Recently, Stitched Smile Publications put a multiple author anthology titled Unleashed: Monsters Vs Zombies. During the release party for this book, I met a lady who brimmed over with excitement. Having talked with her briefly during that party, I thought it might be time that you, Faithful Readers, get to meet her. Welcome G. Marie Merante to my world (and yours).

AJB: Tell me a little bit about you.

51oc1pr0byl-_ux250_GMM: I’ve lived in the same town all my life. Its very rural and if you blink, you miss the center of town. For the past 20 years, I’ve lived six minutes down the road from the house I grew up in, moving after I got married. I’ve been with my husband for 25 years, have three kids…well, men now-ages 31,19 and 18. And I might as well throw in my two dogs, three cats and my bird—an African Grey.

I work part time in an amazing bookstore, as well as have the day job, and of course the writing, which I’m always thinking about, or working on in between.

To add more about the me … besides writing, I study martial arts.

AJB: You’ve lived in the same town your entire life? I ask that like it is shocking, but I have mostly lived in the same town my entire life as well, only moving out of it for about a year.

GMM: Well … I moved here when I was seven, but since I have zero memory of anything before I was five, its basically all my life..lol

AJB: I shift gears a lot, so let’s talk about working in a bookstore. Do you enjoy it?

GMM: Its pretty amazing. The bookstore is iconic. Its well known in the world of Indie bookstores and it draws incredible authors. In the past I have met Neil Gaiman there, and this past year, Buzz Aldrin, Kate Hudson ( who I almost knocked over) and Lindsey Vonn. The list of authors is immense, so the store has amazing history and a great vibe, almost a Hogwarts feeling when you walk in. And to be around piles and piles of books, there is a weird coziness to it, a very peaceful feeling.

AJB: Oh wow. I would love to work in a small bookstore like that, one where I could get lost in the pages every chance I got.

GMM: Unfortunately, there is not much time to read while working, between helping customers, or shelving. I wish I could just absorb each book just by touching them.

AJB: That would be awesome, but then you would lose the experience of reading and feeling the characters and seeing their lives through their eyes.

GMM: Very true. I do most of my ‘reading’ on audio. Fortunately, my day job allows me to listen all day, so I’m constantly going from one book to another. I have about 260 books in my Audio library.

AJB: 260 audio books? Holy cow. I have to be honest here: I have only listened to two audio books in my entire life and they are both for my books.

51jmndlm9dl-_uy250_GMM: That’s a great way to do final edits on your own work. Reading out loud has never worked for me, so downloading your own pages to an audio file is always my last phase of edits before putting a book to bed and querying.

AJB: Well, I didn’t do the audio for them–I listened to the audio versions that were put out by my publisher and voiced by John Malone. He captured my writing wonderfully.

GMM: Ahh. That’s awesome!! Well … editing tip for you..lol

AJB: I’ll keep that in mind.

GMM: Oh … and THANK GOD for audio books … I would go crazy with my day job.

I go through 3-4 books a week, depending on their length. Harry Potter, thats taking a bit more than a week each.

AJB:
I’m curious, who is the nicest celebrity you have met there?

GMM:  They’ve all been very nice, but Neil Gaiman was just amazing. Stardust is one of my favorite movies, and I told him that. He shook my hand and said most American’s have never even seen the movie. He signed my book and told me to DREAM. Which I do.

AJB: I have heard Gaiman is a truly nice person, which is something you always hope to hear about celebrities.

GMM: Its completely true. If you ever listen to any of the audio books that he narrates, what he sounds like on the audio is exactly his personality. The nicest guy ever.

AJB: That is awesome to hear.

Let’s shift gears again. You also mentioned you study martial arts.

GMM: Yes.

AJB: How did you come to that?

GMM: My husband was studying when we met, but then we got away from it. About five years ago, we decided to take classes with our two youngest boys who were still in middle school then (both are graduated from High School now.)

We believe in self defense, and I especially believe women should learn to defend themselves.

AJB: I’ve never taken martial arts. It is as much about discipline as it is self defense, right?

GMM: It is. In the school I go to that is instilled in the younger kids more. Respect. Listen to you parents, Do your homework. No testing for your next belt if your teachers don’t sign off agreeing the kids are well behaved and doing their work.

As adults, you should really have that down already … lol.

AJB: Maybe I should get my children into it.

GMM: Absolutely!! Its great for self esteem and its not at all about fighting. If you are at the right school, you are told to avoid confrontation, respect the art.

You learn to defend yourself, but with that comes responsibility. Ok … I sound like Spiderman now.

AJB: Hahahaha … Spiderman is okay in my book. But I hate his outfit from the earlier comics.

GMM: Spiderman has a very special place in my heart.

AJB: He does know how to weave a tangled web.

Let’s switch gears again and talk about writing.

GMM: Ok.

AJB: When did you get an inkling you may want to be a writer?

51xswnz8vl-_uy250_GMM: High school. English class. The teacher recommended I submit my creative writing projects to a high school literary magazine (Its been so long, I’ve forgotten the name of it). I wrote many short stories and poems. When I was about 23, I wrote my first book, a children’s book, and even typed it up on my typewriter. But it wasn’t until I was taking a college course in my thirties—a creative writing course—that the teacher told me I should be doing nothing else but writing children’s stories.

That was when I decided to write seriously

I wrote my first novel length book after that, then rewrote it about 10 times over 8 years.

I can’t even call it revising, they were total rewrites.

After I finally put that book to bed, did a bit of querying—maybe five queries and all rejections, I started another book. By this time, I had discovered Twitter, which was still pretty new at that point. There were agents and authors on there and I found out about Nanowrimo, so I decided it was the perfect time to start a new book. I wrote 30k of a vampire book before deciding I needed to do too much research to continue (Virgo … perfectionist). So I put that book aside, and started a new one—a dystopian and won Nano, writing 50k words in two weeks (don’t ask..I have zero idea how I pulled it off).

I finished the book in April, revisions and all. By September, I was querying the agents I had met on Twitter. A year later, I signed with the first agent I queried. But we didn’t go out to publishers for another seven months. By that time, dystopians were out. The book did not sell because the market was flooded.

I parted ways with her about a year and half later.

Since then, I’ve written two more books, one which I’ve been working on for four years and I’m querying for now. I also have  two fulls out at this time. The other I’m working on revisions again.

I also have about four new books on the burner … no idea which I’m going to write next.

AJB: The life and trials of a writer.

GMM: Yup. And two shorts, one with Stitched Smile Publications, and another that was picked up last April.

AJB: Let’s backtrack a little bit here. Tell me a little about that teacher who encouraged you to write in high school. Was he a cool teacher? Influential? Did you like him?

GMM: He was my favorite teacher, the kind that brings out the creativity in you. The class was small, maybe 20-25 people, so he read and graded the stories right in front of the students. That was when he told me I should be doing nothing else but writing for a living. He told me he has not seen a student writing like mine in many years.

I was stunned. At that  point, it had been several years since I wrote anything.

He started me on my journey. Planted the seed. And today, the short I wrote that day is still in the works. I’m revamping it, possibly turning it in a full length novel. (When I was young, 7-10yrs old,  when we visited my Nana, I used to go on witch hunts in the woods with my cousins and a boy who was my Nana’s neighbor. The story is based on those hunts.)

AJB: I love teachers like that. I wish there were more of them. Isn’t it interesting how one person can set the course for someone else by having a belief in that person?

GMM: Absolutely. His words still wring in my ears anytime I doubt my self, which is often. He was amazing. He obviously had passion that ebbed over into his students.

