“Love, Simon” vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Hey there friends and fans! A handful of months ago I wrote a review of the YA novel Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, linked below. I absolutely loved the book, as I said, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to check out the film version, Love, Simon. I finally got my chance over the holiday weekend, and I feel inspired to write this short follow-up post for anyone interested in watching it.

Love, Simon is a great cinematic piece of art. The story, of course, is the same. Simon, our beloved protagonist, is coming to terms with being homosexual in a climate that is still quite unforgiving, and trying to, frankly, learn how to “be” gay. The whole thing really starts with a post on a local social media page, where one of Simon’s classmates professes to being gay – anonymously, of course. Simon, also anonymously, responds with his own confession, leading him down a journey of self-discovery that we’re brought along for.

Simon’s tale is not one for the faint of heart, and certainly not one for the closed-minded. One of Simon’s classmates realizes his secret and uses it for his own benefit. This sends Simon reeling as he tries to cope with not only the demands of his classmate but his own attempts at connecting with the boy he now feels he’s falling in love with.

One of the things that I was really impressed with was the way the movie stayed in sync with the novel for the most part. I really feel Simon’s story, although slightly altered for the screen, was still true to its book counterpart. I think the actors were well selected, Nick Robinson doing a phenomenal job as the main character.

One of my personal favorite parts of the film was the attempt to show that Martin, the unfortunate antagonist, was not your typical high school bully. Rather than being the biker, the jock, or the general rough and tough kid in the halls, Martin was actually kind of the stereotypical nerdy loser character. Mascot on the football team, avid lover of graphic tees and magic, Martin was the kind of guy most people love to hate. His affinity for blackmail didn’t make it hard to dislike him, either.

Simon’s struggle with finding a way to tell his friends and family his secret was well described and heartfelt. In his attempt to be himself and find the best way to be himself he posits the question why straight is the norm. Why it’s only homosexuals who have to “come out” to their loved ones. Which is a strong question in and of itself. Rather than assuming everyone is attracted to the opposite sex, maybe it isn’t that difficult for us to stop assuming and allow our loved ones to tell us their preference in their own time. However, that would require the world being a much less judgmental place.

Of course, Simon’s secret does get leaked and he has to come to terms with everyone learning he is gay in a way he had no control over. Which, for me, was one of the most heartbreaking parts of the film, and led to one of the best lines and best deliveries in the film. Martin apologizes after seeing what damage he caused, and Simon, for the first time, truly lets go.

He tells Martin that no apology is good enough. He took something that was Simon’s, ruined his chance to let people know of his sexual preference in his way. In essence, this scene made the tone of the film for me. Apart from everything else that happened, this scene really showed the pain and anxiety that can be brought on by coming out – and even more so the pain that can come from not being able to make the decision yourself. Robinson’s performance here truly brought Simon’s struggle home for me.

Needless to say, this is a YA work, so there was a definite form of happy ending, which I won’t spoil, although that wait for the mystery poster was something that really brought the anxiety game to a new level.

Overall, I thought the film adaptation of Simon’s story was a great movie. It didn’t stick with what I felt were some of the more interesting or important areas of the novel – the focus on music, for instance (although there was a very prominent Elliot Smith poster), but it was a great movie. If you are at all interested in this movie, I urge you to give it a watch. If you liked the book, again – watch the movie. If you haven’t experienced either, I recommend both. I personally liked the book a little better, but that’s my natural go to.

What about you? Have you watched the movie or read the book? Which did you prefer, and why? What was your favorite part of either? Let me know in the comments. Also, check out the link below to see my review of the book if you haven’t already.

As always, thanks for reading and subscribing. There’ll be a new podcast soon, and plenty of new words written before year’s end. Stick around for the journey to stay updated on everything! Thanks again, and Happy Holidays!

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

The Holiday Season

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

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

Be in it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Origin of a Classic

Count Dracula. The world’s most famous vampire. The very name brings to mind passages from the novel, images from black and white movies with bats on strings and Hungarian actors in flowing capes. For more than a century we have wondered about the tale of the vampire to beat all vampires. Well, we need wonder no longer. Dacre Stoker, great grandnephew of Bram Stoker, has teamed up with horror author J.D. Barker to bring us more of the tale.

It was through the journals, letters and accounts of Jonathan Harker, his beloved Mina, and their ragtag band of warriors that the world first learned of the mysterious Count Dracula and his blood drinking ways. But just how did a young Irishman named Stoker come across the account of that creature and his terrible deeds? Could it be that he already had some inside information on the issue? Stoker clearly states in his introduction that the pages of the novel have been organized and shared in the best order possible, but that story starts far from the beginning, doesn’t it? Bram’s original text included much more of the story than the version we all know now. Dacre and Barker worked together, using the diaries of Bram and the 101 pages that were cut from his first draft to bring us Dracul, a book that details what Bram declared the “true story” of his own encounter with the centuries old vampire and the terror the creature brought to the Harkers.

Introducing Bram and his siblings as children, the reader follows along with the boy as his life moves on from debilitating sickness to a thriving adulthood with a bit of mysterious help. Told largely through the journal of young Stoker, the story reads in a way that is naturally reminiscent of the original novel. The elements of mystery, juxtaposed with a well-working repetitive time jump throughout the first two acts, create a story that is very easy to become immersed in.

Heavy horror elements combined with a modern take on the Gothic flood the pages of this novel, giving us images of vampiric slaughter alongside classic references to Irish and English history, government, myth, and architecture that rival those of the original as well.

This novel brings vampire lore into the mix in even more in-depth ways than Stoker’s original publishing, with another aged mentor who knows more about the strigoi than even Van Helsing may have. The incredible history that is brought to life in this book connects with the original not only by bringing the reader to familiar locales, but by giving its author a voice. It is very easy to find yourself following along with this tale, feeling as if you’re living the story from the marshland of the Irish coast to the cliffside in Whitby – a location synonymous with the original novel.

The main thing I want to say about this novel is that it is an absolutely fantastic read. From start to finish, I found myself consumed by the work. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in horror, vampires, the gothic, or just good great books, regardless of whether you’ve read the original. Dracul is a novel that stands on a strong foundation and is sure to bring a whole new generation of fans to the story of the legendary Count Dracula.

I want to thank Dacre Stoker and Putnam Publishing for giving me the opportunity to review this amazing novel before it hits the shelves. I also want to congratulate Dacre and J.D. Barker on a job well done. This novel promises to be a big hit, and I look forward to seeing what you guys think of it! Dracul flutters onto U.S. shelves on October 2, and onto U.K. shelves on October 18 (naturally, vampires can’t cross water without assistance). Feel free to share this review with anyone who may be interested in reading this novel, and be sure to let us all know what you think of the work. Happy reading everyone!

New Short story, Summer Blog-A-Day!

Hey there friends and fans! The day is finally here! It’s my day to contribute to the Summer Blog-A-Day event, and I’ve got something fun lined up for you, as promised. This short story is one that is actually a separate, but relatable prequel piece to one of my novels, currently awaiting its second edit. I’m ecstatic to present a bit of my version of the myth that you’ll all quickly come to recognize. It’s not explicitly explained in the story, but it’s pretty clear this story takes place quite some time in the past, and if I’ve embellished anything, I certainly did so for a reason, and I do hope it will be enjoyed. Without further ado, here is my brand new bit of work, tentatively titled “By the Light of the Moon.”

