Ever Changing Momentum

Posted: June 9, 2014 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Life is ever changing.

That is a fact. That is not opinion. It may appear like just an opinion, but if you think about it, it’s not.

You’re born. But before that, you were lust in your parents’ hearts (best case scenario here). You were, pardon the term and the Ozzie Osbourne reference, a shot in the dark. From there, you developed into a living thing in your momma’s stomach. Eventually, you passed through to the world and you are no longer a baby to be, but a full-fledged baby.

Then you grow. Whether you grow up, grow out, grow smart (or dumb) you grow. And grow and grow. If you’re lucky, you never stop growing in one way or another—hopefully, it’s the intelligence and character that grows. So, you see, life is ever changing. Fact.

With ever changing life, there is ever changing momentum. Life, not just sports, is about momentum. Stick with me here for a minute.

In sports, when a team seizes momentum their chances of winning a game improves. A team that can hold momentum for long periods of time through the season, and especially during the playoffs, can end up winning the championship.

Life is similar.

In life, you have to find your niche. Sometimes, you find it by accident, but most of the time, you find something you like, or something that appeals to you and you work at it. If it’s a job, then you get better and better at the job and that could lead to a raise or a promotion or both.

Romance is the same way. You meet someone you like, you go out and then you start working at the relationship. If you don’t work at it, chances are, it won’t last. My parents have been married 47 years, and trust me, they have worked at it. My dad told my mom, ‘when we get married, there will be no divorce.’ Do you really think that if my parents didn’t work at their marriage, that it wouldn’t have ended in divorce?

In reality, life is a LOT like sports. You have an opponent in both. In sports, it’s the other team. In life, it’s whatever struggle you are facing. In sports, you have to figure out your opponent’s weaknesses and use them to your advantage to win the game. In life, you have to figure out YOUR weaknesses, so you can overcome whatever difficulties you face. In sports, if you overcome your opponent, you get to celebrate. If you don’t, well, you go back to the locker room and try to figure out what you did wrong. Yup, life is similar. If you overcome your trials, then you can celebrate and relax a little; you can enjoy the time after the overcoming. If you don’t overcome the issues at hand, then you take a few steps back, and then have to figure out another plan in how to handle the problem. But when you figure out what you’re doing right, well, things can take off. That is the importance of momentum.

And momentum is ever changing.

Fact. According to me and life in general.

Writing is the same way.

Writers get momentum when a story goes the way it supposed to. The characters behave and do what the writer says to do. The descriptions and emotions are easy to develop. The plot plays out the way you want it to. Then you polish up a few pieces and send them to publications, and lo and behold, they get published. You go from there to bigger things, like collections or novels, and guess what? They get published. Momentum can do that for you. The right type of momentum builds confidence.

The wrong type of momentum, well, all it does is knock you down and destroy your confidence. All it takes is a string of unfinished stories where the characters don’t play nicely together and the scenes just don’t come together and the emotions and dialogue feel forced. A couple of rejections slows the good momentum, and then lowers the confidence. When the confidence starts to falter, so does the belief that you can write anything worth reading. Momentum is everything.

Life is about momentum, and every decision you make can change that momentum. Writing is about momentum. And every time you send something out to a publisher or even if you publish it yourself, you are taking a chance at gaining good momentum or facing the opposite direction.

What have you got to lose? I mean, honestly, what have you got to lose?

Momentum. Seize it when it comes your way. Look for it when it is hiding from you. But above all, don’t give up—Momentum is right around the corner and when it shows its head, everything changes.

Until we meet again, my friends…

Like Grandfather, Father and Son

Posted: May 8, 2014 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

I have two stories I would like to tell you. One involves my dad and me. The other one is about my son and me.

When I was a little boy, Dad would wake me up early on Saturday mornings in the spring and summer months. You see, Dad liked to fish. I didn’t care much for fishing, but I liked being around my dad so I always told him I wanted to go when he went. Thus, he woke me early on Saturdays (and sometimes Sundays) so we could load up the boat and head out to the lake.

Before we would make our way toward the lake, Dad always stopped by the Dunkin’ Donuts not too far from where we lived. We would each get a coffee–though his was usually bigger than mine–and a donut or two. The donuts were always one of the highlights of the day.

[SIDENOTE: Donuts are my greatest weakness. They are my kryptonite. END SIDENOTE]

Dad has never been a straw person. Or a top on the cup person. He always took the top off his coffee and threw it away. Me, wanting to be like him, did the same. There was one problem with that. You see, when we would leave Dunkin’ Donuts Dad liked to suddenly mash on the brakes, making the car jerk to a sudden stop. In those younger years of my life, I never failed to spill hot coffee on myself when Dad hit those brakes.

Sometimes I screamed.

Dad would then ease off the brakes with a cat-ate-the-canary smile on his face and pull onto the road, as if nothing ever happened.

“If you learn how to hold that cup you wouldn’t have that problem,” he would say after each spillage of hot coffee.

It took a while, but eventually, I learned how to let my arm, hand and cup move with the flow of the car, and when to let the cup go forward when he hit those brakes to keep it from spilling out on me.

I grew up, as kids tend to do.

Dad and I also share the same enjoyment of aquariums. I took a day off from work and he and I decided to go to Augusta to this place called Bob’s Tropical Fish. I was driving. Before leaving, we decided to stop off at the McDonald’s not too far from Dad’s home (the Dunkin’ Donuts was long gone by then).

I was driving. :)

You kind of see where this is going, don’t you?

We went through the drive threw, ordered our coffees and pulled out. Dad took the top off of his. I hit the brakes.

I’m smiling right now.

Dad let out a surprised yelp as hot coffee spilled on his hands and lap.

I said, “If you learn how to hold that cup you wouldn’t have that problem.”

It had come full circle.

The apprentice had become the master, even if just for a moment.

Fast forward to now.

Sometimes The Boy (my son) will walk out the front door in front of me to go to the car in the mornings before school. Sometimes when he does that, I let him get to the steps and then I close the door and snicker as I’m doing so. The Boy almost always let’s out a ‘Hey, open the door!’ as he beats on it, trying to get back inside.

“What?” I say. “I was just going to let you start without me.”

Do you see where this one is going? I bet you do.

This morning I had my hands full. The Boy did a nice thing for me. He held the door open so I could get out the house. I gave him a ‘thanks, buddy,’ and walked out the door. I reached the steps and I heard the door close behind me. I went down the steps, turned back to say something to him…and he was nowhere to be seen.

I could hear him laughing from inside the house. Needless to say, but I will say it anyway, I burst out laughing.

The Boy opened the door, his face glowing. He said, “Yeah, that’s what you get. That’s what you get!”

