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!!

My Grandfather

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bridge to Terabithia

Happy Banned Books Week! I’ve always been a huge fan of celebrating banned books, partly to stick it to the ridiculous censorship-loving administration, but mostly because I find that the books that people don’t want you to read can often offer you the most. This book is definitely a part of that list. I absolutely LOVE it. My first experience came from the movie, but I was immediately enthralled. For the last ten years I have adored the movie and the book. It is actually one of the inspirations behind my own decision to move forward with my desire to be an author.

One of the greatest things about this novel, for me, is the fact that it points to the total liberation of mankind via the imagination. Being written in the 70’s, it was kind of published in that time when kids were first being encouraged to let their imaginations guide them through portions of their lives, and this book captures the cusp of that idea. Jess’s family and fellow students represent those who feel imagination is not something to be given in to. Jess’s parents, consistently burdened with the challenge of feeding the children and running the farm in the fragile economy they live in, can be seen as the old style of shunning imagination and things that aren’t ‘real,’ where others – Leslie in particular – represent the new and liberating views of allowing imagination its place in life.

Leslie’s introduction into Jess’s life really allows him to open up and be who he is meant to be. She doesn’t act or think like the rest of the kids, or even the adults (with the exception of Ms. Edmunds) that he is used to, and that makes him feel more free than he ever imagined. When Jess and Leslie create Terabithia I truly resonated with his description of the mythical magic of the place. He allows Leslie to bring him into this magical realm, but he still has his doubts. Many times he says that he can’t do it without Leslie, or can’t think of it the same as her. His love for Leslie and Ms. Edmunds is what allows him to embrace the creative side of his own life. After Leslie’s death Jess is obviously devastated, particularly considering the fact that his day had been spent further embracing his own love of art and imagination.

I love the way Paterson brings Jess to reality while allowing him to avoid everything involving Leslie’s death. He adamantly denies that she is gone, so much so that after he runs away and is brought home he wakes up almost completely convinced that it was all a guilt-ridden nightmare because he didn’t invite her to the museum. When he is forced to confront the fact of her death he reacts in much the way a child would, destroying memories of her in anger. Once he calms down he begins to instantly doubt himself again. The inspiration and freedom that Leslie brought him threatens to leave. When considering Terabithia he is terrified that he won’t be able to make the magic happen without Leslie, even worries that the make-believe kingdom won’t be there if he goes without her.

The fact that he is able to make the magic happen is, to me, a testament to the amazing power of love and imagination and creativity. Jess is able to keep the magic he and Leslie created, is even able to be in touch with her memory as he reflects on his friendship with her. I love that. I feel like it is a huge representation of the strength we all possess, even in the midst of a tragedy that threatens everything we hold dear.

Another thing I loved about this book is the way Paterson makes Leslie and Ms. Edmunds strong female figures who refuse to fall into the social norms. The feminist themes that offer these two strong female characters a whole other kind of freedom were both embraced and feared when this book was published (and still are today). I find it very important that there is so much emphasis on Leslie and Ms. Edmunds breaking the norms and being their own women, without holding to social construct or listening to “girls can’t do that.” It is a huge testament to the nature of the piece and its deep running themes of freedom and exceptional behavior.

Of course, this is one of the things that has lead to the book being challenged. The language and the obviously difficult ending are two others. The fact that Paterson wrote such a strong and impactful book 40 years ago, that still stands the test of time today, says a lot about the topics and her own prowess as a writer. Putting my own hatred of literary censorship aside, I find these reasons to be abhorrent for shunning such an awesome work of literature. When children can pick up a book and see that their creativity and imagination should be embraced, find out that it is OK to be different, even see someone their own age faced with and learning how to handle death, that book is a treasure. To push it out of libraries, schools and off of reading lists is a real travesty and I shudder to think there are parents out there who think otherwise.

But I’ll get off my soapbox. I don’t have many faults with this book. I would like a little more explanation of why Jess’s father doesn’t show affection to him the way he does the girls. Granted, this was 40 years ago and many people, particularly in rural America, were still under the impression that showing too much love to boys made them ‘soft,’ I think that knowledge is lost on a lot of youth and they may come away with the impression that the father is just a jerk. Which is harmful to an overall interpretation of the text, I think.

