I love Ellen Degeneres.  There I said it.  I’m a guy and I love Ellen Degeneres.  My wife loves her, too.  So does The Boy and The Girl.  I’m willing to wager that the Hell Spawn (better known as Mia, the cat) and The Dog like her as well.  I don’t have proof of this, but I’m going to say they do.

I know her show is geared toward women.  Most talk-type shows are.  But hers is different.  First of all, she’s funny.  That gives her a leg up on all daytime shows.  Second, and this is more important than being funny, she is compassionate.

I’m just going to stop here for a moment.  Compassion is defined as:  sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

I don’t particularly care much for the term ‘pity’ in there, but I firmly believe compassion is, indeed, concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.  If there were ever a celebrity who has concerns for the sufferings and misfortunes of others, it is Ellen.  If you think I am wrong, watch her show for a few days and you will see, not only humor and other celebrities, but you will see compassion.  You will see a person who truly believes in helping others and who uses her star power for the betterment of people.

Cate watches Ellen every day.  It is set to record every morning, and in the evening, usually around supper time, she sits on the couch and flips on Ellen.  Sometimes when I am not in there with her, I hear Cate laughing and I can’t help but smile.  Laughter makes the heart lighter, even on bad days.  I’m good at making jokes and wisecracks and saying things to make people laugh, but Ellen is different.  Her humor makes herself laugh, and why shouldn’t it?  If you can’t laugh at yourself, then you’ll be the only one not in on the jokes.  I love hearing Cate laugh when she is watching Ellen.

Back to the compassion thing.  As I said earlier, if you don’t believe me, watch her show for a few days—a week, tops—and you will see someone who truly believes in helping people.  She gives.  She gives.  Do you understand that?  She gives.  Not just money, but time.  She gives hope to folks who might not have had it before.  She gives money where there is a need, but she doesn’t just say, ‘here is a few thousand bucks, have a good life.’  No, she goes back and checks on some of the people she has helped, to see how they are progressing, to see if they are okay.  She’s a huge celebrity who acts just like the average person.

How refreshing is that?

I know that at the end of an hour of Ellen, whatever bad day Cate may have been having just got better.  To me, that is a person who makes an impact on others’ lives in a positive way.

And there’s one other thing that Ellen does that I think is awesome.  As a matter of fact, I’ve adopted it—well, partially.  At the end of each show, Ellen says, to me, the most important words anyone can say to each other: Be kind to one another. Do you understand the importance of those words?  In a world where there is so much violence and hate and selfishness and me, me, me mentality, being kind to one another has kind of gone out the window.  We don’t hold the doors for others.  We don’t say ‘thank you’ anymore.  We let others negative opinions and attitudes rub off on us.  We have road rage and shopping rage and whatever we feel like rage.

In a society where most everything on the news is negative, to hear ‘be kind to one another’ is such a radical thing, it’s almost unheard of.  And every time I hear it, I smile.

Back in January I made it a point to try and be as upbeat as possible; to try and be as positive as I can be.  Sometimes it’s extremely difficult.  Sometimes I want to just pack it up and say ‘I can’t do this anymore.’  Sometimes things happen and my nerves become frayed and my temper has a short fuse.  But the power of positive thinking is real.  Being kind to one another really does have a positive effect on people.  Just like being rude or mean to others has a negative effect.  If just hearing ‘be kind to one another’ can make people smile, imagine what actually doing it can do.

This is my challenge to you—all eight of you:  Go out and do something nice for someone. Do this every day.  Be nice to someone every day and see if your attitude doesn’t change over time; see if you, as a person, doesn’t have a better outlook on life.

To Ellen Degeneres, thank you.  Thank you for being a positive influence and role model in a society where there are few of these.  Thank you for your concern for others, and your desire to help them.  Thank you for making my wife laugh.  It’s the most beautiful sound.

As I’ve done in every blog since January, I leave you with my modified closing:  Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…

These days I rarely buy books written by big name authors. Other than Stephen King, I haven’t bought a book by a well-known author in years. I tend to purchase books written by lesser-known authors (small press and Indie, for the most part). Most of these writers I have never heard of.

So, why would I purchase books from a bunch of unknown writers?

Well, the main reason is simple: I am one of those unknown writers. I’m starting to garner a little bit of a following, but I am nowhere near Stephen King status. I am, for the most part, an unknown trying to get my name out there to the reading population. By putting my work out there I am asking you, the readers, to take a chance with me, to trust that I won’t let you down when you listen to me tell a tale.

Anyone who works in the arts will tell you that this takes a lot of trust on the artist’s behalf as well. Everyone is a critic and artists get blasted hard and often, not just by the consumer, but other artists. Writing is an art. For those of us who no one knows about it’s often frustrating, especially if we believe in our work.

So, what do we do? We go onto social media and say ‘hey, here is my book, buy it, please.’ Every once in a while someone will see that bit of pleading and consider buying the book. But that’s not enough.

We do blogs or vlogs or other forms of communicating to people we try to connect with. And, like the social media thing, someone might see the blog and consider purchasing a book. [[Yes, I know a blog is social media, but when I say social media I mean Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and those types of things.]]  

Hmmm…but that’s not enough. Even if you have a potential best seller, unless you have a big publishing house behind you helping you with marketing, doing these things will only help so much.

Then there are conventions and festivals.

Back in April I participated in The Cayce Festival of the Arts as a vendor. It was the first time I had been on the other side of the table. Instead of buying from someone, I was there for folks to buy from. At first it was daunting and I was nervous. What if no one bought my books? What if no one came to my table? What if no one talked to me at all? Oh, the anxiety.

I can say that my fears were unfounded, at least for that festival. People did come to my table and talk with me and purchase books. It was a very successful event. And very enjoyable. I got to talk to a lot of nice folks.

One particular woman came to my table about halfway through the day. She was older than me. She was also an editor. She came to my table and asked a question I had never been asked before: ‘Tell me about you.’ Yeah, I know it’s not technically a question, but in essence, it really was.

I replied, ‘Me, the person, or me, the writer?’

‘You, the person.’

Up to that point I had heard the term, ‘sell yourself,’ but never really thought about it. This woman—and I wish I would have gotten her name—was asking me to sell myself to her right then and there. And I did. I told her who I was and a little about my family and where I was from—which just happened to be a hop, skip and a jump from where we stood talking.

She gave a quick nod and pointed at one of my books. ‘I’ll take one of those,’ she said and handed me cash. I signed her book and gave it to her and off she went. She never asked me about the book, only about me, the person.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. As a writer, I’m not just selling my books, but I’m selling myself, my personality. Who I am. The term ‘sell yourself’ suddenly clicked with me. Again, I had heard the term, but never really thought about it. So, if I never thought about it, then how could I actually do it?

Fast forward to today. I went to the South Carolina Book Festival this morning. I was there for almost four hours. I talked to a lot of authors, both traditional and indie published. They were all trying to get people to buy their books. They were all selling their books. But not all of them were selling themselves.

I went to one table and the vendor said nothing. He looked at me and then turned around to tend to something else. I walked away. He wasn’t interested in me or my money. He also wasn’t interested in selling his books or even making an attempt. There were other folks sitting at their booths on their tablets or phones, seemingly oblivious to the many readers there to buy books.

