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

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.

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/).

Summer Writing Extravaganza!

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope your July went great and you’re all ready for August. In about two months we’ll all be knee deep in leaves and smothered in hoodies, chugging more pumpkin lattes than you can wag a finger at. But for now, Summer is still king. As the hottest days of the year come to a head, I’ve got some great projects under way, and I’m very excited to tell you about them! Let’s start things off by going straight for the event of the the summer – Summer Blog-a-Day!

What’s Summer Blog-a-Day, you ask? It’s an awesome opportunity developed by fellow author Kay Macleod, which allows authors and bloggers from all walks of life a chance to expand their audiences in a number of new ways. Kay has arranged for a new blogger to be featured every day in the month of August, giving that blogger a chance to show off an original story, a short excerpt of a longer original work, or a recommended summer reading list on their assigned day. Every day a link will be shared to the author’s post, prompting unique views, starting today with fantasy author Chrys Cymri. Frankly, I think this is a great idea. This way authors can find a new way to connect with other authors while sharing work and inspiration, and their audiences can immerse themselves in new works. Basically, it’s a win-win!! If you want to check out the schedule and find all new authors to enjoy, here’s the link for the event; (http://kaymacleodbooks.com/summer-blog-a-day-2018/). My day on Kay’s schedule is August 8th, so be sure to keep your eyes open for a brand new post coming up that day, featuring an exclusive new bit of work by yours truly. Also be sure to visit the site and give these great authors your support – and share the event with everyone you think will be interested!

On another note: I have had a bit of excitement in the last week. I now have a new furry friend, fresh out of a bush at my old newspaper office. The long haired, ginger feline has since become the newest member of my little family, and is loving her new life indoors. It has been quite an experience raising a kitten again, and I must say she is a fun little friend. It’s both tiring and inspirational to have a new little life running around the house. Possibly due to said inspiration, I’ve been able to nail down what my next story is going to be, and get a start on it in the last week. Little Mary Jane, M.J. for short (complete Spiderman reference – no shame at all for my nerdiness) is definitely a hoot and you will all be seeing plenty of her on social media, without a doubt.

In addition to the rest of my news, I have actually been able to line up quite a doozy of a review for the near future. I’m going to be taking a peek at an advance copy of a book by one of my favorite authors and a friend of mine. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but the book is a prequel to a classic novel that is like no other. I look very forward to getting to share this with you all. I haven’t set a date for the review yet, but I will be keeping you all updated as things progress.

Finally, the last bit of news that I have before I stop boring you all with my words, is that I have completed one of the final steps remaining before I can attempt to get my provisional teaching license and begin inspiring others the way my favorite professors have inspired me. Of course, I’ll continue to keep everyone updated on this progression as well. In the meantime, I’ll be working on my new novel, playing with my new cat, and planning for the special bit of work coming your way in a week. Keep yourselves happy and inspired, make the most of the summer, and don’t let anything slow you down! Feel free to reach out to me with any questions or comments you have, and I’ll be back soon with something exciting for you all to enjoy!

Mother!, Inspiration, and Life

Happy Thursday, friends and fans! I hope life has treated you all well since my last post. It’s certainly been a roller coaster on my end, but that’s to be expected at the moment. We’ve almost made it through another summer here in the states, with about two months of unbearably hot weather left before the leaves begin their slow transition to mesmerizing colors and take a dive from their stoic wooden perches to coat the ground below. Then, of course, comes the snow. But let’s have that conversation another day. Some of you might kill me if I encourage the coming cold to arrive any time before its predestined moment.

As the title of this post notes, one thing I have to talk about to today is the 2017 film “Mother!.” I very much wanted to catch this movie in theaters, but my busy schedule didn’t allow it. I caught it Tuesday night while I was recovering from a busy week and I must say … that I’m still not positive what to think. The film was in no way what I was expecting. Wanting no spoilers for my future viewing, I intentionally avoided any detailed reviews and spoilers so I walked into this movie with a clean slate and an open mind, which was subsequently twisted, squeezed, and left shivering in a corner.

Although listed as a horror film. The movie has few to no actual horror-themed moments. There are, however, more moments of “what the heck is happening here” than I can count. I found myself often muttering variations of this phrase aloud in my living room (gaining at least a couple of equally confused looks from our silly feline companion) right up until the movie’s conclusion.

The themes of feminism, conservatism, misogyny, and outright insanity are rampant in the film- if you pay attention. For me most of the real message the movie intends to bring has become most clear in my reflection of the film (gratuitous spoiler alert warning).

The nameless mother figure and her marriage to the poet are used to openly bring about a highly disturbing and confusing situation that, at times, closely resembles that of the couple in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. We’re presented with a male character who shows distance, but love, and an inexplicable relationship between the two despite their differences. When outside characters are brought in, the story grows heavier and darker, with an act of fratricide that begins a deluge of strange occurrences and sends our nameless female antagonist into a frenzy reminiscent of classic damsels in distress.

