Keep Politics Out of It? Couldn’t if I Wanted

It’s something you’ll hear about genre fiction these days — or even about an author or musician or some other art form that asks people to buy the result of that art:

“Can’t you just keep politics out of it?”

I can’t, and I won’t. For several reasons, but before I get to those, let me make one incredibly salient point regarding the leave-politics-out-of-it sentiment: it is dripping with privilege.clean

If you’re in a position where you can ignore politics and the way they affect things, that likely means you’ve never been targeted by or are largely immune from the aftereffects of politics. Historically, that means you’re white, male, straight, and/or a specific type of Christian (hint: it’s not the love-thy-neighbor type).

If you’re some combination of the above traits, you’ve likely been spared much of the worst politics has to offer. Countless people do not have the luxury to just ignore politics; for them, politics can mean life and death.

If you think that’s hyperbole, you’re not paying attention.

Now, with that out of the way… art — be it painting or sculpture or writing or whatever — is often a window through which we examine and comment on life and society. That means, inevitably, that art can and often will be political. Don’t let anyone tell you genre fiction in particular has always been apolitical (I pick genre fiction because that’s what I peddle in).

The dudebros who hate Brie Larson and the idea of a black Captain America and the mere hint of a Harley Quinn film where she’s not fawning all over Mistah J will have you think there was this utopia where comics and genre fiction were free from politics (this “utopia” was also almost exclusively white, male, and straight).

That is clearly, demonstrably wrong.

Genre fiction has always had political undertones, whether its audience saw them or not. The X-Men were an allegory for racism in the 1960s (and later evolved to represent other oppressed minorities, including the LGBT community). Superman was an alien come to America (created by two Jewish men). Wonder Woman was the original feminist superhero.

If we take fiction as a reflection of the world we live in, and not merely a way to escape said world, then it can’t help but be political — because like it or not, politics shape much of the world we live in. Ignoring that doesn’t make it less true.

Sometimes it’s covert. Sometimes it’s right in your face.

You see where I’m going with this?

More personally, I hear other authors tell me I should tone down my political opinions, lest I run the risk of alienating potential readers. I refuse, for a number of reasons:

I’m not just a writer. I’m a full-fledged person with opinions about the state of the country and the world — and I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a person and as an American citizen if I didn’t express those opinions (whether it be verbally, through donating to causes and candidates, or in the voting booth). My work does not rob me of my voice.

If I were to set aside my ideals in the interest of making just a little more money… well, then in a way, I’m no better than the greedy sycophant currently occupying the White House.

And to be perfectly frank, the people who would hate me for my political opinions wouldn’t like my work anyway. It represents everything they hate; it’s full of racial and sexual diversity, with a big heaping plate of what they would call “SJW bullshit.” So even if they did give me their money, they wouldn’t enjoy the product.

As the late Kurt Cobain once said, those aren’t the sort of people I want as fans anyway. He really did say that, on multiple occasions. And I feel the same way; if you’re the sort of person who looks at Donald Trump and those like him and you think that’s the sort of world we need to live in, pass me right on by. I don’t want or need your money.

So no, I will not keep politics out of it. Not out of the fiction I consume, not out of the fiction I create. I will not be silenced, I will not sit down. I will not allow my privilege to protect me; I will instead use it to fight for what’s right. My station as a writer, as a published author, has no bearing on my ability or willingness to use my voice to enact change.

And if that bothers you… well, that’s your issue, not mine.

 

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About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitterGoodreads. and DeviantArt.

The Lesson From Kobe Bryant

I know, I know… what does a no-name author have to do with Kobe Bryant?

Kobe Bryant, basketball legend, was one of nine people killed in a helicopter crash in southern California on Sunday (reports are that one of the victims was his 13-year-old daughter Gianna). He was only 41, just three-plus years removed from the end of his playing career.

Forty-one is clearly too young to lose anyone, and the day was spent with countless people going on and on about how transcendent a talent Bryant was on the basketball court, the kind of person he was off of it, and why he was the sort of person whose death inspired mourning en masse, even outside the world of basketball.

