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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.

He made his usual walk, starting down at the very end of the manmade path.  On most nights, the walk ended for him beneath the bridge that crossed the river at the other end of the Riverwalk.  It was there, beneath that bridge, where Kross would find shelter from rain and sometimes the cold, by crawling up the embankment and bedding down where concrete met dirt at its highest point, and far enough off the path that no one would notice him.  Especially not one of the retired city cops that had the job as security along the six miles or so of the path.

It was dark and cool—but not cold, thankfully.  His light coat wasn’t quite warm enough for a cold night, but he hoped to get a different one, maybe trade in the one he wore for a heavier version at the Salvation Army or even the Goodwill, if they allowed it.  On normal nights he walked that concrete sidewalk alone, occasionally passing another walker, or jogger, usually someone with a dog.  There were bikers and boarders as well, especially in the warmer months when the daylight hours lasted well into the eight o’clock hour.  But this wasn’t a warmer month.  It was definitely a cooler one and the days were shorter, giving way to evening around the same time most folks left their office jobs.

Kross tucked his hands into his pockets, lowered his head and wondered where breakfast would come from in the morning.  Supper had been a stale, hard bagel that he had to wipe something—what, he didn’t know—off of it.  It was chewy, but it was food, and bagels tended to stay on the stomach far longer than most foods he ate these days.  Though it was bland and he would have liked some water to wash it down with, it was better than nothing, for sure.

A jogger passed going in the opposite direction, her head up, a blond ponytail bobbing from side to side.  She seemed oblivious to the homeless man walking the same path.  He gave a shrug at this, but didn’t turn to watch her go, like most men probably would have.  Kross, knowing someone like that would be revolted if he even said, ‘hello,’ saw no reason to look, to follow her with his eyes and dream of something that could never happen.  He was, after all, invisible to those with lives, with clean clothes, three meals a day (with snacks in between or a coffee from Starbucks), and a roof over their heads.  Yeah, he was invisible to everyone, except the police or the owners of restaurants who throw out their leftovers in the dumpsters behind the buildings, only to get mad at him when they catch him digging around for food.

He wound his way along the sidewalk, passing under the occasional light, passing by the occasional EMERGENCY HELP boxes—one press of the button and the retired cop comes a running, or at least in his shiny golf cart with the red lights on—passing by benches to either side, none of which held young couples or even solo folks sitting on.

Kross looked up, stopped in his tracks.  Off in the distance he saw lights, but they were dim and on the ground and there were two rows of them, one on each side of the sidewalk.  He took a few steps forward and heard something he didn’t normally hear, something he hadn’t really heard in a long time, not that he paid much attention to holidays or even the seasons.  To Kross, the seasons were warm, hot, cool, cold, and right then it was cool, not cold, so why the music?  Why the singing?  Why the…Christmas carols?

He walked toward the lights, noticed they were in bags.  Just beyond the bagged lights were people standing around.  Off to the edge of the sidewalk beyond the crowd was a small band of women playing instruments, a violin, banjo, upright base, acoustic guitar, and was that a tambourine?  Yes, yes it was.  He moved closer, stopped about fifteen feet from the gathering of people.  The women singing had a country, bluegrass sound, right out of the backwoods, Kross thought.  As he stood there, they sang The First Noel and Silent Night, and the violinist stood out among them.  Kross couldn’t tell if she were really young and just very good, or really old and just very short, and still very good.  After finishing Silent Night, he clapped, like everyone else, and walked by them.  He glanced at the violinist and still couldn’t tell if she were young or old or maybe somewhere in between.

No one spoke to him, but moved aside as he passed, as if pushed by a force field.

Invisible, he thought, and hunched his shoulders.

A little further down a man stood off to the side of the path, another crowd had gathered around him.  He played a saxophone—Hark the Herald Angel was the tune of choice.  Kross tapped his toe and folded his arms over his chest as he listened.  Again, when the song was done, he made his way through the crowds, unnoticed, or maybe noticed and ignored.  He thought it was a little bit of both.

He reached another group, a Baptist men’s choir.  They sang a song he didn’t know, harmonizing the best they could, but still managing to sound like a group of cats on a hot tin roof.  He went on by, not waiting for their song to end.  Still, no one paid him any attention.  He thought for a moment that the little girl with the glasses and light-up shoes noticed him, but did she really?  Nah, his mind told him.

As he passed the men’s choir and left the crowd behind, he noticed a sign with their name on it.  Beneath their name were the words, SPREADING THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT WITH EVERYONE.

Christmas spirit, he wondered.  Yeah, sure, they have the Christmas spirit. Bah Humbug. 

There were two other bands and in between them stood a hot chocolate stand set up, complete with snacks and apple cider as well.  As he approached the stand hoping for a fresh drink for a change and something to wash down that nasty bagel taste, several people cut in front of him.

As if I weren’t here. 

