It’s a Human Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

“What?”

She repeated the statement.

“Why would she do that?”

“I don’t believe in God.”

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

“You don’t believe in God?” I asked.

“No. My family is atheists.”

“You’re atheists?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He loved everyone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do I have to say it again?

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

I will say that again: I care about people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Nonsense on A Friday

Posted: April 17, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
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Have you ever noticed how much we love Fridays? It’s the one day of the week that almost everyone looks forward to. People do happy dances on Friday. There was a cheesy song written about it. Have you ever heard someone say T.G.I.F.? That does not mean Toes Go In First. You hear it because most everyone says it: Thank God It’s Friday. People constantly say, ‘I wish it were Friday.’ It’s the end of the ‘work week’ and signals that brief respite called ‘The Weekend.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, in order, now:

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

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

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

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

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

Ahhhh…kindred souls.

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

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

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

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

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

**Blink. Blink.**

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

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

But I’m a little ahead of myself here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that’s not the point to this blog.

What is, you ask?

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

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

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

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

Coffin and Brown Bags Corys Way Table Southern Bones Table

A Moment of Silent Reflection

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

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

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

So, why was I there?

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

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

And it was just my imagination.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Threads, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It doesn’t always happen that way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s get started.

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

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

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

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

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

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

AM: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Jeff, for this opportunity.

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

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

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

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

The Privileged Writer

Posted: March 30, 2015 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , ,

I read something recently that I’ve done a lot of thinking about. No, it wasn’t a story or anything in the newspaper. It was someone declaring that readers should feel privileged to read his work.

Hmmm…

I think he got it wrong. I think it’s the other way around. He should feel privileged that readers would want to read his work.

As usual, I’m getting ahead of myself.

This man made a comment that is so much like a lot of salespeople these days. [SIDE NOTE: Not all salespeople have the mentality I am about to speak of, but many do. END SIDE NOTE] There is a mentality with salespeople to, well, sale things. That’s what they do. I think we can all agree on that, right? Here’s where some of them are good and some of them are maybe not as good: Most sales people only care about the customer through the end of the sale. Once the sale is done, the customer is pretty much just a dollar sign. It’s business. Onto the next customer. Or better yet, onto the next dollar sign.

But wait, what if the customer has contracted the services of the salesperson for a period of time? Instead of an item, the salesperson provides a service and this service comes with a contract, thus a continual flow of money. However, what do most salespeople do when they have a contractual sale? They try to sale more than the customer needs. When a salesperson tries to sale the customer something they don’t need then it comes off as pushy or disrespectful. But some salespeople feel the customer should be happy to deal with them. Or, as the writer put it, the customer should feel privileged to be buying something from the salesperson.

Oh, please…

Here’s the problem: When a customer is nothing more than a dollar sign, the salesperson doesn’t care about them.

Keep that in mind.

I believe that everyone who provides a service to someone provides it to a customer. It doesn’t matter what the service is. If you are a mechanic, your customer is someone who needs his or her car fixed. If you are a banker, then your customer is someone who wants to take out a loan or open up a savings or checking account. If you are an attorney, your clients are your customers.

Here’s the thing about customers: if they are not happy there is a good chance they will move on to someone or something that will make them happy.

Let’s take this a step further. I have a different approach than most people do when it comes to work. If one of my co-workers comes up to me and says, ‘hey, can you help me with this?’ do you know what they become when I say ‘yes’? They become my customer. The moment I agree to do something for them, they become my customer. Yeah, that’s right. I treat my co-workers as my customers. Why not? In order for them to want to work with me—willingly, at that—I have to treat them with the same respect and courteousness I would a customer. Why? Because if they are happy with the service I provide them, then there is a better chance they will be willing to help me in the future.

You think I’m wrong? Think about it. At your job, who do you like to work with the most? Is it someone who helps you when they can or is it someone who treats you like dirt and acts like he or she is better than you? Come on. If you are honest, you want to work with people who are easy to work with and who will, in return, help you at some point.

Let’s flip this over.

Do you know what you are as a writer? You are a salesperson. You are trying to sale your work to the readers, who are your customers. But wait. There is more than just selling your work to the reader. You have to make sure the product is good to make them satisfied customers. Still, there is more. Once a reader has purchases your book, what do you do? Well, you make money, yeah. But, you also want to make sure that the book is an experience they won’t forget, that their interaction with you was a good experience. You want to give them a reason for coming back.

