The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 2

CLOSE THE BEACHES, LEST THAT SHARK TEACH US SOMETHING
by Stephen Graham Jones

What the fifties gave the horror movie was a crop of radiation-grown monsters come to punish us for our sins. Pretty much, they were our sins, given monstrous form. They were there to teach us a lesson, just, all they that had to do that with were claws and teeth, wings and fire. These monsters were impossible, unlikely creatures simply because exaggeration was the only thing that could shake the self-satisfied fifties from its smug recliner, scare it out onto its well-kept lawns.

But by Jaws 1975 (a year before for the Peter Benchley novel), heedless scientific progress wasn’t the cautionary tale we needed to be taught anymore. Was it?

Well. It might very well have been radiation from the Venus Probe that got corpses climbing from their graves in Night of the Living Dead just a few years before. And in 1974, the acoustic properties of cutting-edge “scientific” farming equipment had done the same in The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. And? Is it really any coincidence that the USS Indianapolis Quint’s the survivor of, it had been delivering Little Boy, the first atomic bomb humans had ever used on humans?

Think about it. Quint says there might have been a thousand sharks there for that feeding frenzy. A thousand sharks getting the taste for human blood. A thousand sharks cutting through the waters a ship had just gone down in. A ship that had secretly been carrying the world’s atomic bomb. Now, imagine if you will that, in 1945, we might not have completely known about radiation shielding. Imagine a loose rivet if you will, one that leaks radiation into the belly of the Indianapolis.

Now picture that irradiated portion of the hull sharing its pulsing green glow with one or two of those sharks come in to feed on the lower halves of all these sailors—that is, sharks getting a distinct taste for human flesh—and add that with what Brody researches up, about how we don’t even really know how long sharks live. Which is to say, we don’t even know if they die at all.

Then take into account that this particular shark that’s come to Amity Island for the Fourth of July (that is, when America celebrates in gruesome fashion, with mock-bombs in the air . . .), it isn’t really acting very sharky at all, is it? Granted, the initial kill we see—the drunk night-swimmer out by the buoy—that’s just a shark being a shark. Also, the shark coming up for the kid on the raft: that raft could have been a seal from the shark’s angle, right? By the time the shark knew any different, it was too late.

But we, and Amity Island, soon come to figure out that this shark isn’t any normal shark. No, this is a monster shark. This is a shark behaving in a fashion not at all in keeping with its kind.

First it sneaks into the ‘pond’—the estuary that’s supposed to be safe. Particularly, it sneaks there when there’s such better feeding out on the proper beach. And, once there in the pond, the only thing stopping it from getting to the police chief’s son is one unlucky guy in a rowboat, who quickly gets chewed through. That the son is the target is pretty obvious, from what I guess we’d have to call the point-of-view of the giant dorsal fin, as the shark pulls its first swim-by, its mouth momentarily too full for a second chomp. And, granted, there’s a way to read the story that this shark going for Brody’s son, that’s just to focus the story down to the people who matter—it’s dramatic economy. But another way to look at it is that this shark, it knows who it needs to take out, up on the land: the main authority figure. The one who wants to close the beaches.

As far as the beaches and their closing go, this shark, it’s right in line with the mayor. Which is to say, it’s aligned against Brody. And, like the mayor, it’s working events and situations in order to neutralize Brody—just, unlike the mayor, this shark has row after row of teeth, and no voting body to answer to.

This shark, it’s thinking. It’s got strategy. It can imagine a goal ahead of itself in time, and then work methodically towards that goal—unlike any of its shark brethren, all locked in the perpetual moment, as it were, operating on mere stimulus-response.

Monsters aren’t stimulus-response. Justice is so more complicated than that.

Next? Off-screen, this massive thinking shark, it takes out one of the boatful of hunters out chumming the waters—kind of a little dumbshow, illustrating again how unsharky this shark is behaving: instead of running from danger, it eliminates that danger. Understand that, in the open sea, when mating or territory or the current meal isn’t at stake, a regular shark has no reason to stick around when things get hot. No reason to go after a boatful of hunters. Unless that boatful of hunters has, say, insulted it.

Meaning? This is a shark that might have feelings.