Kross sighed heavily.  His shoulders slouched further down, his head lowered.   He walked a little slower now, not paying attention to anyone else there, any of those folks who have encroached on his nightly walk to his nightly bed beneath the bridge.  His stomach hurt, maybe from the stale bagel, but quite possibly from the lack of being.  It was Christmas, after all, the season for giving, the season to be jolly, to be happy, to show love to your fellow human…being.

Further down, he came to a group of adults playing hand bells.  Unlike the other times, he stayed in the shadows, just off the path and away from the largest of the crowds so far.  They played beautifully, like a well-tuned machine, not missing a note.  When they finished, the crowd clapped loud.  Several folks headed away, looking for another group to perform for them.

Kross stayed in the shadows.  There were eight of them, seven women, mostly older, and one man, probably the youngest of the group.  There was one woman, near the center of the group, who seemed to be one of the main ringers.  She was younger, her brown hair pulled out of her face with a ribbon, her motions fluid and smooth.  She was smiling, and it never left her face.

The tinkles of the bells held his attention, mesmerized him.  He didn’t know how long he stood there—until the last of the carols had been rung by the hand bellers—but for a short while, he felt the Christmas spirit spill through him.  When the show ended, he stood a while longer in the shadows as the crowd dispersed, some speaking of how good the music was, how amazing the bell ringers were.

Kross ducked his head and stepped beyond the last of the lit up paper bags.  The brief Christmas spirit fled him with the last of the rung bells.  He was well into the darkness along the path when he heard someone calling from behind.

“Excuse me.”  It was a female voice and it was soft and sweet.

He walked on.  Surely, no one was speaking to him.

“Excuse me, sir.”

Kross stopped and looked back.

The young woman from the hand bells stood in front of him.  She was still smiling.  In her hands she held a Styrofoam cup.

“Are you talking to me?” Kross asked, expecting her to recoil from his raspy voice.

“Yes,” she said and held the cup out to him.  “I thought you might like a cup of cocoa.”

“Cocoa?”

“Yes.  Unless you would like some apple cider.”

“No.  No.  Cocoa is fine, thank you.  I haven’t had cocoa in years.”  He took the cup from her and put it to his lips.  He could feel the warmth rising from the cup.  The first sip was hot and burned his tongue, but he didn’t care.  It tasted great and made him think of Christmases as a kid at his Grandma’s house.

“Thank you,” he said and smiled, something he rarely ever did.

“Have a merry Christmas, sir.”

Sir? 

“You too.”

The girl turned and left.  This time he watched her go, but not because he thought there would ever be a chance of anything.  No, he watched her go because he was no longer invisible, at least not to someone.  To someone, he was still a person, still a being…

Kross took another sip of the hot cocoa, relished the warmth.  Tonight maybe the bridge wouldn’t be so cold.  As he walked away he hummed, a song about Christmas…

When Is the Right Time?

Posted: December 5, 2013 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

I started a story recently, one that has been difficult to write.  No, I’m not struggling with the plot or the characters or any of that other stuff that can make writing like wading through an ocean full of muddy waves and crocodiles.  It’s the subject matter that is difficult.  Many men won’t understand this, but any woman who as been through a miscarriage will.  And there is my dilemma, the story is—as you have probably guessed by now—about a woman having a miscarriage.

I wrote the first dozen or so pages without having the first clue as to how a woman would deal with, or even the symptoms of a miscarriage.  That, in and of itself, was not a wise idea.  So, I put a call out to my friends on Facebook, asking anyone who was willing to answer questions to contact me.  Please.  Several very helpful women and one gentleman contacted me, willing to offer up any information I needed.  Two of the women, in particular, went into the details of their miscarriages.  What I learned was sad and tragic and so hard on the women, and yes, the man who responded, as well.

I learned so much I didn’t know and I’m glad I asked for the help.  Now, the story that has begged me to write it for a couple weeks now will, not only be written, but will be written accurately.  It will, I have no doubt, be one of the most emotionally charged pieces I have ever written.  As it should.

Everyone I spoke to said that their miscarriages happened years ago.  I found this interesting.  There were no recent accounts of miscarriages discussed.  Does that mean time really does heal all wounds?  No, I don’t think so.  Though time doesn’t heal all wounds, the edge of pain seems to ease up after a while, and that dulling of pain is, in many ways, a type of healing.

This has made me think harder about a subject I have often thought about in the past:  How long should a writer wait before writing about a true to life tragedy?  Let me be a little more forward here:  How soon after an event like 9/11 or Sandy Hook or Hurricane Sandy can a fictional story be written based on the events or similar events?  It was a long while before I read a story based on the events of 9/11.  It’s been a year, and I have no doubts that any fictional piece about shootings in any school (like King’s novella, Rage) would not be received very well right now.