Wait, there is still more.

Once you get someone reading your work, how do you view them? Are they dollar signs? Do you say, ‘hey, I’m good and I’m going to raise my prices?’ Do you charge them for your autograph? Do you charge them to get in at book signings? Do you charge them for taking a photo with you?

The problem with some salespeople and some writers as well is simple: when the customer is just a dollar sign, you no longer care about them. How do you see your readers? Are they privileged to read your work, or are you privileged to have them? Do you care about them? If so, what do you do to show them that you care?

Furthermore, what do you do to get them in the first place? It’s like wooing a woman. You do all of these things to get her to notice you, but then once you have her, well those things slack off, and in many cases, they just stop all together. Then how do you show her that you care?

That’s the way it is with writers. We woo the reader into checking us out and sometimes we gain a fan or ten or a hundred (sadly, I don’t think I’ve reached that 100 mark yet). Then we don’t do much after that to keep them. Many writers don’t interact with their readers. And sometimes the ones that do, completely miss the mark.

What’s the mark, you ask?

It’s not about you, the writer, but them, the readers. The question is how much do you care about them and what do you do to show them that you care? Are you privileged to have them as readers or do you think it should be the other way around?

Just my thoughts, folks. Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes you discover a writer that not many folks know about. Sometimes that writer is a breath of fresh air, so much so that, even though you want to shout their names to the universe, you still kind of want to be selfish, and keep their words all to yourself. Sometimes you just have to say, ‘Hey, check this out.’

But what do you do when that writer is actually two? What do you do when they are brothers? Do you compare them to the Brothers Grimm? You can, but really, what fairness is that for a comparison? It would be like saying, ‘you have a lot to live up to.’

Today, I want to introduce you to the Brothers Dunne, Justin and Robert. They hail from Australia and you, more than likely, have never heard of them. If you have, then consider yourself fortunate. If you haven’t, prepare to. With a combined voice that comes across as just one united style, this duo could go a long, long way.

Oh, and I hear they like needles, so they’re in the right place. Welcome to the Donor Center, Justin and Robert Dunne.

For the first few questions I’ll let you guys fight it out on:

Which one of you is the dominant voice in the writing?

RD: Justin is definitely the dominant voice in the writing. We tried writing separately, but you could really tell the difference between writing styles. Some bits I would write and Justin would tweak them into his “words” or when Justin wrote, I would just add in small bits to add my flavor.

JD: I spend more time playing with the words. Sometimes it works well, other times Rob disagrees. He keeps me honest. I look at it like making a movie, with roles for director and producer. We both want the same thing, we both put in ideas, but only one of us can hold the camera.

Which one of you is more creative?

RD: I wouldn’t say either one of us is more creative. I would say I have more ideas but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Say I have ten ideas, only three of them might be any good. Justin might only give five ideas, but 3 of them are good.

JD: I look at being creative as a muscle you can work out. The more you use it, the stronger and easier it becomes. It doesn’t have to be with writing a story. Rob strengthens his creative muscle designing beer labels. Do you even create, bro?

Which one of you cooks better? (Yeah, totally unrelated)

RD: Hands down it’s me that cooks better! (ask Justin about chicken and corn) He does make a mean mushroom risotto though. While we are on the subject I like to tell people that there are usually two types of twins – the smart and funny one and the sporty good looking one. Well I am the smart and funny and athletic and good looking one… and he is Justin J

JD: Rob’s answer to this question has offended me…because the truth hurts.

Which one of you is older?

RD: Mum didn’t get it quite right the first time so she had me 13 minutes later and I think she got it spot on. I have been a twin my whole life!

JD: I sometimes regret not enjoying those 13 minutes more while I had the chance.

Which one of you started writing first?

RD: I think we both started writing first J. I can only speak for myself here, but I have always done small bits of creative writing, I even wrote a few songs in my day. Which is strange considering I hated Enlish Studies at school and actually flunked out. JusBug (call him JusBug, he loves it) started writing the short stories first and it was his idea to combine to make a series of short stories that eventually evolved into a small novel.

JD: Don’t call me JusBug. Nope. I was writing first. 13 minutes before Rob…also, I did pretty good in English at school.

Justin, I met you a while back through the Tales of the Zombie Wars website. I’ve been fortunate enough to read your first published stories and I have seen you grow in confidence. Being that you are fairly new to the publishing world, what factors can you look at as confidence builders?