One person stuck to his sales pitch and whenever I asked him questions, he didn’t seem to want to answer them. But he constantly tried to put a book in my hand and asked for the cost of the book, even though I didn’t say I wanted to purchase one. He was somewhat pushy.

Then there were those who said ‘Hello’ to everyone as they passed. I stopped at every single table where the person/people genuinely seemed to want to talk to the readers. They were there to sell their books. They were there to network with the readers and other authors. Many of them constantly had smiles on their faces and talked excitedly about their books.

And then there were those writers who were more interested in me, the reader. I spent the most time with them, getting to know them, the person, not the writer. They smiled. They talked. They asked me questions. I asked them questions and they answered them. They told me stories, not about their books, but about them. Those are the ones that I would purchase books from, even if I had zero interest in their books.

One woman said to me, ‘You don’t have to buy a book. I just want to talk to the readers.’ She was selling herself—and I really liked her and what she, as a person, was all about. I spent the most time with her.

This business—and really, any business—is never just about the product. It’s also about who sells the product, or who created the product. Sure, if the product is good it could sell on its own, but if no one knows about it, then it is up to the person who is selling it to do the best he/she can to do so. And in order to sell that product, the salesperson has to have the type of personality that could help convince someone to buy it.

One of the keys to selling anything is personality. If your personality is sour or pushy, then your sells may not be all that great and you could leave a bad taste in the mouth of the customer. However, if your personality is sunny and you treat your customer with respect and try to make them feel comfortable, not with just the product, but with yourself, then your chances of making a sell go up. Even if you don’t get a purchase out of it, you gave the customer something to remember you by and they may just come back to you on down the road.

Part of selling yourself is not about making the sell, but making a connection with the reader/customer. If you make a connection, most of the time you are going to make a sell. It might not be right away, but it will happen.

A lot of the books I have purchased over the last few years, I have done so after meeting the author online, usually through Facebook. Those authors I either had conversations with and came away liking them, or the things they posted on their walls showed me some of their character, showed me a little about who they are. Even through a Facebook connection, you can sell yourself, and so often we forget that.

One more thing before I go: don’t sell yourself short. What I mean is have confidence in your work and your abilities…and in yourself.

For the longest time I had difficulties talking about my writing. I’m not sure I was comfortable with people knowing I liked to write. I certainly wasn’t comfortable with people reading what I wrote. Talking about what I had accomplished as a writer always felt like bragging and I’ve never been one for bragging. It took me a long time and a lot of encouragement from Cate and other writers to start truly believing in who I was as a writer.

When it comes to selling your work and yourself, confidence is extremely important. If you are not confident in yourself, your abilities or your work, the customer (reader) will immediately pick up on that and your chances of making a sell diminish. I have confidence now that I was lacking four or five years ago. I believe in my abilities and my stories and I believe the readers will, as well.

In this business of publishing, the writing and editing and proofing and publishing is only part of the gig. The marketing is a huge part as well. Part of that marketing is selling yourself as well as your books. It’s making a connection with the people you want to read your books. I hope along the way I’ve connected with you at some point. And I hope you were happy, not just with the product you received, but in whom you received it from.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…

 

 

 

Four Thoughts on Writing

Posted: May 6, 2015 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: ,

So you want advice about writing?

What do you do? Get a self-help book? A how to guide to being a better writer? There are tons of those out there. The best, I think, is Stephen King’s On Writing, not because he tells you how to write, but because it’s kind of autobiographical and in that bit of life we are told about, we also see how to write. It’s a very unique way of teaching or advising. There are plenty of other books out there, but none I really care to mention here.

You can ask other writers their thoughts. Some of them will give you good advice, while others will completely steer you the wrong way. You will get don’t do this, but do this. Or you have to do it this way and don’t do it that way. That way is always wrong. This way is always right. You should never write in this perspective or in this tense. Always have lots of action. Don’t use too many descriptors, but make sure and give enough that the reader can somewhat picture it. My favorite is ‘show, don’t tell,’ but so many people can’t explain what that means. Ask for examples and often you don’t get them.

[Side Note: there are some very good authors out there who can give you examples of what they are explaining. Those people ‘get it.’ End Side Note]

There are so many different things that you should or should not do, depending on who you talk to.

If you are a writer, feel free to disagree with me. It won’t bother me at all, unless you are rude and disrespectful.

For anyone out there who may care (and there are about twelve of you that I know of…I think), I do have some advice for you. No, this isn’t a self-help kind of thing. This isn’t even a technical kind of thing. You won’t see me telling you to be grammatically correct or to condense your sentences or whatever. This stuff…this stuff is mental. As Yogi Berra once said about baseball: “Ninety percent of this game is half mental.” Well, I think it’s the same with writing.

Are you ready?

Okay. Here we go:

Be yourself.

Oh. Whoa. Wait. What?

Be yourself.

Be who you are when you write. Don’t try to be Stephen King or James Patterson or William Faulkner or Edgar Allen Poe or anyone else. By yourself. Write the way you are. Write what you want to write. Why do I say that? Because if you try to be someone else, you might miss out on what you can actually do if you were just yourself. You might miss out on finding your own voice.

I tried to write like others. I experimented with a lot of different voices, a lot of different styles. I tried going all action and not so much descriptions. I tried using a ton of dialogue and then as little dialogue as possible. I tried in the first, second and third points of view. I tried in past and present tense (and even something I played with trying to create a future tense).

Guess what? Until I stopped trying to be everyone else, I couldn’t find my voice, my style, the way I wanted to write. I was kind of all over the place and nothing really fit.

So, first and foremost, be yourself.

Next: Read. Don’t just read the writers you like. Read other writers that don’t fall within your normal reading tastes. While you read, make mental notes on styles and how the story develops. If you want to keep a notepad handy so you can jot down something that strikes a chord with you, then do so. You don’t have to analyze the story, but when you’re done, think about what you liked and didn’t like about it. Read—it may be the most important thing you can do for your writing.

Third, and this is a big one: You need to develop thick skin. By thick skin I mean you need to have skin as thick as an elephant. If you get your feelings hurt easily, this is not the business for you. This is a tough gig, folks. There are those who will help you—and they are good people who will do what they can for you. Then there are those who would just as soon break you down to the point that you would give up. Editors and publishers are tough and some of them aren’t very nice when they reject you. The publishing world is difficult and sometimes publishers screw over the writers. If you carry your feelings on your sleeves then you will get eaten up and spat out.

And, for the most part, readers are totally cool. But sometimes you get one that just doesn’t like your work and they attack the story and you, personally. If you can’t handle that with a level head, then putting your work out there may not be the best idea for you.

Though there are many more things I can put on this list, I will stop with this last one. It’s important: Enjoy what you do. I’ve heard people say they suffer for their art. Really? Suffer? Not me. There is an old saying: Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day of your life. It’s the same with writing. If you love it, it’s not work and you’ll never suffer for it.

Writing—telling stories—can bring so much enjoyment and personal fulfillment. For me, I get a sense of accomplishment that nothing else brings me. To quote another source, this time Twisted Sister: There’s a feeling that I get from nothin’ else and there ain’t nothing’ in the world that makes me go… Creating a world my characters live in, giving them situations to deal with, seeing how they resolve those situations, is such a rush. It’s better than any drug. Really. It is. Drugs are bad. Don’t do drugs. Write. It’s much better for you.

