Recently, Stitched Smile Publications put out a novel by the talented Pembroke Sinclair. The novel, Humanity’s Hope, is about seventeen year old Caleb, who survived the zombie apocalypse and his struggles there after. I had an opportunity to sit down with Pembroke and talk to her about writing, Humanity’s Hope and where her totally cool pen name came from. Please, sit back, grab a beverage and join me in my conversation with Pembroke Sinclair.

A.J.: Let’s just jump in here. Tell me, who is Pembroke Sinclair?

PS: Well, there are several answers I could give you. The funny “I’m an editor by day, zombie killer by night” response. Or the incredibly long response that explains why I started writing and how I came up with my pen name. Or I could tell you there is no Pembroke, only Zoul.

A.J.: I think I would like to hear the longer version. Why did you start writing?

PS: I’ve always been a writer. I remember as early as 3rd grade I wrote a story about a horse named Charlie that my teacher laminated. When we went back to Iowa every summer, my grandma had an electric typewriter that I would create stories on. None of those were laminated, and they should probably be completely forgotten. When I was in high school, I had a spiral notebook I wrote stories in, but I made sure it looked like I was taking notes. When I got to college, things got a little weird, and I had some professors who tore down my self-confidence and made it so I didn’t write for a very long time. I picked it up again after grad school while working at an environmental consulting firm. One of my friends convinced me it was worth trying again, so I started with a few short stories. I got addicted to getting published, but decided I didn’t like short stories, so I worked on novels.

A.J.: It never fails. Someone will tear down another person, and usually because they can, but I am glad you started writing again.

Since you bring up that tearing down and losing confidence, what was that like?

Pembroke SinclairPS: It was tough, especially considering I was taking a writing class and they were supposed to be helping me get better at writing.  Instead, they found every opportunity to inform me (and probably other students) that they would never amount to anything. One professor was a literary writer, and since I was a genre writer, she said she wouldn’t be able to fairly critique my writing. Isn’t good writing good writing no matter what genre? Either way, it cut deep.

Years later, I found out these professors (one in particular) had a habit of tearing down writers’ self-confidence—perhaps because they viewed us as competition. I don’t know. But it did give me a good view into what the publishing world would be like, and after getting over my initial hurt feelings, it helped me grow some thick skin.

I’m no longer angry at the professors for what they did. Was it mean spirited and ridiculous? Of course. But me still being angry won’t change anything. The only thing I can do is move forward and write.

A.J.: Pembroke, how did you move forward?

PS: Having encouragement from a friend really helped, and then getting some stories published really pushed that along. To be honest, getting a lot of rejections throughout my career helped, too, because I’m one of those people who loves to show others that I CAN do what you say I can’t, and I’ll prove it.

A.J.: You sound like me—I say the same thing. One thing I have learned is those who have been told can’t—or shouldn’t—do this business, are the ones who want it more and try the hardest.

PS: I think it’s because we think we have something to prove.  I absolutely question my ability to write every single day, but at the same time, I’m not going to let anyone tell me I shouldn’t be doing it.  That’s my choice, not theirs.

A.J.: You said you got addicted to publishing. Can you explain what you mean by that?

PS: If you’re an author, and you’ve ever received a slew of “NO’s” for your submissions, you know that it only takes one “YES!” to completely turn everything around. I love getting yeses—I think it goes back to my desire to prove I can and should be writing. And it’s just an amazing feeling to know my work is going to be available for people to read.

A.J.: I get that, completely. I, literally, received 100 rejections before my first acceptance, including one where the editor said I should never write another story again.

PS: I received a rejection for a YA story I wrote because a reviewer gave me a mediocre review on one of my middle grade books. I wasn’t even pitching anything to do with that particular story.

A.J.: You absolutely have to hate it when that happens.

PS: I was pissed. I did the thing you’re not supposed to do: I replied to the agent (I’m pretty sure it was an agent) and asked him what the hell he was talking about. He never responded.

A.J.: Oh my—I understand your anger, but you are right, never respond in that manner. In this day of social media, that is akin to literary suicide.

PS: I phrased it nicely, but that was the gist of it.

A.J.: Earlier, you mentioned possibly telling me where you got your pen name. Do you mind telling me now?

PS: When I was first setting out to get published, I knew I couldn’t use my real name because it’s pretty common and when you Google it, a country singer shows up. I needed a pen name so I could be found.

I was pregnant with my first child at the time, and we were looking for names for him. I thought, “Pembroke Sinclair Robinson. That kid would be destined to be a writer.” When I suggested it to my husband, his response was, “You want our kid to get beat up on the playground, don’t you?” My friend suggested I take it for myself, so I did.

Side note, Pembroke’s middle name is Alloicious.

A.J.: That is a great story—and your first child probably thanks you for not naming him that.

PS: He’s never really said …

A.J.: Let’s go back a little here. I want to touch on two things. First, why genre fiction.

PS: I’ve always been a huge fan of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I’m an English major, so I’ve read my fair share of literary—and I don’t think anything is wrong with literary—but I don’t enjoy writing it. I’ve tried, and it feels weird to me. I have a much easier time imagining myself in another world or surrounded by monsters, and I prefer to be in those worlds. Writing is an escape from reality for me, and I want to get as far away as I can.

A.J.: Before I go to the second part of this, what do you consider literary fiction?

PS: I would say literary fiction are the classics you read that are based in reality. The ones that focus on craft and language, such as Toni Morrison, Faulkner (although I would argue some of his stuff is fantasy), Hemingway, etc. Does that help?

No, wait, Faulkner is literary. I was thinking Vonnegut Jr.!

A.J.: It does help, but literary fiction is still considered, by many, to be real writing, where as genre fiction is considered for hacks. What do you feel is the difference? Or is there a difference?

PS: Oh, I’m fully aware of the distinctions between literary and genre and how literary is soooooo much better. I think the distinction comes from how people want to be labeled. If they want to seem “smarter” and more high brow, they will be “literary.” If they want to appeal to the masses, they’ll be genre. Personally, both can be incredibly intelligent and complicated (have you read Dune or the Foundation series?) and, conversely, both genres can have their crap. It’s all in what a person wants to read/write.

A.J.: Great thoughts in there, Pembroke. I agree. You seem to have some strong feelings on literary fiction—just as I do. I can totally appreciate that. Is that, maybe because of the way those who write literary fiction frown on those who write genre?

PS: Absolutely. And of course, it’s not all of them. There are always those authors who support and encourage other authors and those who are just poops–in all mediums of writing. Again, I’m an English major so I enjoy literary works. I just don’t like writing them.

A.J.: I don’t like writing them either.

Let’s switch gears. You recently had a book released. Humanity’s Hope. Can you tell me about this?

PS: I’m a huge zombie fan. I love zombies in all their mediums, and I really enjoy writing about how people survive the apocalypse—especially teens.

In most zombie stories, the heroes have no quarrels about filling the role of savior and fighting for what’s left of the world.  But when writing Humanity’s Hope, I wanted to look at a character who was reluctant about that role; who didn’t want to be in that position and who has a lot of issues with surviving when others have died.

While I truly believe there will be those people who fight hard to defeat an undead threat, I also believe there will be those who only survive.  But I don’t believe any of us will come out of the zombie apocalypse unscathed.

On top of that, I also wanted to give my main character something to set him even further apart from his fellow humans, so he’s immune from becoming a zombie.

A.J.: I’m not going to ask how he is immune—that is for you to reveal in your work. I will say I love the zombie sub-genre as well. But I also find that so many people have written the same things over and over and there is little variation. What sets Humanity’s Hope apart from other books?

PS: Of course the same things have been written over and over. The same can be said about films. That’s what works and makes money!

You know, I was typing how Hope is different from other stories, and it’s not really. There are certain elements that exist in stories, and they are portrayed through different characters and settings, but they are always there.

I guess I can say it’ s not the same because I have zombies that are different. Other than that, it’s a story about someone trying to come to terms with losing his friends and family and struggling through his day to day exist with PTSD while the living dead roam the earth.

A.J.: Fair enough. Do you mind sharing an excerpt with the readers at the end of this interview?

PS: Not at all.

A.J.: Awesome. Okay, if you have a few more minutes, I would like to ask a couple more questions. What do you enjoy most about writing and publishing?

PS: I enjoy being able to escape. I enjoy exploring the question of what it means to be human (I haven’t found an answer yet). I enjoy sharing my stories with others and seeing readers enjoy them.

A.J.: Okay, on the flip side, what do you dislike about writing and publishing?

PS: The length of time it takes me to get a story on the page. It would be so much easier if I could plug the computer into my head and THINK my story onto the page. When it comes to publishing, I wish there could be more camaraderie and support among authors. We’re all in this together. Let’s build each other up instead of tearing each other down. Not that everyone does this, but those that do need to stop.

