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

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

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

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

I get it, little dude. I get it.

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

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

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

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

How did I come across it?

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

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

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

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

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

Because…

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

Because…

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

Because…

Honesty matters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because…

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

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

‘But I’m Dude, the Great.’

To this they laughed heartier at him.

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

Lies. All lies.

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

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

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

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

“Sure,” the villager said.

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

“I did.”

“What did you think?”

“It was great?”

“Really?”

“Yes. I loved it.”

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

“All of it.”

“All of it?”

“Yes. All of it.”

“What stood out about it?”

“Everything.”

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

“What was the story about?” he asked.

The villager couldn’t tell him.

He asked again.

“I can’t remember, but it was great.”

“Did you read it?” he finally asked.

“Yeah, I read it. It was great.”

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

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

Because…

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

Because…

Writers are real people.

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

If only it were that easy.

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

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

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

That’s just the way it is.

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

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

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

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

Because…

Passion is important.

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

Because…

I’m disappointed.

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

Because…

I think differently than you.

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

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

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

I believe all action, all the time, sucks.

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

Because…

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

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

Because…

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

And it is our own fault.

Because…

Honesty matters.

Yeah, full circle and all that jazz.

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

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

Because…

Too many people don’t care.

Because…

It’s your life. Own it.

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

Own. Your. Life.

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

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

Because…

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

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

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

What’s a word whore you ask?

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

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

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

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

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

“I did three thousand words today?”

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

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

 

Oh the black eye you give us.

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

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

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

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

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

Not too long ago I wrote a longer short story titled, The Forgetful Man’s Disease. The story is set in the old Mill Village in West Columbia. It was a place I spent a lot of my childhood. The main character is based on my grandfather and many of the characters within the story are based on people I knew from the area.

Tonight, my brother-in-law, Stephen, came over and we talked about Dredging Up Memories, my second novel. (If you don’t have a copy of it, you can get it HERE). While we were talking, he on the couch across from me, and the house somewhat warm and a crime show playing on the television in the background, the subject turned to my grandfather.

I couldn’t help but talk about him and a particular story he told me.

My grandfather was a good guy. He preached and taught Sunday School for many, many years. He told great jokes—his timing was impeccable. But even better, he told awesome stories. Some of them have ended up in some of my own stories. One of them I would like to tell you about right now. It is a touch of real life that no one gets to see too often.

When I was around eleven, my brother and I began to grow apart. He was thirteen and the things we once had in common were nonexistent. Before that, we had been thick as thieves. We argued a lot and the first of several fist fights took place not too long before my grandfather asked me if I wanted to shoot marbles ‘out in the yard.’

Of course, I wanted to shoot marbles. I loved marbles.

My grandfather took me out in the yard and wiped the sand away from a small area. He drew a circle and we poured my bag of marbles into it. He picked a medium sized cow and I did the same. We walked a few feet away and began to shoot the cows at the marbles in the circle. For several minutes we played, each of us knocking marbles out of the circle, claiming them and putting them in our own separate piles.

When there were only two marbles left in the circle, my grandfather stopped playing. He looked at me and said, “Let me tell you about these two marbles.”

This meant he was going to tell a story. I always looked forward to his stories.

He plucked the two marbles from the circle and held them in his palm. He said, “This circle is your family. These marbles are your family members.” He motioned to the marbles in our two piles when he said that.

He then held up the two marbles. “These two marbles are you and your brother.”

He set them back in the circle and took his cow—what most folks would call a shooter—and took a shot at the two marbles. The cow struck home, scattering the two marbles. One of them left the circle. The other one remained inside.

As my grandfather always did, he told his story without a ton of dramatics, but with a straightforward message.

“Even if your brother leaves the circle, he is still your brother. That will never change.”

He picked up the marble that had left the circle and set it next to the other ones.

“Your family will always be your family. Your brother will always be your brother.”

He stood, patted me on the shoulder and nodded. I think he was proud of himself. He then walked off, leaving me looking at the two marbles in the circle and thinking about the lesson he had just taught me.

Though my brother and I would drift apart over the years, he has always been my brother. And that was his point. We would always be brothers, no matter what happened, no matter what direction we went in.

When I started writing, I tried to capture the flare my grandfather had with telling stories. Sometimes I succeed. Other times I don’t. But here is what I shoot for every time: I want my stories to stick, like my grandfather’s lesson that day. If you remember one of my stories and if one of them moved you, then I have done my job. It is what my grandfather did, and those are hefty shoes to follow in.

One more thing: that was the last time my grandfather and I played marbles. Yes, his lesson stuck.

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

I have 1484 ‘friends’ on my Facebook page. Whether I know all 1484 of them personally doesn’t matter. At some point we made a mutual agreement to become acquainted. One of us sought out the other one and said ‘hello.’ The other one responded by accepting that ‘hello’ and becoming friends.

Isn’t that how life happens, how friendships are born?

I find it interesting that we view total strangers as friends. I have never actually met, face to face, with probably 1300 or more of these friends. Still, those perfect strangers are my friends. But what I—and more than likely, you—fail to realize is on the other side of the device (where you are reading this right now) is a person. For me there are 1484 people looking back. Of those 1484 people, probably less than 200 of them actually interact with me. I’m okay with that.

Why?

Well, because they are all people and they have lives and cares and worries. They have dreams and ambitions. Some are sick and in need of prayer or comforting words. Others are fine and life is being very good to them right now. But all of them are people.

A little perspective if you will. On my friends list:

There are rich folks and there are poor folks and there are those in between.

