A Slow Start

Happy January, everyone. I hope 2023 is starting off on the right foot with you all. I know these first couple of weeks have been a whirlwind for most of us, but with that hopefully has come plenty of good.

Personally, I have seen a fair bit of success and happiness come about early on this year, with one novel finalized and entering the publication process and plenty of events in the making. That’s right, for those who haven’t heard, my latest novel is officially in production! The author proof is en route to me even now, and should be at home waiting for me to approve or modify it. That feeling is one that, even on my 7th book (holy cow, seven books??!!) doesn’t get old. To see my writing on the page, my reality played out there in novel format is nothing short of amazing. If you don’t yet know that feeling, I can’t wait until you do. It will make that imposter syndrome flee – even if just for only a moment or two.

In addition to the novel I have coming out soon, I have another that I have been trying to finish since last year. My fantasy sequel, “Darkness Awakens: Shadow Slayer Saga Number 2,” is more than 50,000 words, with plenty of great story so far, and I’m not even sure when it will be complete. I have been pushing myself to get plenty of writing in, but I have begun to fall into a slump.

Between setting up events, returning to work after the holidays, adjusting to the new year, and trying to maintain my sanity, it has been a wild ride. I feel the urge to write and create, and have even been coming up with new story ideas left and right, but the ability to focus and make real progress on any one particular work has eluded me. For years I have tried to help and encourage my fellow writers and creators through their slumps and blocks, but I haven’t been able to break mine. In all fairness, this isn’t so much a block of ideas or a lack of feeling for the story itself. I just feel like my voice is slogging through the mud whenever I try to write. It’s like my creative drive got stuck on slow motion.

As I’ve told you all many times before, no amount of struggle comes without its reward, so I know I simply need to keep pushing. My main goal for making this post, in addition to wishing you all the happiest of new years, was to see if anyone else was feeling that creative backlog as well. Are you trying to get a new project going and having trouble, or have you slipped off the path of completion on a work that already has a strong base? Those slumps can truly mess up a good schedule of creation, that’s for sure, but they can’t be allowed to win!

I’m choosing to follow my urge to create and push myself forward, no matter how slow it is. Once those ideas start flowing really strongly again these days of slumps and struggling will seem far away, like they usually do. In the meantime, though, let me share with you the cover for my new novel as I prepare to set a release date.

I am so pumped about this book, guys. Maverip (the original was one giant book that I split up for length) is my magnum opus thus far. The book that has been with me for more than a decade, characters that have been like family to me. Well, you know, family that you torture and terrify with vampires, pain, constant fear of death and the like. So, family. I can’t wait for you to get to check out this next stage of the adventure, too. It promises to be great fun and will change the way the modern vampire tale is perceived by some, I hope.

For more access to future works of mine, make sure you subscribe to my free newsletter, follow me on social media, and subscribe to my Patreon (http://patreon.com/DameanMathews). I am working on my schedule of events for the year, so be sure to jump over to my events and appearances page regularly to see what is coming!

Finally, if you have been feeling that beginning of the year slump, what have you done to get over it? Have you been able to push your way through the mire to the golden light of creation on the other side? If not, we’ll get there together! Comment or message me to share your journey.

The Belgariad/The Mallorean Series Review

Hey there readers, I’ve got another doozy of a review to provide here, and it is one that I am ridiculously excited about. As many of you know, I am a huge nerd and proud of it. My reading and art habits absolutely reflect that, so when I recieved a new fantasy novel earlier this year as part of a huge book exchange (which I’d love to do again) I was pumped. The novel in question, Pawn of Prophecy, by David Eddings, was the first in a long series that I’d never heard of. By the time I finished the first few chapters, however, I knew I needed more. Within days I had ordered the four books that completed the first series, The Belgariad, as well as the next 5 book series, The Mallorean, and the two accompanying texts, Polgara the Sorceress and Belgarath the Sorcerer.