A.J.: I absolutely agree, we are in this together. I’ve always viewed this as a family, even though there are some family members we want to just stay away.

Now, other than Humanity’s Hope, you have some other works out, correct?

PS: I do. Several fiction stories and nonfiction works.

I write the nonfiction under my real name. Just to make it nice and confusing.

A.J.: Okay, treat me like a writer just starting out. What would you tell me?

PS: Have fun. Publishing is full of rejection and others who want to see you fail, but if you write because you enjoy writing and have fun creating your stories, you’ve already shown the world you can be successful.

A.J.: I like that. I like that a lot. Sound advice.

Okay, before I let you go, is there anything else you would like to say to the readers?

PS: Thank you for reading my work.  Without you, there’d be no reason to do what I do.

A.J.: One more thing: where can readers find you?

PS: You can find me on Facebook, Goodreads, and Amazon.

A.J.: Pembroke Sinclair, thank you for taking time out of your schedule to chat with me. It was nice to get to know you.

PS: Thank you!  I appreciate you taking the time also!

I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Pembroke Sinclair. Now, here is a sneak peak at Humanity’s Hope:

1906894769Caleb sprinted across the dirt road. His leg muscles burned. He was barely able to get his feet off the ground. The backpack slammed into his lower back with every step—the straps dug into his shoulders. As he approached the low wall, he slid into a crouch, turning so his back would contact the stones first. The pressure of the backpack pressed into his ribcage—squeezing the air out of his lungs. He pressed his lips together and let the stream flow out of his nose. He tried his best to keep it silent—a task that proved difficult with every pant. His lungs screamed for air. He wanted to draw in large, gasping breaths, but they would be too loud and attract unwanted attention. The undead were just on the other side of the wall, unaware of his presence, and he intended to keep it that way.

Caleb’s gaze drifted back to the road and fell on his sister, Nina, and Len, his chemistry partner from school. They ran toward him as fast as they could with their heavy backpacks that hunched them over. Or perhaps it was an attempt to make themselves smaller so they were less noticeable—Caleb couldn’t tell. They slid up to the wall on either side of Caleb and attempted to control their breathing.

This was a terrible place to hide—they all knew it. It was too open, too exposed, but there weren’t any other choices. The squat wall was right at the edge of a fallow field, across the dirt road they had been traversing in the hopes of finding civilization. They found the wall in a vast, rural landscape. The three of them were lucky there was something. They had come around a bend in the road and up a small hill, and there they were—zombies—shuffling aimlessly through the countryside. Caleb had to suppress his shocked gasp. They came out here because the urban areas had become too dangerous. There were too many zombies. The supplies had either been pillaged or were too difficult to get to. The country was supposed to be their hope, their salvation. So far, it wasn’t. The farmhouse was still ways away, about 50 yards. At least that was what Caleb assumed. He was horrible at judging distances. It didn’t matter anyway. With the zombies in front of them, the house was as accessible as another planet. But they couldn’t stay out in the open, either.

The look on Len’s face reflected the turmoil Caleb felt inside. His eyes were wide, his face red from exertion. His head was cocked to the side, his jaw muscles tight. The look asked: “What do we do now?” Caleb had no answer.

When they set out that morning to look for food, they had told themselves the zombies had been confined to the cities. Why? Because they had to believe something. They had to think there was still a chance.

Caleb lowered his gaze to the ground. There was no way to respond to Len’s silent question. They just had to wait it out—make their move when they got the opportunity. Caleb glanced over his shoulder at his sister. She slumped against the wall, her legs sprawled out in front of her, her chin resting on her chest. His stomach tightened as he took in her pose. She wasn’t going to be able to move quickly from that position. She needed to be ready. Yet, he felt for her. What was the point of being ready if it meant they had to keep running? His legs shook underneath him as he held his crouch. It would have been such a relief to plop onto his butt and take the weight off his legs. He could’ve placed his arms around Nina’s shoulders and pulled her close. They could have relaxed in their misery. Instead, he gently backhanded her arm. When she looked at him, he thrust his thumb into the air. With an eye roll and deliberate movements, Nina moved into a crouch, removing the gun from the back of her waistband.

Caleb focused on the weapon in his hands. It was there so often, it was like an appendage. He rarely noticed it anymore. But neither of the guns would do them much good; there weren’t enough bullets to take out the threat. Even if they fired their remaining rounds, all it would do was draw more zombies to their location.

Caleb turned his attention away from his gun and stretched up to look over the wall. As soon as his eyes broke the surface, he scanned the area before sinking back down. His heart pounded against his ribs, his throat tightened. An undead lumbered close to the wall—too close. One wrong move or sound and they were spotted. He licked his lips and felt the sweat slide down his spine. If they stayed quiet, the zombies would keep moving. They just had to wait it out.

A low, soft grumbling filled the air. At first, Caleb wasn’t convinced he’d heard it. It was so low, he could have imagined it. He had hoped he’d imagined it. But then Len wrapped his arms around his midsection and squeezed. The rumbling grew louder. It was hard to hide the sounds of hunger. Caleb’s eyes grew wide. He shifted his stance so he could explode onto his feet.

The rotted hand reached over the wall and swiped the air between Caleb and Len. There were no other options. All of them sprang to their feet. The crowd of rotting flesh was converging on their position. Caleb extended his arms and lined up his sights. The crack of the gun echoed loudly in the country air; the corpse slumped onto the wall. All three of them jumped over the wall and ran toward the house. The path took them directly toward the zombies; they had to be fast enough to get by them.

Caleb’s extremities tingled with adrenaline, his footsteps thumped rhythmically on the hard, dry ground. He sucked in long gasps of air, but his lungs still burned for oxygen. He caught glimpses of the other two out of the corner of his eyes. The undead drew nearer. Their arms outstretched, waiting to snag their prey. Caleb zig-zagged across the field. He ducked under a pair of arms, then shouldered a zombie out of the way. Its bones crunched against his shoulder, teeth gnashed close to his ear, driving him forward with more urgency. The house grew larger with every step he took. Almost there.

A short yip followed by a grunt sounded behind him. He risked a glance over his shoulder. Len stumbled then fell. Caleb’s heart leapt into his throat. He skidded to a stop, turning to help his friend. Caleb was about to step toward Len, but he was stopped in his tracks. The action caused him to lose his balance. His arms flailed through the air to keep Caleb from falling over. An incessant, strong tugging kept him from moving forward. He turned to see Nina jerking on his backpack. Her eyes were wide and glistening with tears. She bit her bottom lip and shook her head violently. Caleb glanced again at Len, who reached for Caleb, his mouth open in a silent plea, tears running down his cheeks. Caleb reached toward him. Len’s plea turned into a scream as a zombie bit into his calf. A dark ring of blood stained his jeans and grew larger. Another zombie latched onto the fingers of his extended hand. The crunch as it bit through his bones rattled in Caleb’s skull. He pulled his hand into his chest.

Caleb turned at that point. There was nothing more he could do. His sister grabbed his wrist, and they ran into the house. They took the stairs two at a time and headed into a bedroom on the right. After closing the door, they scanned the area, checking under the bed and in the closet. Clear. His sister collapsed face first onto the bed. From the way her body shook, Caleb could tell she was crying. He leaned back until his pack connected with the door. His legs gave out, and he slid to the floor. Pulling his knees to his chest, he wrapped his arms around his head and tried to disappear into himself.

And then there were two.

“The man who says he can, and the man who says he can not … are both correct.”

—Confucius

Some people will always believe they can do anything. Others, however, will always believe they can’t do anything. The difference between the two is one word: Belief. One type of person believes he can and one type of person believes he cannot. Both beliefs are correct.

The person who believes he can do something will try and try and try until he accomplishes his goal. He has confidence in himself, in his abilities. He has absolute faith that he will succeed. He believes himself. Though he may fail, he won’t give up. Determination is a strong suit.

(Huh … this reads like a horoscope.)

The person who believes he can’t do something might still try to do it and might even try earnestly. He might fail, maybe even spectacularly. It is in failing where he loses steam, where he thinks ‘why did I even try this?’ He may not even try at all. “I can’t do that,” more than likely will come from his lips and once he has spoken it aloud, it is cemented in his psyche. His resolution is fairly strong, not in his ability to do something, but in his inability.

Let me stop here and switch gears. When I was coming up there was a television show called The Facts of Life. I loved this show (actually, I was totally in love with Blaire Warner). I’m not going to go into details about what this show was about, because that is not the point. One actress, outside the main cast, who made several appearances on the show was Geri Jewell. This lady has cerebral palsy.

As described by CerbralPalsy.org: Cerebral Palsy is caused by brain damage. The brain damage is caused by brain injury or abnormal development of the brain that occurs while a child’s brain is still developing — before birth, during birth, or immediately after birth. Cerebral Palsy affects body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance. It can also impact fine motor skills, gross motor skills and oral motor functioning.