I’ll be honest, when 9/11 happened, I sat up that night handwriting a story titled, Allegiance.  I’ve never typed it, but I remember the way I felt when I wrote it   The news was on and it was late and I was tired, but I couldn’t pull myself away from the scenes of the planes crashing into the building and the towers falling.  I remember one scene from early in the day, where one of the planes had tore through one of the towers and there were a few people standing in the gaping hole the plane had left behind.  I have often wondered if any of those people made it out of the building.  There’s another image from the newspaper of a man hurtling to his death, having jumped from the building instead of facing the possibilities of burning alive or being crushed when the towers fell.

Forget being a writer for a moment.  As a person, I wondered what I would do in that same situation.  Would I have jumped?  Would I have stood at that hole looking out?  Would I have had enough sense to say, ‘we need to get out of here, now’?  What would it have been like to have been in that stairwell, trying to get to the bottom while firemen tried to make their way up?  What were the firemen thinking as they rushed to their deaths?  I’ve always thought about these things, but other than the one story I wrote the night of the attacks, I’ve never written another piece on it.

Sandy Hook happened a year ago.  I can’t begin to imagine the grief those parents and family members felt—still feel, now.  But what was Adam Lanza thinking when he walked into that school and started shooting adults and children alike?  What was going through his head that could make him do this?

What about the Boston Marathon bombing?

What about the Tsunami that hit Asia?  Or the typhoon that recently struck the Philippines?

What about…

How about when?  When is it okay to write a fictional story based on these events or similar ones?  My next question would be why is it not okay to write about them when they happen?  While the events are fresh in your mind, while the pain of it all is still stinging the heart?  Is it insensitive to write about these things when they happen?  Why?

My answer to this is simple:  It is okay to write about them when you’ve had a chance to digest them, when the information is all out there, when you feel your heart strings being tugged in that direction.  In other words, I think it is okay to write about them when you, the writer, feel it is okay for, you, the writer, to write about them.  All I say is be respectful to those folks who endured the tragedy at hand.  If you show respect for the subject, then by all means, write away.  One other thing:  if it is something that can happen, that has happened, then it is a real, tangible thing that you can feel.  If that is the case, then write about it in your own special way.  But be respectful and write nothing disparaging.

I’ve never written about Sandy Hook—I have two children in public schools, and have yet to be able to create a story about something so very close to my own heart.  I may never write about something with that particular storyline.  I’m not certain I can.  The time may never be right for me to write such a story.

I’ve always invited people to comment, to discuss anything on Type AJ Negative.  I do so today, as well.  Tell me, writers, when do you feel it is okay to write about real life tragic events?  Tell me, readers, how long do you wait before picking up something about those real life tragic events?  Why do you feel the way you do?  What do you consider appropriate in addressing these tragedies?

I think it is up to each individual on when the time is right, but you may have a different opinion.  I want to hear it.  But for now, I must go.  I look forward to your thoughts, and until we meet again, my friends…

Broken Shells

Posted: November 30, 2013 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
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Mazzy wanted to walk on the beach.  I thought she was crazy.  I’ve always thought she was a little nuts, anyway.  It was bitter cold—twenty-six degrees, and it was well after noon, so the temperature wasn’t going to rise much, if any at all.  The sun was as high in the sky as it would go before making its descent back the other way.  The wind blew off the ocean, dropping the temperature another ten or so degrees.  We had tried the beach earlier, but that gust whipped her blond hair about her head.  It cut through my coat and sweater and the t beneath it. It made my face hurt and my nose run and my body oh so cold.  We gave up then after only a few minutes.

Still, Mazzy wanted to walk on the beach.

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘I want to look for shells.’

‘Shells?’

‘Yes.  Seashells.’

‘I know what you mean.  Why do you want to look for them now?’

‘We can add them to your collection.’

With that, I donned my long shirt, my sweater and jacket.  She pulled on only a thin coat, not enough to keep the chill from her skin, much less the wind from her bones.

‘You’ll be cold,’ I said.

She regarded me with pale blue eyes that hid a truth in them that I didn’t see.

It didn’t take long to get to the beach.  My hands shoved deep into jean pockets, I still shivered, even with the layers I wore.  Mazzy gave no indication she was cold at all.

There were clouds rolling in, brought by the wind.  A threat of rain hung in the air.

‘We shouldn’t stay out long,’ I said.

‘You can always go back,’ she remarked, knowing I wouldn’t leave her.

For the next hour we picked up shells to add to a collection I had started years before, when I was only a child of six.  I picked up one with frozen fingers, dropped it back to the sand, and plucked it up again.  By then the sun was setting behind the darkened clouds, casting a purple hue in the sky.  I stared at the piece for a moment, before flipping it into the incoming tide.

‘Why do you throw back the broken ones?’ Mazzy asked.  In her hand she held the curved piece of a shell—it was just a piece, and nothing more.

‘It’s broken—it’s not worth anything.’