AJB: Writers have a habit of losing belief in themselves. Sometimes we need a push and a memory can often serve as that push. I’m glad to hear you had a teacher who can push you now, all these years after his encouragement.

Now, let’s talk about the two short stories you currently have out.

GMM: Sure!

45b45f94c1fe8fa41859dbf0ecfa9a4eAJB: First let’s discuss the one with SSP. Crystal Blue Waters, am I correct?

GMM: You are correct.

AJB: Tell me about Crystal Blue Waters.

GMM: Violene is a vampire forced out of Miami by the zombie out break, and back to her birthplace, a remote island in the Caribbean, in order to survive, only the tropical waters are not as safe as she thought, and its up to her to save her island.

AJB: Having read this, I thought it was a neat concept I think readers will enjoy. I might be wrong here, but is this your first publication?

GMM: It is.

AJB: Well, let me congratulate you on your first publication and make a toast to many, many more in the future.

GMM: Thank you!! Its very exciting. I have my contract with SSP framed. Its in my bookcase.

AJB:
You do? That is awesome. I am happy for you.

Marie, do you have a favorite genre to write in?

GMM: Not particularly, though I tend to write dark. The book I am querying now is a YA historical/magical realism. I am revising a dark YA contemporary romance. I have two zombie books slated. Another one that I think would be classified as Literary fiction. Its what ever comes to me.

AJB: Diversity is a good thing.

Earlier you said you have ideas for other books. Do you find it difficult to focus on one idea or to choose which idea to write on when you have multiple ones in your head?

GMM: Its horrific. When ideas come to me, I get like little snippets of movies that just appear. Then they are stuck in my head. I carry a pile of notebooks with me because I’m constantly jumping from one to the other, constantly writing notes. I’ve had a particularly hard time trying to figure out which new book to work on. I have a few chapters for two of them, plot notes for the others. I’ve decided to wait on those while I revise the YA contemporary romance. That story is most prominent in my mind right now.

AJB: Then I would go with the one that is at the forefront of your thoughts.

GMM: Exactly. I’m adding a secondary story line that is going to parallel the existing story, so its is new writing, not all revising. Which makes it a bit more satisfying.

AJB: Just a couple of more questions and I’ll let you go. You said you have another short story out. Can you tell me about it?

GMM: Sure. Its with Dead Silent Publishing out of the UK, that is also a production company, focused solely on zombies. My short is called All Dressed in White, which takes place about a year after the zombie outbreak. A bride who was scratched and wakes up the morning of her wedding realizes she only has hours to live before she turns. So its a countdown of her preparing for the wedding, because its the last thing she wants to do, and a countdown to her becoming a zombie.

AJB:
Oh cool. That is something I think I would like to read.

GMM: Awesome! It has a twist at the end..

AJB: Okay, Marie, I just have one more question for you: where can readers find you?

GMM: G. Marie Merante on Facebook

G. Marie Merante on Twitter

G. Marie Merante’s Amazon Author Page

For story boards: Pinterest

I used to have a website, but took it down to make changes and well … I need to work on it.

AJB: Thank you for your time Marie, it has been nice talking with you.

GMM: Thank you so much!

AJB: You are welcome.

Check out G. Marie Merante in both Monsters Vs Zombies and Zombie Chunks and look for more from her in the future.

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

 

On a dead end road off of East Church Street sits a baseball field—or maybe what is left of it. You don’t see it from East Church, and you may not even think anything of it. What probably draws you in is what looks like an entrance to a building that is no longer there; the brick and concrete doorway looks somewhat out of place. It is as if you can step up on the platform and step through the structure with the green vines growing up one side, and maybe you would step into another world. Or maybe another time.

dscn1515As you turn from off one street and onto another (East Church onto North Means Street) and drive toward the odd doorway, you not only notice the doorway, but you notice the aluminum bleachers and four tall pine trees that stand in front of those bleachers. A little further down the road you see the top of a fence that would be considered a backstop. It is tall enough to keep balls from flying backward toward anyone in those stands behind that fence.

dscn1518Drive a little further and park your car, truck, motorcycle or super trike. Get out and walk toward the field. It is a marvel as old as the day is long. There is a set of bleachers along the first and third base sides. These bleachers serve as the team’s dugouts. Yes, that’s right, there are no dugouts for the teams to sit in when they are not in the field.

A closer look shows the outfield grass is creeping in on the infield, but that isn’t the only thing that catches your eye. On the infield, right into the first twenty or so feet of the outfield, are deep grooves in the form of circles. Someone has driven onto the field with a truck and has done donuts. It is also clear that this happened a while back—the grooves are hard, even though it has rained within the last three days.

dscn1525The outfield grass holds many sparkling spiderwebs, the dew of the early morning like glassy diamonds shimmer, even on this gray, overcast day. Try to ignore the glassy spiderwebs and keep walking toward this wooden post, old style cyclone outfield wall, which is barely three feet tall and looks more like it belongs around a farm than on a baseball field. Just before that fence is a blacktop path that could be considered the warning track. More than likely it is a walking trail, and if you look to your right and left, you will see this is exactly what it is. The path leads outside the field and behind an old house in one direction and dead-ending at the road in the other.
Just beyond the outfield fence is a tree line that dips into a valley. Many of those trees have been downed over the years, either felled by age or weather, or maybe even axe and chainsaw. There are a couple of structures back there, houses maybe, but it is kind of hard to tell through all the trees.

If you walk from centerfield to home plate, you will find it is 291 feet, and for little kids, it would take a hard swidscn1526ng, and a long fly ball to hit a home run.

Before you leave the dilapidated field, touch one of the bags, first, second or third. Go ahead. It won’t bite you. Though the exterior is slightly hard, the base is soft. You can push on it with a couple of fingers and the base gives. Yeah, old school bases are the best.

As you go to leave, don’t just look at the doorway to a building that is no longer there. Walk up to it, pull yourself up on it. Touch the cold clay brick and the smooth concrete arch. Now, step through it. Go ahead. Just do it.

What do you see on the other side? What do you hear?

The sky is no longer gray, but the sun is out and shining down. The cool of the air when you arrived is now warm and that coat you are wearing feels like too much. The road to the left is no longer paved, but red clay, just like the field that is surrounded by the short fences. Take a look now. There are folks in those bleachers. Maybe they are from the fifties or the sixties or seventies. Maybe they are from last year—does it matter what time period the ghosts of games passed are from?

dscn1523The kids on the field aren’t wearing fancy uniforms. Most of them are in jeans and t-shirts and raggedy shoes (not cleats, folks). They wear their favorite teams’ hats and those, like the rest of their clothes, are fairly dirty, some because of superstitions, some because they don’t want those hats washed—it gives them character, you know?

They toss the ball around after every out. They tap their cleats with the bats on every plate appearance. The catchers talk trash behind the plate. It doesn’t bother most of the kids, but every once in a while, one of them takes offense. The only kids sitting on the bleachers down either of the base lines are the ones who are not playing. The others walk around and talk or toss the ball back and forth to keep their shoulders from getting stiff.

There is a pitch and a swing. The crack of a bat and the ball is airborne. It comes down in the right fielder’s glove with a loud smack. He tosses the ball to the shortstop. In turn, he tosses it to the first baseman and then it goes to the pitcher. The game has just started and the fans sitting on the home side bleachers cheer the out and yell their ‘at a boys’, while those on the visitor’s side clap at the effort of the batter and yell their ‘get ‘em next times’.

dscn1528It’s mesmerizing, this game I so love (though maybe you don’t), and no, this history is not in black and white, but full on technicolor.