Very unsharky. Matt Hooper should have said something about this. Or, he does, to Quint, with “You ever have one do this before?” which is followed up nearly immediately by Brody asking Hooper, “Have you ever had a great white—” but Hooper, frustrated, cuts him off with a flat, hard “No!”

No, this is not how typical sharks act.

This shark, it’s special. “Mr. White,” Quint calls it, even, lending his opposition a proper name, not just a species.

It’s getting personal, yes. Which we see when the shark, insulted by not one, not two, but three barrels being harpooned to it, proceeds to resist its own survival instinct and turn the predators into the prey. And not just in a single attack, either, but through a steadily mounting warfare of terror, as if—get this—as if maybe this shark, it’s aware that these people on the boat have interiors as well. Thoughts and feelings that can be manipulated to the shark’s advantage.

For the whole movie, this shark has been swimming closer and closer to a different identity, a different status. When it focuses all its attention on the Orca, essentially Ahab’ing Quint, it becomes a legitimate monster—a creature of monstrous proportions, acting outside its typical behavior patterns. More or less, it’s doing stuff for what we would call ‘human’ reasons, not shark reasons.

So, to wrap up already: how to make this monster?

Irradiate a long-lived shark in 1945, give it a taste for human flesh, plant a seed of human awareness in it, and then set it on a decades-long quest to finish the feeding frenzy that got cut short by rescue in 1945.

Yes, Quint is on a revenge-arc. Most definitely. He hates all sharks.

This shark, though, it just wants to finish its meal.

Can you see this shark as Quint’s pulled from the water, into his lifeboat? Can you see those doll eyes taking a snapshot or two? This is when the shark’s a “mere” three meters, say. But, thanks to the radiation, it’s already growing at an accelerated rate. Over the next thirty years, it’ll be eight times as big.

To understand this, look at Quint’s story from another angle. The Final Destination angle: sailor escapes what should have been his death, and then, a neat three decades later, that death swims up to his boat, bites him in half.

Kind of fits, yes?

And, the shark itself, it has a story as well. A typical shark, it pretty much needs two basic things: water and food. So, this shark, when it goes atypical and foregoes food in favor of revenge, it’s very much asking for justice to pay it a visit as well (for stepping outside its prescribed boundaries), and it’s only fitting that the thing that finally explodes its head, it’s the opposite of the water it so desperately needs: air (-tank).

And, note that for this read of Jaws to actually apply in a way that makes sense, it’s not at all necessary for Quint to ‘recognize’ this shark at the last moment—a tell-tale scar, say, or a missing eye, a notched dorsal fin. Really, Quint’s estimation of all sharks as pretty much just “sharks he hasn’t got around to killing yet,” that almost requires that he not distinguish one shark from the next. His own need for revenge has made him blind, has denied him the ability to discern one shark from the next. Could he, then he might elect not to smash the radio, thus severing all ties with the land and ensuring his own doom.

However, that this might be his particular monster come to chomp him, that gives the story a certain elegance, doesn’t it? It’s closing a circle that opened in 1945.

No, it’s no accident that the Hiroshima bomb the Indianapolis was smuggling across the Pacific was “Little Boy,” and that the first time we actually see actual blood in the water in this story, it’s from a “little boy.”

Neither is it any accident the “monster” in Jaws, it’s only name—aside from the Latinate—is “Mr. White”—which is a color America never actually calls itself, expect in contradistinction, when referring to all the “other” people of the world by colors.

“Mr. White” indeed.

But that comes back to bite us, doesn’t it?

That comes back to bite us in half.

Jaws is finally, and fundamentally, a story about heedless scientific progress. Specifically, it’s a story about using that “progress” against others. Jaws is a warning of what happens when we do. A bomb was dropped thirty years before the movie came out, but we’re all still living in the fallout, even now.

America, it drags an ugly, ugly past behind it.

We’re going to need a bigger boat.

Stephen Graham Jones
14 May 2016
Boulder, Colorado

Stephen Graham Jones is the author of sixteen novels, six story collections, more than 250 stories, and has some comic books in the works. His current book is the werewolf novel Mongrels (William Morrow). Stephen’s been the recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Fiction, the Texas Institute of Letters Jesse Jones Award for Fiction, the Independent Publishers Awards for Multicultural Fiction, three This is Horror awards, and he’s made Bloody Disgusting’s Top Ten Novels of the Year. Stephen teaches in the MFA programs at University of Colorado at Boulder and University of California Riverside-Palm Desert. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife, two children, and too many old trucks.