 

Moonlight shone brightly through the air, thick rays cutting the heavy fog that lay on the ground. The men crept silently forward through the forest, each fearing the next shadow would be guarding their quarry. Oiled rifles glinted in the night as six pairs of eyes darted nervously around in the hazy darkness, hunting a creature they weren’t sure of, each of them somewhat terrified it was also hunting them. They all froze as a twig snapped in the darkness, silencing the few night bugs that still filled the Autumn air with their song, sounding like an explosion to the overstrained ears of the hunting party. They were more on edge than ever as they looked around them in the darkness, each expecting an attack to come from the most unexpected place.

The men had been brought out by a string of cattle slaughter on their farms. More than two dozen animals had been killed between the six farms in the last week and a half. The killings started at the Jones farm on the far side of the mountain, progressing a bit farther over the mountain to a new farm each night. The farmers had dealt with the killing their own way for the last week, until the handful of men stumbled upon one another in town that morning. Each had come with his own story of hardship and gore. None of them had been able to kill the creature. In fact, none of them had even seen it. Until Josiah Ramey showed up.

At six foot six, the dirty farmer was larger than life and twice as ugly, and he came packing a tale that ran chills through the rest of them. He’d heard his horse being attacked in the night and had run outside with his gun, expecting to rustle up a coyote or even a bear. He’d had no idea what to do when the beast he saw there stood straight up and howled at the moon. He swore the beast was every bit of eight feet tall and looked fit to rip a house apart if it took the notion to.

Standing there in the square, discussing the beast Ramey claimed to have shot at, a plan had come together. The animal had been crossing the mountain killing one farm at a time, almost on a schedule. If it had hit the Ramey’s farm the night before, it was sure to be after the Randolph farm that night if the pattern held up. Assuming there was a pattern, that is.

The men all knew that Ben Randolph, the owner of the small sheep farm at the base of the mountain, was away downriver visiting his father. Word had come to some of them that his father died a couple of days prior and Randolph had been hooked into burying the old man, leaving his wife alone in the house on a night when the killer beast could be coming to destroy the place.

“If she’s there alone when it comes and nobody is there to help, there’s no tellin’ what ruin that man’ll come home to. Just had his Pa die, he don’t need to find his woman ripped to bits too,” Ramey encouraged.

Tom Jones, who felt certain the barbarous Josiah Ramey had more than the Randolph man’s best interest at heart, nonetheless was inclined to agree. He’d seen the way the beast had torn into his own small farm. Three hogs, a mess of ducks and his dog had all been taken in the night without so much as a peep that he had heard. Whatever the creature was, it was dangerous. No matter how queer the Randolph’s appeared to be, no man should be made to bury his father and his wife in the same week. So, he and the other men had agreed. They’d meet at the edge of the Ramey field in case the thing had more business to attend to there and make their way through the few miles of forest that led to the Randolph homestead.

Now, more than halfway through the journey, with nothing to show for it but a bunch of fear-and-sweat soaked farmers tugging their planks in the woods, he wondered if he might be regretting his decision.

“Sorry boys,” came a whisper from the darkness. “I can’t see a thing through this fog. Dern stick coulda jumped up and bit me.”

“Mayhap it will yet, if you don’t shut that hole in yer head, Bob White,” Jones threatened, feeling his own heart rate slow down a hair at the knowledge that their quarry hadn’t decided to make them its latest meal.

The other men snickered into the forest as they started moving again. Bob White whispered an apology as Jones lay a hand on his shoulder to let him know no harm had been done. The hearts of the men pumped with renewed ferocity as they went forward. Within minutes they had covered more than half a mile, entering the clearing that was the halfway point between the two farms. The smell of blood hung heavy in the air. They cautioned each other with just a glance, each of them nodding as the message was passed on. The moonlight illuminated the clearing like a spotlight, the fog rolling through the high grass in the small open area, exposing and once more hiding the body in the center.

Jones approached slowly, signaling the others to hang back. He could feel small bones under his feet as he got closer to the body. The putrid aroma of feces mixed with that of the blood, creating a cloud of scent that turned his stomach as he looked down into the eyes of a dead deer. The animal’s eyes were opened wide in what Jones assumed to be a mix of terror and pain. Organs were spread about the clearing, the animal’s limbs lying feet away from its torso. He realized as the fog rolled away for a moment that this is what he’d been walking on. He felt his gorge threaten to rise in his throat, a belch that tasted suspiciously like the night’s chicken and beans slipping through his lips with a whisper. Jones tensed as darkness fell all around him, a heavy rumbling rising from the distance. His heart skipped a beat as he looked skyward to see a thick cloud siding across the moon. Thunder. It would storm by dawn.

“Well,” came a whisper from just behind him. “I guess it started early.”

He whirled around in a flash, leveling his rifle at Josiah Ramey’s head before he came to his senses. The man shot him a dangerous grin and brushed by him, crouching to examine the deer. The other men crept forward as he looked over the kill.

“Still fresh,” he whispered again, his hoarse voice floating through the low mist like an apparition all of its own. Without a second’s hesitation he plunged his hand into the nest of viscera that was the deer’s open chest, releasing a burst of thin steam. “Very fresh,” he said, pulling his hand out and slinging steaming droplets of blood from his fingers. “Still warm.”

Jones heard one of the other men belch behind him, could almost feel the threat of the man’s vomit rising to his mouth. He crouched down beside of Ramey, leaning in to whisper in the larger man’s ear, a move which likely saved his life. With a rush of air and a ground shaking thud something landed just behind Jones. He whirled around again, raising his gun to see what was happening. Without warning his foot caught on one of the shattered leg bones he’d stepped on before, sending him to the ground under his own weight.

As he lay there, peering through the rolling mist, a larger than possible shadow rose before him. He could see the matted hair of the beast standing out at all angles against the moonlight. His heart slammed into his ribcage, fear flowing through his veins with renewed vigor as he was sure the thing was facing him, preparing to slam into him and rip his life from his body. In an instant he pictured his own body lying shattered and empty like that of the deer. It wasn’t until the thing raised a huge hand-like paw that he realized that it wasn’t facing him, and that the hand he saw shadowed against the pale Autumn light was much more human than should be possible.

He was unable to move as the thing’s paw shot forward, clawing through the air until it met one of the men in front of it. From his angle, Jones was unable to see who. Whoever it was fell backward with a scream of pain and fear. He saw the darkened figure he recognized as his own closest neighbor, Jim Hall. Hall shoved his rifle forward into the beast’s face, his prized Remington getting one shot off before the thing grabbed his arm. He saw the beast flinch as the bullet struck it, a growl rising through the air, once more silencing all night life in the area. He could feel the warbling tone of the beast’s anger flowing through his body, as if the very air itself was vibrating with the beast’s malice. He watched as it swiped the gun out of Hall’s hand and grabbed him by the throat, lifting him off the ground as it released its hold on his arm.

Hall swung his arms forward, striking the creature about the face and shoulders, his feet flying forward and kicking every other part he could reach. Jones felt, rather than heard Ramey finally going into action. The big man was rising to his feet, leveling his powerful shotgun at the beast’s back. Jones could sense that it was going to do no good. As he watched, the beast pulled Hall toward its face and let out something that sounded like a mix between a bark and a scream that ended in a long, eerie, trailing howl as it raised its head to the sky. The men felt as if they could tell what was coming before it happened, but none of them were prepared for the violence and finality of it.

