“The Others,” Coming to an E-Bookstore Near You

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UPDATE: This has been published. You can read the first three chapters for free by clicking here.

I’m interrupting your regularly scheduled programming to update you regarding the publication of my soon-to-be-released middle grade fantasy, The Others. A Case of Mistaken Identity will resume next week.

As I mentioned back in April, I’ve been working on this book since 2013. Here’s a working (and very rough) synopsis, to give you an idea of what the story’s about:

Jason is your average eleven year-old boy. He likes TV. He has a babysitter he could do without. His little sister Janie is his archnemesis. He also happens to have a passion for magic.

Not real magic, of course. Jason has devoted himself to the study of illusion and sleight-of-hand since the age of five, when his dad showed him his first magic trick. But everything Jason thinks he knows about the world and how it works is suddenly called into question the day he runs off after a fight with his little sister. He visits a small magic shop that’s recently opened near his house and meets the owner, an older man named Hruby. In response to Jason’s skeptical attitude regarding the authenticity of true magic, he offers Jason a very special item, a wand that he says has the power to make things disappear.

Jason is doubtful of its abilities. But when he abruptly makes his sister disappear after a heated argument, he quickly learns that there’s more to the world than its rational, well-understood surface, and in a panic, he races back to the store, hoping to enlist the aid of the only person who will believe him.

But Janie’s lost in a very dangerous place, and she isn’t alone…

It’s been a long and winding road, filled with copious revisions, all of which resulted from the input I received from my writing group and intrepid alpha readers. Now, a year later, I’m finally preparing The Others for publication.

I just received a heavily marked-up copy of the manuscript from my developmental editor, and will be spending the next three months revising per her feedback. When that’s complete, I’ll send it off to beta readers for more feedback, revise again, submit the manuscript for line and copy editing, complete any outstanding revisions and finally release it to the world sometime between April and June, 2015.

Golly, that sounds swell! Where can I get more information?

I’m glad you asked! I send out regular monthly updates to my mailing list. It’s the best way I have to connect one-on-one with my friends and fans. If you’d like to be a part of the fun, you can join by clicking here. As usual, you’ll receive a free copy of my short story, The Sign. And if you sign up between now and December 31, 2014, I’ll also send you a free copy of The Others as soon as it’s released in the format of your choice.

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A Case of Mistaken Identity, Part 4

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You can read part 3 here. Reading for the first time? You can find part 1 here.

I can show you how. My twin’s words reverberated inside my head.

He’d said he could show me another world. I wanted desperately to explore. I would often pretend that I was an astronaut or an adventurer. In the past, I’d had access to a host of secret worlds whose only keys lay within the confines of my imagination. Now, the adventure would be real.

“What do I have to do?” I asked, heart jackhammering inside my chest.

The jack-o-lantern smile that adorned his face should have been a red flag. But I was too eager, too excited, and that excitement made me stupid.

“Not much,” he assured me. “I’ll do all the work. Come on.” He walked to the other side of the room and gestured for me to follow.

We stopped in front of my closet.

“In there?” I asked, pointing at the door.

“Yes,” he said, back turned to me. He gazed up at it, focused and intent. “This is where I came from. The world here is still soft. It’s easier to bend.”

I stood dumbfounded as my twin looked at the door. I queried him a couple more times for additional information, but each time he held up his right hand to shush me and said, “Hold on. I’m trying to concentrate.”

I wondered what was happening, if he just needed time to think or if he was actually doing something I couldn’t see. A few weeks ago, I would have told you that magic outside the imagination was impossible. Now, it was as ordinary as breathing air.

After a while, his face slackened, and a few moments later he turned back to face me, weary but triumphant. “There, it’s done.”

“What’s done?”

“Open the door,” said mirror-Eugene, and his mouth spread into a smug smile. He seemed pleased with himself.

I sidled up to the door, examining it with a thoughtful eye. The last time I’d checked the closet, there’d been nothing there, just a bunch of clothes and old junk. And yet my twin had somehow passed through it from his own world into mine, and had continued to do so every night for the past few weeks.

My forehead throbbed with blood, and my hands broke out into a sweat. I reached for the knob. Turned it. Opened the door.

I gasped.

