Progress Inspires Progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Schitt’s Creek and the Message to Change the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Grandfather

I love Autumn. I love October. Leaves are changing, the spooky nature of the world is being celebrated, the weather is cooling off and nights are growing long. But it’s hard to believe that it has been 13 years since my grandfather passed away.

As happy as the month makes me, October 3 is one of the hardest days of the year for me. October 3 was my grandfather’s birthday. For 13 years I’ve woken up knowing what day it is and knowing that I won’t be able to tell him to enjoy the day, or tell him how much he means to me. My grandfather was the biggest male role model I had growing up. From the time I was a little kid I can remember staying with my grandparents and knowing, if I didn’t wake up as he was leaving (or if he didn’t take me with him) that he would be gone fishing until at least breakfast time – closer to noon if he was having good luck. When he came in and ate he would immediately go outside and spend hours prepping or taking care of his garden, often while I “helped.”

The man wore hats and flannel nearly every day of his life, his white hair often sticking out below the back just a little, protecting the lightest part of his dark skin, the Native American blood in him more obvious than ever at the end of a nice long summer. In the winter he wouldn’t shave, a habit left over from the days he farmed for a living, knowing the best trick to keep the winter wind from biting too much was to keep as much body heat in as possible. I can still remember him teasing me if I got a haircut during the winter months, telling me I’d freeze if I wasn’t careful.

He and my grandmother raised their 3 children on a farm-hand’s wages, moving where the work took them and providing what they could for their kids. Retirement was kinder to him, my grandmother working when he was no longer able. He wasn’t a shirker by any means, working through at least one heart attack without stopping, only finding out he’d had it later on. Even after he stopped working for a living, he farmed and fished nearly every day of his life. Only the most extreme heat or cold could keep him from the water most of the time, and he always produced enough crop to feed most of the family – even just working out of his own backyard.

He saw the world much differently than others, in more ways than one. Being blind in one eye, he had to learn to do everything in his own way, but it never slowed him down. He could fix most things wrong with the family vehicles, could do basic home repair – and he could tie a hook on a fishing line as fast as anyone I’ve ever seen. He also wasn’t much for what he called ‘putting on airs.’ You are who you are, and there’s no reason to hide it. That’s one of many lessons from him I’ll never forget. From the time my grandfather opened his mouth until he closed it he was as real with you as anyone in the world, never pretending to be something he wasn’t. He loved good jokes, and loved to laugh – but he hated nonsense.

I can remember the sound of his laugh even now as I told him my lame jokes, and I remember how quickly that laughter dried up whenever someone turned on a goofy 90’s Jim Carrey movie. If he didn’t like something he made it obvious, and if he didn’t want to be somewhere he left. It was always easy to tell when he didn’t want to be around someone, because he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t be rude to them, but if someone came in a room that he didn’t want to be around he would silently stand and leave. I think he realized that life is too short to waste it doing things that don’t make you happy. Of course, I like to think he had a lot of life’s answers tucked away in his hat somewhere, so maybe I’m putting a philosophical spin where one wasn’t intended.

I could write about my memories of him and tell stories of how, as I got older, my grandfather would talk on the phone with me for hours sometimes, even though we just lived across town from each other – but when we went fishing together the talking was minimal and hushed, so as not to scare the fish away.Of his grandchildren I think I was the only one that had the connection with him I did. We had our understandings and we liked many of the same things. We could sit in a room together for hours without uttering a word and could say all we needed to say in a moment.

I could tell any number of stories of how he was so selfless that he often went without in his own ways, wearing his clothes until they were threadbare and falling apart before he would worry about trying to buy a replacement. I live for hours in these memories sometimes, wishing for just one more day, one more hour to talk to him. Granted, I understand he wasn’t perfect. He smoked, he drank, he ate food that clogged his arteries and he lived life in an antiquated fashion. He was very much a product of his generation. But I think I would be the only one who would get the full effect of all of these stories and memories.

My grandfather would have been 76 years old today. So much has changed over the last 13 years. The world is nothing like it was when he left it. Technology has taken over, racism has become breaking news again, and everywhere we look there is a fear of bombs falling. I know none of these things would have changed him, though. He wouldn’t own a cellphone, and he certainly wouldn’t pay attention to things like vegan diets and low-carb foods. If there was ever a constant in my life, it would still be Calbert Mathews. He would get up at the crack of dawn and make coffee, watch a few minutes of the local news (I’d love to hear his opinion on his favorite weatherman retiring) and would hit the river bank or lakeside. Like clockwork he’d spend his afternoons weeding, tending the garden and resting on the porch until a little after sunset. I miss knowing that if I wanted to find him, there were usually only half a dozen places I’d have to look.

I often wonder, though, what he would think of me. He wasn’t one to talk about the future much, so I can’t be sure what he had in mind for me as I grew up. I chose a very different path than he did as I went on in life, picking books over farming equipment and writing over being a full time farmer. He always encouraged me in my reading, though. He maintained an interest in my grades and never seemed to mind if I did want to pick up a novel instead of weed the garden or fish. I had not made the decision to be a writer before his death, though. I would definitely like to have gotten his opinion on that. I wish I would have been able to see his face at my high school and college graduations- although I’m sure he would have ducked out and avoided the crowd after seeing me walk across the stage for each one. I wish I could have been able to hear his reaction when I told him I got my first post-college job or hear his frustrations that his house was just outside of the delivery range of the newspaper I worked at later on.

I’d give nearly anything to be able to pick up the phone and tell him that I still look up to him to this day. That his hard-working nature rubbed off on me, whether it is in a different field or not. That I strive to be myself as openly as possible and that I don’t ‘put on airs’ to make people think I’m someone I’m not. I like to think that he would be proud of the man I’ve become, the way I’ve handled myself and my life through thick and thin. I know one day I’ll see him in Heaven, and I look forward to seeing what he has to say about everything we never got to talk about. Until then, I have my memories, I have my mementos, and I have the strong will and morals that he provided me with – whether he knew it or not.

Happy birthday, Papaw. I love you and I miss you every day. I’ll see you again on God’s great golden shore and we’ll go fishing, or maybe just take a walk and catch up. It will be a glad reunion day.