Again, she regarded me with those pale blue eyes.  They were sadder than I had ever seen.  She held up her piece, turned it over in her hand.  ‘Is that how you see them?  Just broken pieces that have no meaning.  Pieces so insignificant you can’t see the beauty in them?’

‘There is no beauty in broken things.’

She frowned, turned her head down and whispered, ‘A shell is like a life—fragile and easily broken.  Each one should be looked at for what it is: once something beautiful before the world destroyed it, before people destroyed it.’  Then she dropped the broken shell back to the sand, and turned away from me.

I wanted to chase after her, but I couldn’t.  Even if it had been a hot sunny day, my legs would not have moved, and my voice certainly couldn’t be bothered to speak up when I needed it to most.  It was the single biggest mistake of my life.

I looked to the sand.  The piece of shell was there.  I bent, picked it up and had a hard time standing upright, thanks to the cold that had seeped into my bones.  With the dying sun sinking further into the horizon, I caught a glimpse of the purple edge of the shell, the way it turned red, then pink.  It was a beautiful fragment of something much larger.  It was like Mazzy, and in that moment I understood her grief.

Life had been cruel to her, but she kept going, kept putting one foot in front of the other…at least until then.

‘Mazzy,’ I called, but she was gone.  I looked up the beach in the direction she had gone, but didn’t see her.  I saw shoe prints in the sand that led to the water.  You can figure it out from there, right?  I don’t need to go into all the details of how I called her name until I was hoarse, or that I ran into the water up to my knees, even as the tide rolled in harder and harder, pushed along by the bellowing wind, or how her body washed up on the shore three days later, bloated and blue and nipped at by hungry fish, or how I cried until no more tears would come and still my heart lay shattered in millions of tiny pieces.  Or do I?

All that really matters is Mazzy is dead, and I can’t help but believe part of it is my fault.  The words I said echo in my skull, haunting me daily, keeping me awake until the early hours of morning.

There is no beauty in broken things.

I was wrong.

Mazzy was a broken shell, but she was beautiful in her own special way.

I once had a collection of seashells.  They were whole and carefully cleaned and sat in boxes in my closet.  They were beautiful.  They still sit in their boxes, but I haven’t added any to them since Mazzy left.  Now I walk the beach in search of the beauty of broken shells…

For a while when I was a kid, I thought I was Arthur Fonzarelli.  If you don’t know who the Fonz is, look him up.  I’ll give you a hint:  he was the cool guy from the show Happy Days.

The reason I thought I was the King of Cool is very simple.  You see, the Fonz could snap and have girls clamoring over him.  He could fix a window by stomping one good time on the floor.  His mere presence intimidated even the baddest of the bad.  He could hit a jukebox with the side of his fist and instantly there was music.

Yes, I know the Fonz is a character from a television show, but when I was a kid, I didn’t know any better.  I thought he was the real deal.  With that in mind, let me tell you a little story.

Picture this, if you can:  A dark-haired, mop-topped kid in blue jeans and worn out sneakers, and a T-shirt that was a little too tight.  With him is a bigger guy, blondish-brown hair, freckles, the same mop-top look.

They emerge from a path through the woods on a hot summer day.  A building sits off in the distance, one tree between them, splitting the difference between where they were and where they wanted to be.  That place was the bowling alley where they could bowl for fifty cents a game, and they had four dollars between them.  Just beyond the bowling alley was a cinema (it’s long gone now, but it was a place where many movies were seen between the brothers including the original Star Wars trilogy, Tron, Superman, Star Trek’s 1 and 2, Raiders of the Lost Ark and a few others).  It is that cinema that the brothers go to first.  No, they were not going to watch the afternoon showing of whichever movie was playing at the time.  They were going for something a little more refreshing.  They were going for the soda machine just outside the theater doors.

It’s a Coke machine with its red frame and white curvy stripe running down the side.  There were no cans in this machine.  Oh no.  The cool refreshments were packaged in bottles (returnable, at that, for ten cents a bottle down at Brown’s Grocery on State Street).  There were not many flavors, but they didn’t care.  All they wanted is a Coke anyway.  Though the soda was expensive—a whole 35 cents—they were willing to forgo a game of bowling for the carbonated drink.

Before they put the first quarter in the slot, the young, dark-haired mop-topped boy rubbed his fingers together and did something he had seen on television, Happy Days to be specific.  The side of his fist hit the big Coke button.  There was a click, then the sound of a bottle tumbling down and appearing at the dispenser.  The boy looked at his hand in surprise and awe, then back at the Coke waiting to be plucked up.  A smile formed on his face, then his hands went out to his sides, both thumbs up.

“Heeeeeyyyyy!” he said in his best Fonz impersonation.

Thus, the little dark-haired mop-topped boy, thought he was Arthur Fonzarelli for a while in his young life.

It gets worse.

