The Impact We Have

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Recently two people who both had a tremendous impact on my life passed away. One was more unexpected than the other, but both were influential, not only on me, but on the whole community as well.

This is small town America. We don’t have a great football tradition, but what we do have is volleyball. Seemingly for a couple generations now our county has produced quality volleyball players. We’ve had some good coaches to get them far into the state playoffs, but there was really only one who shaped and produced state contenders. That was Linda Oxby, longtime Head Coach of the Edwards County High School volleyball team here in Southeastern Illinois. She was diagnosed with cancer about half a decade ago, fought it for all that time, and finally passed away a few weeks back.

And then there was Patrick Seil. Every small town needs a newspaper and Pat was the publisher of the Navigator & Journal-Register and had been at the helm of the local weekly since the mid-90’s. I’d known him since 2002 when I walked into his office looking for a job, but he was influential on more than just me. Everyone seemed to know him. He could spend all day shooting the breeze with whomever walked in the door but put his nose to the grindstone when he had a paper to put out. His health hadn’t been great lately, but complications from a fall led to his death a couple weeks ago.

As Pat’s Sports Editor for nearly seven years I had a front row seat to some of the best volleyball on this side of the state and I learned how to be a leader from Linda Oxby. After I was done at the newspaper, I was hired on as a history teacher at ECHS and I taught alongside Linda for many years.

It isn’t often when you can say you were truly in the presence of a legend. With both Linda and Patrick, I can honestly say I have known two taken from our midst at about the same time. From both I learned and from both I could stand back and admire their accomplishments.

It leads me to wonder how I can influence people. As a teacher I see dozens of high school students each and every day — am I having an impact on them? As an author, I try to craft stories that have a personal story to them — are my readers seeing that and am I even reaching people? As a father, am I putting forth an example worthy of my kids? As a husband, do I show the love to my wife that she deserves?

I wrestle with these questions and more every day, and I’m thankful for the impact of people like Linda Oxby and Patrick Seil on my life that I can.

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Creativity Breeds Creativity

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The days where authors sequestered themselves in an isolated cottage in upstate New York may not be over for good. A lot of authors – myself included – love moments of quiet and solitude, but for me, those moments are rare. Instead, I’m actualy finding that the time I am out in the “real world” can provide inspiration for the ongoing plotlines winding and twisting through my head. And instead of shutting myself off from the world, I find myself reaching for other pockets of creativity.

As I write this post, my daughter is a few feet away, emptying the dishwasher and signing the entire “Frozen” soundtrack. In her elementary years, she discovers her creative side every day and is even prodded to do so in her schooling. As adults, we can’t always do that. In fact, there are many people who stop seeing the “possible” once real life has set in. They’ve convinced themselves they are no longer capable of painting a surreal landscape, of learning to play a musical instrument, of writing a novel.

When I was fresh out of college and writing at the local newspaper, I made a goal in my head to write a book by the time I was 25. My early 20’s went by way faster than I anticipated and soon that goal was to write one by age 30. I had a lot of life changes between 25 and 30, but writing a book was not one of them. Then the years just started ticking by. 31. 32. 33. Still no book.

But I had purchased a Kindle for myself in November of 2011. Then I started exploring the books and stumbled upon Hugh Howey’s WOOL. I’d love to say I read it and my life was transformed. But I didn’t even read it for months after downloading it. MONTHS.

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*Note: Not Hugh Howey

By the time I finally read it, I also had discovered Hugh’s blog and began discovering that he was JUST LIKE ME. Just a few years older and he had begun his writing career a few years before. He talked to his readers and even danced for them. Way different than I imagined a successful author. I always pictured them cooped up in some dark and dusty loft, plinking away on some ancient typewriter. Hugh was not that type, for sure.

And so, in January of 2013, I began to write again. I’d written the beginnings to books before…only to fail after 30-40 pages. This time I didn’t tell anyone – even my wife – for over a month after I’d started. I was scared to death I wouldn’t finish. That the book manuscript would simply get forgotten and curl up and die. It nearly did a few times when life got too much last spring, but once I’d reached a certain point – probably 20,000 words or so – I knew I HAD to finish.