Overall, this book will always have a huge place in my heart. Aside from being a piece of YA literature that truly has the means to empower kids, it is an easy-to-read work that is educational about real-life issues. I love it. I hope you all enjoyed it as well. But what are your thoughts? Do you agree with its challenged/banned status? Tell me your thoughts! And be sure to give me your ideas for the best horror novel we can cover in October!!

Gwendy’s Button Box

This story is a perfect example of the amazing nature of King. He and Chizmar created a tale that is just phenomenal. The possibilities are endless with the concept they presented here, and I would LOVE to see it come back in a more lengthy work from either or both of them. I was excited to pick the novella up and I tore through it in a matter of hours. It was a very smooth and lively read that kept me guessing and kept me captivated.

Gwendy Peterson recieves this strange box from a strange man who seems to be something a little more than human – classic King characterization. I love that she just followed through with the situation, even though she questioned everything that was happening, she literally did the exact opposite of what she should have done when approached by a strange man who says he’s had his eye on her – right down to literally taking chocolate from a stranger. I loved seeing her questioning her actions and what is going on around her, but, like Pandora’s own secret-filled box, she can’t resist.

I liked the idea that this box, like many inanimate objects in King’s works, has a greater power over her life and over reality itself. Gwendy’s whole life is changed one small bit at a time. She starts to lose weight, she grows up to be a knockout, her parents stop drinking and those people who disrespect her seem to quickly get theirs. She pulls her levers and gets her silver dollars and her candy, and she avoids the buttons at all costs – until she doesn’t. The concept of a random strange box out there that contains the power to cause some sort of devastating natural disaster to any part of the world – or the whole thing – with just the push of a button is mesmerizing and terrifying. Gwendy handles that with a similar grain of disbelief, which leads to her pushing the red button for the first time.

I really loved the way the authors made the Jim Jones massacre a direct result of this curiosity. King is great at including actual historical events in his works, especially in the last ten years or so. She pushes the button after careful consideration, choosing a part of the world that was very sparsely populated just to see if it really did blow everything up. The next day she sees the story of Jones’ cult and its mass murder/suicide. The fact that King and Chizmar used this tragedy as a way to explain the power of the box was awesome to me, suggesting almost that the box itself had the power to make people go completely insane and do the most asinine things imaginable (an idea later supported by green teeth killing her boyfriend). I was interested in reading of Gwendy’s life after she accepted the true nature of the box. She continued to be affected by whatever power the box had, and she respected and feared it more than ever, not pushing the buttons again until she had to and even weaning herself off of the candy and trying to let the box be just a thing she rarely thought about.

I was a bit surprised at the way the book wrapped up after the box got its way, by causing the murder of the boy Gwendy loved. In regards to that event; I felt almost like it was like the box was telling her that she belonged to it as much as it to her, and it would not tolerate her indifference anymore. The boy who  had started making fun of her – whom the box sent on a terrible course in life – broke into her home and waited on her to come back. When she did Gwendy’s boyfriend fought to keep her safe until the box presented itself to the attacker. Gwendy gets to see the box that has sent her on this course be the very tool that takes her happiness from her. It definitely breaks something inside of her. I loved the fact that she used the red button to both kill the boy and make his body disappear. It was an insanely creative way to bring home the literal “this button will get you whatever you want” element. From this point on, though, I felt like the end was a bit rushed. We got some vague descriptions of Gwendy’s life and pursuits after those events, and then the man in black was there to take the box and be on his way.

I really enjoyed the story. I felt a lot of familiar vibes, with the nature of it reminding me a lot of King works like “From a Buick 8,” “11/22/63″and things in that vein. I love the idea that there are beings out there, sometimes with devices, sometimes without, who are charged with watching over the world and being the door between dimensions or timelines. That element has always fascinated me, so this story is definitely one of my new favorites.

That being said, the only real complaint I had was, as I mentioned, it was a bit short and the end came a bit quickly. I think it could have been fleshed out and become more novel-length, but at the same time it would really be a lot of the same thing if that were the case. Gwendy loves the box, it loves her, she forgets the box, it tortures her, etc… I would have liked to se what would have happened if she actually tried to get rid of it or destroy it. Would it have retaliated against her personally, killing or hurting her, or would it have gone after someone she loved because she was its designated protector? So many questions… I do think I would have gone a little more in depth in her life post box-murder, but that’s just me. I would like a few more words about what happened to her after, too. And, for that matter, how was she chosen? Who is the man who gave and took the box? Did he make the box or is he likewise charged with its protection? If it’s the latter, why does he give it to others to protect? I can ask questions all day, but the bottom line is this; the book was great, and I will remain somewhat hopeful for a related tale.