Geri Jewell went on to become an actress and a stand up comedian.

I tell you all of that so I can tell you this: there is a video on Youtube (which I hope you will watch) where Jewell does a standup routine. In this particular video she talks about how she was asked to do celebrity sports events, but never got to actually play a sport. She goes on to say how she approached the producer about it and then maybe, possibly told a small lie that she could play tennis. She then states this:

“One of the reasons I have accomplished what I have accomplished in my life is I’ve always seen where I want to go in my mind and I go there. I always create the vision …”

She continues through her routine, then at the end she states after a nice story about how she got a role on Deadwood:

“Life has ebbs and flows, yings and yangs. Life can be very difficult sometimes, but we think we can’t go on. And you know what? You gotta always, always believe in yourself. Because even when I busted my neck and had to start all over, I always had a little pilot light inside of me that I never let out. Don’t ever let your pilot light go out and don’t let somebody put it out. Reach your dreams. Do what my mom always said: you have to try. You never know what you can do unless you try, and never give up on reaching your dreams and never underestimate the power of the human spirit.”

Geri Jewell absolutely refused to let her disability deter her from her dreams. She went after what she wanted. She knew where she wanted to go and she created a vision and she went after it. She tried.

I admit, there have been times I have said, ‘I can’t do that.’ I admit the moment I stated this out loud, or even silently in the vault that is my head, I immediately took the possibility of trying off the table. The moment I refused to try these things I failed, maybe not at the thing I didn’t attempt, but for not even trying, for not even seeing if it was possible.

Things I said I couldn’t do:

  • Write a story
  • Get a story published
  • Write a novel
  • Have a publisher put out one of my books
  • Self publish a book
  • Do a convention/festival
  • Do a live reading
  • Do a video

Those are just a handful of things I told myself I couldn’t do. Because of that mindset, it took me a long time to do any of those things. Here is what was accomplished once the mindset changed:

  • Write a story—Wrote first story on June 29, 1993, titled Chuckie. It was bad.
  • Get a story published—published first story on House-of-Pain website in December, 2002.
  • Write a novel—wrote first novel in 1996, titled Reaper’s Run. It is not very good.
  • Have a publisher put out one of my books—Along the Splintered Path was released by Dark Continents Publishing in January, 2012.
  • Self Publish a book—Southern Bones was released in October 2012. Not many copies sold, but it was a great accomplishment for me.
  • Do a convention/festival—First convention was in April, 2015, at the Cayce Festival of the Arts.
  • Do a live reading—First live reading was in April of 2017 at the Cayce Festival of the Arts. The story was titled, Wilson’s Last Walk.
  • Do a video—First video was of Wilson’s Last Walk at the Cayce Festival of the Arts. My brother in law filmed it.

These things may seem small, but they were huge for me. They were breakthroughs. They were also moments of truth. These were moments where I realized I could do something I previously thought was impossible; they were things I told myself I could never do, so why try? I was wrong.

And here is the point to all of this: if you think you can’t do something and you never try, then you will never be able to do it. You automatically take the ability to do something out of your hands when you say ‘I can’t.’ Negativity will always breed negativity. ‘I can’t’ is one of the worst negatives you can impose on yourself.

Go after your dreams. Don’t let self doubt get in the way of you accomplishing something great. Believe in yourself. If it helps, take baby steps and build your confidence. It’s like climbing a ladder. In order to climb it you have to place one foot on the bottom rung, then the next foot on the second rung. Then you pull yourself up with your hands on the rungs above your head and push with your feet on the rungs below. The more you climb, the higher you go.

There are things I regret never doing because I didn’t believe I could do it, or I was afraid what others might think. Or maybe I was just afraid of failing. This has been steadily going by the wayside with me as I realize I am the obstacle I have been trying to hurdle my entire life.

One more thing and I will let you go. Geri Jewell hit on something I think is very important. It goes right along with believing in yourself. She stated that she had a pilot light on. Never, ever let anyone extinguish that fire, that desire to do something. Those people are not you. Those people do not share in your ambition. Those people who tell you that you can’t accomplish something don’t believe in you … and quite possibly, they don’t believe in themselves. Many people who tell you that you can’t accomplish something also don’t think they can do that very thing either. Their mindset is if they can’t do it, then how can you?

It’s like a mirror. You look in it and you see your reflection. When naysayers look at you and put you down or discourage you from chasing your dream, that accomplishment, they are just looking in the mirror and seeing themselves. And who they see in that mirror is someone who can’t—maybe even won’t—try to do what you want to do.

Don’t let them put out your pilot light.

I’ve struggled my entire writing career with what I should or should not do. Should I change this? Should I listen to this person? Should I try this? Should I submit to this place? Should I be concerned with what others think of me? Should I even continue with this gig? I’m at the point in my life where none of that should matter anymore. A lot of it doesn’t matter. What matters is am I happy? If I am happy with where I am at in life, then what others think really doesn’t matter. If I’m not happy, then it is up to me to make myself happy. It’s my pilot light. How much I turn up the heat in the stove is up to me.

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

A.J.

On July 8, 2017, The Monster was found.

Let me give you some context. The Anatomy of Monsters anthology was released on this date. We here at Stitched Smile Publications hosted an online release party, complete with author takeovers and live readings. It was a blast.

At the end of the party, four of us Stitchers got together and did a ‘live write.’ This is where we took a predetermined topic and wrote a story. We gave ourselves 300 words each and only 15 minutes to write each part. Here’s the kicker: Each writer had to wait for the one before them to write their part so they could start. Oh, and the 15 minutes included reading the previous parts.

In honor of The Anatomy of Monsters release, we wanted to do a piece involving a monster of some sort. After a bit of brainstorming, the topic was decided on. A descendant of Frankenstein had discovered the location of the Frankenstein Monster. It just happens to be in the possession of one, Ichabod Crane (he of the Headless Horseman fame). The descendant wanted the Monster back. This is how he goes about acquiring the family’s monster.

Those participating in the live write, in order of who wrote what parts: Lisa Vasquez, Nick Paschall, Donelle Pardee Whiting and myself, A.J. Brown.

Please make not of two things. 1) I have separated each person’s section with ***. 2) This is completely unedited. When you only have 15 minutes to write, you have no time to edit. So, in keeping with the live write concept, we have not edited this 1200 + word story.

I hope you enjoy this piece. Please leave comments and let us know how we did.

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

The Monster

By: Lisa Vasquez, Nick Paschall, Donelle Pardee Whiting, A.J. Brown

Victor sat in the library where the smell of books took over the room mingling with the smell of the burning logs in the fireplace. Since he was a child, this room held a mixture of emotions for him whenever he entered. Now, at the age of 81, the shadows crept over his features and deepened the lines of time as he stared at his reflection in the glass he was holding. ~A lifetime~ he thought to himself, ~A lifetime of searching, only to come up with baubles of the strange and macabre.~

Releasing a sigh, Victor stood up and downed the rest of his drink, letting the fiery liquid warm his throat and chest. He walked over to a display in the center of the room, the protective, glass casing illuminated by the overhead spotlight.

UnknownHe studied the diary of his great-great-great grandfather, handed down through the generations, until he knew every single word. ~At least, the ones not written in code.~

The breakthrough came when he stumbled across a man who used to work as a cryptographer in the military as a young man, and happened to have an old 16th Century French encryption book from the court of Henry II. He’d been trying to wheel and deal with Victor for pieces of his other collections for years to no avail. Seeing this as an opportunity, the other man could not contain his excitement.

“If I break this code for you,” Jacquis said looking over his bifocals at Victor, “you sell me the Coronation Charter of Henry I.”

Victor let out a single laugh, keeping his gaze fixed on Jacquis,

“You’re paying with money you do not have yet. Crack the code, and we’ll deal.”

Three months later, Victor had the identity of the man who possessed what he desired … the body of the “Family’s Monster.”

***

Entering the ancient woods of New England in Northern New York, Victor pulled his coat tighter to his frame as his carriage bumped along the road. Pulling a pocket watch, he stared at the hands and tapped the glass once or twice, just to make sure the damnable thing was working correctly!

“Hurry up you fool!” Victor shouted, leaning out the window to breathe in the clean air of the New World, the woods of Sleepy Hollow filling his lungs as a small herd of sheep moved down from a close by hill.

“We’re almost their sire,” Gris said, the low-born child stammered, his imperfect form of speech landing him as a hand servant to the Frankenstein family instead of an orator,

“We’re pulling in now.”

“Good,” Victor said, leaning back to pat the satchel of gold he’d brought along with him.