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Proof: My first novel.

And I did. My first book. A life goal, accomplished before I reached age 34.

But, I wasn’t done.

Once I started, I found new ideas. Ones I didn’t know I had. I have more than a few Word files with just a paragraph explaining a plot that I didn’t want to fade into mental obscurity.

Then, I started to meet other authors. To be fair, I haven’t met a single one in person – or even talked to any on the phone, but I lucked into a remarkable group of authors who were all writing WOOL fanfiction last year. (I decided to write The Veil as a tribute to the man who finally got me off my duff; I published it last July.)

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Soon to be released Charity Anthology. Super excited for you guys to read these stories.

This group of writers has been amazing and we’ve all inspired each other. I read their work and they’ve read mine. Many of us have teamed up for a charity Silo Anthology to be released soon. (Announcement here.) Their creativity astounds me and inspires me. When I read my friends’ books, I find myself itching to get back to my laptop to add a chapter or four to my current manuscript. Their creativity sparks my creativity…and I think that is an amazing thing.

In November, I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I decided to write the sequel to my first novel and successfully completed the month by putting over 50,000 words towards my book. But a strange thing happened that month. I read more books than I had in a few months. You wouldn’t have thought I would have wanted to expose my mind to all the new and different ideas found in other people’s books, but I found the opposite to be true. The strange, new, and wonderful ideas that sprang out of the pages of these books pushed me and motivated me to get my own words down on paper.

And I hope that my words will do that for you as well. Don’t just sit there – do something. Be creative. Take the energy you would put into a few rounds of Candy Crush or the next episode of Game of Thrones and put your thoughts down. They may be great, they may be terrible…but they’ll be yours.

That book I started writing in November? I had been a little stalled on it, but my friend WJ Davies challenged me to finish. I in turn challenged him to finish his book Binary Cycle 2 and we both aimed for February 8. (Here’s Binary Cycle 1, btw…) I just finished the rough draft two days ago and now it’s in the hands of five people who are (hopefully) critiquing the heck out of it. If all goes well and there aren’t any black holes (metaphorically speaking) in my plot, I should be publishing within a month or so. It may not be Feb. 8, but it’ll be pretty stinking close.

Maybe you won’t write a novel, maybe you won’t paint the Mona Lisa and maybe you won’t be the next Justin Bieber (we can all hope), but whatever you do, it’ll improve and enrich the world and your creativity will touch someone else. I can just about guarantee it.

DUST (Not a Review)

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DUST

This is not a review of DUST.
I wish it was, but I haven’t yet laid my hands on the last in Hugh Howey’s WOOL stories. I could have ordered a physical copy and read through it already like some have done, but I figured with school starting for me, I wouldn’t have time to read it before Aug. 17 anyway.
For me, the last WOOL book is significant in a few ways.
1. WOOL and more importantly, Hugh himself, inspired me to write. I read WOOL back in early 2012. I loved it and started following Hugh’s blog. I learned he was just a little older than me and was an independent author. I saw a lot of the same things in him that I hoped to do myself one day. And so, about a year later, when my work schedule lessened a bit, I started to write. After a great summer publishing my first few pieces, here we are, anxiously awaiting DUST to finish Hugh’s fantastic story.
2. One of the stories I’ve written is set in a silo. The Veil is in Kindle Worlds and is a Silo Saga story. I didn’t necessarily write it to make a lot of money (although I won’t mind at all if I do), but really as a tribute to the man who inspired me to start this journey. I’ve met some amazing people through the experience of penning a WOOL story and continue to lean on them for their support and experience as I continue writing.
3. My birthday is on Saturday, Aug. 17. That’s right — somehow Hugh knew about my birthday and made the publication date for DUST on that day. I can’t wait to read it and find where the story ends. Hopefully in a week or two, I’ll have a review in this place, but until then, I’ll be reading about Silo 1, 17, 18, and any others that Hugh decides to venture into in this story.
Thanks for writing and inspiring us Hugh — I’m proud to call you a friend.