Hall took a deep breath as the thing loosened its grip on him for a moment. In the next instant the beast locked eyes with him, and he knew his life was nearly over. The other men all raised their guns, Jones raising to one knee as he watched the beast open its mouth wide than anything he’d ever seen. In the clearing five weapons prepared to fire as the beast darted its head forward, pulling Hall’s head into its gaping maw and slamming its jaws shut. They heard one whimper from the man before the beast let his body fall to the ground, crunching the bones of its prey in its jaws as blood and chunks of skull slipped out from between its lips.

The shotgun blast nearly deafened all of them. Ramey lunged backward with the force as his weak legs threatened to give out on him. The beast bent forward with the force of the blast that slammed into its back. Chunks of fur and blood rose into the air, splattering the three men closest to the beast and turning the thickening mist a dull pinkish red in the glowing moonlight. The beast rose slowly this time, heavy mist rising from its skin as the open wounds on its back slowly closed themselves, fresh flesh knitting itself together as if by some unseen hands. The thing turned around slowly, deep red eyes glowing like coals in the darkness as it met Jones’s gaze and began growling once more. He could sense the thing preparing to pounce on him as another shotgun blast tore through the night. This time it was the thing’s chest that ripped itself apart under the high-pressure buckshot, sending the thing flying off its feet and right on top of the twitching heap that was all that was left of Hall.

“Run boys,” Ramey shouted from beside them as he reloaded. “We gotta get there now.”

Without a second thought, Jones took off, hearing the other men behind him. They ran like none of them ever remembered running before, thinking only of getting to the Randolph farm ahead of this thing and, hopefully, of finding a way to put it down once they got there. For just a moment he wondered if maybe they were acting a little harshly, knowing the kind of damage a close shot with Ramey’s shotgun should do to any animal that lives and breathes. With that kind of spread and stopping power hitting it in the chest at such a close range, it should have blown a hole clean through it. But hadn’t he seen the same shot take it in the back? And the thing had literally healed right before his eyes. Is it possible anything different would happen with a shot to its chest?

As if in answer to his question he heard the enraged snarl of the thing cut through the night just before he broke the tree line. One of the other men let out a cry that was either fear or pain. Jones honestly didn’t have time to tell. He was plunging into the forest, cutting through the thick brush until he burst on the beaten horse track that had been used by anyone hunting in these woods for years. His feet flew, his muscular body carrying him faster than the others. Soon he could hear the panicked footfalls of the other hunters behind him, the clodding sound of Ramey seeming just behind him. With another snarling howl and crash of brush, he heard the beast hot on their trail. His heart raced faster at the thought of the gigantic terror slamming into the ground, gaining precious inches as it pursued them. Cold sweat ran down his back as he felt the ground shake beneath the thing’s long gait. What in the world had they discovered in the woods tonight? Just what dreaded beast from Satan’s own court had disrupted life in his mountains? And how in the name of God were they supposed to get rid of it?

These questions and more flowed through the minds of all the men as they scurried through the darkened forest, hoping their not-so-fearless leader was taking them in the right direction. The last man in the line, the oldest and slowest, was pushing himself as heard as his heart, lungs, and legs would allow him to. He could feel the beast’s thunderous footfalls seeming just inches behind him. “I’ve just got to get there. I’ve just got to get there,” he told himself over and over again as his lungs screamed for more oxygen and his legs told him of their pain. As he was beginning to worry that he just wouldn’t make it, he spied ahead the break in the trail that meant the forest was coming to an end. Hope blossomed in his heart. If they were at the forest’s end they were only about half a mile from the Randolph place. There they would be able to make a stand against this thing. His wife’s face flashed before his eyes as he gained renewed energy. He pushed himself along a little faster as he began to think this wasn’t the end after all. Keeping his eyes on the edge of the forest and the silhouettes of his fleeing comrades, he didn’t see the pine root sticking out of the path. The same pine root that had caused his wagon to hang up more than once on this path. The same pine root that now snagged his boot and sent him flying forward, his iron flying out of his hand and striking his nearest companion in the back, leaving him temporarily empty-handed.

The man slammed into the ground hard enough to make his teeth snap together, severing the tip of his tongue and shattering a handful of his remaining good teeth. The sensation rang through his head as if he’d shoved his head into a clanging church bell. His body slid forward on the bare earth, scraping his chest and arms in a dozen different places and gouging a hole in the side of his cheek that nearly tore through to the inside of his mouth. Confusion set in instantly once he finally came to a halt. He was unsure of where he was and why he appeared to be lying on the ground in more pain than he’d felt in years. The sound of the creature coming to a halt behind him, snarling in victory and revenge brought him back to reality. He flipped over, his hands shooting out to reach for his missing rifle, but it was nowhere to be found. Trembling like a leaf in the wind, he looked up, directly into the eyes of the beast they’d come to find, regretting his decision to join the men on this suicide mission. His bladder loosened as the thing crouched in front of him, looking at him with both a bestial rage and a human curiosity. It scented the air before his face, not making any sudden movements. The man was suddenly painfully aware of his wounds, of the blood pouring down the back of his throat and running out of his split lips and down his chin.

Saliva dripped from the thing’s mouth as its thick, red tongue licked its lips.  He could smell blood and rot on the beast’s hot breath. His heart was beating faster than ever as the beast opened its mouth and loosed another of its snarling howls, sending ropes of bloody saliva over his face.

In an instant the beast locked eyes with the man and slashed one of its huge paws forward, ripping through the flesh of the man’s torso. He felt the creature’s claws scrape his ribs before sinking into his abdomen and tearing a fistful of his body away. Unable to move, or even scream, the man felt the creature push him onto his back and grab his rib cage. With barely any effort at all the thing tore his chest open and ripped his heart out of his body. The last thing the man saw was the beast, unlike anything he’d ever witnessed, toss his still-beating heart into its mouth and bite down.

Feeling its nearly insatiable hunger already rising again, the beast rose to its feet once more and looked toward the edge of the forest, seeing the last of the hunter’s shadows fading just out of reach of the forest’s reaching branches. Bounding forward, the beast once more put on the chase.

Jones heard the beast roaring behind them, heard his neighbor falling, but his legs wouldn’t stop carrying him away. He kept picturing the Randolph woman, a pretty young thing that he’d met once or twice in town, coming out to see what was causing a ruckus with their cattle. He could almost envision the terror on her face as the beast they’d encountered in the forest leapt toward her. She wouldn’t stand a chance if they didn’t warn her. He knew he couldn’t let this happen. A stitch formed in his side as he maintained his rapid pace down the nearly clear hill from the forest. He could see the roof of the Randolph farm over the dying corn stalks remaining in the field. It wouldn’t be much longer now, he knew, as the sound of the beast’s pursuit returned to his ears.

Jones rounded the corner of the garden first, nearly running headlong into Karen Randolph, holding a shotgun of her own.

“Ma’am turn around, we’ve got to get inside,” he panted, the long run finally catching up to him. The others fell in line behind him, ragged breaths filling the night air with even more steam.

