Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 - A Look Back. Another Year of Trial and Moving Forward

2013 ended in a very difficult place, following the year in which I lost my mother to cancer, bringing several years of losses family-wise to a place where I had an extremely difficult 2013 holiday season where everything was down to just myself and my sister.  The winter last year proved to be a very lonely and difficult one to endure and I found myself struggling to even write.

Nevertheless, as January arrived in 2014 I managed to get myself to a point where I was determined to see that the year of 2014 was an upswing one in nature, after a long period of gray skies that arrived full force in 2006 when my father passed away suddenly.  I desired to get my physical side in good order and to get back out there business-wise, at the very least.  Everything in my outlook and effort was centered on making 2014 a good, uplifting and positive year, on multiple fronts.

A song that represented my fight in 2013 also applied to the early stage of 2014.  I had a lot of fire, in terms of fight in me, toward the new year and Pop Evil's "Trenches" reflects that very well using the image of filling up trenches (the low and difficult parts in life) and standing up.  As the song says:

"I've waited all my life to get out of the trenches
I'm ready to fight for what I believe you can steal from me

I won't take this

Gonna fill these trenches and stand up

Wake up, I won't give up

'Cause here I come, here I come"
-lyrics from Pop Evil's "Trenches"

In the early phase of the year, all of this renewed focus headed toward one of Seventh Star Press' biggest marketing pushes, right around the start of the big spring convention season that for me included stops in places like Chattanooga (ConNooga), MidSouthCon (Memphis), EvilleCon (Evansville), Author's Fair (Madison, Indiana).  With many new releases, online ads, print ads, and conventions, the workload during this time was tremendous. 
As if that wasn't enough, we were running our weekly podcast, the Star Chamber Show, and were fully underway with the organization and promotion of Imaginarium in its debut year.  A full convention centered on creative writing. including not just books but also movies, comics, and gaming, Imaginarium promised to be a lot of work.  But the ideas behind it were heartfelt and I wanted to be sure that this convention got established in a way that would allow it to progress into the future.
I was pushing myself extremely hard at this time, including some days where I literally worked all-nighters to make sure things stayed on course.  Print and eBook layouts, tons and tons of messages, blog tours to manage, road trips to execute, it was a maelstrom of activity.
Yet something was missing, and one friend of mine and one character of mine stepped forward to address that.  My friend Susan Roddey realized that underneath all the activity, I still wasn't in a full writing mode.  I had been able to address the final polishing of what would become The Undying Light, but that text had already been largely in place and been through my editor on that project, Amanda DeBord.  As far as new material, I had come to a standstill.  Susan recognized that and how important that part of me is.

Susan was very influential in encouraging me to start pushing ahead creatively with my writing, but most importantly she recognized what was absent and needed, which is the trademark of a true friend who has your best interests at heart.  The character of Rayden Valkyrie called to me at that time in a strong way and I found myself able to return to writing new material.  

I was able to write and complete what eventually developed into Heart of a Lion.   Rayden's fighting spirit and resilient nature really connected with me and my heart poured into this book.  I believe the result is something very special and I think it is poignant that this book also represents my first big step of the new year coming up. 

Finishing the polish of the text and getting in the final art pieces from Matthew Perry for The Undying Light, we were able to move ahead to release this 4th installment of the planned 7-book Rising Dawn Saga by the mid summer.  I feel strongly that this book represented another good step forward as a writer, and with the complexity of working with multiple plot-lines and an ensemble cast, this title offers a lot in the way of character and plot development as well as action.  Each of these books accelerates in pace and this one really moves things forward.  There is a lot of deep meaning to this book as well, in terms of what I feel is important in life, especially in what the title itself references.  This is definitely a book I am very proud of and represents one of the bright spots of 2014.
My birthday week in July rolled in with the Lexington Joseph-Beth Booksellers event for the launch celebration of The Undying Light.  I was blown away as not only Susan and her husband Bill came into town all the way from South Carolina, but many others made the road trip, including several of my SSP family like Alexandra Christian (with her husband Tally), Crymsyn Hart, Jackie and Dan Gamber, Michael West, Selah Janel, Brick Marlin and even that rebel from Indy, Rodney Carlstrom himself!  It mattered a great deal to me personally to see all of them there and things like that are something you do remember in your heart.  

The turnout that night was great, my best yet for a signing.  I got to see quite a few very special and familiar faces in the audience as well as some brand new fans who had just recently discovered my work.  All of this was simply wonderful and gave me a big boost of encouragement.
For this presentation, I commemorated everything about getting back to writing and releasing a new book, and coming back from 2013, by writing a special short story, non-genre in nature, that was very inspired by my own life, called "Onward and Upward". I had the story printed and bound in a special book that only 125 copies were produced of for this event (nearly all were distributed that night).   The story itself tied together two life incidents that themed around the image of the "eye of the tiger".
One was from the championship little league game of my youth, in which I had to pitch because the ace pitcher for our team had already had to take the mound in the playoff game to get us to the finals to begin with.  It was a magical day in which I struck out the first three batters to start the game, our team got really fired up, I went on to strike out 12 and we routed our heavily favored opponents.  During warmups, my dad, who was the head coach of our team, the Tigers, had the Survivor song "Eye of the Tiger" played over the loud speakers.  A photo of me was taken after that game, and the look is one of pure happiness by any measure.  That photo was included in the special book given out at the Joseph-Beth Event.