As the movie goes on things become weirder. It’s only at the movie’s conclusion that the intentions of the director are laid out on the table. The movie’s expansive scenes call to mind reflection on creationism, and the plight of our precious planet. The disrespect showed by the others, the indifference of the poet, the open annihilation of all that is meant to represent their own personal paradise, all reflect our own violent treatment of all that is given us. I won’t spoil the true gut-wrenching moments or the strange conclusion of the tale, but I will say that anyone with a weak constitution should proceed with caution through the last 25 or 30 minutes of the nearly two and a half hour film.

On a more positive note, I can say that I’ve felt the inspiration of some very interesting stories buzzing in my person this week. I can feel elements of the stories, see scenes, get hints of some of the characters, but none of them seem quite ready to tell me their stories just yet. Another novel from my past has resurfaced, though. The very first novel I began writing, an uncompleted bit of fiction that doesn’t involve horror or the supernatural or paranormal (I’ll pause here to allow you all to pick your jaws up off the floor). I’ve begun revisiting what I had written over the last decade, trying to figure out what parts of the story I want to stick with and what should be reimagined for the character as I see him now. I’m quite excited for this. I always have felt interest in this story. Granted, it is the book idea that quite literally saved my life, so I naturally would be a bit drawn to it, I do think it’s a book with a lot to say.

On another front, I’m also looking at placing “Moonlight” back on the table for edits. I think there’s a pinch more to that story that I want to put in. Of course, all of these things can’t happen all at once, so my big attempt is going to have to be figuring out what to do first. We all know how well I do that.

I’m now six solid weeks in on the query waiting list, by the way. Round two will be going out in under a week. One of those I’ve already sent out was sent to an agent who only responds if they’re interested and tries to respond within two weeks. So one of the more than half dozen I sent out may be a no. Life goes on, right? Rejections suck, but at least no one is saying I suck. Yet.

But anyway, enough about me. What’s new with you guys? What awesome projects have the summer muses of warm weather and sweet nights sent you? Are you building some amazing creation that will blow all our socks off? Tell me about it! Leave me a comment, send me a message, find me on social media. My contact page on here is a great way to reach out to me. If you want to get updates that I don’t put in my blog feel free to join my newsletter (if you didn’t do it here, you can find the info on my Facebook fan page under Author Updates). I look forward to hearing from you all! Remember, if the muse won’t come to you, find out where it’s hiding!!

Waiting for the Muse

Hey there friends and fans! It has been a crazy couple of months for me. I feel like I’ve been pulled in a hundred different directions and have had everything in the world going on at once, which has kept me from my blogs, my writing, and my editing. Between waiting on beta readers to get back to me, having family members in the hospital, and trying to manage new story ideas March has flown by faster than I can grasp and has left me feeling less accomplished than I’ve felt in longer than I can remember.

It is officially Spring, and it’s almost time for those incredible late nights filled with crickets, lightning, and bonfires. Nights that, I don’t have to remind you, often inspire me like no others. Granted, in my neck of the woods the first full day of Spring has left us in the midst of a snow storm and 30 degree temperatures, but that can be inspiring in its own right. Unfortunately, I’ve found myself quite drained lately. As I slide into this new phase of life that is setting itself up before me, I’m hoping to return to the state of mind where stories flow and the flame of ideas both new and old is more than a smoldering spark. I think one of the most frustrating parts of the situation is that I’ve had a few ideas – really great ideas, if I may say so myself. But the second I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard it’s like a dam sets itself in my mind and completely stops the flow. Of course, I’ve written a number of posts in the past about such things and how you should just plod through them, but unfortunately I haven’t been great at taking my own advice.

I’ve taken notes, outlined and started some of the works, but at the end of the day I’m only kicking out a few paragraphs or a page or two at a time and feeling utterly unsatisfied by the finished product. But at least it’s progress. Fortunately, in light of that, I feel a change coming. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I sense things are going to start flowing again. I’m setting aside all of my excuses and putting Maverip through another edit and then I’m getting those query letters sent out. No more waiting, no more wasting my time and effort. Once I get that done, I think the floodgates will open and I’ll be back to normal. Of course, if that’s what I convince myself of, that’s what’ll happen, right? Right.

So, what’s the news for all of you? Any great things changing in your lives? March is fading fast and April is racing on its heels. I’ll keep you all posted on what’s happening with Maverip in the coming days and weeks, and when that acceptance letter comes back I’ll be sure to celebrate with you all. In the meantime, feel free to reach out to me in the comments on the blog or shoot me an email. I love talking with you all and any opportunity for some good conversation is always welcome! Enjoy the rest of March – and keep your eyes open in case it decides to go out like a lion. Spring is here, Summer’s coming and the inspiration is about to break wide open. Don’t let it miss you!

A Month In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gift of the Magi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Exorcist

Happy Halloween, everyone!! I trust October has been a spectacularly spooky month for everyone, hopefully made all the much eerier thanks to this month’s book club read. William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist” has been fascinating and terrifying audiences for nearly half a century now, but the text itself is written in a fairly timeless manner that allows the spooks and scares within to still affect readers today. The subject of many controversies of both religious and moral natures, “The Exorcist” still finds a way to worm its way into the minds of those daring enough to delve into its demonic depths.