“What in the Lord’s name is going on,” she asked them in a voice that could make the angels cry, raising her gun to point loosely at the group of men. “I heard this shootin’ and carryin’ on out here. What in the world are you men doin’?”

“There’s some kinda animal out there, ma’am,” Jones started, before Josiah Ramey cut him off.

“There ain’t no time to explain out here, Mrs. Randolph. We got to get inside ‘fore our death comes outta them woods.”

“I won’t be invitin’ a bunch of rough necked sweaty woodsmen in my house in the dark o’the night. Now tell me what in the world is goin’ on.”

“A beast ma’am, “Jones pleaded. “It’s taken two of us already. We have to get inside where it’s safe. Shotgun wasn’t strong enough to stop it for more than a minute. We have to go now,” he said as the beast let out a loud snarl, the sound of brush rustling coming from behind them.

Panic finally crossed the woman’s face as she realized what they were saying to her. Jones felt relief flood his heart as he thought she was finally seeing the problem. A cloud covered the moon once again, thunder rumbling heavily in the distance. He felt the first drops of rain pattering down on his bare arms. He kept his eyes locked on the woman’s, silently urging her to move, as the moon broke free of its cover, shedding fresh light on them all. In the sudden burst of illumination Jones could have sworn her eyes flashed a red-goldish color, but a sound from behind them broke his focus.

The beast tore through the underbrush and burst out of the forest directly behind them, less than half the distance it would have had to cover if it followed the path. Standing tall on its hind legs and howling at the moon the creature looked more human than beast, save its shaggy coat and long, canine head. Their time was running out. Jones and the others turned, backing away slowly, guns trained on the creature, until Jones felt his path blocked by the Randolph woman. She was staring straight ahead, eyes locked onto the creature, and she wasn’t budging an inch.

“Mrs. Randolph. Karen,” he shouted, hoping the use of her first name would shake her into action. “We have to get inside. Now.”

But it was too late.

The creature dropped to all fours and bounded forward, reaching them in three long strides of its full-bodied stance. All four of the men felt their hearts constrict in their chests. It was now or never. Josiah Ramey shouted a command, all the men following his lead and aiming for the beast. As the creature once more rose to its towering height above them, all four guns went off, sending more than two pounds of hot lead into the creature’s torso.

The beast was knocked off its feet again, the moon now running between the clouds as if to hide from the terror itself.

A hissing mist rose from the beast as the moon once again came out from behind the clouds, an almost human moaning coming from the blood-soaked shape in front of them. Rain began pelting down as the creature stirred on the ground. As the men watched, the beast stretched its hands and flexed its mighty paws, rising slowly to its feet again. None of them could move. They had put enough firepower to this creature to stop a charging bear, and it was still living. A whimpering scream rose from behind Jones, a sound that seemed to be a mix of fearful and triumphant. He turned quickly, remembering the woman was present. He felt a sliver of guilt for exposing her to such carnage, his own sorrow momentarily confusing what he saw before him.

Karen Randolph was aiming her shotgun at the back of Josiah Ramey’s head. He leapt forward as she pulled the trigger, knocking the barrel of the gun to the side as the creature regained its footing. Two full shells of buckshot were driven into the creature’s unexpectant shoulder, driving it to the ground again with a scream of pain like nothing any of the men had ever heard. Jones stopped short as Karen Randolph loosed a shriek to match that of the beast. With a strength he couldn’t have imagined her having, the woman threw him to the ground and drove a boot clad foot into his sternum, reloading her gun while she did so, aiming it at the men, who were once more aiming on the writhing creature on the ground.

The moonlight was hidden once again as lightning flashed in the sky, rain pelting them harder now. In a muzzle flash that nearly blinded him, Jones watched as the grieved woman emptied her weapon into the back of the man closest to her. With a scream of rage, the beast on the ground sat up, blood pouring from a wound that didn’t seem to want to heal. The buckshot had torn away half the thing’s shoulder, leaving its arm a dangling mess, and had ripped a good portion of its cheek off. Jones finally got his first close view of the creature in that instant, and it was then that he became certain the powers of Hell existed, and he was staring one of them right in the face.

The beast rose slowly to its feet, wolfish legs bringing it to a towering height of at least eight feet, just as Ramey had told them. Dark brown fur coated the thing’s body from head to toe, its blood-soaked torso more muscular than the largest farmhand Jones had ever seen. It hunched forward on its canine legs, a thick brown tail swishing back and forth in the mist. Thick, muscular arms took the place of what should have been the wolf-creature’s front legs. He saw, with an added horror that his earlier observation was correct: the beast’s fur-covered claws were almost identical to human hands. The beast’s head was long and wolfish, huge ears standing tall on the sides of its head. It was the face that made Jones gasp, his breath hitching in chest. Two large red-gold eyes peered out of the blood matted fur at the base of the monster’s snout, glaring at each of them in turn while its long snout, oozing with saliva and blood, showed them the teeth that had taken the lives of two of their friends. Jones was drawn to the left side of the beast’s face, however, certain that he could see something more inside the hole made by the woman’s stray buckshot.

With a howl that sent night birds flying for miles, the creature swiped forward and sunk its claws into the face of the man in front of it, crushing the skull beneath with Ramey hurriedly trying to reload his shotgun while Karen Randolph did the same. Jones regained his feet as the moon came out from behind the cloud again, leveling his gun the thing’s head and firing as Ramey loosed his shot as well. The two shots collided in the air before the beast’s face, causing an explosion that sent fire and shards of metal in every direction. The beast howled in a pained rage and dove forward at Jones, hitting him low across the torso and driving him back to the ground at the edge of the corn. Blood soaked Jones now as he saw the mist once more rising from the beast’s skin.

The creature rose up from its low position on his body, its eyes meeting his as blood and thick ropes of saliva coated his chest. His horror was renewed as he saw the disturbed flesh and bone exposed by the firestorm of the two gunshots. He could see the almost completely dislocated lower mandible, being held in place by a few ropes of sinew and gristle. As he watched the moon escaped the clouds once more, heavy mist rising from the edges of the wolf beast’s head where the light touched it. The creature looked up at the sky, exposing the face beneath the flesh that Jones was certain he’d seen. The torn flesh of Ben Randolph’s cheek was slowly hidden as the flesh knitted itself back over the exposed area.

Ramey, not seeing this, rapidly approached the beast from behind, swinging his gun with all his might. Blood gushed forward as the metal connected with the beast’s head, flowing over Jones’s face. Chunks of flesh and fur flopped forward exposing more of the face within. One red eye remained on the right side of the beast’s head, the mist rising heavily as new flesh knitted over the torn flaps. A scream rang out beside the group, followed by a gunshot that sent Ramey to the ground. At the sound of his wife’s voice, Ben Randolph’s one exposed eye fluttered open. A red-gold glint remained in the eye for a moment as his mouth opened.

“Krrrnnn,” came a guttural growl from within the split head. In an instant the Ben-beast was standing, dragging Jones with it. “Krrreennn,” came the growl again.

The woman stood weeping before the beast as it held Jones in its great paws.

“It’s OK, Ben,” she said to the beast, lightning splitting the sky as the moon was finally covered by the heavy clouds. Fat drops of rain slapped every available surface, pelting Jones’s skin with enough force to leave welts on his face. The beast’s claws flexed, leaving gouge marks in his chest as the woman reached out and touched the beast’s shoulder, the wound her gun had left now closed, only a bright white scar remaining to show where it had been.

