, not the label,” falls in love with a local man and runs a general store with him. Their love is on display for three seasons and no one ever questions it. Not a single resident of the town has a problem with David and Patrick’s relationship, and the entire town supports their love from the minute it blooms until the very last episode of the show.

There are people of all races, genders, and sexual orientations through the town, even in positions of authority and there is never an issue. Schitt’s Creek is a town that is open and accepting of everyone, even the socially awkward and former upper class Rose family who may not always be understanding of how things work without a lot of money, but who always end up seeing the good in their situations and neighbors.

I think that acceptance is one of the most important messages the show has to impart on its audience. I continue to use the word acceptance because it has an entirely different meaning than tolerance. I find tolerance to be a disgusting word in regards to other people. It suggests that you look at those of other genders, identities, or preferences as somehow less than yourself and, rather than accept and attempt to understand them and their lives, you ‘tolerate’ them. I find it a terrible ideation and one that should be removed from all vocabulary. Other people are not here for you to ‘tolerate.’ No one should be expected to exist under the ideals of someone else.

One of the best things about Schitt’s Creek and its marketing and subsequent fanbase is the consistent freedom and lack of judgement amongst everyone in the show. Creators, actors, characters, and fans alike love each other and that love has spread farther than even Dan Levy and his father and sister thought it would when developing the show. Coming from a small town, where many people aren’t always open-minded and accepting, I feel an overwhelming love for this show and the message it sends to this world.

We are all equal on this planet, we all deserve the freedom to be who we are, love who we want to love, and live the way we want to live. As long as the thing that makes you happy is not harmful to someone else, you should be free to do it. I will always stand in support of that. In the state of the world today I think it is very important to have such a pop culture powerhouse standing up for acceptance and freedom. I truly think this show could be vital in helping create a world like Schitt’s Creek, where people don’t have to live in fear of judgement from their peers. It may seem like a dream, but it is one I very much hope comes true.

If you haven’t watched the show, by all means, jump into it and you’ll be hooked in the first ten minutes. It is a pretty great piece of history, and I am honestly ready to watch it again. I commend the Levys and every other cast and crew member who helped make the show and its message possible – and I admire them for the incredible way they have carried the message of love and acceptance across the world since the show’s premiere. Excellent job, Dan. Your idea has truly become the perfect reality.

What is Your Legacy?

Happy Spooky Season, everyone! I hope October has started strong for all of you. Personally, I have been working my days away as a teacher and enjoying feeling like I am finally on the career path I have been waiting for. I have been doing my best to enjoy Autumn’s welcomed arrival with some scary television and movies, as well as enjoying nature’s bountiful beauty as the leaves exhibit their brilliant hues, giving us one last show as their lives fade with the warm weather.

Unfortunately, not every loss is as beautiful and peaceful as leaves warming the mountains with their fiery colors. Yesterday the world lost one of the most talented and influential musicians of recent decades. Eddie Van Halen, guitar playing genius, icon of the 1980’s, generally amazing musician and human, lost his battle with throat cancer Tuesday morning. Eddie has been a staple of my own musical preference for most of my life, his wailing cords and mournful yet lively notes inspiring me to purchase my own guitar and begin playing more than a dozen years ago. Granted, as college and adult life brought changes and responsibility my way, my guitar playing took a back burner to writing (which is as it should be). Nonetheless, music is one of the key elements of my life to this day.

Hearing the news of Eddie’s passing hit me hard in a few of ways. For one, it was just another instance of the pain of loss and ridiculous theivery 2020 has been presenting us with. It really hurts to know there will never be another new lick played by Eddie Van Halen. His style and music have influenced me in countless ways, his dauntless energy and manic playing often leaving me speechless, even decades later. Most of all, however, it got me thinking about my influence and legacy. Eddie was the reason endless numbers of wanna-be musicians have picked up, and will pick up, guitars and begin to play. He has been a staple of innovation for his entire life, and his work can be heard in places some people don’t even realize.