Again, picture this:  The dark-haired mop-topped little boy grew up to be a grown man with that same dark hair, but the mop top is gone.  He likes his facial hair—or, rather, he dislikes shaving—and he laughs a lot.  He has a stare that can intimidate people when he is angry, but that stare doesn’t appear as much as it used to.  He is in an office building that has 17 floors, minus one when you consider there is no thirteenth floor.

He is smiling, and there is music in his head.  It’s by Fun, a group everyone who knows him would have never thought he would like.

He rounds a corner, walks down an aisle of bookshelves and passes a small wall to the left.  There is a door there and he opens it, takes six steps inside (not five and not seven) and he stops.  In his mind he hears the applause from the audience out there.  The girls scream in the audience out there.  In his mind he has just made the entrance on a sit-com, an entrance the Fonz would have made.

The two women in the office, one on either side of him, sitting at their desks, look at him as if he has lost his mind.  There is a good chance he has.

Still, it gets worse.

From time to time he turns to the invisible screen, the invisible audience, and he begins to speak to them out there.  He looks like Zack Morris from Saved By the Bell fame, minus the blond hair, great smile, good looks and lots of money.  When he does that he refers to the folks out there as the audience in A.J.T.V.  Yeah, he has a name for it.

So do those in the psychiatric profession.  They call it The Truman Show Disorder.

No, I don’t think I have some made up disorder or anything like that, but I do have a soundtrack in my head.  A laugh track, as well.  And an applause track.

The soundtrack varies from day to day, and with my mood.  There’s a good chance if I am listening to Disturbed or older Metallica or Seven Mary Three or Motorhead, then I am in a bad mood.  Eighties music equals good mood.  Seventies and before usually means I’m feeling nostalgic.  Alice and Chains (or any song with Lane Staley doing lead vocals) I’m reflecting.  I could continue for a while with this, but you get the picture.

I’m sure everyone has at least one soundtrack playing in their head—it could very well be the latest favorite song—but how many will actually admit it?  Me?  I have thousands of songs playing at any given time.

The laugh track, appropriately enough, sounds like it came right out of Happy Days, as does the applause track.  Funny enough, every once in a while I will laugh at something that no one else understands and that laugh track plays right along with me.

I have long conversations with myself as I’m walking down the hall or street or even just sitting at my desk.  Every once in a while, I realize the conversation is out loud and I’m getting odd looks from people as they walk by.

”Shut-up,” I tell myself, then an argument ensues.  So far none of the arguments have gotten violent.

Folks who have been diagnosed with Truman Show Disorder believe their lives to be one big scripted event.  They believe they are characters from a television show and all the folks around them are as well.  Their friends and families are main and secondary characters.  The strangers they never talk to are extras (kind of like the Red Shirts in the old Star Trek series).  The person they see in the same spot every day or week or whatever, is a prop to remind them of something important, or to keep them from forgetting something from their past.  At night, when they go to bed, the credits roll (and there is a good chance their name on their show isn’t the name they really go by).  In the morning when they wake, the opening theme song plays.  I think my theme song is Hong Kong Phooey.  Or maybe it’s Underdog.  I’d be okay with Batman.

The Truman Show Disorder.  Yeah, I don’t have that.  I don’t believe my life is scripted—it’s all decisions; each one leads to a different path, a different episode, if you will.  I don’t believe the credits roll at night, or that there is an audience clapping and cheering or booing or ahhing, though that would be cool.  I don’t believe there is a theme song, though that would be cool, too.

I do think life is kind of like a television show.  Sometimes it’s a drama, sometimes it’s a comedy, sometimes it’s reality television, sometimes it’s Disney, sometimes it’s erotic, sometimes it’s horror.  I do think that we are all characters in our own shows, shows that we write as we live our lives.  Characters come, characters go, sometimes because our lives go in different directions, other times because one of those characters passes on.  I also think we all have a soundtrack in our heads, music that plays as we go through our days.

I will say this, if life is scripted, whoever writes for my son’s character is brilliant.  He is quick-witted and hilarious.  Personally, I believe we are all the writers of our own scripts, of the television shows that are our lives.  Sometimes we get canned laughter.  Other times, well, other times the season finale leaves you speechless.

Until the next episode, my friends…

 

 

 

 

Occasionally, I get asked to play manager at work. Yeah, I know. Who would trust me to tell others what to do? On these occasions I usually get a lot of help from my coworkers. Most of the time they listen to me. I appreciate that. And I let them know.

I think it’s important to tell my coworkers ‘thank you’ when they do something I ask them to do, and then again after they have completed the task. I want them to know how much I appreciate their cooperation. It’s important.

Earlier this week one of the workers said to me, ‘Hey man, you don’t have to thank me for doing my job.’

He wasn’t being mean. He was just stating it is his job, it is what he gets paid to do, so no need to show my appreciation.

While I respect my coworker, I disagree.