Don’t go back through the doorway just yet. Don’t go to your super trike or moped or your Porsche. Instead, hop down from the landing of the doorway and stroll to one of the bleachers. Grab a seat and sit. Enjoy the game. As I said, it’s just getting started and the old field you drove up on that no one plays on anymore is awake and alive and about to put on a show for you.

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

How I See It: Greatness

Posted: January 11, 2017 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , , ,

Sometimes the world pulls you down. It does. The hustle and bustle of it all can be exhausting. Trying to live up to everyone’s standards (not to mention your own) is daunting and often times a complete exercise in failing. You work, work, work and feel like you are getting nowhere. You often feel you don’t matter or you don’t make a difference anywhere or you whisper to yourself, ‘there has to be more than this.’

It’s frustrating. Cumbersome, even.

We are so wrapped up in our place in the world we often forget to just stop, and literally, smell the roses. Or, in this instance, see the clouds.

This morning, on the way to work, my wife commented about how beautiful the clouds were. I looked off to my right as we crossed the Jarvis Klapman Bridge. The Gervais Street Bridge was just across the way, cars zooming by, the drivers on their way to their destinations, the Congaree River passing beneath it (and the bridge we were on as well). Off in the distance the clouds hung low in the sky. They were bathed in colors of light purple, pink, orange and gray with the underbelly of them (further off in the distance where the sun was trying to peek through) lined in silver and white. It looked as if those clouds had been painted up there. I felt I could roll down the window and touch them and paint would come away on my fingertips.

It was more than beautiful. It was amazing. It was awesome. It was splendorous. It reminded me of how great God truly is.

As the morning has gone on, I keep thinking about the image of those clouds, of how it looked like a painting—a great, truly majestic painting. It also reminded me that there is greatness in every person. Yes, I said every person, and by every, I mean EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. You can be an athlete and be capable of great things. You can be a musician and be capable of great things. You can be a teacher and be capable of great things. You can be a child and be capable of great things. You can be homeless and be capable of great things.

You can be a writer and be capable of great things.

The thing with greatness is so often it comes from within yourself. It is accompanied by hard work and dedication and a burning desire, but it is in every single one of us, and yes, that includes the homeless person, or those who most would consider lesser people. You can be religious or not and still do great things. You can be rich or poor and do great things. Skin color, sexual orientation and gender does not matter. Neither does political beliefs.

Greatness has nothing to do with who you are but it has everything to do with WHO you are.

Confusing? Yeah, it can be.

Here is how I see it: Greatness has nothing to do with what people think of you, but who you are on the inside and what you think of yourself.

To steal a quote:

A winner is not someone who wins. It’s someone who tries and isn’t afraid to lose.                                     –Nusrat Sultana

Greatness will never be about winning and losing, no matter what society says, but about effort and belief in yourself. It took me a long time to figure that out. Sometimes, I still struggle with the concept.

I’ve worked for years to become a publishable writer. Then I realized it doesn’t matter if I’m publishable—most people can get published or even publish their own work, so it is a subjective term, in my opinion. What matters is that I continue to work on my talents of telling good stories, and for me to take them from good to great. I am going to be honest, I will never be where I want to be as a writer. I feel the greatness I want to achieve is a goal that may never be reached, but I will continue to strive for it. Why? Because I believe in myself and my abilities.

I also believe that you, Faithful Readers, want greatness. This is partially why I strive hard to make each story better than the last. I want you, the readers, to want to read my work and not feel you wasted your time with me and my words. If you feel you have wasted your time, then I have failed both you and me.

We, as a society, associate greatness with money. The more money you have the greater you are. We put our self value in money, money, money. I don’t want my greatness or how I value myself to be associated with the dollar. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to make a lot more money doing this than I do right now. I would love to be able to support my family doing the thing I love to do most: tell stories. But the great writers aren’t just great because they are rich. The great writers—the truly great ones—touch people with their words. This, Faithful Readers, is what I want to do. I want to touch you with my words. I want when you put one of my stories down, for it to linger with you as you walk away.

As I think about those clouds again, I go back to something I say at the beginning of some of my stories or blogs: Picture this, if you will. I like to paint pictures with my words. Whether they are dark and disturbing or soft and encouraging, I always strive to paint the most beautiful of images for you to read through. This, I believe, lends to the effort of trying to become great at the craft I so love.

I hope you enjoy the pictures I paint with the palette of words I use. If I do (or even if I don’t) would you mind leaving a comment below, letting me know. If I can improve on something, please let me know this is well.

Thank you for allowing me to touch you with my words. Thank you also for your time. I hope you have a wonderful day. Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

You can find me at these wonderful places:

A.J. Brown Facebook Fan Club

A.J. Brown Facebook Author Page

A.J. Brown Amazon Author Page

A.J. Brown Storyteller Website

@ajbrown36 on Twitter

Wattpad

Email: ajbrown36@bellsouth.net

 

 

We have so much time and so little to do. Strike that. Reverse it. —Roald Dahl

So often on this blog, and really all of my social media, I forget to do one very important thing. Well, okay, maybe a couple of very important things, like update this blog more regularly. Bad A.J.. Bad. That’s not it, though. The one thing I forget to do on a regular basis is promote my own work (I’ll prove it in a minute).

Go ahead and nod in agreement.

I can blame it on not having enough time if I want to, but that would be a lie, or at least a partial one.

I have never been all that savvy at marketing. I don’t enjoy doing it. I tend to want to write and write and write. But there is so much more to this business than writing. That is something else I tend to forget: publishing is a business. If you have ever had your own business or worked at any job then you have been somewhere that has needed to market themselves in order to get more clients. Without marketing, there are no clients, and without clients, there is no business.

For writers, we want readers. You, Faithful Reader, the person with your eyes on these words as you, well, read them, you are our client. Without you, then every time we put out a book, it will languish in obscurity. Now for the proof:

INTERACTIVE QUESTION #1: How many of you have heard of Ball Four? This is a small collection of dark baseball stories. (Please, if you don’t mind, leave a comment below. I would love to know if you have heard of the collection.)

I don’t think many folks have heard of Ball Four. It has sold one book since its release on August 20th of 2016. One sale in almost four and a half months. Why is this? Simple: I haven’t marketed it. Sure, I’ve posted a few things on Facebook about it, but beyond that, nothing. So, why (or how) would you have heard about Ball Four? You wouldn’t have unless you have gone to my Amazon author page on a regular basis. The proof is in the pudding.

To go with having a more interactive blog, one of my goals this year is to promote my work more. As I stated earlier, I haven’t been all that great about it.

So, would you like to hear more about Ball Four? Sure you would:

ball-four-front-image-onlyThere’s nothing like the sound of a little league ball park. From the dugout chants to the ping of the bat on ball or the heavy smack of a glove making a catch, nothing quite compares to kids playing America’s pastime. It’s the true innocence of the game on display, it’s the real effort to win as a team. Its kids being kids.

Though America’s game is at its best in the Little Leagues, it is also at its most tragic. There’s nothing like losing when your heart is all in. There’s nothing like failure when the game is on the line. But what if winning and losing didn’t matter?

What if it’s a bully getting what he deserves? What if it’s an old ballpark where dreams were once lived out, but now no one plays on? What if it’s a bad pitch or a base not stolen? Or what if it’s just a run short of glory? What if it’s the memory of a game many years in the past? 

What if it’s lost innocence?