Jones, aware the creature was now staring at Karen Randolph, reached slowly for his revolver, realizing it still sat snugly in the holster on his hip. As he drew the weapon slowly, praying the wet bullets would still fire, the beast shot its remaining eye to his face, attracted by the sudden flex of his muscles as he drew the weapon. With no warning, the beast released his shirt with one hand, and shoved its hand through his chest, shredding his left lung and half the organs in his body, before snapping his spine. White hot pain flashed in Jones’s mind as he felt his body fighting to stay alive. Using the last of his strength, he raised the pistol with a shaky hand, and pulled the trigger. The bullet drove through the beast’s chest and upward into Randolph’s chin, sending a gush of blood and gore surging out of the man’s nose and mouth.

He was dropped to the ground before he knew what was happening. The beast dropped to its knees, pulling its breath in in gasps and jerks. Ben Randolph opened his mouth, a whimper escaping from deep within his body. His wife stood over his body, her mouth opening and closing in shock.

The moon once more escaped its cloudy prison, sending thick beams of light down over the wounded body in front of her, steam rising from countless lesions and gaping holes in the thing’s flesh. As she watched this spectacle, Karen Randolph raised her gun once more, tears streaming down her face.

“Karen,” the growling voice from within the steaming body muttered clearly, looking into her eyes.

“Shhh, Ben. Everything is going to be just fine,” she said as she squeezed the trigger slowly.

Jones watched as Karen Randolph discharged her weapon, Josiah Ramey’s head exploding with the blast, sending hot blood and shards of bone cascading down over Ben Randolph’s head before he passed out on the ground and knew no more that night. Lightning split the sky once more as the darkness streaked Jones’s vision. Steam rose heavily from Ben Randolph’s body as the bloody fur seemed to melt away before Jones’s eyes. He felt his life slipping away as he watched the beast before him melt away, leaving the bruised and battered form of the man whose wife he’d come here to save. The wife who now stood over her husband, a grin on her face. As Jones’s life left his body, he met Karen Randolph’s eyes, seeing a shocking red-gold glint in them for just a moment before darkness fell over his world for good.

 

There we go, everyone. I know this was a pretty lengthy piece, but I hope you all enjoyed it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this story, and anything else you’re interested in. If you want to keep up with my work, check out more samples, or just see what else I’m up to, feel free to follow here or subscribe to my newsletter. I would also love it if you’d like my author page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/DMathewsBooks/) or follow me on Twitter (@DameanMathews) and keep the reading and writing going! Feel free to comment or message me at any time, and enjoy the rest of the Summer-Blog-A-Day event here (http://kaymacleodbooks.com/summer-blog-a-day-2018/).

Every Day

Happy Friday! I hope this week went by swimmingly for you all. This is rather unexpected, as it came to me on a whim, but here is a surprise, mid-month book review! Recently I’ve been seeing the movie trailer for the upcoming release “Every Day,” and it has intrigued me in a major way. The concept as laid out in the trailer, of a person who wakes up every morning in a new body, a new person, with no solid life and no link to the rest of the world beyond that of their current host, called to me like crazy. I immediately knew I had to go see it. Needless to say, when I realized it was based on a book , I obviously had to read it.

As I’m on a strict reading schedule for the year (an idea my wife never ceases to giggle at when I fret about throwing an additional text into the mix) I wasn’t sure when the opportunity would arise. Yesterday afternoon I saw the trailer again and was once more convinced I had to read the book, preferably before the movie’s February 23 release. On a whim I decided to check the OverDrive app, a free app that allows you to check out ebooks from hundreds of participating libraries (an app that I’ve obviously fallen in love with) for the book. When I saw it was available the choice was made before I even realized it.

I was immersed in the story from the first word. David Levithan’s story of this person, this genderless, identityless, familyless, homeless person bouncing from consciousness to consciousness every single day, never able to control the transition, the destination, is incredible. Obviously, if you haven’t read it, you may want to put a pin in this post and do that. As you can tell, it’s pretty easy to read the book quickly, since I completed it in probably a combined reading time of 6 or 8 hours. So, go read. I’ll wait.

Now, I’m assuming you completed the book and are ready for discussion? Good, let’s!

The first thing I have to say about this book is that it is incredible. I do like my YA novels as well as most other forms of literature, and this book is a YA novel that reads like both classic and modern fiction. It is something that feels so natural that you sometimes find it easy to forget you’re reading a book and not just directly connecting with the thoughts of the main character, a loving but mysterious soul whose only identifier is the self-prescribed moniker of “A,” set up early in A’s 16-year life to give them (the most suiting pronoun) something to hang on to, something to anchor to to prevent themselves from going mad while bouncing from life to life with no control.

As I said, the concept is great. I was immediately drawn to feel sympathy for this character. As someone that puts a lot of stock in the protective and loving character of family, reading this tale of someone who has never been able to feel that solidity really made me invested in the book. A’s story is something that holds incredible strength, purpose, possibility, and much sadness. I loved the absolute unpredictability of the story as the reader is brought along with A to enter the lives of numerous individuals from all races, genders, levels of health, and family situations.

I enjoyed that we are brought in after A has lived this way for 16 years, no explanation of how or why they are living this life, and no certain answers of whether it is possible to stop or slow it down. We come into the story on day 5,994 in the body of Justin, who the reader is quickly ready to dislike. Before long we are introduced to shy, timid Rhiannon, who is the reason for everything that happens in the book. One thing I was drawn to throughout this novel is the undeniable feeling of love that A feels for Rhiannon almost instantly. As someone who has never spent more than 24 hours with any one person or group of people, the idea that such a powerful connection can be made almost instantly with Rhiannon is incredibly intense. Levithan throws A and the reader into this tale head first and keeps at it through the entire text, presenting a love story so complete, so without boundaries, so without restriction and full of possibility that it can literally leave you reeling.

I was enamored with A’s immediate connection with Rhiannon, their undeniable infatuation that even transcended Rhiannon’s connection with A’s host of the day, Justin. The description of A’s life being turned completely upside down by something as common as love is a concept that really put the world into incredible perspective. Knowing that this character, who has never had the time to experience something the rest of us take for granted and consider normal, is thrown completely through a loop by this one thing is extremely powerful. A running theme through this book that is lying just below the surface is that something as unbelievably thrilling as being able to bounce from life to life consistently, never having to worry about tomorrow, never having to face responsibility and knowing that no matter how good or bad your situation is, a change is literally less than 24 hours away is nothing compared to the unpredictability of falling in love. It’s something that you can get lost in.

I love the repeated mentions A makes of the experience they have had. Multiple times while speaking with Rhiannon as well as just reflecting on their own A talks about how they may not have had many consistent and average life experiences that a 16-year-old  would normally get, but that they have had countless experiences that are typically lost on individuals. The concept of getting to experience life from more than 6,000 sets of eyes in more than 6,000 settings and more than 6,000 family situations is both liberating and exhausting to me. I like to live my life thinking that every day brings us something new, but this expands on that concept to a point that I feel like I have trouble wrapping my head around it. It is just another of the many reminders of how small we all truly are.