"Risin' up straight to the top
Had the guts, got the glory
Went the distance
Now I'm not gonna stop
Just a man and his will to survive'
It's the eye of the tiger
It's the thrill of the fight
Risin' up to the challenge
Of our rival"
-lyrics from Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger'

Fast forward to the photo shoot session I did for The Undying Light's print and eBook editions.  The angelic Terry Bentley was my photographer and I we did the shoot at her home studio.  During the session she asked me to recall a special moment of my life where I felt happy.  I talked to her about this championship game and the song that was played and everything else about it and she captured that smile in my author photo.  

Lo and behold, Terry had satellite radio on, and while were were talking about all of this I hear the words "eye of the tiger" coming from the speakers.  It was the Katy Perry song "Roar", not a genre I normally listen to but I was spellbound by that moment.  From the eye of the tiger I had as a twelve year old underdog pitcher put into a championship game, to the eye of the tiger I had picking myself back up and doing a large book launch and event after a period of great storm, I saw a resonance between past and present in the playing of that song on the radio.

"I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter
Dancing through the fire
'Cause I am a champion, and you're gonna hear me roar
Louder, louder than a lion
'Cause I am a champion, and you're gonna hear me roar!"
-lyrics from Katy Perry's "Roar"

The song also has a reference to a lion's roar, which has a potent connection to what comes later, but suffice it to say that the whole story involving my telling about my championship game and the "random" playing of a song with an "eye of the tiger" reference struck me really very profoundly to the extent that it served as the basis for the story "Onward and Upward". 

Susan gave my introduction at the event, which went very smoothly. We also gave out a limited print of one of the art pieces done by Matthew Perry from The Undying Light to every attendee. Joseph-Beth hosted an after event party in their Bistro, which included a signature drink called "The Undying Light", which was two parts Wild Turkey and one part butterscotch schnapps and was truly wonderful. The energy that night was so positive and amazing and I didn't stop until quite late that night, hanging out with my hardy friends from the Carolinas along with my sister and a great friend of mine, Phillip Richardson (including a few rounds of that wild card game, Cards Against Humanity!).

After the successful Joseph-Beth event, it really did seem that things were heading in the right direction and that 2014 was going to be that step up from the deep pain of 2013. Imaginarium loomed and there was growing buzz about it, the new book was out, and later in the summer I had something develop that I thought was going to break the sunshine through the clouds. 

Unfortunately, it proved to be one of two back to back storms I endured, the second of which had a tremendous impact on me.

Regarding the first storm, I cannot talk in full detail about it out of respect for those involved, but what seemed like an amazing and wonderful new chapter in my life quickly turned into something of great pressure and stress. A hardship occurred right at the outset of this situation and I stepped up to do everything I could to help, with time, scraping up every bit of money/resources I could (and couldn't afford to do, really).

When I commit to something in my personal life, I don't go halfway and I proved that in spades in this situation. Some friends of mine with very direct knowledge brought me some insights about the situation that allowed me to realize that I really was being taken advantage of. There was a true emergency/hardship element at the outset, but later after that time had passed something else emerged. 
It was so difficult to hear when I thought I was finally being given a chance to find happiness again, but I could not deny what my friends told me, at what felt like an "intervention". Though my heart ached a great deal, I had to step away from that situation on my own, but by then I knew those in the situation were going to be okay on their basic needs. I left nobody stranded and there were no fights or anything acrimonious, and I'm proud of the way I stepped up to help. I never apologize for things like that.

As usual, I ended up feeling like the hard luck champion I've always seemed to be.  I was deeply saddened by how things turned out and felt true heartache in the aftermath.

Then, right after this unfortunate period, I thought a real miracle occurred. I find it harder and harder to believe in miracles, but in this case it really felt like an answer to a prayer had transpired. Again, I can't talk in full detail, but I can talk about feelings and representations that will hopefully give some idea of what I went through.

It really felt like a lightning bolt of good fortune, finally cleaving those dark clouds above and driving the demons back. I had anxieties from the outset, as I couldn't fully accept that something this good was happening to me.  It seemed that everything I had hoped for was actually lining up.

Every day during this time, I got up in the morning with more and more vigor.  I could feel myself starting to heal inside. I have some great memories of this time, including a few very special ones that made me feel like a teenager again.  My laughter began to reach my heart, for the first time in a very long while.

So much came together at our Imaginarium weekend. The debut of Imaginarium went very smoothly, and successfully, so much so that many remarked it felt like a long-established event. No first year convention (unless a tremendous anomaly) covers all its costs, and we planned for that, but the programming, vibes, networking, and what grew out of it were all great successes that allowed for us to put year two on the map right away.

