Checking In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rejection, Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

via Rejection

The Difference a Year Makes

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope the first week or so of 2020 has been productive and enjoyable. I have found January to be quite a good start to the new decade. Life, love, and laughter abound every day, and I have never been happier.

Today, while running an errand, I went to a local museum the offers a beautiful view of the downtown area of my town to enjoy the view and snap a photo. While beautiful, the day was cloudy and dark. Rain and fog crowned the distant mountains and the town was almost completely still, those people with the opportunity to do so having stayed home to avoid the gloom. I couldn’t help but find the image beautiful as I realized how little the scene reflected my own inner thoughts. It didn’t dawn on me when I went on that adventure that exactly 365 days ago I had done the exact same thing under a very different set of circumstances. Today, I was able to relect on the amazing way my life has been going, but I will be the first to admit recent years haven’t started on nearly such high notes.

One year ago today I found myself in the midst of one of the lowest points of my life. I was depressed, angry, and unhappy. My mother was in a physical rehab facility healing from some serious illnesses and I was still reeling from the loss of my grandmother. I was not happy in my employment or, honestly, most other aspects of my life. On the morning of January 10th, 2019, I left the rehab facility after visiting with my mother and stopped at the same museum I went to today. I snapped a photo of the lovely view there, trying to relish in the small amount of comfort the beauty provided me. Beyond a shadow of a doubt the sun shining through the clouds and illuminating the beautiful mountain scenery was an exact contrast to what was going on inside of me. I remember the feeling of utter helplessness that ran rampant in my mind that day, but the image God presented me gave me a glimmer of hope.

I didn’t remember the event that took place exactly a year ago until I saw a memory on social media. In the post I made on that day, I didn’t mention any of the hard times life was presenting me with, but I ended my post by saying “one step closer.” I didn’t know then the changes 2019 would present me with, but I knew God had a plan for me. In the last year my mother was released from the rehab facility, I’ve self-published a short story collection, I got a new and amazing job, and I’ve reconnected with the love of my life. I’ve seen more happiness in the last few months than I thought could be possible on that January day in 2019.

It got me thinking of the unpredictability each and every day offers us. From the moment we wake up each morning, we have no idea what is going to happen. Some days are simple, others are complicated. Regardless of what happens during the day, what reallty matters is how we react to it. If we lay down and let life run us over, every moment will be harder than the last. The hard times are infinitely harder if we do not have the hope and peace of better times to look forward to. During those hard times in my life I kept myself going – frankly, kept myself alive – by not accepting defeat. I pushed myself as hard as I could and, although it was by no means an instant turnover, life has turned around a lot. So many of the things were causing me pain and stress this time last year have disappeared.

If life is presenting you with hard times right now, I encourage you to find a ray of light, a glimmer of hope. Look to the future and don’t give up even for a second. Things may be looking down right now, but there is always a higher place to go. From my employment, to family health, to my inner struggle to accept and enjoy the life I have, I’ve seen a complete change in nearly every aspect of my life in the last year. It does happen. Things may get a little worse before they get better, but you have to remember that a caterpillar literally has to tear its entire body apart in order to emerge from its coccoon a beautiful butterfly. Most things worth having in this world aren’t easy to come by, but everything can be achieved by hard work and faith. Don’t give up. Who knows, this time next year you might be looking back with a completely different outlook on life.

At Year’s End

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope the holiday season has treated everyone wonderfully. It has definitely been a wild ride for my family and I. From sharing first holidays with someone very special, to losing a loved one the day after Christmas, the season has not been without it’s rough moments. I wake up every day thankful for the wonderful blessings I have, and I hope each and every one of you take the time to do the same. As we wrap up December and say goodbye to 2019 (may it rest in peace), I look ahead toward the new year with bright and hopeful eyes. I have high hopes for great changes in the new year, and I feel very confident great things are waiting just around the corner.

I have written often over the last few years about the need for inspiration, presence, and peace within life, art, and creativity, but I’m the first to admit that I have really failed this year when it comes to producing new works. I have, unfortunately, fallen into the most dangerous trap of all for a writer who is nervous about a new piece of work: over-editing. As I type this post I am currently a short way into what may be my 6th or 7th edit of my long-completed novel, Maverip. I finished the more than 140,000 word monster on Thanksgiving morning in 2017 after a marathon writing session that left me mind-numbed and half-comatose in the wee hours of the pre-dawn holiday. From there I let the piece rest for a couple months while I recovered before diving in on the first of many alterations.