What did you guys think? Did you, like me, find yourself enthralled with the mysteries of the box and what it can do? What do you think of stories like this in general? If you have any suggestions of works in a similar vein, please share them. It’s right up my alley.

As always, make your comments on what you’d like to see and discuss next. I look forward to hearing what everyone likes to read, so it’s always fun for me! Also, in case you  haven’t been keeping up or need a reminder; I’ve returned to Wattpad! I’ve been using the free service to present a horror story that I’ve wanted to write for a while and to experiment with a noir detective fiction tale that I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from. I’d love it if you guys would check any of my Wattpad works out. Don’t forget to comment and vote on the stories so they can be exposed to more readers. Check it all out here (https://www.wattpad.com/user/DameanMathews)

I hope you enjoyed the book, and I hope you’re enjoying the book club. If you have any other ideas for what sort of content you’d like to see on the blog, let me know about that, too! I’m here for you guys and I want to make sure you get what you need and want! have a great rest of July and look for my August announcement in the general vicinity of the 2nd or 3rd!

Return to Wattpad!

Hey there friends and fans, I just wanted to post this update to let you all know that I have finally made my return to Wattpad! I haven’t been on the site for more than a year, but I blew the dust off yesterday and returned to my profile. I haven’t looked into working on my old stories just yet, but instead started a brand new piece! I’m very excited about the work and I would love for you all to read it! I don’t know if any of you are involved in Wattpad, but if you are I want to connect with you there, as well, so make sure you either follow me or post your username so I can follow you!

I know that Wattpad has produced some of the world’s bestsellers (looking at you Grey….) so I’m excited to see the levels of talent that exist on the site. Who do you all follow on there? Is there a writer who has blown your mind with their Wattpad works? Inquiring minds want to know!

Without further ado, I’m going to share my story description and my username (with a link) so you can all get connected!

My username is “DameanMathews” and my story is called “The Dollhouse.” It’s an idea I had earlier this year and I’m beyond excited to get to publish it in this way. It really reminds me of the old serial novels that people used to wait eagerly for each week. Very Dickens-esque… Anyway, here’s the decription;

After moving his family to a new town 500 miles from anyone they know a struggling father stumbles across the perfect gift for his depressed daughter. Shortly after the discovery strange things start happening in the McKinrow house. But it can’t be anything serious…. can it?

https://www.wattpad.com/user/DameanMathews

Share with me and share this post with anyone and everyone you know who uses Wattpad!

Make it Natural

As I’ve written about before, life can very easily get in the way of our crafts at times. Writing is a huge part of my life and, in essence, is literally who I am. So it should be the easiest thing in the world to belt out page after page day in and day out, right? Unfortunately that isn’t the case. With a full time job, a crazy and unpredictable schedule, and family that lives an hour away, life is very busy these days. So busy that I have had the unfortunate displeasure of seeing my writing dwindle in the past month or so.

I wake up each  morning and tell myself that I’ll write x amount of pages today, or I’ll spend x amount of time writing today- no matter what. How often do you think that happens? Not nearly as much as I’d like. I hate to admit it, but the most important things I’ve written in the last two weeks have been the short story I shared in a previous post and what I consider a fun twist in Maverip. And it hurts! I want to write more, and I know it’s my own responsibility to make it happen. That’s what I wanted to talk about today.

I read an article recently on the topic of time and it said the most cliche, blatant and helpful thing possible. More or less, it asserted that,  if you want to be a writer you have to do only one thing: write! Of course that’s painfully obvious, but it was a reminder. The article went on to enforce the idea that, no matter what is going on in life, you can make time for your writing – or any other craft, of course.

Yes, life crowds around us and responsibility sets in, but how much time do we spend watching TV or playing with our smart phones? How many hours in a week do we waste performing mindless tasks that take away from our lives?

That’s not to say we should abandon these things altogether, not at all. But, and I know this is true for me, if we’ve been called to write or produce any sort of art, then we have to do what it takes to make sure that we do it. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again; I was created to be a writer.  God put me on this earth to be an author, to produce written works unlike any other (not to sound too full of myself). So why should I allow life to take that from me? Why should any of us?