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The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 1

JAWS: A QUINT-ESSENTIAL MOVIE
by Rose Blackthorn

I’m not sure how old I was the first time I saw Jaws. It came out in 1975, so I would’ve been a bit young to see it in the theater, but I’m pretty sure I saw it in the theater. My mom was always willing to give me the benefit of the doubt when it came to the scary stuff—after all, she started me on Stephen King while I was still in elementary school. Anyway, I do know this much: I have never gone swimming in the ocean, even when I’ve had the opportunity, and it’s all due to this film. (I’m not a complete wimp, I have gone wading out to a couple of feet deep…)

Just an aside: this movie not only scared me, it also got me interested in sharks and shark attacks. Maybe a little part of me thought, Yeah, this is all made up. Sharks don’t really attack people that often. So I went out and found the book Sharks: Attacks on Man, by George A. Llano. I read that book cover-to-cover, and completely freaked myself out.

Anyway, Jaws is really more than just a movie. It’s a part of our popular culture. There’s a Bad Hat Harry Productions, which uses the line spoken by Roy Scheider as Chief Brody to an elderly swimmer on the beach. And sharks are everywhere these days, including innumerable bad SyFy original movies. (Sharknado, anyone?)

As a kid and teenager, I watched and rewatched Jaws for the scares. In fact, I just watched it again a couple of days ago, and even now I think the first few minutes of the movie brings some of the best chills and foreboding ever committed to film. That first scene, when you’re not even sure what is really going on with the woman in the water, can still give me goosebumps.

Now, as an adult, I still get a kick out of the jump scares in this movie. I know they’re coming, but they still get me a little, and they leave me smiling. As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve come to appreciate more than just the scary bits. I love the actors cast in the main roles, and at this point can’t even imagine anyone else playing them. I enjoy the comedic touches as well: Chief Brody’s obvious fear of the water and the way he tries to downplay it; Hooper’s sarcasm and impressive use of face-making; even the Benny Hill-like scenes of the influx of would-be shark hunters who flood the town and the beaches in search of fame and fortune.

I would have to say now, though, that my absolute favorite part of the movie isn’t one of the scary scenes, or the funny scenes, but it may be the most intense part of the film. Less than five minutes of dialogue, but in that short amount of time, you learn all you need to know to understand Quint and his enduring hatred and hard won understanding of sharks. I can imagine what it might be like to be lost in the water, waiting for the sharks to take a bite. I have a vivid imagination, a gift and a curse sometimes. I can’t think that surviving something like that, that I’d ever want to go into the water again. Yet, I can watch Jaws over and over. I can flinch and feel sorrow for the victims, laugh with Brody and Hooper and Quint who do what they must to protect Amity Island, and cheer at the end when the monstrous shark is destroyed. And then, when it’s all over, I can restart it from the beginning, and suffer goosebumps and cover my eyes in breathless anticipation as Chrissie Watkins makes the decision to go for a midnight swim.

Rose Blackthorn is a member of the HWA and her short fiction and poetry has appeared online and in print with a varied list of anthologies and magazines. Her poetry collection Thorns, Hearts and Thistles was published in February 2015, and the novelette Called to Battle: Worthy Vessel was published in October 2015. She is a writer, dog-mom and photographer who lives in the high-mountain desert, but longs for the sea.

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Guest Blog: Lee Thompson Discusses Ways to Measure Your Success (Plus a Giveaway)

A Texas Senator and his wife go missing… On the same day, their son is slaughtered by an enigmatic killer on the lawn of ex-Governor Edward Wood’s residence. Sammy, Wood’s drug dealing son, suspects his father of the crime. After all, his old man snapped once before and crippled his wife with a lead pipe. But there’s something more to these events…something deeper and festering just beneath the surface…

In direct opposition to Homicide Detective Jim Thompson, Sammy begins an investigation of his own, searching for the truth in a labyrinth of lies, deception, depravity and violence that drags him deeper into darkness and mayhem with each step. And in doing so, brings them all into the sights of an elusive and horrifying killer who may not be what he seems.