Levithan touches many times on the concept of homosexuality and love, repeatedly speaking through A’s point of view while living in the bodies of males, females, transgender individuals all of varying sexuality. Here he touches heavily on the concept of humanity versus gender and identity. A feels just as much love for Rhiannon while in the body of a female as they do a male, just as much passion for this one girl while in the body of someone she’s never met as they do while in the body of her boyfriend of over a year. This speaks volumes to me. Many people in the world today have very differing ideas when it comes to sexuality and ‘normality’, right and wrong, and average and ‘weird.’ But A knew none of that. They knew just as much as they felt from day to day, minute to minute, and what they knew above all else was a love so intense that it literally transcended all else.

In my opinion anyone who reads this book can learn invaluable lessons from it. As a straight, white male born into a middle class Christian family I admittedly haven’t had to face much adversity on the forefront of my love life. But that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize it. Having friends of different sexual preferences, different identities, from different backgrounds, I do my best to be understanding of every situation that can present itself to my peers, but nothing could have prepared me for the raw description in this book. Levithan doesn’t stand up and turn this book into an in-your-face statement about love and life and acceptance, but I feel like it can definitely serve as one. A repeatedly tells Rhiannon that they have never felt like a boy or a girl themselves, they’ve only taken on the identity of the body they inhabited that day. Even with that explanation we see Rhiannon’s hesitation to consider anything beyond the standard she understands, reminding us all of the classic view of the world’s typical attitude toward anything that doesn’t seem “cookie cutter” and average.

With this book so fresh on my mind and so high on my list of must-reads, I’m hard pressed to find much about it that I wasn’t impressed with. I would have liked a lot more explanation, or at least possibility about who or what A is, and how their life is possible. Of course, that could well be coming in the follow-up text this October. Throughout the book there are hints of possibility that A is not the only person with this gift/curse of freedom and experience. I would love more of an explanation about that. I would also love a first-hand account of someone who wakes up the day after A has lived in them. We get Nathan and Rhiannon’s explanations, as different as they are, but I feel like I need more. I would also be interested in a first hand POV of the experience the person has while A is running the show. I imagine we may get something of this during the follow up text “Another Day” that is out now. But since it’s not on OverDrive, I’ll have to make a trip to the library to find out.

I feel like I could ramble on if I wanted to, but I’d love to have more discussion with you all about your thoughts. Leave your comments about this book below and be sure to tell me what you think about the ideas in the text. Have you read the follow up from Rhiannon’s point of view? If so, how does it hold up? Did this book open your eyes in any way or make you think about the world? I hope so. A book that can make us think can change the world, right? I think that’s one of the most special things about this book. It reveals the importance of true, raw love. It shows us that nothing but love matters. Of course, if the world focused more on love than the anger and prejudice we are faced with daily, we wouldn’t have to have books expressing its importance, would we? Leave your comments, share your thoughts and tell me what other books you’d like me to review. Look for the series review of the Harry Potter books in April, and keep reading along with me!

A Month In

Happy Monday, everyone! We are just days away from February and 2018 has been quite an adventure so far. In addition to spending nearly a whole month in this new year, I have been working on doing some new things with my life. I haven’t broadcast it much, and, although I may make the occasional post, I don’t plan on talking about it all the time, but I’ve been trying to get myself in better shape, mentally, physically, and creatively. It has been great. As far as the whole “sticking with resolutions” hoopla I discussed a couple of posts ago, this is something I’m proud to be sticking with, in every aspect, but I won’t beat myself up over a failed resolution if something happens to pause it – but more on that later.

Obviously we’re not quite a month in, but I thought the title was acceptable. I’ve been thinking for a few days now about what I wanted to talk to you guys about, and I decided that the answer was looking me right in the face everyday – goals. Every morning when we wake up, we usually have some idea or hope of what the day will (or won’t) bring, but how many of us actually set goals? How often do we wake up and say “this will happen today” or “I’m doing this today?” More importantly, if you don’t, why not?

Life is a series of days, weeks, months, years, decades, etc. So often we look at it like something that is happening to us that we have little or no control over. But nothing could be farther from the truth! Our lives, as I say quite often, are our own. They are the very essence of us, giving us ample opportunity to reach out and put our own little twist on the world. Some of us will even go so far as to make a long-lasting mark on the world. So why should we be content to just bumble through the day-to-day? It’s something I’ve touched on before, but it really hit me again recently after looking at what I’ve been doing since the year started. Goals are something we can use to help push us to  make our lives better than they currently are. A lot of people look at the process and idea of setting goals and get immensely discouraged. This is typically because all too often we are made to think that goals have to be huge, enormous, new phases of life that can take years to accomplish. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with setting goals like that, but it doesn’t have to be that hard.

Goals can help us take our lives in our own hands and truly change our current and future situations. An important thing to remember about goals is that they can literally be anything. Do you want to get out of bed earlier? Make it a goal. Do you want to catch up on that sitcom you’ve been missing? Set a goal to watch an episode a day before bed. Do you want to get the next great novel finished before year’s end? Set a daily, weekly or even weekly word goal. Make it happen. There is absolutely nothing that goals can’t help us do if we stop letting the disappointing tropes of mankind get in the way. Our goals don’t have to be things like saving the rainforest or landing a man on Pluto – of course, if those are your goals there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The important thing to keep in mind when setting your goals is to remember that it doesn’t matter how big or small they are. You can plan to land on Pluto, or just plan on cleaning out the junk drawer. Goals are different for everyone, and they mean something different for everyone. Some of the goals that we have can be tied to memories of lost loved ones, potential opportunities, our future, our past, and everything in between. No matter what the goal is, the main thing we have to do in order to be successful is to never give up. Never let anything stop us. A man (or woman) with a goal is a force to be reckoned with as long he or she has the determination to make sure they stick with it. We are all here with a purpose, and we have hopes and dreams for a purpose. Goals can help us fulfill that purpose. God has given us all a destiny, a purpose, and He wants us to succeed. He wants us to live in happiness and be the best versions of us that we can be. So that’s the goal, right?

I hope that you are all setting plenty of goals as you read this. 2018 can be your year if you take the time to make it happen. If you haven’t started setting goals, or if you’re nervous about them, try starting small. For instance, try setting goals for a new routine or schedule, or set a word or project goal for the day or week. Get your end goal in mind and find the most comfortable way to build up to it. I’d love to talk to you about your goals, if you’d like. One of the best ways to make sure you stick with your goals is by finding someone to talk to about it. It’s very helpful to have someone to help keep you accountable. But, of course, there is always the possibility of a failed or postponed goal. Life is unpredictable sometimes, things can get in the way of our goals. That can sometimes be discouraging, but the important thing to remember is that a missed goal doesn’t equal a failure. The only way you ever fail is if you give up. If life gets in the way for a bit, just push through and keep the goal in mind. Whether you want to climb Mount Everest or just drop a few pounds, nothing is impossible if you set a goal and put your mind to it.

If you’ve done it before, how has goal setting worked for you in the past? What have you been able to achieve? Do you have any words of wisdom for those looking to make a difference in their own lives, or in the world as a whole? Feel free to leave me comments or send me a message!

Stay True

As promised, guys, I’m still here talking about being and staying true to ourselves. It’s very important that we all make the effort to do this, but there are a lot of things in the world that can hinder us. It could be someone telling us that what we want is not important enough, or someone putting their own opinions on us, or worse. When it comes down to it, there is always going to be something in front of you that is going to try and keep you from being you. I could make incredible lists and comments on this, but the one thing I really want to talk about here is other people’s opinions.