Like Eddie’s music has inspired people, so can literature. A powerful quote, line, or work of art can influence, inspire, hurt, amaze, and realistically change lives. I have, of course, always been a reader. I have been built up, torn down, made happy, and been brought to tears by literature in the course of my life. One thing I have wanted since feeling the tug of writing within myself, the pull of the words writhing to escape my brain, has been to inspire those things in someone else. I want, above most anything else, to evoke that strong sense of emotion within an audience, to know I have brought them to a new way of thinking or made them feel a certain way with the words that came from my brain.

Feeling the loss of one of the biggest musical inspirations of the last 40+ years made me realize I have not been making that possible. I have allowed things to hinder me, slow me down in both production and marketing of my own work. I have recently been working more at the production side, but I still fall short on the marketing element. I have a hard time dedicating the time to explore and try new channels to get my work out there. Worse, even when I find those new avenues I tend to fall short of working them to their full potential. I think it would be fair to say I have a fear of failure, a lack of confidence that this route or that route may be best to get my work out there to readers the world over. No more. I can’t keep getting in my own way.

Yesterday the world lost one of the best guitar players to ever pick up the instrument, one of the most creative minds to ever write a note, or pluck a cord. In an instant the possibility of hearing new work played by those talented hands flew out the window. It got me thinking: how do I hold up? How will anyone out there be affected by my work if I never get it out there to them? How can I hope to touch the masses (or even one single person) with my creation if it lives forever on my computer or, God forbid, if half of it still lives in my head? That can’t be allowed to happen. I don’t know if I’ll be anywhere near as influential as Eddie, but I want to give my work a shot. I want to give me a shot.

That’s the real point of what I have to say with this post, I think. Giving ourselves a shot. Eddie Van Halen was just a kid from the Netherlands until he made a connection with music and developed his skill. He made a real effort and put himself out there for the world to judge and enjoy. Eddie broke countless rules with his work, and forged a path for an untold number of musicians and artists. That is the legacy he is leaving behind. Musicians and music lovers will know his work forever. He will go down in history like Mozart and Beethoven. So where will I be? If I don’t take chances and push myself to get my work out there, people can’t be moved by it. It could spend the rest of its days half-finished and unpublished. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. I have the ability, the courage, to carry it forward, to see it finished and released to the world. I can push myself to new limits, try new things. Bottom line is that I will, in no way, allow myself to fail. None of you should either. Failure is not an acceptable outcome.

Too often we suffer the inexplicable hindrance of bonds we place on ourselves. We are limited by the amount of faith and confidence we have in ourselves, and too often those limitations do not allow us to come anywhere close to the person we could be, the talent we could bring into the world. I’m going to do my best to shatter those bonds, and I suggest you all try to do that, too. You don’t want to find yourself looking back on your life and realizing you should have invested more into yourself. You don’t want to realize there could have been a very different outcome for your work, your talent, your passion. So I encourage everyone to challenge themselves. Give yourself a shot at greatness. Push yourself to reach new limits and be something you never knew you could be. You won’t regret it. Feel free to tell me something you plan on working toward changing. Give me details about how you plan on making the change. What challenges are you going to present yourself? What skill do you want to allow a chance to breathe? It’s not something you should hesitate on. Make a bet on yourself. Trust me, you’re worth it.

Summer in a New World

Hello there, everyone! I hope this fine August is treating you all well so far. The world definitely looks a lot different than it did this time last year, and for many that hasn’t been the kindest change. The virus that has plagued our planet for the last 10 or so months has certainly changed the way everyday life looks in ways we couldn’t even have predicted.