A brutal killer on a rampage of carnage…a hardened detective on the brink…an antihero from the shadows…a terrifying mystery that could destroy them all…

Welcome to Lee Thompson’s A Beautiful Madness blog tour!

This stop is a special one since I love Shock Totem magazine and the people who have made it such a monumental success, which strangely enough is what this post is about. They’re beautiful people over at ST, and so are the stories they publish, and the covers that grace their issues.

Since I’ve been in two issues, in addition to one person winning a paperback copy of my novel, I’ll also be giving away two copies of Shock Totem! Issue #4, which featured my story “Beneath the Weeping Willow,” and issue #6, where I have a story called “The River” and was interviewed by K. Allen Wood (the publisher and sexy beast). Very neat, yes? To win, make sure you leave a comment and share the link on Shock Totem’s website, lovelies.

(Note: We will also be adding a hardcover copy (19 of 150) of Lee’s limited edition Delirium Books novella Down Here in the Dark.)

Ways to Measure Your Success (Expect and Accept Change)

There’s not much worse than for five years to go by and for you to look back over those years and feel that nothing has changed. Especially since it’s our responsibility to learn, adapt, and change things. No one else makes our choices for us once we’re an adult. But did you know what you wanted back then? Did you have a clear, specific goal? Did you have steps to carry yourself to that goal, or did you keep doing the things you were doing and expect to conjure such success from thin air?

If so, you’re not alone. But where have you succeeded? There has to be some area, doesn’t there? Look deep, look back, be objective. If you haven’t made strides, it might be time to start from scratch and rethink the way you’re approaching your writing career. You’re going to have to change for the better.

Expecting to succeed—to sell your first novel or first pro short story, or to get interviewed in the paper, or whatever—without studying the craft and just winging it, is like a guy swinging a golf club and expecting to be a pro golfer in five years. He can be doing a dozen things wrong in his swing and practice those wrong techniques ten thousand times, but only hurting himself.

A great way to measure your success is to pay a pro for feedback. (Tom Piccirilli offers an editing service.) Look at their feedback and go through it one point at a time, through your whole book, looking for the places they’ve marked as red flags and learn to understand why those things hurt your story instead of help it.

You can measure your success by comparing yourself to your peers. But it’s a trap filled with frustration. They can only write what they write and you can only write what you write. You might be a better networker but they might write better stories, or vice versa. They might be getting what appears constant praise while you can barely get someone to review your first novel. They might be single like me and have very few distractions while you might have a job and a family to dole out time and energy. There are too many variables, and comparing yourself to your peers isn’t very healthy. If you find yourself in this trap, it wouldn’t hurt to slap some sense into yourself.

You can measure your success by reviews. Reviewers read a lot of books so they can usually spot big flaws and what doesn’t work for them pretty quickly. They’re also passionate about the genre they’re reviewing. I like measuring my success this way. If someone loves reading they’re going to offer something useful I can use to improve.

You can measure your success by word count. I’ve never worried about this, but it seems to be a popular thing among writers. It seems a double-edged sword, though, telling yourself you have to hit a certain number, shifting, at least in the back of your mind, from writing a quality story to worrying about how many individual words you finished today. And then there is a lot of guilt in this approach too. I’ve seen tons of writers cry and beat themselves up because they fell behind on their word count that day or week or month. It’s a distraction, if you ask me, that doesn’t have many benefits. If you ignore the word count altogether and just write the story with as much passion and skill as you can, it will end up whatever length it needs to be.

You can measure your success by the project. Each novel you write will be different in critical ways. I like to experiment and break rules. When I began brainstorming A Beautiful Madness I knew I was going to break one of the big rules, and I did it, and knew it would and did work. The challenge each novel creates is fun to face. If you’re testing yourself on each individual story, to try new characters, new storylines, new ways to manage the POV shifts, and searching your heart for the little details that make the story familiar but fresh, there is a lot of satisfaction in that.

You can measure success by hitting deadlines. I like to set myself a deadline and have been doing so for years. (You’ll have to start doing that to be a professional writer, so why not start now?) I usually take a week to brainstorm the characters and the major beats of the novel and then write down the date I want to finish the first draft. Normally I have two deadlines. I set a high goal of six weeks. And then I set a more relaxed deadline of three months. Usually I hit somewhere around two months for a first draft but have finished some novels in two weeks. They’re all different.

