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

 

 

 

A Memorable Road

Posted: September 6, 2016 by ajbrown in Uncategorized, Writing
Tags: , , , ,

I’d like to believe over the last few years I have developed a voice of my own, one that is so obviously mine that when someone picks up a story I have written and my name isn’t on it, they know immediately, ‘This is an A.J. Brown story.’ I’d like to believe that. In some ways I do. I believe I have a very distinct style, one that pulls you into the tales I tell. I like to say my style is conversational, kind of like if you and I were sitting in a room somewhere and we started chatting it up. ‘Hey, let me tell you this story…’

Yeah, that is how I feel about my writing.

‘Come with me,’ said the spider in a silky smooth voice. He took the hand of the little child and led him into the darkness.

I admit my style lends to long winded stories, some that plod along at an easy clip as the tale unfolds. Others move swiftly through the words, while others…swiftly plod along. Sometimes I run into someone who doesn’t like the plodding style of a story, and that is okay. Not everyone loves Stephen King. Not everyone loves J.K. Rowling. Not everyone loves James Patterson (I’m in that camp). So it’s okay if you don’t like the stories that are a little slower paced and dive more into the emotional turmoil the characters go through. It is.

Here is the thing: some stories are meant to drive fast and get from Point A to Point B. Those stories are meant to be full on action and in your face. I don’t like those types of stories, so I don’t write them. If that is what you like, then fabulous. You won’t get many of those from me. I just can’t write that way. Interestingly, I don’t drive that way either.

Other stories are meant to take the longest route from Point A to Point B, traversing miles out of the way to get there. If you like those stories, then fabulous. I like some of them, but only the ones that need to go that route, and only because any other route will not complete the story. Those stories are all backroads to a destination. I sometimes like to drive that way.

Then there are those stories that start out on the backroads, take the interstate for a couple of miles, detour at EXIT 51, bump along a dirt road for a mile or two before finding a main road again and racing, headlights shining (even in the light of day) toward its destination. Sometimes those stories speed right into the ending, leaving you breathless, while other times it eases in, like a grandmother touring her old stomping grounds and reminiscing as she does so. Just so you know, I like those stories the best. Why? Because they are memorable, and everyone wants to be remembered. Even characters in a story want to be remembered. They want people to talk about their adventures, just as if you and I were sitting in that room together and I leaned in to tell you a story. I want you to remember what I told you, not let it go through one ear and out the other.

Those are the stories I write, the ones that take you on a trip, ones I hope allow you to see the world through my characters’ eyes. I enjoy the little trips I take you on. I enjoy the little country roads and the dirt paths and the many avenues we travel together. I hope you have enjoyed them as well. If you haven’t picked up one of my books or read any of my stories, come, sit down beside me. I have a story for you.

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

 

 

Willy Wonka died on Monday, August 29th. Yes, I know his name was Gene Wilder, but stick with me here. For most of us in our mid-forties at this time, Wilder’s portrayal of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is a significant piece of our childhood. For this reason, though Wilder did several other great films, many of us still view him as Willy Wonka.

The movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, had a bit of everything in it. Well, not romance, and I’m okay with that. It had action, mystery, a cool storyline, memorable characters, hope, and yes, a resolution at the end. It also had quirky humor, which as a kid, I couldn’t fully appreciate. As an adult, however, I find it refreshing, even now.

Take for instance, this exchange between Wonka and Mr. Salt (whose daughter was Veruca, a bratty child if there ever were one. I guess she would have been considered entitled in today’s society.):

Mr. Salt: What is this, Wonka? Some kind of fun house?

Wonka: Why? Are you having fun?

Or we can look at this statement, after Wonka is asked about the legitimacy of a contract (yes, there was a contract in the movie):

I’m sorry, but all questions must be submitted in writing.

One thing that was evident to me when I was a kid was that all of the children who won golden tickets (with the exception of Charlie) and their parents were all brats. Yes, the parents were brats, maybe even more so than the children. It was always the behavior of the children (and their parents) that led to something drastic happening, thus leading to many people’s favorite scenes involving the Oompa Loompas.