But I’m looking at the Kobe Bryant news from a slightly different perspective. Set the sports angle aside for a bit…

Kobe Bryant was someone who found the one thing he loved in life, the one thing he breathed for, and he completely devoted himself to it (if you can, find his animated short film Dear Basketball, for which he won an Oscar). He poured everything he had into the game of basketball, and he was rewarded tenfold for it.

Sports or not, I think that’s something that speaks to us all.

Writing — the written word — is that thing for me. Has been as far back as I can remember. I’ve built so much of my life on writing. Newspapers. Magazines. Websites. And five novels. Even the years when I saw myself as the next Jim Lee, the next big comic book artist, writing still had a seat at the table.

But in recent years, I’ve slipped.

And I can’t help but think… what if that happens to me? What if my time comes and I’m left knowing that I didn’t devote myself as much as I could’ve? That I let the one thing I love more than anything slip like that?

My biggest fear in life is not being good enough. But it’s also what I mentioned above; having to leave this life not having given everything I possibly could to the only thing I’ve loved in all of my 38 years.

I’ve had other loves, other interests, but none have been as lifelong as writing. I have so many stories I want to tell still, so many lives I watch to touch with the written word. I truly believe that was what I was put on this planet to do.

I know video and all that are the big thing right now. But the written word is my gift. The one thing I have to give to this world, at my best and at my worst.

I am a writer. That’s who I am.

So if nothing else, let today’s tragedy remind me — remind all of us — to truly dedicate ourselves to whatever it is we love most in life. Whether that’s basketball. Or books. Or drawing. Or helping the less fortunate.

Whatever it is you love… dedicate yourself to it.

Because today, we lost a man who did just that, and we lost him far sooner than we should’ve.

I don’t wanna go saying, “I could’ve…” I wanna go saying, “I did.”

 

 

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About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitterGoodreads. and DeviantArt.

Saying No to Audiobooks… For Now

In 2017, I made the decision to take my books out of the Kindle Unlimited program and start offering them on a variety of platforms. Today, you can buy my ebooks on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Apple iBooks, and my paperbacks are available on a variety of platforms, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s website.32372874_10155518469998581_5987555298229878784_n

One format my work isn’t available is the audiobook.

Now, don’t take that to mean I’m against audiobooks, because I’m not. I’ve never utilized them myself, but I know they’re popular with a lot of readers — whether because they’re time-strapped, always on the run, or taking in the printed word is difficult for them. In a perfect world, my work would be available for those people as well.

Alas, such a world does not yet exist. In fact, the cost involved in turning a book into an audiobook — the investment, if you choose that word instead — would be prohibitive.

Let’s be frank here: my work is not selling in the formats that are currently available. I’m not swimming in ebook sales, regardless of platform, and the boxes and boxes of paperbacks in my den don’t paint any prettier a picture. I’ve poured a lot of money into those, not to mention marketing efforts overall, and to this point have found limited success.

So I’m already doing this self-published author thing at a loss (and I figure that’s true for most of us). The production costs of converting even one of my books into audio — to say nothing of paying someone to record it — I can’t currently justify that cost.

Sure, I could do the profit-share thing, where whoever records my book as an audiobook gets a cut of my sales as their payment. But a) my sales as they are don’t amount to much, and b) talking to people who have converted their work into audiobooks, selecting that payment method is a good way to guarantee you’re not picking from the best audiobook recorders.

If I’m gonna do it, I wanna do it right (which is also why I won’t be recording them myself… to quote a meme, ain’t nobody got time for that).

This is by no means set in stone. Maybe someday I’ll be in a position where this is an economically feasible option for me. I pride myself in having my work available in as many different formats and as many outlets as possible; I hated being exclusive to Kindle when I was enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, because while the vast majority of my sales are on Kindle, I felt like I was missing something by not being on other platforms.

Even now, I wish my work was available on Google Play.

But I can’t justify the production costs or paying the talent (and I would pay them up front — they deserve to be paid for their work, much like any other artist). Not when the versions that are available are operating at such a loss. With me trying to refocus my efforts in 2020, I can’t justify a distracting side project that would put me even deeper in a financial hole.

But maybe my sales improve some day to the point where I can invest that kind of money. Maybe I’ll find my audience, and then the demand for J.D. Cunegan audiobooks will exist to the point where I can put the time and effort into creating them.

