Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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
Tags: , , , , ,

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
Tags: , , , ,

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
Tags:

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/

The View From the Mirror

Posted: October 29, 2013 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

I once smashed a mirror because I didn’t like what stared back at me. The problem wasn’t that I smashed a mirror, but that it wasn’t mine.

I was younger then, just a kid really, in my very early twenties. The gal I had been dating dumped me. She gave no reason, not even the ‘it’s me, not you,’ line. I later found out she had been cheating on me and had managed to get herself knocked up. Way to go there, gal.

The mirror belonged to a friend and he wasn’t terribly happy with me. Neither were my knuckles. When a mirror breaks the tiny slivers can shred skin fairly easily. Three knuckles on my right hand looked like hamburger meat for a few days. We should have fried that up and made a burger out of it.

Why did I punch that poor inanimate object? Well, for one, punching the gal was out of the question. Two, punching my friend was out of the question. Hmmm…the mirror was a victim of circumstance. It just happened to be on the wrong wall at the wrong time. It should have known better. As if.

At any rate, mirrors can be fascinating. They show you what you look like to others. They can make you think your butt looks big—no honey, your butt is nice just the way it is. They are the last bastions of hope as you check yourself out before leaving the homestead and heading out into the world, hopefully looking your best.

They do NOT talk to you like the one in Snow White.

However, you can talk to it. Come on, I know you have. I have. Often my conversations aren’t the ‘hey, man, looking good,’ type. They are more like, ‘Dude, that’s messed up,’ Trust me, I’ve seen myself in the one way looking glass—it’s not pretty. I may have actually been doing that mirror a favor, by putting it out of its misery, therefore making it so it couldn’t reflect my image back to the world. Oh, the black eye I must have given it. The shattered ego…

Mirrors are like shrinks, only you don’t have to pay a couple hundred bucks for an hour of time and an uncomfortable chair or couch. And you can talk FOREVER and the mirror doesn’t keep checking its watch.

If you’re a writer, then the mirror is one of your besties—I can’t believe I used that word. Let me try again. If you are a writer, then the mirror is one of your best friends. I’m serious. I know you all think I have lost my mind, and maybe I have, but I’ve had many a conversation with the mirror in the bathroom, the one that sits above the sink. It’s nothing special, as far as looks go. Just an ordinary, average mirror that reflects the ordinary, average image of me back.

I make faces in the mirror. Frowns. Scowls. Smiles. Smirks. Open-mouthed gapes. I stick out my tongue. Poke out my bottom lip. Sometimes I bite that bottom lip, or maybe even blow out some air, puffing my cheeks out as I do so. I squint, get all wide-eyed, cut my eyes left and right and up and down. Or is that down and up and right and left? Who knows? Who cares?

I have had discussions with myself, sometimes quite animatedly, hands waving, spittle flying from the mouth. Most of the time when I have those conversations I am trying to work out some dialogue or other, or trying to figure out a plot. Occasionally it’s to pump myself up, boost the confidence that may be dwindling at that point.

During these little conversations I find myself listening to the reflection looking back at me. It’s disturbing, I know, but if you’ve ever had a conversation with me you know my mind runs at seventeen thousand words per second and really, the only one who can keep up with those thoughts is me. It’s like Gilmore Girls meets Sheldon from Big Bang Theory in my head. It’s actually quite entertaining.

Tonight I looked in the mirror—no, I don’t do it every day. I’m not so sure I could handle seeing myself that often. Besides, how many mirrors will I break in the process? Staring back at me was a man with a scraggly and sparse beard, hair that looked like something on Christopher Lloyd’s head, glasses, the left eye all pink, and a smirk. Oh, that constant smirk. I didn’t decide to punch the mirror. No, I nodded. My reflection nodded back. It’s as if it copied my every movement…

Seriously.

Sometimes that mirror can be creepy. I’ll make hand gestures and movements, watching the reflection, wondering if maybe I was the reflection and the mirror was really me and I was the one doing the copying of the movements. I don’t know. Who knows? The one thing I am certain of is I have a story idea…and it may just involve mirrors, reflections and just who is on the inside, me or the reflection.

Until we meet again, my friends…

When I was a kid, my mom and dad bought a copy of the Orson Welles radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, a novel by H.G. Welles. It was the Halloween episode of a series of dramas by Mercury Theatre.  The broadcast originally aired as news bulletins in 1938 and caused a stir of mass hysteria.  People believed Martians were invading the world.  I don’t know how true it is, but from my understanding some folks even committed suicide over this.