(I want an Oompa Loompa right now!)

If you are not aware, the Oompa Loompas trotted out after one of the kids did something they shouldn’t have and they sang a little ditty. There were always three verses to the songs, and the Oompa Loompas always appeared as if they were begging you to heed their warnings.

Oompa Loompa doompadee doo

I’ve got another puzzle for you

Oompa Loompa doompadee dee

If you are wise you will listen to me

Then came the puzzle, which was never really a puzzle at all, but more of a declaration on manners, something that 45 years ago, when the movie came out, was more of a topic than it is now. Yeah, hard to believe, isn’t it? My favorite declaration…err…puzzle is as follows:

Who do you blame when your kid is a brat

Pampered and spoiled like a Siamese cat?

Blaming the kids is a lion of shame

You know exactly who’s to blame:

The mother and the father!

Like I said, that’s not a puzzle, but a declaration.

They always closed with a message about doing things the right way.

Oompa Loompa doompadee dah

If you’re not spoiled then you will go far

You will live in happiness too

Like the Oompa Loompa doompadee do

In a way, each verse to the Oompa Loompa’s songs was like a story, with a beginning, a middle and an ending. Only these stories were more like parables, meant as a lesson to anyone who would listen. And that is one of the beauties of the book, and by extension, the movie, which expanded on Dahl’s thoughts.

There was more to Willy Wonka then just lessons that, as children, most of us missed. There was wisdom.

A little nonsense now and then, is relished by the wisest men.

This was Wonka’s response to Mr. Salt (yet again) when he said ‘that’s a lot of nonsense,’ to the fact that the geese that laid golden eggs didn’t know Easter was over. I always wondered what he meant to this. Was it Wonka’s way of saying all work and no play makes Mr. Salt a dull boy? I don’t know, but there is a ring of truth to it: too much seriousness can make you totally unhappy. And sometimes being naive to something is not necessarily a bad thing.

One of my favorite nuggets in the movie is how Wonka replies to Veruca (go figure) when she says, “Snozzberries? Who’s ever heard of a snozzberry?” His response was to grab her cheeks with one hand and turn her face to his and state:

We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

It’s not an original saying. In fact, that is the opening portion to a poem simply titled, ‘Ode,’ by Arthur O’Shaughnessy. But when you think about it, both O’Shaughnessy and Wonka were right. We really are the music makers. We really are the dreamers of dreams. All of us, whether we realize it or not, are dreamers and our souls and hearts are the music makers. The dreamers of the world are the ones who make changes. They are the ones who don’t tend to conform to societal standards. They are the ones who not only think outside the box, but they break the box down and throw it into the incinerator. And then they build their own boxes that someone else can think out of and destroy at a later date.

Dare to dream. Dare to make music that is different than the norm. Dare to write what you want to write and not conform to the rigidity of the rules of writing. Dare to tell a story that moves people. Just dare.

The rest of that poem is as follows, just in case you were wondering:

We are the music-makers,

And we are the dreamers of dreams,

Wandering by lone sea-breakers

And sitting by desolate streams;

World losers and world forsakers,

On whom the pale moon gleams:

Yet we are the movers and shakers

Of the world for ever, it seems.

 

With wonderful deathless ditties

We build up the world’s great cities.

And out of a fabulous story

We fashion an empire’s glory:

One man with a dream, at pleasure,

Shall go forth and conquer a crown;

And three with a new song’s measure

Can trample an empire down.

 

We, in the ages lying

In the buried past of the earth,

Built Nineveh with our sighing,

And Babel itself with our mirth;

And o’erthrew them with prophesying

To the old of the new world’s worth;

For each age is a dream that is dying,

Or one that is coming to birth. 

Lessons, lessons, lessons all about life are present throughout the movie and brought to life by Gene Wilder’s work as the quirky, and somewhat Eeyore-ish, Willy Wonka. Again, to quote the movie:

So much time, so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.