***

I truly believe baseball, at its core, is the most innocent of games for little kids. It was the one I fell in love with first as a child. It’s also the one that seems the most tragic to me. The stories (and poems—yes, I said poems) in Ball Four look at, not just the innocence of the game, but also the tragedy.

For the one book that was purchased there was a review left behind:

If you love baseball, little league or softball. The clink of a bat or the sound of cleats in the brick dirt then this is the book for you. Imagine if you will sitting in the bleachers, hearing the cheer of the crowd and the smell of popcorn in the air. The sound of the crack of a bat as a batter hits a home run. The excitement in the stands. If all of that makes your heart beat faster then you must read this book. The stories are amazing and so well told. This author knows what he is doing and does it well. I have loved baseball since I was little and when I got this book I read Dreams of a Poor Child first. It touched me so that I read it to my father who sat in my living room and bawled. We were both crying by the time I finished the story. Not because it was sad but because it brought back childhood memories for both of us. AJ Brown is a fantastic story teller. I can’t stress enough that you want to read this book and that you will absolutely love it and the rest of the books that Mr. Brown has written. Simply put….AWESOME!

***

Do I have your attention? I hope so. If you would like to purchase the digital version of Ball Four, head on over to Amazon and grab you a copy. If you would like the print version, you can contact me and I’ll get a copy to you. And please, leave a review—they do help.

But wait, I’m not going to leave you here with just the blurb and a review, but also a glimpse at one of the stories. I called this one The Boys of Yesteryear and this is the very beginning of it:

Gravel cracked and crumbled beneath the tires of the old beat up Chevy. The head lamps cut two beams through the darkness, shining bright on the red clay field in front of it. The car came to a shuddering stop, the engine skipping as it idled hard. Harvey shut the car off and opened the door. A cane touched ground, followed by a brown slippered foot. Harvey pushed himself out of the car, holding onto the door for leverage. He closed it. The sound of metal on metal was loud in the quiet night. He hobbled to the front of the vehicle

Even though he wore a belt, his jeans hung loose on his thin hips; his shoulders were like a hanger his shirt was draped over. Harvey slid a white cap out of his back pocket and placed it on his head, the “B” logo faded but still stitched in place. He took a deep breath—something that was hard for him to do these days—and let the crisp fall air fill his lungs.

The field still had the wood fence around it, though many of the slats had fallen away or rotted out through the years. Weeds grew in the grass of the outfield, some of it encroaching on the infield that still looked like a rough diamond. The two dugouts were mostly gone—a wooden wall still stood along one of them but not the other.

Harvey made his way to the trunk and opened it. Inside sat a bat, ball and glove, all aged and well used. He picked the baseball up and stared at it for a long while, taking in each name scrawled in black pen along its surface, some overlapping, some faded to near illegible. He set it in the glove and then lifted both out, followed by the bat, a wooden model, not one of those aluminum atrocities the kids used these days. Harvey placed the items in a bag and put it over one shoulder, just as he had done so many times as a kid. No, it wasn’t a baseball gear bag like they have today, but a bag his dad had made out of an old rifle sheathing. The brown leather was worn and cracked in some places and the stitching that held it together was frayed throughout. The zipper was broke, leaving the bag permanently open. The strap dad had attached to it had been fixed twice. Harvey thought he should have probably had it restitched before…

Leaving the trunk open, he walked back to the front of the car and reached into the passenger’s side window.

“Come on,” he said as he lifted the old glass milk jug from the car, the cork still in place. He held it close to him as he shuffled toward the field, his cane going out in front of him with each pained step. Prickles of fire ran up his left leg from ankle to hip. He winced, gritted his teeth and continued toward the dugout he had shared with eight others all those years ago …

***

Enticed yet? I hope so.

One more thing: my good friend, Justin Dunne, asked me one time what music should he listen to while reading a story of mine. I had to think about it for a moment or eight—I had never been asked that question before. Since then I have taken to hearing the music the stories should be read to. With that in mind I’m going to go with a couple of songs: Centerfield by John Fogerty and There Used To Be A Ballpark, by Frank Sinatra. Enjoy the stories. Enjoy the songs.

I leave you for now, Faithful Reader, and I hope you have a wonderful day. Please like, share and comment if you have a moment or two. Thank you, as always for reading.

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

A.J.

You can find me at these awesome places:

A.J. Brown Facebook Fan Club

A.J. Brown Facebook Author Page

A.J. Brown Amazon Author Page

A.J. Brown Storyteller Website

@ajbrown36 on Twitter

Wattpad

Email: ajbrown36@bellsouth.net

 

 

Dear Faithful Readers,

This is going to be a short post.

2016 was crazy. I think we all know there were a lot of meh things to come out of the year. There were a lot of negatives, as well.

Though there were quite a bit of negative things going on in the world, there were a few things that were positive for me. I put out two books this year (a far cry from the five I wanted to put out, but still they were published). The two books were a three story collection titled, A Stitch of Madness. The other was my novel, Dredging Up Memories. Both of these books were put out by Stitched Smile Publications. I also became part of the SSP staff during the year and made some friends, a couple probably for life. So, there are some positives.

In 2016 I bit off a little more than I could chew. Part of this was due to being overzealous and wanting to try and get my name out there more than it was at the time. I added a lot to my plate that wasn’t there the previous two years and also added quite a bit to a marketing campaign I started in 2014. Early on a lot of the things I did looked as if they would pay off. Then June and July came and life happened. My focus shifted for a few months. When that happened, my blog, newsletter and writing suffered in silence.

Year two of The Brown Bag Stories also came to an end. For those who know what The Brown Bag Stories are, I will have an announcement about that soon. For those who don’t, feel free to ask about it and I will gladly let you in on the hubbub.

In October I started gearing up for 2017 in hopes of rekindling the push I started two years ago at the end of 2014. One of the things I would like to do is make this blog more interactive. I would love to hear your voices, Faithful Readers. I would love to hear what you have to say. I’d love to hear what you want to know about me or maybe even about my characters and stories.

So, let’s talk, what would you like to see in 2017 (and beyond)?

See, I told you it would be short. Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

nighthawks-atthemission-king-styleSometimes you meet someone who has a different viewpoint than most folks. The viewpoint can sometimes be bad and sometimes be good. It can also be refreshing. One of those viewpoints I find refreshing belongs to Forbes West, a writer, producer and a podcaster. 

When I sat down to do this interview with Forbes, I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but I quickly learned this is someone I like, someone who shares similar viewpoints as I do about writing. Y’all sit back and have a coffee, soda or brew and let me introduce you to Forbes West.

AJB: Okay, for starters, let’s talk about you. Who is Forbes West, the person?

FW: I’m nobody. I’m a tramp, a bum, a hobo. I’m a boxcar and a jug of wine, and a straight razor if you get too close to me. Or a person who is fond of using Charles Manson quotes to respond to texts.

AJB: Fan of Charles Manson?

FW: Am I a fan of Manson? Nope, but he’s the King Emperor of bat shit crazy things to say. Too bad his musical career never took off because he decided to kill a celebrity or otherwise he’d be the most quotable man on the planet.

AJB: He still could be one of the most quotable men on the planet. He definitely has some unique views.

FW: Unique is a good term. Covers a lot of ground.

I’m just a guy who lives and works in California, who’s been lucky to still be married and I get to live part time here in the USA and Japan. My wife is Japanese, we own a home in Shizouka prefecture, and I write novels and produce films.

AJB: You said you live part time in Japan and USA. I’m sure there are a LOT of differences between the two countries. What, from your experience, are the biggest differences between the two?