The weekend had so many highlights, but for me there were some very personal ones. One of these involved my dear friend Christina, who was rushed in emergency to the hospital in July and had to have her baby extremely early. The baby, a little, beautiful girl named Aliyah, was not due until October. Christina showed so much strength and courage enduring a nightmare in the weeks following the premature birth as Aliyah was in a very delicate and critical situation.

Christina could not even hold Aliyah in the early stages as they had to keep the little one connected to the machines during the fragile period. Christina and Aliyah both are true lionhearts, and that little baby persevered and grew stronger.  As things went, September 19th, the first day of Imaginarium, we received the incredible word that Aliyah was allowed to go home with Christina for the very first time. We assembled a large group of author guests and had a special banner prepared to send Christina and Aliyah a welcome home message. For me, this was a tremendously joyous moment and brought a lot of light to the start of my convention weekend.

My light continued involving the personal situation, in such a way that by the end of the weekend I was in a better state than I had been in a long, long time. The clouds above were truly thinning and the sun was on the verge of busting through and shining down on me. I even made discoveries about major things I wanted out of life that I didn't know were fully there before, coming to realize that I only had anxieties about those things and that I really wanted these dimensions in my world in a big, big way.  After that weekend, I had opened my mind and heart and, as they say, was "all in".

Then came the end of September, and a night that really shattered me inside occurred.  On this night,  I went through a soul-bleeding few moments in which those thinning gray clouds, on the cusp of dissipating to give way to radiant sunlight, were flooded through with the blackest of clouds. 

It is the worst kind of pain and emptiness, one that strikes at your most vulnerable center. The hopes, the dreams, the potential of everything I had started to see, the excitement about the new dimensions and what that meant to me deep in my heart... all of it was ripped, shredded and torn in just moments.

It is so hard to put this kind of thing into words, but there is a song that I feel gives a little insight to what this day and the aftermath felt like, Lacuna Coil's "One Cold Day".  A very, ice cold, very long day.  Tears truly are the words when it is impossible to confess the pain.  As the song states:

" Sometimes the sun shines cold
The road is lonely as I walk alone
In the sky the clouds are racing fast
It's becoming so cold outside

Time has come, time has come
And the clouds gather above me
And the clouds gather above me

As I stand in the rain of this cold day
Tears are the words when I cannot confess the pain
Time will heal
But I don't want to feel

Sometimes it's hard to let go
It's hard to move along the scars of life
Memories are blooming in the gloom

As I'm feeling so cold inside

Time has come, time has come
And the clouds gather above me
And the clouds gather above me

As I stand in the rain of this cold day
Tears are the words when I cannot confess the pain
Time will heal
But I don't want to feel

Cry in the rain
Release the pain
Cry in the rain
Release the pain

So cry now
Cry now and let it go"

-lyrics from Lacuna Coil's "One Cold Day"

The shock of this event gave way to a fall deep down into a very dark place. When I say I looked into the abyss I am not exaggerating.  I really hit the darkest level you can be at.  

What made matters worse is that a couple of individuals I could have talked to and who would have been on me relentlessly to talk to them got hit with horrid storms of their own. The Fall months were a time of tremendous trial for so many I know. It was just a terrible time of trial for many near and dear to me and I could not think of turning to them with my own difficulties.  So as things would go, I largely faced this ordeal by myself on most levels.

Looking back, I find it hard to believe I got through October, as much as I was bleeding in spirit.  I was in no position to suffer the kind of blow I did. It truly overwhelmed me and was more than I could handle. Only when I've lost an immediate family member have I felt a more gut-wrenching level pain. 

The torment of what so easily could have been plagued me constantly, something beautiful, soaring, ever-stronger, ever-better, and all of it just unceremoniously tossed aside into the ash heap. I do understand what could have been very clearly, and it breaks my heart to the core.  Several others beyond myself could have had so much more in their worlds and lives and in my heart this is one of the things that hurt (and continued to hurt) the worst by far.

A place I've dreamed of for long years felt so very close.  So close.  A return to a place I could call home.  The sight of the sun again.  So much ... so close... and the weight of it being taken away so abruptly, and in the manner it happened, was crushing.   Evergrey's "The Grand Collapse" captures the feeling of the shattered hopes and the long fall into darkness, after feeling so close to a world of light.

"We wanted to be caught in dreams that never end 
I told you the place where I feel less insecure 
I wanna never ever feel like I
Came so close, you … I "
-from Evergrey's "The Grand Collapse"

Worse, this started a dynamic I would describe as similar to an avalanche.  Lots of deep wounds from the pain of the last few years and the struggles I've gone through were opened up again in the wake of this experience.  It created a terrible cascade and is something that is hard for people to understand unless you've been through it.  
But the things I had thought were coming and opened up my heart to would have healed those deep wounds.  They would have driven the demons away.  They would have brought what I call the real me back all the way.  This I know without any shred of doubt.  Having all that come apart, especially in the shocking way that it did, triggered and dredged up so much from many other storms until it created a Perfect Storm that simply overwhelmed me. My spirit really was shattered. 

I understand this is a hard thing for others to react to, as when someone is going through a crisis like this it is hard to think of what to say or do.  My only hope in all of it was that others would not give up on me, in terms of at least having some confidence that I would somehow find a way through the worst of the storm, as in the past I have proven to be a fighter and not a quitter. 