The book has been through two rounds of beta readers – none of whom have given me cause for concern I want to point out – and has seen more edits than any work I’ve published to date. I’ve queried it to a handful of agents with little to no response (to be expected in the market currently) and have considered self-publishing the piece as it stands. No matter what avenue I consider, though, I’m having trouble actually giving it my final approval and letting it prove itself. That conundrum, along with a plethora of other changes I’m planning to make in 2020, helped inspire this post.

As the month winds down, so does the  year and the decade. As we entered the 2010’s I was in my first year of college, writing the book I’ve just discussed (along with a handful of others. That other project count is now over 50), and had yet to publish a single work. Now, I’ve had more than a dozen titles published in several regional journals, and earlier this year I self-published my short story and poetry collection. Typing those things out makes me really step back and ask myself why I’m letting this novel get the better of me. I’ve been writing this blog for nearly as long, and I’ve had people the world over read the words that spill from my own twisted mind. So why is this piece giving me such pause?

The simple answer is because it’s my longest completed piece to date. It took ten years to complete it. It is the culmination of a lifetime of research, interest, and determination, and its success (in my head at least) is tied to my own prowess as a writer. Simply speaking: I’ve nearly convinced myself that if this book doesn’t do well, I’m doomed to fail entirely.

But that attitude is not carrying forward. In three days time we will be living in a new year, decade, time period, season. I will be that much closer to 30 years old, and if that’s not cause for getting a little wiser, I don’t know what is. In two days’ time we’ll be preparing to say goodbye to the teens and re-embrace the 20’s (and if that doesn’t thrill me to the core, I don’t know what ever could). So what better time than to leave behind the childish notion that all future success is based on whether this book – this one book out of the literally dozens of ideas I have – gets me a fast spot on the New York Times bestseller list?

While searching through some quotes and literature this morning, I stumbled upon a quote by Franz Kafka that I think embodies the spirit of every real creator better than most anything I’d seen before.

“This tremendous world I have inside of me. How to free myself, and this world, without tearing myself to pieces. And rather tear myself to a thousand pieces than be buried with this world within me.” – Franz Kafka

Of course, I don’t want to dwell on the quote too much, because that isn’t the point of the post, but to unpack it a little, I think Kafka is speaking volumes of power here. As a creator, there are worlds upon worlds and pieces upon pieces within you. For me, some of my story ideas are like a number of voices all talking at once, saying something a little different, hoping to come together just enough to make sense and gain their freedom. Whenever the words become clear enough I can write the tale, I can let this story out, I can keep it from tearing me to pieces and I can present it in its purest and most intact form. Sometimes, though, it isn’t that easy. The words jumble, they mix and mesh and writhe together in the pain of incommunicability until they die out from want of escape. Other times they seem as if they’ll burst forth from me whether I give them license to do so or not. Regardless of the idea, its strength, or where it comes from, I have a tendency to start it and let it get stagnant. I lose the power behind the words, or I lose confidence in my ability to tell the tale. For any number of reasons, I end up not completing the work that I feel only I can even come close to completing.

That is an attitude and a habit that I’m leaving behind. 2020 is going to be a year of huge changes. I’m going from letting life roll on around me, to taking charge. I’m finally standing up and taking the things I want in this world. I’ve actually already started doing this in my personal life and it has already led me to some of the greatest happiness I’ve ever known. As I move forward into my third decade on earth, I am taking charge and leaving behind wasteful attitudes and the habit of just letting life happen.

Rather than let these words and worlds tear me into a million pieces, I’m going to push through the struggle and the hesitation and release them. Rather than take the punches life offers, I’m going to stand tall and chase after my own happiness. As we enter the new year, I am standing tall and seeking out opportunities. I’m putting aside hesitations and demanding freedom from waste. In 2020, I will no longer just be going through life. I’m going to live it.

With these changes, I plan to see a great improvement in every aspect of my life, and I hope you will all feel the same motivation to make changes. Take charge of your own happiness. Find out what in this world is going to allow you to truly be free from stagnance and unhappiness and go after it. Don’t keep over-editing yourself or your work. Take the time to put it out there. Let it stand on its legs. Show the world who you are and take the chances you need to take. I hope you all enjoy the last couple days of 2019, and I look forward to seeing you all in the new decade – hopefully with fresh faces and brand new determination. Happy New Year, everyone.

The Power of a Word

Hey there, friends and fans! It has been a fair while since I’ve met you here with fresh words of wisdom, advice, or even admission. For this I do apologize. Life has certainly thrown me for a loop lately, but that is another matter entirely. I hope whatever vacations or projects this warm summer has brought you have gone swimmingly (speaking of swimming, I’ve hope you’ve gotten some of that in as well). I’m working on getting all of my projects and inspirations back on track, and hopefully this will be the first step in jumping back in head first.

