Quality: A Lost Art

Posted: August 17, 2014 by hollowshadows in Writing
Tags: , ,

I was at my son’s school recently. No, school hasn’t started back, yet, but it’s about to. It was open house and to say it was a mad house is an understatement. There were people everywhere and it was difficult to move around. Even with all that, one of my son’s friends’ mothers stopped me in the hall.

And that was no easy task.

I had passed her, not knowing she was there. Again, it was a mad house. I thought I heard my name—no, not my first name, but my last name, and there was a Mr. In front of it. I looked back to see one of my son’s closest friends and her brother and mother. I gave the little girl a hug and said hey to her brother and mother. That’s when all sorts of coolness ensued.

Through all the noise, her mom said to me, ‘I read your story online the other day, and I really liked it. Is there more to it?’

For a second or four I was confused. Did I have a story published online recently that I didn’t remember?

Then she asked, ‘Where do I find the rest of the story? I want to read it from the beginning?’

‘Ahh…’ It dawned on me.

‘You mean Dredging Up Memories?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ she responded, ‘It’s really good. I want to read it from the beginning. Where do I find the rest of it?’

Okay, stop, collaborate and listen…(Doh! Did I just write that? ::Looking at previous line:: Yup, I guess I did.) This was a great moment for me. Let me break this down for you:

  1. ‘It’s really good.’ Every writer wants to hear this from people. The fact that one of my boy’s friends’ mothers liked it and told me she liked it, felt really good.
  2. ‘I want to read it from the beginning.’ Dredging Up Memories is a zombie series. No, it’s not like The Walking Dead at all, other than the fact that it has a bunch of shambling zombies trying to eat the main character and any other living person. She had read chapter XVIII of the series. She liked it enough to want to read the story of Hank Walker from the beginning. Awesomeness.
  3. ‘Where do I find the rest?’ This goes with point number 2 above, but it is also it’s own little note.       Why? Simple: She asked where could she find the rest. She wanted to know and she asked. So often folks will read something by someone and say, ‘hey, I wonder if that person has written anything else?’ but then they never search out the answer to the question. She sought the answer, and I am thrilled she did.

These types of things make a writer feel good; it makes a writer feel as if he/she is doing something right.

Remember this for later.

I like flea markets. I like yard sales. For the most part, I peruse items on tables or on the ground or on chairs or even on an old ironing board (yes, for real and for true). Sometimes I find something I like at a price I like. Most times that doesn’t happen. Most times, there is nothing that interest me.

But sometimes while at a yard sale or flea market I run into people I haven’t seen in a while. Yeah, I know that can happen pretty much anywhere, like, I don’t know, the mall or a restaurant or the kids’ school. Stick with me here. There’s a reason for this.

There used to be a gentleman who worked at the post office right down from where I work. He was the nicest guy, always had a smile on his face, and always asked how you were doing. He went out of his way to help customers as best as he could. He was a great guy and when I saw him at the counter we always talked for probably longer than we should have.

After not seeing him for several years I ran into him three times in one day recently. The third time I saw him was at the flea market. Cate just happened to see him and pointed him out to me. I laughed. He did, too, when I walked up to him and told him I was stalking him. Since he was talking to two other people, I chose not to interrupt, but to wait patiently until he was done—or at least until he took a breath. While I waited, he said something that, to me, holds so much truth in it:

‘I always tell my sons if you give people your best and treat people with respect and kindness, then those people will always remember you and respect you and want to be around you.’

There’s so much truth in those words.

Stick with me just a little while longer. There is a point to all of this.

Back in October of 2013 the place I work at lost a giant of a man. He was well respected and dedicated to his work and his family and his faith. When he died it sent shockwaves, not just through the office, but also throughout the nation. A huge void was left in many lives when he passed.

When everything settled down and life started moving on at the office, I was charged with getting things in order, boxing things up, and cleaning out his office. I admit, it wasn’t something I wanted to do. This man had treated me so well, even when a lot of his peers looked down their noses at me. It took the rest of the year and on into the first month or so of 2014 to complete the task. I learned more about him just from going through everything and getting his office and conference room and library and storage rooms cleaned out than I ever did having worked for him for years.