Of course, I continued to laugh.

It had come full circle, just like my dad and I had.

And I couldn’t have been prouder of The Boy.

Until we meet again, my friends…

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this blog are solely mine. They are just that, opinions. They are how I feel and what I think. If you can’t handle someone having an opinion that may differ from yours, then please, stop reading now.

Possible indecipherable rant to follow:

‘There’s something wrong with the world today.
I don’t know what it is.
There’s something wrong with our eyes.’

Every time I hear the song, Livin’ On the Edge, I often wonder if Aerosmith was being prophetic or just crooning about the way things were at the time, not foreseeing how much worse it could get.

What is wrong with us? What is wrong with our nation? Our world? What is wrong with us, as individuals?

On April 30, 2014, a 17 year-old boy was arrested inside a storage facility. Supposedly, he told the police if he had a gun at the time, he would have killed the first responder. He was going to kill his family. He was going to set a fire in the woods nearby to create a divergence so he could set off bombs at the local middle and high schools. His goal was to kill as many people as he could before a SWAT team could take him out. He wanted the SWAT team to kill him.

Two weeks earlier, a kid in Pennsylvania goes on a stabbing spree in school, stabbing twenty people, mostly teenagers, before he is tackled by the assistant principal.

On April 2, 2014 a gunman begins shooting at Fort Hood military base. Four people, including the gunman, died. Supposedly, he was angry because he wasn’t granted leave. Now he has permanent leave. And so does three other soldiers.

Remember Sandy Hook?

Do I need to give any more examples?

‘We’re seein’ things in a different way
And God knows it ain’t his
It sure ain’t no surprise.’

Seriously, what is going on?

There’s an owner of a basketball team spewing hateful, racist remarks, and for the longest time, the NBA did nothing about this, though the Justice Department did on two separate occasions.

We have football players beating their girlfriends and getting slaps on the wrists, as if domestic abuse is okay. And then those girls stay with the abuser. I don’t get that. I don’t get that at all.

There are people using the ‘N’ word–and you know what word I’m talking about–but taking two letters off and adding an A on the end. So that makes it okay? What? It’s a horrible word no matter how it is said.

We have religious leaders claiming intolerance instead of love, patience and acceptance. Hey, folks, I don’t know if you are aware of this or not, but the Bible explicitly says, do not judge one another. (Matthew 7:1)

In this day, we still have racism and bigotry and people bashing on others because of their sexual preferences.

Really?

There’s somethin’ wrong with the world today
The light bulb’s getting’ dim.
There’s meltdown in the sky.

I’m going to say something that may not go over very well with a lot of folks. We have soldiers fighting terrorism in other countries, yet we can’t seem to get pass the hypocrisy of our own. Hey, terrorists are not our biggest concern. With what we—Americans, folks, Americans—are doing to each other, the terrorists can just sit back and let us kill each other, because that’s what we’re doing.

What happened to us? Where is the unity we all felt after 9/11?

We’re a selfish people. We want our money. We want our possessions. We want our notoriety, and by George, we’re going to get it, no matter what the cost. If someone has it, we’re going to make it ours.

Yes, I’m generalizing here. There are a lot of good people out there. There are a lot of people willing to help others. But there are a lot more of those people who seem to have lost the moral compass. There are so few Dale’s out there. (Yes, that was a Walking Dead reference for those who didn’t catch that.)

If you can judge a wise man
By the color of his skin
Then mister you’re a better man than I.

Here’s what I think:

People no longer respect other people, their property or their lives. We don’t respect living any longer.

‘Oh no he didn’t. I’m going to shoot him up, and his family, too.’

If we respected the living, if we respected life, then there would be less of these shootings and less violent crimes and less hate-mongering, and there would be more talking and more reasoning.

Yeah, I know, it’s a pipe dream. Why can’t we all get along and all that.

I remember when people used to get in fights at school and by the end of the next day they were friends again. We would get our aggressions out, sling a few fists, bloody a nose or two and take our punishment when we were finished—like men, even when we were just eleven and twelve. Then the next day we would sit at the same table at lunch and swap food as if nothing ever happened.

What happened to that?

What happened to Mom and Dad disciplining a kid and the kid learning from it?

What happened to closing your mouth and treating the elderly like they were royalty? We used to never cuss in front of our elders. Now no one really cares.

Respect.

Entitlement.

People want everything handed to them. Kids expect to receive their iphones and ipads and ipods and televisions and video games and nice clothing. They don’t want to work for it. There are a lot of adults out there acting like kids, living off others and not earning their keep.

Everything I own, I earned. I’ve had very little given to me in life. I paid for the two cars in my driveway. I’m paying for the house I live in, even if it is small and in need of a lot of work. This computer I’m typing at right now? Yup, paid for with hard work. I don’t have a lot of new things, and I don’t buy a lot of new things. Things I need are paid for. Things I want, well, I wait on getting those—they’re wants, after all and not something I really need.

‘Something’s right with the world today
And everybody knows it’s wrong.
But we can tell ‘em no or we could let it go
But I’d rather be a hanging on.’

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just throwing up at the mouth.

We are truly living on the edge of self-destruction here. We don’t love like we used to. We don’t care like we used to. We don’t respect like we used to. We’re not giving like we used to be.

I love my country. But I don’t love the things happening here. I don’t love the angst we’ve developed, the self-entitlement, the selfishness. I don’t like that I can’t let my kids walk down the street without fear that something could happen to them. I’m terrified every time I drop them off at school in the morning.

What’s wrong with us these days? I don’t know, and honestly, I’m not sure how to fix it.

We’re livin’ on the edge, and I’m afraid we can’t keep ourselves from falling…

Stay safe and love and live and be courteous to one another. Someone has to do it. I don’t know if I even made sense tonight. Probably not. I just had to get this out of my mind, out of my heart, so I can get back to writing and living.

Until we meet again, my friends…

When he woke this morning, the sun was shining in his face. He cracked an eye and realized, ‘holy cow, I actually got some rest.’ It was a rarity for him. Sleep had not really been a friend of his. She liked to tease him, tell him she was ready for him to come to bed, big boy. Then when he did, she would leave.

This frustrated the guy—let’s just call him J. for now.

So, he would stay awake, often staring into the darkness, wondering if he could count how many times the shadows seemed to shift in the room.

At any rate, when he woke up late for a change, his head wasn’t in its usual state of fogginess. No, it was somewhat clear, not quite like a bright, sunshiney day clear, but more like a glass at a restaurant. It may be clean, but there are still specks on it.