FW: Biggest differences is freedom vs community. That’s not to say one is better than the other. They aren’t. There’s pros and cons to both. But in California, which my wife loves, she can do whatever she wishes to be. She can strive for the stars. She can be creative and fun and hang out with people with massively different backgrounds with little to no judgment. You can be whoever you can be. In Japan, there’s a sense of being in a real community, where people ask you how your day has been, where bicycles can be left on the sidewalk without a chain, where your neighbors look out for you and people who know you can’t speak the language take a moment to speak yours. Safety, stability, cleanliness, and order. You can walk down any street and know people are looking out for you and actually care.

AJB: Wow, that sounds the way things used to be here where I live when I was a kid. That is, honestly, the way the world should be. Look out for one another.

Just out of curiosity, which do you prefer?

FW: I honestly don’t prefer either one. I love California and Japan. I think California has the ability to do so many random things. And again, everyone has different backgrounds, different views, and seem to be living in peace. I love the multiculturalism there and seeing people from radically different backgrounds.

AJB: I love that mindset, Forbes.

FW: My wife prefers it as well. Japan has many wonderful things, to be honest. Food, culture, and the most kind people I have ever met. But, its one thing to visit and go around Japan. To live there, it can be very oppressive at times. The companies control everything, and its not unheard of to know people working 80 hours a week, with only 40 hours paid, and to have the most verbally and emotionally abusive bosses overhead. The social pressure is enormous.

AJB: Wow. That’s crazy.

FW: So in a lot of ways, it is like the 1960s of the USA. Sure, there are real communities (which is a terrible thing we’ve lost) but the everyday B.S. can be overwhelming. It’s like California and Japan are opposite ends of the spectrum.

AJB: How did you come to be able to travel back and forth between the two countries?

FW: Well, we’ve been lucky and fortunate that my wife works as a Professor for a college, so she doesn’t have the year long schedule, and my schedule is also flexible. We own a home in Japan so there’s no additional costs besides airplane tickets. So in the winter and in the summer we travel back.

AJB: Man, I think that would be a blast,  and something to look forward to during the year.

Let’s switch gears for a second and talk business.

FW: Sure thing.

AJB: You are a producer of films and a writer and a podcaster. Which of those came first and which one do you find to be the most difficult?

FW: Films. Podcasting is just pure fun but films are incredibly difficult. Even producing and putting together a short film was the most difficult thing I have ever done. It’s a true battle—and on many fronts—accounting, getting people together, finding locations, money, story, etc. etc.

AJB: I would think the films would be the most difficult as well. You said Podcasting is just pure fun. What makes it fun? Is this something that you can say, ‘hey I’m going to do this and we’re going to have a blast?

FW: Pretty much. I’ve met some great people (Jon Frater, Michael Bunker, Rob McClellan, Nick Cole, Christopher Boore, and Todd Barselow) and just getting together with them and shooting the shit has been epic. Authors, editors and publishers getting together, especially with the intellect involved, and everyone has a great sense of humor—its’ been a blast. Interviewing with them, talking about issues, etc, all been great.
Oh and Jason Anspach. He’s a jerk but he knows it, he’s mentioned last on purpose. He knows why.

AJB: Sounds like doing a podcast allows you to be free and easy going and pretty much talk about whatever it is you want to discuss.

FW: Exactly. And thank God we live in a day and age where you can do this and just launch it all in a day

AJB: I’ve always wanted to do a podcast, and from what you have said, I think that desire may amp up a little.

Of the three, producing, podcasts, and writing, which came first?

FW: Writing. Just writing. I taught myself over the years while I was getting my Masters degree in political science. I started trying to write bad screenplays, awful novels, and started to turn it around. Writing to me, has always been like preparing for a marathon. There’s a ton of creative people out there, but you have to learn how to really just keep the energy up to finish what you started.

AJB: That is a very good point. Writing is very much like a marathon, and so many people give up because they get stuck instead of trying to see a way to fix where they became stuck.

You said you taught yourself over the years. Can you explain what you mean by that?

FW: Well, I read a lot of how to write a screenplay books, I read old screenplays (like the original Robocop and others, there’s a few sites out there that have copies and pdfs for you), and I just sort of tried every night to write up something.

I love stories, I love telling stories, and I just wanted to make something up that I would see on tv or on the big screen

After a while, I drifted into writing novels. Due to the freedom of the format—screenplays are somewhat limited in certain senses.

AJB: In what ways are screenplays different than novel writing?

FW: Screenplays have to focus on the visual image- you can’t just “show the thoughts” of a character, it has to play out in realtime in a way an audience can understand. You can’t have true introspection with a character with a screenplay, you don’t have that sense of jumping into someone’s skin. That’s the biggest difference for me

AJB: I can see that. I can definitely see that.

Your first novel is Nighthawks at the Mission?

FW: First one, yes. It was self-published, published with one publisher, and just recently re-published a few days ago with three new short stories.

AJB: So you originally self published Nighthawks at the Mission and then it was picked up by a publisher and re-published?

FW: That’s correct

Originally self published in 2013

AJB: Great. Congratulations on getting picked up.

Since you originally self-published Nighthawks at the Mission, can you tell me what the difference is between self publishing a book and having a publisher publish a book?

FW: Marketing. Really, just the ability to market the product. A person can easily have a great idea, get it well edited, have a kick ass cover. But the ability to market the book itself without real support from those who just know how to market, that’s the rub. Amazon has an amazing system to get your stuff out there, but Amazon doesn’t publicize a single thing. So if you don’t have a full time person working with you to really get your stuff out there, it’s not gonna happen. You could be that person, but the set of skills needed to do so is usually not found with the person who can write. It can happen, but its extremely rare.

AJB: Man, isn’t that the truth?

Okay, I want to shift gears  again. Outside of writing, producing and podcasting do you take yourself more seriously or less seriously than when you are creating?

FW: More seriously. Writing is my life, but it’s a lot of fantasy happening. I feel like when I’m writing or doing what I do, I think its pure fun in the end. The exasperation I get or the stress is the stress of trying to win a ball game or beat a video game. It’s not the same as dealing with office politics b.s. The stress is a much better stress to deal with.

AJB: Agreed. I guess that would make doing the podcasts even more fun—there’s no pressure in it.

You have to be creative to be in these fields. How do you view creativity and the act of creating a movie, a book or a podcast?

FW: I think creativity is something where you basically go with your subconscious. Whatever pops into your head. Whatever odd idea you may have. Whatever just bubbles up. I think most of the time people are actively limiting their creativity—that people worry too much about being embarrassed, or they want to do what is currently popular, and they want to find something that should be “profitable” instead of just letting their imagination run wild. You have to really try to make yourself go into a dream like state to make true creativity happen. You have to shed your ego a bit.

AJB: Well, dang! That is exactly how I feel about creativity.

So, with that in mind, with letting yourself get to that creative place, do you tend to follow the rules or just say ‘screw it’ and do your own thing?

FW: I don’t try to follow the rules. I think that, especially as a writer trying to break out, doing so will just make my work fall to the wayside. We live in a post-modern age; everything under the sun has been done and been read and/or viewed. You have to really try and stretch to do something different. And I think I did that with Nighthawks at the Mission.

