Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

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
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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/

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…

Back in 2007 Stephen King wrote an article for the New York Times called, ‘What Ails the Short Story.’  I think it was a small way to promote “The Best American Short Stories 2007,” in which Mr. King edited.  Aside from that, it is an article I read several times a year when I need to be reminded why I write mostly short stories instead of focusing on novels, like so many other writers.  It also makes me wonder, ‘why do I write short stories again?’

After reading the article, there are things I take from it each time, and usually they are the same things.  Occasionally, I find a little nugget I may have missed the last half dozen times I read the piece. 

The biggest thing that stands out to me (and which is the one thing I get from it each and every time I read it) is the readership of short stories is dwindling.  And all us writers and wanna-be writers have to compete for those readers.  It’s not just the case of getting a reader’s attention.  It’s also a case of getting the editors and publishers to take notice, which is as hard as getting readers.

With that in mind, a lot of writers tend to write for editors and publishers, not for themselves, and certainly not for the readers they seek.  This is where we, the writers, tend to lose the most readers.  When we stop writing for them, then we may as well stop writing altogether. 

As a writer who scours the Internet looking for places to submit my work to, I often find some of the craziest submission calls.  Zombie Cheerleaders in Death Cheer.  Radioactive hair follicles.  What happens when a werewolf falls in love with a zombie?  Find out in Love Bites.  Honestly, these are not stories that I think a lot of readers would care for.  I certainly have no desires to read these things.  Or to write them.

I have, on many occasions, written stories geared toward the call for submissions.  I have, on many occasions, had those stories rejected.  Hmmm…so, now I have a bunch of stories based on some pig demon who likes girls who wear bacon undergarments (and other various oddities a well) and no home for them.  This is the danger of writing a story directed at a theme oriented publication.  Not only that, you are not writing for the reader.  You are writing for the editor and the publisher, and their opinions are subjective at best.  Most of them choose what they like to read, not necessarily what the every day, average Jane or Joe likes. 

Personally, I think that is a mistake.  I have a whole digital library of stories I have written for publications that have no homes, stories I wrote for specific themes that were rejected for one reason or other.  I didn’t write any of them for me or for the readers out there.  Sadly, that is the truth.  The results of writing for editors and publishers have lead to maybe five publications.  Probably less.

I haven’t written a story directed toward a specific publication in several years, and I don’t plan on doing it again.

How passionate can you be if you are trying to write a story for a publication just because you want to get in that publication?  Think about it?  Honestly, the stories I wrote for theme based publications lacked real emotion, real characters.  It lacked reality.  The stories out and out sucked. 

Passion.  Believability.  Realistic characters and emotions.  Yup, a lot of stories—short and long—are missing these traits.  I think that is why I don’t care much for many novels.  If those traits I mentioned are missing, then why would I want to read a 500 page story when I would barely be able to make it through ten pages?

And what about our audiences?  King states—correctly so—that a lot of the reading audience of the short story magazines and websites are other writers trying to figure out what the publication is looking for.  Of course it is.  That’s what these publications tell us to do.  Read a couple of issues of our mag before you submit to us.  The problem is not a ton of actual readers are reading this stuff these days. 

So, not only are the readers not reading short stories, but a chunk of those who are reading are writers who are competing for the same few spots with the rest of us.  That means the audience is even smaller than we thought.

This is crazy.

Where have all the readers gone?

Let me see if I can figure this out.  The readers haven’t gone anywhere.  They just turned their attention to other things.  Why?  Well, we are a society that is all about being entertained now—right now—and we’re not very patient.  A lot of writers no longer develop stories because, quite frankly, if the story doesn’t grab us by the end of the first page, we feel like we are wasting our time.  A lot of folks don’t get passed the first few paragraphs. 

Answer this question:

Why would I, a reader, want to read your work?  What sets it apart from everything else out there?  (Okay, so that was two questions.  I can count.  Really…I can.)

It has taken me a LONG time to figure this out.  Why would anyone want to read anything I have ever written?  What makes my work different than everyone else’s?  Maybe nothing, but maybe…maybe something. 

Are you ready for this?

I care.

Yup.  That’s my answer to why you should read my work.

I care. 

I care about the readers’ time.  I care about wasting that time—something I hope no reader ever feels they have done after reading something I have written.

Do I care about making money?  I’d be lying if I said I don’t. 

But what I care about the most is writing good stories.  What I care about are the readers enjoying those stories. 