As he lay in bed, still not quite ready to get up—he was already late in doing so, at least his mind told him as much—he pondered. You see, J. is somewhat of a writer. He likes to tell stories and he likes for people to hear/read those stories. But, lately, those stories haven’t been getting read. Probably because he hadn’t been submitting much, and those places he did submit to weren’t accepting much of his work. Yeah, they were saying, ‘great story,’ and ‘we really liked this piece,’ but in the end, many of them were still rejecting the work.

Bummer.

The problem for J. is it wore on his confidence, and he began to lose the one important thing all writers need: a desire to write.

Then came the thought he had been having for a while. Why write? Why do I even want to try anymore?

But wait, another thought came to him. It made more sense than giving up. It made a lot of sense indeed.

‘Why don’t I just start over?’

The previous night he had updated his publishing credits on his blog and realized they had dwindled in recent years. Again, not submitting a lot doesn’t help with that. But, maybe, just maybe, he needed to send some work to a few different places than he had been. Why not try and get his name back out there like he used to?

No, he’s not a big fan of For the Love markets, but if some of them took reprints, he could see submitting to them again. But what about some of the other markets that don’t offer pro rates? Pay is pay, isn’t it?

Yes, he liked that idea. It wouldn’t pay as well, and some wouldn’t pay much at all, but an acceptance and some money and exposure would do his psyche some good. Don’t you think?

‘But am I settling?’ he wondered.

Legit question.

He didn’t believe so. Here is what he told himself:

‘You have to start somewhere. You can still submit to the big dogs, but don’t forget about the smaller ones. Those are the ones that can help you get back into the game.’

Here’s the thing, sometimes you have to step back, and reevaluate the game plan. Sometimes you have to be willing to start small and work your way back up the ladder. It’s like a new job. Most folks start at the bottom and have to work and work and work their way to a promotion. Writing is the same way.

So, here he is, J.—err, A.J.—and he is applying for jobs in the short story world. Hopefully, he’ll get a few callbacks. He may even post what he sends and when and whether or not the stories get accepted, and even the comments.

It’s time to crack some knuckles and get back to work.

~CRACK~

Ouch.

No, he probably shouldn’t crack anything on his body these days.

Until we meet again, my friends…

Good evening, Readers. I hope all is going well for you. I am on the last day of a mini-vacation and have settled in for the evening. The family is away at the beach and it is just myself, the hockey game on the television behind me, and writing.

It has been a quiet day, for sure. I will say this about the quiet and being alone—I am not a creature meant to fly solo. The house feels so empty without Cate and the kids around. I don’t like it.

But being alone is something that everyone has to face from time to time. Including Hank Walker, the lead character in my zombie series, Dredging Up Memories. Hank is a good old boy thrust into a world ruled by the dead, where solitude is just as dangerous of an enemy as the biters.

I started writing this series back in 2010 as an experiment. It was originally titled, My Brothers and I, but when I realized Hank’s brothers don’t have big roles in the story that title no longer fit. However, the story is about memories, and Hank has a lot of them.

I submitted the first chapter to Tales of the Zombie War not longer after I wrote it, and honestly, I wasn’t sure I was going to write anymore on it. I wasn’t too sure I liked it.

They accepted the piece, posted it to the site, but I still wasn’t sold on the idea of continuing the story.

Then came the comments and I was quietly humbled.

‘What I like about this is that, as a plot, it doesn’t get any simpler. However it had a real emotional impact that would come, I believe, from being in an environment where you know the victims and have to deal with them up close and personal. Yup, I like this a lot for that. AJ Brown has done a really good job of conveying the impact of that to the reader.’

And…

‘I really like this story. It is set to a realistic tone that most stories don’t have. Don’t get me wrong I like the kill everyone Rambo stories a lot too but this story was simple and emotional.’

And…

‘Haunting. Human. Bitter sweet. I loved this story! Damn fine job. I gotta say, you painted a fantastic picture of one man’s way to cope with everything, and to be honest, I saw him as myself.’

As a writer, things like those comments and others made on the website over the last few years have pushed me onward with the series. Now, here we are, sixteen chapters in and Hank has developed a little fan base. I’m thinking about turning the series into a novel when it has completed its run on the site. I’ve gone back and rewritten some of the first chapters. I’ve also decided to try and rewrite the ‘where, oh where did the virus come from?’ chapter. I’m not so certain I like it as it stands. However, what I came up with as an alternative is really cool, and I think most folks will like it, especially since it really doesn’t change hardly any of the story that follows.

There are also side stories that I am writing for the novel version. There are certain characters that Hank comes across during his search for his son. Some of them are intriguing and I’d like to know the stories behind them. What better way for me to learn that but to write their stories, and then share them with you?

Like all good things that come to an end, I have finished the series, though I haven’t sent all of them in, yet. The end is near for Dredging Up Memories, but not necessarily for the storyline. Yes, there is more coming in the future, but what that is I am not saying. I don’t think the readers will be disappointed.

If you haven’t read the series and would like to, just follow the link below and you can catch all sixteen chapters and a side story. Enjoy the read, and leave comments on the site, or here, on Type AJ Negative.

Dredging Up Memories

As always, thank you for reading, and until we meet again, my friends…

I’m a little late on this—just a little.

April is Autism Awareness Month. I don’t know the stats on how many people have autism, but in my opinion, one person is one person too many.

I want to do something, and I want you to help me. No, I’m not asking for donations. No, I’m not asking that you put a blue light bulb on your front porch for the month. However, I am going to ask you to do something.

Before I do that, I want to tell you why I’m going to ask this of you.

My wife, Cate, has a very close friend whose oldest son is autistic. He’s such a good kid. Loving and sweet. He doesn’t eat cake, but he will eat Cate’s cupcakes. He has a great smile and he is very much a child’s child.

The boy’s name is Phillip. On April 2nd—Autism Awareness Day—his mother asked people on her Facebook page to post pictures of them wearing blue shirts. She then saved these pictures to show to Phillip. She told him, ‘See how many people love you, Phillip? See how many people support you?’

Phillip loved seeing all the pictures of people supporting him—HIM!

This is what I want you to do: If you will, take a picture of yourself or your family or your friends wearing blue shirts. If some of you would, not only wear a blue shirt, but maybe make a little sign with the words ‘For Phillip’ on it, that would be awesome. After you take those pictures, send them to me at theunderwriter36@gmail.com with your name and what state/country you are from. I will post those pictures here on Type AJ Negative, and then send links to them to Phillip’s mom, who happens to be one of my wife’s best friends.