I’m currently re-reading the epic saga that is Stephen King’s magnum opus. The Dark Tower series has always called to me in a variety of ways, but for one reason or another it has always been too vast for to consume at once. I am glad to say that, as of this paragraph, I am less than 100 pages away from finishing book number six (“Song of Susannah,” for you newcomers) – the farthest I’ve ever been in the series, and I came across a word today that changed everything. Wordslinger.

Wordslinger. Such a simple word, but it contains a power I never thought I would consider so seriously. To understand the depth of this title, given to the great Sai King by Roland of Gilead himself, you must first understand a little of the tale. The gunslingers, of which Roland is technically the last (and the last teacher of the last generation – it’s all about the timeline), are revered gunfighters, peacemakers, lawbringers, warriors, and more. The very title of gunslinger is an elevated one reserved for those who, above all else, remember the face of their fathers. A gunslinger is someone born and bred to ensure the proper order is kept and justice is served wherever he goes.

All throughout the series, the title and position of gunslinger is revered to an almost holy level – some would even argue a fully religious respect of the gunslinger is given by certain characters. The legend of the gunslinger is similar to our tales of the good cowboy who rides into town to save the day, but holds more depth and meaning because, as previously mentioned, they are the law, the strength, the power of good that is represented by the line of Eld and given by birth and years of physical and mental training. Only the best of the best become gunslingers, and their title – their responsibility – is to bring equality, peace, justice, and strength to the world. The premise of Roland referring to King as a wordslinger comes from the fact that part of the story of the fifth and sixth books in the series is realizing that King is writing the tale of these characters, and the people are living the story. A bit of an old writer’s fantasy, of course, but no less powerful than any other version of the same idea.

Now you can see, perhaps, a little of why the term wordslinger gave me literal chills. To imagine that power, that sense of responsibility, being given to a writer is nothing short of breathtaking. My mind instantly soared when it dawned on me that the term wordslinger can hold the weight of the world. As an author, and one who has been met lately with quite a bit of creative resistance, that idea has an incredibly freeing power. I am a wordslinger. A love of the written word, for creative arts, for producing whole worlds with nothing more than my thoughts and some way to record them all work together to make that a reality. I am a wordslinger.

I want each and every one of you to ponder that idea for a moment. If you write, whether it’s long fiction, nonfiction, journal articles, blogs, or poems, the same is true for you. You are a wordslinger. Literature has long presented a means of freedom and escape for those who read it. Sometimes that may mean a book in the hands of a bedridden individual can help them soar above the highest peaks, or swim in the deepest ocean when they otherwise might not have been able to. It can mean that a depressed individual who otherwise may not have been able to cope with the day can break out of the darkness by opening a book and diving into the words inside. It can mean that countless people faced with countless problems can be united by the power of bound pages and have similar ideas and unique understandings of the words therein. There is no end to the power presented by a wordslinger.

That goes for all mediums of art as well. You can be a brushslinger, a stoneslinger (not a bad term for either a builder or a sculptor, I think), or a lensslinger. Whether you refer to it in those terms or not, the power of creativity is, as I’ve expressed before, one of the things that makes this life bearable. It brings joy, peace, and understanding to the masses. Creativity is ageless, sexless, nonjudgmental, and open for all manner of interpretation. It is one of the rewarding, and the most difficult, blessing to be given, and it is not something that should necessarily be taken lightly. Whether your creative work is intended just for you or for the masses, it is an outlet both during creation and for every experience it brings after.

That does not mean it doesn’t come without responsibility, however. Even if it is just for yourself, creating worlds and characters is a power like no other. For myself, as well as many other authors, it’s not so much like creating the worlds sometimes, as it is opening the gate and letting the world out, letting the characters dance over the pages and tell their tale. Or, as the novel version of King puts it, letting the stories flow from his navel and write themselves with his body. As a wordslinger, the power may sometimes slow to a trickle, may even tighten to a drip, but when the flow opens back up it can be quite a flood.

That realization has left me with a sense of renewed purpose, a direction to move in, a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel that I am now striving to move toward in an effort to regain sight of the things I have been missing. I am working on a new string of edits and brainstorming some new connections and stories, with the hope of jumping back on the creative wagon quite soon. In the meantime, I will keep my newest motivation in mind, beyond all things that may try to suppress my creative abilities, and I implore you to do the same. No matter what happens, no matter what life throws at you, there is one phrase to remember above all others when your task, your purpose, seems to be escaping you: I am a Wordslinger.