Sure, I don’t have to say thank you, but it is always good to hear, always good to know that someone appreciates something you’ve done. Thank you can go a long way to getting help in the future. It shows respect and it gains respect as well.

Thank you is something that so many folks have forgotten how to say. It’s something we should say more often.

That doesn’t just go for work, though. That goes for at home and out in public when someone holds a door for you. It also goes for writers. We do appreciate when you, the readers, purchase our books, or tell us about whether or not you like our work or not, or when you spread the word to others, or leave reviews for us.

So, I say this to you readers: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Without you, well, who would we write for? Sure, we say we write for ourselves, and there is some truth to that, but in reality, we write to be read. If no one is reading, well, there is no need to write.

So, thank you.

For anyone who has read my series, Dredging Up Memories, thank you.

For anyone who has read Along the Splintered Path, thank you.

http://www.amazon.com/Along-Splintered-Path-AJ-Brown-ebook/dp/B006SCJGI6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1384657842&sr=1-1&keywords=along+the+splintered+path

For anyone who has read Southern Bones, thank you.

And for those who will read any of my work in the future, thank you.

Some may say there is no need to show appreciation. I disagree. I truly appreciate those readers who have read my work, and those writers and friends and family who have supported me over the years.

To all of you, Thank YOU.

Until we meet again, my friends…

Relevancy

Posted: November 11, 2013 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
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Do you ever play the numbers game? If you’re a writer, then the answer to that is probably yes. I don’t do it often, but I have done it.

Let’s throw out some numbers (as of this writing):

• Southern Bones Amazon rank for Kindle e-books: 489,115 in paid sales.
• Southern Bones Amazon rank for paperback books: 3,164,534 in paid sales.
• Reviews of Southern Bones on Amazon: 3
• Along the Splintered Path Amazon rank for Kindle e-books: 536,637 in paid sales.
• Along the Splintered Path Amazon rank for paperback books: 3,401,363 in paid sales.
• Reviews of Along the Splintered Path on Amazon: 21
• 10,962 views of my blog since June of 2011 (The math for that is 10,962 divided by 29, for a total of 378 views a month).

I noticed when checking the numbers at Amazon, which I do probably once a week, usually on Monday, that there is a question right below the ranking. It is: Did we miss any relevant features for this product? Tell us what we missed.

Yes, Amazon, there is something missing, but not necessarily from the product, but from and for the writer of those books. The thing? Well, Amazon, you said it in the fifth word of that question: Relevant.

The thing missing is relevance. Of what relevance are my books and myself to the reading population? Clearly, I’m not Stephen King, so the relevance is, oh I don’t know, maybe not the size of a mountain like his is. But is it bigger than the tip of a needle?

I am not one of those folks who trumpet out my numbers on Facebook, and, as far as I can recall, this is the first time I have ever disclosed my numbers on how my books or blog are doing. To me, the numbers shouldn’t be important. But they are. They are as important as the covers to the books are.

What? You think I’m crazy? Well, so do a lot of folks, but that has never deterred me from writing or really most things (though it is fair to say I have mellowed over the years).

This is what I believe:

Book covers are important. But reviews and ranking are as important, if not more so.

Why do I say this? It’s simple, really:

How many folks have gone to the book store and picked up a book, then put it back because of the cover? I think most people are guilty of it. It happens.

Now, how many people have decided not to download a book based on the thumbnail size cover on Amazon or Nook or wherever? Probably not as many as with the print books, but some have probably done this.

How many of you out there have decided to purchase or not purchase an e-book based on their Amazon ranking? Come on, it’s okay. You can raise your hand. No one will know. It’s not like I have a camera secretly embedded into the blog that will show me how many folks raise their hands.

Okay, how many of you have decided to purchase or not purchase an e-book based on how many reviews they have received? Oh, those hands should go up a lot quicker now.

Here’s the thing about relevancy: it is the reader who makes a writer or a book relevant. Sure, we can market the books in various places to try and catch the attention of readers, but ultimately, it is not in the writer’s hands to determine how well a book does on the market.

Don’t get me wrong. The writer has to do his/her share of the work. The writer has to write the story, and they had best make it a good story, too. The writer has to put themselves out there and then market their work. The writer has to be willing to take criticism and learn how to be gracious. Even with all that, the readers decided the relevancy of writers.

How do you know if you are relevant, though? Well, a growth in book sales for one. A growth in reviews. A lower number on your Amazon ranking, meaning lower (100 as opposed to 1250) is better in this case.

But we can scrap all of that if we want to. The best way to know you’re relevant is when a reader tells you something good about your work. Or when someone who admires you lets you know. Relevancy, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Do I want to sell my books? Of course. Would I like to make money at this business? You bet. Do I want people to enjoy my stories and take them with them long after they are done reading? More than most anything. Do I want to be relevant in this business? That would be nice, but more importantly, I want to be relevant to the reader–to you–and if I can do that, then I have done my job.