JD: Nothing is better than honest feedback from strangers. It’s all well and good your mum telling you your awesome, but…she has to. I have a fear of being arrogant, so for me confidence and arrogance walk a fine line. I just to try to learn, and have fun as I go. If I am happy with the end product and happy that it is of a level that I would enjoy reading, I am confident enough to put my work out there. Did that sound arrogant?

No, JusBug…I mean, Justin, it didn’t sound arrogant at all.

My brothers and I are completely different when it comes to hobbies and passions. Collaborating with them to write a story hasn’t really happened (except the one time my baby brother asked me to write a story based on an idea he had). What is it like collaborating with each other on a story or project?

RD: It’s easy. We don’t really worry about each other’s feelings too much so if we don’t think something is working we let the other one know (politely of course) With technology the way it is now, it’s as simple as emailing each other the progress and doing it in our own time. When inspiration strikes! I’ll often see something in my day-to-day that might give me an idea and text Justin while I remember. Little things like that make it easy to collaborate.

JD: This is how it goes. We work on a bit. Rob’s idea or mine, but I’ll spend time trying to craft the words. Rob will turn around and say, nope, yuck, don’t make sense. Not to all of it, but parts that he doesn’t like. I won’t say anything, but will have arguments loaded and ready to go. Then I take a step back, actually listen to what he has said…and normally agree. I don’t agree just because he said so, I agree because sometimes I take the easy road out. He points out the direction we should take. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. The structures and nuances take a lot of work, and sometimes more work is needed.

Do you guys write separate stories or do you collaborate on all of them?

RD: We write separately all the time, but I like to get JusBug’s input to see what he thinks and I think Justin likes it when I give him feedback, too. Either way, I like giving him feedback. The story is the important thing at the end of the day, and if you can find someone that can help you make it the best version it can possibly be then I think that’s a good thing.

JD: Yeah, what he said. I have written quite a few stories all by myself, but Rob is always the first to read them.

Do you guys keep some of your ideas to yourselves or do you bounce them off of one another for additional insight?

RD: I bounce most of mine. Sometimes they are stupid and I don’t realize they are stupid until I hear the words coming out of my mouth, but I’m always bouncing.

JD: Half of the fun is in the bounce.

You both have stories in the zombie anthology: The Gathering Horde. Did you both intentionally write stories for this anthology or did it just kind of happen that you both got in?

RD: Zombies On A Plane was a (very) re worked concept that we/Justin changed for the anthology. It was originally a mother and daughter. The Woes of Albert Cross was a story that more spewed out of me. I wrote it in one sitting and only gave it a quick edit before submitting it. I didn’t think it was going to make the cut to be honest and was ecstatic to know it made it in. If you read those two stories, I’m sure you will see the difference in our writing styles.

JD: I also co-wrote another story in that anthology. I do enjoy a co-write, (wink wink) because I enjoy the conversation about writing almost as much as I enjoy the craft of it. I was asked by Jeff Clare, a magician of a man, if I would like to expand an idea we had already played with.

You both wrote The Nothing Man, an as yet released series of stories. Tell me about TNM, what inspired it and what each of you put into it.

RD: The Nothing Man has evolved from very humble beginnings. Without giving too much away it was originally an idea for a graphic novel, but it turns out we can’t draw. Then it was supposed to be a series of short stories all with a common theme and then it became its own monster that we don’t think people will have seen before. To begin with we used to joke about writing a whole book, something with an actual front and back cover, something we could show our Mum and give to the kids when they are older. Now that it’s happening it is a very proud time. We have only written for fun and at our own pace and not a lot of people have read the story so it will be good to hear what people think.

JD: I had a short story I was working on and Rob didn’t know about. It was missing something. Rob came to me with a paragraph, the gist of which spurred on the character, The Nothing Man. The theme of the paragraph was, What is Nothing? I put The Nothing Man into my short story. That was the first in the series. We discussed him as if he were a comic book character, and tried to theme the stories to have that sort of painted feel.

The style of TNM and the stories in The Gathering Horde are very distinct. Is that style collaborated on or is it more one of your voices and the other brother adapted to it?

RD: I write as if I’m picturing it in a movie. I try get into the characters minds and describe their surroundings and feelings in a way I think they would see and feel things. So it depends on who the character is as to what the writing style is, but again, most of TNM is JusBug’s unique style because you could tell the difference between our writing.