Let’s recap:

  1. Be yourself.
  2. Read.
  3. Develop a thick skin.
  4. Enjoy writing.

If you will take notice, I didn’t tell you how to write. That’s not my place, and I don’t feel I am qualified to tell anyone how to write. And if I was qualified, I still don’t think I would tell anyone how to write. One of the parts of writing that can be so enjoyable—or any activity, for that matter—is practicing at it, learning what you need to do to get better and then learning how to get better. It’s those ‘Ah ha’ moments where the light turns on and you ‘get it’ that is so exhilarating and that makes writing fun.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

 

Everybody has their own path. Every path has many forks in the road. If you take the one to the left it takes you to a different place than if you take the one to the right. One path is going to be tougher than the other. That’s truth. Pure and simple.

Let me give you a little example.

Years ago when Cate and I were still dating we took a trip to the mountains with my family. On that trip I proposed to her. At that point she could have said no, but she said yes. Here’s where our paths forever changed. We were young and in love and I knew I was going to marry her after our first date a year or so earlier. But that’s not the point. Cate could have said no, and things would have drastically changed between us. Honestly, I don’t think we would be together—her saying no probably would have been a major deal breaker.

But she said yes, and on that day our lives went from being on our own separate paths to, a year later, us joining in marriage and creating a path together.

There is another one to this story. While Cate and I were on this trip we went hiking in the Black Mountains of North Carolina. There were three different paths we could have taken: the easy, the intermediate or the hard. Cate had never really done much hiking so we opted for easy. At one point we came to a fork in the path. If we went one way we continued on the easy path. If we went another direction we went on the intermediate path.

We thought we had taken the easy path. No. No, we didn’t. Though we didn’t take the hardest one, we still took one much more difficult than the easy. You see, we had a choice on which path to take: the easy or the not so easy. We took the wrong path and it led us to a harder, much longer hike. By the time we reached the end, I was pulling Cate up steep hills and using tree limbs to pull myself along as well. We were exhausted, but we had conquered the path and made it to the end. We had taken the wrong path, but somehow managed to navigate it, even though it was tougher than the one we meant to take.

Do you get what I’m saying? Life is all about the paths we choose. I’ve always said each decision we make takes us on a different path. If we choose to do drugs that decision takes us on a different, much more difficult path than if we choose not to. Are you married? Great. If you cheat on your spouse, that path just became rocky, at best. If you take this job as oppose to that one your life will forever be changed. Which college you go to changes your path. Everything you do in life, every decision you make takes you on a different path.

As a story teller it is my job to tell a story that has paths throughout it. If a character makes a decision it could alter the direction his/her life goes in.

Paths. That is a Common Thread we can all relate to. Everyone takes them, whether they know it or not. Every decision is a new path.

Let’s talk Cory’s Way and paths.

(If you have not read Cory’s Way, the next few paragraphs contain possible spoilers, all of which are related to the first chapter of the book.)

If Cory’s father doesn’t leave his mother, then Cory doesn’t end up in Century Falls and Gina doesn’t end up working insane hours at a restaurant to try to make ends meet. If the bullies don’t chase him, then he doesn’t run under the overpass and meet Mr. Washington, who, in turn, decides to help Cory get rid of those bullies.

All of these things (decisions) changed the paths for all of the characters involved. How, you ask? Let’s take a closer look at them.

For whatever reason, Cory’s father made a decision to leave the family, which forces Gina to move them away, creating a new, somewhat unpleasant path for Gina and Cory. And, incidentally, the father’s decision also changes his own life (something we don’t see in Cory’s Way). This one decision made by Cory’s father changed the lives of everyone involved in the story, which are quite a few paths. It set the stage for the story itself.

Gina’s absence because she works so much sends Cory on a completely different path than if she were around more. Sure, it’s the only real move she can make to ensure they have food and a roof over their heads, but with his father already gone, he probably could have used having Mom around more often.

We talked about bullying in the first Common Threads post. Well, let’s talk about it again. The Burnette brothers play a huge role in Cory’s Way. We are introduced to them in the third sentence of the first chapter. They make a decision early on (like Dad leaving, we don’t actually see this decision—we just know it by the way the first few paragraphs unfold) that they don’t like Cory and making his life miserable becomes a goal of theirs. That decision changes the entire trajectory and lives of every main character of the story right off the bat.

Cory had a bunch of decisions (paths) he could have made during this opening paragraph. Run from the bullies or fight them? Take the short way beneath the overpass or the long way around it? Toss his book bag or hang onto it? Give up halfway home and let them beat the crap out of him or keep running? Try to fight back. Hide beneath the overpass or keep on trucking? Can you see how any of those decisions could have changed the course of Cory’s life, and by the same token, every major character in the book?

Mr. Washington really only made one significant decision: leave the overpass and run off the Burnette brothers or give Cory away and let them know where he was or force Cory to continue running away. His decision was one of the most important path changers in the entire book. Without it, there is no Cory’s Way.

I’m not going to go beyond the first chapter here, but every single chapter has a path changing decision, just like every single day we, as real people and not make believe ones, make decisions that alter our lives and the trajectory our lives are on.

If you haven’t read Cory’s Way, well I’m going to encourage you to do so. Here’s the thing: I’ve said since day one that everyone will be able to relate to something in this novel. When I say everyone, I mean EVERYONE. I relate to it on many levels, but the one way I truly connect to it is that the story of Cory Maddox was the first such story I wrote in this conversational style. It was the story where I truly found my voice. It’s the story that deepened my love of story telling. It was the story that changed the path of my writing. It’s THE story.

As a writer it is my job to give you something to enjoy, to relate to, to connect to, a common thread that links you to the story. One common thread are paths and the ones we choose in life. Every decision is a fork in the road. Choose one thing and go one way. Choose the other option(s) and go in a different direction(s) all together. Either way, the path is yours to take. Which way will you go?

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

 

 

It’s a Human Issue

Posted: April 19, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

One good thing about having my own blog is that I can talk about any topic I want to. I don’t have to ask for permission to state my opinion. It’s my platform. It’s my voice.

Go back and look at the 250 or so posts that appear on Type AJ Negative and you will see most of them are writing/publishing related. Being a storyteller, that is where a lot of my interests are. But there are other things that appear on here, most of them attempts at humor or life stories.

Today, I want to talk about something that bothers me.

Let me see if I can paint the picture for you:

There’s this guy and he’s taking this kid home. The kid is a little girl who is the friend of one of the guy’s children. You follow me so far? Guy taking little girl home. The girl is eleven.

In the middle of the conversation the girl says something that makes the guy asks a few questions. What is that thing?

“I’ve lost friends before because I’m different.”

“What do you mean?”

“This girl (she said the girl’s name, which I omit here) told this boy (again, omitted name) to try and change my religion.”

“What?”

She repeated the statement.

“Why would she do that?”

“I don’t believe in God.”

That caught my attention. I am a spiritual person. I believe in God. I believe in Jesus. I don’t believe in religion. Believing in God and believing in religion are two entirely different things, in my honest opinion.

“You don’t believe in God?” I asked.