Beyond the variously colored t-shirts and jeans that hung from wire hooks was a much wider space, one that could not have possibly fit within the confines of a simple closet. The visage was incomplete, a kaleidoscope of broken shapes and textures only partially glimpsed behind the clothes, but it was enough for me to realize I was peering into another world. Mirror-Eugene’s world.

“Awesome,” I whispered.

“Go on.”

I took a moment to catch my breath before going forward. I glanced back. He urged me on. I took one hesitant step forward and turned again.

“Are you coming with me?”

“I have to stay here to keep it open.”

“Oh.” I was scared to go alone, but it wasn’t long before excitement overcame the cautious side of my nature. I brushed past shirts and pants, casting them aside like they were broad hanging leaves in a tropical jungle. A moment later, I passed through a second doorway and found myself in mirror-Eugene’s room.

Mostly, it was the same. But despite the dark I could see that there were differences. For one, the room was mostly empty, save for a tiny single bed propped up against the wall with nothing but a bare mattress and a flat pillow. There were no pictures on the walls. The floor was wood instead of carpet.

I heard my twin speak suddenly from beyond the closet. “Sorry.”

“What?” I turned around just in time to see the door on the other side swing shut.

“Eugene?” I called. I lunged for the closet, hoping to make it through before the door had closed completely, but by the time I got there there it had slammed and there was nothing left but a thick plaster wall.

“No,” I breathed. “Eugene! Come back!”

Nothing.

I banged and clawed at the wall, desperation driving me further down the road of hopeless futility.

An unexpected voice spoke up from somewhere else in the house. “What’s that racket?” It sounded like my mom.

A moment later, I heard footsteps.

Read Part 5 here.

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A Case of Mistaken Identity, Part 3

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You can read part 2 here. Reading for the first time? You can find part 1 here.

For the next few weeks, my double visited me in my room at night. He was the identical twin brother I never had. We hung around in the dark until the small hours of the morning, talking about random things.

We often swapped stories of our families. I was fascinated to learn that he had an older brother. I too once had an older brother, three years my senior. Unfortunately, he’d died in a car crash along with my dad when I was five. I wondered if my brother had looked the same as his, if perhaps his own mirror double would have visited in the middle of the night like mine.

In so many ways we were the same. His name was also Eugene.  We laughed at the same jokes. We had similar personalities.

But the reflection was distorted, imperfect.

My otherworldly counterpart had a dark side. For example, during our geneological tales, I learned that whereas I loved my mom and trusted her completely, my twin loathed his own. He would dream up scenarios in which she burned to death in a fire or fell out of his family’s second story window. His eyes would burn with opalescent fire whenever he told such stories, and I would always be struck by the sudden urge to draw the duvet tighter around my shoulders.

But despite this disturbing trait, we became fast friends. He was the brother I’d always wanted, the brother I thought I’d lost all those years ago. I should have known better than to trust him.

“Why do you hate your mom so much?” I asked on the last night I would spend in my own bed.

Mirror-Eugene looked down, averting his eyes. I couldn’t tell if he was sad, angry or both. “Because my mom hates me. She locks me in my room and never lets me out, not even for dinner.”

“Why?” I asked, shocked.

But my twin wouldn’t answer. Instead, he turned to stare out the window, as if contemplating the darkness on the outside.

I decided to change the subject. “What’s it like, going from your world to mine. Is it hard?”

My twin’s head whipped back to me, eyes narrow. “No,” he said. “It’s easy. You just have to know what you’re doing. Why?”

“No reason. I just wish I could see your world.” I dreamed of a universe that was a warped reflection of my own. “That would be so cool.”

My double grew quiet and still. He looked around the room, as if unsure of something. (Later, I would think that maybe he’d been conflicted, that perhaps he’d felt a pang of guilt over what he’d been about to do.)

“You can,” he said finally, “If you want to.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” he whispered, grinning. “I can show you how.”

Read Part 4 here.

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A Case of Mistaken Identity, Part 2

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Reading for the first time? You can find part 1 here.

My mirror double stared down at me, and once again I wondered if this was all a dream. I thought that if only I kept calm, if I could give myself time to wake up, the strange apparition would disappear. But that alter ego of mine never wavered.