I came across a little plastic plaque in his office. I had seen it before, and many of you have probably seen something like it as well. It read:

Quality is giving your best every time with a personal touch.

Let that sink in. Go ahead.

Sinking…

…Sinking…

Still sinking?

Here’s the point I’m trying to make:

Too often we don’t put our very best effort forward. Too often we don’t give it that personal touch. Instead, we rush through things to get them done and off our plates, and when someone slows us down we don’t add that personal touch, but we get grumpy and angry, and so many times we take it out on the person we should be giving our best effort to. Too often we don’t treat people with respect and kindness. Oh, they remember us when that happens, but not for the right reasons.

We see it everyday. Customer service at a fast food joint or the DMV or even at our own jobs. Most of us are guilty of not giving our best effort with every opportunity. We see it in our homes, as well. This world is no longer about respect and kindness, but more about what is in it for me.

We see it a lot in the publishing world. Just listen to anyone talking about the Amazon/Hachette feud. Just listen to any writer who is unhappy that they aren’t getting published and making money and someone they feel is inferior to them is being published left and right. We live in the all about me world.

This takes me back to the beginning of this post. You know that woman at the beginning, my son’s friend’s mom? Yeah. She’s an avid reader. And she likes my work. Why? The quality of it. If it were no good, then she wouldn’t have mentioned it to me. Quite possibly, she would have probably been a little uncomfortable around me. She may have even been thinking, ‘please, don’t ask me if I read the story and if I liked it.’ She certainly wouldn’t have asked me how she could find more.

With ebooks and self-publishing anyone can write something and throw it out to the world. Anyone can say he or she is a published author. Anyone. But they don’t have to work hours and hours on it—again, it can be slapped up on Amazon at any time and voila, published author. I talked about those people in my last blog, so I want get into that now.

What I will get into is something I have come to strongly believe in. Quality is not necessarily doing what everyone else is doing. Quality is about taking the time to do something that you can truly believe in, and at the end of the day you can hang your hat on it and say, ‘I gave it my very best.’ Quality isn’t just slapping something together and putting it out there and saying, ‘Yay, I’m going to be rich.’ For most of us, it doesn’t work that way.

This is why I do things the way I do them, especially when it comes to writing. When I first started out to get published at the end of 2003 I didn’t know any better. I thought everyone would love my work and that I could just write and the masses would come calling. What an idiot I was. I put sub par work out there, but not intentionally. I truly thought the work was good. It had to be right? Someone was willing to publish it, so it had to be good, right? Not necessarily. I have almost 200 short story publications, and if I could take some of them back, I would. In. A. Heartbeat.

Then I realized a truth that stung.

I sucked.

No. Really. I sucked.

When I realized this, I could have been defiant and continued to suck. Or I could have just quit and said, ‘this is too much work.’

After I realized how bad I S.U.C.K.E.D. I started paying close attention to what people were saying. I would pick out things in my own stories and focus on those things for several months. Then I would move on to something else and focus on it. And so on.

That’s when I came to realize, that for me to be the writer I wanted to be I couldn’t be like everyone else. I couldn’t be all cookie cutter. I had to write the way I wanted to, the way I enjoyed writing. For me, finding myself, my voice, was the beginning of finding quality in the writing/publishing world.

Believe me, there have been a multitude of times I wondered if the effort was really worth it. Go back to the beginning of this post and ask yourself, ‘was it worth it?’

Simply: Yes.

I’ve gone very longwinded today, and for that I apologize. If you have stuck with me until now, stick around for another minute or two and I promise I’ll wrap things up.

To create anything of quality you have to put forth the effort. You have to be determined. If the first ten times you fail to create what you want to create, do it an eleventh time. Nothing truly gained is done so without effort.

As a writer, I don’t want you to read crap. I especially don’t want you to read crap written by me. I want you to enjoy what you read. I want to tell you a story. I don’t want to just entertain you, but I want to give you an experience you can remember. It’s not quite like Disney World or a giant roller coaster or running with bulls, but I want you, Faithful Readers, to experience my stories. I want you to come away saying, ‘that was cool,’ or ‘that was awesome.’ If you go looking for other things I’ve written after reading one of my stories, then that tells me your experience with me was a good one. As a writer, that’s what I want: to give you my best with a personal touch and leave you with a good experience when I am done.