JD: He called me JusBug again…Have you ever made yourself smile because of a conversation you have had in your head, with yourself? I try to narrate like an honest train of thought process. With TNM we created individual characters and tried to write like the thoughts in their heads…that make sense?

Absolutely.

JD: I have tried different styles, but nothing is easier for me, than writing thoughts. They are already there. It’s wrapping them around interesting story ideas that work, aren’t predictable, or boring and don’t leave too many unanswered questions that makes writing, the craft, fun for me.

Portions of TNM originally appeared on the website, Tales of the Zombie Wars. However, I hear that the entire storyline has been picked up by All Things Zombie Publications. How did that come about?

JD: Basically, I thought we were finished. It has taken about two years and lots of wine bottles to get to where we are now. I asked some friends about publishers, word got back to the people at ATZ and they showed some interest so I asked them if they would like a look. They picked it up. Tales of the Zombie Wars have been so good to us. They gave honest, good feedback early on and I can guarantee, without their support and the feedback from the readers there, Tales of The Nothing Man, (yes, ‘Tales’ is in honour of the site) would not be nearly where it is today…which is in editing. Also, there is way more to the story than what appeared on the site. Probably shouldn’t be such a long answer when I started with the word, basically…

Can we expect non-zombie themed stories from one or both of the Brothers Dunne?

RD: I don’t know if I could go away from the zombie theme, or at least horror. I love this genre because it can make a good story great. Zombies in writing are kind of like bacon. Everything is better with bacon. Seriously though, with the horror theme you can see people stripped down to their bare bones, comment on sociological and religious beliefs and then add the horror of something that doesn’t care about your social role, your religious beliefs, your race, sexual preference or any of the things we all seem to worry about day to day.

JD: I will never say never. But here are my thoughts. Even though there are so many books in the zombie genre, I really do think there is room for more. It has that aesthetic appeal where you can tell a story of a rich man on a plane, a beggar in the streets or a drug dealer in the Bronx and then add zombies. Mystery Zombie. Crime Zombie. Funny Zombie. Romantic Zombie…ok, maybe not romantic zombie. Every time I write something, it always ends up with zombies in it.

We mentioned earlier that ATZ Publications has picked up TNM. When can we expect a release for this title?

RD: It’s in the editing stage at the moment and we are working over the next month to finish the cover art so it should be ready for release…. Actually I still don’t really know. Couple of months? Jus, do you know? Did I mention this was our first book?

JD: We are taking our time. You only get to release your first book once, and we want it to be the best version it can be. So…we don’t really know.

I want a funny story about you two from your childhood.

RD: There are a lot of funny stories, too many to just pick one. So I’ll let Jus answer thisJ. All the ones I could think of were life threatening. From running away from king brown snakes, being in a tree that falls down and unknowingly swimming in a creek with river snakes and crocks.

JD: In our childhood they all involve near death and dangerous animals. In adulthood they all involve near death and alcohol.

How can folks get in touch with you two?

JD: At our facebook page, www.facebook.com/brothersdunne or via email, thenothingmantales@gmail.com

I think you have enough blood from the both of us, but before we go I’d really like to take the opportunity to say thank you. You have given guidance and encouragement from the beginning. It is an honour to call you a mate. Until we meet again, my friend. Always wanted to say that.

Thank you, guys, for coming by. There’s orange juice and cookies at the exit.

Let me say this: I have been very fortunate to get to know Justin over the last couple of years or so, and Robert over the last few months. I’ve read everything that Justin has let me read and I truly enjoy their style of horror and humor and the humanity to which their stories are told. The story, Boys In Times of War quickly became one of my favorite stories–not just zombie stories, but stories overall–with its look into life during the apocalypse as children. The gut wrench of one of the scenes is so powerful I found myself holding my breath.

I don’t think the Dunne Brothers are good storytellers. I know they are. With that said, here’s a little teaser to The Nothing Man:

The fire is already visible, flames dance above trees and thick black smoke chokes the skyline, blocking the sun. It’s only early evening but I have to flick the headlights on to see. Like little demons playing hopscotch, the flames hop and skip from here to there, with us ultimately in their path. In no time at all we skid to a halt at the western gates of the property. The Nothing Man is off the bike and at the gate, but he struggles, fumbling with the lock. He doesn’t seem to care if we live or die. I look back over my shoulder and wish that I hadn’t. A wall of fire reaching up to the heavens is rushing down from the hills. Flames first lick, then swallow, turning everything in their path to black. The devil has sent its angry pet here to devour everything and it makes its presence known with a bellicose deafening roar. The heat is so intense I can’t tell if I’m sweating or melting.