I found that it was very hard for me to be in group situations.  It sounds counter to logic, but when in a group setting was when I felt most alone.  I tried, and sometimes over this whole course I did partake in a few things, such as when my friends Myra and Ken Daniels of FandomFest fame brought me down for the Fright Night Weekend in early October, where I got to spend a lot of time with my buddies like Jeffrey Reddick, Michael West and many other friends largely of the moviemaking world.  

The group I affectionately call "The Gang", Louisville-based authors Amy McCorkle, Pamela Turner, Missy Goodman, Mysti Parker, Jettie NeCole and her super cool husband Todd, invited me to catch up with them at a Shepherdsville book fair to visit and get dinner, and then later had a Christmas party in early December that my dear friend Robin Blankenship joined us for.  By December, I handled things a little better, but early it was so very hard and tiring to try to be as upbeat as possible in a group situation.  So for the most part, I pulled back and stayed to myself. 

Just to get through the days, I stepped up my martial arts training and conditioning to a really intensive level, I took steps to continue learning to ride my motorcycle and thanks to some wise insight from my good friend Eric, who I call the Wise Man of the Mountains, I picked up my guitars again after many long years of inactivity in that area.

 I knew I would not make it if I didn't hold fast to some things that focused my mind and body, as my spirit remained in that shattered state, as hollow and empty of a feeling as you can get.  All of the above activities require mental focus, regular practice, and also offer their own array of milestones and a course of progress.  All of this is healthy, and while I say it cannot heal the kind of wounds I have, it can help you cope and endure.

I could not see ahead anymore, so things got reduced to a day to day kind of battle. Nothing more, nothing less.  It became a strict discipline mode.  Each and every day I would power through my 75 to 90 minute workout during the day and at night get an a hike of an hour or more.  I would practice the guitar for at least an hour or more each and every day. I even started working on some original music.  I changed my dietary habits, switching to lots of water, Greek yogurt, dry roasted edamame, fruit cups, herbs high in antioxidants, and more.   I had to change my world just to survive, somehow, someway.

Fear Factory nailed this foundation in the song "Powershifter" and delivers it with the kind of fire that represents some of the anger I also dealt with inside; anger I would say is righteous anger toward a world where the losers and the loathsome get multitudes of chances and opportunities for incredible situations that they never appreciate and continue to bring empty roads to.  Believe me, I've seen this awful dynamic over and over through the years. Even if they get doors opened for them time and again, these losers leave nothing but heartache and disappointment in their wake, and often things much worse.

They are what I call the leopards of the world, who never change their spots despite being able to say the right things and turn on the charm to keep getting in doors.  Their ability to continue doing so just astounds me, as I can see them for what they are plain as day.  As for me, I embrace the concept of the lionheart, something which I need to write an essay about soon, as it is a kind of honor code that I go by.  It's a very good thing to embrace in regard to the leopards, as no leopard ever measured up to a lion.

As one who embraces a lionheart path, I had to "powershift" to change my world to be able to live, and to do that, you have to execute.  That means hitting that hard workout on the days you feel tired.  Playing those notes on the days when its not flowing.  Sticking to the path of making better dietary habits when it might be tempting to have something else.  Powershifting.  Execution.  It's why the leopard is no match for the lion ultimately, and never will be.  Maybe some day wisdom will prevail everywhere and these losers will not be let through the door into the lives of those who should have and know so much more in their worlds.

"Changing my world so I can live, 
Execution powershift."
-lyrics from Fear Factory's "Powershifter"

Fighting through something like this, the timing of the holiday season could not have been worse. Already a tough time for me, the holidays only spotlighted the kinds of things causing the most pain inside me. I stayed away from television and movies, I largely kept to my main routine and did not do much in public and this helped to shield me from the billion and a half reminders out there of the things I wanted so badly in my heart. It is a time in which I have a keen sense that I do not have any place I can truly call a home, in the genuine sense of the word.

What makes matters even worse is that the Thanksgiving to Christmas season used to be a time of immense magic and joy for me, my favorite time of the year and one in which I thrived. I am always encouraging people to embrace the magic of this special season and immerse in it and am happy to hear when others have great holidays.

When so many things are hitting you at once, piled on top of each other, you realize that if you can somehow get through it all, you can get through anything.  Though I discovered this song late in the year, it applies very well to this period where I was getting hit from all angles in an interior sense.

"It could be much worse
But the call is close
Tomorrow's my reason for today to let go

If I can get through this
I can get through anything
If I can make it through this
I can get through anything
I promise you"
-from Art of Dying's "Get Through This"

The ordeal of Thanksgiving weekend was softened by my friend Christina, Aliyah's mom, who visited with me three times that weekend with Aliyah.  My fiery friend Amanda, who I've been so proud of on her road to becoming a nurse, accompanied Christina on two of those visits. They brought me holiday baked goodies, and I had a couple of great dinners and visits, all of which really helped keep the worst of it at bay. I had Thanksgiving dinner with my sister at the house of dear family friends, and got through that weekend better than I expected.