***

One thing I stopped doing at Type AJ Negative is talking about my kids. I feel that is a huge mistake. My kids are so much a part of me and have inspired so many of my stories (two of them are in the collection, Southern Bones).

So, today I will end with a short story about my children.

I took my son and his friend who is a girl (no, not a girl who is a friend–I made the mistake of saying that before) skating for school skate night last Thursday. He is normally a very good skater for an eight-year-old, but on this night, there were girls there and they were all around him. He, like most boys, showed off and looked silly for doing so.

In the process he managed to bruise his knees and one hand pretty good. After dropping off the friend who is a girl and taking him home, he took a shower. Then he came into my bedroom where my wife and I were talking.

“Can one of you give me a massage?”

“What needs massaging?” I asked.

“My legs. My feet. My back. My arms. My butt.”

“Not me,” I said quickly.

“You’re on your own when it comes to massaging your butt,” The Wife said.

The Boy frowned. “Okay.”

“Hop on the bed,” The Wife then says. “I’ll massage your legs for you.”

The Boy is very ticklish and his laughter could be heard all over the house. Then he got quiet and lay back on the bed. The Wife had reached a spot on his foot that apparently hurt.

The Boy, after several seconds of this foot rub sighs, and then says, “I feel so aliiiiiiiive.”

With that, I bid you farewell, until we meet again, my friends.

The Laughing Stranger

Posted: November 2, 2013 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
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There is a stranger in his head, laughing…laughing.

He sits, silent in his corner as the children play in the next room over—the neighbor kids who are loud and boisterous and seemed to always argue over trivial things like ‘she won’t play what I want to play,’ or ‘he’s touching me,’ or ‘she making faces,’ and other nonsensible things.  They laugh a lot, but not as loud as the stranger in his head.

Water drips in the toilet.  Someone should jiggle the handle, he thinks.  It’s annoying and torturous, but he doesn’t move from his corner where he sits with arms wrapped around the knees that are pulled up to his chin.  No, the stranger in his head tells him to hold still, young man, hold still.

A thump comes from the next room over.  Laughter follows, as the two kids play—no arguing on this night—their game of whatever it is.

‘Listen, listen,’ the stranger says.

And he does.  Or tries to.

The children are louder now, the thumps heavier.

They’re going to come through the wall, he thinks.  Maybe they will.  Maybe they won’t.

The stranger’s laughter grows quiet.  ‘Listen, listen.’

He strains his ears and his neck is craned up; his head goes against the wall to his right.  It is cold on his skin, but he hears them better.

A thump.

A bump.

Children laugh.

‘What am I listening for?’

‘Just listen.  Listen.  You’ll know.’

The voice is dark, and it scares him.  He closes his mouth and presses his ear harder against the wall.  He doesn’t want to hear the voice again.

Several bangs are followed by more laughter.  The knocks grow louder and louder and he wonders where are their parents.  He doesn’t know, he’s not even sure he’s ever seen the kids or the parents who live next door, but he hears them now, he hears the children.

Then it happens.

The wall shakes with the boom of a body smashing into it.  A scream ensues.  A girl?  Boy?  It is too high-pitched to tell.

‘I’m sorry.  I’m sorry,’ the other child says, and then the distinct sound of feet running across the floor trail away, a ‘Mommy, Mommy,’ on the lips of the unhurt one.

Seconds pass and the screaming grows until the mother’s voice joins the fray.  He listens as she consoles him—yes, it is a him and his name is Jeromy, and he is apparently hurt, but not as bad as his screams would make you think.  A moment later and the boy is no longer screaming, but crying and sniffling, and those, too, fade as the mother leads him from the room.

Then all is silent.

He moves his head from one wall and sets it against the one behind him.  His body relaxes, then tenses as the stranger begins to giggle…and in the background, the toilet still trickles.

Halloween has passed.  Yet again, I must wait another 364 days for my favorite day of the year.  Though I love Halloween, it has become a symbol of remembrance and sadness as well.

On Halloween night in 1995, a teenager in my hometown was murdered and set on fire.  He was a good friend of my (soon to be, but as of that moment, not yet) wife.  It was tragic.  I wrote about it here, on Type AJ Negative a couple years ago in a six part series I titled, Closing the Wound.  (Links will be provided at the end of this piece if you would like to read that series.)

Halloween 2013 brought the funeral of a giant of a man in my state, one who I knew and worked for.  I will not give his name, but if you live in South Carolina you probably know who he was.

I went to the funeral of Mr. G (Mr. Giant is what I will call him, Mr. G for short).  It was a packed house with overflow rooms with video feeds set up for those who couldn’t get inside the church’ sanctuary.  The service was nice, very organized and what memorial services tend to be.