The man who owned the body of his great-grandfather’s experiment was none other than the detective Ichabod Crane, an elusive sort that’d gone missing after reporting to Sleepy Hollow. It had taken three lawyers to find him, and two more after that to arrange this meeting, but they were finally meeting in the Crowsreach Tavern in Sleepy Hollow, at Dusk on the 8th of July.

It would go flawlessly.

When the carriage pulled to a stop, Victor waited a minute before his door was opened, Gris standing beside it with his mop of blonde hair glistening with sweat.

“Clean yourself up boy and be sure to bring in the payment when I call for you,” Victor said.

Gris nodded, walking behind Victor to go and set up the horses for feeding and bedding down for the night.

Opening the door, Victor scanned the crowd and was instantly attracted to a pair of dark eyes.

Ichabod Crane.

***

Ichabod Crane locked eyes with Victor, daring the older man to look away. He knew why he was there. He wanted Ichabod’s prize. He needed the monster. Victor doesn’t need it, Crane thought.

Maintaining a casual appearance, Crane walked over to greet his guest. He only invited the foreigner to his home because his letter said he had something of great interest to offer.

“You must be the detective, Ichabod Crane I heard so much about,” Victor said, presenting his hand in greeting.

i_640x503_361846397Crane glanced at Victor’s hand before offering his own. “I am. And you must be Victor Frankenstein. I heard a lot about your work.” Crane looked over Victor’s shoulder to see Gris standing there bouncing from one foot to other. “Your … man … can wait with the horses. I don’t expect this to take long.”

With a backward flick of his eyes, Victor tilted his head to tell Gris to move out of Crane’s line of sight.

“Of course. But I do think this will interest you.” The aged collector bent down to pick up the bundle at his feet. “Where should we go to discuss this rare find?”

Crane led Victor the library to the right of the entry hall. As they entered, Victor looked around at the deep mahogany floor with a quality Oriental rug in front of the fireplace between two deep cushioned pub chairs. The table between the chairs was empty.

“I moved the decanter to the side board. You can put … whatever it is there.”

Crane walked casually to the sideboard. Would you care for a sherry? Or a brandy? I am afraid I do not have anything stronger.”

“A brandy would be welcome on a cold night like this.” Victor moved to the empty table and set the bundle down. He turned his heavy ruby ring as he watched Crane pour the dark amber liquid into snifters.

***

It wasn’t long before they discussed the deal.

“You have the Monster,” Victor said.

“I do.”

“It belongs to my family.”

“It belongs to me.”

“I’m offering you a thousand gold coins, Mr. Crane, for the Monster.”

Ichabod let out a humorless laugh. “Not even a million gold coins will get you the monster.”

“Let’s be fair, Crane.”

“Let’s be leaving, Victor.”

With that Victor flashed him an angry glance, nodded and turned to leave.

“Nice doing business with you, Frankenstein.”

Victor said nothing, as he left, leaving the gold coins behind.

At the carriage, he motioned for Gris. “I thought this would happen. You know what you must do?”

“Yes, Master,” Gris said. A crooked smile crossed his face.

Victor climbed atop the carriage to the driver’s seat and snapped the reigns. The horses started forward.

Gris walked away, with papers in hand. As he passed strangers on the street, he handed the papers to them.

“The Horseman’s Head?” One man asked. “You’ve found then Horseman’s Head?”

Ichabod heard the clamor and went outside.

“Excuse me, Boy? Come here.”

Gris did as he was told.

“What is this about the Horseman’s Head?”

Gris extended one of the papers to Ichabod, who snatched it and stared wearily at the odd boy. He read the few words on it.

“Where is this?” he asked.

“At the manor across the way.” He pointed down the road.

Ichabod turned and went back inside.

Barely ten minutes passed and Crane was on his horse and heading to the manor a few miles away. As he did so, he passed a darkened carriage hiding in the woods.

Victor smiled, lashed the horses into motion and made his way back to Ichabod’s home. There, in the basement, he found the monster.

“It’s time to come home, my child,” he said as he opened the cage the monster was in.

I haven’t written anything in days. It’s not that I have had no ideas—I have plenty. I either haven’t felt well or have been tired or both. Then there is this little factor called time. I don’t always have time to put words on documents, and sometimes when I do, other things pop up. It is called life, and life often demands our attention and demands we stop our daydreaming and word-scaping. Oh the demands of reality sucketh dry the mind and energy it takes to sit and type. And don’t think sitting and typing is doing nothing. It is exhaustive work, even if it looks like it isn’t.

What I have a desire to do is tell the story my mind conjured up about a poor, ruined baseball, one that had clearly been ran over by a large lawn mower (and certainly not the push kind you walk behind).

The Girl and I sometimes go walking out at the baseball field behind the local middle school. I usually get this request to do so later in the evening, meaning we either can’t go for a walk because it is almost dark out or we can go for a walk, but a brief one. On Friday it conveniently rained and looked as if it would storm, dampening our chances of going for a walk.

A little after six, I knocked on The Girl’s bedroom door, opened it to see her sitting, cross-legged on her bed. I said, ‘Hey, do you want to go walking?’ That’s not entirely accurate. I said, ‘You wanna go walkin’?’

She shrugged and said, ‘Sure.’

‘It’s been raining,’ I said.

‘It’s just water,’ she responded.

Off we went.

Her assessment of it’s just water stayed that way and we ended up not needing the two towels I took with us, you know, just in case, it’s just water turned into it’s just a lot of water.

DSCN2605The baseball park was deserted, except for one black Grand Am sitting near the restrooms at the parking lot. We made our first lap around the track, talking about boys and other things, but mostly boys. It rained on us, but not much. Off in the distance, the clouds gave way to blue skies.

To give you a little ground work, the track we walk on is black and rubbery. I believe it to be one of those tracks made out of recycled tires. I could be wrong. In fact, I am probably wrong. The track itself circles the parking lot and the batting cages before passing through a stretch of trees. It opens up at the back end of the ballpark where the furthest of the five fields resides. It passes the Tee Ball field before entering another smaller stretch of trees, and then circles around the playground, before ending up back where we started. As you can see, it is an endless loop.

As we passed the furthest of the five fields, I looked toward the muddy ground, the grass soaked through. A trough of water ran just on this side of the fence, ending near the Tee Ball field. On the other side of this trough was a baseball. For those who don’t know, when I see an errant baseball on the ground, and there is no one there to claim it as theirs, I pick it up and add it to my collection. On this first time around the field, I left the baseball where it sat.

We made another lap around the track, this time talking about boys and other stuff, but mostly boys. The second time we passed the ball, I said, ‘Hold on a second.’ I hopped the watery trough. Thankfully, my foot did not slide and I didn’t sprawl on the ground, either landing on my butt in the pooled water, or face first in the wet grass. I plucked the ball from its spot on the ground. It was soaked through, as I thought it would be. What I hadn’t expected was to see where the strings had split and where the rawhide had been torn. Clearly, the baseball had been  struck by the sharp blades of a lawnmower.

I hopped back over the water trough. This time, my heel caught the soft part of the ground and almost sank in. I pulled my foot free, leaving behind a slight smudge of mud on the heel. Back on the track, The Girl and I continued our walk, me letting my fingers roll the ruined baseball over and over in my palm, she talking about boys and other things, but mostly boys. Every once in a while I would glance at the ball. Some of the twine had been torn loose when it had been struck by the lawnmower. The rawhide looked like puckered skin after a knife had sliced through it. In a way, I guess a knife had done its handy work on the ball.

We finished our walk and went back to the car. Fortunately for us we got back in when we did. It went from it’s just rain to someone opened the floodgates. I held the ball a little longer, looking at it. ‘Poor dead baseball,’ I said and set it in the cup holder in the center console. The Girl looked at me like I was nuts, but shouldn’t she be used to this by now?

It was a short trip home, one where we talked about boys, among other things, but mostly boys. Once home, I grabbed the ball, hurried to the front door not really trying to dodge rain drops, but not wanting to get soaked either. I unlocked the door and went inside. I looked at the ball one more time before setting it on the entertainment center right next to the DVR.

I sat to read, but my mind kept wondering back to the baseball I had found, to its flayed rawhide, split strings and ruined insides. Poor dead baseball, I told myself again.

As the night went on I kept going back to the ball, thinking of the many ways it had been used before it got shredded by the lawnmower. Then I thought of its horrific ending. He had probably been laying in the grass, minding his own business, maybe even basking in the sun, working on his tan. Or he may have been sleeping. Then he probably heard the heavy rumble of the riding lawnmower (because that is the type they use at the ballpark). The baseball probably tried to roll away, but found he couldn’t, not without the stimulus of someone picking him up and tossing him. I imagine there was a scream as the sunny world he had been laying in was suddenly dark, and then the blade struck him, shooting him out the side. He probably flew through the air at a high rate of speed, before landing near the fence where I found him. And there the ball lay unnoticed by the monster that had dispatched of him mercilessly. How many people passed him by? How many folks just thought he was a ruined baseball and not worthy of their time? How many kids walked by him, maybe even picked him up, thinking they had a ball to play with, just to see his ruin exterior and drop him back to the ground?