I know not a lot of folks read this blog, but if you could, spread the word. You don’t have to send them to the blog. Just give them the information and my e-mail address. Let’s take some pictures for Phillip. Let’s show him how much he, and other children with autism, are loved. I’m calling this The Phillip Initiative or TPI. I’d like to do this through the remainder of the month of April, so please, get out your cameras, take your selfies or your group photos and show some love to a terrific child.

I’m going to thank you all in advance, and then again in May.

Taking care of an autistic child is a lot of work, but showing that child how much you support him only takes a few minutes.

Again, thank you for reading Type AJ Negative and sending along your pictures.

Until we meet again, my friends…

Today, The Wife, The Boy, The Girl, and I went to the Columbia Zombie Run at the Columbia River Park. At first we were a little disappointed. There was no one running and there were no zombies chasing. We walked…and walked…and walked. Still no people running from the walking dead. We saw some folks dressed as zombies, but they were just strolling along. This was supposed to be a zombie run. I wanted to see the dead chasing the living, maybe even to the point of the zombies running like they did in Zombieland.

Well, we didn’t really get to see much of that in the three or so hours we were there. However, they did have a zombie makeover booth, and The Girl was zombiefied:

DSC_0472

The Girl made a pretty cool looking zombie. They could have done a little more to make her appear more realistic, but The Boy was having nothing to do with the peeling skin and dripping blood.

While we walked the route, hoping to see the dead roaming about, one of the zombies walked up and gave me a knuckle bump. Yeah, a knuckle bump. Then she and the two Zs they were with posed for a picture:

DSC_0440

This dude scared the crap out of The Boy:

DSC_0464

The best thing about this event was the zombies and the women doing the makeup. They were awesome and extremely nice. They explained all the makeup they were using and even gave The Girl all sorts of options as to how gruesome she wanted to be.

Oh, and there was a little girl there dressed up as a zombie Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. All in all, it was a day right up my alley.

On the way out we passed the vendor booth for Scratch N Spin, a local music/comic shop. There were plenty of Walking Dead books and memorabilia there. I stopped and the lady womanning the booth gave me a free copy of The Walking Dead comic, which was cool in and of itself. But then we started talking about comics and the local music scene. She mentioned Scratch N Spin and did her promotional thing, which is what she was supposed to do, right?

Here’s the thing about these little festival-type events: Sometimes you meet some neat folks, and sometimes those neat folks point you in a direction or offer some advice that makes you say, ‘I never thought of that.’ This lady, her name was Becka, mentioned her brother, Eric, the owner of Scratch N Spin, at one time had a small press. Though he was no longer in the business of publishing books, she said I should talk to him.

So I did.

The Wife and I went to Scratch N Spin and to meet him. Turns out Becka had mentioned us to him before we got there.

Eric and I had a discussion, and he gave me a few ideas, all of them things I can do that won’t break the bank. Things I never thought of. I left the Scratch N Spin with a renewed enthusiasm for this business we call writing. It is something that has been missing for a long, long while.

I’ve made notes tonight, based on the conversation we had. You see, Eric explained to me a fundamental truth: you have to really work your way up in your region before you can work your way up anywhere else. He said it’s like being in a band. Little known bands tend to tour their local bars, pubs, festivals and other venues they can find. They create a circuit, and for the most part, they play within that circuit, developing fans and a following. Then, as the following grows, they expand to other regions, basically building their name, their brand. It’s a lot of work, but consistency is the key. Being consistent in where they play and making sure they play well for the crowds that show up for their concerts/gigs.

Writers, bands, artists want to be recognized, and not just locally. We get stars in our eyes when we think that someone across the world might see, read or hear our work. Sometimes we forget to take care of our own backyard. We want the entire world before building credibility. And there, my friends, is another key to it all: credibility.

Think about your favorite author or band or television/movie star. Why do you like them? They entertained you in some way or other and they became credible in your mind. They earned that credibility and they earned your time, money and love. More than likely, though, it didn’t happen overnight. It took some time, some consistency.

It’s time to earn some credibility.

###

Okay, I’ve said before that I don’t like asking folks to sell my books for me. Still, I’m not going to do that. But if you’ve read one of my two books, would you mind leaving a review on Amazon? It would help me and I would greatly—did I say GREATLY?—appreciate it.

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Words from my latest WIP:

They pulled onto the exit ramp and Cole brought the car to a stop at the sign. He turned right onto the two-lane road. There wasn’t much to see for about a mile. Just trees and grass and litter on the ground. Then they came to the store. It, like the road they traveled, wasn’t much to see. A white building with a white door. The parking lot was dirt and gravel, and the building itself was butted up against the trees. There was a beat-up gray Bondo bucket of a truck sitting out front.

In the reflection of the glass, Sheila could see Cole smiling. His eyes dazzled the way they used to back when… She shook her head and looked away.

Cole pulled up to the side of the store, bypassing the front. He parked, turned the engine off and started to get out. The door was open and one foot on the ground before he looked back to her. “You coming?”

This time she didn’t let her reflection do the looking. She turned to him, frowned and gave a quick shake of her head. “No.”

Cole swallowed hard, nodded, and then shrugged. He closed the door behind him, not gently, but with a hard slam. Sheila’s shoulders jumped. She watched as he walked away, his head down, not held high like it used to. In that moment, Sheila’s heart cracked a little.

###

I leave you now with the word of the day. It is from my son: Deliciosity. It means delicious. As in, “This pizza is so deliciosity.”

Yes, my son makes up words the way Mike Tyson does.

Thank you for reading, and until we meet again, my friends…

My Worst Enemy

Posted: March 3, 2014 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags:

Warning:  Ranting, raving, self-loathing to follow.  This blog will be all over the place.  Guaranteed.

I am my own worst enemy.

I self evaluate way too often.  If something goes wrong somewhere I dwell on it–it doesn’t matter where, really.  Anywhere and on anything is open season and, yes, that hunter has me in its sites.  Something goes wrong at work, I self evaluate.  Something goes wrong at home, I self evaluate.  If writing sucks, I self evaluate.  If I struggle with something, I self evaluate.

I am my own worst enemy, much like a lot of characters I write about.  If you’ve read a few of my stories, you will know that a lot of my characters internalize their thoughts and give voices to those thoughts.  Often those voices poke and prod the characters, trying to get them to do something or to feel a certain way.  It’s the demon in us; the carnal nature we are all born with to turn things around on ourselves if things aren’t going right.  And if we don’t turn them on ourselves, we turn them on those around us.  After all, we want to feel good about ourselves, and if we don’t, then we beat ourselves up and we become miserable.

Hey, do you see that cartoon sign with all the arrows pointing directly at me?  Oh, the bright spot light burns the eyes.