I hope your experience with me is always a good one. With that, I leave you with a quote from Aristotle:

‘Quality is not an act, it is a habit.’

Until we meet again, my friends…

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a value to everything. That value is different depending on whom you ask. It’s true. Let me give an example:

Kim Kardashian.

Okay, do you know what just happened? Half the people reading this just clicked the X button in the top right corner. Why? Because, like me, they are sick of hearing about Kim Kardashian (or any of the Kardashian’s for that matter).

The other half of you continue to read on for one of two reasons:

1. You like Kim Kardashian and you probably think this is about her.
2. You like my blog and you want to see where I’ll take this.

If you are those reading because of reason number one, go ahead and click the X button in the top right corner—this is not about Kim Kardashian.

So, here is how I judge the value in this case:

1. For the folks who went right ahead and clicked the X button, closing out the screen this blog is on, there is NO value in Kim Kardashian. For that, I am thankful, even though it probably cost me a few readers.
2. For the folks who read on because they thought this blog was about that Kim woman, and THEN clicked off when I told them it was not about her, this blog post had a value of around 50% interest.
3. For those of you still reading, welcome to the 75% value club. It’s nice to have you. Why only 75%? You haven’t made it to the end, yet.

Okay, so that value system is pretty much subjective, but the point is everything has different values based on different people. I like strawberry Kool-aid. I’m not a drinker of alcohol. Strawberry Kool-aid has more value to me than any type of alcohol. Again, subjective, but you get the point.

Let’s take a second here and look at the value of items or services. Someone who is a mechanic probably doesn’t value another mechanic’s service as much as someone who can do little more than crank a car up and put gas in it. The people who can’t work on a car would probably pay more for the service than someone who knows what they are doing.

If you don’t need an attorney, then there is no value in that service, whereas someone who just robbed a bank and got caught would probably think an attorney could be good money spent.

That’s still pretty subjective, though.

Let me take it in a different direction.

If you are one of my Faithful Readers, then you know that I would like to sell some of my books. If you have been awake at all and have Facebook and have any writers on your friends list, then there is a chance you’ve heard about Amazon’s letter to KDP authors involving the dispute Amazon has with Hachette. I’m not going to go into details, but it’s pretty much a ‘Mom, he’s touching me,’ type of thing. Name calling at its finest. They wish to drag the KDP writers into the argument, but most of us find this to be annoying, if not unprofessional, and honestly, a bunch of folks are pissed about it. Rightfully so.

The thing is, for all the great things Amazon has done for the ebook world, it pretty much frowns upon the same group of people who helped build its empire—the self-publishing (or independent) author. But that’s really for another blog post at another time. The point is this, though Amazon makes it easy to publish works to the Kindle platform, it also makes it difficult to get recognition within its own algorithms. Amazon essentially devalues the books for writers by not really making it all that easy to be noticed, while still taking in anywhere between 30-70% in royalties. However, right now they are acting as if we are valuable to them by asking us to do their bidding and help fight their battle with Hachette.

I’ve gone way off the topic here, but somehow I have managed to actually stay on it, somewhat.

Okay, let’s get back to real value.

People are willing to pay good money for books by the likes Stephen King, James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins and a few other well-known writers. For those folks, they get more value for their buck by purchasing proven authors. I can’t blame them. Many of those same people would not buy a book by an unproven author at the same price as one of the proven ones. Why would they?

This is where value comes in to play.

It’s like buying a steak dinner from a fast food joint when you know Longhorns or Outback is much better. Unless you really like that fast food joint, you’re going to want that steak from a restaurant that is known for cooking them. When it comes right down to it, Stephen King and those other famous writers are the real steaks and the rest of us are the fast food rip-offs. At least, that is how a lot of folks (including Amazon) view it.

But wait, let me tell you about some of us fast food rip-offs. Yeah, there are those out there who write books and slap them up on Amazon or Nook or Smashwords without even looking over the manuscript before doing so. They just want to get that book out there and start making money. Yes, they do. Those are the real fast food rip-offs. They also make it tougher on the rest of us.