I’ve often said without readers, a writer is nothing.  I believe that whole-heartedly.  Writers are only as good as the readers make them.  Sure, we can write something great, but if no one reads it then no one knows just how great it is.  But—yes, there is always a but—if one person reads it and likes it, the chances of them telling someone else increases.  And what if that someone likes the story?  Yeah, those chances of word of mouth marketing increase again and again and again. 

That does not happen if you waste the readers’ time. 

Care about your work, people.  Care about the characters you create, the situations you put them in, and the resolutions of those situations.  Care about your readers.  If you care about them, then, over time, they will care about your work.  That is one way to get a little piece of that fading audience of short story readers. 

Try and set yourselves apart—give the readers a reason to like your work, and in turn, like you.  Our audience is dwindling.  We need to give them a reason to keep reading. 

I’m still working on it, but I’m on my way. 

Until we meet again, my friends…

 

 

Neglectful Excuses

Posted: October 7, 2013 by ajbrown in Uncategorized

Sometimes I’m neglectful. 

 No, not of my children or my wife or my job.  Those things get my attention before anything else does. 

 I’m often neglectful of the things that I want—not need.  I will earn money from the sell of a story and turn around and spend it on something for my children or something the house needs, but rarely on something I want.  I will go without something so my kids can have.  I feel my kids’ wants and needs are more important than my own.  I feel my wife’s wants and needs are more important as well.

 That’s not a bad thing and that’s just one reason I neglect the things I want.

 The second reason is I don’t feel worthy, and no, not in that Wayne’s World sort of way, but in a ‘do I really deserve this’ way.  Let me see if I can explain this in a way that might make sense:

 Failing is easy for me.  I’ve noticed more and more over the last year I have failed at a lot of things because, well, quite frankly, I’ve always felt that’s what I’m supposed to do.  I’m not going to get into the whys of that, but it’s something that I’ve dealt with my entire life.  Feeling like I’m supposed to fail, like I’m expected to fail drove me in some aspects of life.  In others, like where my desires come into play, it has done just the opposite.  It has caused me to think that I am trying my best, but in reality, I am doing just enough to fool myself, just enough to fail. 

 So, when your subliminal mindset is you are supposed to fail, what are you going to do?

 Fail.

 Do you know what makes this terribly sad?

 I’ve known this my entire life, but I didn’t realize this until earlier this year—a couple months ago, to be almost, but not entirely, exact. 

 Let’s see, so far we have I am neglectful because I want my children’s wants to be fulfilled be for my own, and because I expect to fail, therefore, I only try so hard, guaranteeing I would do just that.

 There is a third reason.

 Fear.

 I think I’ve always been afraid to succeed.  Yeah, crazy, right?  There are many people out there who feel the same way.  We make excuses, all the while feeling like we are doing everything we can to succeed. 

To quote Ebenezer Scrooge:  “Bah Humbug.”

 One of my bosses at work has a saying (one I have used with his permission in one of my stories):

 “FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real.”

 What is it you are afraid of?  Why are you afraid of it?  Is the evidence you have that causes you to be afraid based on something tangible, on a concrete reason?  Or is it all in your head?

 I can say my expectancy to fail helped cause a fear of success.  That’s just another excuse, though, isn’t it?

 Why be afraid of being successful?  Seriously?  Can someone give me a good, solid reason why anyone should be afraid to succeed?

 I always thought part of my problem was a fear, but not of success, but of failure.  I don’t feel that way any longer.  I’ve failed at too many things to be still be afraid.

 Stick with me a while longer.  I’ll explain a little more about the things I have neglected most in a moment.

 There is one more thing, and I think it is one of the biggest contributors to why I neglect certain things. 

 Confidence.  It takes a beating.  It takes a serious beating.

 I believe in myself.  I believe in my abilities.  I am a good writer.  If you don’t believe me, pick up one of my books and read it.  You’ll like it.  Where I lack the most confidence isn’t in my abilities, it’s in how others see those abilities.

 You see, confidence is a tricky thing.  All it takes is something negative or a series of negatives to throw you off, to make you question yourself.  And, if there is one thing about me that has always been susceptible it is my confidence, especially when it comes to my writing.

 Let me say this:  I have never been a person who cares about what others think of me.  If you like me, great.  If you don’t, your loss.  That has always been my philosophy.  I can’t think that way when it comes to writing. 

Why?

 It’s simple.  If you like me, then great.  If you don’t, then I’m not going to sell any books or have many publications for that matter.  I have to be concerned of what editors and publishers and other writers think of me, as well as what the readers think of my work. 

 In this respect, it’s hard not to take rejections personally, though they are not intended to be taken that way. 