“Don’t scream.”

I gazed into his eyes, dumbfounded, too stunned to make a sound. All thoughts of monsters abandoned my head and I found myself grappling with an entirely different proposition. My twin. He had to be my twin. But I had none, at least not as far as I knew.

He looked down at me a moment longer, eyes searching, as if he were struggling to make a decision. Finally, he removed his hand from my mouth and said, “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.”

After that, he was silent. He regarded me with a curious expression, and took a seat next to me at the side of the bed.

“You can’t tell anyone about me. Promise you’ll keep me a secret.”

I didn’t reply.

Questions were buzzing around in my head like angry bees. Why didn’t my parents tell me I had a twin, and how could they have kept him a secret for so long? Had he been locked away in the basement, like those horror movies I sometimes watched on TV when my parents thought I was asleep? And if so, why had it taken him so long to find me?

Then a sinister thought wormed its way into my brain like a parasite. What if he was my evil twin? People had evil twins all the time on TV. I instinctively drew the covers tighter around my waist.

“Hey,” he said. “I’m talking to you.”

“What” I started. “Who”  A pause. Then, “Don’t hurt me.”

“Relax. I already said I wouldn’t.” He sighed. “I’m sorry if I scared you. I had to sneak away at night, because it’s the only time my mom isn’t paying attention.”

Hesitantly, I asked, “Are we twins?”

My double’s eyes sparkled, glittering in the moonlight like stars. “I guess so, yeah. In a way.”

“How come I didn’t know about you until today?”

He just shrugged.

“Where did you come from? The basement?”

“No,” said my twin, smirking. A moment later he laughed. “Definitely not the basement.”

“Then where?”

He smiled, then pointed at my closet. “There.”

“You live in my closet? How come I’ve never seen you before?”

“No,” said my twin, folding his arms. “I came through your closet. I live in another world.”

Another world. I thought again of TV. There were shows where scientists had discovered methods of visiting other realities very much like our own. “You mean like an alternate universe?”

He nodded his head, looking pleased with himself. “Yes. There are many other worlds,” he explained, extending his arms for emphasis. “Mostly they’re the same, but there are differences.”

Suddenly, my room, the house, the world, even the stars in the sky, paled when held up to the blinding light of a cosmos much richer than I could ever have imagined. Another world.

“But how? You’re just a kid like me.”

My twin rolled his eyes. “Magic. Duh.”

I stayed silent for a while, lost in a timeless moment of intense contemplation. Finally, I asked,”What do you want?”

He smiled, his face suddenly made sinister in the moonlight. “I want to play.”

Read Part 3 here.

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A Case of Mistaken Identity, Part 1

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By the time you read this, I’ll be dead.

After 27 long and painful years, I can hardly believe I’ve reached the end. You always think you’ll live forever, that no matter what happens, something will save you from your own personal end of days. But death catches us all by surprise, especially those of us who expect it the most.

Sometimes, I can hardly believe my life at all. It’s been so strange, so surreal, that I’ll often wake up on the cold stone floor after a restless slumber, whimpering in the dark, and in that eternally present moment suspended between sleep and consciousness, I’ll wonder which of those two universes I’m about to enter.

I don’t belong here. I’m not referring to the prison (though I don’t belong there either) but this place, this world.

My mom used to tell me when I was little that there was nothing in my room that could hurt me, that I would always be safe tucked into my bed at night. She would bend down to kiss my forehead and whisper that she loved me, that she would always protect me.

I believed her lie. I’m sure she believed it herself. But in the end, promises weren’t enough to save me.


He came when I was eight, or maybe it was nine. It’s so hard to remember. All the years preceding my abduction are a hazy blur, an unintelligible smear of colors, textures and sounds. My former life is so far removed from who I am today that it’s barely a shadow of a memory, like an old movie you might have watched years ago, only you weren’t paying attention, and you find when you try to recall the details that you might as well have never watched it at all.

But the abduction itself, that I recall in vivid detail, though I’ve tried very hard to forget. For years, I attempted to convince myself it was a delusion, that in the heat of boyhood fancies and dreams I’d imagined it. But in the end I can’t deny it happened, whatever I would prefer to believe, and when the eyes inside my head aren’t catching reruns, the eyes inside my dreams are preparing to watch it again in the private theater of my subconscious.