The basis for this today comes from a lot of those “inspirational” photos and memes out there that have some sort of famous celebrity making either a scolding or sensual face with overlaid words that say “You should be *insert action here*” Of course the ones I typically see repeatedly tell me I should be writing. Why? Of course, naturally an artist can’t get anywhere without producing. That’s what we’re here for. But why should someone else be able to push us to adhere to their schedule. Sure, most people share these things in a light-hearted gesture intended to give the rest of us that little push that we may sometimes need, but in the long run they are part of a human habit that can be very harmful.

As an artist one of the most important things we can do is set a schedule for ourselves, push ourselves to produce. But an artist who is already struggling with the day-to-day who finds themselves pressured to follow someone else’s schedule may very well find themselves losing any and all inspiration they’ve gained. Honestly, that’s how a lot of budding authors and artists end up losing their confidence in their work. It’s just terrible. That’s not to say these memes aren’t interesting and amusing, and it’s not to say that talking with others about their schedules and the necessity for artists to produce is not sometimes helpful and important. But when it comes down to chastising someone for living their lives in a way that pleases them because they don’t follow your idea of what they should be doing and when, it turns into a problem.

I’ve been writing seriously for more than a decade. I’ve scheduled and rescheduled. I’ve broken schedules and I’ve revived them. I’ve decided to leave the idea of schedules behind and I’ve picked them back up, and through it all I’ve seen these kinds of images and I’ve been subjected to the commentary of others about how I should be doing anything but what I’m doing at the time. WHY?

Why should my choices not be good enough? Why aren’t yours? Why is it that anyone else on this planet should have a say in what we do and when? I know, like I said before, these interjections aren’t intended to be harmful. They’re supposed to be helpful and inspirational. But the thing is, they’re usually not. I’ve spoken to others who feel the same way. As a free-thinking human being who knows what is best and when, who has looked their life over and decided when, where and how their lives best work, having someone else say that we ‘should be’ doing anything other than what is currently making us happy is not OK.

It comes right back down to being true to yourself. There are more than 8 billion people on this planet. Each and every one of us have our own lives, our own personalities, our own desires and our own plans. We all know what is making us happy. Is that not what is the most important? Don’t get me wrong. I understand sometimes in this age of abrasive technology and hypnotic television, sometimes we may need a little reminder of what else is out there, but there is a limit. Our lives are ours to live in our best way, not for someone else to judge what we do and when.

My point here is that we all have to look at ourselves and our lives in the most serious way. We have to examine what we want, when we want it and how we want it. As I said in my last post, we have a very limited time on this rock and none of us want to realize that we wasted that time living our lives for someone else. You have to do what makes you happy when it makes you happy. Don’t let anyone discourage you from your life and your plan. Don’t ever fall into the rut of following what others want from you without giving yourself what you want as well. That’s something that everyone, artist or not, has to wrap their head around. Your life is yours. You have to live it your way. As long as you’re not hurting anyone else, impeding someone else’s happiness, you have the right and the freedom to be yourself. You have to be yourself. No matter what is going on around you, never forget to make your life your own. Do what makes you happy. Live your life to the fullest, and don’t be discouraged when others try to press their own opinions on you. Just let it roll off your back and keep being you. Stay true to yourself. Nothing is more important.

Be True

It’s January 10, everyone. Have you stuck to your resolutions so far? If so, you’re doing better than a lot of people. Personally I’ve been doing a moderate job of keeping up with some, not so well at keeping up with others. It’s so easy to let life flow without a thought for what you’re doing, following the ‘norm’ and letting yourself fall into a bit of a rut. That’s a bit of what this post is going to be about. I do think it may end up being a two-parter, too, because I’ve seen a lot today that has motivated me to write my little heart out, but the basic message behind every word I’m going to say here is the same. You have to be true to yourself.

Going back to what I was saying at the start of this post, New Year’s Resolutions are notorious for being set on or around January 1st, and many are lucky if they make it out of the month. But I recently saw a very important question that stuck with me and made me think hard. Why is it that New Year’s Resolutions are such a big thing? Why should we focus so much on the beginning of the year – more importantly, why should we only set aside one time throughout the year to make changes? It’s a doozy of a question, and I honestly don’t have an answer for it. We are all (at least in theory) strong, free-willed human beings with the ability to make decisions to better ourselves at any time. So why do we place so much focus on the whole “new year, new me” fad?

I’ve seen people in March decide something about their lives is unsatisfactory and decide to make it a New Year’s Resolution and live with the unhappiness for 9 months rather than take a stand right then and there. Why? This life is so precious, so fleeting, and so important. How can any of us afford to live even one second being untrue to ourselves? You wouldn’t wake up hungry and say “oh, I’ll eat next month.” Or break your arm and say “oh, I’ll get it fixed eventually.” No. You’d stand up and take charge. Why, then, would anyone choose to wait to make themselves better, happier? Why would anyone decide to allow time to choose when they can make a change that may improve their lives infinitely?

We were placed on this earth with a certain amount of time, a certain purpose, and a sure freedom. God gave us the free will to make choices for ourselves – if he didn’t, there would obviously be no sin, because He just wouldn’t allow it to happen. That’s the surest way to know He wants us to choose for ourselves. I’ve often heard the old saying “if you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.” As much as I think the phrase has been misconstrued to mean something else at times, I do agree. God wants us to dream big. He wants us to take the life and the world He has given us and make it bigger and better than ever before.

If you’ve ever needed proof of that, examine the parable Jesus gave his disciples of the three slaves with talents (Matthew 25:14). Of course, there are multiple ways to interpret this, but I take it quite literally. Three slaves were given talents by their master. Two of them used their talents to make more, to create, to better themselves and their situation. When their master returned and asked about the talents, each had doubled what they were given for their master and because of this they were rewarded. But one of the three servants buried his talent where it would never be seen, but never be lost. When his master returned the man could only dig up and return what already belonged to his master, with no return and no use being made of the talent, and thus he was punished.

God has given us all a talent. He has given us all life, love, a desire for something and a way to get what we want. When we put that talent to use in whatever way we can, it will grow. Just like a muscle that is used and worked it will get stronger and bigger, more useful and worthwhile. Soon others will take notice. We can put our talents out  there and have them return to us even bigger. We can take each and every day of this life and inject ourselves, our dreams, our desires and our strengths into it, and when all is said and done, each day will have been bigger and better than the last.

I think that’s what we’re here for. It’s not about New Year’s Resolutions that often fail, leaving us to fall right back into the same routine. Obviously if we’re setting a resolution to change it, some part of us is tired of letting it happen, right? So why wait for a new year? Why wait until the world tells you it’s OK to make a change? Do it now. If you want that haircut, go get it. If you want to lose weight, do it. If you want to publish a book, write it and push it out there. None of us are given a promise that we will wake up tomorrow, or that there will even be a tomorrow. So why wait? Why let the man-made constructs of conformity and waste ruin the time we have left? Get out there and climb that mountain, lift those weights, write that book, go for that management position, travel the world. Will you be like the servant who hid his talent from the world and had nothing to show for it, or will you get out there and make the most of what you’ve been given and make your mark on the world? Be true to yourself, people. We have so little time here. None of us want to be on our death bed and realize we didn’t live to our fullest potential. I challenge each of you, before the week is over, to do something that your heart desires.