I talk to myself, not unlike the way Golem/Smeagol did in Lord of the Rings:

My conversations aren’t usually that bad, but there is that side of me that gets angry at myself and puts me down.  My other self is a bully.  I want to punch him in the head with a raw fish.

The last six months or so of my life, that voice has been in my ear, whispering, whispering, constantly berating me, constantly telling me things I already know about myself, but saying it in such a tone that it bothers me worse than what it would if that voice wasn’t there.

Yes, I hear voices.  Does that make me crazy?

I can hear the voice, but I don’t want to listen,

Strap me down and tell me I’ll be alright.

I can feel the subliminal need

To be one with the voice and make everything alright.

~Disturbed

(Voices)

To answer my own question, no it doesn’t make me crazy.  It makes me normal in this day and age.

I’m tired–no, check that.  I’m exhausted. Work is exhausting.  Home life is exhausting.  Writing is exhausting.  Health issues are exhausting.  Thinking is exhausting.  Sleeping is exhausting.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh…everything is exhausting.  I need a mental and physical time out.  I’m going to my corner and I hope there are no spiders there this time around.

On second thought, the corner hasn’t been dusted in a while so I will continue with my self loathing for a few more minutes before getting the broom and dustpan out.

I am my own worst enemy.  I’ve stated that before.

Nothing comes easy for me.  It takes a while for me to learn things, but when I have it, I have it.  Learning is frustrating.  I want to go back to school, but again, learning is frustrating for me.  Besides, I can’t afford to go to school for writing and I’m not sure where the time would come from to take the courses I want to take anyway.  Sounds like an excuse to me.

Oh, make the time.

When?

You have plenty of time, if you use it wisely.

I do use it wisely.

What about those video games you like to play?

Okay, you got me there, but I’ve cut out most of those recently.

Facebook?

Nope.  I’ve gotten away from that time suck for the most part.

How about watching television?

I don’t do that a lot, though it is March Madness time and there are a lot of great basketball games on.

Stop.  Collaborate and listen…Oh no, I didn’t just go there.

Yeah, yeah you did.

Oh, put me out of my misery now.  Please.

Seriously.  I would like to go back to school.  I could take online courses from Midlands Tech, here in wacky-weathered South Carolina, where one minute it is seventy-five degrees outside and two hours later it’s snowing.  Hmmm…maybe that’s part of the problem.  Maybe I have taken on the characteristics of the state I live in, all up and down and inconsistent.

There are four courses I would like to take, each of them costing a little over a hundred bucks, so really, not all that expensive (says the person with very little money, and who lives from paycheck to paycheck).  All the courses are writing related–something I’ve never taken and never thought I would consider doing so.

Okay, let me be honest with myself for just a minute.  I write stories.  If you’ve followed me for any length of time, then you know that.  You also know that I go through spells where I completely doubt myself and my abilities.  I have two books out, one published by a small press, the other one put out by myself.  But let’s be completely honest here:  no one pays attention to my work.  Very few people buy the books and even fewer people leave reviews on them.  It’s easy for me to say no one pays attention when the facts are there to back me up.

That’s not to say that I don’t believe I am a good writer.  I am.  But I don’t write like everyone else–I have no desire to be a cookie cutter writer, thank you, thank you very much.  I like being my own writer, with my own voice.

Writing is the one thing I believe I am good at:

Things I am probably not good at, but I keep trying anyway:

Being a good parent (the toughest job out there, folks).  Just ask my daughter.  She thinks I have no clue what I’m doing.  Maybe she’s right.

Being a good husband.

Learning (did I mention how difficult it is for me to learn?).

Fixing things, you know since nothing is really ever easy for me.

Things I am not good at that I should never try to do:

Work on my car.  Ughhh…

Anything electrical.

Anything mechanical.

Things I’m good at:

Writing.

Well, maybe.  Right?  Bueller?

Hey.  I can make a mean toasted ham and cheese sandwich.

On a totally unrelated note:  I’m really not a people person.  I think I fake it pretty good from time to time.  Other times, not so well.  But I work in a field where being a people person is a must.  And, of course, being a wanna be writer, being a people person is also a must.

Though I don’t love many people (other than my family and a few select friends), I do love my readers–all eight of you.

Here’s the thing, and I’ll wrap this up in a bit, because, really, no one likes to hear anyone complaining about much of anything (though we do like to complain ourselves):  The last few months have sucked.  I’ve had a health issue that could be a big deal.  I’m not writing much.  This blog has not been updated all that much (though I would like to work on a segment titled, Morning Conversations with the Boy, based on the little talks he and I have in the mornings when I take him to school.  Funny stuff, there).  My daughter hates me (yeah, that’s a big one.  Just ask her, she’ll gladly tell you).  Work is no longer fun.  Did I mention I’m not writing much?  Well, along with that comes the confidence I used to have in my writing has tanked.  Oh, and my books aren’t selling at all.  There’s a lot of work that needs to be done on my house.  I could use a new car–or a new to me car.

Hmmm…seems to me like all I’m doing is bitching and moaning and complaining.  I sound like such a nag.  It’s time put me out to pasture.

Okay, now that I’ve bored you immensely, let me see if I can bring this back around.

So, what am I going to do about all of this?

A couple weeks ago I decided I spend way too much time on the internet, and the computer in general.  I decided that I was going to stop being on Facebook.  I made a post, stating as such and asked folks if they wanted to keep in touch, then drop me their e-mail address and I would say hi from time to time.  Over 1300 people in my Friends list and eight people responded.  That’s more than I expected.  I’ve made a strong effort to ease away from Crackbook.  Since then, I’ve managed to find a little time to work on editing my novel and I’ve only had to go to Detox twice.

Hey, that’s a start, Jack.

What life comes down to is attitude.  I think this Blake Griffin Red Bull commercial is awesome, because of its attitude toward life:

“You have to fall in love with the process of being great.”

If you’re not happy with your life, then you do one of two things.  You either remain unhappy or you do something to change that.  You either keep doing what you’re doing and let life keep sucking, or you try to change or make changes so that life no longer kicks you in the soft spot (and we all know where that is).

Here’s a funny thing:  that voice in my head has been mocking me the entire time I’ve been writing this.

Why are you writing this?  Why would anyone care?  Are you really going to post this on your blog?  Or are you going to just delete it when you are done?  Are you looking for pity?  You’re pathetic, did you know that?

To answer those questions:

Why are you writing this?  Because I damn well want to.

Why would anyone care?  They shouldn’t.  I’m not writing it for everyone else–I’m writing it for me, to get it out of my system, kind of like a purging.  You know, a cleansing?

Are you really going to post this on your blog?  I guess we’ll see when I’m done.