I have to tell my story, if only to come to terms with it myself. Perhaps if I possess a written account of what I experienced, indelibly marked in jet black ink, if I can at last snatch it up from the ether inside my head, if I can make it tangible and concrete, then at last I’ll be able to embrace it as the truth. Or not. Either way, tomorrow I’ll be dead.

Where should I begin? I’m not very good at this sort of thing. Writing was never a strength of mine, and I never did have much of an imagination. My abduction. I’ll start with that, since it’s as far back as I can remember anyway.

My name if Eugene Peter Carver. This is my story.


I was laying in bed, burrowed beneath a billowing white duvet. My eyes were closed. I was hovering just above the periphery of sleep, ready to penetrate its somnolent shell, when there was a crash and a clatter inside my closet.

Monster. There’s a monster in my closet.

My eyes popped open. My heart skipped. My chest compressed. I clutched the covers with white-knuckled hands, like a wild animal who’d been cornered in the dark by an unseen predator. I waited, a moment that could have either been a thousand years or a second.

When the sound didn’t repeat, when either minutes or hours had passed and I was forced to conclude that I was alone, I decided it must’ve been a dream. I relaxed. Closed my eyes. Drifted. Sleep returned.

Thud.

I jerked to life once more. It was true. There was a monster in my closet. Convinced by the logic of childhood that the covers represented an impenetrable boundary, I dove beneath the duvet, certain that if I only lay there long enough, whatever was in my room would eventually go away.

Thud.

Then the sound of something pounding on the floor.

Fear paralyzed me. I waited in the dark, rooted to the mattress like the trunk of an ancient tree. Through a crack in the covers, I bore witness to sinister shapes on the walls cast by moonbeams and shadows. That was when the knob on my closet door began to turn.

A swarm of wild locusts vibrated inside my chest. I wanted to scream, but my vocal cords refused to obey.

I lay in the dark, helpless as the knob rotated. As the crack between the door and the threshold began to widen. As a searing white light burst out from the inside. As a man poked his head through the door, trailing sinister shadows like a cloak woven in black. Turned his head. Locked eyes with me from across the room. Padded silently across the floor, a beast in search of prey.

The paralysis that bound me evaporated. I opened my mouth to wail, to produce a tone so shrill and piercing that my mom would be there in seconds. But just as the sound began to bubble up from beneath my lips, a hand flashed in the moonlight and clamped down over my mouth so that I couldn’t breathe.

“Shh…” whispered the man with a finger to his lips. He was smiling.

A cloud outside scudded across the sky. Shadow yielded to the light, and at last, hovering above me, I could see his face fully. I gasped. He wasn’t a man at all, but a boy.

A boy who looked like me.

Read Part 2 here.

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Times, They Are A Changin’

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Nothing stays the same forever.

This is true of life, and it’s also true for my blog. As of next week, the format will change. You’ll be seeing a lot less of my thoughts about life and a lot more original fiction.

It was always my intention to post more stories, but the perfectionist in me always got in the way. I thought that if I wanted to share my writing, I would have to make it perfect. I’d have to go through the same kind of lengthy editorial process that’s required for books and magazines, because otherwise it wouldn’t be good enough. I became so trapped in this way of thinking that I only managed to post a single flash fiction story in all of the ten months that I’ve had this blog.

Then I realized that…this is a blog. It’s expected that my writing here will be a little rough around the edges, because blogs are like that. I decided that I had to let go, that I had to embrace imperfection. So I’m going to close my eyes, take a deep breath and jump.

What kinds of stories will I share in the coming weeks?

I’m going to start with a single modern fantasy serial that I’ll update once a week through the natural life of the story. When that tale comes to an end, I’ll start something new and continue the cycle. As I find more time in-between work and life obligations, I’ll try to launch more stories in parallel, with each serial continuing on a different day of the week.

I’ll also try to periodically post stand-alone flash fictions.

If you enjoy the current format, don’t worry.

While my focus will be on posting more fiction, I still plan to occasionally write the same kinds of essays about life, purpose and everyday magic that you’ve come to know for the past ten months.