Then you have those writers (and small market presses) who take their time with the production of a book—and believe me, book publishing is a huge production. There are those who pour over each story for hours and hours, reading the manuscript over and over, tweaking sentences and structure and grammar and spelling. There are those who spend hours looking for the right cover art and often going through several covers to try and find the one that not only fits the story, but appeals to the readers—because as writers and publishers we are under the belief umbrella that a reader’s first impression, the cover, can make or break a sale. There are those who seek out beta readers and editors and proofreaders. They ask questions of friends and other writers, so often hoping for just a little bit of help. There are those who go to great lengths to make sure the formatting is right, often going over each page to make sure the fonts didn’t mysteriously change from Times New Roman to Curlz, or that the italics and bolds are in the right places. There are those that when all is said and done and the story is as right as it can possibly be, who let the mouse hover over the SUBMIT button because, quite honestly, they are scared of whether the story will be received well or torn apart by the masses, or even just by one person.

What is the value of that book for that person? Why should that person sell their book—their hard work—for $1.99? Why would they not sell their book for four or five bucks more? Because the value of their work, as they see it, is not the same as it is for those who might possibly read it? For those doing the work, they believe—no, they feel it in their bones—that their work should be treated just like the real steak houses. Those writers aren’t fast food rip-offs. They are the real deal. Readers just don’t know that, yet. Many of them don’t know the value of an independent writer’s work.

Before Nike became the brand name in shoes, it was nothing. Before Wal-Mart became the mega-bagillion store it is, it was just an idea. Before Amazon became the king of Internet shopping and ebooks, they were just a dream in someone’s basement. Before Stephen King or James Patterson or J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins became even remotely famous, they were nobodies, scratching at the surface of the publishing world, wanting that one shot to prove they were the real steaks and not the rip-offs. You see, everyone must start somewhere, and to everyone, their own value is the most important thing to them.

Everyone values things differently. I think that’s a given. In order for anyone to make it in any business, others must find value in them or what they are doing or both. These days I rarely buy books by big name authors. These days I rarely buy books from the Big 5 publishers. These days I like to purchase books from small presses and the little known authors out there. Why? Well, a few reasons:

1. The big name authors have become too pricey. They know their fans will buy whatever they put out, including their grocery list. And why wouldn’t they? They’ve earned their spot among the real steaks.
2. I like to find new authors, ones I’ve never heard of, and ones you’ve probably never heard of either.
3. I also like to support those new authors and small presses.
4. I’m one of those little known writers, and the hope for me is that someone will pick up something I’ve written—will, you know, take a chance on me—and like it enough to tell their friends, and then those friends will like it enough to tell their friends, and so on, and so on. It’s my hope.
5. I just might be that person that finds a new writer and tells all my friends about that person (you know, like reason number four).
6. I’ve always pulled for the underdog or the little guy, and those little known writers and presses fit the description.

Now, about that value thing. No, this isn’t a value meal at Taco Bell we’re talking about. This is finding things that are worth your hard earned money. If you are a reader, then that means you want good books. You want to buy books by writers you know and trust and who have proven that they can deliver the goods. Sometimes, they don’t quite succeed in getting those goods delivered. Sometimes the real steaks aren’t cooked all the way.

I encourage you to take a chance on writers you’ve never heard of. You don’t have to spend 10 0r 12 or 20 bucks on a book to do that. Most of their works aren’t all that expensive. Just take a chance on a writer you don’t know. You never know what value you will find in a book from that no name writer. You may just develop a new favorite.

If you have made it this far, I thank you. I also welcome you to the 100% value club. You didn’t click off until the end. I hope it was worth your time.

Until we meet again, my friends…

Faithful Readers,

I’ve been a busy boy, folks.

Since my last post, The Ever Changing Momentum, back in June—yeah, that long ago—a lot has happened.

Let me see if I can recite this as short and as concise as possible.

I finished up the edits on Cory’s Way, my novel. It now sits in the hands of the proofreader. Troy Rider, the artist who provided the cover art for Southern Bones, is currently working on the image for Cory’s Way. I’ve seen the framework for it. Yes, I’m excited. The talented Paula Ray wrote the introduction and I couldn’t be happier with it. It’s getting closer to being complete.