“No. My family is atheists.”

“You’re atheists?”

“Yeah. I’ve never been to church. My family has never been to church.”

“And that girl wanted you to not be atheist?”

“Yeah. I’ve never been to church, but I want to go one day. I may not believe in God now, but I might later.”

There was a lull of silence before I said anything else.

“Well, I tell you what, if you ever want to go to church, let us know, and if your parents are okay with it, we’ll take you with us one day. Okay?”

“Okay.”

So later that night I told Cate about it. Then she said something that really bothered me. Again, no names will be used here.

I told her the story and this is what she said:

“I heard her and the kids talking in there, and some of the kids at school said she worships the devil.”

Let’s stop here. I am going to get on my soapbox for a minute.

I know the little girl who said the things about the other little girl. I know some members of her family, and sadly, I can see them saying something like, ‘if they are atheists then they worship the devil.’

The problem with this thought is it is not true. I know plenty of atheists, and I haven’t known any of them to worship the devil. If they did worship the devil, they would no longer be atheists, but Satanists. See how that works?

The real problem here is that a ten year old said this about an eleven year old and now several of the kids in their class are saying this little girl worships the devil. What? Really?

I am a follower of Christ. I believe He died on the cross for my sins. But—and this is a HUGE BUT—I don’t believe it is my place to condemn someone else for his or her beliefs (or lack of beliefs). Jesus preached love your neighbor, not hate them because they are different. Jesus ate with the sinners of his time and walked with those same sinners and helped those same sinners. He looked on all people with compassion, even the criminal hanging on the cross next to His. He loved people.

He didn’t care if you were Jew or Gentile. He didn’t care if you were black or white or red or brown or yellow or zebra print. He didn’t think less of women or children. He treated them well. He even said, ‘Do unto the least of these and you do unto me.’ (Matthew 25:45)

He loved everyone.

I think Mahatma Gandhi said it best when he said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

There lies the problem with many Christians: the majority of them don’t love everyone. Many of them think they are better than others, that if someone isn’t like them, then they are going to Hell. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. They think being a Christian is a bunch of don’ts and if you mess up once, then you aren’t worthy of Heaven. Many Christians just aren’t very loving. Many of them are not Christ-like to the point of being judgmental. Many don’t teach their children to love one another. That is something that can be taught regardless of your religious or non-religious beliefs.

As a Christian I try to set the example, not with my words, but my actions. You can say you are a Christian all you want, but if your actions and your words present a different image, then it doesn’t matter what you say or do—no one is going to believe you. And if people do believe you, then they are probably going to say something like, ‘if that’s what being a Christian is, I want nothing to do with it.’ By spreading hate, you push people away. By preaching love, you bring people closer.

It’s not just Christians though. The majority of people don’t love others outside of their circle. Many people think they are better than others, and if they don’t look like they do, or make the money they do or drive the cars they do or vote for the politicians they do, then they’re not good enough for them. Many people think they are always right and everyone else is always wrong. It’s a society issue.

The thing with ten and eleven year olds is that most of what they believe they learn from their parents or other adults in their lives. Abusive fathers generally breed children who grow up to be abusive fathers themselves. Racists parents generally raise kids who become racist themselves. It really is a monkey see, monkey do type of thing. Sure, there are plenty of cases where kids made good, even though the parents were kind of crappy to them. My dad is an example of a person who broke the cycle to be a better person than his parents ever were.

Back to the girl. As she said, her family members are atheists, so she is atheist. This is what she has learned, based on how she has been raised. The other girl who started the devil worshipper rumor learned that from someone as well. She may have been misinformed on the topic at some point or drew her own conclusions based on, what? I don’t know. What I do know is she is wrong.

We are all quick to judge what we do not understand. We all have done it. I have. You have. Part of that judgmental attitude comes from fear. FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. We let our minds or others tell us what we should believe or say or do. We don’t understand it so we either don’t accept it or we are afraid of it. But something we don’t do that we should do more of is learn about what we don’t understand and make educated decisions based on that education. Don’t just have an opinion. Know the facts.

People, I want to make this clear: I don’t care what religion you are. I don’t care if you worship a god or are an atheist. I don’t care where you are from. I don’t care what your skin color is. I don’t care if you are rich or poor or somewhere in between. I don’t care what your job is. I don’t care if you are single or married or divorced. I don’t care about your political views. I don’t care if you are a woman or a man. I don’t care if you are attractive or unattractive. I don’t care if you are gay or straight. I don’t care if you agree with me or disagree with me. I don’t care.

Do I have to say it again?

But I do care about people. I care about how we treat one another. I care about how we judge one another. I care about respect. I care about whether someone is hurting and if I caused it, how do I fix it. I care about our world and I see it crumbling every day with the self-serving and entitled attitude of so many people. I care about how people lump other people into a category because they are of a certain skin color or religion or political party or income bracket. I care about people.

I will say that again: I care about people.

We are all human. We were all born in the same way. We all have feelings and desires and passions and we all need the same things to live: food, water, a place to live and air. Companionship helps, too. We all have loved at one time and we all want love. Go ahead and deny it if you want, but it’s true.

Honestly, this world makes me sad, and hearing what ten and eleven year old children say about another one because that one doesn’t believe in God saddens me deeply. Where did we forget how to love one another?

This isn’t a Christian or non-Christian issue. This is a human issue. And we have lost a good chunk of our humanity.

Stop fearing and judging what we don’t understand. Don’t just have an opinion. Educate ourselves. Teach our children to be better than we are. And love.

What we forget is we are not the people we are judging—we don’t know what is going on in their lives. We don’t know their situations. One well-placed kind word could make their day better. And one mean-spirited word could crush them.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another…

 

 

 

 

Nonsense on A Friday

Posted: April 17, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Have you ever noticed how much we love Fridays? It’s the one day of the week that almost everyone looks forward to. People do happy dances on Friday. There was a cheesy song written about it. Have you ever heard someone say T.G.I.F.? That does not mean Toes Go In First. You hear it because most everyone says it: Thank God It’s Friday. People constantly say, ‘I wish it were Friday.’ It’s the end of the ‘work week’ and signals that brief respite called ‘The Weekend.’

Everyone loves Friday. Friday is the person on television shows that when they appear everyone in the ‘studio audience’ cheers. You know, like the Fonz from Happy Days:

And, for some (Melissa), it’s like Justin Timberlake instead of the Fonz. I don’t understand it, but hey, whatever floats your boat, right?

We all love Fridays. And if you don’t, well, sorry.

But what about the other six days of the week? Let’s take a look at them for a moment.

Monday. Oooo, just typing that made me cringe. I’m sure many of you had the same reaction from reading it. Monday is like the villain in the movies, the one that every time you see him/her you know something bad is going to happen. It’s the Governor from The Walking Dead or Darth Vader from Star Wars, or maybe even that twisted baddie from your favorite soap opera who thinks aloud though his mouth never moves, who also makes great thoughtful expressions while doing that thinking aloud. Monday shows up and you instantly say, ‘Ahh crap. It’s Monday again.’ And yes, the Bangals did sing a song about it being manic.

Wednesday is the middle of the week, and I’m sure you’ve seen some of the Geico commercials with the camel professing it to be, come on say it with me: HUMP DAY!