My first modern fantasy serial begins next Monday. Stay tuned!

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My Critique Group is Awesome (or, “Why Critique Groups are Crucial for Success”)

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I’ve been meeting with a critique group for a little over a year.

At first, I was petrified by the idea of making myself so vulnerable. What if they didn’t like me? What if they didn’t like my work? I knew I had to break out of my shell, that I had to start meeting other writers if I was ever going to improve my craft and get to a point where I could publish my work. But I was terrified of rejection, and a few months passed before I finally found the courage to join a group and put myself out there.

It was the best decision I ever made.

I met some amazing writers and I learned a lot, not just about my fiction but also about the industry. One of my projects, a middle grade fantasy whose first draft is now in the hands of an editor, suffered from serious flaws that would have rendered it unpublishable. In just a few months, my group identified most of these problems and was there for me when I needed help figuring out how to fix them.

We gather around a table once a week and share up to ten pages of our work.

A volunteer reads each story out loud so that the writer has an opportunity to experience his or her words in a different way. When the reading is done, we go around the circle to discuss what we thought the writer did well and what we thought the writer could improve.

They help me identify and eliminate inconsistencies and contradictions. They help me resolve difficult plot and character problems that I’m either too inexperienced or too frustrated to solve. They recognize what I do well, but are also blunt and honest, and are never afraid to (charitably) point out the numerous ways in which I fail.

Sometimes I agree with their assessments and sometimes I don’t; art is inherently subjective.

But I always take what they have to say seriously and value their feedback. Knowing how my group receives my work gives me a better idea of how my audience will receive my work when it’s published. If the majority have issues with what I’ve written, I know I need to go back and take a closer look.

They rein me in when I get carried away. They encourage me to be bold. We support each other, inspire each other, teach each other, help each other to grow.

As an author, I’ve learned more in the year I’ve been with them than in all the other years I’ve been writing on my own.

If you’re an artist of any stripe, I implore you to get together with others in your field. You’ll find support. You’ll find insight. Most importantly, you’ll make fantastic friends and you’ll become better, not just as an artist but as a human being.

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How to Create a World

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You start with nothing.

You’re sitting alone in the dark, thinking. Then out of nowhere comes a blinding flash of interior light, a searing white-hot fire that consumes thought and vision.

You have an idea.

Everything your world is and everything it will become is locked up inside of it, an infinitely hot, infinitely dense point of creative energy waiting to be released. There’s a crack of mental thunder. A flash of lightning. For one brief instant, an entire universe that has yet to exist is laid bare before you, and you scramble to remember as much of the prophetic vision as you can before the flash winks out and the future goes dark. It’s a foretelling, a far-off plea from the denizens of your future world, crying out for you to grant them what only you can provide: existence.

You scratch your head. A little while later, you bang your head against a wall. What do you do with your idea? You’ve just seen an entire cosmos in the span of a heartbeat. Your chest begins to ache with creative agony, and you realize that you won’t be able to rest again until you’ve heeded its lofty call.

You have a mission.

You didn’t ask for it, and you have no idea how you’re going to fulfill it. But you ponder the people of your world and their desire for life. You reflect on your responsibility as a storyteller and you realize you have no choice but to buckle down and get to work.

You’re not really sure where to start. Your new world is a big place. You scramble to remember everything. You obsess over every detail. You worry that even marginal deviations will irreparably alter the fates of millions of fictional lives, or worse, that your world will destabilize and collapse, crushed by the combined weight of inconsistencies, ambiguities and indecision.

You learn that perfection is impossible.

You aim for it anyway, not because the ideal can actually be reached but because trying will propel you further than you ever thought you could go. You shoot for perfection; you embrace imperfection.

Wielding paper and pen, you lay the foundation of your world, one word at a time, a cosmic web spun from the fibers of your imagination. Sometimes, you look back and cringe at what you’ve constructed. But you know you can’t stop, that you have to press on, that you can’t rest until your world has at last crossed over the threshold into reality.

You continue to put one word after the other.

You work feverishly for days, weeks, months, years. The process is often painful. An entire world is erupting, a volcanic blast of newly formed material, coalescing from the ether of your mind.