You can measure success by copies sold. I’m setting a goal of moving 10,000 copies of A Beautiful Madness in the first year of its release, mostly because I want to gain a hefty new fan base and secure myself a position as a Crime writer to go to for a certain type of story.

With three years of publishing history, I can tell you that book sales spike and plummet if you have a small audience (there will be more on this in another guest post). Since there are such peaks and valleys, I’m shooting for the yearly goal of copies moved instead of a monthly one. If I’m six months into it and have only sold a quarter of what I want to get out there in readers’ hands, then I will have to get creative and up my game to hit my goal. It’s nice motivation. I think it’s doable too, with the publisher I have, and the fans I’ve gained over the last three years. And since A Beautiful Madness is my first Crime novel, it will always have a special place in my heart no matter how it’s received.

You can measure success by reader feedback. I’ve got awesome fans. They’re so warm and intelligent and funny. I wouldn’t move any copies if it wasn’t for them and my publisher because I’d rather be writing and reading than spending time online trying to pimp myself. A lot of them have become friends over the last three years too, although at one time they were complete strangers, opening one of my novels or novellas for the first time. It’s pretty cool. I measure my success in this way a lot, because it’s tangible, and if you ever feel down there are always people there shooting you an email saying they just finished your book and loved it and recommended it to their friends. They thank you, which is weird, but I get it because every time I read a great book I want to thank the author for taking the time to write it too.

You can measure success by professional feedback. I was fortunate the last four years to receive feedback from professional editors and agents and writers. I think it was important for me to have those people tell me I had talent and imagination and energy, but needed to work on characterization. Listening to them is what helped me start selling fiction.

You can adapt an attitude of I-don’t-give-a-fuck. Readers, editors, reviewers, some will love your work, some will hate it, some will never be more than lukewarm about it. You can just write for yourself if you want, like you probably did when you first started and you were thrilled by simply writing and finishing something. There’s no pressure in that. And it’s your life. Do what you want, what you feel is right, for you and your work.

How do you measure your success?

Buy A Beautiful Madness (Kindle): http://amzn.com/B00K36ITGS

Buy A Beautiful Madness (Paperback): http://amzn.com/1940544297

Lee Thompson is the author of the Suspense novels A Beautiful Madness (August 2014), It’s Only Death (January 2015), and With Fury in Hand (May 2015). The dominating threads weaved throughout his work are love, loss, and learning how to live again. A firm believer in the enduring power of the human spirit, Lee believes that stories, no matter their format, set us on the path of transformation. He is represented by the extraordinary Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary.

Visit Lee’s website to discover more.

There will also be a grand prize at the end of the tour where one winner will receive A Beautiful Madness and four other DarkFuse novels in Kindle format! Simply leave a comment on this blog and share the link.

Thanks to those who participate.

Happy Reading,
Lee

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The Crow’s Caw Reviews The Wicked…Plus an Essay and a Contest

The almighty Jassen Bailey has given The Wicked a great review over at The Crow’s Caw.

“This is one of the coolest paperback I’ve ever laid eyes on. This is the total package.”

You can read the review here.

More than that, however, Jassen has allowed James to guest blog about The Wicked, specifically the excellent characterization found within the book. It’s a wonderfully insightful read.

And if that’s not cool enough, they’re giving away two copies of The Wicked and one copy of James’s fantastic collection, People Are Strange. All you have to do is go to the comments section and post your top 10 favorite horror novels and movies from the 80s. Couldn’t be easier!

Again, you can find the review, essay, and contest here. Dig it!

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Women In Horror

Did you know that February is Women in Horror month? Damien Walters Grintalis, a Shock Totem regular, graciously allowed me to guest post on her blog. Swing by to see my take on why women are not only familiar with horror, but biologically built for it.

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Guest Post: Love of the End Product

Batten down the hatches, buckle your wigs, Lee Thompson is in the house!