AJB: Tell me about Nighthawks at the Mission.

forbes-west-cover-artFW: Nighthawks is my answer to the young adult field. It’s set in a world just like our own, but with one wrinkle—there’s a portal to another planet that opens twice a year in the South Pacific, and that planet has a resource that allows anyone to have paranormal/magical abilities. A young woman, sick of her life in SoCal, decided to become one of the many settlers there after her boyfriend screwed her over. She’s not a hero, she’s not the best person, but she does her best when dealing with the stresses of life on another world and living this post-modern colonial life with an alien species and a growing terrorist threat.  My character, Sarah Orange, reacts to these things realistically and many times badly. The book strips the bark off the usual YA tropes and turns them on their head, and we see a real person in a very fantastical setting prove herself

AJB: That sounds like a great storyline.

FW: Thank you!

AJB: With you stripping the bark off the usual YA tropes, do you feel you accomplished something unique with the book?

FW: I believe so. YA books always have the same protagonist. The story may be different, but the protagonist always is the same. Always trying to be the hero, always tough, always generous, always right, etc. etc. Mine isn’t. She’s a fuckup. She’s greedy. She’s angry. She’s selfish. She numbs her pain with drugs and alcohol. She’s foolish. She accidentally does the right thing. She’s very human. That’s the big difference between her and the others from Twilight, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, etc.  It seems like a real person.

AJB:Twilight…meh…

That is the trick, isn’t it? When the rubber meets the road, the whole thought is to have a believable character and a believable storyline. If you can capture that you have a great chance of capturing the audiences’ attention.

Okay, Forbes, I’ve kept you for a while, and I greatly appreciate your time, but I do have one or two more questions. The first of these is based on something I hear from a lot of authors. Many of them tell me their spouses or significant others do not really care what they do or they don’t support them in their desires to write, tell stories and get published. How does your wife feel about all of your creative endeavors?

FW: She loves it. She’s been the biggest cheerleader. She was the one who got me into it. We were dating at the time and I told her that I sort of liked writing, but really I wanted to do politics (hence my degree). She told me flat out that she wanted to hear more about what I write and that I had a voice and from that point on was always getting me books on writing, and sort of pushing me towards writing. She just flat out said “Writing’s a helluva lot cooler than politics.” I ignored her for a while about that, but in the end, I think she was damn right.

JB: I like your wife. She is definitely right! My wife is the same way, always pushing me to keep doing the one thing I love to do: tell stories.

Okay, where can we find Nighthawk at the Mission?

FW: http://forbeswestbooks.com/nighthawks-at-the-mission/

JB: Well, that was easy.

Normally, folks will ask, what advice do you have for others out there. I want to go in the opposite direction. What would you tell other authors, film makers, or really any artists, NOT to do?

FW: Not to do the same thing everyone else is doing and not to do the most popular thing. Don’t just rehash old material. Take a moment and think it out. Have you seen this idea more than 5 times in different formats? Are you just doing this because the same stuff is out there in the world? Then don’t bother. Your crew, your actors, your readers, and yourself will be bored. And you’re gonna work really hard on something that doesn’t mean a damn thing in the end.

JB: Preach it, Forbes.

Before we go our separate ways for now, is there anything else you would like to add in that we have not discussed?

FW: I don’t think so at the moment.

AJB: Thank you, Forbes. You are one cool dude.

FW: Thanks man! Thanks for having me.

You can check out Forbes at his website here: HERE

 

Grave Stories

Posted: November 5, 2016 by ajbrown in Stories of the Grave
Tags: , , , , ,

There is  a dirt road off of Highway 176 in South Carolina. Like many dirt roads around the country, if you blink you might pass it without realizing it exists. That almost happened to us on Friday as we drove along in search of old cemeteries. If not for Cate’s eagle eyes, we would have never seen the road, and we would have never came across the Tabernacle Cemetery just outside of Cameron.

20161104_084141We backtracked and turned down the dirt road that didn’t look to really be off the beaten path. It was littered with small branches and leaves that scraped along the car’s undercarriage as we drove along. We stopped about halfway down the dirt road. A large tree branch lay in the way, most of it shattered into pieces. There was no moving the core of the branch, so we parked and walked the rest of the way.

As we got out the car, two deer ran from the trees on the right into the trees on the left about seventy yards away. They were quick, and in the blink of an eye, they were gone.

Time to walk.

It only took five or so minutes to reach the cemetery off to our left. Before reaching it, three more deer appeared in the distance, just on the edge of the woods where the road dead-ended.

The cemetery wasn’t quite shrouded by trees and shrubbery, but there was plenty of overgrowth and broken branches. There was a tree down about fifty yards from the road, probably felled by Hurricane Matthew, a storm that skirted the edge of South Carolina, but had the reach of winds and rains that spread beyond the Midlands, some hundred plus miles from the coast.

DSCN1404.JPGThe graves, most of which dated to the early to mid-1800’s, felt as if they had been forgotten over the years. The grass was shin high in places and leaves crunched under foot. Like the road, there were small branches everywhere. Tomb stones leaned forward; others had crumbled over time. A few had broken in half. Many of the graves belonged to Confederate soldiers or to the Dantzler clan…or both. There were some smaller headstones, babies and children who passed much too young.

As we wondered around the open cemetery (which I imagine was last kept up about six years or so ago), the sounds of Mother Nature spoke to us. A wind whistled softly through the trees, leaves rustled and fell all around us in ballet pirouettes, deer walked or ran through the woods not far from us. Out in that grave yard, all those sounds gave the place a somewhat creepy atmosphere.

We had seen the large tree from the road, many of its branches b
roken off and scattered about. As we approached it, high-stepping tall grass and other branches, we saw that none of the tombstones along its length had been damageDSCN1413.JPGd when it fell. It was as if the tree had laid down right between several headstones for a little rest. It was like the tree had a respect for the dead that
most of the living
don’t have.

Where the top of the tree lay were three larger markers, Confederate soldiers, an
d Dantzlers alike. The branches hung above them and around them. Some of them brushed up against the markers, as if patting them gently. It was one of the neatest sights we have seen in an old cemetery.

As we left and headed back up the dirt road to where our car sat (waiting patiently for us, perhaps?), I stopped and looked back. The scene before me was eerily quiet. The wind no longer whistled through the trees. The leaves no longer rustled and fell to the ground in ballet-like pirouettes. The deer had left the area or had just stopped moving about. Could they sense something about to happen?

Now, here is what I want you to picture, and no, this did not happen. But this is where my mind painted a picture oDSCN1408.JPGf three men, all Confederate soldiers in their winter coats and britches. One wore a gray hat and sat on the long trunk of the tree, one foot on the ground, the other firmly planted on the tree, knee bent and his elbow on it. He bit into an apple, that in my mind’s eye, looked too red. I heard the crunch of his teeth sink into the apple.

The second guy was older, a salt and pepper beard on his face, a wooden pipe in his mouth. White smoke billowed up from the pipe. He stood on the other side of the tree, sharpening a knife on a wet stone. In the picture being painted in my mind I sniffed the air, thinking I might be able to catch the rich smell of the tobacco, but couldn’t. I can’t say there wasn’t disappointment on the face of my mind’s version of me.

DSCN1401.JPGThe third soldier—the one that felt the most real to me—was kneeling down a few feet from the base of the fallen tree. There was a white bandage around his midsection in place of the shirt he wasn’t wearing. He reached into the ground, his hands clearly disappearing into the dirt of the grave where a small headstone was. A moment later he stood, a baby in his arms. He turned to me and our eyes met. He was smiling as he snuggled the baby against his chest.

I stood for a few seconds, watching these three men, one eating an apple, one sharpening a knife and one holding a baby. Then they faded away, leaving just the graves and woods behind. And just like that, my mind released me from the image.