You catch glimpses of your initial vision in the fallout, but you realize that your world has assumed a life of its own, that it’s destiny is only partially determined by what you’d forseen so long ago. You discover the truth, that the prophecy was not a vision of what must be but what could be, a glimpse into one of an infinite number of possible worlds. You realize that your universe and the people in it are substantially more complex, versatile and adaptable to change than you ever could have imagined.

When you least expect it, you look back and discover that you’ve finished.

One day, without ever having realized how close you were, you set the final word down in ink, the lifeblood of creation. You blink down at the final page with disbelief. Surely, you must have forgotten something. You go back to the beginning. You review your work. You go back to the beginning and review your work again. Eventually you realize that yes, you’ve done it after all, and just like that your world is alive.

You gaze at it with wonder, a product as much of divine mandate as it is of your imagination, and like an Old Testament god enamored with creation, you can finally look upon your newly minted world and proclaim, “it is good.”

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What’s My Mission?

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Purpose. It defines our existence. We spend our whole lives searching for it, and we don’t stop until our ephemeral lives come to an abrupt and unpredictable end. We pay counselors, therapists and psychologists hundreds of dollars to help us find it. We spend innumerable solitary moments beneath the stars, hoping and praying that in the stillness of the night, the cosmos will whisper their designs into our ears, and we grow restless and anxious when the years pass without an answer.

Ultimately, what we’re looking for always boils down to the same question: “What’s my mission?”

Each of us has one.

We are a race composed of individuals, each with our own unique talents, each with our own unique ways of contributing to the world. We all take our place in the human family. Each of us assumes a role, some task that we’re called to fulfill until our Earthly lives are complete.

This is our mission, a biological imperative embedded in our DNA, an indelible mark upon our souls, a divine mandate that we’re powerless to resist if we wish to live happy and fulfilling lives.

Our purpose in life is to discover what this mission is and to complete it.

To uncover our reason for being is to locate our rightful place in this cosmic symphony, to harmonize with the celestial melodies of a divine purpose that far transcends our own.

Everything we do should further this goal in some way. Until we know what our mission is and until we can accept it, we’ll be doomed to wander the desert of internal anarchy and despair.

Some of us believe in purpose, but only on a larger scale. We often ask ourselves, “how can one ordinary individual have a measurable global effect?”

Whether great or small, our actions can and do transform the world.

In Does What You Do Matter, I argue that it’s precisely those “insignificant” activities which manifest the greatest changes. Life is a tapestry, a mosaic of apparently unrelated events which, when taken as a whole, form a clearly-discernible pattern.

It’s out of the humdrum and the ordinary that the miracle of civilization itself emerges. Without the standard occupations, there would be no food, no running water, no medicine, no roads, no waste management, no electricity. If everyone were to give up their jobs at the same time for as little as a day, the world would come undone, like a tattered cloth left too long to the elements.

In fact, the anonymous individual is the great unsung hero of the world. Those rare role models we know by name we know only because there were millions of unknowns working behind the scenes.

Yet, even if we understand this, we’re still going to ask ourselves, “how do I discover what my mission is?”

Personal revelation demands hard work.

Figuring out what we’re supposed to do is by no means a passive endeavor. Rather, it’s a lifelong quest. We must traverse steep psychological mountains, wander through barren spiritual deserts, never resting until we reach the understanding we seek. Our quest requires three things:

  1. Answers to basic questions. Every quest has a beginning. Ours should start with what we already know about ourselves. What are we passionate about? What are we good at? Can we align our career goals with our interests? If not, can we at least integrate our interests into our off hours?
  2. The ability to make the best of our current circumstances. Living a purpose-driven life requires us to accept and embrace what we’ve been given, and to use it to make the lives of those around us better. We always accomplish the most good simply by being who we are and by living in the moment.
  3. An open heart. Above all, we should think, pray and listen. We should ask for guidance, because our maker will always furnish the answers we seek in the fullness of time. His won’t be a voice of thunder but of circumstance, and we must pay close attention to the things that are going on around us so that we can discern what it might be trying to tell us.

Our mission is knowable, and we can fulfill it.