Right now, though, my writing career is very much a case of prioritizing. And right now, my priority is creating new content in the hopes that that entices people to check out the rest of my work. I have to make what I have work before I can go chasing after other things.

Sometimes, it’s best to know what’s not possible to help create what is possible.

 

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About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitterGoodreads. and DeviantArt.

In Defense of Fan Fiction

I’m gonna let you all in on a little secret:woman-typing-writing-windows

I used to write fan fiction.

Castle fanfic, mainly. There was one where I managed to merge Castle with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was fun to write, but it got lost in the shuffle of life as a full-time worker bee and self-published creative type… I keep telling myself I’ll get back to it, but I haven’t yet.

Now, depending on which corner of the Writer Internet in which I say the words “fan fiction,” there’s no telling the reaction I’d get. In certain circles, fanfic might as well double as one of the late, great George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words. It’s the Thing That Shall Not Be Spoken Of, and people who partake in it might as well wear a scarlet W on their chests.

Acting like fanfic is the second coming of Satan and the director’s cut of Batman v. Superman, all rolled into one.

Now, I don’t begrudge authors who don’t want to see fan fiction of their work. It’s their work, their property, and they’re entitled to not wanting others to play with it. I disagree with that stance (I would flip my shit — in a good way — if I ever found out someone wrote fanfic based on my books), but I’ll never tell another writer how to treat their intellectual property.

And I think some of the anti-fanfic sentiment stems from such works as the Fifty Shades series, which famously started out as Twilight fan fiction before Big Publishing swooped in and left millions of us with a bastardized idea of what BDSM should be (but that’s another blog post for another writer to tackle).

Also worth noting: many of the most active fanfic readers and writers online are female and/or LGBT (and that there’s plenty of adult material in fanfic)… so I can’t help but feel like a good chunk of the anti-fanfic sentiment is society trying, once again, to render things that speak to marginalized people as less than, as The Other.

“You like that?! Ugh, girls and q***rs like that!”

So I write in defense of fan fiction, for several different reasons.

  1. It’s fun! Seriously, people are showing their love for their pop culture property of choice by spending more time in it, by creating their own corner of it. People love Harry Potter so much, for example, that they spend their precious free time creating more of it (without payment). Fanfic, at its essence, is a labor of love.
  2. Fanfic can be great practice, for both novice and experienced writers. When writing fanfic, you’re operating in a fictional universe that already exists. The rules are already there, the characters are at least somewhat fleshed out. In writing fanfic, you can hone your skills when it comes to plotting, dialogue, and characterization. Even if the fanfic in question stems from a belief that the source material erred (i.e., “Kate Beckett would never walk out on Richard Castle like that!”), the basics hold true.
  3. Unless a fanfic writer is profiting off the work, fanfic is, at the end of the day, harmless fun. People are reading and writing stories about worlds and characters they love. They’re harming nobody in doing this, and if a new fanfic chapter is what helps someone get through the day, then it’s worth it.
  4. Not to get meta on everything, but if you really boil down to it, almost anything can be considered fanfic of a sort. This is a variation of the “everything derives from everything” argument. That there are no truly original ideas anymore and that every story, explicitly or otherwise, borrows from several other sources. Many of us become creators because something someone else created inspired us, and we pour that inspiration into our work.

I’m not saying everyone has to partake in fanfic; it’s your prerogative if you don’t. But don’t look down on people who read it, and definitely don’t begrudge people who write it. In a way, fanfic is one of the purest forms of written expression, because it’s done without the expectation of reimbursement.

If I publish a book, it’s in the hope someone buys it, and if they buy it, I get a cut of the money. If I write a fanfic, and someone reads it, I get… the satisfaction of knowing someone read my work.

But fanfic is a legitimate form of writing, a legitimate form of entertainment, and a legitimate form of artistic expression. Without fanfic, I’m not sure if I’m a published author at this point, and fanfic is something that I occasionally long to dabble in once more.

It’s fun, it’s harmless, and it’s really just another way for creatives to show support for the stories and characters they love.

 

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About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitterGoodreads. and DeviantArt.