Or are you going to just delete it when you are done?  Look at the answer for the previous question.

Are you looking for pity?  Nope.

You’re pathetic, did you know that?  Sometimes I am, but so what?

It’s all about attitude, folks.  Believe me, I have a lot of it.  But a lot of the time, its not necessarily the right attitude.

I am my own worst enemy.  The question is, will I remain that way?  Or will I take the necessary steps to change that?

Here in South Carolina, we are in the midst of an ice storm.  No, not snow, but ice.  I hope the power stays on.

I haven’t posted much here lately, and not at all so far in 2014.  So, Happy New Year to you all, if you are still out there.

At the tail end of 2013 I was rewriting my novel, Cory’s Way.  All was going well.  I was making significant progress.  Then all was lost.  Most of the rewrites vanished one evening when I went to transfer them from the memory stick I had been using to my computer.  The memory stick had died.

I almost cried.  Seriously.  I had written two completely new chapters and rewritten 16 others.  If you are a writer, you do one of a few things.  A) You drink for several days, drowning your sorrows at the loss of so much work.  B) You start over and say, ‘hey, I can do better than that.’  C) You sit back, get bummed and don’t write anything or work on anything for almost two months.

I went with the door lettered C.

Then I woke one morning after having a dream.  Yes, I had a dream.  It was a vision of the cover of my novel, Her Cure.  I was inspired.  I spent the next week working on the novel, doing a first edit and changing things around, deleting others.  Then I did something I have never done.  I asked for beta readers.  Surprisingly, several people wanted to do it.  I was scared.  Intimidated, even.

Beta copies were sent out.  I’ve heard back from one who has completed their read over and has sent me a hardcopy of her thoughts.  They are VERY GOOD thoughts.  I’m chomping at the bit to get started on the second pass through.  I think I will start that on the 15th of February.  I know the other beta readers are not finished, but that’s okay for now.  I have plenty to go on based on the one’s thoughts.  And I can go back and cross check everything the others say.  I just want to get started.

My fingers are crossed for a spring or early summer release of Her Cure.  Am I going traditional with this?  Probably not, but I honestly don’t know at this point.

In other news I finally submitted two short stories a couple weeks ago.  It is the first time in over six months that I sent work out.

Rejections (or acceptances) forthcoming.

***

The Boy went to turn the light on in The Girl’s room.

The Girl:  Don’t turn my light on.

The Boy:  Why not?  Is your life all dark and gloomy?

***

My Review of Nameless, The Darkness Comes, by Mercedes M. Yardley:

I think I start just about every review with a caveat:  I am not a book reviewer.  But I am a writer, and reviews are important to us, so I try and review all the books I read.

Now that that is out the way, let’s get on with this, shall we?

Being a fan of the small press, I often look for books that interest me based on their book blurbs.  I’m one of those readers who will purchase books based solely on whether I like the blurb or not.  The blurb for this book was short and to the point, and it interested me for two reasons:  One it was short and to the point and two it was by a writer I like.

The blurb:

LUNA MASTERSON SEES DEMONS. She has been dealing with the demonic all her life, so when her brother gets tangled up with a demon named Sparkles, ‘Luna the Lunatic’ rolls in on her motorcycle to save the day. Armed with the ability to harm demons, her scathing sarcasm, and a hefty chip on her shoulder, Luna gathers the most unusual of allies, teaming up with a green-eyed heroin addict and a snarky demon ‘of some import.’ After all, outcasts of a feather should stick together…even until the end

I finished Mercedes M. Yardley’s debut novel, Nameless, The Darkness Comes, the first book in the Bone Angel Trilogy, last night.  Being a fan of Yardley’s short stories, I was excited to see her write a novel, and I was one of those folks who bought it as soon as it was released.  Yeah, I’m cool that way.

If you read the blurb posted above, you learn that this book is about Luna, a young woman cursed with the ability to see demons.  Poor Luna.  Why not Unicorns or fairies? I guess we can’t choose our curses.  But there is so much more to Luna Masterson’s demon eyes.  I’m not going to give the story away here, but I will note there are some very important characters that I think Yardley did a good job bringing to life:  Her brother, Seth, is kind of a wimp (understatement of the year, folks), even when he’s trying to be tough.  Reed Taylor, her love interest, and Mouth, a demon who is not whole-heartedly out to get Luna.  And the Tiptoe Shadow.  Yeah, that’s right, the Tiptoe Shadow.  Cool name, eh?

I enjoyed the way Mouth and the Tiptoe Shadow were developed—she seems to have a knack for creating demons with mmmm personalities.  Yeah, the mmmm is intentional.

Nameless had a few twists and turns in it, a couple of which I didn’t really see coming, which is a good thing.  There were a couple of reveals that Yardley played on and, in the end, they were important to Luna’s character building, though, honestly, I don’t think, as a reader, I realized it until the story was over.  That, too, is a good thing.

Also, Nameless is told by Luna, in the first person, and the voice holds true all the way to the end.  Through all the events Luna’s voice was hers and not someone else’s, whether she was angry or sad or happy (though that was a rare moment or two), Yardley kept Luna’s voice, how she speaks, how she thinks, how she acts and reacts, consistent.  Yes, another very good thing.

Now, this would not be a real review, an honest one, if I didn’t point out a couple things that I thought were off with the book.  There were a few moments where words were omitted or added in places they shouldn’t have been.  These are things I notice in a lot of books these days and they are easy mistakes to make.  Even during the editing phase, these things happen.  I can overlook those, but others can’t.

The story takes place over several months—I didn’t realize this until the end of the book, which is probably just me.  I thought the story took place over a week or two, not months.

**SPOILER ALERT**

No, I’m not going to tell you about the story, but about the one thing I thought was left as a loose end.  Maybe it was intentional, but I don’t think so.  Near the end of the book, Seth is told he needs to be strong, stronger than he has ever been, which really means, just don’t be a wimp, okay, Seth?  However, that never came to be.  I kept expecting him to bust in and save the day, but he didn’t.  For me, and again, this may just be me, I count the writer mentioning something like, ‘dude, you have to be stronger than ever before’ as a promise the writer makes to the reader:  Dear reader, I am mentioning this because I will come back to it later in the story.  There were several little promises made throughout Nameless and all of them, except for this particular one, were kept.

**END SPOILER ALERT**

All in all, Nameless, The Darkness Comes, did not disappoint me.  It had an easy flowing and consistent voice, and the storyline was solid.  The main character (whose name I believe is short for Lunatic) was believable, as were her supporting cast.  There was a resolution to the problem and a set up for book two at the end.  There is violence.  There is anger.  There is love.  There is sadness.  There is desperation.