To say I was hooked and blown away by the magnitude of these book is an absolute understatement. The book tell the story of Garion, a young man who first comes to us through every day life on a local farm. His friends are typical medieval children, and the farm they live and work on is really more like a village. Garion is your typical orphaned child, living on the farm with his aunt who has made her way in the world as a cook for the house. Life is average, almost mundane, for Garion and Aunt Pol. Sometimes a storyteller will come to visit who seems to know both of them quite well, but Garion thinks little of it. All his life he has heard the legend and stories the storyteller circulates. Tales of Gods and creation, a stone that is the most powerful object in the known universe, and one God who decided he would rule all else by stealing the stone – which turned on him and scarred him with its glorious fire.

Garion is thrown into the middle of these tales and so much more when he learns the old storyteller is actually the ancient sorcerer Belgarath, who is more than 7,000 years old – and Garion’s grandfather. These books are absolutely filled with myth, legend, action, world-building, gods, magic, and so much emotion it can’t even be contained.

David Eddings was incredibly masterful at creating a world filled with characters I grew emotionally invested in. I found myself cheering for the heroes, laughing at their jokes, loving their friendship, mourning their sadness, and hating the enemies of the world. To be sure, a 10 book series with two accompanying texts seems like a lot to deal with – even greater that Tolkien’s tomes of Middle Earth – but these books are so immersive I flew through them. Several of the 3-400+ page books were done in just a couple of days and each one left me yearning for more. I devoured two thirds of the last book in less than a day and, as much as I would love to have more of Garion and his friends to entertain and move me, I can honestly say Eddings closed their tales in a rarely satisfying way.

In today’s world, with new movies and series springing up from some of our favorite classic tales, it is becoming increasingly easy for people to simply say they’ll wait for the books to be released on the big (or small) screen. That may well never be the case for these series. Eddings was adamant during his lifetime that his work never be watered down by alternate mediums. He stated that he wanted people to enjoy the Belgariad and its related works, but that he never wanted them made into movies or video games. He wanted people to read his words and live the worlds the way they were intended to be lived. Frankly, as much as I enjoy seeing my favorite works of literature translated into books, series, video games, music, and more, I agree. These books are simply so fantastic, so filled with lore and magic and strength and power, that they would almost surely lose much of their weight through translation.

In short, I set these books very high on my list of favorites, not only of the fantasy genre, but of literature as a whole. I would recommend them to most any reader at any age level from early YA to adult. The content is not overly suggestive (especially compared even to modern cable television) and it is not particularly difficult to understand. Beware of some violence, and some theological and even philosophical content, which is typical with this sort of narrative. Most of all, be sure to keep your mind open and ready to be immersed in a world like no other. If you’ve read these books before I’d love to know what you think of them, and if I’ve inspired you to give them a whirl I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.

Keep reading, everyone!

Celebrating Spooky Month with Mountain Song & Story

Happy October, everyone!! I have been leaping into this spooky season with plenty of awesome projects and events so far. My most recent short story collection, “When These Mountains Talk: Tales of Horror From the Heart of Appalachia” was released on October 1st, and it has gotten great attention so far. In addition to that, I had a huge and awesome experience I wanted to share with you all.

Last night I was a part of a local radio show, originating from Bristol Va’s Birthplace of Country Music Musuem called Mountain Song and Story. The weekly show, hosted by Toni Doman, features and explores different aspects of Appalachian culture by discussing various arts and crafts, cultural elements, and even some phenomena and myths. I had the chance to sit down with Toni and have a candid discussion that covered a range of topics including my work, the importance of Appalachian culture, and some of our amazing Appalachian legends.