SNEAK PEEK: Betrayal

To celebrate the fact that I’ve (finally!) finished writing Betrayal (Jill Andersen #5), I figured I’d reward myself — and all of you — by posting a sneak peek. Keep in mind this is an unedited snippet and that the book is far from a finished product. But with any luck, Betrayal will be out sometime around March. So without further ado… enjoy the sneak peek!

 

With a click, a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling flickered to life.

It swung lazily on its rusty chain, illuminating the masked man who stood under it. The holes in his mask were barely large enough for his eyes, and they weren’t even visible when the light swung away. He wore an olive green long-sleeve t-shirt and camouflage pants that were tucked into a pair of scuffed and faded combat boots. Dried blood dotted the shirt. Some of it was from a war the man could barely remember fighting, having refused to fade despite countless washings. The rest was from just a couple hours ago, the result of a stubborn police commissioner who didn’t understand the meaning of “stop resisting.”

An AR-15 was slung over the masked man’s shoulder and cradled in his hands. The weight of it was comfortable in his palms, familiar. In fact, the masked man would admit to feeling naked without this particular weapon. It had never steered him wrong. Not in basic training. Not in war. And certainly not now.

He smiled under his mask when a tiny red light came to life just feet in front of him. This was the moment he had spent the last several years working toward. What came next was the culmination of a life’s dream, the very thing he had been destined to do ever since they unceremoniously threw him out of the Army and onto his ass. It hadn’t been easy. In fact, there had been plenty of sleepless nights in which the man was certain he wouldn’t live to see this day. And yet here he stood, mere moments from the beginning of his greatest triumph.

Only this wasn’t his victory alone. His brothers were as responsible for this breakthrough as he. Not that he would ever tell any of them that. But they knew.

And if they didn’t… oh, well.

“We’re live,” a voice called out from behind a video camera resting eye-level with the masked man.

Reaching up for his neck, making sure the digital voice masking device was still in place, the man’s smile grew. Not that anyone could see it. “Good evening, citizens of Baltimore. You may not realize it right now, but this city is on the precipice of a new age. The dawn of a new era is at our fingertips, and believe me when I tell you that nothing will ever be the same.”

Taking a step toward the camera, leaving much of the light, the masked man hoisted the gun over his shoulder. He kept a steady gaze on the red light, fighting the urge to peel off the mask. Deep down, part of him wanted the world to know who he was. He wanted to show Baltimore what its savior truly looked like. Let the citizens know that their hero was just a flesh and blood man, no different than them. No robots. No cybernetic eyes. No half-baked wannabe superheroes prancing around the rooftops.

He especially wanted her to know.

But not now. Not yet.

There would be time for that later, if everything went according to plan. For now, anonymity was the best course of action — for everyone’s sake.

Chances are, you woke this morning to the news that Councilman Franco has been murdered.” The masked man shook his head. “A tragedy, this is not. Do not let the media elite and his fellow councilmen fool you; Councilman Franco was not the Good Samaritan he is being painted as. He was corrupt. He was selfish. He was everything we assume our politicians to be. And he deserved what happened to him.”

The masked man clasped his hands together behind himself, pacing back and forth. He kept his steps short, careful not to wander out of the frame. His gaze never left the camera. The adrenaline throbbed as it coursed through the man’s veins. Yet he kept his steps slow, purposeful. He closed his eyes and steadied his breath, using the countdown techniques an old platoon mate had taught him when things were at their worst in the sandy nothingness of Afghanistan. The man would count from ten to one, then back again, until the image of his platoon mate’s disembodied head threatened to take over.

Only then did the man stop counting.

Councilman Franco is just the first, and make no mistake, he is far from the last. This city is overrun with the corrupt and the unjust. The deceitful and the vile. We cannot trust the police to tackle the problem. We cannot turn to our elected officials. They will not help us. They will not hold themselves accountable. We cannot ask federal authorities for help. No. This is a cancer that we must cut out ourselves. It will not be pretty. There will be names that shock you. Our actions will likely revile you. We accept that. If we must be the villain in order for Baltimore to regain its past glory, then that is a cross we will gladly bear.”

The man returned to his original spot beneath the light bulb. It flickered as if it was about to blow out, but the light remained true. A cockroach skittered along the bulb before retreating up the chain and into the darkness.