For me, since last I spoke with you all, I have lost one job due to circumstances we are all faced with, and gained another. In about a week I will be entering new territory that I’ve been preparing for my entire life. I have accepted a position as an English teacher in a neighboring county and I will be covering classes at all high school levels. This is a dream come true for me, and brings me a level of excitement I haven’t felt about my career choices in some time. The chance to impart knowledge and love of literature and the written word to future generations is something I have wanted for longer than I even remember. It’s one of the reasons I believe I was created to be a writer and the main reason I feel such a passion for the word itself. Now, that chance becomes a reality as I embark on one of the greatest work avenues I have ever had the chance to enjoy.

In addition to this, I finally have seen some breaks in the creative wall that has hindered my writing so much since we entered Plagueland 2020. I have begun work on a series of stories involving pirates, the supernatural, and world wide adventure the likes of which I’ve never encountered. I already have such a knowledge and a working love of these characters that I can’t wait to share them with you all. I have laid down a few thousand words of their tales so far, but that’s nowhere near the end. Although I have found several gaps in the writer’s block that has affected so many of us, it still hinders me often. I am working hard to shatter that wall and push forward with these works, as well as the release of my novel “Moonlight” in the very near future. I hope to have some big news on those things for you all soon!

Even more importantly, the month of July gave me the happiest day of my life when I got to marry my absolute best friend and soul mate, and the most beautiful woman in the world. After changing dates, venues, guest numbers and so much more, we finally were able to join in matrimony with a number of our closest friends and family. The ceremony was beautiful and our lives as husband and wife have been nothing short of great so far. I look very forward to a life filled with adventure and love with this incredible woman by my side.

One thing I have learned over the last handful of months is that we really should never give up. When faced with adversity we, as a species (and as creatives, who some would argue are their own separate species apart from the average Homo Sapien) must double down our effort and push forward. In many cases that is not the easiest thing to do, as we all know, but the results can often lead us to greater happiness than we even anticipated. I know many of us have felt the urge to give up as life seems to crash down around us during this pandemic, but I am here to encourage each and every one of you to carry on a little further. Keep your head up just a little longer. The hard times are not here to break us down, but to give us come calluses and show us more about how strong we are.

In light of the absolute destructive nature of this pandemic on everything we know to be “normal” I am reminded of the Japanese art of Kintsugi, which is the technique of piecing together shattered pottery pieces with lacquer infused with silver or gold. Rather than hide the cracks and imperfections in the final product, Kintsugi emphasizes them, strenghtening the bond of the broken pieces with the beautiful gold and showing that adversity did not end that work of art. We will all be faced with hard times in life, but at the end of the day what really shows who we are is how we react to these challenges. Will we lay down and give up, or stand up taller and stronger with our golden calluses shining in the sun and push forward until we meet our goals?

I think I know the path many of you will choose. Creative souls, generous souls, helpful souls do not just lay down and quit. We don’t take no for an answer. “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams,” as the fantastic poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy said. Those who are placed here to make life better for others, whether you be artists, writers, musicians, pastors, therapists, educators, parents, or someone else who has a chance to encourage and inspire, know that challenges are things to overcome, not gates to bar you off from your path. As we approach another month of a very different world, remember that. If you’ve been knocked down by all the mess the world is in, stand up and force your way back onto your path. This isn’t the end. This is just another bend in the road.

I plan to keep writing, keep publishing, keep teaching, keep traveling, keep blogging, keep living my incredible life with my wife, and I look forward to sharing more of all this with you all. What challenges have you overcome in the midst of this different and unexpected summer? More importantly, what are you going to do to overcome those challenges? Comment away and, as always, feel free to share far and wide with anyone who may need a little boost!

Nature of Perspective

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope this strange new world we live in is treating you all fairly and well. Many of us have been touched in negative ways by the changes to the landscape of our daily lives. Plans have been changed, jobs have been lost or put on hold, lives have been taken both because of the global pandemic and the disease that is racism and inequality. Basically, it seems like we wake up each day with no clue what strange new terror the day is going to hold – and it takes its toll.