Poor dead baseball.

Two days have passed since we brought the tattered thing home. It has sat on the entertainment center, ‘drying out.’ That sounds so creepy, when you consider how my mind conjured up this inanimate object’s death.

Here I sit, typing these words, the baseball off to my right. I paused midway through this piece and grabbed a pencil. Taking the baseball in hand, I did what I felt came naturally. Then I grabbed Cate’s Sharpies and went to town.

I now call this baseball Dead Fred. I may also have a new hobby for my baseball collection. Time will tell.

Thank you all for reading. I hope you have a great day. Until we meet again, my friends, be kind on one another.

A.J.

I’ve had an idea for years—at least since 2008—but I have never really acted on it. Until now.

A couple of weeks ago Cate and I worked the Cayce Festival of the Arts right down the road from where I grew up and at the high school I graduated from. We had my books and her bookmarks out. I did a reading of one of my short stories, which went better than expected. It was a long day, but a good one. We did okay, as far as sells were concerned. We enjoyed ourselves and we met some cool people.

One thing Cate noticed that I didn’t (probably because she is much better about these things than I am) is how many children came to our table with their parents wanting books. She noted that at least a dozen little kids came to our table looking for children’s books. Unfortunately, they walked away empty handed.

“Are you ever going to write that children’s book you talked about a few years ago?” she asked me.

“I don’t know,” I responded. “I’ve played around with the idea, but I’ve never really tried to write it.”

“You should.”

“Why is that?”

She went on to explain how many kids walked away, disappointed I didn’t have any children’s books (especially seeing how we had a stuffed teddy bear in bunny pajamas on the table).

Later that evening we talked about it again. A couple of days passed and we talked about it again.

It’s not like I don’t already have a concept for the book. I do. I think it is a good idea. I also think it will be fun to write. With that in mind, I am attempting to write a children’s book. It is a daunting task, but one I look forward to.

Let me be honest here: writing a children’s book is completely out of my element. It’s nothing like writing a short story or novel. It is completely different and new to me. It will be a learning experience, and hopefully, something I can apply to my writing as a whole, going forward.

I’m excited about this, and I hope you are, too.

Over the next few weeks I will post updates here. Part of the reason for that is to hold myself accountable. By putting this out there, it makes me stay true to my word and do it. Hopefully, if you are not excited about this right now, you will be by the end of the process.

Consider this the first update.

April 8th: Cate and I worked the Cayce Festival of the Arts and she suggested writing a children’s book.

April 9th: Scoured the computer for a file I wrote back in 2008. It took me half an hour to find it, but there it was under Misadventures of Scarecrow Girl and Pumpkin Boy. I Opened the file and read the contents—all 1489 words.

This is where I put my head in my hands and said, “What the heck was I thinking when I wrote that drivel?” It wasn’t that it was bad, but it wouldn’t do for a children’s book.

April 11th: Cate and I went to the library and checked out a few children’s books of various lengths and subjects.

April 13th: I sat down with pad and pencil and the stack of children’s books and read. I made notes in my handy dandy notebook (come on, please tell me someone got the reference), paying close attention to how much text was on the pages and how many pages were in each book. Just for the record, there was a lot more text than I expected and the average pages in each book was 28 (most of the books ran from 26-32 pages in length).

April 14th, 15th & 16th: Online research about children’s books and how to write them. There is a lot of content on the interwebs. Most of them said very similar things in what is needed in a children’s books. Notes were made. Thoughts were had. Ideas were forthcoming.

April 17th & 18th: Here is where I did a lot of reading on the actual rules of writing children’s books. As any of you who follow this page knows, I often break the rules of writing. Many writers think I suck because of that. The readers, however, like the way I write, so I break the rules when it is warranted. The thing about children’s books, though, is you can’t really break a lot of the rules. They are a tough crowd and their attention spans are not quite as long as an adult’s (for the most part). The structure, amount of pages and words and the types of words used are very important to holding that attention span.

Several pages in the notepad were filled, some of them highlighted—these are what I took as some of the most important points to remember.  I will refer back to this over and over as I go forward.

April 18th: Started outlining what I hope will be a good story. Brainstorming, complete with the thunder, lightning and rain in the brain.

April 19th: Finished the outline at lunch and read it over. There is a dilemma and a moral and it is not preachy. I like it. I think you will, as well.

April 19th: Getting more excited about this.

There is one other thing I haven’t told you. My kids, The Girl and The Boy, want to illustrate the book. This excites me as much as writing the actual story. It remains to be seen if they will actually do it, but the opportunity is there for them.

So, that is what I have for now. The beginnings of a children’s book. I hope it turns out the way I want it to. If it does, there may be more of these in the future. i don’t know yet.

What I do know is I am excited. I think I have said that a few times here in this post. I hope you all are as excited.

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

A.J.

Have you ever listened to an older person talk? I don’t mean someone older than you by a year or two or even ten? I’m talking about someone in their sixties and seventies and eighties (and if they are lucky, further up in years). I’m talking about people with a life history.

I’ve heard it said when a child gives you something they think highly of you. It’s the same with older people telling you stories. If one sits down and opens up his or her past to you, it is because they want to share that part of their lives with you.

People don’t talk about the past anymore. Well, they do, but not the history of their lives. They talk about the immediate past. What happened an hour ago or a day ago or last week, maybe even a year or so ago. That’s all well and good, but tell me what happened forty years ago, during the height of the seventies or sixty years ago when teenagers went to drive ins and made out.

Tell me a story about your childhood, how you had to walk to school barefoot every day, up hill both ways, with your books slung over your shoulder in a cloth sack you had to hold with both your hands. Tell me how you had to get up in the morning to make breakfast for your siblings or how after school you would come home and do chores and homework before going outside to climb trees, walk on railroad tracks or fish out at a pond on someone’s land. Tell me about the war. Tell me about segregation. Tell me how you met grandma at church or at a work picnic or how she was your high school sweetheart who you went to the prom with. Tell me about your friends you used to hang out with, the trouble y’all got into, the fun y’all had. Tell me about the first time you kissed someone not related to you. Tell me about the greatest moment, day, summer of your life.

Reminisce for a little while.

People don’t do that anymore. And when they do, does anyone listen?

Older people know how to tell stories. They’re never in a hurry. They want you to sit down in a rocking chair next to them on the front porch (possibly with a tea, some water, a lemonade, maybe a coffee or possibly even a beer or some whiskey). Often times you will hear them say something like, ‘Come sit for a spell. I’d like to tell you a story.’ They might even pat the seat where they want you to plant your bottom.

They want you to see the pictures they paint with their words, so they tell their stories deliberately. They meander along, giving you great descriptions, both about the scenes and the people who take part in them. They give you wonderfully vivid details, sometimes laughing or letting out a ‘whoo wee’ when they reach certain parts. Occasionally, they might slap their knee (or even yours). They spare nothing in the telling of their stories.

You won’t get to the end of their stories in a couple of minutes. You have to sit and listen, sometimes for half an hour. Sometimes longer.

One of the things I know about older folks telling their stories: they want someone to talk to. They want an audience, even if it is just one person. That one person means the world to them. Because at their age, few people are listening.

Like I said earlier, older people know how to tell stories. They know how to engage their audience, and it doesn’t matter how small or how large. It’s an art form that is going away. It’s dying with each one of those older folks who leaves us.

My grandfather was great at telling stories. Sometimes those stories lasted minutes. Sometimes significantly longer. The one thing that rang true with them all was my grandfather took his time with them. He meandered. He said, ‘Come sit for a spell. I want to tell you a story.’ He didn’t care if I was in a hurry, because he wasn’t. He also knew how to capture my attention and he knew the best way to tell a story was by making it relatable.

Fast forward to today. Everyone is in a hurry. Everyone wants things on the surface. They don’t want depth. We have the fast food mentality of our way, right away. Come on. Hurry up. I don’t have time for this. Our story telling has gone that way as well. Everyone wants a fast story. They don’t want to sit for a while as an old man tells the story of how his and a long lost lover’s initials ended up on an oak tree near city hall.  I realize not everyone is that way, but it sure does feel like the majority is.

All that brings us to me. A lot of my ‘style’ as it is came from my grandfather. Though the subject matter is nothing like he would tell, the voice, the way I like to take my time to get into a story, the way I try to pull you in and make my words relatable, is definitely all him. I guess you can say I meander. I don’t hurry. I ask you to come, sit with me for a while.

