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.

Where All Light Tends To Go

As many of you know, I am a proud Appalachian man with a serious love of literature and of my region. I try, on occasion, to immerse myself in regional pieces, and see my culture from the eyes of other local authors. I recently had the pleasure of diving into the incredible novel “Where All Light Tends To Go,” by David Joy. This amazing piece of Appalachian Literature, or Appalachian Noir as Joy considers it, explores the life of Jacob McNeely, the son of a drug addict and what passes for a drug kingpin in the small mountain town.

I’ve read several Appalachian works, and know several regional authors, and this tale stands at the pinnacle of Appalachian literature for me. I immediately felt drawn in by Jacob’s story. He is an outcast in his life, largely forgotten by a mother who spends most of her time riding her current high or pursuing the next one, and pushed aside by a father who finds him to be weak and useless. A dropout, Jacob can’t even rely on his peers for comfort.

Being from a small town myself, I related to Jacob’s plight as a young Applachian man, living in a town where opportunities aren’t exactly aplenty. Jacob feels he is limited in many ways, not the least being that, as a McNeely, he is almost instantly branded a failure. He talks several times throughout the first person narrative of being trash, nothing but trash, pure McNeely trash. Our main character perhaps it explains it best by saying;

“A name like Jacob McNeely raised eyebrows and questions. In a town this small all eyes were prying eyes.”

Joy’s writing explores the depth of the Appalachian region, while tugging the heart strings in an attempt to show the truth of the struggle some feel growing up in these beautiful mountains. The McNeelys are a family that has been condemned by their choices, their actions, and the unfortunate judgement of others. Jacob, who some say has a chance to become more, struggles throughout the entire book with the penalties associated with being a McNeely and the decisions he makes because of it.

An underlying, but interesting element of the text is the repeated conflict Jacob has with religion. From his early childhood Jacob was encouraged to go to church, his mother and grandfather religious individuals for a time. His father, whom he ends up living with, however, is not the religious type. Jacob says more than once that he doesn’t believe in God, but follows that up by saying that God doesn’t answer McNeely prayers. I found this element to be very interesting, as most Appalachian literature brings religion into the text by presenting us with the heavily (if not overly) religious individuals who do nothing but judge others based on their beliefs. We get none of that from Jacob.

Jacob’s relationship with the woman he loves, his childhood best friend, Maggie, is nothing short of remarkable. We enter Jacob’s life to see him watching Maggie graduate high school (from a distance, granted), and throughout his story he is insistent that Maggie has everything it takes to get be more, to escape their small town prison and do incredible things. In essence, Jacob puts everything into Maggie that he refuses to give to himself. She becomes romanticized and placed on a pedestal that I never could quite tell if she deserves.

I think the most heart-wrenching part of Jacob’s life is the strained relationship he has with his father. Charles McNeely is, in essence, the worst kind of person. A drug pushing, abusive, womanizing fiend with no regard for life, he neglects his child and causes pain to everyone he knows. Between his father’s treatment of him, his mother’s abandonment, and his own inability to break free of the burdens placed on him, Jacob is haunted by the pain of a broken life. His pain bleeds from the pages in places, particularly during one of the hardest hitting lines in the text, which has Jacob mentioning how funny it is that it only takes one person taking the time to show you they care for the bad things in life to not seem so bad anymore.

I have no shame in admitting that I didn’t have any idea how this book would end, but, after reading it, I don’t think any other ending would have sufficed. Although not bogged down with the supernatural, or with the inescapable horror I usually seek out, this text has quickly risen to my top ten books right now. Jacob’s journey is not necessarily one for the faint of heart, but I feel like this is a book most anyone can enjoy. Fans of Appalachian literature in particular will love this representation of the difficulties of life in a small North Carolina town.

I’m the kind of reader who loves marking passages that I enjoy so I can go back and look at them later and explore their meaning and depth. Usually I try to do this with sticky tabs that I can slap on the page right beside of my preferred quote. I have no shame admitting that I used an entire stack of sticky notes for this novel, as the featured image above shows. I will absolutely be seeking out more of Joy’s writing in the near future, and will be keeping my eyes open for a chance to meet this fantastic author and delve into his creative genius. If any of you pick up this masterpiece, I would love to know what you think. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or send me a message. As always, if you have any suggestions for a future review, or even just a book recommendation feel free to let me know!

I must leave you with this final line, that I am convinced will go down in history right alongside “So we beat on…” Though it gives nothing away, I have to admit it literally gave me chills. It is only a part of the power this text holds, and I’m sure everyone will love it.

“Only the middle ground of this wicked world mattered, the vast gap that stretched between, and those who were born with enough grit to brave 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!

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.

 

Rejection, Revisited

Hey there, friends and fans. The first month of 2020 was a doozy, and February promises to hold a lot of changes. I plan on discussing some very interesting topics in the months to come, so keep your eyes and ears open for that.

Recently I’ve found it a little difficult to steadily produce new creative work, often having an idea and starting or plotting it and just falling off the trail again. Or worse, falling back into the trope of over-editing, which I mentioned in a previous post. Through the month of January I began querying for two of my completed novels, as well as sending new pieces to various magazines and contests, trying to revamp my writing efforts and reawaken my own self-esteem and passion for my writing.

As many of you know, that game is a hard one to play, as once you submit your query it’s the longest waiting game known to man while you hope the agents in question like your work enough to ask for more. After what seemed like an eternity waiting on some sort of response, I finally received my first one yesterday. A rejection. Not only a standard rejection, but one from the agent I felt most excited about reaching out to, given their publishing history and interests.

It goes without saying that it was a tough blow to an already damaged and strained confidence. I allowed myself to immediately fall into a minor depression, telling myself that it was obvious I should just give up and not worry about writing anymore, because it obviously just didn’t seem to be panning out.

But I took a step back. I got words of encouragement I needed from someone very important to me, and I re-read the rejection. It wasn’t your standard, run-of-the-mill rejection. The agent took the time to address my work personally, address my query even. The rejection notice told me that the work was in the agent’s genre, but it just wasn’t an exact fit. Rather than being a simple “not at this time” or “no thanks” this agent took the time to address my work and my effort with some personalization, which did help soften the blow.

The irony of the whole situation is, upon looking back in my writing and blogging history, I realized that on this exact day four years ago I received the first rejection of that year. It was a very similar situation. I had submitted a short piece to a journal that I felt particularly interested in and excited for, only to be told that the piece didn’t fit what was needed for that issue.

It brought me back to this blog post, and I have to say, it reminded me that this rejection of my novel is not the end of the world. It is not the end of my career as a writer. It is not even the only query currently awaiting response. My writing is still very important to me, and while I may not currently have the muse by in my control, the work I have already produced is something i am very proud of. So I will continue to push forward, attempting to write more, and seeking publication in as many places I can. In the meantime I encourage each and every one of you to take a look at whatever it is you’re passionate about, revisit just why it is that this thing (or these things) matter so much to you, and rekindle that flame. Refresh that connection. Strengthen the bond holding you to whatever future you are trying to create. As long as you remain true to your dreams, they can’t possibly die.

Einstein once said “you never fail until you stop trying.” That’s something I fully believe. If you don’t give up on yourself, there’s a good chance the rest of the world won’t either. So stand up and take a piece of the world, get the lead out, and make a change. It might not seem like it now, but one day this is all going to be a distant memory of your journey to absolute success

 

via Rejection