I stood a couple of seconds more, and then ran up the road to catch up with Cate. We would leave the grave yard behind. Maybe someone else will come along and the ghosts will plant images in their mind. Or, maybe, it’s the other way around. Maybe their minds will plant images on their surroundings and bring the ghosts alive, if only for a few seconds…

Man Up, Treat Women Right

Posted: October 14, 2016 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

I’m going to say this first and then move on: this blog is directed at men. You women can read it, too, but please understand, most of this is directed at the men and I’m not sure how nice (or not) it will be.

Let’s just jump right in.

If you think it is okay to touch a woman in any way, shape or form, without her consent, you Sir, are a douchebag. If you think grabbing a woman anywhere in her private areas is not sexual assault, you Sir, are a disillusioned douchebag who needs your genitals grabbed and ripped off. If you think it is okay to ‘have sex’ with a woman when she says no over and over, you Sir, are a rapists and a douchebag who needs your genitals ripped off and thrown into a wood chipper.

14650504_10157828584645001_4524690378420616983_nOn the logic of grabbing women in her privates and it not being sexual assault: if I used that logic and apply it to me beating the life out of someone who grabs my wife or daughter or sister or niece, then I guess that wouldn’t be attempted murder. It’s stupid logic.

Women are not our property. Women are not our sex slaves. Women are not inferior to men. Women are not to be dominated by men. Dear Sirs, let me run something by you: Can you bring LIFE into this world? Can you pass a baby through the tip of your ‘manhood’ and then still want sex? No? You can’t? Really? Women can, and that, Dear Sir, makes her a total bad ass in my book.

I’ve said this before, and I will say it again: there would not be a single man alive right now if not for a woman, after all, they gave birth to every man out there.

But it takes two to Tango. That’s a dance, Mr. Douchebag, and a cliche term at best.

But without a man to get the woman pregnant… Oh shut up. You are a sperm donor. Period. A woman doesn’t need a man to put the sperm inside of her—they have medical procedures for that now, and though the sperm is provided by a man, the man is not needed for the physical act of sex. You’ve been replaced by willing men with a hand and a magazine (and they get paid to be donors of the non-physical type).

Let me pose a question for you, Dear Sir: how would you like it if a woman grabbed your crotch against your will? What’s that? Some of you would like that? Again, shut up, Mr. Douchebag. I am willing to bet you wouldn’t like it. Why? Because when a man grabs a woman, he is not gentle, so if a woman grabbed your boys and gave a good squeeze (you know, the way you, Mr. Douchebag, grabs a woman’s breasts and squeezes) it would hurt and you would either fall to the ground in pain or punch the woman in the face and then fall to the ground in pain.

But that’s different. No, it’s not. Sexual assault is sexual assault and it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman who does it. It’s wrong. End of story.

If you are the guy who thinks it is okay to look down on women because they are, well, women, then you are a significant part of the problem. If you are that guy and you have a son or sons, then you are also influencing the problem, because your kids will see your actions and they will develop their own attitudes about women based on what you do.

You are a man. Do you know what your job is where women are involved. Notice I didn’t say your woman, I said women, as a whole. Your job is to provide for them. Your job is to protect them. Your job is to make sure they know they are loved. Your job is to respect them. Your job is to lift them up.

Your job is not to control them. Your job is not to treat them like your personal sex toys. Your job is not to berate them or put them down. Your job is not to mooch off of them.

You job is to be selfless and put them before yourself. Yes, that’s what I said and if you can’t grasp putting a woman before yourself, then you, Sir, are Mr. Douchebag, capital on the D.

Maybe I’m old school. Maybe I’m new school. Honestly, I don’t care. What I do care about is how men view women. Being a man isn’t about how much money you make or how many women you can bed or how much authority you have over people. Being a man is about responsibility and taking care of yours. It’s about owning up to your mistakes and not laying blame on everyone but yourself. Most important, being a man is about how you treat people, it’s about how you treat those you may deem lesser than you are (and if you think anyone is lesser than you are, then, yes, you are still a douchebag—every person is someone. They may not be to you, but to someone else, everyone is someone).

I’m not going on about this too much longer, but just understand, groping a woman without her consent is sexual assault. Grabbing a woman’s privates is sexual assault. Forcing yourself on a woman (rape) is sexual assault. If you think differently, then you are part of the problem and if a man (or a woman, for that matter) throat punches you or cuts little Richard off then please, don’t consider that physical assault, because, based on YOUR logic, it isn’t.

Now, to the women out there. You don’t have to take that crap. If someone sexually assaults you, tell someone. If that person doesn’t listen, tell someone else and keep doing that until someone listens to you. If you feel threatened by someone when they approach you, by all means grope them where it hurts most, but please, do so with claws out, and squeeze, baby, squeeze. Make them hurt. Don’t be afraid to kick them and don’t get scared when they double over and vomit and look as if they can’t breathe (they can’t, and that is your opportunity to run).

Women. They are not our trophies. They are not our property. Real men understand that.

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

Many of writers start out writing short form fiction and we enjoy it. We can write a story in three to ten thousand words and get that sense of accomplishment. The stories are shorter and quicker to write than novels, but they are full on stories. It’s exhilarating to write three short stories in a five day span.

Then one day someone says you should write a novel, or you see another writer you know has written a novel and you think, ‘yeah, I should write one of those.’ That is when you get the notion you have to write novels in order to tell a story.

Maybe you should.

Maybe you shouldn’t.

Let me explain, and I’m not really sure what I am about to write, so stick with me. My brain has latched onto something and it doesn’t seem to want to let go. It’s like that dog with the clamp for jaws.

If you are a writer or if you are friends with one (or many), then you have probably posted something or seen a post on social media where a writer mentions the word count on their current WIP (Work In Progress). The post may read something like:

32K down, 68K to go.

In case you are not a writer and you wonder what this means, it is not code for anything. The post means the writer has written thirty-two thousand words and has another sixty-eight thousand words to go before he/she meets his/her goal of one hundred thousand words, thus finishing the ‘story’ he/she is writing.

This has always bugged me and I’ll tell you why. When I set out to write, I set out to tell a story with no definitive word count in mind. I just know the story will have at least one word and hopefully a few more before it is said and done. I never set a word goal for my stories—this is restricting in my opinion. But it is also daunting. How, you ask? Well, let me break it down for you.

1. Restricting: if I want to write a short story and I give myself a word count of three thousand words, then I restrict the length and depth of the story. That is like me saying I can fit ten gallons of water into a five gallon jug. It’s just not going to happen. I don’t want my stories to be restricted by a small word count. And if you know me, then you understand I can be long winded. That’s not to say I can’t write something in three thousand words or less—I have, many, many times. But I don’t set a word count as a limit or a goal.

On the other hand:

2. Daunting: if I want to write a story, then I don’t want to say it will be five or ten or twenty or even one hundred thousand words. By doing so it becomes a mental issue for me. Instead of writing the story that needs to be written, I end up just writing a bunch of needless words to fill the word quota I put on myself. In essence, I pad the story with nothing useful, even if I think the words have a purpose. Who wants a lot of padding?

The mindset of writing to a word count baffles me. I don’t understand it. For me, I write until I reach the end of the story. If that means the story is two thousand words, then fine. If that means it is two hundred thousand words, then fine. The goal is not a number of words, but a complete story, from beginning to end. The word count doesn’t matter if the story sucks or if it is padded to the point the story gets lost.