 If you are a writer and you are reading this, here is some advice from Uncle A.J.:  Never EVER EVER EVER take a rejection personally.  Just because a story is rejected doesn’t mean you can’t write.  It just means that particular story was not a good fit for that particular publication.  The story might need some work, but suck it up and find out what’s wrong with the piece and fix it. 

 Okay, now that I have established four issues I have, I move on to the neglecting that I tend to do. 

 When my confidence gets rocked, I stop writing.  I stop blogging.  I stop promoting.  Let me put it another way.  I neglect my writing.  I neglect my blog.  I neglect my books on Amazon by not marketing them. I neglect one of the things in my life that I enjoy because I get down about something.  Rejections will do it.  This year I have subbed 38 stories, 32 of which have been rejected.  Six of them have been accepted, all but one a paying pub.  There were seven other shortlisted stories that eventually weren’t picked up.  A bad review will do it, though I’ve never received an actual bad review for my work.  A lack of reviews—that I know a little about.  Worse yet, a lack of sells.  Uh-huh, I’ve been there and done that.

 When my confidence takes a hit I fear people won’t like my work.  What evidence is that based on?  From what I’ve seen, read and heard from folks, it’s all false evidence appearing real. 

 When my confidence takes a hit and I start thinking people will not like my work, my mind tells me all I am doing is wasting my time.  I’m just going to fail anyway.  Who wants to fail?  So, why try?

 Let me say this:  If you are afraid of failing and you don’t even try, or you give a half-hearted effort, guess what?  You’ve failed.  Effort is everything to success.  Without effort, most people are doomed to fail. 

 Three of the four things that cause me to be neglectful of the things I want are related to my writing.  The other one is putting my family before myself, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  But it’s those three things that cause me the most grief when it comes to writing.

 Failure.  Fear.  Confidence.

 Those three things have caused me to neglect my writing, submitting, marketing and, yes, Type AJ Negative.  This blog, in particular, has sat dormant for months.  It has gathered cobwebs in its little corner of the…hehehe…web, so to speak. 

 Answer me something:

 How do I expect folks to find out about my work/publications if I don’t let them know?  How do I expect people to learn more about my life if I don’t let them know?  How do I expect my books to sell, if I don’t let people know?  How am I supposed to grow my ‘brand’ or popularity if I don’t aggressively pursue that growth?  It’s not going to happen on its own.

 I thought several times about writing blogs again, only to have that negative side tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘hey, nobody will care.’  I have listened to that fool for far too long.

 Here’s the thing:  If no one out there cares, then so be it, but how will I know if I don’t actually TRY to find out, if I don’t actually market my work and myself?

 For the record, I’m a damn good writer.  I don’t write like everyone else, and I’m happy and proud of that.  I enjoy writing, and I want you all out there to enjoy what I have written.  

 Here’s another thing:  My books have had a slight up tick in sells, the reviews are good, my series, Dredging Up Memories, has received lots of positive feedback, the sells I have made this year have all been either semi-pro or pro paying, I won two contest this year. 

 Though the successes have been few, they have been good when they happen.  Those are the things my psyche needs to concentrate on.

 If the Rock was the People’s Champion, then I want to be the People’s Writer.  I’m not technically sound—I don’t want to be.  I want to write stories that folks can relate to and enjoy. 

 I reckon that means no more excuses.  There is no more reasons to not jump in whole heartedly now. 

 Am I ready for this?  Truthfully, I don’t know.  But I’ll never know if I don’t actually really, honestly try.  I guess I’ll find out.

 Thank you for reading.  Thank you for tagging along, and not giving up on me.

 Until we meet again, my friends…

 

 

 

 

Picture this:

A small kid, seven years of age, peeking around a hall corner at his local school.  He is looking at two friends, one a boy, the other a girl.  Standing with his two friends is the father of one of them.  The boy–Corner Boy is what we will call him for now–wears a silly grin, one that’s somewhat mischievous, but not in a bad way.

“What?” his male friend says.  He, too, wears a silly grin, but his is more knowing.

Corner Boy peeks at them because of the girl. He ducks behind the wall when he sees all three of them look his way.

Smiling, Dad leads the two friends toward up the hall, sneaking up on Corner Boy.  They round the corner and see him, silly grin and all.  They laugh.  The two boys pick at each other.  The girl knows it’s about her, but doesn’t seem to mind.

The three kids and Dad walk to their classroom, where Dad and son exchange a hug and a handshake.