That’s craziness.

At the time I was maybe eleven or twelve.  I don’t really remember.  The broadcast was on a cassette tape and we played it on an old black (well, it wasn’t old back then) tape deck that had buttons that were as simple as, PLAY, STOP, FAST FORWARD (FF was on the button), REWIND and, yes, there was a PAUSE button.  I remember listening to it and going, ‘Wow, that is so cool.’

I haven’t listened to anything even close to an audio book since.

I’m not a fan of the audio book.  I admit it.  I am one who likes to read stories at my own pace and picture them as I go along.  I like to disappear into a book and come out when I’m ready.  So, honestly, I’ve never really tried to listen to audio books.

Having said that, I may have to change my mind on the subject of audio books.

A while back I was asked if I would listen to an audio book put out by Stormblade Productions.  I said yes.  Unfortunately, I forgot about it.  Until today when I was going through old messages of Facebook—yeah, Facebook—and came across the message the request was in, complete with download.

What did I do?

You guessed it.  I downloaded the story, put on the earphones and pressed play.  I leaned back in my chair, coffee in hand and propped my feet up on the desk.

Let me start by saying there will be no spoilers in here.

The story, titled Everett Smiles, starts out with music, much like a movie does.  The score is relevant to the story in and of itself.  It sets the tone for the story that follows.

Oh…the story that follows.

The opening words are simple, but telling:

‘Sheila is coming.’

They may not seem like much, but the opening three words are powerful, given the narration by Carrie Buchanan.

The story is told from the point of view of Paige, one of the last, if not the last person left on the planet, as we know it.  Monsters—one in particular—have wiped out the world’s population and Paige is desperate to find her young son.

Other than that, I won’t say what the story is about, or even who Everett Smiles is, but rest assured, the story is brilliant.  The word usage and turns of phrases are beautifully rendered and eloquently narrated.  Mrs. Buchanan’s English accent is perfect for Everett Smiles.  The way she enunciated certain words, and the tone she used throughout give the story an unquenchably desperate feel.  She pulled me in and held me close as she whispered her words of sadness into my ear.

Unlike stories told around campfires, Everett Smiles feels like a story told in an asylum by a woman who had lost her mind to some trauma or other.  I had the luxury of sitting at my desk with the lights out in the bedroom while everyone else in the house slept, adding a little more creep factor for effect.

The background noises and music are nice touches, but only the music is really noticed.  Why, you ask?  Because the narration and the story is that good.

The drama unfolds at a nice pace and there are many great lines.  My favorite is:

“A summary of death at the end of the world.” 

That particular line sums up Everett Smiles in ten perfectly placed words.

The ending of the story offers a promise of hope, but how much hope is there?

Let’s not forget Sheila, the antagonist throughout this piece.  She looms throughout and brings us the story’s most dramatic moments.

Everett Smiles, written by Neil John Buchanan and narrated by Carrie Buchanan, had me listening through the entire (just under) 45 minutes with rapt attention. Rapt, I say.

But wait.  What about Everett?  Isn’t there an Everett in there?  After all, the story is called Everett Smiles.  Yes, Everett is in there, but to tell you about him gives away a touch of the unique insanity of this story.

Let me say this.  Being one that doesn’t generally listen to audio books, I can say, without a doubt, that I will be listening to Everett Smiles again.  And again.  And again.  I realize I’ve been a little vague in this review, but one thing I hate about a lot of book reviews are the spoilers, so I try not to give out any.

The bottom line is Everett Smiles is a beautifully unique work of insanity not to be listened to under the influence of anything mind altering, lest you experience the War of the Worlds in your nightmares afterward.  Kudos to Neil John Buchanan for writing an unsettling story that will stick with me for far longer than most pieces I have read.  Also, kudos to Carrie Buchanan for the wonderful narration of Everett Smiles. I’ve always thought good stories are often ruined by people who cannot tell them.  This is not the case for Mrs. Buchanan.  The desperation of Paige’s story came to life thanks to her exceptional narration.

Herbie and I are in agreement here.  Everett Smiles gets Five out of Five Vials of Blood.

If you like audio books, then check out Everett Smiles on Amazon at:

Also, check out Stormblades Production’s website at: http://www.stormbladeproductions.com/catalogue.html

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