Chances are, we mean none of you watching harm. The decent, law abiding citizens have nothing to fear from us. The rest of you? Consider this the only warning you get.”

The masked man reached for the weapon slung over his shoulder again, cradling it in both hands and pointing the barrel directly at the camera.

We are The Collective,” he continued. “And we will be this city’s salvation.”

The masked man pulled the trigger.

 

 

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About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitterGoodreads. and DeviantArt.

Being Honest with Myself

I gotta be honest with myself about a few things from a creative standpoint. I think I’ve let my ambitions outpace my abilities, and it’s led to a level of frustration that’s left me unable to create anything.Behind the Mask

I have a ton of projects I want to do, but the time my day job leaves me, how tired I often am, how good at drawing I’m not… there are limits I need to acknowledge and accept.

Note: I am not abandoning any of my projects. Everything I intend to create will see the light of day.

Eventually.

That means Bounty: Origins is on hold. As are commissions and my other artwork. And my NaNo fantasy romance project. I will return to these… I just can’t focus on them right now, not at the detriment of everything else.

Priority No. 1? Well, it’s in my Twitter handle… finish Betrayed (Jill Andersen #5). Dec. 4 will mark two years since the last book was released. That’s unacceptable.

Finish Betrayed. Launch the next series after that. And then I can figure out what’s my next step. Focus. Commit. Stop chasing every idea that pokes its head out from the bushes.

Pick a project.

Work.

Finish.

 

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitterGoodreads. and DeviantArt.

A Hard Truth and a Paradox

Typically, the more you do something, the better you get at it.

Seems simple enough, right? Isn’t that what we teach the youngsters among us? Practice makes perfect? No one is good at something right out of the gate? You have to work at whatever craft you want in order to become good at it?

Well, it appears this does not apply to writing books.

I mean, one would think that after writing and publishing five novels (and a collection of short stories), I’d be pretty darn good at this. One would think the more I do it, the easier it becomes.

Uh… about that…

Writing is a fickle beast, and there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to when it shows up. Actually, that’s not quite true… there are a few things that have come together to conspire against the act of putting words on the page (insert Russia joke here).

First of all, there’s that pesky thing called a day job. It’s great in a sense, because it pays me well enough that I can afford to invest in my writing. I can better afford such things as promotional services, cover artists, editors, conventions and the like. But it also drains me, the day-to-day hustle leaving me exhausted when I get home — so much so that writing, as enticing as it is during the work day, proves elusive after hours.

And yes, I realize that to some extent, that issue is my own lack of discipline. I readily admit I’m not as strong in that regard as I should be. I know as much as anyone that the real work of writing occurs when you don’t feel like writing. And yet, there are nights when I can’t bring myself to open that manuscript.

Even if I do open it? That blinking cursor just stares at me. Mocking.

The cursor hates me. I don’t know why.

It’s not like I’m bereft of ideas. I resorted to outlining in an attempt to (finally) finish Betrayed. I’m even fairly certain where to go with the next two Jill Andersen books, Bitter End and Big Apple. I’ve come up with several potential short story or novel ideas that are so outside of what I normally write that I’m excited to tackle them (I just… haven’t yet, though with one of them, that’s because it’s my NaNoWriMo project, and until the calendar reads November…).

I even had a short story I was writing for an upcoming anthology — from the same people who brought you Cracks in the Tapestry. But it derailed not even 4,000 words in, and I’ve yet to find a way to salvage it. That anthology might wind up happening without me.

Dec. 4 will mark two years since my last published novel. Two freaking years. For a guy who was once pumping out new releases every six months. What the hell? What happened? I thought this was supposed to get easier the more I did it, not soul-crushingly difficult.

I know part of the reason my sales are so bad is because I haven’t released anything lately. It’s generally accepted that consistent new content is the best way to get people to buy your stuff, and I have failed massively in that regard.

Maybe NaNoWriMo is the kick in the ass I need to get back in the game. But as it stands right now, I’m far better at daydreaming about writing than actually, you know, writing.

Please tell me I’m not the only one.

 

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About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitterGoodreads, and DeviantArt.