I’ve been reminded this morning, however, the nothing has the power to control us unless we let it. Multiple times in multiple places throughout my morning I have seen a message that basically reminds me that our own ideas and perspective have a much stronger hold on us than anything coming at us from outside. The things that come against us can seem to be terrible, inconvenient, dangerous, worrisome, angering – I could go on. But the only thing that matters is us.

My amazing fiancee has reminded me more than once in the past few months that we can’t control the things that happen to us, but we can control how we react to it. I think that’s the main point my mind is latching onto today. So many things have shattered the world as we knew it in various ways so far this year, but the heart of our own understanding of it all comes from just how we let it affect us. Do we get angry because our plans changed and we suddenly have to wear masks, or do we sit back and take a moment to be thankful we still have breath in our lungs and those masks will (hopefully) help keep us and others a little safer – for those able to wear them, of course.

I’ve seen so much unhappiness around me stemming from the fact that this year has, in no way, gone the way any of us planned or imagined it would. From sick loved ones having to deal with surgeries or hospital visits alone due to hospital restrictions, to schools cancelling or postponing such coming-of-age events as prom and graduation, almost no one in the states can look at the events that have taken place since March and say that everything has gone exactly as planned. In my own life, I’ve already written about the ghost town that is my library and the almost complete lack of creative inspiration. In addition to that I’ve not seen some friends and family in months, my wedding has been pushed back, even vacations have been rearranged. The year 2020 has been nothing like anything many of us have seen before.

I won’t pretend I’ve handled it all graciously, either. It’s taken its toll at times. I’ve had angry days and sad days. Days where I could scream at the top of my lungs at the injustice of it all, and days where it’s all I can do to get out of bed and get moving. I’ve also had days where things seem almost completely normal and I’m happy beyond my own ability to describe. None of that is unique to me, though. I’ve seen people the world over saying similar things. We are in no way used to the changes we’ve seen in the last few months, but then again, who is?

My biggest point in all this is that we must learn to find a reason or a way to stay on top. Yes, the world is throwing things at us we’ve never even thought of, but we’re still going. The human machine of brain, heart, body, and soul is a force to be reckoned with. Already rays of light are coming through the darkness. The world is slowly finding hope in the amount of recoveries around us. We are finding new reasons to unite and come together in spite of adversities. Violence is being overcome with positivity in many places, and things are struggling to return back to a place we can consider, perhaps not quite normal, but acceptable.

In the midst of all this, the most important thing we can do is find our own reason for carrying on, our own motivation to keep struggling forward, our own way to climb as close to the top as we can be and conquer the things that have been trying as hard as they can to slam us back to the ground. A friend on social media recently told a story of how they had experienced an incredible sensation when they realized they were listening to the world around them for the first time since the world began changing. Countless things stood out as they realized they had been going about their life almost on autopilot. They were sure the sounds they heard and the feelings they experienced had been going on all along, but they finally felt connected and open enough to hear them – and that made all the difference.

So, I challenge everyone today to take the time to listen and feel. Reconnect with yourself, with the world around you, with the things you love. Move away from the things that have been bothering you about the way the world is changing, and move into a place where you can make sure it doesn’t stop you from being you. Find the things you love and put your effort and essence into them. For creatives like myself, it has been a struggle finding the motivation to bring your ideas to life, but I encourage you to try. Channel the upset you’ve felt at this strange new life and make something beautiful out of it. If you aren’t creative, channel the same frustration into anything that makes you happy. Whether it’s reading, gardening, watching television, or making plans. Whatever you can find that makes you feel even just a little bit like yourself again, go for it. Make it your own.