My friends Eric and Kylie, who have often sent me words of encouragement, were also in touch quite a bit this weekend.  Kylie sent me a special video that she had previously made that really connected with me as well.  The imagery involves struggle, a long fall, taking a stand, and standing by the side of friends. Friends like Christina, Amanda, Eric and Kylie do truly help you to get by.

"I'll take a stand

Until the end

I'll get by

I'll survive

When the world's crushing down

When I fall and hit the ground

I will turn myself around

Don't you try to stop me"

My character Rayden Valkyrie then stepped forward in a big way again, for the second time in the year, as 2015 neared.  Bonnie Wasson completed the cover artwork for the first Rayden novel, Heart of a Lion, just in time to unveil on Christmas Eve, the 24th.  The cover captures the character of Rayden in a very profound way.  She represents the first big step in 2015, in terms of the book release in January and launch party at Joseph-Beth on February 7th.  The arrival of the artwork right on the cusp of Christmas in some ways felt like Rayden was giving me a "hang in there" kind of message, as much as Bonnie herself was.

Rayden is a character who bears heavy inner burdens and continues to fight forward, the right kind of inspiration for me at this time and also something to look ahead to.  Rayden stood with me in the spring to get me writing again, she stood with me at the heart of this holiday season nightmare to bolster me, and she's at my side as I cross into 2015 toward the first steps of the new year.

Christmas Day turned out to be a very difficult one. My sister had been invited to a co-worker's party and I insisted that she attend so she could have a big holiday dinner with a friend she knew well. On my end, I spent my entire Christmas Day and evening alone, literally, as in not seeing a single person in person all day or night.  I never want to endure a Christmas Day like that again

So here I am on New Year's Eve.  It is a tremendously difficult time and I cannot predict what lies ahead. All I can say is that I'm gearing up to go at 2015 with all I have in me. It is a zero-compromise, zero-sum game kind of approach, from the launch of Heart of a Lion at Joseph-Beth to the next Imaginarium, to new writing projects currently underway, to other potential new projects, perhaps some on the movie side of things, and perhaps others on the music side of things.

I can't even begin to comprehend the notion that I'll ever find what I've longed for.  I know what will give me my wings to fly again and bring the light of the sun back into my eyes.  At this point I just think it is an impossible quest in a world where a diminishing number value the kinds of things I have to offer. Therefore, I enter 2015 without any embrace of hope, which proved so empty to embrace in 2014.  I have turned all my focus and energy to an embrace of willpower and resolve, the essence of the lionheart, and am girding myself to fight forward once again.  You can still fight with fury even if you have tears in your eyes.

 I have not given up. I have not quit. If anything I'm resolved to stand my ground and move ahead. I've faced the deepest darkness, looked into the abyss in a very real sense, and if there's one thing about it, it takes away some fears.

I will continue to train hard.

I will continue to progress on guitar.

I will push myself always to be a better writer.

I will continue to learn the world of motorcycles.

I will put forth my best effort at all my business endeavors, from the press, to other arts projects, to Imaginarium.

I simply have to accept that the gray skies that have been over me so very long may well remain there.  But it doesn't mean I won't keep trying to find a way to see the sun again.  It just means that it might be an impossible task, of the kind that takes forever, dreaming the impossible dream.  It will take a miracle and an angel to heal the kind of wounds I have within now.  That kind of healing would bring me back home in the real sense of the word, and this is the dream I have to hold onto no matter how impossible it might look.

I know it might take forever to find my way to that place I can call home again, as so much involved with that is not up to me.  The part that is up to me is whether I keep moving forward and keep trying. So, if it does take forever, then at the very least I will die trying.  I can have a say in that part of it and that's all anyone can ask me to do, to keep moving forward and trying

"If I could change how this turned out, yeah 
You know that I would 
Sometimes the weight is more than I can hold 
But I rather fail than not know 
If it takes forever I will die trying "
-lyrics from Art of Dying's "Die Trying"

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Champion in a Time of Storm: Rayden Valkyrie

Heading toward the start of 2015, I look to a number of things to keep me moving forward as best as I can, and one of those things is my work as a writer.  I will be starting off the new year with a new book, one starring my sword and axe-wielding heroine Rayden Valkyrie.

The book is Heart of a Lion, the first of a three book story arc.  We are doing an official launch party at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington, Kentucky on Saturday, February 7th at 5pm.  Expect LOTS of surprises at that one, I intend this to be the biggest presentation I've ever done for a book release.

Rayden deserves no less.  She is a character who has grown very special to me, as she has emerged during a couple of my worst storms over the past year.  I do plan on writing about this more in detail, but when I've needed something to hold onto, she stepped forward to help me get back to writing coming out of last winter, and this fall she stepped forward again when I needed something to look forward to on the horizon in a big way.

Bonnie Wasson was given the task of creating the first Rayden Valkyrie image and I am so thrilled with the result.  Bonnie has a knack for warrior art, but she also has a knack for capturing a character in art.  When I look at the cover for Heart of a Lion, I see Rayden shining through.  Bonnie knocked it out of the park and then some, another reason why I call her the "Awesome Wasson".