We shouldn’t! We are the people in charge of our lives. We have complete control over what we do, how we spend our time and how we use our gifts. Granted, that doesn’t exactly extend to when or how inspiration hits, but that’s a story all of its own. We, as artists, need to take control of our lives, assert ourselves against the mundane things that threaten to pull us away from our purpose.

We all know that every little bit of inspiration can lead to the next 30 chapters of a book, or our next Monet-esque masterpiece. So why not make it happen? One thing the article I mentioned pushed was that sometimes writing doesn’t come easy. Some days you can sit down and write a dozen chapters without blinking, but other days its hard to get a sentence to come out.  But WE HAVE TO KEEP TRYING.

Some people will tell you that you shouldn’t force it. You shouldn’t push the writing or the craft. When it’s ready it’ll come. That’s crap. I’ve told you all before; it’s yours. You are in the care of it. You have the unique pleasure of cultivating this lovely bit of art, whatever form it is in, and you have to take the time to make it happen. So that’s my advice for today, friends and fans.

It gets hard sometimes, it does, but there is not another other person on the planet who can do what you can do with your ideas. There’s no one who can produce the same thing you can. There is no one who can do it for you. So my challenge to each of you is this; take one hour a day for yourself.

No matter what else you have going on in your life, take an hour every single day for yourself,  for your craft. If you’re pressed for time, write in those few minutes between appointments. Jot down a sentence here and there, while you’re waiting on your coffee, while you’re on hold during a phone call with those people who get paid for wasting our time, whenever. Make it happen.

I read somewhere once that it only takes 21 days to form a habit. Three weeks to create an automatic repeated motion, an action that you literally don’t have to think about anymore. It becomes NATURAL. So try it. Find that hour every day and make it happen. Take an hour of your own time back and dedicate it to the gifts you have been given. You won’t be doing it alone, by any means. I’ll be doing it, too. Try this for one whole month and see what difference it makes for you. Does it become a habit? Does it open the floodgates from 8-9 p.m. every night? Do you find yourself anticipating the coming hour? Keep me posted! Of course, I’m not saying limit yourself to one hour – that time frame is a minimum! I’m hoping that this will literally open the doors and inspire you to be able to reclaim your craft in the best possible way. So let’s do it. Let’s take back our gifts, our skills, our crafts, our purpose. Let’s make it as NATURAL as it should be.

Starting today, take an hour for yourself. Write, paint, draw, do whatever it is that makes you happy, and don’t accept anything less any more. I’m certain you’ll notice a difference in yourself, and I’m excited to hear all about it!  Keep me posted in the comments, or send me a private message and let’s take back our lives! Remember to read “Gwendy’s Button Box” for the July review and keep your eyes open for the post in a couple of weeks!

New book, happy holiday

I hope everyone in the states had an awesome Independence Day yesterday! Naturally, for the rest of you, I hope it was a great Tuesday, as well. I spent my day catching up on Doctor Who and writing for the most part. It was quite pleasant. I wanted to take the time to thank everyone for reading my posts and participating recently. I’m working on some interesting pieces and still plan to try and have Maverip ready for beta readers by the end of August. It’s a rough go, and I’ve actually decided that, rather than handwriting first and then transcribing, I’m just going to type what’s left. This is as much a safety measure as a time saver.

That decision is somewhat bittersweet. Some of you know that when I started writing I wrote everything by hand, no matter what. For years that’s how I handled myself. I would write by hand for days, then type up what I’d written. That served as a sort of semi-editing process along the way, but it has been very slow going. Admittedly, I also have had dreams of leaving my original manuscripts for my children to look at someday – although some would argue that no one could read it anyway. I can still do that with everything leading up to this current point, but the rest may be just have to be typed so I can cut back on time and get my novel to a publisher by Halloween! Of course, that would be the perfect time to begin the publishing process on a horror novel, but I digress.  As always, anyone interested in being a beta reader for an modern, non-sparkly vampire novel please contact me and I’ll get everything set up!

But anyway, on to what we’re here for; July’s book selection! I decided to go with another new release with this month’s pick. Since the Summer is going strong, I’ve chosen a bit of a short work that promises to be really awesome. This month’s read will be “Gwendy’s Button Box,” by Richard Chizmar and Stephen King. It was released last month and has plenty of good reviews. Being a work even just partially created by King, I’m sure it will be an awesome piece. I’ll plan to post my review around July 26 or 27. I look very forward to discussing this piece with everyone and hope you enjoy your July!!