I’m not as good of a story teller as he was. I doubt I ever will be. To be honest, I’m okay with that. Because I am me. I may have been influenced largely by my grandfather, but I am me and my style is my style. I unpack my stories carefully. Is it for everyone? No. If you are one who wants a quick story that hits you hard with action from beginning to end, then my writing just isn’t going to cut it for you. If you want perfect grammar, yeah, I’m probably not the writer you want to read. If you are someone who expects a lot of cussing and sex and gore in your stories, you won’t find that in my words. If you are looking for technically sound writing, you might not find it in my stories. After all, i tend to write my stories like I’m talking to someone face to face … as if I have an audience of one. Those are the types of stories I enjoy reading, so they are the stories I enjoy telling.

I guess that means I write stories like an older man tells them. I’m okay with that. Because older folks know how to tell a good story.

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

AJ

P.S.: If you know an older person, especially one that spends a lot of time alone, go sit with them, go listen to them tell their stories. There is history in their words. If there is one thing I know, everyone wants to live on after they are gone. By telling stories to the younger generation, that is what these older folks are doing. Go sit for a while. You won’t regret it. And you just might make someone’s day.

 

 

Here is my interview with A.J. Brown

Posted: April 6, 2017 by ajbrown in Uncategorized

My interview with Fiona McVie.

authorsinterviews

Name: A.J. Brown

Age: 46. Crazy, eh?

Where are you from: A little town in South Carolina called Cayce.

A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc  Education?

I never went to college. I did graduate high school, which was quite an accomplishment for me. I’m married to the woman who holds my heart in the palm of her hand and we have two kids, affectionately known as The Boy and The Girl (no, those are not their actual names). I like college football and I love little league baseball (and baseball fields as a whole—yeah, I know, I’m weird).

Fiona: Tell us your latest news?

The latest news is really neat. I had the opportunity to do a collaboration with another author. Her name is M.F. Wahl. We originally were going to trade stories. I would put one of hers on my blog and website and…

View original post 1,685 more words

Off 601 in Lugoff, South Carolina is a field. Well, it was a field at one time. I’m guessing it was just a big, open expanse of land that maybe had some trees on it, some shrubbery, possibly a few holes in the ground. Part of the land is on a hill that leads up to a couple of houses. That really doesn’t matter much, but who knows, it might before we’re all said and done here.

Cate saw the field before I did. She slowed before we reached it. Then I saw it. My eyes widened. It was a baseball field. One that looked like it had seen much better days. I looked at her, wide-eyed and somewhat excited. I’ll say this: I don’t think she understands my love for baseball fields. I’m not even sure I understand it. There is an attraction, a pull, like a magnet (the field is the magnet and I am every bit the metal) that makes me smile every time I see a ball park. Not just any field. Little league fields. There is an eternal innocence to youth baseball that I find is left behind on the field, long after the games are over and the kids are gone. Maybe it is this innocence that intrigues me so much about these ball parks.

This ball fDSCN1936ield was different though, and it was evident before we even got out the car near the outfield fence. It was huge—the outfield was deep, as in minor league deep. The fence was old and falling down in spots. Weeds covered it from top to bottom and stretching its full length. There was also an orange in the outfield. Yes, I am talking about the fruit here. I don’t know why there was an orange there, but there was.

As we walked from the outfield to the infield, I saw it was similar to any old field that hasn’t seen a game in months or years … or decades. The outfield grass encroached on the infield. The bases were dirty and worn, but they were supposed to be. The pitcher’s mound wasn’t really a mound and home plate sat all alone near the backstop, which was grassy and on a slight incline.

The dugouts were small wooden structures. The benches inside were made of wood and cinder blocks. In one of the dugouts were buckets and some tools and a couple of baseball bats. Beyond the field were bleachers made of metal and blocks and wood. And yes, there was a bathroom away from the field itself, complete with running water, but no lights.

DSCN1944Further from the field and toward those houses were toys and five guard dogs that barked the entire time we were there. I’m guessing the owners of the field live there.

Unlike most of the ball fields I’ve visited, this one didn’t have my imagination running with the ghosts of children’s past. No, this time, I was reminded of the movie A Field of Dreams and the one phrase from it that most people will probably quote before I even write it here.

If you build it, they will come.

I got that impression as I stood on the field, just behind home plate. I could hear saws cutting boards. I could hear hammers pounding nails. I could hear chainsaws cutting down dead trees and I could hear someone’s truck pulling stumps free from where they were anchored in deep, its engine revving, its wheels digging into the ground until either the truck bogged down or the rooted stump came free, being pulled like a pesky broken tooth. I could hear rakes going across the grounds and see tillers digging up the infield before being leveled out, possibly with two by fours weighted down on each end, dragging the ground behind a truck or a mule or maybe even two or three guys, sweating and straining.

They would be tired at the end of the day, but guess what? These men and women would come back the next day and work on it some more. Someone had to put that fence up in the outfield and build those dugouts and bleachers. Someone had to spend money for those supplies and all of the equipment needed to turn a field of trees and holes into a field of dreams.

DSCN1951Then, as I stepped off the field to get a picture from the bleachers I saw a sign. It was nothing more than a metal placard affixed to the cyclone fence stretching down the first base line. It read:

THIS BEAUTIFUL PARK WAS CREATED THROUGH HARD WORK FOR YOUR ENJOYMENT. PLAY SAFELY. ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK. WE WILL NOT BE LIABLE FOR INJURIES.

A few things about this, starting from the end of this sign and working my way to the top. Liable: the builders of this park knew the possibilities that someone could get hurt, so if they did, it wouldn’t be the owners’ responsibility to foot the bill. It’s sad they had to do that, but I wonder if someone tried to sue them because their kid got hurt there. That leads to the enter at your own risk statement. It is there as a warning. Again, it would not be the owners’ responsibility to make sure everyone is safe—it is clearly implied with the sign.

The third thing, I believe, lends right into the second. Play safely. That doesn’t mean don’t play hard. It means play safe, for you, your teammates and the opposing teams’ players, as well.

DSCN1942The fourth and fifth things are the hallmarks to a field like this: This beautiful park was created through hard work for your enjoyment. I wonder if the builder or builders of this park had little boys (or girls) who wanted to play ball, but had nowhere to do so. I wonder if the parents didn’t say, ‘hey, let’s give our kids somewhere to play, somewhere everyone can play.’ And so they built the park. To be cliche, it was a labor of love.

I imagine, from the way it looked, the park had been there for a while, and many kids had come and gone, including those the park was originally built for.

Not once while we were there did I picture kids playing a game. But I could see those adults, both men and women, building the park. Day after day, they worked, until it was complete. I don’t know if there was a ceremony where the first pitch was thrown out, but I can imagine those adults who put in all that hard work probably sat in the bleachers and smiled and cheered with joy, their hearts swelling with pride as their kids played the game they loved.

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

Recently, I got to sit down with Stitched Smile Publication’s resident bard, James Matthew Byers. I met him in 2016 and the one thing that stood out about him is his enthusiasm. I have never met a more enthusiastic person … ever. I thoroughly enjoyed our little conversation. I think you will, too.

AJ: So, tell me a little about James Matthew Byers.

JMB: Sure thing! Perhaps we’ll do this the old fashioned way and start at the beginning. My passion for fantasy, horror, and science fiction began around age three. I saw Star Wars, the Rankin/Bass animated Hobbit, and received a book by Usborne called The World of the Unknown: Monsters. This book is instrumental to who I am today. It introduced a young boy to Frankenstein’s monster, vampires, werewolves, Greek mythology, and most importantly, Beowulf and Grendel.

Through my youth, I drew pictures and crafted stories. I wrote poetry from 6th grade on after being introduced to Robert Frost. I grew to love Shakespeare and Chaucer. Edgar Allan Poe became my greatest influence. I started writing stories in rhyme.

As a husband and father, I have deeper waters, understanding the most important human emotions. I do believe poetry lives in the heart of everyone. Some just are more in tune with it.

I taught middle school English and reading for ten years, gaining insight into the minds of young adults. I’ve got a Master’s in English and reading Education.

I have numerous years of experience in composing poems. My latest work, Beowulf: The Midgard Epic, had just released from Stitched Smile Publications. It’s a rhyming version of Beowulf in iambic tetrameter. I’ve also got a story in the newly released Unleashed: Monsters Vs. Zombies. I’ve won three Prose challenge of the week contests. And I just learned my poem, The Dinner Fly, will be published in Weirdbook Magazine #35.

I try and offer support where I can, for both established and up and coming authors. Who is James Matthew Byers? I’m just a guy trying to connect with people, sharing in this human condition.

AJ: Tell me, how did Poe become one of your greatest influences?