The book itself will be out in eBook format in early January, with print by mid-January.  As far as a look at what it's about:

"A deadly warrior wielding both blade and axe, Rayden is the bane of the wicked and corrupt.  To many others, she is the most loyal and dedicated of friends, an ally who is unyielding in the most dangerous of circumstances.

The people of the far southern lands she has just aided claim that she has the heart of a lion.  For Rayden, a long journey to the lands of the far northern tribes who adopted her as a child beckons, with an ocean lying in between. Her path will lead her once more into the center of a maelstrom, one involving a rising empire that is said to be making use of the darkest kinds of sorcery to grow its power.  Making new friends and discoveries amid tremendous peril, Rayden makes her way to the north.

Monstrous beasts, supernatural powers, and the bloody specter of war have been a part of her world for a long time and this journey will be no different. Rayden chooses the battles that she will fight, whether she takes up the cause of one individual or an entire people.

Both friends and enemies alike will swiftly learn that the people of the far southern lands spoke truly. Rayden Valkyrie has the heart of a lion."

Scott Sandridge was my editor on this project, a great guy with a great reservoir of knowledge on speculative fiction.  Many kudos to him for working on this one as well.

Expect a grand dark fantasy adventure in this one for sure and I do want to follow Rayden's adventures as much as possible, in novels, novellas, and short stories.  She's a wonderful character with a lot of great qualities that more people in this world could benefit by adopting, in my opinion.  She inspires me a great deal and I hope she does the same for readers everywhere.

Next up is my New Year's post, I plan on writing a similar style one to last year's.  Not going to the one I hoped to write when 2014 began, but it will be honest and it will have an upside despite a lot of difficult elements.  But, as always, it will be honest.  I am who I am and I don't apologize for that. Look for that post probably on the 31st.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Christmas to Forget. Soldiering Onward.

I just completed a long hike through the neighborhood streets, it is just after midnight, officially the 26th of December, so Christmas is finally over.

Even though the holidays have become such a difficult time for me, I support and encourage everyone I know to embrace the magic of them.  I remember how amazing it was to immerse in the season, feel the joy, the magic and spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my family, including a traditional dinner that always saw both family and friends seated around the dining room table.

Even though my heart was already aching this morning, I got on Facebook today and put forth a heartfelt wish for everyone, as this is an incredible and wonderful holiday.

At the same time, things are as they are, and I am in the midst of a trial that has been more difficult and hard-hitting than virtually any other time in my life other than the passing of an immediate family member.  I do everything I can to pick myself up and move forward, I put everything I've got into it, and still the blows keep coming.

Today I spent Christmas entirely alone, literally.  I did not interact face to face with a single living person today.  Computers, mobile phones and the like have their place, but I'm not wired in a way where that can replace what I used to know.

My sister received an invitation to a co-worker's house to join their family for dinner and I encouraged her to go, so that she could at least be around joyful faces and have a nice dinner and get a little feel of the holidays even though I know the holidays are very tough for her as well.

On my end, this day was a real agony to go through.  It was made especially tough as not so long ago I thought I had a real chance to see the full magic of the season come back.

I did what I could.  I had my longest format workout at a high intensity, I played guitar, and I went for a long night hike, but that can only keep you distracted so much.

Today really hurt deeply and I know that I'm going to struggle with this in the days to come, on top of everything else.  I've felt for a while that I don't have a place to call home. I'm not talking about a place where you pay rent or a mortgage to sleep at night. I'm speaking in the real sense of the word.  Never before has the sense of not having a place to call home hit harder than today, enduring the hours by myself that seemed to crawl by so slowly.

The truth is you can only take so much and right now I just wonder when something truly good is going to happen, or even if anything good will ever happen. I've fought hard through this storm, believe me.  I intend to keep fighting with every shred of energy I can muster.  I'm just very tired, I'm tired of hurting, I'm tired of being hurt and I'm tired of every day being a battle and having to pick myself up again and again.  Even a little balance would be welcome.

Christmas this year was a true nightmare, in stark contrast to the days filled with wonder and joy that I used to know.  Truly, if the Christmas seasons ahead are all going to be like this, I'd rather not see another one.   Nevertheless, despite how I feel, I'll call upon my willpower and  I'll keep moving forward.  Just wish the storm would end and I'd love to see the sun again.  It's been so very long.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Holiday Week, a Mix of Things

Christmas week arrives and quite a lot is swirling, some good, some things difficult.

I am excited about revealing the new cover art shortly for my first Rayden Valkyrie novel.  Artist Bonnie Wasson has done a tremendous job capturing the look and intensity of Rayden in this very first image of her.  The cover is a real tribute to a character that I have to say I connect with and enjoy writing more than any other I have ever written before.  Rayden has come to mean a lot to me and oddly she has emerged into my world during times to storms, almost as if she's there to help me keep moving forward.  I plan to write more about that aspect, but it really is incredible how this character has been there for me on a personal level too.