I Still Can’t Breathe

Hey there friends and fans! About two years ago I had a small snippet of a story pop into my head and I wrote it down quickly, placing it both in a blog and on my Facebook page to get outside opinions.

At the time I wasn’t sure exactly where it had come from or what it meant, and I’ve returned to it on and off through the years. At this point I’m thinking it may be the inspiration for  a potentially non-supernatural serial killer story. I’ve dabbled a bit in standard fiction, and I always prefer including the supernatural and horror elements in my work, but I think this piece has promise. I wanted to share it again here, so you could check it out. I’d love to have anyone and everyone’s opinion on this short piece of writing. What do you think as you read it? What do you feel? Can you even breathe, because sometimes I can’t.  Anyway, here is the piece, please give me feedback!!

I can’t breathe. My heart is pounding, my legs are throbbing and I can’t breathe. I don’t know how long I’ve been running or how much longer I can keep it up, but I know I can’t stop. The sun has been down for what seems like forever and the faint light is still clinging to the autumn day. My lungs are on fire; my chest feels like it’s going to explode. It’s just when I think things can’t get any worse that I make a terrible decision. I glance behind me to see how close my pursuer is and my foot finds a hole I hadn’t expected to be there. I feel my ankle snap like a twig, the sound ringing out like a shot in the silence. I hit the ground, feel the wind rush out of me and grab my leg. I don’t even have enough breath to scream as I roll over, mouth open in a terrible grimace and find that my attacker is on me.

                I see now that he is brandishing a knife and realize instantly that he means to use it on me. In the faint light I notice the tell-tale stain of rust on the blade as it arcs toward me, catching the reflection of the tree line I’d intended to be my salvation just before it plunges into my chest and out of sight. My first thought, rather than of my life, is of such a poorly manicured knife and what sickness it could bring if used in a culinary fashion.  I don’t have time or energy to react to the man’s attack, and soon it’s too late.

                I feel the pressure first, like being in school and having the pencil in your pocket stab your skin when you sit down. Before I know it the pressure becomes a white hot poker of misery as split and severed nerve endings begin screaming in a hellish, tortured chorus, the warmth inside my chest spreading outwards as my blood flows from newly opened veins. My last thought is a realization that both allows and solidifies my outcome; I am dying. 

Inspiration and Determination

Good morning everyone! As you know, yesterday and Friday I was at the Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium for yet another year. I’m glad to say that, as always, the whole thing wowed me to no end. I was able to sit in on great workshops by great authors ranging in topic from writing poetry to get the creative juices flowing to busting the myths of writing and the best way to work on getting an agent in this increasingly competitive field.

For two days I surrounded myself with other authors from all walks of life and, together, we all discussed the craft and what it takes to make it if writing is for you. I love it. Since attending this symposium I feel I’ve learned invaluable tips that have increased my prowess and allowed me to unlock my own abilities more and more each year. I am blessed each year to see that there are other people who, like me, are completely enamored with the written word and who have the same passion I do about writing. I love it.

This year, though, a lot of the workshops I attended had more to do with what to do after you’ve completed writing. As many of you know, I’ve decided to stop dragging my feet when it comes to Maverip. I’ve been working on this book for a collective 9 years. I’ve loved every minute of it, and I’ve made years worth of excuses as to why I haven’t put it out there just yet. I’ve decided, like I said earlier in the year, that I plan to combine what was originally intended to be three separate novels into one book with three parts. I plan to finish that opus this summer, and the symposium made me even more certain of that decision.

Seeing other authors who talked about having the same feelings of incredible inspiration countered, unfortunately, by days of doubt and near inability to push forward was inspiring in itself. As an author, or artist I know what it’s like to wake up and have to really push yourself to produce something or move forward with a project. That’s one place symposiums and events like this come in very handy. As always, I have to remind anyone who is struggling with this problem that one of the best ways to combat a non-productive day is to find something that truly inspires you. For me it can be music, nature, seeing someone else who had a positive experience with the craft or even going back and reading my own work and remembering how inspired I was at that time. Determination to succeed can also be one of the most powerful methods of moving forward with your work. No matter what, one thing that I always stress and something that is always pushed at these types of events is that you must never – EVER – give up. The worst thing you produce is still better than not producing anything at all.  Never let yourself fall to a lack of motivation or a negative notion. You are the only person who can produce your work, and the world deserves your work! If you’re feeling down or feeling stuck you have to remember that you have these ideas for a reason. It’s your gift, your purpose and you have to own it!