Wednesday is the friend you like to see when he arrives, but somehow overstays his welcome. You know, that friend who comes by your house at two in the afternoon and you’re like, ‘hey, how you doin’? It’s so good to see you.’ But by midnight that person is still there and you’ve missed your favorite television show and you haven’t eaten anything because you don’t have enough food to feed him so you’re selfish, even though your stomach is threatening to sue you for malnutrition, and you’re tired and sleepy and you have to get up for work the next morning, but you still have to take a shower and eat, again because you were selfish and chose not to make an extra plate for him. Yeah that’s Wednesday.

Tuesday and Thursday are those annoying friends or people in your life who just kind of make things miserable for you. They are the office guy who knows it all or the person who gives you more work so they can go home early or even that person who has more money and better looks than you and likes to flaunt it. Tuesdays and Thursdays we just want to kill.

I know some folks will say Saturday is their favorite day of the week because many people don’t have to work on that day. ‘I can sleep in,’ they say. ‘I can do whatever I want,’ they say. They’re lying. It’s not their favorite day. Friday is. Don’t argue with me. I’m right on this one. Saturday is like the girls and guys that go to parties. They are fun and exciting, unless of course you have to schedule to do something on that day, and we all know that Saturdays are really the day we spend doing stuff we can’t do during the week. It’s the worker in all of us. So, how Saturday is anyone’s favorite is beyond me. Second favorite, sure. But favorite? Please…

That brings us to Sunday, or the day of repentance. Sunday is best known for church and NFL football. It is like a choir girl in the morning and like a linebacker in the afternoon. Sunday is our split personality friend. We all have them and we never know what to expect from them. Sunday is also the day before Monday and as Sunday night approaches the dread of Monday morning begins to take over, and all too often as we crawl into bed, we state with great disdain in our voices, ‘Tomorrow’s Monday.’ Yes, this is Sunday. On a positive note, the Cranberries recorded a great song with Sunday as the title.

So, in order, now:

Monday: Bad guy in movie.
Tuesday: Annoying friend.
Wednesday: Friend who overstays welcome.
Thursday: See Tuesday.
Friday: The Fonz.
Saturday: Party Girl/Boy or Hard worker.
Sunday: A.M. Choir Girl/Boy, P.M. Linebacker, Prequel to Monday

So, as you can see, Friday really is the favored day for roughly 9.87 out of every 10 people in the United States (statistic completely pulled out of nowhere with no scientific proof whatsoever to back up my claim). Come back some other time when I talk about other nonsense and some writing related stuff as well.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…

This may or may not be a short blog tonight. It has been a long day and I am tired. I also cannot guarantee the quality of this piece. Again: long day and tired. Continue on at your own risk.

I love going to festivals and conventions. Usually we go to check out what is being sold or to see what all is going on. Sometimes you can see some neat stuff and meet some cool people. Today my wife, Cate, and I set up a booth at the Cayce Festival of the Arts. There were fifty booths in all with people selling everything from wooden toys to glass etchings to jewelry to paintings to pottery and so many other things, including three or four booths where people were selling books.

Ahhhh…kindred souls.

Before I really get into this, I must say if not for Cate this thing would not have gone nearly as well or been half as fun for me. She had her checklist of things we needed to do and have in order for this to go as smoothly as possible. And she worked her magic on the set up of the booth. To be completely honest, without her I would not have went. She thought this would be a good way to get my name more out there in the community.

After today’s experience, I believe she was right.

The morning started with a light rain. Yes. Rain. We were worried. Though the event was a rain or shine deal, water and paper don’t tend to mix all that well. There had been a big storm the night before, so we were expecting the ground to be a little wet, but not for it to still be raining.

A good thing happened, though. The rain didn’t last long.

We got our tent set up, but not the way we had originally planned. Again, rain and paper are not fond of one another.

**Blink. Blink.**

Ummm…guess what? I was so tired last night that I crawled in bed and didn’t finish this blog. So, let me try and finish this today.

So we got the tables set up. I think that’s where I left off. Yeah, that’s it. Nice blue tent and tablecloths, the books where they need to be, The Brown Bag Stories in the coffin… The coffin? I didn’t mention that, did I? My brother-in-law, Chris, made us a coffin bookshelf as a display. It is totally cool and rough looking. We set it up near the front of the tent. It definitely attracted a few raised eyebrows and brought people over to our booth. It even startled a few folks, one woman in particular whose son pointed it out to her after she had walked by it. He laughed. The man she was with laughed. I laughed, as did the person at the booth with me.

But I’m a little ahead of myself here.

The rain stopped and the festival began, and right off the bat, we sold a copy of Cory’s Way. The couple that bought it was super nice and it felt really good signing the book and handing it to them. Then nothing for a while. It was early and wet, so people just weren’t coming out at first. But once the rain was gone and the clouds started to move on, folks arrived, and business picked up.

I met some really nice people and had some really great conversations. One woman asked me, ‘Tell me about you.’ She didn’t want to know about my books. She wanted to know about me, the person. I told her. It was a much different conversation than I expected. I met one person on the committee who immediately related to Cory’s Way because of the bullying aspect of the story. We talked for a few minutes about how he had been bullied growing up. He is a good guy and I hate that he was bullied growing up.

I met a couple of other authors, one with whom I traded books with. Her name was Jan Hull and she wrote the book Ceres Exley. We talked for a few minutes several times throughout the day. Very nice woman.

I also met Jack Gannon from J & C Wordsmiths. He listened to me talk to a woman purchasing a book, and then he introduced himself. He said some nice things about my presentation. He had a warm feel about him—a truly nice, genuine feel about him. We talked and he said something that gave me more confidence as the day went on. He said, ‘You’re doing it right. You’re telling them what they want to know and you have a great display in that coffin.’ Unfortunately our talk was cut short, but it was still a very nice and pleasant conversation.

We met another woman, a free spirited woman, who told us of other conventions and other things we could do to put out my work. She’s a poet and, like so many of us other small writers, she tries to help out in whatever way she can. She was a lot of fun to talk with.

There were others through the course of the day, coming and going. Some people bought books, a lot of people took The Brown Bag Stories, and why wouldn’t they—they were free.

By the end of the day we were tired, but had managed to do pretty good for our first ever festival/convention. We were about to tear down and pack up when someone walked up to the booth and asked if I were there. I was, but I was also about thirty feet away, throwing out some trash. I turned around to see this woman at the back of the tent and walking toward me. I recognized her immediately. Her name is Mary and she lives in Easley, South Carolina. She was with her fiancé, a very nice guy by the name of Brad. She had found one of my Brown Bag Stories a while back in a Starbucks. She contacted me and from there we chatted a little and I sent her more of the booklets.

Seeing her at the festival was a nice cherry on top to a good day. She made me feel really good about my work. Some of the things she said about the stories she had read lifted my spirits. Of course, her turning to her fiancé and saying, ‘he doesn’t look like a psychopath,’ made us all burst into laughter. No, I do not look like a psychopath. But really, what does a psychopath look like these days? We spent almost an hour talking with Mary and Brad and we even took a few pictures. It was a great end to a wonderful day.