So much to do, so little time is what he meant, but if you weren’t paying attention you missed it when watching the movie. There is so much truth to that. We all want to do so much, but do we use our time wise enough so that we can get those things done and enjoy life as well?

Though there is so much more I can go into with the brilliance of this movie, there is only really one more thing to touch on. At one point, shortly after everyone is allowed into  Wonka’s candy land (literally), Gene Wilder sings a song. The song is titled Pure Imagination and it was written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley specifically for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I have always thought the song went so well with the movie and especially the poem, ‘Ode.’

How, you ask?

We are the dreamers of dreams and these lyrics:

If you want to view paradise

Simply look around and view it

Anything you want to, do it

Want to change the world?

There’s nothing to it

If you want to make changes in the world, you have to dream those dreams and then get after it. Willy Wonka wanted to create candy children would love. He wanted to give a home to the Oompa Loompas. He wanted to create the everlasting gobstopper. He dreamed the dreams and then made the music…err…candy so many people in the movie loved.

Willy Wonka was different. So was Gene Wilder, who really epitomized the concept of being your own person. They both taught us to dream and to chase those dreams and to not be like everyone else.

(Anything you want to, do it.)

Today I say goodbye to Willy Wonka and Gene Wilder. Thank you for your whimsical view on life and the way you gave a generation of children hope.

(What to change the world? There’s nothing to it.)

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

I sit on the front porch this evening, looking across the street at the Hispanic family building a shed in their back yard. Currently, it is 91 degrees and the sun is going down. The man is wearing long green work pants and heavy boots and a long sleeved shirt. Yeah, in this heat. That’s what I thought, too. The woman working alongside him, holding up pieces of tan vinyl siding as he tacks them into place, is also wearing long pants and a long shirt, and I haven’t heard her speak at all in the time I have been out here. As I type this right now I’m wondering if it is a shed or a small house they are building.

A car goes by, silver with tinted windows, a heavy THUMP THUMP coming from the speakers and fading away as it heads to the stop sign. It makes a right turn and is gone, taking its base thumping with it.

I look back to the Hispanic couple and just beyond them. Three kids are playing on a mattress on the ground. When I was a kid we called that a poor kid’s trampoline. Been there, kiddos. Been there. The kids are two girls and a boy. I believe the boy is the middle kid.

It’s the boy who holds my attention for a moment. He jumps on the mattress with the two girls, but unlike them, he is not laughing and smiling and having a good time. He looks like he would rather be doing anything else, but playing on the poor kid’s trampoline.

I get it, little dude. I get it.

I guess the reason the boy holds my attention is because in my hand I hold a baseball. It is a Wilson brand. When it was new it was white and unscuffed and the cursive Wilson was a deep black. It weighed all of five ounces. The red laces—all 108 double stitches (that’s 216 single stitches if you’re counting)—were still perfect, and still holding the white rawhide tightly together.

Now the ball is somewhat brownish/orange with very few white spots remaining. It had been struck by a lawn mower at some point. This much is obvious. There is a gash near one train track stretch of stitches. An inch or so away and right on the red seam is an inch and a half long tear in the rawhide. The stitches are still in place, undamaged by the mower. The Wilson is faded and there are nicks and scrapes and smudges throughout.

Though the ball is battered and scarred and will probably never be used in another game, it is still perfect. Perfect, like 27 batters up and 27 batters down. Perfect.

I roll the ball over in my hands, no longer looking at the Hispanic couple working on the shed. I’m no longer watching the kids jumping and laughing (well, at least the girls are laughing) on the mattress in the middle of the yard.  I’m interested in the baseball, in who might have used it, or if it was used in a game or just in practice. How did it come to be run over by a lawnmower?

How did I come across it?