I've been embroiled in quite a lot of work for the press, I've been working out hard, playing a lot of guitar and making some progress there, and in general trying to keep my mind on moving forward.  I did have an experience last week that I feel shows some of the benefits of training in martial arts, even if it wasn't a physical encounter.  Just involved reacting and quick decision making in a very short amount of time, a mindset that is definitely honed in a martial arts kind of setting, though part of me wishes I could have been in a position to have physically intervened in this case.

I was at a light at a major intersection here in Lexington last week, running an errand during rush hour traffic.  I was in the left hand turning lane, and I tend to make it a practice of looking around at my environment.  Near the corner of the intersecting road to my left, I notice a girl, maybe later teens or early twenties, who comes tumbling out of the side of a car that's stopped by a curb on a right turning lane near a sidewalk.  A guy of about the same age range gets out of the car and it looks like a struggle breaks out right away. 

All of this transpires fast, and he seems to be moving to tie her hands behind her back.  She clearly looks to be resisting, to the point that her shirt nearly comes off entirely in the process.  She does look up in my general direction and the expression on her face was unmistakably fear/great distress. 

I had two lanes of full speed traffic coming the other way and I was also at a long enough distance that the guy could have seen me coming from a ways off and perhaps managed to stuff the girl back into the car and scoot instead of working to restrain her, so I decided to call 911.  I did take a second first to lock in the description of his vehicle (especially the model and color) and the features of the guy and the girl.

I called 911, gave them plenty of detail, from the actions I witnessed to the detailed descriptions of vehicle and individuals.  Chalk a little of that up to being an author, for sure, in that I was able to give an organized and thorough description of everything. 

My light changed, and I went down to a place where I was able to turn around and come back up the other side. It was a few minutes, but the Fire Department EMT's were already working on the girl and the place was swarming with police. I didn't see the guy involved or his car, which leads me to think something really bad was indeed going on. It just gave me great relief to see the girl in the hands of the EMT's and being attended to.

Some other people I know from Lexington commented later on a Facebook post I made that they saw the girl talking with the police and EMT's, and that she was crying, a little after the time I was there. At the very least, she was out of the hands of the guy and I would probably bet that he did not get too far before the police caught up to him. 

But seeing it, reacting to it, making a fast decision, and keeping my cool to focus on details and transmitting a clear report to the 911 folks were elements I'm glad I was capable of executing and I do attribute part of that to martial arts training.  Just one of the many benefits of that, in terms of reaction and fast decision-making.  

Nevertheless, I wish I was in the same position as a city "Wheels" vehicle that was right behind the guy when everything unfolded, and had to have seen the same struggle that I did, yet just calmly pulled around him and drove on while I was making the phone call far away from my position.  At the very least, the city vehicle should have stayed in place to witness everything and keep a locked eye on what was happening, even if they were not willing to confront the guy.  If I had been that close, I could have, which is the only thing I was bummed about.  But at the end of the day, the important thing is that whatever the guy had in mind was disrupted and the girl ended up in safe hands.  

As far as my world goes, I'm heading into a very tough week with Christmas and the New Year holidays.  The combination of the way things are for me right now and the recent storm make for a very difficult time, as I truly thought back at the start of Fall that this Christmas was going to be different than last year, and last New Year I thought 2014 would be an uplift year.  Instead, I have to steel myself for enduring the fact that neither of those two things turned out to be the case. If anything, the storm I went through this fall has made this holiday season much more painful.   It is hard to even go out in public right now, as so many things I see trigger thoughts of what I had hoped to be a part of this Christmas and drive home how empty and difficult things are in my world.  

Nevertheless, I am doing all I can to keep moving forward, which is not an easy task when everything is in gray and I've gotten to the point where I find it impossible to believe the sun will shine again in my heart.  Been many long years since I've seen that wonderful kind of sunlight and it absolutely tortures me to think of how close I felt I was to seeing it not so long ago.  But I'll summon up whatever strength I can and keep moving. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Long Way Home

Sometimes walking at night can be a pleasant experience. The night can be peaceful and filled with its own sense of magic. At other times, though, it can mirror and manifest the kinds of things you are struggling with inside.

The last few nights, my hikes have taken on this latter tone as I continue to try to fight through a really difficult storm made so much harder by the holiday season. Walking up and down streets, past houses of the neighborhood, a lot of things go through my mind.

You see the glow of lights coming from multiple rooms, or the muffled sounds of a tv or loud stereo, or even the slightly-raised garage door with sounds of laughter and scents indicating that the inhabitants are smoking something other than cigarettes inside. You sometimes see a car pulling up somewhere down the street, with multiple individuals getting out to head inside, or one person for whom someone else opens the front door to welcome them home. You pass the displays of Christmas lights, some just a decorated tree to others elaborate enough to approach the world of Chevy Chase's Christmas Vacation movie.

All the while, you know in your heart that none of it is a world that you are a part of any longer. I often look at the Christmas lights, and wish so strongly that I could feel a sense of the magic that I once did for a holiday I looked forward to like no other. I think it hurts more knowing what those earlier times felt like in contrast to the cold of today. I look at those displays again and again, hoping to feel a spark, but there is nothing.