The festival organizers were also terrific. Everyone was nice and helpful and constantly walking around checking on the vendors, offering us water and to sit at our booth if we needed to get some food or go to the bathroom. This may have been their first time doing this, but they did a great job of making the vendors feel welcome and wanted. Aubrey, Pamme, Clift and all the organizers and volunteers made the event so worthwhile and enjoyable. I didn’t get to tell them thank you before we left, but if they read this, I hope they know how much all the work they put into the festival was appreciated and not just by Cate and myself, but other vendors as well.

We eventually packed up and made our way home. I unloaded the car, and just like that, the event was over. We learned a few things about what we should do next time and figured out a few things that we did right.

But that’s not the point to this blog.

What is, you ask?

Did you notice the underlying theme throughout? People were nice. They were willing to listen to me talk about my work and myself and they weren’t rude. They asked questions and seemed to be truly interested in the answers. They were nice. I can’t stress that enough. They were nice. Of all the things that happened yesterday, it is the people who came up and talked and who were just genuinely nice folks that I will take away as one of the best experiences.

The Cayce Festival of the Arts, in my opinion, was a success. I don’t know how other vendors did, and I don’t know what festival committees consider a success, but in my opinion, when vendors leave with a good feeling and when they feel like they truly were wanted there, then, to me, that is success.

Because of this experience, I want to do this again. I want to go to other festivals and conventions and have this type of interaction with people. Do I think they all will be this well done? No. But I do know that the standard has been set for me, and it happened right in my home town.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…

Coffin and Brown Bags Corys Way Table Southern Bones Table

A Moment of Silent Reflection

Posted: April 9, 2015 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , ,

This morning I got up early, grabbed a cup of coffee and headed out the house. I made my way down to a baseball park behind the middle school. On my days off I usually drive there and I park in the same spot and I get out and walk my dog. We do three laps and head home. It’s always so serene and beautiful. With it being spring, the morning was still somewhat cool and there was a slight breeze blowing in.

Today, I didn’t get out of the car. Not right away, at least. I sat there, staring out the window at the world just outside. There was only one other person there, a black woman walking the track around the park. I watched her go until she was out of sight. I don’t know about other folks, but I always take a notepad with me when I go somewhere. Being a storyteller, I hate getting somewhere and not having something to write on if an idea is sparked. However, I sat there, no thoughts traipsing through my mind. I wasn’t even sure why I had gone there in the first place. My dog, Josie, was at home, so I wasn’t there to walk her.

So, why was I there?

I took the pad and a pen and I stood from the car. The breeze felt nice, but folks it’s going to be a hot day here in South Carolina. I stood in the parking lot for the longest time, staring at the playground, the walking path, then turning slowly toward the baseball fields. It was so quiet and peaceful in a way my mind has never been.

Then I started walking. It was slow and I guess I probably looked like a tired person trudging across the parking lot toward the baseball fields. Once there, I sat on one of the bleachers and just looked at the baseball field. It had been used in the last couple of days. I could still see chalk lines down the third and first base lines and remnants of chalk around home plate where the batter’s box was. In my head I could see the kids playing, one team wearing black jerseys, the other one light blue. The ump was in his usual dark blue uniform, catcher’s mask covering his face for protection. There were kids in each dugout, some paying attention to the game while most of them gabbed with each other. The coaches were serious-looking guys with potbellies with their team hats and jerseys on. They were constantly barking at the kids about one thing or another. And there were people in the bleachers and in chairs along the fence and…

And it was just my imagination.

Before I knew it I was jotting words on the notepad. Those words are as follows as written on the notepad:

Scott drove to the park. It was such a familiar place, one he had spent many days at as a youth. It was—always had been, he reckoned—the one place he had always felt the happiest.

No, it wasn’t the same as when he was a kid. Back then, when Mom and Dad brought him there when he was just out of diapers, there was only the one playground. There was no play sand or wood chips to make the place look nicer. There were no plastic, twisty slides or platformed play sets to spark the imagination and appeal to the parent’s eyes. And isn’t that what it’s all about these days? Appealing to the parents?

Not back then, when the playground was nothing more than a set of monkey bars, a teeter totter (or was it two? He thought it may have been two.), a bank of four swings with the hard wooden seats (not the rubber ones they had now), a tall slide of metal that in the summer it got so hot that if you slid down with shorts on you went home with burn marks on the backs of your legs. Scott could almost feel the sting as he sat in his car.

And there was a water spigot. No, not a water fountain, where the press of a button put out a rainbow arch of cool water. What they had was a straight pipe coming up from the ground, a hose spigot with a water valve you turned to get water to come out. Sometimes it was cool. Other times it was just as hot as the summer day was. At all times, though, it was sweet relief. Whether it tasted good or not didn’t matter. It felt good going down. On more than a handful of occasions he had stomach cramps from drinking too much water and going back and playing.

That was all that was there until Scott was around ten: one playground and a slew of trees opposite from it. Then the land the trees stood on was purchased by a construction company and a year or so later, a baseball complex stood where the trees had been.

How many days did he spend at the ballpark—no longer just the park—when he was a teen wishing he could play, but knowing he sucked at it? More than he could recall. Probably just about every day there was a game. But those weren’t bad days. They were good ones, back before Mom got sick and died and Dad…well, Dad never recovered from that blow in his life, and as far as Scott was concerned, he couldn’t have cared enough for his son to keep on keeping on. If he had cared, he wouldn’t have put the bullet in his head when Scott was only sixteen.

It’s not much and it’s very rough, but it’s the beginning of what I think will end up being the novel I’ve been struggling to write for about a year now.

I left the ballpark and headed home, my thoughts no longer centered on the first few paragraphs of a story, but on how a few moments of silence often leads to a story. This is the way it is for writers. This is real life and this is what we look for before writing a story. A story idea can come from anywhere at any time. And it’s a wonderful thing.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…

Common Threads, Part 1

Posted: April 6, 2015 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , , ,

Being able to relate to a story is important for writers and readers alike. We’ll start reading a book in hopes that the story will be intriguing and that it will hold our attention. While we want those things, what we really want is to be able to relate to a character or a situation. If we can connect to the character, then we can connect to the character’s plight. And if we can connect to those two things, then we will care about what is happening to the character and we won’t want to put the book down.

As a storyteller, the goal is to find that connection. I call this the Common Thread. This is when the writer and the reader can relate to the same thing, there is a common thread between them that links them through the story.

The Common Thread starts with the character, building him/her, making him/her either sympathetic enough to love or evil enough to hate. It’s not easy, but with the right amount of back story, emotion and trials it can be done.

When I sit to write a story I do so to create a character I like (or don’t like, depending on the topic). I give that character flawed traits on purpose. I give that person thoughts and feelings that I believe are real and that people can relate to. Relating to the character equals the common thread. I try not to say, ‘he felt sick.’ Instead, I try to tell you how he feels—the cool of the skin from sweating, the aching of joints from a fever, the itchy nose from a cold, the sore ribs and throat and chest from vomiting. If the character has a broken bone, it’s a sharp, instant, to the core feeling that ‘he broke his leg’ just doesn’t quite tell the story.

But feelings, both physical and emotional, aren’t the only things that make a story or what solely connects the character to the reader. The character has to have an obstacle to overcome or to fail trying. There is always an obstacle. Always.