This brings me to the concept of Form Follows Function. This is the principal that the shape and size of something (in architecture) is based on its intended function. With this in mind, if the function of something is to hold a lap top, then you wouldn’t make something the size of a 1970’s suitcase for it. Of course, that is not what Form Follows Function is really about, but the concept is the same.

That being said, this principal can be applied to writing as well. The function is to tell a story. The form? How many words are needed to tell the story, be it poem, flash fiction, short story, novella, novel, epic or series. I believe there is no word count to telling a story. There are words, and when added together, they form sentences. Those sentences then form paragraphs. Put enough of those paragraphs together and, eventually, you come to the end of your story. With that mindset, there is no fretting over either not meeting a word count goal or going over it. There is just the story.

Form Follows Function. Simple concept. The Form is, as I stated earlier, poem, flash fiction, short story, novella, novel, epic or series. The Function is to tell a story and to tell it in the right amount of words—not to write to an amount of words. to tell a story.

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

Charlie, Will, Bob…and Jamie

Posted: September 11, 2016 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

It was a little café like any other around the country. It had a homey feel to it, as if when you walk through the front doors you could sit on any number of the brown or black couches and prop your feet up on a coffee table and relax. The lighting were simple bulbs shining down from the ceiling, casting shadows in their wake along the edges of the tops and bottoms of the walls. There were square tables with old comic strips sealed into the finish dotting the center of the cafe. Along one wall was the counter where people placed their orders of coffees, sodas snacks and cakes—no sandwiches or hot meals, thank you, ma’am, but plenty of delicious baked goods.

Three men sat a table for four, each one of them with the café’s black mugs in front of them, the yellow emblem of a silhouetted young lady holding a tray to her side and the words Chloe’s Café beneath it. Their hair had grayed over the years and a few more wrinkles lined their faces than the previous year. Charlie had gotten a little heavier, while Will seemed to have thinned a little. Bob was just Bob with little change in his appearance other than what Time had done to him.

“I was at work,” Charlie said. “Four hours into the day.”

The other two nodded, but said nothing. This was a ritual of sorts for the three friends.

“I was walking down the hall on the second floor. I passed one of the break rooms. It rarely had one or two people in there, but on this morning, there were a dozen or so people staring up at the television set. Several women were crying. I stopped and peeked in.

‘Everything okay?’ I asked.

One of the women, her name was Valerie, she said, ‘A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.’”

Charlie took a swallow of the black coffee in his mug, wiped his lips and continued. “I ain’t gonna lie. I had never heard of the World Trade Center then. I had no reason to really know what it was, but that didn’t stop me from stepping in the break room and nudging my way to the back of everyone. There, on the screen, were the two towers. One of them was on fire.

Then it happened, while I stood there with everyone else. It was a couple minutes after nine and that other plane—Flight 175—flew onto the screen. It wasn’t there but for a second or two and then it was gone and there was an explosion.”

Charlie shook his head as if he were still in disbelief. Perhaps he was.

“I went up to the shop and told my workers to turn on the television. We got no work done that day. The four of us stood in front of that tube watching as the smoke billowed up into the sky and then as the first tower, and then the second one, fell.”

Silence followed for several long seconds. Then Charlie lifted his mug. “To Jamie,” he said.

Bob and Will lifted their mugs, clinked them together and echoed him. They each took a swallow, set their mugs back on the table, Charlie’s went on Snoopy’s face, Will’s went just beneath Hagar the Horrible’s feet and Bpb’s ended up on top of Spaceman Spiff’s crashed ship.

Will took a deep breath and began his story. “I was on a plane from Charlotte to Toronto that morning when the first plane struck the towers. None of us on our flight knew what had happened until we started getting calls from people trying to find us. Carrie called. I could tell she was crying.

‘Where are you?’ she asked.

‘On the plane,’ I responded.

Her voice cracked when she said, ‘Oh my God.’

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

‘A plane hit the World Trade Center a few minutes ago and now a second one has just crashed into it.’”

He shook his head as he fought back tears that still managed to fall from his eyes. “I could hear the fear in her voice. She was terrified.

‘Will, we’re under attack.’

I didn’t know what she meant by that at first, but then our plane veered to the left and the pilot came on saying we were turning around and heading back to Charlotte.”

He shook his head and took another deep breath.

“I thought we were going to die, just like all those folks in those planes that hit those towers.”

He licked his lips, raised his mug. “To Jamie.”

As they had done a couple minutes earlier, the others raised their drinks, repeated Will’s words, clinked the mugs together and took a swallow.

Will and Charlie looked at Bob. He nodded, but before he began, he motioned for the waitress to come over. She was a pretty red head, her hair pulled back and away from her face. “Can I help you?” she asked.

“Can I get another mug, please?”

“You want another cup of coffee?” the waitress asked and reached for his mug.

“No, Ma’am. I would like another mug—just the mug, please. No coffee. Nothing in it.”

The redhead gave him a curious smile, one that could have been a frown on anyone else’s face. She was gone only a minute, but in that time none of the three men spoke. They didn’t really even look at each other, but down at the mugs in front of them, each one with just a little bit of coffee left in them.

“Here you go, sir,” the redhead said with a smile and set the cup on the table.

“Thank you, Ma’am,” Bob said and picked up the mug. His hand shook badly. He placed it in the spot set for a fourth person, one who wouldn’t make this dinner, one who hadn’t made these dinners for the previous 15 years. He turned the mug so that if someone had been sitting there, he could easily pick it up. Then he moved his shaking hand away and placed it in his lap.

Tears hung on his bottom eyelids. One fell. Then a second one. Bob didn’t try to hide his emotions or wipe the tears away. He let them fall, just as he always did.

“I shouldn’t be here,” he said, his voice cracking. He raised his hand and pointed at the empty seat to his right. It was shaking worse now. His sentences were clipped statements, words he had said a million times in his own head and maybe half as many to the two men at the table with him. “I had been sick. For a couple of days. I was scheduled to fly out on the tenth. From Columbia to Boston. Then from Boston to Los Angeles the next day. The next day. The eleventh.”

The tears fell freely now. He saw the redhead, the startled, worried look in her eyes, and motioned her away with a hand up, palm out, and a nod that he was okay.

“Jamie said he would go in my place. It was a four day trip. With about five hours of business in between. He boarded Flight 175 right around the time…”

Bob shook his head. He sniffled, wiped his nose. His bottom lip was poked out and seemed to be eating the upper one. He coughed once, but not because of a tickle in his throat but because he was prompting himself to speak again.

“It should have been me.”

Another long silence and Bob held up his mug. “To Jamie.”

Charlie and Will did the same.

Then Bob picked up Jamie’s mug, held it above his head. “To you, my friend.”

There wasn’t much more to say. Truthfully, they rarely said much after Bob had given his ‘testimony of guilt,’ as he put it. Minutes later they said their goodbyes. Charlie and Will did as they always did, and walked back to the hotel they shared the previous night, wondering if Bob would be alive the next year. They were always surprised to see him roll up in the place they picked to meet at in any given year. But he always rolled up, whether he was well or sick…he was always there.

Bob stood, took one last look at the place where his childhood friend should have been sitting. “To you, my friend,” he said again and turned to leave. Before he could reach the door he heard a faint whisper, or maybe it was his imagination. Either way, he turned around when he heard, To me, but he saw only the mug still sitting on the table with the other three near it and several dollar bills underneath one of them.

Bob smiled, though there had been no joy in it for at least fifteen years. “To you,” he whispered back and pushed the door open. A moment later, it swung shut…

AJB

9/11/2016