I look forward to book two of the Bone Angel Trilogy.  For my rating system, I give it four and a half bones out of five.

Pick it up.  Give it a read.  Enjoy.

Until we meet again, my friends…

Darren, the Joey Ramon Look-alike

Posted: December 24, 2013 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

I want to put a bullet in his head.

The thought was simple, to the point, and exactly what Dutch wanted.  The world sucked these days, and honestly, the holidays were the worst, Christmas being the big lie of them all.

Dutch walked up the street, passing cars lined along the road, his guitar case slung over his shoulder.  Occasionally he passed a few folks getting out of those cars, their jackets buttoned or zipped all the way to their necks, ski hats on their heads, ear muffs over, well, isn’t that obvious enough?  They carried their fold out stadium chairs and blankets, and a few of them even had bags, thermoses and doughnuts (the last of those supplied by the Krispy Kreme four blocks from where Dutch parked his car).  A couple of times he gave a nod, only to not  get one in return.  Yeah, the world sucked, and Christmas was the epitome of that suckage.

Half a block away, he could see the police car as it made a left turn onto the street he was on.  It circled back and blocked off the road.  He still had time.  Seeing the cop would have made some men run—especially men with the intentions he had—but not Dutch.  They wouldn’t notice him, and if they did, no one would remember him.  He looked like an ordinary middle-aged man holding onto his dreams of being a rock star.  By the time they figured out where the shot came from, he would be long gone and his disguise—a graying beard, green contacts, a ball cap happily proclaiming he loved the local college team—would be burning in a 55 gallon drum down on Hobo Row.  And the gun?  A smile crossed his face.  Some cop was in a heap of trouble when he was finished—never leave your car door unlocked when there’s a rifle on the front seat.  Idiot.

He rounded the corner of The Sewing Shop.  The little store used to be a Kress all those years ago, back when dime stores were as popular as dollar stores are now.  He leaned on an old rail—the same one that had been there when he was a kid and his grandma had worked as a cashier at Kress.  For a brief moment he was taken back to the days when he would sit at the back of the store, at the small diner there, and would eat a tomato and mayonnaise sandwich and drink a root beer float—an honest to God root beer float, with IBC root beer and Pet vanilla ice cream.  Christmas back then wasn’t as commercialized as it is now.  No, there were none of those Black Friday sales, Pre-Black Friday sales, Late Evening Thanksgiving Day sales, and there was no mad rush to get the latest overpriced toy.  People actually enjoyed the season—the season, mind you!—without the whole need for bigger, better, more expensive gifts.  Oh, how he missed those days.

A couple walked by him, clearly having seen better days before marriage and laziness had kicked in and the pounds were packed on.  The woman pulled a red wagon with two kids in it who were old enough to walk on their own two feet.  The man carried everything else—the chairs, blankets and, yes, somehow he managed a box of those doughnuts.  Lagging behind was a teenaged boy, his hair black and covering his eyes, his clothes a little dirty and as black as his hair.  His hands were shoved down deep in their pockets and he walked hunched over as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders.  He could have passed for Joey Ramone when he was a teenager.

“Come on, Darren,” Mom called without looking back.  “We want to get a good seat so your brother and sister can get a lot of candy.”

“Whatever,” Darren said back.

Dutch almost chuckled, but refrained.  No need to give them a memory they could recall later.  It didn’t look like Darren cared too much about the candy or the parade.  He understood how Darren felt.  The holidays and all their suckage, and there he was, guitar case slung over the shoulder, the perfect Ebenezer Scrooge just waiting for the party to get started so he could crash it.

“Don’t ‘whatever’ your mother,” Dad said, whipping around as fast as his portly body would let him while trying not to drop anything.  Especially not the doughnuts, Dutch thought.

Darren stopped.  Though Dutch couldn’t see his eyes, he could feel the disdain the boy had for his family.  Maybe Dutch should do him a favor and just lie in wait for them, maybe put that bullet he had for good old St. Nick in Dad’s brain instead.  He shook his head.  No, that wouldn’t do, that wouldn’t do at all.

He checked his watch.  Half an hour to go.  Then he watched the Happy family, Mom, Dad, Darren and the Siblings Duo.  Darren leaned against a light post near the edge of the street and said very little to anyone.  Mom and Dad set up the chairs, then laid a blanket out in front of them.  The Siblings Duo sat on them and constantly argued back and forth.  A couple off to their left moved their seats down a few feet.  Mom wasted no time, spreading her’s and Dad’s chairs out, taking up space that someone else could have used.

Dutch shook his head, grit his teeth.  They were America—the epitome of what the country had become.  Selfish and arrogant and rude.  No wonder Darren didn’t want to be with them.

A police siren wailed, a loud whoopwhoop that hurt Dutch’s ears.  The parade was starting.  Looks like they were just waiting for the sun to go all the way down.  His thoughts took him back to his childhood days again, when Grandma and Grandpa would take him to the parade, not at night, but during the day.  He remembered how the floats started rumbling down the street around ten in the morning on Saturdays (to him, it was the only Saturday of the year that was worth leaving hot chocolate and cartoons behind for something outside in the cold).  And it had been on a different street—the same one the Krispy Kreme was on now—and he would sit between his grandparents on the edge of the sidewalk.  There were no folding stadium chairs or blankets placed on cold concrete.  There were no doughnuts or hot chocolate from thermoses.  There were certainly no complaints or whining.  Those drew swats on the bottom and a swift exit from the festivities.

The cop drove by, his blue lights like strobes.  Dutch looked away.  The first vehicle crept by, a truck with a Christmas tree in the back, lit up with fake presents beneath it.  The people riding in the truck’s bed with the tree were bundled up and waving, their smiles seemingly frozen to their faces.

Walking on either side and behind the truck were various teenagers and women holding bags of candy.  They ran to both sides of the road, dropping candy into outstretched hands, skipping a few kids here and there—though probably not intentionally—and moving along at a brisk rate to keep up with their float.  Several of the kids who didn’t get candy poked their lips out.  A couple of parents complained loudly that their child was missed, then grumbled some more when the givers ignored them.

He shook his head.  Tis the season of giving and grinching and complaining, as well.

Dutch turned, went back the way he came, careful not to draw attention to himself.  He rounded the backside of the building, scanned the parking lot for any stragglers who may have just arrived.  When he saw none, he made his way along the back until he came to the ladder bolted to the block structure.  The store’s name may have changed, but that old ladder was there when he was a kid. How many times had he shimmied up and hung out on the roof where nobody could see him?  He had no clue, but it was good to see that some things hadn’t changed so much.