Rooted to the ground the trees have no escape, they crack and shriek and pop. The wind howls, thunder still booms. The fire roars and here in front of us a small herd of four or five Clickers …Click…

Impending doom in the form of a raging inferno threatens our existence, but still they hunger.

Anger boils in my stomach. I get off the bike and easily knock the useless stranger out of the way. Death threatens from every possible angle. Sweat drips in my eyes. My hands shake with fear and the metal locks are extremely hot to the touch. The pressure of the situation asks me to rise and so I do. Forcing my mind to calm, I manage to quickly undo the lock on the gate and push it open, knocking down two Clickers. Back on the bike we take off again. I throw a leg out to knock a third Clicker down and maneuverer to dodge the scrambling others.

Scorching flames now racing alongside us, pushed on by the winds faster than the top speed of my old quad bike. I risk a quick glance off the beaten path to look behind us. Framed by a horizon of bright red flames an undead creature arcs it back, drops open its jaw, lolls its cracked tongue out and shambles down the rocky path after us. Moments later a bigger, crueller, less forgiving beast attacks it. Like a small shark getting swallowed by a bigger shark, the fire consumes the Clicker. Skin melts off its hands but still it claws its boney fingers at us. What meat is left on it sizzles and blackens until it cannot walk and tumbles down the path. Still a flaming mess, it opens its mouth, begging us to let it feed on us until, pop, its head explodes.

#

The Dunne Brothers gave you the links to contact them up above, but I want to add one that they didn’t give. If you would like to read a little bit of their work, including Boys In Times of War, follow this link:

http://www.talesofworldwarz.com/stories/?s=Justin+Dunne

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

My first book, Along the Splintered Path, was released at the beginning of 2012 by Dark Continents Publishing. Up to that point I had never been more excited in my writing ‘career’, as it is. A lot of work went into the collection. Two stories were completely rewritten while one of them was a brand new piece.

At the time of its release I was in a phase of my writing process where I sought to make my stories sound authentic. In order to do that I would have to make all of the dialogue sound as real and believable and accurate as possible, as if someone would actually say the words I had the characters saying. Not that I didn’t already have realistic sounding dialogue, but I generally steered away from swear words. Having characters using foul language equaled authenticity. Or so I told myself.

The book was released and I was immensely proud of it. It received a few good reviews and it sold right out of the gate. I couldn’t have been happier, especially with it being a first book (even if it was a collection).

Then something happened, something that made me less proud of what I had accomplished.

Someone I knew wanted to read the book. This someone didn’t care much for bad language. Suddenly I was uncomfortable with the book, with letting someone read it. Suddenly I wished I had not put so much ‘authentic language’ in it.

Let’s stop here for a second. Not too long ago (well, maybe long enough ago that it was before Along the Splintered Path came out) I wrote a blog about using strong language in writing. I argued for the language, stating quite simply that some words don’t have the same oomph as others.

I view swear words as emphasis words. When someone says a swear word you notice it, you hear it. Immediately you understand the impact of the word in the context of the sentence. Almost always, even in joking around, the swear word stands out. Let me give you an example:

Damn it! As opposed to, Dang it!

You just read those two statements. Admit it, you said the first one more emphatically. Even if you only said the words in your mind, chances are the first one was stronger than the second one.

Here’s the thing, not all words can be replaced with other words. It’s like medicine. Not all medicines have a generic equivalent. If they did we would all buy the knock-off brand and save us a bit of money. Swear words are the name brand words and their softer, not as offending equivalents are the generic versions. The problem is, though the generic medicines work as good as their name brand counterparts, the generic equivalent of a swear word doesn’t have the same impact.

Again, let’s use ‘damn’ as our name brand word. What are its generic equivalents? Dang. Darn. Dagnabbit. Say them. Go ahead. Say them. I’ll wait. Make sure and say all four of them.

Let’s take a look at it now.

Dagnabbit just sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? It sounds like something Ned Flanders from The Simpsons would say. Many of you just cringed. That’s okay. I did, too.

Darn and Dang, well they’re okay. But they’re not the same as, oh, I don’t know: Damn.

Admit it. When you read that last ‘damn’ just now you felt the emphasis of it, didn’t you?