That one is easy. I was walking the track at the baseball park with my son. It was crazy hot and we had only made one full lap. We cut between two fields on the dirt track that led to the parking lot. There is a drainage ditch that runs the length of the outfield of Field Number Two. It had rained the day before, so there was water in the ditch. And sitting on the edge of the ditch, just in the water, was the baseball. I picked it up and wiped it off. It dripped a bit of water from the gash in its hide. I rubbed it as we walked to the car, trying to dry it out some. Over the next couple of days it did dry out, and now I hold it in my hands

And I can’t help but daydream. I can’t help but believe that a kid, probably around eleven years old, had held it in his hand, rolling it around on his palm before coming set and then slinging it toward home plate. The ball never reached the catcher’s mitt, but was connected by a bat held by the opponent. There is nothing like the sound of aluminum on ball. And the ball soared high in the air, landing somewhere on the grass beyond the fence. That is where it stayed until a lawn mower blade hit it and tossed it into the ditch, where I would later find it.

The ball had been hit. Do you see the glory of that? The ball I hold in my hand had once been thrown and hit and caught and hit again. It was used in the game many little boys (and girls) love, in the game I love. To me, even now, many years after I last put down a bat, find the baseball to be the most perfect of spheres. The way it is constructed. The white hide, the red stitches, the mile’s worth of string encased in it and wrapped around a cork center. It tumbles when you throw it, it makes a beautiful sound when it hits a glove. It’s the diamond of the sports world, which is somewhat appropriate.

As I look at the ball, I become aware that the Hispanics have gone inside. The sun is almost down. I think of the little boy who looked like he would rather be somewhere else. I wonder if he ever played baseball, or if he ever dreamed of playing like I once did. I roll the ball in my hands one more time and stand. I stretch my back and walk inside. Iowa is playing Kentucky in the Little League World Series. I think I’ll sit and watch the game and listen to the sounds I still love.

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

Because…

Posted: August 18, 2016 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Because…

I have something to say. This could be long, so if you’re not up to reading for a few minutes, I’m going to encourage you to go ahead and click the X in the upper right hand corner. I hate saying that, but I’m just going to be honest and some folks don’t care much for it. So, either click the X or read on. The choice is yours.

Because…

Honesty matters.

I’m not the best writer in the world. I’m better than some, worse than others. I know this and I am fine with it. Why? Because I know where I’ve been and how far I have come. I don’t want someone to tell me they think my work is great if they don’t believe the words coming out of his or her mouth.

We all want to hear we are marvelous, that we did a good job at something. We, in general, want folks to like us, and by extension, what we do. We don’t want to be criticized, and too many of us don’t know how to take that criticism when it comes (and it will come). We’re a society used to getting trophies for participation.

We don’t handle failure all that well. But failure isn’t always a bad thing. It teaches us what we did wrong and maybe what we shouldn’t do again. It hurts, but it also makes us tougher and wiser than before we failed.

For the record, you only fail when you quit trying.

When someone criticizes us we feel as if we have failed. This is not true. Criticism comes in two forms: constructive and destructive. Let’s address the destructive first. Destructive criticism is when someone tells you something that is insulting and not helpful to you. It is the type of criticism that is meant to hurt you instead of build you up. It is the type of criticism that is not enlightening at all. It is what we hear the most. It’s not what is said the most, but what we hear.

Constructive criticism is meant to help or provide direction. Though it is often negative, if listened to, it can lead to improvement in an area of weakness.

Destructive criticism implies failure. Constructive criticism can give you the tools toward success.

Are you with me so far? Good. Because I think I am about to take this in a different direction.

There is also such things as constructive praise and destructive praise.

Constructive praise is honest. It’s the cheerleader of praises. You just scored a touchdown. Ra ra ra. You did a great job. It generally focuses on the obvious good points. Constructive praise is good praise because it is based on the facts. It can also pump you up and inspire you to try harder at something, even if you are good at it.

Then there is destructive praise. Destructive praise is when someone says something that is not true, but they don’t have the heart to tell you the actual truth. It’s the type of praise that doesn’t inspire you to try harder to improve. It is the comfort food of praises. It is ice cream and beer, folks. You may have heard some destructive praise before and not realized it. It looks kind of like this: ‘Hey, you’re a phenomenal writer,’ or ‘That was the most amazing story I have ever heard.’