If you’ve read any amount of my work, then you know there are some common themes: Abuse, both physical and emotional, childhood, homelessness, broken people and solitary souls. These are all subjects that most of us, if not all of us can relate to. These are, in many ways, our common threads.

I’d like to touch on this for a minute in relation to Cory’s Way, my novel. If you’ve read it, then you know there are several themes throughout. But I want to touch on just one of them for now: bullying.

When I was a kid—pre age of ten—I had a problem with a couple of bullies. Those two boys were brothers, one of which was a bigger guy and one of which wasn’t so big. Still, they were mean and roamed the Mill Village like they owned the neighborhood. All the other kids, myself included, were terrified of them. They were bad by themselves, but together, they were a nightmare.

My brother and I had to run from them on more than one occasion. Other times…well, I learned how to fight much like Cory did against Alan and Jeffery in Cory’s Way. The kids in the Mill Village were more than happy when the brothers’ moved away. It was a great time, one that was very short lived. You see, once one bully moves on, another one tends to come in and take his/her place. The Mill Village was no different. One of the boys that had been bullied by the brothers decided he was next in line to rule the roost. Though he didn’t use his fist, he used his words, and words can be so much worse when the right ones are spoken to the right people. His abuse was more mental than anything else. We learned how to deal with him, but only after time. Ignore him and he’ll go away. And that’s what happened.

It doesn’t always happen that way.

Fast forward a couple of years to my freshman year in High School. Yeah, you guessed it: another bully. What was I? A bully magnet? Sure, I was small, but by then, I had become tired of folks who thought they could push me around. And one of the class bullies had taunted me throughout the year. I was in an English class where I didn’t fit in and it seemed the teacher didn’t like me. And the bully was one of the IN crowd and so nothing much was done to stop him. At least, nothing much was done until I had had enough.

It was only one shove (by him) and one punch (by me) and several stunned tears (by him), but it was enough to get the message across: I was not going to be bullied by anyone.

Life is not always that simple. Don’t get me wrong, I had to endure a lot from the bully and his friends before I finally got to the point where I had had enough. But a lot of times it doesn’t end with someone standing up for themselves. There is the revenge factor you have to be aware of, especially in today’s world. When I was a kid, if you got in a fight, the dispute was over when the fight was over. There wasn’t anyone going home to get a gun because they were angrier than they were before the fight. You fought. You either won or lost. End of issue.

Being bullied is a terrible feeling. You feel trapped. You feel like at any moment your tormentor could jump from behind a building and beat you down. Sometimes you feel ashamed for not standing up against the bully or bullies because you are afraid to get hurt, or you are afraid they will do something that will be worse than a beat down, but so embarrassing you would feel you can’t show your face in public ever again. Sometimes you feel ashamed to speak up, to tell an adult or a friend because you are worried they might think you are weak, or that they may call you names (which, in its own right is kind of bullying, isn’t it?).

Being bullied is paralyzing. Did you get that? Let me say it again: Being bullied is paralyzing. And once you get paralyzed with that fear, the bully will know and then it tends to escalate.

In Cory’s Way, the main character, ahem, Cory, is bullied by the Burnette Brothers. He constantly looks over his shoulder, constantly hides when he can, and when his mom says she will take care of things, then Cory begs her not to. Yes, this is what bullying does to someone.

One of the Common Threads in Cory’s Way that connects you, the reader, to Cory, the character, is bullying. It’s one of those things that makes Cory’s story so endearing. How does he deal with these boys? Does he stand up to them or does he run away? Does he get beat up or does he do the beating? Does he take care of it himself or tell an adult and let him/her handle things? How would you handle it?

Common Threads are the links that connect readers to characters. Every time you connect to a character think about the common threads between you and that character. What you find may surprise you. Everyone—and, yes, I do mean EVERYONE—has either been bullied or done the bullying or known someone from either extreme.

One more thing: If you are being bullied or if you know someone who is, please, let someone know. You don’t have to face this alone. You don’t have to fear the bully/bullies. You don’t have to be ashamed that someone will find out and they will think less of you. You don’t have to hide it. Bullies rely on you to do nothing. Tell someone. A parent. A guidance counselor. Your best friend. Anyone. You don’t have to face it alone.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…

 

 

 

 

It seems writers are more and more vulnerable now than ever before. With most things being done through e-mail and online these days, and with so many smaller presses popping up around the world, it’s hard to tell which ones are there for the writers and which ones are there for themselves.

Let’s not kid ourselves for even a minute here: businesses are designed to make money. If they’re not making money, then they are losing money, and if they’re losing money, they won’t be around for long. The publishing business is just that: a business. And publishing companies, large and small, want to turn a profit like any other business out there.

Things are a little different with publishers. They have two sets of clientele. The first set of clientele is the readers, the people who will purchase the books from the publisher. Without the readers spending their money, books don’t move and when books don’t move, the publisher takes a loss. The other set of clientele? The writer. As important as the reader is, without the writers there is nothing for the publisher to sell. The writer is vital to the publisher. Without them, publishers close shop, go home, do not pass go and do not collect two hundred dollars.

So, why is it that so many publishers don’t do right by their authors? I’m not going to get into all of the Permuted stuff today. That’s a dog that’s snapped its chain and bit the mailman quite a few times over the last couple of years. But what I am going to get into is a blog post by Angela Meadon. You can find the blog post here: http://meadon.co.za/go-to-hell-my-experience-with-damnation-books/. I encourage you to go check it out, before or after you read the following interview with Mrs. Meadon.

Here’s the set-up for you: Mrs. Meadon’s book A Taste of You was published in December of 2012 by Damnation Books (DB going forward). At the tail end of 2013 she receives a royalty check from DB (instead of having the money deposited into her PayPal account, per the contract). She receives three more checks at one time. The problem? For her to cash the checks it would cost her money. A back and forth takes place between DB and Meadon and to make a long story short, she hasn’t received some of the royalties due her. If you want all the information, please read her blog, as linked above.

If you need to go ahead and read Meadon’s blog, do so now. We can wait.

Let’s get started.

AJ: At the beginning of your blog post, Go To Hell: My Experience with Damnation Books, you state “I want to break this down for you though, so that you can see how an author can do all the right things and still make bad decisions that end up hurting her in the long run.”

During this experience, where do you feel you made bad decisions that ended up hurting you?

AM: My biggest mistake was signing with Damnation Books in the first place, but I’ll go into that in detail in response to your next question.

I’d say another way I went wrong was in not sending those checks back to Damnation immediately. I didn’t trust DB to pay my royalties correctly after I received those checks. So I hung onto them for too long in the hopes that they would serve as a backup plan. I was wrong. They are worthless scraps of paper to me. I couldn’t deposit them because of the fees to do so. I should have sent them back.

My other big mistake, I think, was not seeking legal counsel for this matter. I felt like the case was fairly obvious, that DB was clearly in breach of contract, and that Kim Richards would do the right thing. I was wrong. But, legal advice costs money and how much are you prepared to spend to recover $50?

AJ: I asked that question first because, upon doing a bit of research, it appears DB doesn’t necessarily have the cleanest resume out there. It appears they have a bit of history with not treating their authors well. They had a spotty history up to that point and you considered that history before making your decision to go with them. At any point before signing the contract did the thought come up that maybe you shouldn’t go forward with them?