Okay, before you ask who is publishing Cory’s Way, let me go ahead and say, I am.

What?

You idiot. You’re not serious are you?

Yes. Yes, I’m serious.

I see it like this: No one cares about my writing the way I do. No one. I probably take longer to put these things out than a publisher would. I go over my work multiple times and even then I go over it again. I’m extremely hard on myself. Not that a publisher wouldn’t be—they probably would—but I know what I want to do.

I know a publisher has more resources. And I bet a few of you are thinking I’m taking the easy way out. Ummm…no. Doing this by myself is far from easy. I’ve had a book put out through a publisher (Along the Splintered Path). It was much easier to do it that way. I’ve also put out a book on my own. It took me almost a year to put out Southern Bones once I started working on it.

A year? Yes, a year.

That’s nothing. I’ve been working on Cory’s Way since 2008. It’s been a long journey.

I hope you all will pick up a copy when it’s released. I think it’s a good book, but then again, I was the story’s first reader (as Stephen King puts it) and I so enjoyed it.

Before Cory’s Way sees the light of day, my novella, The Forgetful Man’s Disease, will come out. It’s the story of Homer Grigsby, a man who outlived all of his friends and his wife; a man the ghosts of his past like to pay a visit to on occasion when the hard wiring in his brain begins to short out. And sometimes the ghosts know more than the living do.

Then there is The Brown Bag Stories.

What is that, you ask?

Why, it’s none other than a booklet I created to give away to people and coffee shops and libraries and anywhere else that will allow me to place them in their venues. Each booklet contains one short story, some of them previously published, while others have never been published. The booklets are really, really expensive.

How expensive?

They are absolutely FREE. That’s right. They are all of zero dollars and zero cents. I don’t know how anyone can afford them.

If you want a copy of the latest edition (or even the back issues) leave me a comment in the comments section or e-mail me at ajbrown36@bellsouth.net and I’ll get your home address and send them out to you. And, yes, the shipping is FREE.

Here’s the deal. Like Cory’s Way and The Forgetful Man’s Disease and Southern Bones, I’m doing the work. It’s not easy. It’s time consuming. It’s sometimes a headache. I do the formatting. I have the copies made and I do the folding and stapling as well. It’s not easy. It may be cliché, but it’s a labor of love, from me to you, Faithful Readers.

Last, but not least, I’m working on two novels right now. One of them is still untitled. The other is a piece titled, I’m Still Standing, it may be the most brutal and difficult thing I have ever written. In the end, it just may be the most satisfying story when all is said and done.

So, since the last post, the momentum has picked up. I’m excited. I hope you are, as well.

Before I go, I want to leave you with a touch of humor. I tell a lot of stories here about The Boy. He is a staple for comedy, being funny and not even realizing it. This time I want to tell you about something that happened recently at Target, and The Boy was not the star of the show this time. Yes, he was involved, but his sister stole the show.

We were in line to check out. In order, it was The Wife, The Girl, The Boy and The Me. The kids had their own money and were paying for their stuff. The Boy tried to cut in front of The Girl, the way kids would do.

The Girl: I was in front of you.
The Boy: No, you weren’t.
The Me: Yes, she was. Get back behind her.
The Boy: (Pokes his lip out and gets behind The Girl. He then pokes me in the stomach.)
The Me: Stop.
The Boy: (Giggles and pokes me in the stomach. Hey, this isn’t Facebook and I don’t like being poked)
The Me: Stop.
The Boy: (Giggles again and pokes me in the stomach, yet again.)
The Me: I’m going to thump you in the nose if you don’t stop.
The Boy: That won’t hurt.
The Me: Yes it will. It will make your nose bleed.
The Boy: So. I broke your nose…twice.
[SIDE NOTE: Yes, he broke my nose twice while we were playing. Long story.]
The Me: By accident.
The Girl: Yeah, that’s what you tell your friends.
The Family: LAUGHTER

Yes, she got the sarcastic gene.

Until we meet again, my friends…

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.

###

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…

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