Find something that you have been wanting to do that you know will make you happy, break out of a routine that has been holding you back. Make a difference in your own life, and see just how much happier it makes you. It can be something as huge as getting a new car, or something as small as trying a new route to work. But do it. Break free. Find a way to take the life God has given you and truly be thankful for it. Dare to live a little, eh? That’s the end of this post. In the next couple of days I’m going to come back with another similar message regarding things that have been bugging me in this regard – namely suggestions that we have to base our lives on the lives of others.

In the meantime, get out there and showcase your talents. Bring yourself to a new level and take your life in your own hands. In the end, you’ll have something to show for it. Be true to yourselves, guys.

2018 Is Here

Happy New Year, everyone! I can’t believe we are in an entirely new year. 2017 absolutely flew by, and it was definitely one of a kind! In addition to being able to make connections with plenty of awesome new people through my writing in various ways I was finally able to bring my longest work, Maverip to a close. That in itself is an accomplishment that will make 2017 hold an awesome place in my heart and mind.

2017 was also the year that brought me the chance to take a trip to Atlanta with my wife and see one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to. I was able to write some interesting stories as a reporter, that experience culminating in me winning the second place award for data journalism for the year from the Virginia Press Association before I moved on to a job with the longest running professional theatre in my country. I made a ton of professional contacts with my work and celebrated my two year anniversary with my wife. I also got to bring you guys an entire year of book reviews and have plenty of great discussion about some of my favorite (new and old) pieces of literature. Another one of the most amazing things that happened to me this year is one I’m still processing. Last week, less than three days before the year ended I received the first round of commentary on Maverip from one of my beta readers. If you’ve never had that happen I have to tell you it is one of the most surreal experiences an author can have. Especially when the reader loved the book and gives you detailed and extremely helpful comments on the work that has been your entire life for nearly a decade. I’m still kind of wrapping my head around the fact that another human has experienced my work and felt it was enjoyable. It’s a great thought.

Aside from the countless other blessings and great experiences I have under my belt from last year, there’s so much I have to look forward to in this year. I plan to use the commentary I received on Maverip to make another around of edits and then sending it on to professionals for consideration. That, although terrifying, is something I look very forward to. I’ve got plenty of other big plans for the year, including some travel, some new experiences and some great great memories to make. As always, I plan to keep you guys updated on everything as it goes, and I really hope I have an opportunity to meet some of you and have some awesome things to share.

In that light, I want to give you all an update on my plans for the book club for 2018. I’ve had a great time reviewing a variety of books each month, but there are a number of books I’d love to share reviews on that are a bit more involved. I’m talking about series. I am a huge fan of literature of all kinds from poetry and short stories to longer novels and intense sagas, and because of this one thing I’d love to do is review a number of series. I’m not positive how it will work, but that’s why we try things, right?

Obviously, when it comes to reading novels, it can be easy to read single works of various lengths, even when we get around 1,000 pages, but a saga of novels each with hundreds, if not 1,000 pages themselves, would be a bit too difficult to handle in a month, in my opinion. Because of this I’m planning to take four months to cover my first set of novels (keep in mind that is apt to change if need be). If it works well, I’ll split the year up and do three series throughout the year. If it doesn’t work well, I may go back to the original plan, no harm, no foul. But what do you guys think? Would you like to follow along on a journey through some major series with me this year? Make sure to leave your opinions on this idea so I can know what you think about it.

As someone who is a huge fan of long, elaborate stories I love sequels (if they’re done properly) and I love diving into a series of books. In this light, my first series if going to be the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I’ll read all seven novels from The Sorcerer’s Stone to The Deathly Hallows.  I haven’t gotten to sit down and read all these novels at once since the year the last one was released and I look very forward to the experience. I’ll plan to post this review of the Harry Potter series around April 25, unless things change. I know this is a pretty easy series to read, so I may take a little less time with it if it seems reasonable.

Anyway, I hope you guys had a great 2017, and I hope you have plans to have a great 2018. I’d love to hear from you all. What great memories do you have from 2017? What great things did the year bring you? What great ideas, hopes and plans do you have for this year? Be sure to share in the comments or shoot me a message and let me know!!

The Gift of the Magi

As 2017 winds down, it is time to post the final review of the year!! I hope you all had an absolutely wonderful Christmas (or whichever of the awesome year-end holidays you celebrate) and made some incredible memories. Personally, my Christmas was celebrated a couple of days early with my family and my in-laws and many great memories were made. I am also ecstatic to say that I received a most excellent new leather jacket and a new laptop that has come in wonderfully handy in working on my latest project, a fantasy novel like nothing I’ve ever attempted. But the details of that will come in a later post!

Today we are talking about the much beloved story “The Gift of the Magi.” This story has long held a special place in my heart and the hearts of many due to its strong moral suggestions and the selfless acts presented by our characters, Jim and Della. What instantly strikes me about the story is O. Henry’s nonchalant way of presenting a view that life is basically little more than a series of sniffles, sobs and smiles “with sniffles predominating.”

That statement is an incredibly powerful view of everyday life, and its cynicism makes the actions of the characters all that much more memorable and interesting. Jim and Della, of course, are near to celebrating Christmas, and both have sacrificed something very dear to them in order to help make the thing dear to the other more beautiful. I find it most enthralling that O. Henry makes Della of such a pure attitude that, when reflecting on the watch clasp, she does not say anything about the gift making James more presentable or proud – she instead says the item is “nearer to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.”

To me that is the worth the world. Even in their poverty – having to sell their precious items to give each other gifts – Della still sees the worth of humanity and love over the material world. She is not at all concerned with the way James looks with his leather watch clasp, but instead wants something that is worthy of being attached to Jim’s watch.

A similar mention of humanity’s worth over the material comes from Della describing her hair. It is said that, if given the chance, she would dangle her hair out the window in order to depreciate the Queen of Sheba’s jewels. I absolutely love this. O. Henry presents us with a pair of characters who live life with an immense appreciation for simplicity. Jim and Della literally sell their precious things – Jim’s watch and Della’s hair – in order to give the other a gift to celebrate the possessions they love.

An act like this – a selfless sacrifice made in order to benefit the happiness of another – is a gift that we should all be so lucky to offer someone in this lifetime. Indeed, the author finds the sacrifice such a high honor that he compares Jim and Della to the Wise Men who crossed great distances to bring gifts to the Christ child, the original magi. It is the acts of selflessness, of love, of sacrifice that give us all hope. O. Henry knew this centuries ago and we, as a literary people, have been reading about it ever since.

I don’t have any negative comments to make about this short work. I could dwell on the magic of sacrifice and love for hours, but I think the most important thing to say is that we, as a people, should remember to always find more value in humanity and love than in the material world. We should always find ways to express our love to each other selflessly and stop putting so much value on things. In the end, it’s more often the love we shared that we will be remembered by, not the things we had.

Anyway, that’s the last review of 2017, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you’ve enjoyed this year of my book club, and I look forward to revisiting the whole thing next year. As always, I’d love to have your suggestions for future reads. I hope you all have a great New Year’s Eve and Day, and be sure to go into 2018 with high hopes, plenty of love and a smile on your face!!