JMB: When I first read The Raven and Annabel Lee, I fell in love with Poe. Middle school was tough for me. I was bullied daily. I escaped in his short stories, The Black Cat, The Pit and the Pendulum, and The Tell-Tale Heart. They helped cement him as an all time favorite. I also love Dr. Seuss, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Margaret Weis, Ed Greenwood, Rob King, James Lowder, Christie Golden, and Jean Rabe.

982152897AJ: I’m sorry to hear you were bullied as a child. So many kids are and it is sad to see. I’m glad you had something to turn to.

You said you taught middle school English for ten years. What was that like?

JMB: Teaching was one of the greatest adventures of my life. Growing up, whether in public school or college, the teachers were always so influential on me. I wanted to give that same sort of instruction. I wanted to inspire young minds. I got to teach reading. Speaking daily about Tolkien’s works, poets, and other favorites made for a job much enjoyed. The kids could be rowdy at times, but my passion to read passed on to them. My love for writing and art did as well.

AJ: Is there any student that stands out to you now?

JMB: Candice Crutchfield. She’s become a really great poet. Also, Cody Lunsford.

AJ: As a teacher, did you connect with them differently than some of your other students?

JMB: Yes. But I never had favorites. I tried to always make every kid feel equally loved.

AJ: Do any of your former students still keep in touch with you?

JMB: Many do. I have tons as friends on Facebook.

AJ: That is awesome. I taught at a Montessori school for two years back in my early 20s. I have been fortunate to be able to reconnect with a couple of the students from back then.

So, let’s talk about Tolkien for a minute. Clearly, you have a fondness for him. What is it about Tolkien that inspires you?

JMB: Tolkien was my gateway drug. From The Hobbit, I delved into The Lord of the Rings. Then The Silmarillion. Afterward, C. S. Lewis and Narnia. I then got into DragobLance and Forgotten Realms. But Tolkien was first. He introduced me to it all. After seeing Star Wars, I watched the Rankin/Bass Hobbit. It’s one of my earliest influences. And Tolkien was a Beowulf junkie. Definitely one of the many reasons he inspires me!

AJ: So, then you would consider yourself a Beowulf junkie, as well?

JMB: That’s an excellent way of describing me. I’ve read numerous translations. I’ve watched any film or television version of the epic I could find. I’ve searched and viewed as many pieces of Beowulf art that I could find. There are several comic book adaptations. Even DC comics had their take on the hero.

AJ: Wow, so you are somewhat of an aficionado in Beowulf. I’d like to ask you about how you view poetry. You recently gave a speech at Jacksonville State University and you made a statement in that speech that keeps coming to mind:  “Poetry is essentially life itself. When you read a poem, you’re connecting to that person’s life experiences.” I am fascinated by this statement. Can you expand on this viewpoint for me?

JMB: Sure thing! I believe poetry reflects the most basic elements of the human condition. I believe poetry is as basic as the air we breath. There are levels and layers to every poem read. The same applies to every poem as it’s written.

I think of poetry like playing a video game. You level up as you go. There are degrees of skills. Anyone can play a video game. Anyone can write a poem. It’s not an exclusive club. That being said, not everyone who plays a game is a gamer, and not everyone who writes a poem is a poet. You have those who play video games professionally. In the same respect, you have people who make a living writing and composing poetry. We all start out playing games. But whether we’re  good at it or not determines the longevity of the broader picture.

When you play a game you essentially take on the role of a character. The same goes for reading a poem or story. You take on the emotions, the content, and the experience of where the words take you.

Console, game cartridge is to keyboard, blank page. The experience of game playing takes you out of this world and places you in another, only to plant you back in the original with new knowledge. This is the experience. This is where life comes in. You learn the life of who you become in the game. Once you eject yourself from it, you take the new condition out. It combines with you, bringing a life lesson. Whether it’s robbery, murder, suggestive suppression, heroics, or any other means of style promoted in game play, the same thing happens when you write and read poetry.

The experience is life.

It has its own existence; its own meaning. However, the two worlds unite, creating one condition. I know I’m speaking in circles, but this analogy defines why I believe poetry is essentially life itself. When you play a game, or read a poem, you connect to that person’s life experiences.

AJ: That makes sense. Is it safe to say, the more you write poems, the better you get? Just like with gaming (or really anything you want to do that takes work)?

JMB: Absolutely. Practice makes perfect, especially when you’re a rhyming poet. You have to know the mechanics. You can’t build an automobile if you don’t know how the parts work in relationship together. The same can be said with poetry. You have to know the rules. How to count poetic feet. Iambs, forms of meter. Syllables and down beats. The formats I use tend to rely on old school poetry methods.

Back to the gaming scenario. Anyone can play a game. If you look at free verse, just about anyone can make a poem. And that’s awesome. But just because someone plays a game doesn’t make he or she a gamer. And like I mentioned earlier, just because someone writes a poem, it doesn’t make he or she a poet. I believe you must live the words—Poetry is life. I write poems almost daily. Sometimes numerous poems. I tell 99% of my tales in rhyme. It has been a long and winding process. But as I studied, my skills grew and developed. It has taken half my life to get where I am now. Poetically speaking. Level up!

AJ: When did you start telling your tales in rhyme?

JMB: I began in high school school with an assignment to write my own Canterbury Tale. I love Chaucer. I wanted it to be modern but authentic. I recounted an event in rhyme. The teacher loved it. She already knew I could write poetry. She really began to push me to keep it going. I had shown her my art before, too. She always told me I was special because I could write and illustrate my stories. I’d done so since I was three. That was fall of 1992.

In 1994, I got to my EH 101 class early at UAB. (University of Alabama at Birmingham) I went there before JSU. I was bored and decided to write a rhyming fairy tale. I came up with The Nameless Squire’s Tale. That led to more stories in rhyme, and in 1997, I crafted an entire novel in rhyme.

AJ: And that novel would be?

JMB: It was then called The Legacy of Mythril. I rewrote it in standard prose—a non-rhyming novel with the same story. I’m actually editing it to submit to SSP. I’ve had the characters since I was 15. I’m 42 now.

AJ: With all of this said, I want you to tell me about Beowulf, The Midgard Epic.

But … I want you to do it in prose.

JMB: No problem!

The story takes a different form,

Converging from the simple norm.

Reworked in such a metered beat

As measured out poetic feet-

Iambs of syllables of eight

In structure carrying the weight

Of speed and action in its hold.

I’d like to call that poet’s gold.

As Beowulf is known abroad,

I went a route that some deemed odd-

The Midgard Epic has two tales-

The Wanderer to tip the scales

And end the story in a bang-

I wanted such a place to hang

The unknown tale, connecting them-

As sure as Beowulf can swim,

So, too, now Wiglaf has his place-

A hero to a dying race.

Accessible, my prudent goal-

To make this epic rich and whole-

I chose iambs and deeper still-

Tetrameter completes the bill.

I used translations—many books-

I gave the Anglo-Saxon looks-

And researched much until the day

I conquered Grendel; words would slay

Even dragons as I found

To this story, I was bound.

Like a scop or skald of old,

The story here had to be told.

Across the whale-road to the hall,

As Beowulf adhered the call,

Arriving to beat beast and more-

He conquered Grendel on the shore

And took his mother’s head as well.

It took a dragon’s flaming hell

To send the Geat to his death,

But as he breathed his final breath,

Perhaps there’s more of him, you see …

I leave a clue for you from me …

AJ: Bravo! That was awesome.

JMB: Awwwww … Thanks, kind sir!

AJ: Beowulf, The Midgard Epic was recently published. Can you tell me how that came about?

JMB: I hadn’t submitted any of my writing since April of 2012. I went through a long dry spell. However, something magical happened in May. I began sensing an increasing excitement for the Warcraft movie. I read it’s prequel, Durotan, by Christie Golden. It was like being 17 again. I felt a renewed interest in my creativity. Through social media, I began interacting with other creatives. I stumbled upon TEGG- (The Ed Greenwood Group) I read their books and engaged with their authors. That’s when I met Briana Robertson. From a tweet she did about SSP, I learned about the open call for Unleashed: Monsters Vs. Zombies. I wrote a story for it, and submitted it within two weeks. They gave me courage to submit my rhyming Beowulf. Lisa Vasquez contacted me and offered me a deal for the book. Of course I said yes! It has been the best decision I’ve ever made. My writing and art careers are at an all time high. I am grateful to be a VIP at Stitched Smile Publications.

AJ: That is awesome to hear. So, tell me, now that Beowulf, the Midgard Epic is out, what plans do you have for the future?

JMB: With the release of Beowulf: The Midgard Epic, I have had many opportunities open up. I’m getting to do illustrations and cover art for SSP. I’ve been expanding my poetry audience. I even have a prequel and two sequels planned for my version of Beowulf. That’s not counting other stories I have yet to tell …

AJ: Sounds like things are looking up for James Matthew Byers. Can you do me a favor and tell the readers where they can find you?