On another fun note, I was able to finally meet a fellow writer who I’ve connected with on social media. Mr. Tony Bowman, a fellow horror author, was at the symposium as well. Tony has five books under his belt so far and a great deal more that he’d like to write. His work is very good and I think many of you might find it interesting as well, so go check him out (http://thattonybowman.blogspot.com/).

So, after the symposium, I’ve decided that I am going to double down on my writing this summer and hope to have Maverip finished by the end of August at the latest. With this I also plan to develop a couple of related shorts that I will put out  either free or cheap to help make people aware of the novel. From there I plan to run through my first series of edits, and then proceed to find at least three strong beta readers. I would love to have some of you guys jump in here, if you’re willing. I need readers who will be brutally honest with me and tell everything they do or do not like. If that sounds like something you’re interested in just give me a shout and we’ll get it all set up. I hope you’re all enjoying “To Kill a Mockingbird.” That review will be up in a few weeks and we’ll move on to another book! I’d love to see more people get involved with this blog and the book club, so please share this as far and wide as possible and we’ll go down the road to publication together!

The Powers of Darkness: The Lost Version of Dracula

I loved diving into this lost piece of history. Dracula has long been one of my favorite works and one of my favorite literary characters. Reading this work and watching some of the more than 200 film adaptations of the character further inspired my love of vampires and helped me decide to be a vampirologist and Dracula scholar. From the first time I read Stoker’s novel I was pulled to Dracula with a vigor I’ve never been able to (or desired to) escape from. That fascination was renewed when I got my hands on a copy of Dacre Stoker’s co-written sequel that said the count hadn’t actually died after all. When I first heard this new retwlling had been discovered by Hans de Roos and others and was being translated and released I couldn’t believe it. For years I had dreamed of  even more workings of the menacing and misunderstood figure that has become synonymous with all things blood-sucker. After reading the book I have to say that I am both very pleased and still left wanting more.

Getting straight to the point I have to say that Valdimar Asmundsson wrote an incredible alternate version of the book that has become literary staple in the past century. Heading right out of the gate I was both shocked and intrigued to see that the book took a much more conversational tone than the original (granted, I’m sure at least some of that had to do with the translation from Icelandic to English). Originally Harker was strict, speaking … er, writing…. with professionalism and personalism. Here Harker, Thomas rather than Johnathon in this case, feels a bit looser to me, as if he’s less stiff than the original.

The blatant changes in Harker’s journey were fascinating to me, too. In the original novel it feels like Harker’s trip is swift and the people he encounters very stiff and cold. This version gave us a trip that felt almost casual rather than business in my opinion. Harker was hit hardest by superstition at the last leg of his journey in both cases, however. The people in the last village he stopped at all but begged him not to go to the castle they believed to house something wrong.

Harker’s stay at the castle dominates this particular version of the novel, taking up about three quarters of the piece. He is subjected to the same strange behavior from the count, right down to the destruction of his shaving glass and the often absent host that never eats. He explores the castle on his own, as before, but now he finds only one beautiful woman, rather than three illustrious vampiric wives. He is almost haunted by this woman, her power over his mind and spirit mentioned multiple times as he spends weeks in the castle with no escape. His only saving grace is the cross around his neck. Both the woman and the count are visibly turned away by this the cross, and he mentions multiple times that he believes the cross to be what saves him from an unknown, but surely terrible, fate.

The layout of the castle is another new piece of work, as are a number of new characters. Here Dracula and his “cousin” are in the castle with a deaf, mute (and once-blind) maid and a number of strange “ape-like” men who are only mentioned once outside of the demonic cathedral beneath the castle. I loved the scene where Harker first truly sees the evil inside his host. Young women are sacrificed by the count and his ape-men in this underground altar room and Harker finally stops denying that something is wrong.

I enjoyed the way the book picked up from this point. When Harker comes to the full realization that he has to get out, I kind of felt like I was on a roller coaster. I loved the way he continued to try to be impartial to Dracula and the way Dracula became even more fiendish to him. I was a bit disappointed by the big reveal of Dracula laying in the coffin, because even here there was no mention of what exactly Harker thought might be happening.