First and foremost I have to say that, as a horror buff, this book has long been on my list of must-reads. The fact that I got to read it in October, for my Halloween book club choice admittedly makes it even better to me. The way Blatty tackles the very difficult subjects of possession and its effects on those around the possessed are still admirable qualities of the book. The helplessness that seems to drip off the pages from both Chris MacNeil and Father Karras are enough to give the reader cause for tears with each new chapter. The fact that Reagan’s consciousness is completely absent for the majority of the novel is something that differs from other exorcism tales of similar caliber. I like that, rather than being made to feel sorry for her because she begs us to, we are made to feel sorry for her because she doesn’t get the option of asking. I think that was an incredibly wise choice on Blatty’s part.

The continuous allusion to Karras’s failed faith, and the hints that he had done or said something wrong that wasn’t explicitly laid out by those around him is one of the endearing qualities of the novel for me. I loved the constant struggle between his science and medicine-based training for psychiatry and his religious need to see the meaning behind things and try to save Reagan’s life – even her soul. One thing that has seen slight controversy and confusion for critics of the work is the reveal of what Karras’s guilt may stem from. It comes from the end of the novel, when the demon is pushing him and screaming at him, and it’s one word in a part of the novel that moves about as fast as a bullet car. “homosexual.” The demon tells Karras what he has feared throughout the entire novel; he is not worthy. He is, in fact, so corrupt that worms won’t eat his corpse. The fact that this has slipped by without scrutiny and analysis for so long, to me, is a testament to both the author and the readers. Blatty spun the web so well that we see Karras’s worth, despite his worry. Even the critics of a time when being gay was seen as incredibly taboo didn’t have much to say about this because Blatty made it obvious that this made Karras no less worthy, no less of a holy man. I am rather fond of that and applaud him for it. I would have liked to see a short scene with Karras finally feeling his worth, but of course that could be his death scene if one chooses to interpret it that way.

I like the research that was put into this book as well. So often popular culture spins exorcism as an easy thing to get. You just tell a priest you  have a demon and soon there’s holy water and pea soup everywhere. But that’s not the case. The Church (notice that organizational classification) has rendered exorcism as a very taboo last resort. There are definitely hoops that must be jumped through and proof that has to be gathered before priests will be bringing The Host into your house and trying to rend the devil from within. The fact the Blatty emphasized that heavily here, and even presented us with a knife’s edge that could have led to Reagan’s death had the church gone in the other direction are further reasons I respect his work to no end. I loved the use of other languages, mentions of both religious and occult texts, and the overall feeling of added stress the reader is given at having to follow this proof-gathering quest. Had Karras been able to walk in and say “yeah, let’s do an exorcism” I don’t think the book would be nearly the great piece of work it is today.

There were a couple of things I had problems with, of course. One thing that I’m sure many of you noticed ( at least I hope it wasn’t just me) was Blatty’s style. He was great at setting up a scene for the most part, but there were times when his execution fell flat. A lot of times in the novel I found myself wondering why such pointless dialogue and irrelevant detail made it into the scene. I don’t know if Blatty just wasn’t good at dialogue, or if that was just his way. I haven’t read anything else from him yet, so I may have to return to that question at a later date. I also would have liked some sort of clear resolution of the strange priest that appeared to Karras in his room before Merrin was approved. We get a very tense conversation for a strange, crutched man who ends in Karras being warned to leave the MacNeils alone and to beware of Sharon, and then he wakes up, leaving us to think the conversation was just a dream before he finds the cigarette in his ashtray. One obvious interpretation would be that it was a nightmare visit from the possessing demon in an attempt to scare him away, but why the strange fat priest, why the crutches, why have him smoke the same imported cigarette as Chris, and why the warning to beware of Sharon? Am I missing something? One more minor thing I have a slight confusion about; Pazuzu is mentioned by Merrin, the statue of Pazuzu is the forefront of the beginning of the novel, and the name comes up again, but I don’t recall the demon or even Merrin explicitly saying that Pazuzu is the entity tormenting Reagan. I only bring this up because it has somehow become all but canon with the novel and the culture surrounding it, but I never got the solid affirmation I expected.

Regardless of those things I do think this book is well worth the read. For any lover of horror or even just mystery, this novel will keep you on your toes. I know there are a lot of religious arguments against it, but I don’t know if I understand that. The book certainly doesn’t encourage witchcraft or seeking demonic possession. If anything it does the opposite. Maybe it’s just the fictional representation that can be interpreted as supporting the attempts at exorcism. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, follow your own inclination when considering whether or not to read the novel. I recommend it, particularly keeping in mind the faults I mentioned. As always, I look forward to everyone’s contribution and comments. Feel free to comment on any and all posts or send me a private message anytime (you can send me a message on the website, and you’re welcome to send Facebook messages or DMs on Twitter). I look forward to conversation and further book suggestions! Keep your jack-o-lanterns lit tomorrow night to protect yourself, and keep in mind that, for myself and many others, Wednesday means Christmas will take over everything!!