Passing those houses, I know I am now on the outside looking in. I've got a lot of love to give, and nowhere to give it. I have no home to return to, in the true sense of the word. In some ways I'm much like the feral cats that I often see roaming this night world. Every day is just something to survive, where there is no sense of home and you really don't look ahead anymore. My days are a walk through empty streets in a biting cold and there is no sense trying to sugarcoat this reality. The overwhelming majority of the time, all I have is me.

I've had many well-intentioned individuals make a number of remarks during this time when I try to tell them how hard this time is, but more often than not I have to bite my tongue, as I realize that they are trying to give some manner of encouragement. All the while, I want to remind them that they have wives or husbands in their world, girlfriends or boyfriends, children, roommates, or family members they live with or who they see daily.

It is so hard to convey what it is like when many entire days you have just you, and only you, literally, to rely on, especially when you are dealing with something that has overwhelmed you. This doesn't diminish what others who are not alone daily go through, it is just to say that the dynamics of what I go through is not something others can really understand unless you have been through a battle like this.

I haven't curled up into a ball, not by a longshot. I train just about daily, I do my work, I practice guitar, I write, but none of those things can address or heal the nature of what I'm contending with. At best, they address symptoms. They can never heal the disease.

I set my mind on forging ahead, even if thoughts about why I bother whisper as the days go by. I have to push those kinds of thoughts back, which takes even more effort. When I say it's a daily battle, it is not a writer being fancy with words. It is the absolute truth.

It just gets very tiring walking such a long, long road through cold, empty streets trying to find my way to a place I can call home.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Friendsgiving Smooths a Holiday Weekend

The Thanksgiving weekend was one I was definitely not looking forward to, for a number of reasons I've already discussed in a recent post.  I won't dwell on those things, as this post has a positive tilt to it.

I love it when things turn out unexpectedly for the better and am happy to say that I got through the holiday weekend with more than a little help from some special friends.

I have a very wonderful friend who I call my Guardian Angel.  She never ceases to amaze me, with how strong she is in the things she faces in her own life, to the uncanny ability to see the real me. She definitely looks out for me and I have to say my Guardian Angel stepped forward in a big, big way this past week and weekend.

It all started when she gave me a call to give her a ride on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to an appointment that she had, as she doesn't currently have a car and her guy was working late.  I have to admit I've never been to a nail salon before, but it was an interesting experience to witness! I learned about gels and acrylics, and got to see the process of a nail application.  Writers always need to be learning things, so I'm prepped if I ever have need for such knowledge in a book! LOL Following the appointment, she suggested having a Friendsgiving dinner before taking her back home.

I've never had a Friendsgiving before, but I understand it now.  It is a thanksgiving of its own, celebrating friendship itself. 

It totally changed the course of my outlook heading into this past weekend, having such a nice and unexpected visit with a true friend.  I headed into Thanksgiving day with a much better outlook. It carried throughout the day and even though I still felt adrift at many points during the day, I ended up having a good time with some family friends and my sister.  

But my Guardian Angel was not done.  Not by a longshot.   

On Friday, she called suddenly and said that she and another dear friend of mine (who is also her best friend) wanted to bring me some holiday goodies.  Of course, being a single guy I had to scramble to make sure the house was in proper order for these two lovely ladies.  They stopped by my  house for a visit and brought chocolate lava cake, an amazing strawberry shortcake kind of desert, and sweet potatoes, which is a true favorite of mine.  Angels bearing devil's food!  The irony!   As you may have gleaned I have been on a physical mission lately and my diet consists much more of Greek yogurt, fruit cups, and things like that than chocolate lava cake, so I had to work an extra hike or two into my weekend to make sure I didn't fall too far off track! 

So, like Wednesday, Friday had some unexpected sunshine brought into it. 

But my Guardian Angel was still not done.  Not by a longshot.  

On Saturday, she and our friend decided to see if I would meet up with them for dinner following their holiday photo session that they were involved in earlier.  While unable to get reservations at our first choice of restaurant, we found another place and had a wonderful visit filled with stories that had me laughing and smiling almost the entire night.  It was truly an amazing and wonderful time with the two of them.  

I think my Guardian Angel knew I was heading into a particularly tough weekend, especially in light of the recent storm I've been going through.  I don't often get to see her in person, so I suspect she brought me sunlight on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday very intentionally. I really am so incredibly lucky to have a friend like her.  She truly sees the real me and senses what's going on.  

So this post is a tribute to those who are true friends and to my Guardian Angel in particular.  I made it through and smiled and laughed far, far more than I anticipated this past weekend. 

Another true friend of mine sent me a note with a video this past weekend as well, interestingly enough, on that Saturday.  I think it really captures a lot of what I'm feeling right now.  I have to admit feeling more than a little emotional when watching the imagery and listening to the words and music in this Avril Lavigne song.  So I'll share that here in the hopes that it might give others fighting through storms a lift.

But in the video you see the images evoking the idea of a long fall and struggle, but you also see the constant presence of friends, and fighting back, and taking a stand.

With friends like the ones I've mentioned today in this post, I just might have a shot of getting by.  :)