He could hear some folks cheering, hear the amped up high voltage music of Trans Siberian Orchestra as another float passed by, probably with a few men being pulled on a trailer and playing air guitar.  That made him smile, if only for a moment.

Again, he looked around, and saw no one.  Dutch climbed, the guitar case shifting from side to side as he did so.  He reached the flat roof and pulled himself all the way up.  So far, so good.  He pulled a pin light from his coat pocket, flicked it on.  Though the flashlight itself was no bigger than a tube of lipstick, the glow of white that it put out stretched several feet in front of him, making it easy to walk along the roof without stumbling over anything that could have been left behind by kids who ventured up there over the years.

At the edge of the front of the building, he peered over a wall that was about two feet in height, plenty enough space that if he needed to duck quickly he could do so.  The tail end of one float that was nothing more than strung lights on the hood and top and bumper of a beat up sedan passed right in front of the Happy family.  A marching band followed—he saw the black and garnet colors lit up by white lights that had been attached to the uniforms and knew it was the band from his alma mater.  He watched as they passed by and then another vehicle took its place, creeping along slowly.  The next car blared a song about white Christmases.  Following behind the car were several people carrying bags—more candy givers.  They looked happy to be passing out the treats to the children, but like the ones from earlier, they couldn’t hit everyone.  It would have been impossible to make sure each kid had a small candy cane or tootsie roll or whatever was being given out.  And, like before, the Happy family was passed over.  This time Mom stood, though it was a struggle to get to her feet.  The stadium seat seemed to exhale in relief once Mom was up.

There was a moment where it looked as if Dad would say something.  He raised a hand as if to say, ‘calm down,’ then dropped it without so much as muttering the first word.

Several others watched as she yelled at one of the candy givers.  The woman— who couldn’t be too far removed from her teens—gave her a shocked, wide-eyed look before hurrying away, crossing the street to the other side.  Darren shook his head—an embarrassment was what his mom was, and probably his dad, as well.

Dutch placed the pin light in his mouth and unsnapped the guitar case.  The rifle fit neatly inside—though barely.  He turned off the pin light and placed it back in his pocket before picking the rifle up.  It was light, and that was a good thing.  Dutch peered through the site, aiming it toward the sky and staring at the stars.  Lowering the gun, he nodded.  The site was accurate—he had tested it the day before out in the country where his own Mom and Dad used to live before they died a couple years previous.  All four cans he placed on fence posts went down, no bullets wasted on misses.

Another float passed, this time carrying the mayor and his wife sitting on the trunk of a convertible.  They waved sporadically, the wife in a heavy fur coat, her hands covered by thick gloves, but still she shivered right along with everyone else.

The Temple Cars came an hour into the parade, nothing more than suped-up go-carts driven by older men who were part of the local Lodge Chapter.  They zoomed in and out, almost hitting each other as they made their figure eights.  When he was a kid, the Temple Cars were his favorite part.  The smell of the exhaust, the way the tires squealed with each turn, the loud motors, the near to death moments as the cars grew dangerously close to the sidewalks.

Darren pushed off the light pole, uncrossed his arms.  The look of disinterest left his face and he flexed his fingers.  From where Dutch sat on the rooftop, it looked like Darren was suddenly nervous.  Darren stepped around Mom.  She swatted at him, no doubt a gesture of ‘move your butt.’  Still, he moved closer to the sidewalk.  He knelt down next to the Siblings Duo.

Dutch watched, a steady wonder growing in his mind.

“What are you about to do?”

Could his loathing for his family be so strong that he would…

“Don’t do it, kid.”

A thought, fleeting as it was, ran across Dutch’s mind.  Here he held a rifle with the intent to put a bullet in the icon of All That is Wrong With Christmas and he was suddenly afraid that some teenager living in a hell wrought by his family was about to push his brother and sister into the oncoming go-carts.  His chest tightened and he swallowed hard as he watched Darren intently.

Then it happened.  Instead of pushing the Siblings Duo into the road, Darren put his arms around their stomachs and pulled them back, just as the first of the Temple Cars reached them.

Dutch released his breath, his chest deflating.

Darren sat down on the concrete behind his siblings, no longer a statue against a light post, no longer a sulking member of society.

The floats passed, and one by one, Darren pointed out things the siblings didn’t seem to know.  Dutch watched as candy givers went by and Darren helped his brother and sister to their feet and stretched their arms out so the candy givers would see them.  The Siblings Duo squealed happily each time a candy cane was placed in their hands.  At one point, the little girl gave Darren one of the peppermint treats, and in a display of true emotion, Darren openly hugged her, his Joey Ramone rebellious persona gone in an instant.

Loud cheers drew his attention from Darren.  People were beginning to stand about a block away.  In the distance was a red fire truck, and sitting on the back was Santa Clause.  He waved his white-gloved hands to the crowds and he was probably smiling broadly beneath the frosty white beard.

Dutch lifted the rifle, looped the strap around one elbow and set the stock in his shoulder.  He sited Santa, drew a bead on the jolly old man’s forehead.

“Come on, fat boy,” he said, and lined up the shot.  Another hundred yards and Santa would be at the intersection, just thirty or so yards from the Happy family.  He let the site trace its way to the perfect spot.

As Santa neared, the people on that block began to stand.  Mom and Dad Happy struggled to get up from their seats, but Darren had little issue at all with picking up the Sibling Duo, one in each arm, and holding them so they could see better.

Dutch took several deep breaths, letting each one out slowly.  His hands began to sweat, and that trigger finger grew itchy.

He glanced back to Darren.  His sister held him around the neck, the brother holding tight to one of his arms.

Back to Santa.  Just a few more yards and it would be all over.  He lined up the shot again as if he were lining up a ten-point buck out in the country.  It was an easy kill.

Another glance back to Darren.  The siblings looked happy.  There was no more Joey Ramone left in the teen—even the punk rocker look seemed to change with the smile that had grown on his face.

Santa was now beyond the shot point.  Sure, he could line it up further down, but he had no desire to.  Dutch lowered the gun and watched as Santa past by the Happy family, as the two little children in the teenagers arms screamed and waved.  And Darren was smiling wide as he looked, not at Santa Clause, but at his siblings.

He set the gun back in the guitar case, then stood and watched as the crowds dispersed.  It was a while before he made his way across the building and down the ladder, the guitar case strapped over one shoulder and across his back.  He shoved his hands into his coat pockets and smiled.  His thoughts came back to Darren and how protective he was of the Sibling Duo and how he picked them both up so they could see Santa Clause better.  The parents might not have been worth the air they breathed, but Darren, the Joey Ramone look alike…in him Dutch saw hope.