This was my argument for using swear words in writing.

Let’s go back to what I was saying before. I used a lot of swear words in Along the Splintered Path. Honestly, the dialogue sounded more authentic with them. But there is a problem with this. I don’t use many swear words in real life. I’m not comfortable hearing many of them come out of my mouth. I don’t want my kids to hear me say them. I don’t use them at work because they sound unprofessional. I don’t use them in general discussions because, quite honestly, they are not needed. I can’t say I don’t use them when I’m mad, but even then it is usually only one of four words, none of which starts with a F or a G plus a D. When I hear other people talking and every other word that comes out of their mouth is a swear word I walk away or I turn the channel if I am watching television or I turn off the movie or I stop reading the book. It’s not that I’m a prude, I just don’t think swearing is all that necessary.

If I don’t use swear words in life, why would I use them in my books?

Back to the person I knew who wanted to read the book. I was embarrassed to tell her, ‘I’m not sure you’ll like it. There’s a lot of language in it.’

‘But you wrote it,’ she said.

‘Yes,’ I responded and went on to explain that I wanted the characters to be as realistic as possible and that meant they had to swear because, you know, that’s what people do and I really wanted the characters to be real and…

‘But you don’t swear,’ she responded.

Guess what? She was right. Not all people swear. Not all people care to hear others swearing. Not all people care to read stories where swearing is prevalent throughout.

And I don’t swear a lot.

Here’s the point to all of this, and it doesn’t just pertain to swearing. If you do something that you would be embarrassed to tell someone or to have someone see/read/hear it, maybe you shouldn’t do it. If doing that thing makes you uncomfortable when someone ask you about it, then maybe you shouldn’t do it. Or maybe you shouldn’t have done it.

And then there’s the fact that I had to explain why I had written all the swear words in the first place. If you have to explain your actions, chances are they are actions you should not have taken.

I learned this lesson from that friend. And it embarrassed me. I couldn’t, in good conscious, say, ‘you’ll love this book, but you’re going to have to overlook all the cussing.’ I told the person the truth. ‘You may not like the book.’ And it hurt to say that. I knew the person wouldn’t buy the book, and if they did, they probably would have looked at me differently afterward, maybe even shook their head in disgust at how man F-Bombs I dropped between the front and back cover.

Some of you may say, ‘so what? That person can get over it.’ Yeah, maybe so, but to me, it would be like one of my parents or my wife being disappointed in me. They might get over it, but it would always be in the back of my mind that they had been disappointed in me for something I did.

There’s also this thing called a first impression. This was my first book. Sure, I made a good first impression on a few folks, but what of the ones who may have liked the story, but didn’t care much for all the language? Here’s the thing: I want readers of all ages, male and female. I’m not naïve enough to think I can win over everyone, but I would rather not push away those readers who would otherwise like my work.

Some of you think I’m being ridiculous or over sensitive or maybe even over thinking this. I assure you, I am not.

I went back and reread Along the Splintered Path not too long ago. I cringed with each swear word. Then I took the swear words out and rearranged the sentences and do you know what happened? The stories were just as good without the foul language and the dialogue was just as realistic.

When I rewrote Cory’s Way, my first novel, I specifically targeted swear words to cut. I rewrote sentences in order to take those words out. I even rewrote one entire chapter just so I could take out one word. Are there a couple words in there that are strong? Yeah, but nothing like before I edited it and no actual swear words. I even took out a paragraph that I thought I went overboard with. And guess what? I believe in Cory’s Way, one hundred percent. I believe it’s a great book, one that has very little language in it. I am so confident in this story that I have given books to people with the understanding that: ‘You don’t have to pay me now. Read the book. If you like it, then you give me the money for it. If you don’t, you give me the book back.’ All of them have paid me for the book. Anyone thirteen years of age or older can read Cory’s Way, and they will like it. And I am not ashamed to let anyone read it. As writers, we should never be ashamed to let people read our work. If we are, well, maybe we shouldn’t be writing it.

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

And Your Mother Was There

Posted: February 27, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

My mom and I don’t always see things on the same level. We don’t always agree or see things eye to eye. We argue and sometimes those arguments get heated. Sometimes things are just bad. There’s no other way to explain it. We’re both opinionated and bull headed. We both speak our minds, which is not always good, especially when we are in disagreement on something.