AM: Absolutely.

I saw a call for submissions from their “Submissions Editor” on Linked in and knew that A Taste of You fit the bill, I read up on them in all the usual places; Absolute Write, Preditors & Editors, Writer Beware. It seemed to me, at the time, that DB’s biggest problem was enforcing kill fees in their contracts and releasing books with bad covers.

However, from the responses that DB had given in these forums, it seemed like they had gotten their house in order. The complaints were more than 3 years old, and there was nothing recent that was cause for worry (that I could find). I decided that I would submit and see what happened. I wouldn’t be committed until I signed the contract, and if I wasn’t happy with the contract I wouldn’t sign. Simple, right?

The contract I have with DB is a solid, fair contract. I didn’t see any problems with it when I signed it, and I still don’t.

AJ: Let’s switch gears for just a second. DB stated they would market A Taste of You, but I’m guessing by what you wrote in your blog that they’ve done very little, if any, marketing. In your opinion, have they done any marketing for your book?

AM: They have listed it in a bunch of online book stores, and have sold a few copies at conventions they attend.

There was a poster at some point, which I think they used at a con, that had a whole lot of books by their lady authors on it.

I am not aware of any reviews they secured, or any other marketing they may have done.

AJ: The full basis of the argument between you and DB revolves around the royalty payment and how some of the payments were delivered. Instead of going into your PayPal account, according to contract, you were sent a check. I know you had a lot going on at the time and you didn’t think about it, but then you received three more royalty checks. Did this throw up a red flag for you? Or was it after you realized it would cost you about ten dollars a check to cash that you became concerned?

AM: I was concerned as soon as I received that first check, but I figured it would make a cute memento of my first ever published book.

Then there was radio silence for a long time, and I finally received all the checks in one go in the middle of 2014. I must point out that DB was never the best with timely royalty payments or statements. It would cost me $10 per check to cash them here. My bank can’t cash them all together. Cashing or depositing them would eat 80% of the value of the royalties.

Furthermore, I was concerned that cashing them would be tacit consent of receiving royalties by check. That was something I definitely did not want.

AJ: DB asked you to send the checks back and they would put the money in your PayPal account. Why did you hold the checks at first?

AM: As I mentioned in Q1, I mistakenly thought that having the checks might be a backup for me, in case Kim didn’t pay the royalties she owes me. I didn’t realize that Kim would withhold the royalties while she waited for the checks until she explicitly said so on the 12th of August. By that time our postal service was on strike.

AJ: Throughout the process DB asked you to send the checks back. You held onto them. Some folks might look at that as you being difficult, as if you held the checks ransom. Others, including yourself, would say you held onto them for leverage to make sure you received payment.

Eventually, you did send them back (around January 7th). Two questions here: Do you believe DB received those checks and are just denying it to keep from paying you what they owe you? Do you wish you had kept the paper checks, even though they were pretty much useless to you?

AM: I can’t speculate about what Kim is doing. I wouldn’t be surprised if she has received them, but I don’t know.

Actually, I wish I’d sent them back right at the beginning. All things being equal, that’s where I made my biggest mistake in this matter.

AJ: Do you think if you would have sent those checks back when DB first said to, would things have been any different? If so or if not, why?

AM: Again, I don’t like to speculate. In my heart-of-hearts I’d like to believe that Kim would have paid the checks to me, but my brain tells me she wouldn’t have.

She said she would pay the royalties all to me at the end of June. She didn’t. It took her until the end of October to pay royalties that were due in June, and September

I can’t believe that Kim is withholding these royalties simply for the paper checks. That doesn’t make sense when you consider that she could have cancelled them (I understand this would have cost her money, but she made the mistake and the onus is on her to rectify it) and I offered to void them and send her photographic proof.

AJ: At what point did you consider DB to be in breach of your contract?

AM: The minute she sent me royalties in check form without my mutual agreement in writing, which is the requirement in our contract.

AJ: In light of the issues a few years ago where authors were told they would have to pay a termination fee of up to a thousand dollars, did you consider trying to get out of your contract or were the possibility of termination fees in the back of your mind?

AM: That termination fee is in the front of my mind. I would rather wait out my contract than try and buy my way out of it.

AJ: You were accused of cyber bullying by DB. That’s a pretty heavy accusation. Do you think this was actually reversed, that DB was doing the cyber bullying?

AM: I don’t think that anybody was doing any cyber-bullying. I think that’s a buzz-word that DB threw in to the conversation to try and scare me into silence.

Since I released our email conversation, however, I know of at least one person who has emailed Kim to insult her and that makes me very unhappy. That was not my intention. I know I left her email address in the emails, but that address is publicly available on their website.

AJ: You brought this out into public with your blog. What do you hope to accomplish by doing this?

AM: I want people to see how DB flaunts contracts. The contract between an author and her publisher is the only thing regulating the relationship when all other avenues break down. If either party is unwilling to honor the contract, all kinds of abuse can take place.

DB has a long and sordid history of this kind of abuse. I want it to stop. I want other aspiring authors like myself to see how their excitement for their first sale can cloud their judgment. I want authors to know what they are getting into if they sign with DB, or any other publisher with a similar track record.

AJ: Are you concerned that by bringing this situation out into the public domain like this that you could be labeled as a difficult author to deal with?

AM: Of course I am, and I would absolutely hate for that to happen. I have learned from my mistakes here. I know what I’ve done wrong.

I think the fact that there are many other authors with similar stories about DB may stand in my favor though. DB doesn’t respond to politeness, or legally worded letters, or anything really.

AJ: We’ve seen this type of question before, but in light of your experience with DB, what advice would you give other authors when pursuing a publisher for their work?

AM: Besides the obvious (Google them and look at what Absolute Write, Preditor & Editors, and Writer Beware have to say), I’d say trust your instincts and don’t sign with somebody you don’t like and trust. Don’t let excitement cloud your judgment. I knew DB was a little off right from the start, but I was so thrilled at being offered publication that I rationalized my way into a deep hole of disappointment.

Don’t do that. If one agent/publisher is interested in your book, another one will be.

AJ: After this experience, would you consider working with other small presses again, and if so, how would you go about selecting one to publish with?

AM: I would, of course, if they would consider working with me.

I would follow my own advice: Research, and relationships, and a solid contract.

AJ: Is there anything else you would like to add?

AM: I’d like to thank everybody who has shown me support in this matter; your kind words have helped me keep my head up through it all.

Thank you Jeff, for this opportunity.

If anybody has any questions, you know where to find me.

Publishers and writers should be in this business for the same reasons: to give the readers a good product. Yes, we want to make money, but taking advantage of writers isn’t the way to go about it. Sadly, there are quite a few publishers who act like the writers need them, when in truth, they need us just as much as we need them. It’s a relationship built on trust and when that trust is gone, such as the situation Angela Meadon is dealing with, well, it’s difficult to gain it back.

As writers we have to remember that not all publishing companies do business this way. We just have to find the ones that do it the right way. Also, as writers, sometimes we make mistakes in this process as well. We have to recognize our mistakes, as Angela has done and as DB should, and move forward from there. As I said earlier, this business is all about relationships, as are most businesses. How we do business is how we will be known.

As always, until me meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…