To say I was, and am, honored is an understatement. I can’t thank Toni and everyone at Radio Bristol enough for having me on the show and allowing me to talk about my writing on such a cool platform. The episode was an hour long, and it was filled with classic regional music, and genuinely fun content. I think you would all truly enjoy hearing it. Fortunately, the episode now lives in the show’s online archives at https://birthplaceofcountrymusic.org/event/mountain-songs-and-stories-with-toni-doman/2022-10-06/ and can be checked out at any time. My episode is the one that aired on October 6th, if you are interested. I have to once again say thank you to Toni, my friends Wendy and Myrissa for recommending me for the show, and to everyone who helped make it possible. These opportuniites make me feel very connected with the community and help me remember how blessed I am to be able to create my art and use my voice to draw attention to our culture.

In addition to last night’s opportunity, I am ecstatic to announce that I am getting another chance to embrace our local culture this Sunday (October 9th) in my hometown of Tazewell, Va. I have been invited to present and read some of my work to a group of community members at the Tazewell Train Station – which is literally just yards away from where I spent a good number of my formative teen years and essentially grew to be the man I am today. This is a huge honor for me, as I love being able to bring my work back to my hometown and see the old stomping grounds. The event will begin at 2 pm, and I hope to see plenty of familiar and even new faces there. I truly can’t thank God enough that I have the talent and skill I do. I was truly made to write and celebrate the written word and the culture that helps make these mountains what they are, and I am ecstatic to embrace those purposes. If you are able to attend the event this weekend, that would be fantastic. If not, I completely understand, and I welcome you to check out my events page to see when and where you can see me next!

As always, feel free to reach out with any questions or comments you’ve got for me, and I look forward to speaking with everyone. Keep reading and being spooky!

Where the Crawdads Sing (2022)

As many of you know, I have an extreme love and respect for the book by Delia Owens. It has been one of my favorite pieces of literature since the day of its release. From paragraph one, the book had my attention and would not let me go. Needless to say, when I heard the official announcement it was getting the silver screen treatment I was beyond nervous. How could anyone do such fantastic, eloquent prose justice? I’m thrilled to say my worries were exceedingly unfounded.

Last night I finally got to watch the film that took the world by storm, and I’m proud to say that from the opening scenes to the last seconds of credit scrawl I was hooked once again. Owens’s world and character were brought to life in such a fantastic and thrilling manner that I was almost ashamed at being concerned. Daisy Edgar Jones breathed such a refreshing breath of life into Kya and her harsh, pain-filled early life that I found my heart reaching out to this character again. With a narration by Jones that allowed some of Owens’s more poignant lines (a phrase that is honestly such a shock it’s not even funny) to live and thrive on the big screen.

The story, if any of you are unfamiliar, is of a small town on coastal North Carolina that is rocked by the death of one of its star young men. Chase Andrews, a regular jock and good ole’ boy, who came from an old money family, is found dead in the marshes. When police consider the possibilty that this may have been a murder, the first suspect they seek is someone the townspeople call “Marsh Girl.” This opens into the sad story of Kya Clark, a sad young woman who was abandoned by her mother, siblings, and finally her abusive father in their family home. We learn of the hardships of Kya’s life, including her relationship with the dead man and the attempted rape that led her to fleeing for her life.

As a native Appalachian who grew up just a few hours from these coastal marshes, I was blown away by the cinematography and the beauty of the film. The marshland is truly a whole other world, and one that offers its own set of power, grace, and beauty. Kya’s story as told through the cinematic lens, under the production power of none other than Reese Witherspoon with close consultation by Owens herself, made my heart break again and again. I laughed, I gasped, I even found tears in my eyes on multiple occasions throughout the 2 hour film, and I would not have it any other way.

Kya’s life in the marsh was by no means easy, but the power of a pure mind and heart is exemplified in her ability to find the true beauty nature has to offer. The marsh raised Kya in its own way, and the world made sure she knew she wasn’t accepted. The strength behind a young woman’s determination is exemplified in this story, and Kya’s connection with nature is one that we can all be jealous of. I know I am. Long story short, I highly recommend this movie, and the book that gave it life, of course. Book first, of course. Once you enjoy both I’d love the hear your thoughts, too. Comment, message, whatever makes your little heart happy. I look forward to hearing from you! As always, read on, happy people.