I know these things are in no way easy, but if you can make the world work for you just that much, it does seem to make it a little better. Like I mentioned earlier, the way we react to what happens to us is much more important than what happens. Stand up and fight for happiness and freedom. Fight to keep your head above water and out of the funk of depression and distaste with the world around us. For me, a breath of fresh air while I’m eating some food on a much needed outdoor lunch break has made things a little clearer for me. Rather than react with annoyance and anger at the things I don’t like about the world right now, I’m going to do my best to focus on being happy about the things that are making my life amazing and worth fighting for to the very end. Our reactions under pressure say almost everything there is to be said and help determine what sort of world we live in. What kind of world are you making for yourself?

Resurrect Creativity

Hey there, friends and fans! How is everyone holding up in plague land? Life goes on here in the states. Virginia and Tennessee are slowly opening to life again, but things are nothing like they were this time one year ago. They may never be that way again – and that may not necessarily be a bad thing, but that’s a topic for a whole other discussion. My main purpose for writing this post is to touch on the point of creativity in our current climate. I think it goes without saying that, for a lot of people, it has died a painful death.

Personally, I’ve found myself in a long slump that has my creativity on a roller coaster and hiding behind quite a veil. Some days I really have an insane urge to create and put down line after line to build on what I hope to be the next great American novel, while other days I feel like there is nothing but a dusty lump of coal where my creative heart lies. Worse, on more than half the days I feel creative, I can’t decipher what idea I should write, or even have one that I can consider. Which, having more than 60 pieces in various stages of completion is some special kind of Hell.

I’ve seen a lot of authors and artists saying similar things as the problems continue to burn on, and not many seem to have found a good way around it. For many people being in social situations is helpful for inspiration, even if it’s literally just sitting in a coffee shop listening to those around you while you recharge your human interaction batteries a bit. Others hate creating in public, but they still find themselves in the midst of a creative block during these trying times. Personally, I am more of a private writer as well, finding it easiest to write when immersing myself in nature, or listening to music, or letting the TV play in the background and just letting the words flow. Despite all this, I still find myself forcing the words sometimes, which obviously works, but it hurts morale beyond a shadow of a doubt.

There have been a lot of theories about why this is, but I think my own personal philosophy is the unexpected changes we are all facing have thrown us through a loop and confused even the most reclusive of us. With such a sudden and intense change to pretty much the entire way the world works our minds and habits don’t quite know how to cope. It’s taking us a bit to catch up, basically. And the fact that things continue to change really don’t help. Going from life as we knew it, to being locked down, to being allowed to have a little freedom is presenting us with different ways of living our lives, and it is more than a little shocking, even terrifying to some. Waking up each and every day not knowing what to expect is causing us to almost have a complete reset each day. Our once standard routines like going to the grocery store, seeing a movie, taking a walk in the park, or grabbing a mean in a restaurant are now almost privilege. It’s like nothing any of us has seen before, and that in itself is like being trapped in one of the weirdest bits of creative fiction I’ve ever heard of. So, how do we combat it?

That may be the hardest question of all, since we never know what’s next. Some people need to have a set routine to write, putting aside a certain time-frame each day which, if deviated from, can be devastating to their creative blood. For these people the change in what life looks like has surely been one of the biggest reasons creativity is dead. I have complete sympathy. For others, writing or creating only happens when the moment’s right and no amount of scheduling makes much of a difference since you can’t force the muse. I tend to lean toward the latter myself, but, in an effort to combat the destructive force of the world’s changes, I’m going to try and change my own methods up a bit.

I’m going to try and set aside a time each day, likely in the evening, to write, edit, or do whatever the winds blows me toward that day. I’m hopeful that setting aside a specific time to create might become something habitual and it will at least inspire me to find new creative limits to push. If you are feeling a lack of creativity and seeing a general fall in your own production I might suggest the same for you. Since the world is nothing like what it was, we should all make an effort to adapt a bit and try to resurrect our poor shattered creative spirits. By putting the pieces back together with a schedule, at least a minimal scheduled time to put pen to paper, perhaps we can find a way to return to some semblance of life as we knew it and at least get some release for our pent up creativity.