I am, as always, forever grateful for my favorite author, one of my greatest inspirations, and a man whose level of genius I hope to one day at least be able to touch for a moment. Without you and your words much of my current inspiration may have fallen to the wayside. To the ever brilliant, always creative, and bone-chillingly scary master of horror, the chief Wordslinger, Stephen King; Thankee-sai.

What Does Local Mean To You?

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope you all have had an absolutely awesome spring so far. Aside from the allergies that try daily to smother me in my own fluids, it has been amazing for me. I love the sense of renewal and renaissance as fresh leaves push aside what remains of the old and stretch their green-veined fingers toward the sky. It thrills me to watch as, a little each day, fresh and beautiful flowers burst forth from the earth and claim their place under the sun. Personally, I’ve always found spring to arrive exactly when I need it most and give me a sense of renewed purpose and motivation.

Of course, as many of you know, I published my first print collection in February and have been marketing and spreading the word about it ever since. One thing I’ve been doing is reaching out to local libraries and seeing about getting my work in their circulation materials. As a former librarian and long time lover of the amazing institutions that promote reading as much as an individual can get their hands on, it thrills me to have an opportunity to have my work possibly be one of those bits of material that a person may discover among the stacks, having never heard of me before. Or, of course, my work being one people eagerly seek out and go on waiting lists for. But I digress.

Tuesday I found myself in my hometown visiting with my mother and was struck by the idea that I should go talk to the library there. After all, that squat, brick building houses so many memories for me, provided so many fresh literary experiences, that I couldn’t be more honored than to find my work shelved along with the well-read R.L. Stines and Stephen Kings that influenced my early life. As I was talking to the librarian there, he asked if I could show him a copy of my work, so I went to go grab a copy from my vehicle. As I did, a patron caught up with me and made my entire day.

She had overheard my conversation with the librarian and asked about my work, showing unbridled interest in the fact that I am a local author in the Appalachian region. After a description of my work, she purchased a copy and had me sign it. We talked for a few more moments and bade each other good day, but the interaction really made an impression on me.

Growing up, I would always be extremely excited to meet someone who could be considered a local author or artist, often going out of my way to start conversations with them and examine their work. But, until yesterday, I hadn’t had quite the same thing happen to me. Needless to say, I remain flattered, but it definitely makes me think. Each and every one of us can probably think of a time we’ve encountered a local artist – regardless of the medium. I’ve seen painters and authors everywhere from local coffee shops to flea markets half a state away from their home. And it always gives me a sense of pride. But it makes me sad in some ways as well.

As many people that stop to talk with the artist about their work or the craft in general, just as many people pass right by without so much as a second glance. Personally, I find that to be more damaging than someone saying they don’t care for the work. At least that person took the time to check it out. My interaction yesterday, coupled with those previous experiences really made me realize just how important it is to support the arts again.

There was a time in society when people would seek out artists and beg for examples of the work, staring for hours as a sculptor or painter created their masterpiece. At one point in history people would flock to the harbor in droves to get the latest edition in a serial that later was put together as the Dickens favorite “Great Expectations.” Our ancestors had an equivocal appreciation of and yearning for the arts. Of course, not everyone was subject to this love then either, but that’s another tale. My point for today is that we must make a real effort to embrace the arts again. With each passing day funding for the arts in public education is cut. Many schools are no longer able to provide music education or drawing classes because of a lack of material funds. New generations are growing up in a society where are education funds are cut so governments, both local and national, can pay for biased investigations, unnecessary private expenses, and a basic disregard for the general public and its future. So it’s up to each and every one of us to recognize the importance of art and those who make it.

Of course, my own opinions on that matter may be a little biased as a creator, but I still reflect on times when I had little to turn to except art. Whether it was art created by someone else or my own creative efforts, art has saved my life more times than I probably even realize. So, I’m encouraging all of you to reach out and find some local artists. Talk to a painter or an Indie author about their work, or the craft in general. Let them know what the work means to you. Show them that, even if sales aren’t in the triple digits, the work matters to someone.

I’ve been told, at some events, an artist is lucky if they make three sales. And I’m fine with that. I would love it if my writing could pay all the bills, supporting my finances and allowing me to pay off debts and advance. But that isn’t the only, or even the main reason I do it. I do it because I’m passionate about it. Because it’s what I was put here to do. Because the arts have shown me what life really means. And those who support the arts, sharing that same passion, can make all the difference.

So, as you go forward, keep an eye and an ear open for an artist who, like you, enjoys a passion for life. Talk to them about what that passion can lead to. Make a purchase or leave a review on a work you enjoyed. Make sure you recognize the importance of the arts before they disappear. After all, as we rapidly approach the release of that certain long-anticipated superhero movie this week, it pays to remember; without the arts, none of that would have been possible. Artists drew those characters, thought them up, gave them new life on the silver screen. If we let the arts die, nothing like that can happen again. With the right support, and enough effort we can all keep the arts alive. And, honestly, that’s one of the best ways to keep ourselves going.