Experience the Fullness

Good morning, everyone! We are fast approaching June and, hopefully, another full month of Summer fun. Between hot days, starry nights, and the wide world of creativity and inspiration, the world is ours for the taking. I have been doing my best to take advantage of that creative potential floating around during while awaiting a new year of teaching and students to come flowing back into my classroom. I’ve been working on getting myself in shape – mentally as well as physically – and I’ve been writing and reading like mad. I actually got a novel completed, with a proof en route to me as I type this. On top of that, I’ve been working on several short pieces and other novels. Needless to say, it has been a busy month.

In the midst of the bustle of the every day, I have been trying to reach myself at a more peaceful mindset as well. Just last night I went out back and built a fire in our firepit, turning on some background music and relaxing. The night was immensely peaceful, with mostly clear skies, a cool breeze, synchronous fireflies dancing amid the leaves of the trees around me, and frogs serenading me. I found particular moments of near transcendant peace when, while staring at the stars and absorbing the wonder of the night, Pink Floyd began playing in the background. From Floyd, to Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Third Day, Jeffrey Munks and more, my brain floated on heightened frequencies until story ideas started flowing .

I took turns staring into the night sky, watching the heavens unfold above me, and looking deep into the flames of the fire, where the very fabric of reality was being torn asunder and sent skyward to join the particles of times past and future. It was a mesmerizing and humbling experience, and it brings me to the overall point I want to make here. During those moments, I wasn’t looking for creativity. I wasn’t bent over a keyboard or notebook hammering out ideas for my next story or novel. I wasn’t considering that part of things. They just came to me, because that’s who I am. Those stories flow from the universe right into me, making me their medium, their liason with reality. That is my purpose in this world, and it finds me in peace.

Too often we push ourselves so hard trying to accomplish goals, and while that is noble and fantastic, it should not be every second of our lives. Goals and dreams are of the utmost importance, but just as important is whether or not you are enjoying the journey. There are times I focus too much on my writing, and times I focus too little on it. I typically can recognize both, but my experience last night reminded me how important equilbrium can be. During an experience of true inner and outer peace, story ideas came to me from the world around me. I didn’t have to seek them, push myself to create something from nothing, pound my head against the wall to make the ideas flow. I didn’t have to.

How many times have you found yourself pushing yourself so hard in your work or craft – whether it be professional or creative – and just come up blank? You try and try to make something happen, to crack that next egg or break down that wall where you’re sure the next great idea lies, but nothing works. You are drained, exhausted, perhaps even find yourself disliking the journey you are on. It’s easy to do, but not always easy to admit. We tend to be single-minded as a species, to a fault. But I recommend breaking that habit.

Create for yourself an equilibrium, a balance between work and play. A set time for you to not only live in this world, but enjoy it. It is so important that we not lose sight of the fact that we are not solely put here to work. There are so many amazing facets of this world that we can use to entertainment as a crutch rather than a freedom. On top of the dreams and goals that help you set a path for yourself, you also have a varied list of interests that help you form your own individual self. Why would you ever ignore them?

That is the important thing to take away from this post, in my opinion. You are given passions and talents, as well as hopes and dreams, but overall forcing any one of these things while ignoring the others is not good. You must take life in your own hands and find the balance. By diving into the freedom of the world of interests at your fingertips, your brain might take the chance to relax and those ideas might flow through on their own, riding waves of peace and calm. Next time you feel bogged down and stressed by your journey, take some time to relax with peace. Or, if you really want to push the boundaries, relax every day and don’t let yourself get overburdened. What possibilities, eh?

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!

A New Decade

April is coming to a close in yet another year, this one filled with nearly as many surprises as the last. Hopefully the first four months of 2021 have gone well for all of you. I can honestly say there have been some pretty interesting changes come about so far this year, not the least of which is my entrance into the third decade of my life on this big blue ball.