If you’re unfamiliar with Lee or his work, I predict that will change in the near future. Steadily making his way up the small-press ladder, 2011 is shaping up to be Lee’s breakout year. Let’s do a quick rundown of the year thus far…

His debut novel, Nursery Rhymes 4 Dead Children, and the novella Iron Butterflies Rust were released through Delirium Books; a second novella, As I Embrace My Jagged Edges, will be available through Sideshow Press in the weeks ahead; his short fiction was published in The Zombie Feed, Vol. 1 (“This Final December Day”), Dark Discoveries #18 (“Crawl”), Shock Totem #4 (“Beneath the Weeping Willow”), and is forthcoming in the anthology Hacked-up Holiday Massacre (“We Run Races with Goblin Troopers”). Breakout year or not, Lee Thompson is making a hell of a noise.

Enigmatic, charismatic, and a genuinely good dude, Lee is hopefully destined for big things. Call me a fan.

As part of his 2011 Blog Crawl, he’s stopped by Shock Totem HQ to discuss his journey from dreamer to professional writer. Dig!

LOVE OF THE END PRODUCT

by Lee Thompson

I’ve hungered to make a career of writing. To get past my inadequacies and lay it all out there, the good and bad.

I was a horrible student. I think I’d have been deep into a writing career if I had cared about all of this when I was younger. But I didn’t even care about myself then. And I’m glad I didn’t find this passion until so late, because I got to live, I absorbed so much, and there are multitudes of emotions, hard-won lessons, regrets and shame, pride and rebellion that I went through and now get to draw from.

I remember being so poor (my own fault) those first five years before I’d published a single thing that I always had to use other people’s computers to write on. I was an inconvenience and they didn’t have to let me do that, but they did. I submitted a lot of stories on library computers and got a lot of rejections because I really wasn’t very good. But I was hungry to improve.

Then something happened last year where I turned a corner. It was like everything finally fell into place. I think it was that I learned so much from my buddies Shaun Ryan and Kevin Wallis, and I started studying novels I loved, hand copying them—in notebooks, on old printer paper, in legal pads—to learn more even though it was time-consuming, and I realize now that I stopped writing the first ideas that popped in my head. I started writing for me.

When I began this blog tour my first Division novel wasn’t even released yet and here we are with Nursery Rhymes 4 Dead Children out, as well as my second book Iron Butterflies Rust.

I think I’m very fortunate. I sold my first two books to Delirium Books, a publisher I love, one who has discovered rising stars and cares about the stories and a writer’s career. A publisher who has put out a lot of great material that first took shape in the minds of my heroes (Tom Piccirilli, Greg Gifune, Douglas Clegg, etc.) Not a bad way to lose my virginity. My publisher believes in me. He’s honest about what works for him and what doesn’t, but still asks questions that matter, and wants my input.

How awesome is that?

Very fucking awesome.

So, how does it feel to see your dreams coming true?

It’s wonderful. And it’s a little scary. And it’s very surreal. It’s still sinking in that I’m a professional now. I pour my heart and soul into my work. I use a lot of stuff from real life, from when I was stupid, when I was a kid, moments when I possessed that elusive quality called commonsense, when I was a drunk, dreams I’ve had, and memories and questions that torment me.

And I have friends like Shaun, Kevin, Jassen, Susan, Cate, Mark, Sam, Bec, Peter, Mike, Mercedes, Wanda, John, Nick, Doug, Ken, Neal, Glen, Jennifer, Kate, and so many others who support me, not because I have to beg them or bullshit like that, but because they care.

Any success I have is the result of all those people, and editors like Shane Staley, James Beach, Steve Clark, Adam Bradley, Tom Moran, Ken Wood and lots of others who encouraged me, and earned my respect because of their kindness, honesty, heart and passion.

I could fill pages with people who have helped me along the way these past few years. But that’s kinda frightening too. More and more people I feel I owe something: for putting down their hard-earned money, for spreading the word, for giving feedback, and most of all for their faith and their time. I’m more grateful than you might ever realize. So a huge thanks to all of you.

I never realized how much it would thrill me to get comments from people I don’t know telling me they loved this book or that short story. What an eye opener. It means a lot. It means, in some small way, I’ve connected with another soul (sometimes without ever sharing a conversation). I adore that beyond words.

Thanks to all those who have read and commented and spent time with me.

And a huge thanks to those kind souls who let me blog on their pages.

So much has happened in a short time, but hell, I’m just getting started.

For anyone who missed earlier guest blogs on this tour see them here.

Rock on, you bad mofos.

Lee Thompson

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