But…but…that’s not destructive. How is that destructive? Those are compliments. Not if they aren’t true. You have to understand that. It is destructive when the compliments are not true.

Destructive praise’s purpose is to stroke the ego. And other than that ego stroking, there is no value in it. It is not meant to help you. It’s also a lie. It is. Remember, it is when someone says something that isn’t true that is meant to not hurt someone else’s feelings.

I have never been one for destructive praise. I don’t particularly like it when I receive it and I don’t give it out. I have been told every once in a while it is a good idea to tell someone a lie to keep from hurting their feelings. I disagree. I would rather tell you the truth now and get it over with, than for you to find out a month from now that I lied to you. Because what is worse than finding out someone lied to you, even if they thought they were protecting your feelings? How can someone believe you if you tell them a lie? If you’ll tell one, then you’ll tell another, right?

Because…

Once upon a time there was this villager, and he wanted to find the land of Publish. It was a daunting task. He had no clue where to begin and he made a lot of bad decisions along the way. He wasn’t that great of a writer, but some of the villagers had read his (horrible) stories and had told him, ‘Dude, you’re pretty awesome.’

Lies. They were all lies. Well intended, but lies. So, this dude—and yeah, we will call him Dude from here out—started believing he was awesome. His head was somewhat swollen from the heaping amounts of praise that had been lavished on him. To the great land of Publish he traveled. He sought out all the kingdoms that published the written word, you know all the ones ending in ‘zine.’ At each stop along the way to Publish, all the kings and queens of the kingdoms of ‘zine’ laughed at him, swearing he must be in jest. They kicked him out of their kingdoms and told them to go home, son, you can’t possibly be good enough to be aloud in our kingdoms.

‘But I’m Dude, the Great.’

To this they laughed heartier at him.

So, Dude, the Great made his way back to his village, discouraged and not understanding why the kings and queens wanted nothing to do with him. Still, the villagers told him, ‘Dude, you ARE great.’

Lies. All lies.

So he set off again, in his quest to find the land of Publish. Finally, the queen of the kingdom known as House-of-Pain Ezine said, ‘Welcome, Dude, we will allow your words here.’

Finally, Dude, the Great had made it to Publish.

The villagers…they had to be right. But were they? Of course not. Of all the stories Dude, the Great had written, only one of them made it to Publish. But one had made it. That was a start.

Then Dude, the Great learned a valuable lesson. You see, he approached one of the villagers and said, “Hey, can you read this? It made it to Publish!”

“Sure,” the villager said.

Days passed and finally Dude, the Great contacted the villager with a, “Did you read it?”

“I did.”

“What did you think?”

“It was great?”

“Really?”

“Yes. I loved it.”

Loved it? This made Dude, the Great happy. “Well, what did you love about it?”

“All of it.”

“All of it?”

“Yes. All of it.”

“What stood out about it?”

“Everything.”

Hmmm…Dude, the Great had an inkling that maybe the villager wasn’t necessarily telling the truth.

“What was the story about?” he asked.

The villager couldn’t tell him.

He asked again.

“I can’t remember, but it was great.”

“Did you read it?” he finally asked.

“Yeah, I read it. It was great.”

Dude, the Great walked away, his head down. The villager had lied to him, and he was saddened by this. Why? Because it became clear to him that the other villagers had heaped praise upon him, but they didn’t believe what they had said. He went home and sat in his room, the lantern on low, staring at his pen and paper.

All that time people said he was great, that he wrote terrific stories, and none of it was true.

Because…

Destructive criticism gives writers a false sense of how good they are told they are as opposed to how good they actually are. Constructive criticism allows them to become as good as they want to be, assuming they actually take the criticism for what it is.

Because…

Writers are real people.

We are. I know some of you who do not write say, ‘It’s easy to write a book. Just plant your butt in the seat and start typing.’

If only it were that easy.

Writers have families. Most of us have jobs to support those families, and we often write when an opportunity to do so presents itself. On many days, that opportunity is not there. So, what do we do? Many of us who really want to make it in this business will either stay up late or get up early in the morning to get some writing done. If you are like me, you do both.