JMB: Absolutely! Here are my contacts:

Find James Matthew Byers at:

James Matthew Byers on Twitter

James Matthew Byers on Facebook

James Matthew Byers on Wattpad

James Matthew Byers on WordPress

James Matthew Byers on Prose

AJ: Thank you, James, for coming and hanging out with me and the readers.

JMB: It’s been a pleasure! Thank you for interviewing me. I’ve had a blast, good sir!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a short trip. One that could only be taken while the kids were in school. They were sometimes fun suckers—the kids, not the man and woman in the white car driving along 176 through the small town of Whitmire—and would have complained from the beginning of the trip until the end of it. Husband—or Dad, to the kids—didn’t do well with the complaining and whining, and often had a hard time letting things go when the fun was ruined by running mouths and attitudes. Wife—or Mom, to the kids—had the travel bug since coming home from over seas seven months earlier. The day trips kept her sane, but didn’t do much for ridding her of her traveling shoes.

He knew she took several short trips on her days off, while they were in school and he was at work. it was something she needed, and something he wouldn’t hold her back from doing. There was a serenity to it that always seemed to center her and put her at peace.

Today it was him and her, her and him. She drove along 176, leaving Whitmire behind and coming up on Union County. Not much further down the road was the town of Union. Here is where they made their grand discovery, after a few turns they came across what they gathered was downtown. It looked as if it could have come off of a sixties postcard, with the buildings along each block appearing to all be connected.

“I think they like jewelry here,” he said as she drove slowly down what they thought was the main street of town.

“Why do you say that?”

“I’ve seen four jewelry stores in two blocks.”

“Maybe.”

That was her form of an eye roll. It was the equivalent of an ‘interesting,’ from most others who really didn’t find these types of things interesting.

Then it happened. He glanced away from the road and saw the sign in the shop window. It read Friends of the Library in green hand written letters on a piece of cardboard.

“Bookstore!” he all but yelled.

“Where?”

“Right back there.” He tried turning in his seat, but it was already out of sight and they had passed through an intersection.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m positive. It’s a bookstore.”

17039263_10212341562718915_2909203469636739807_oOne of the common bonds of she and he was their love for books. She read more than he did, but he enjoyed a good book just as much. It was something neither of their kids cared much about.

For him, it was escaping into someone else’s world for a while and letting the imagination run with the written words that drew him to books. He thought she was much the same in that respect.

She pulled the car over after passing through another intersection, and parked along the curb. They got out, she putting her purse around her neck and shoulders, and began the walk up the steadily inclining road. They passed a jewelry store on their left, and right across the street three stores down, was another one. He pointed them both out to her as they went. They crossed the street at one intersection then another, passing a bank (which was probably the most modern building in the town) and another jewelry store. As quickly as they had passed the bookstore a minute earlier, they arrived at it.

The sign did say Friends of the Library in an almost looping script, but it also said Book Store. Beside the signs were three pieces of white copy paper taped to the window. They read: Hardbacks = 1.00, Soft Backs = .50, Children’s Books = .50, in the same green looping script as the name of the store.

They looked at each other. “Book store,” he said just outside the opened door.

“But are they open?” she asked.

When he looked inside, he saw why she asked. There were no lights on. The store was cast in gray. But there were people inside. He poked his head in. There was an older woman standing ten feet away. She wore a blue top and pants and her hair was white and cut short. She held several hardback books in her hands.

“Are you open?” Wife asked.

“Oh yes. Come on in.”

They did.

The store was long and wide. The floor was concrete and in need of a good sweeping, and probably a good mopping as well. And, just as he thought while standing outside, there weren’t just no lights on, there were no lights at all. The ceiling was a standard drop style, but there were no light fixtures anywhere to be seen. In spots there were pails and even a blue kiddie pool, all of which had a little bit of water in them. When he looked at the ceiling above them, there were brown spots on the tiles.

Those tiles are going to collapse one day, he thought.

None of that really mattered at that moment. What did were the dozen or so tables to the left and right of the entrance, all of which held boxes of books. Each box had a letter on it, written in black marker and in the same script as the signs on the window. Beyond the tables were thirty or forty folded chairs, each holding more boxes on them, all marked with letters. Some of the chairs even held two or three boxes, one on top of the other. Beyond those were still more boxes on the floor and two doorways, one to the left and one to the right, that led even further back into the building.

“The boxes are alphabetical by author,” Mrs. White Hair said.

“Thank you,” Husband replied.

“Hey, there is a box of Stephen King books over here.” This was Wife. She pointed down beside one of the tables.

He walked over, bent down and started pulling books from the box. Though they weren’t all Stephen King, a handful of them were. He plucked out three. Sure, he had them already, but these covers looked like first prints. Whether they were or not didn’t matter—he would purchase them.

“The hardbacks are a dollar, “ Mrs. White Hair said from over his shoulder. “The soft backs are fifty cent.”

He gave her a courteous nod and a ‘thank you,’ and turned back to the books. In his hand were the two hardbacks and one ‘soft back.’ He smiled at the thought. It wasn’t a paperback, but a soft back. He had seen it on one of the signs on the dusty window before walking in, but it didn’t register with him until he heard the term spoken.

Husband went from the box of ‘King’ books and made his way along the tables around him. Most of the books were older—nothing within the last five or six years—and they were mostly in good shape. He made his way from the tables to the first row of chairs. There were some Harry Potter books on one chair. Kellerman was a little further down. There were a couple of Lee Child’s Jake Reacher series, but he had both of those books. There were no Barkers or Campbells but there were a few Straubs. Still, nothing he had to have and nothing he hadn’t read. He came across three chairs that had Pattersons. He passed them up without giving it much thought—not really his cup of tea.

“There’s another room in the back,” another woman said. She was short and thin and looked frail. Her skin was almost tanned and her wrinkles were deep valleys on her face. Her fingers were together in the form of a teepee.

“Another room?” he repeated.

“Yes,” she responded. Her voice was soft and sweet and she smiled a grandmotherly smile. “Back there.”

She pointed to the back right corner where a door stood open. Unlike the room they were in, there was a light coming from it and shining through the doorway, cutting an extended rectangle into the darker portion of the open floor plan of the main room.

Husband and Wife exchanged looks. She smiled. He did, as well, but maybe not as wide as she did. There was a second or two when he looked back at the light and the elongated rectangle of yellow cut into the dark of that corner where the room was, and he thought of any number of horror movies he had seen.

‘Come, little children, come into my house of candy.’

He could almost see a witch at the doorway, one finger beckoning to them.

‘Come, crawl into my oven, little children.’

There was no witch beckoning. Wife was.

“Do you want to take a look back there?”

“Sure,” Husband said.

“Go ahead and have a look,” the short, thin woman said with a smile.

Again, that witch appeared in his mind and he wondered if they were walking into a trap. He glanced back at the open front door of the Friends of the Library book store. Part of him hoped it wouldn’t be the last time he saw daylight.

Wife walked into the room, clearly with no trepidation. He followed, with just a little. And there was no wicked witch and no oven and they didn’t get stuffed in bags and carried off for dinner one day.

“Ooo … Nora Roberts,” Wife said with excitement in her voice. She began going through the boxes on the floor and pulled out several paperbacks by Roberts.

Husband looked around the room. There were a couple of tables in there, as well as a handful of shelves. Many of the books in what he thought of as the Oven Room were older than the ones in the main room. Sitting on top of a tall stack of books in front of one of the bookshelves was one with a red cover and what looked like an obscure eye with a moon behind it.

Deathman, Do Not Follow Me?” Husband said. He picked it up and thumbed through its yellowed pages. The book was short—144 pages from front to back, title page included. He flipped it over and read the enlarged yellow font:

He heard the scream float up, up, up and the screeching of the anguished brakes … and he heard the silence. Then he saw the black limousine streak away and disappear …

“Find something you like?” Wife asked.

“I believe so,” Husband responded. “You?”

She held out two Nora Roberts books. “Oh yeah.”

They made their way out of the Oven Room and into the main room. They walked up to where Mrs. White Hair stood by a table.

“Did you find a few books?” she asked.

“Yes,” Wife responded and handed her the Norah Roberts books. Husband handed over the three Kings and Deathman, Do Not Follow Me. On the table was a book titled, Vampyres. “Is this one for sale, too?”

Mrs. White Hair looked at it. “Absolutely.”

“Awesome, I’ll take it.”

They paid for the books—just under nine dollars for all of them, most of which were hardbacks, not soft backs—and left the Friends of the Library to the tune of “Come again.”

“We will,” Wife said. Husband had no doubt they would be back.

“I love book stores,” he said as they walked away, the books in a bag in one hand, her hand in the other.

AJB