“You have your own handshake?” Corner Boy asks.  His mouth drops open, as if it was something he had never seen before–a dad and son acting like they could be friends.

“Yeah.  I’ll show you,” Son says.  They do the handshake again, complete with smacking palms and bumping knuckles and a little finger wiggle at the end.  “You try it.”

Corner Boy shakes his head.  “No.  I don’t know how.”

Dad kneels down–he would regret that later, seeing how he has a couple of bad knees, one of which hasn’t been right for years–and he says, “Why don’t we do our own?”

“Okay,” Corner Boy says.

They slap palms once, knuckle bump, then do the finger wiggle.  Three simple motions.

Corner Boy smiles.  So does Son and Girl and Dad.

They go to class.  Dad walks away.

For the record, it’s the first time Dad saw Corner Boy smile, and at that point, he had known the child for three years.

That was this morning, May 16, 2013.

Rewind a month, back to April 18, 2013.

Before that day, Corner Boy had mean tendencies.  He was bossy.  He was also somewhat of a little bully.  Though Corner Boy and Son were friends, it was a volatile relationship, with Son being passive and Corner Boy being aggressive.

On the night of April 18th, Corner Boy’s dad tried to kill his mom.

He beat her.

He stabbed her multiple times with a box cutter.

He told her ‘I’m going to kill you now.’

He tried to cut her throat.

He ran over her legs with his car.

He told her, when he was done with her, he was going to kill their son.  That would be Corner Boy, the little child peeking at his friends with that silly grin on his face.

Take that in, folks.  Go back and read it again.  I left out a lot of details on purpose.

On the night of April 18th, Corner Boy’s dad tried to kill his mom. 

He beat her.

He stabbed her multiple times with a box cutter.

He told her ‘I’m going to kill you now.’

He tried to cut her throat.

He ran over her legs with his car.

He told her, when he was done with her, he was going to kill their son.

A few statistics for you.  Annually, over 36,000 reports of domestic violence are reported in the state of South Carolina.  An average of 33 women die from Criminal Domestic Violence each year in my home state.

Only 33, you say?  That averages to almost 3 women per month.  In my opinion, that is 33 women too many each year.  Let’s look at the number a little differently.  36,000 incidents reported a year equals 98.6 incidents <i><b>PER DAY</i></b>.

Let that sink in.

Those numbers make me sick–physically–to my stomach.  And that’s not including all the incidents not reported.

Corner Boy is in the second grade.  He spends his day at the same school, in the same classes, as my son–his friend–and the young girl he was peeking at.

After finding out about his dad, about how that man beat his mom for eight years–the entire length of Corner Boy’s life–everything made sense.  He did things based on what he saw.  He did things based on what went on in his family.  He did what he thought was accepted, what he didn’t know any better than to believe.  Why?  Because his dad acted this way toward his mom, and probably, him.

For the women out there who are reading this:  If you are in an abusive relationship, whether you are married to the person or dating them, please, get out.  Abusive men don’t change.  They will continue to be abusive.  They say, ‘I’m sorry.  It will never happen again.’  Then they get mad about something, and guess what?  It happens again.  And again.  And again.  They will take out their frustrations on you and your children.

Please, don’t believe that your child needs a father, and that the only reason you stay with him is so your child wouldn’t grow up without a daddy.  It is better for a child to not have a father in his life, than for that same child to see his mother (or themselves) beaten, raped, and/or murdered.

Because you have a child is NO reason to stay with a man.  It is the exact reason you should leave an abusive relationship.  If you don’t do it for yourself, then do it for your children.  They didn’t ask to be part of an abusive household.  Give them a chance.

For the men out there who might read this:  If you are one of those abusive men, you are a coward.  You are a punk.  You are weak.  That’s right.  Weak.  If you abuse your spouse/significant other, or your children, you are nothing.  You are not a man.  Men take care of their families.  Men take care of their children.

You want to know what a real man is?  My dad.  My dad is a real man.  He overcame a rough childhood, an abusive step dad, and not a mom who wasn’t much better.  He left home at a young age, and when he had children (four of them), he made certain to take care of us, to make sure we learned about life.  Not once did he beat us.  Yeah, we got spankings, but if you knew my siblings, you would understand, we deserved them.  After his children grew up, my parents adopted three of their grandchildren.  When he should be enjoying his retirement, he chose to be dad all over again, and doing a damn good job.  My dad is a real man.  He didn’t shirk his responsibilities, and he didn’t make excuses.  And he never abused us.