Each of us was fashioned with all that we need to be successful already inside us. We must only find the courage to chase after it, to search high and low for the key that opens the lock to our souls. Open that, and our hearts will unfurl like budding flowers, revealing its deepest mysteries.

Here, in the center of our hearts, where God and Man intersect, we will find the answer that we’ve pursued all our lives.

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Why An Artist Should Share His Work

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Many artists believe they have to strike out on their own, that art is an inherently personal endeavor and that the opinions of others should never matter. This is a perfectly acceptable outlook if one’s work is private. But if an artist ever hopes to publish his creations and share them with the rest of the world, at some point he’s going to have to accept that the opinions of others do matter, that he can’t go it alone and expect to build a significant following.

Don’t get me wrong. A lot of what we artists do is by nature solitary work. We have to turn off the world outside so that we can tune in to the world inside our heads. But in-between these interior excursions, if we are to be understood by others, we must at some point submit our discoveries to the scrutiny of others. We must be prepared to be misunderstood and rejected. We must accept that our work is imperfect and that critical feedback can help us improve it.

The art-making process is like dreaming. Though the initial result might make sense to the dreamer, those outside won’t understand its many inconsistencies and contradictions. Reliable outside witnesses are therefore a necessity. They will be able to see what we as artists cannot so that, armed with knowledge we couldn’t have gathered on our own, we can make our work more relatable.

Sounds simple, right? Gather feedback, then improve. Why then is it so hard for us accept feedback from others?

The problem is that we artists are by nature sensitive people. Often, this sensitivity is an asset. It allows us to perceive the ordinarily latent subtleties inherent to the human experience, to amplify them and to reflect them back into the world from a different angle so that others can share in our discoveries. But the same sensitivity that allows us to penetrate emotional undertones and to make good art also hinders us in our ability to perfect it, because to do so requires us to admit that our work isn’t perfect, that the children of our minds which we’ve fallen so deeply in love with are flawed, that we failed in our attempt to create something beautiful. Because of our heightened sensitivity, we feel an almost agonizing despair.

To be successful, we must first learn to identify true beauty. Art is never perfect, especially not good art. It is and always will be imperfect, because the humans who make it are also imperfect. We must love our art not for what we wish it to be, but for what it is. We must accept it with our whole hearts, on its own terms, with all of its many flaws. In wanting the best for our work, we must desire that it be better even than ourselves. By encouraging healthy outside criticism, we are able to refine our work in ways we could never have dreamed of on our own, allowing us to accomplish precisely that.

Once our understanding of true beauty has been rooted in a more practical perspective, once we’ve removed our work from the pedestal that would have set it forever out of our audience’s reach, then we can learn to appreciate and even enjoy critical feedback. We might not always agree, as great minds will seldom see eye to eye. But we’ll no longer cower in fear of rejection.

Of course, in cultivating an open mind, we must be careful to filter out those voices which are better left ignored. Not all feedback is good. Unfortunately, there are those who, for reasons of their own, delight in tearing others down. They’ll sit atop their pristine white horse, proclaim with feral brutality every last way in which an artist’s work falls short and sneer snootily while declaring that his work isn’t even suitable for the garbage. This type of criticism can be corrosive and toxic to the soul, because it often contains just enough truth that we begin to question and even doubt in our abilities as artists. We must learn the difference between constructive criticism and insults so that we can filter out harmful comments and focus on making our art better instead of throwing up our hands and giving into despair.

Lastly, we must understand that good art doesn’t please everybody. The human population is diverse. Everyone has a different type of mind that operates in a different way, so that everyone resonates with a different type of work. Don’t believe me? Check out the Goodreads page for any classic novel (David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens, is a good example) and filter for one star reviews. Making your work accessible to all would require you to boil it down to something so basic and simple that it loses all its flavor, ensuring that your art will please no one. Spend your time courting those who can appreciate you for who you are and what you do, because art should never be a popularity contest.

Art will always a personal journey, of course. Its manufacture requires us to reach deep inside the cavernous depth of subjective experience. But to be appreciated by an outside audience, it must first be transformed into something the audience can understand. We must never be afraid to solicit opinions. Rather, we should accept criticism with enthusiasm, because it’s through honest feedback that we can finally make our creations shine with the radiance we knew them to be capable of from the get-go.

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