If there’s one thing we agree on, it’s my dad. We both love him and the thought of something bad happening to him terrifies us both. So, when he went in for quadruple heart surgery we both had a shared interest: his health. There was no arguing or bickering or petty disagreements. There was a silent bond that wasn’t spoken. Yet, there was a story told, one I didn’t know of, though my mom swears she told it to me before.

This story, which I will tell you about in a moment made my mom’s eyes tear up. It was a result of Dad coming out of surgery and going into recovery. We would be allowed to see him about an hour after the surgery. Mom asked if I wanted to see him. Of course I did, but not with tubes in his mouth and all sorts of lines going in and out of him. I have seen these things before and it’s not something I haven’t been able to handle in the past. But this is my dad and I chose not to see him that way. Honestly, I’m not sure I would have been able to keep the tears out of my eyes, even knowing he was going to be okay.

And this led to the story.

If you can, picture this: We sat in a large open room. Chairs were set up in a square in each corner where at least ten to twelve people could sit as a family or a group. We sat in the far corner, furthest from the entrance, but also in full view of that entrance. The woman(my mom)—not young, but not old either—had sat in the same spot for most of the time waiting for someone to tell us Dad was out of surgery. Across from her sat her second and third born children. That would be me and my baby brother, the one affectionately known as Mutt. Some of you will get that reference. Others of you won’t.

I had voiced my decision to not see Dad with all the wires, tubes and i.v.’s hooked up to him. I wasn’t sure what Mom would think about this or even what she might say. What she said surprised me a little.

‘I understand,’ Mom said. ‘It was like when you were in the hospital with all those wires hooked up to you.’

I gave her an odd look, I guess. She clarified her statement.

‘When you were a kid.’

The light came on. Long story short: When I was a kid I was rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night. Some things transpired and I died.

Let’s stop here for a moment.

If I died, how can I be typing this? Yeah, I would ask that question, too. The answer? They revived me.

Now, stick with me for a minute as I try to recall Mom’s words, though I probably won’t get them a hundred percent right.

She said:

‘I prayed and prayed that God would let my baby live. And I felt like the prayers were getting pushed down, getting pushed back. I kept praying, God, let my baby live. And it kept getting pushed down. I knew what God wanted me to say, that His will be done, but I couldn’t do it.’

At this point there were tears in Mom’s eyes. I said nothing. What could I say? I never recalled hearing the story, so, to me, it was very new and very raw and very real with emotion.

She continued:

‘Finally, I prayed and I said, ‘Lord, I know what you want me to say, but this is as close as I can get to it, if it’s Your will, let my baby live.’

To steal from the movie Grease. I got chills, they’re multiplying.

‘Almost immediately after praying that, I got the peace that passes understanding and I knew you would be okay. I knew my baby was alive.

Two days later you woke up and you said…I was here on your right and your grandmother was on your left and you said, ‘I just visited the most beautiful place.’ And you turned to Momma (my grandmother) and said, ‘And your mother was there.’

‘You were in Heaven and you saw her there.’

My great grandmother died when I was two. I don’t remember her, though according to Mom, she loved me and hugged and snuggled with me and I let her do it and was content to be loved and hugged and snuggled.

Out of body experience? Mom believes so. I have no reason to disagree.

If you know anything about me, you know I write dark stories and that I’ve always been fascinated by the darkness of the human soul. Mom said she’s always thought that my interest in these things is related to that event. She may just be right.

And, if you know anything about me at all, then you know I have faith in God, in Jesus, and you also know I’ve always been a little different in my approach on a lot of things in life. I am my own person and I like it that way. Do I believe I paid Heaven a little visit and that I saw my great grandmother? You bet.

Do I believe in the power of prayer? Yup.

My mom wiped her eyes and gave me a smile. She understood why I felt the way I did. Why? Because she had seen me in a similar position when I was a little kid. She had seen me unconscious with wires and i.v’s hooked up to my body. It couldn’t have been easy for her.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it now: nothing makes you appreciate life more than death.

I lived through death years ago. I was prayed through it. Today, my dad is alive and he was prayed through it. I know many out there don’t believe in God and Jesus, but I do. My family does.

One more thing. I’ve thought on this story a lot tonight and I’ll probably think on it a lot going forward. It’s a story I am happy I heard. It explains a lot.

I got chills, they’re multiplying…

I don’t know how things will be going forward. But I know that moment will always be special, real and raw with emotion. And I understand a few things about myself that I never did before. It’s interesting how one story can make you see things differently.

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