That’s right, last weekend I celebrated my birthday and the start of my 30th year of life. It hardly seems possible, if I’m being honest. I don’t feel a day over 75… wait? But seriously, I feel like 30 years old is a pretty good milestone. I don’t feel like I should be that old, though. I still find myself looking around for an adult when I have a question about something I’m working on, only to realize I am the adult. Nevermind that I typically know the answer I’m looking for anyway, my brain doesn’t want to accept that it has pondered life’s larger questions for three decades already.

I was able to celebrate my birthday in a pretty fantastic way, thanks to my amazing wife. We got some great food, and I got some fantastic gifts (not the least of which was the full series of “The Office” on DVD with more than 15 hours of extras) and we spent the actual day of my birthday enjoying the Flower and Food Festival at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tn. Arriving shortly before the park opened, we spent the entire day celebrating great rides, delicious semi-international cuisine, and wonderful Appalachian culture in the Great Smoky Mountains. It was definitely a day to remember.

All of that got me thinking, of course, about just what sort of wonderful memories I had created throughout the day and my life, and what others I would still be able to create within my life span. There are a lot of things I want to do in my life. Plenty of travel, cruising, writing, exploring nature, and having a fantastic life with my wife. Frankly, continuing to think about the things I want to do is making me quite excited for the years to come and what they will hold. But it is also making me beyond thankful that I have had the opportunities I have had already in this life.

I have seen a lot of things in my short 30 years (ouch, saying it that way kind of stings a bit…) and I have accomplished a fair bit as well. As of now my books are being sold, not only by me personally and on Amazon, but in several local stores as well. I have created a page for those locations here, to make it easy to find!

That being said, I have to admit I have been struggling recently with feeling like I have truly accomplished anything in my life. Between receiving more rejections than I care to admit on my recent agent queries for Maverip and seeing fluctuations in my sales for Moonlight and Tales of the Mysterious and the Macabre, it has been a touch and go situation for my own positivity lately. My wife has done an amazing job reminding me that I have plenty to be proud of and feel accomplished for, however. As of this writing, my books are being sold in 3 book stores and 3 local boutique and general store type locations. It’s kind of hard to believe, but I do fully appreciate the magnitude of that figure. To know that there are people in two states able to physically walk into a store and see my work on the shelves of a store is a fantastic feeling.

I plan to continue trying to expand my distribution to new locations and continue writing and publishing more work as well. Mainly, with this post, I just wanted to take the time to encourage you all and remind anyone reading that, no matter how old you are or what stage of life you find yourself in, you have unlimited possibilities for what you can accomplish. You might not have achieved every goal you wanted to achieve, and you might not feel like things are going exactly as planned, but the only way to change that is by not giving up. Believe me when I tell you I know it is not always easy, by any means, but it is definitely worth it. One day soon you will look back at when you didn’t think these things were possible and you won’t believe how much you have done!

As a tip for those days where you feel you haven’t accomplished anything worthwhile – because they will come, believe me, I recommend removing yourself from the situation for a moment and looking at your work with an outside view. Look at the creative works you have completed, especially if people are paying money to enjoy them and are talking about them in a positive way. Take a moment to truly examine the magnitude of what you have done. Look at the personal goals you have achieved and the things you have to hold dear. Frankly, seeing it in that light may well make you more proud than you ever thought you would have a right to be. From there, I recommend setting realistic goals to look back on later. Finish that chapter, that painting, complete the edits you have been putting off. It will make a difference, which may well be the thing that continues to inspire you and help you believe in your work and yourself in the long run. I am always available to help with encouraging and inspiring, too. Don’t hesitate to talk to me about the ongoing frustrations of being a creative in this climate – believe me I know!

Keep your eyes open for more news coming up, and enjoy every minute of your lives. Another year will be starting before we know it!

If It Bleeds

Happy book review day, everyone! It has been a little while since I’ve gotten to dive in and review a good book, but that’s something I definitely want to do more of as the year goes on. What better way to start the reviews back up than by discussing the latest book by one of my all time favorite authors?