Writers have feelings. We hurt. We get pissed. We love and dislike, and in some cases, hate–just like the average human being. We eat, we breathe, we poop. Well, we do. Most of us like sex. We are as real as you are. If you touch us, you will feel the imperfections in our skin. If you cut us, we bleed red, just like you. We’re real.

We put ourselves out there for you to love, hate or be indifferent to. We always hope you will like the words we put out and will tell someone else about this great book that ‘you have just got to read.’ It is a dream of ours, you know. Martin Luther King had a dream. We do, too, except all stories aren’t created equally. Some are slapped together, while the details in others are agonized over, sometimes to the point of being painful.

That’s just the way it is.

We want folks to be honest with us. Or maybe we don’t. Maybe we would just rather look through those rose colored glasses and never know we need to improve. Maybe the truth hurts and we just can’t handle it.

Oh, I’ll just quit since people don’t like my stories.’ Then you’ve failed yourself.

Do you see how this works? Do you see how we, as writers, can be counterproductive, because so much of what we say and mean are two different things. Sounds like the average person.

Writers are real people. We work hard at telling stories. Most of us work hard at finding homes for those stories. Some of us work hard at marketing them and networking with other authors. A few of us actually get somewhere. Yup, just like the average person.

Because…

Passion is important.

Readers can tell when you actually believe in what you write and believe in yourself. Readers can tell when you get into a story, elbows deep, and try to make it come alive. It’s alive! It’s alive!

Because…

I’m disappointed.

It’s hard to disappoint me, but lately, this seems to have happened more than usual. And it has happened because of being helpful. It has happened because I don’t believe in destructive criticism or destructive praise, but rather just the opposite. And it happened because so few people are willing to listen these days. So few people have open minds about concepts and philosophies and how things are done, and no I am not talking politics here. I’m talking writing.

Because…

I think differently than you.

Most writers are all about the rules, the rules, you must follow the rules. Meh. I followed the rules, and I hated it. I even got a t-shirt. I believe rules not only are meant to be broken, but should be broken.

I don’t believe in plots, but life situations. I don’t believe you have to have perfect grammar–it’s boring. I believe not all passive voice is bad.

I believe in characters and scenes and the feels. I believe you can be the best writer in the world, but tell horrid stories that will never sell. I believe you need to do more than just write words, but you need to connect with the readers, hook them and pull them in and hold them so close they don’t want you to let go.

I believe all action, all the time, sucks.

I believe we should look at writing as the art form it truly is and maybe color outside the lines a bit.

Because…

There are too many writers competing against one another and being mean to each other and flat out cheating and stealing from each other. There are far too many good old boy clubs where you get in because you are friends, even if your stuff sucks.

There are too many writers who would rather bash another writer because he or she does things differently than them.

Because…

The reading population has dwindled over the years. It’s not just that there is an abundance of other things to keep people occupied. There is also an abundance of really bad books out there, and readers have gotten tired of purchasing stuff that sucks. We’re losing them every single day.

And it is our own fault.

Because…

Honesty matters.

Yeah, full circle and all that jazz.

If we, as writers, were honest with ourselves and the readers, we know when we are actually trying to tell a great story or trying to make a dollar or four. We know when we are doing something wrong. We know when we are hiding something that could help others. We know when our words suck, and when we just throw them together.

But wait. Sometimes our friends know we suck. They opt for destructive praise instead of constructive criticism. A bloated ego based on false statements doesn’t help someone get better when they need to.

Because…

Too many people don’t care.

Because…

It’s your life. Own it.

This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s your life. Not someone else’s. Don’t blame someone for your shortcomings and failures. Don’t blame someone else for you not succeeding. If you can take credit for the things you do right, you can take credit for the things you do wrong.

Own. Your. Life.

You only get one shot at this game, why not be the best you can be?

Own your writing. Make it yours and then show the world what you’ve created. Be proud of what you accomplished.