I liked the way the second part of the book is told in a standard novel format, as opposed to the journal/letter format of the original. It made the story flow a little smoother, in my opinion. I was really thrown off by how quickly and how entirely differently the story wraps up, however. It seemed to me like Asmundsson either just didn’t like the latter half of the original, or he got bored with his own retelling. Perhaps he was unable to finish filling in his own details and decided to publish the piece as is. I don’t know. The second part of the short novel felt more like a detailed outline than an actual part of a novel. We hear of the Demeter’s crash, we hear of Lucy (here Lucia) and her sleepwalking, but we are also given the representation of a drastically younger-looking count becoming a very social figure. Mina (here Wilma) and Lucia meet the character on multiple occasions, putting me in mind of the classic Bela Lugosi Universal flick, or one of the many others that borrow from a similar story line. Is it possible someone down the line might have had this version to look at and base one of the many cinematic versions on it? The ending of the book came very quickly. There was no great chase through the European countryside, no large final battle, no real threat to the main characters. They opened his coffin and killed him. It was simple, easy and clean. In a way I felt a little robbed of what could have been done with this new version of the classic monster.

Overall, I did like the book. I thought it was a very interesting retelling of a novel most of us know (whether we know we know it or not), and I think there is a lot of opportunity to work with this altered story line (Dacre, if you read this I’d love to be in on anything that could be in the future!) and character. I enjoyed the addition of more characters in the castle, and I do think I preferred the single mysterious woman to the three. It added a  heightened sense of fear in my opinion. One woman can hide much easier than three, vampires or not. I enjoyed this more cunning and commanding version of the count. I say more commanding because we actually get to see him command a large group of his “ape-men” through a very dark ritual and that in itself added another layer to the inert fear the character can inspire.

Of the things I was less than impressed with… There is a bit of a list, but I’ll only hit the high points. Before I do, however, there was one thing that I can’t decide if I liked or disliked. That is Harker’s seeming lack of ability to understand or unwillingness to admit what is going on. Where the word vampire is mentioned in the original, this version never suggests that his host may be a vampire. He does mention the idea that he fears they (Dracula and the mysterious woman) may want to suck his blood, but he doesn’t come right out and say the word. Even after watching this blood ritual in the altar room, seeing the ape-like men drink someone’s blood, he doesn’t make this connection. I’m torn about this because, on the one hand I think it almost makes Harker out to be a fool, that he either doesn’t get it or doesn’t believe what he is seeing. On the other, it reminds me of  one of my favorite vampire movies, “Near Dark.” This movie is one of the most under-rated I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. It tells the story of a roaming group of vampires that have run-ins with the law, etc… It discusses their need to drink blood, the fact they never age and heavily showcases the damaging effects of the sun’s rays, but never once in the film is the word ‘vampire’ ever used. Clever tool, if you ask me.

I think the biggest thing I didn’t like with this book was how fast paced it moved after a certain point. The beginning was well thought out, well planned, and perfectly executed, but the latter half seemed to stumble over itself. Particularly the second part of the book, after Dracula leaves his castle. I feel like the author went through Stoker’s notes and novel with a marker and highlighted what he liked and made up some of his own work, but never took the time to put the real detail into it. I was very disappointed with the absence of the Renfield character. I feel he gave interesting insight into the effect Dracula can have on the brain. Personally, I also wonder just how much of Renfield’s tendencies Harker might have taken on while in the nunnery (or if Dracula sought Renfield because he wanted a similar servant to what he expected of Harker). The possibilities with that character are endless. Finally, I was disappointed in the fact that Dracula’s death was just there.  You’re reading the book, noticing it going faster and faster, and suddenly Dracula’s dead and the book is over. As much as I hate to say it, it did leave something to be desired.

I do have to say that the foreword, footnotes and all accompanying text was very helpful, very interesting and helped make the book that much more enjoyable. It does also help pose the question of whether or not there are other alternate versions of this age-old classic out there just waiting to be discovered (aside from the Swedish version which is being translated as we speak)….

Make sure to share your thoughts on this unique piece of literary history and share this with anyone you think might be interested. Make your suggestions for future books and let’s keep the book club going! Summer is here, the kids are out of school, and it’s time for those summer reading lists, so let’s say this month’s book is going to be your favorite summer reading list pick! Leave them in the comments or message me directly via email or social media. I look forward to hearing from everyone. Keep reading!