The latest Stephen King release If It Bleeds is a collection of four short stories in the vein of Four Past Midnight, another masterpiece if I may say so. The thing that drew me to this book most was a stand alone title story featuring our favorite semi-neurotic citizen private eye, Holly Gibney. This story, the third in the book, gives Holly the chance to lead her own investigation rather than just assist in others. Holly uncovers the truth about a villain, similar to one she has encountered before, that has been hiding in plain sight for quite some time. I really loved this story because I feel like it really gave us a chance to dive into Holly’s everyday life without Bill Hodges or Ralph Anderson or anyone else there to hold her hand or keep her in check.

I feel like King has done a fantastic job developing Holly’s character and allowing her immense growth. She still isn’t the most sure of herself at times, and she still has to struggle with some of her freedoms and every day situations, but it is a fantastic new situation for Holly. I feel like her obsessive compulsive tendencies absolutely helped her in this story, and I sort of have to commend King on that. So many times OCD and similar disorders are seen as handicaps, crutches, or hindrances, but I love stories and characters that actually use them to an advantage. I feel like Holly has absolutely been allowed to do that.

In addition to the character development, I feel like this idea was immensely original and, although it showed us a new version of a villain we’ve seen in the past, it presented a very new story. I sincerely hope King gives this particular type of villain a fuller story, with more detailed explanation of where and how he/she originates. And, yes, I am being vague on purpose. I won’t spoil too much for this story. The last thing I have to say about the title story is that it makes a lot of sense after delving into it. As a former journalist the old statement “if it bleeds, it leads” has a lot of meaning to me, and every story in this book fit the mold, this one in particular, of course.

Going back to the beginning, the story “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” gives the feeling of familiarity to me, but still provides some originality. Presented in a marvelous bit of first-person point of view, it tells a seemingly simple story starting out. A young man who works for an elderly gentleman in the beginning of the smart-phone era helps introduce the rich mogul to the wonders of modern technology. We get a relatively innocent view of the young man’s life right up until his benefactor’s death, when the young man decides to bury the man’s phone with him. From here we get to experience something that King loves to play with; the possibility of life after death, or existence within and beyond the grave. I won’t give anything major away, but I feel like I got some Gwendy’s Button Box vibes from this story for sure. Kind of an “ask and ye shall receive” sort of mentality that sends our narrator on a mental and emotional roller coaster that is not easy for him to handle.

Some first-person stories have a feeling of strained placement and conversation, in my opinion, but I feel like King is very good at writing in that point of view. I don’t often feel like it’s difficult to stay in the mind of his characters like it can be for some stories in that POV. I enjoy the call back to a simpler time as well, as old as that makes me sound. Remembering the early days of smart phones when everyone wasn’t so used to having an information terminal in their pockets was a bit refreshing.

The second story in this book, “The Life of Chuck,” presents us with an idea that wasn’t explicitly presented up front, but one I figured out by the end of the first section of the story. As much as I want to be ambiguous about this one and not give spoilers, I am having a hard time with that. It’s so difficult not to commend King for putting such an immense view of life on paper. I, like most I assume, was very confused about the story when I first dove in. We are thrown into the tale of a man driving home from work (as a teacher of all things. My, how things come full circle.) in a sort of apocalyptic seeming world. All we know really is that there are sinkholes opening all over the city, food is scarce, transportation is a mess, communications grids are collapsing, the internet has crashed and is not having any consistent luck rebooting and similar things. Our main character first notices a strange new billboard (39 Great Years, Thanks Chuck!) on his way home, and soon starts seeing this same message everywhere, but no one he encounters seems to know who Chuck is.

The story goes on until we do meet and encounter Chuck, learning along the way a lot about the man and his tenure. I feel like the central idea here is something much deeper and philosophical than the reader may give it at face value, and I’ve come to appreciate the thought behind it, despite my initial confusion.