Because…

I told you I had something to say and it might be long.

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

[[I am going to preface this post with this: The snark has been strong all day today. If you take offense to anything in here, well…I’m not going to apologize for it.]]

What’s a word whore you ask?

I need to give you a little back story. Not too long ago, three writers were discussing the written word, because sometimes that’s what writers do. In this case one of the writers, we will call her M, mentions how one of her stories was compared to another writer’s work.

I originally wrote the entire back story to this, but that would just bore you to drinking. What you need to know is this: M did not get upset that she was compared to another writer. Sometimes when that happens, the comparison is to a great writer and that can be a confidence booster. It can also swell the head like a balloon that needs popping. Get your needles out, folks. What she was upset about is who she was compared to. His name is not important, but I will call him Swane MacDrivelwriter.

Swane MacDrivelwriter is a word whore, and no one who wants to tell a good story wants to be a word whore.

That brings me back to your question, what is a word whore? It is someone who slaps words together with the sole intent of making a buck. They dress the words up to look pretty, but they mean nothing, and when you are done reading them, they will light up a cigarette and take your money. They don’t care about the reader (though they will wax poetic about how much they do). They care about the dollar they can make off of them. Word whores put out a ton of work, but very rarely do they edit or actually tell a story. They don’t look at themselves as story tellers, but authors who put out books that all readers should love (according to them). There is an inherent cockiness and entitlement to these people. They are the very bane of existence to anyone who actually tries to tell a good story. Word whores also brag, brag, brag about how many words they’ve pimped out, while swearing they need no help with anything. When they do get help from someone else, they don’t give credit to that person. Shame on you, Swane…

Before continuing on, let me state I have no problems with folks talking about their word counts. I talk about my word counts from time to time. It is a measurement of progress, and so often the very thing that keeps writers going. When I reach the ten thousand mark on any story, it just kind of takes off. What I don’t care much for are those folks who do the one up thing:

“I did three thousand words today?”

“Oh yeah? I did six thousand words just this morning.” Oh, Swane…

And good old Swane MacDrivelwriter is a master at selling his words for whatever buck he can make. That’s what makes it worse. He’s a word whore and a used word salesman. He is the reason why so many small presses and independent (or self published) writers have no chance in this business. Some readers are forgiving of his type, and even whisper that sympathetic southern term, ‘Bless his heart,’ after reading the slop he put out. Others are not so forgiving. They just spent money on his work. They just spent time reading it, and they feel like both were wasted. You know what happens then? They say, ‘I’m done with the small presses and the indie writers—they all suck.’

 

Oh the black eye you give us.

Don’t be a word whore. Don’t be a Swane MacDrivelwriter. The best thing you can do for you, your work and the readers is to actually stop and think about the words you use. Does this word work here or is it just here to complete the sentence? Does this sentence convey the point I want to make or am I just padding my word count with tissues in bras or socks in pants? Am I actually telling a story or am I just putting words one after the other in a relentless assault on the readers to try and make a dollar? Am I doing the very best that I can or am I putting out the same thing time and time again, kind of like how certain pop singers’ songs all sound the same, but have different titles to fool you into believing it is a new tune.

Are you doing what everyone else is doing because the formula sells books (even if they are bad books)? Are you just writing so you can say you wrote something?

Stop. Be original. Write words that matter. Write words that mean something. Write words that not only the reader can feel, but that you can feel. Write words with emotions and don’t just write to write.

Don’t be in a hurry to get that next book out. Try your hardest to make it your best. Don’t be a Swane MacDrivelwriter. Don’t be a word whore and just write for money. Sure, you might make a buck, but there’s no integrity in that. Yes, I used the word integrity. As a writer, if you are not striving to put out your best work each and every time, but just putting out for the dollar, well, there isn’t much integrity in what you’re doing. Take pride in the stories you tell. Take the time to tell them and to use the right words; words that have meaning and heart and impact. And keep your words off the street corners. Nothing good comes out of that.

Until we meet again, my friends…just don’t be a word whore…