However, the rector was a woman who gave a seven or eight minute message. It wasn’t your typical message of ‘get saved while you can,’ but more geared toward what Mr. G really was, what he was about.  I believe they could have taken the rest of the service away and have only her message and it still would have been an amazing memorial.  She was that good.

This woman said a couple things that stood out to me.  One of them I will write about later.  The other one, I want to share with you now.  I’m modifying it just a little, but keeping the content of what she said.

“Mr. G showed us what faith looks like when it is lived out in something bigger than ourselves.”

The rector clearly meant Mr. G’s faith in God and in doing what he thought was right.  I’ve thought and thought about this for the last day since hearing her words.  I think the words that have stuck with me here are ‘bigger than ourselves.’

As I’ve thought and thought and thought and thought some more, I’ve come to realize that life, in and of itself, is bigger than all of us.  Life–what it really, truly is–is so much bigger than the lives we lead.

We are mundane.  We go through the same tasks over and over, day in and day out.  Often times we don’t even try all that hard to accomplish what we want to, or to do what others may ask of us.  We waste so much time worrying about stuff that is out of our hands, out of our control.  We let a lot of our life slip by.

Are we truly living?  Are we truly enjoying the gift we have been given?

That’s up to you to decide.  For me, I can say no.  And that’s my fault.  Have I chased my dream of being a successful writer as hard as I should?  No.  Not even close.  Why is that?  Fear, most likely.  Fear of failure, but also fear of success (which I’ve stated in other posts).

But wait, there is something else.  It’s not just fear.  It’s laziness; it’s not wanting to do the extra work, beyond writing the stories.  Writers have to do more these days to get ahead.  They have to market their work and themselves.  They have to socialize and be accessible to fans and other writers.  They have to be giving of their time, something they feel is better spent writing.  It’s a lot of work, and a lazy writer won’t make it very far in this business.

But guess what, Dear Readers.  We writers have it all wrong.  You see, writing is just that: writing.  There’s nothing special about it.  Sure, a writer can put together a few words to make sentences sound nice, but we have it all wrong.  We’re even calling ourselves the wrong thing.

For years I have said I am not a writer.  I’ve meant it every time I have said it.  Let me repeat that:

I am not a writer.

I will never be a writer.  I am a story teller.  I’ve said it before, and will say it again.  I am a story teller.

As I’ve sat and thought about writing, I realized a huge chunk of the problem with the writing world is everyone is trying to be writers, but so few are trying to be story tellers.

Think about all the stories you heard growing up.  Think about the way they were told.  If they were told the way my grandfather told stories, then you had a picture painted for you.  You could feel the cold or heat of the day.  You could feel the stomach cramps if he said the character was sick.  You could smell a fire burning.  You could hear the whispers or yells, and you could see someone’s mannerisms and movements.  The story wasn’t just about getting from point A to point B.  For my grandfather, the story was about starting at point A, going to point B and ending up at point Z when all was said and done.

Sure, his stories had action, but when he told me one, he told it with a purpose.  There was always a reason to it.  There were always characters and scenery, no matter how short the story.  He made you feel his words.

My grandfather didn’t write the first story.  He wasn’t a writer.  He was a story teller.  I’ve always thought that he would have sold many, many books if he would have written even just one.

But he wasn’t a writer.  No, he wasn’t a writer at all.  (Though he did write a lot of sermons, but that’s for a different day.)  He was a story teller.

And this is what is bigger than we writers.  Story telling…story telling is so much bigger than any writer out there.

I’ve always said I’m a story teller, not a writer.  But I’ve been lazy about the business of writing—and it is a business, no matter which way you look at it.  I’ve been lazy about putting my work out there.  Sure, I have short story collections.  Sure, I have a zombie series.  Sure, I have well over 150 publications to my name.  But I have failed miserably about marketing my work, about letting people know, ‘hey, I’ve been published.’

What good is being published if you don’t advertise it?

Story telling is bigger than us, and we have to treat it as such.  It is bigger than the writer who pens the story.  Words are just words when they are written with no passion, with no fire.

Sadly, marketing is often bigger than us as well.  It has been for me.  But, really, that post is also for another day.

For now, I sit back and think about some of the great storytellers of the past, about the way they wrote the words that told the stories, about how when one of their books are read, you can see and feel and hear and touch and taste it.  That’s what I want to do.

I am not a writer.

I am a story teller.

Until we meet again, my friends…

***

As promised above, I will leave you with the links to Closing the Wound.

http://typeajnegative.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/closing-the-wound-part-i/

http://typeajnegative.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/closing-the-wound-part-ii/

http://typeajnegative.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/closing-the-wound-part-iii/

http://typeajnegative.wordpress.com/2011/10/29/closing-the-wound-part-iv/

http://typeajnegative.wordpress.com/2011/10/30/closing-the-wound-part-v/

http://typeajnegative.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/closing-the-wound-the-final-chapter/