Who is a local artist that has made a difference to you? What is one local work that has influenced you? Or, for that matter, if you’re a local or regional artist in your area, what’s an experience you’ve had that showed you your work and your effort was appreciated? Leave me comments, send me messages, and make sure to get out there and enjoy life!

The Shape of Water

Hey there, friends and fans! I have been wanting to watch The Shape of Water since I first saw the announcement about it. I was beyond disappointed to miss it in theaters, but I am ecstatic to say that I finally got to see it this week. I can very easily say that I am not at all surprised that it won and was nominated for so many awards. The film absolutely oozes sophistication and originality. I can honestly say it is one my favorite films of all time.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the film, it’s a tale of a mute woman in 1960’s America who realizes the institution she works for is studying a creature that is basically a modern version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, this film studies a number of themes including race relations, equality, sexuality, and personal identity. Our main character, Elisa, goes from a monotonous life with her friends and coworkers, almost invisible to the powers that be, to a bold and courageous woman, a hero to this creature that has otherwise known pain and judgement from modern man (aside from apparently being treated like a god by an unnamed Amazonian tribe that is).

I was enthralled from the start of this movie and I truly didn’t want it to end. I found Elisa to be an incredible person, with a nearly infallible character. Elisa’s entire experience with the creature was that he accepted her, he loved her, he made her feel whole and special for the first time in her life. As a mute woman, she was no stranger to mocking and disrespect, a tertiary character in the film repeatedly referring to her as ‘mutie’ and ‘dummy’ (a common colloquial term for those unable to speak in the past was that they were dumb or , if they also could not hear, deaf and dumb). So it was very important for her that this humanoid creature didn’t see her in terms of her difference, the explanation of which is one of the more endearing and heartbreaking scenes in the film for me. The themes of acceptance and equality steer this movie in a direction that couldn’t even have been hinted at in the trailers. From the homosexual neighbor, the African American friend, the mute orphan woman with an unknown background, to the otherworldly creature – each and every one of them is discriminated against in this world. Each and every one of them is met with opposition and stifled in some way throughout the film. And they band together. They stand in light of adversity and they win. They are each targeted by the ‘average, white, American male’ and they come out on top.

Persistence, decency, and love basically run the film’s two hour run time and bring us a tale that honestly warms the heart. From Elisa’s friendship with Giles, to her instant attempt at understanding with the creature, dubbed Amphibian Man by the film’s credits, the characters show us a bit about what it means to be human. Even the moderate humorous elements of the film stand to teach a lesson in humility and understanding.

I was intrigued to see the continued use of water itself and its own importance in Elisa’s life even before meeting the Amphibian Man. From her daily bath, to the boiling eggs, to the very image of rain itself, water is one of the most important elements of life and of the film.

I think the only thing that really threw me off about the film was the ending itself. I do like the open-ended nature of the story, but the transformation element is one that was a little odd for me.

Overall the film is an absolutely incredible work of art. It is a love story written for love stories themselves. Guillermo del Toro wanted to create a story and film stronger than anything, that could fill any space and be exactly what it needs to be – just as water is. And The Shape of Water is exactly that. With an amazing cast, an incredible message, and a story that will remain as timeless as its presentation, this film is one that will forever be in the annals of film history. The message of equality and the almost demand for justice for all those affected by prejudice of any kind could not have come at a better time in this world, either. In a political climate consistently pushed toward discrimination and judgement and a social tendency for the same, this film is beacon of light in the darkness that has plagued mankind. To me, the message is clear: we all need to come together in love and understanding and put an end to the meaningless squabbles that arise over minor differences. The separation and judgement that affects daily life in this world has to come to an end before we truly destroy teach other, ourselves, and what beauty remains in this world. Of course, until such a thing happens, this film and works of art that hold similar themes will remain of the utmost importance.

But what did you guys think of the film? Have you seen it yet? Did you read as deeply into it as I did, or was it just another movie for you? I’d love to know your thoughts. As always, I’m definitely interested in hearing about what you guys want to read about here or hear about in the podcast. Leave me comments or reach out to me on my contact page on my website. I hope you guys are enjoying the holiday season, and I wish you all the best in the last few weeks of 2018!

**The featured image of this post is an original image by Edgewise Art (https://facebook.com/edgewise.art/): I retain no rights to the image, nor did I have any part in creating it.

“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.

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/).