Men, if you’re not taking care of your family, if you’re beating your wife and children, and they are living in fear of you, then you’re nothing but a weak, spineless P.O.S.  Feel free to quote me.  You have no clue what type of damage you are doing to your family, especially the children.

After dropping my son off, I got in the car and headed for work.  I turned my MP3 player on.  The first song was so appropriate:  Father of Mine, by Everclear.  As a father, who often feels like I’m not good enough for my children, this song reminds me that there are kids out there who have it far worse.  I can’t give my children the things they want, and we don’t live in a nice house, and sometimes the cars don’t work right, and…and…and…and so what?  I give my children love.  I let them know Daddy is there for them, I protect them, I provide for them, I love them regardless of what happens.

There are so many children out there who are like some of the lyrics to that song:

Father of mine
Tell me how do you sleep
With the children you abandoned
And the wife I saw you beat
I will never be safe
I will never be sane
I will always be weird inside
I will always be lame…

That song always pisses me off.  Not because of what it is about, but because of the truth that comes with it.

Corner Boy was lucky.  So was his mom.  They are alive today.  I got to see him smile, to hear him laugh, to do a handshake with him, to watch him walk into his classroom.

But what if his mom wouldn’t have managed to jump out of the car?  What if she hadn’t been able to get to a stranger’s house who set her on the floor, called the police and got out his gun to protect her if needed?  The mother would be one of those 33 women killed each year in South Carolina.

I don’t want to know the numbers on how many children die from abuse each year.

His father is currently in lock-up, awaiting trial for criminal domestic violence (the third time he’s been arrested for this), and attempted murder.  I hope he goes to jail for a very long time, and the other inmates find out about what he did.  They don’t like these types of things in prison.  They will show him what it’s like to be in his wife and child’s shoes.

We need to shine a light into the dark world of Criminal Domestic Violence.  We need to bring these people out of the shadows for the world to see.  We need to support the victims of CDV, let them know they are people with value, that they are not damaged goods.

I think about my son’s friend.  He was fortunate.  Maybe there was an angel watching over him.  But how many women are not so fortunate?  How many children live in fear of an abusive parent or guardian?

It has to stop.

It has to stop…

In the Dark of Horror

Growing up in the suburbs of Montreal wasn’t easy for Tall Goth Girl – especially considering she wore black against neon colors, loved gloomy tunes instead of pretty boy bands, and preferred everything horror rather than rainbows and butterflies. From early on, the dark called to her and tainted her world with skeletons and ghosts.

After years of bullying and torment, Tall Goth Girl decided to drop the black cloth and adhered to society’s perception of acceptance. Never giving up her dark music and darker thoughts, she tried really hard to ignore the whispers calling her to go back to her black roots, but ignoring them only brought nightmares of ghouls and revenants.

So what was Tall Goth Girl to do? Rebel against her own self and ignore her calling to write dark horror in a world of gore and spooks? No, screamed the creatures of the night. Finding a voice buried for so long proved difficult at first, until inspiration struck violently and Visitors’ proses shaped into recalls of haunted nights and unexplained phenomena.

Short stories published in magazines and anthologies weren’t enough for Tall Goth Girl, as she suffered greatly of the writing disease and its side-effects of published rush and award nominated syndrome. So she wrote about the night and its habitants, about characters embracing the darkness and others fighting it – she wrote about girls and monsters.

Against all odds and beasts, Tall Goth Girl’s first collection of novellas is published by DarkFuse, a small press perfect for writers allured by dusk and doom. But what did she learn through the process of life and writing? Taming yourself to be something you’re not never works out, cause your true self comes through whether you want to or not. Embrace the darkness, especially if it’s part of your soul.

She, who likes dark things never grew up. She never stopped listening to gothic, industrial and alternative bands like when she was fifteen. She always loved to read horror and dystopia and fantasy, where doom and gloom drip from the pages.

She, who was supposed to make films, decided to write short stories, novelettes and novels instead. She, who’s had her films listed on festival programs, has been printed in a dozen anthologies and magazines since.

She, who likes dark things prefers night to day, rain to sun, and reading to anything else.

Who is she? Anne Michaud, author of Girls & Monsters.

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She blogs: Anne Michaud, Writer

She Facebooks: Anne Michaud

She tweets @annecmichaud

Girls & Monsters at Amazon

Girls & Monsters Goodreads page

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Giveaway!! Softcover copy + The Monster Collection Skellies, 5 pieces handcrafted by the author: GIRLS & MONSTERS Giveaway

WordPress Giveway

The winner will be announced during the Live Chat on release day, April 30th at 9PM east.

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