Finally, the last story in King’s bloody good latest masterpiece is “Rat.” This tale is pretty straightforward and resonates with me in ways that are quite appealing to the more questioning nature of my profession. Our main character for this one is an author who, despite years of trying, has only completed a few short stories, and has never been able to keep the words working for him long enough to complete a novel. This, we learn, is his greatest dream.

His own sanity, even, seems to hang in the balance at times if he can’t get at least one novel completed. As an author who often takes years to write novels, I feel that yearning in a very real way. Drew, our would-be novelist, finally gets an idea that he thinks he can truly carry through to completion and decides the best course of action is to take himself and his idea to a family cabin in the woods near the Canadian border for a few weeks, leaving his family and every day life behind.

A storm rolls through while he is there, and between that and coming down ill, Drew finds himself stuck miles from anyone who can help him with a partial novel and an unraveling idea. This fact is something that creates an anger and an almost urgent panic in Drew. While not quite to the level of Jack Torrance, it is still pretty rough going. When an almost fairy-tale encounter leaves Drew with a decision that could change his entire life, King brings the story home with a bit of horror that only the master could muster.

The situation in this story presents the reader, especially if that reader is an author who has struggled to get words from mind to matter, with a situation that gives you chills for days. I absolutely loved this one, and even though I am a huge fan of Holly Gibney’s journey and her first solo outing, I have to say “Rat” is my favorite story in this four-pack. I am also very pleased with the presence of said rat in the cover, featured above. Not my art work, just a photo of the book on my desk!

Overall, If It Bleeds is quite a good book, and well worth the read. King still has a talent few to grab my attention like few authors can. If you are interested in a good collection of short stories/novellas, I highly recommend this one. If you’re already a fan of King, this book will not disappoint, and if you’re just looking to get into his writing this is not a bad place to start. Granted, the story “If It Bleeds” may confuse you since you won’t the character histories or completely understand some of the references, but that’s a horse of a different color.

I look very forward to seeing the next King works rolling out later this year, and I will probably have to dive back into an oldie-but-goodie very soon to satiate that need for more horror! If you have any suggestions for either my book reviews, or just for me to read in general, feel free to comment or reach out! Until next time: Happy Reading!

Moonlight and the Holidays

Greetings, all! We are less than a week away from Christmas and several other end of the year holidays and life goes on here in the mountains. I have been writing much more lately than I did for several weeks throughout the earlier parts of the year, and I am very pleased to announce that my Appalachian werewolf novel, “Moonlight” is officially live and available for purchase internationally!

This novel, telling the story of a young man who moves to the Great Smoky Mountains and encounters a creature he never believed could exist, has been a pet project of mine for about five years. I wrote the original version of the novel in less than 3 weeks, putting pretty much everything else aside and immersing myself in the world I was working hard to create. I did research on countless versions of the werewolf legend, Appalachian myths and customs and so much more. To say I let the story take over my mind for a bit may be an understatement.

Once I had finished the book I decided to tear it apart and edit it from beginning to end before sending it to beta readers. Needless to say the story gained a life of its own. Over the last five years it has changed several times and has developed beyond my original idea into something that still surprises me on occasion. I am beyond excited to be able to present this novel to anyone who is interested, and I have set up a couple of different ways to purchase it. Of course, there is the classic Amazon purchase option here, which should allow anyone to purchase the book internationally. In addition to this, I have set up a secure purchase link that allows anyone with a U.S. address to purchase a copy of the book directly from me, with a chance to purchase either a plain or autographed copy. You can find both of those options here. I am also in talks with several local shops and vendors to host the book on their shelves and help promote local work, which absolutely thrills me. I will be happy to share more on that ASAP!

I can’t thank everyone enough for the immense outpouring of support I have gotten since announcing the release of this book. I hope you will all consider purchasing the book, and for those of you that do, I hope you enjoy the read. It is quite a journey, if I may say so. Please share this with anyone and everyone you think may be interested in such a book, and help get this one to an all new audience!

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.