As we move forward and try to find exactly what works for each of us, I send you all positive thoughts and encouragement. I know the world is not what any of us expected, but I’m sure a bunch of imaginative creatives can find a way to make it work in our favor. What sort of things have worked for you, if anything has? Have you all been feeling let down by your own mind’s lack of production like I have? Moreover, if you do make an effort to start a schedule I encourage you to share your stories and experiences with me. What type of thing is working to help you find a creative solution, or least a happy medium? Now, more than ever, is a time creative people should be more than willing to be open and help each other with our blocks and trials. I’m always willing to talk to a fellow artist, so feel free to reach out any time! As always, stay safe and healthy everyone.

Checking In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lord of the Mountain

Hey there, friends and fans! We’re almost through the second month of 2020 and life goes on. As always, I’m devouring new literary material as much as possible, and I recently got to read a book that is incredible to me for a few reasons.
The book in question, Lord of the Mountain, by Ronald Kidd, is a tale that takes place during and after the famous Bristol Sessions. The Bristol Sessions is the two-week recording event that took place on State Street in Bristol, Tennessee that launched country music to the nation. Ralph Peer came to the Twin Cities with the dream of finding the music that had long been passed down among mountain families – and what he found changed the face of recorded music. 

Kidd’s book deals with a young boy who lives on the outskirts of Bristol, a city divided right down the middle by the Tennessee/Virginia state line, and his fascination with science and music, despite his father’s preaching, which includes a violent opposition to music. Nate, the narrator of our tale, finds himself in the middle of inner turmoil as he struggles to find his place in the world. He is facing either a life in his father’s world, where music is the devil and the voice of God can be heard in every whisper, or a world where he is free to pursue music and science and live in whatever way he pleases. Nate finds himself attending the Bristol Sessions, and helping the world famous Carter Family as they sing the songs of the mountains for Ralph Peer’s recording machines. He later even finds himself traveling with A.P. Carter and gathering songs from other mountain folks for a time. 

I found this book to be absolutely enthralling, from the very first line, to the very last period. I yearned to learn more about Nate and his struggle. Kidd is able to capture the feel of Appalachia in a way that some authors I’ve read have not. Living less than 20 miles from the place all this happened, I loved his use of local landmarks (and it didn’t hurt that he used Bristol Public Library, my place of work, as a hub for some of his research) to help tell his story. 

Nate’s struggle and internal displacement run rampant throughout this book, leading him to often compare himself to State Street, “torn right down the middle.” Nate, a 13 year-old living in a time when the world was a very different place, often broke my heart with these statements. Kidd gave Nate a huge heart, and a huge interest in what basically put this area on the map, and I loved every word. I’ve long been interested in the history of the region and its culture, although I admittedly have a love/hate relationship with country music. Appalachian life is a fascination and a lifestyle that I am very proud to uphold, and this book does a fantastic job of celebrating that. 

I found myself write down pages and pages of quotes from the book, as I do, and I think Kidd’s writing style is amazing as well. As he travels farther away from the tent his father preaches in and deeper into the mountain songs that call to him, Nate finally sees clearly what he wants. This quote, to me, speaks volumes of his struggle and his purpose. 

“I had a new life now, or a glimpse of one. It sparkled in the distance, like the silver microphone.”

The microphone Nate speaks of here is Peer’s microphone, where so many mountain songs were sung, recording the history and soul of the region in a way that never before had been done. 

Kidd, a resident of Nashville, Tn., brought forth a tale of  heartache, soul-searching, heritage, and culture that I think anyone with a familiarity with the Bristol region will love, and anyone who isn’t familiar with the area can still definitely enjoy. Nate’s story is one that we can all relate to, having sought our own place in the world both in relation to and away from our families and those things familiar to us. I highly recommend this book and plan to read it again and again. It’s really that good. 

*Featured image: front cover of the book, Lord of the Mountain, By Ronald Kidd. I own no rights to this image.