There are folks from every state in the United States.

There are folks from England, Australia, Canada, Germany, Russia and, yes, the Middle East.

There are folks who work as lawyers and nurses and teachers.

There are folks who work as bartenders and taxi drivers and in retail stores.

There are folks who work in factories and in restaurants.

There are folks who work in the business of religion and others who work in the business of politics.

There are cops and firemen.

There are single moms and single dads raising their children the best they can.

There are married couples raising their children the best they can.

There are gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

There are straight folks, too.

There are musicians and voice instructors.

There are successful writers, as well as fledgling ones with dreams of writing for a living.

There are readers who love books.

There are Baptists, Catholics, Mormons, Non-Denominationals, Methodists, Nazarenes, Atheists, Agnostics and maybe even a Satanists or two. And yes, there are Muslims, as well.

There are liberals and there are conservatives.

There are folks who like heavy metal music. Others who like rap. Still, others who like classical, and some who like country and some who like bubblegum pop. There are those who like it all.

There are sports fans and there are folks who can’t stand sports.

There are those who love movies and television.

There are those who don’t care much for either.

There are those who love The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, and those who have never seen the first episode of one or both shows.

There are those who will only drive a Chevy or a Ford.

There are high school friends on here, too.

There are whites, blacks, Asians, and Native Americans.

Why does any of this matter? Simple: all of them are people. People with hopes and dreams, and people who just want to make it home to their loved ones at the end of the day. They, like you and I, have feelings. They, like you and I, have ambitions. They, like most of us, are saddened by events where people are killed recklessly and needlessly because of hate and fear.

During this week where America celebrated its independence, at least seven people died who should still be alive today. The key word isn’t black or cop. The key word here is ‘people.’ Seven people are dead and millions more are angry and some are even enraged to the point of…hate.

Today I sit at my kitchen table having not only celebrated my nation’s independence, but also my birthday. Seven people will never see another birthday. Their families are forever changed, and many of them are mad, not just at those who killed them, but at other people as well—people who have nothing to do with the events that unfolded this week.

There are those who want revenge and those who want to take away someone else’s freedoms and those who want justice now. There are those who will lump everyone into a category because of a few people’s actions. There are those who will scream and demand change, demand our government do something about this.

Here’s the problem with that: change will never come about until we, the people, change our way of thinking and change our hearts. We, the people, are the only ones that can bring positive change. Not our governments and not our laws. The people. The same folks I have mentioned up above can make a change, but in order to do so, we have to change our hearts, we have to learn how to be compassionate again. We have to learn to love our neighbor. If we can have total strangers on a social media site that we call friends, and some of which we come to cherish and possibly even love, then why can’t we do the same to the people we come in contact with every single day of our lives?

I’m reminded of the song Under Pressure, by Queen and David Bowie. At the end they come to the conclusion that it is love that can make a difference in every person’s life. But love is so old fashioned…

And love dares you to care for

The people on the edge of the night

And love dares you to change our way of

Caring about ourselves

The way I see it is, love dares you to look in the mirror, but we don’t want to do that. We want to lay blame somewhere else. We, as a people—not as a nation, as a people—need to step back and look at ourselves, and make a change, starting with ourselves. If we don’t, I fear for myself, my children, my friends, my fellow people. Because, the way I see it is if we don’t make a change in our hearts and our mindset soon, then we will never have true freedom again. We will all be prisoners to fear and rage and hate, and no one will be safe.

This, well, this is how I see it. Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

Passion…

Posted: July 1, 2016 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

I’ve always thought to be truly good at anything you have to be passionate about it. You have to want it more than you want anything else. Essentially, you can’t do it halfway.

I’ve mentioned in the past how I played a lot of basketball when I was a kid. Though I loved football and baseball as well, I was better at basketball than those other two. I began playing basketball when my friend, Tony, moved in two houses down from us. He was the first black kid I had ever met and we became fast friends. He showed me a place where we could play basketball everyday if we wanted to. It was a gym where there were no other white kids.

(A little caveat, if you will: I had wanted to play basketball before meeting Tony, and we had a goal nailed to a tree in our yard. My dad had shown me how to do a lot of things necessary to play basketball, but at the age of ten, I still wasn’t all that great at any of them. But that is a story for another day.)

It was daunting at first, being the only white kid there. I was called a lot of names that could be considered racist. That didn’t bother me. What did bother me was losing all the time. The first few times I went there, I was humiliated; I was played right out of the gym. I am crazy competitive and losing is a bad thing now, and was a horrible thing back then. One day I stopped going there to play, and started going just to watch. I watched how the older kids played, how they dribbled, the way they shot the ball, the way they passed. I watched the way they played defense. I listened to their trash talk, even as I sat in the bleachers and wasn’t even playing.

I watched.

And I watched some more.

Still, I watched.

I took the things I saw in that gym home with me and practiced them in my backyard. I didn’t say anything or ask for help. I just tried to figure out how this guy could do this and that guy could do that, and holy cow, how did he do what he did?  Then I went back to the gym. I still got beat on a regular basis by the older, more experienced players, but I was beginning to figure out the game and how to score and play defense and how to win.

Eventually, I did win. And I continued to win. The White Boy Cracker became one of them and the derogatory remarks faded all together.

The only reason that happened was because I was passionate about the game of basketball. I worked hard at learning everything I could about it. I worked hard at figuring out how to get better and how to beat my opponents. No one worked harder than I did.

No one.

That leads me to writing. I have often spoke about how I was told by one editor I should never write another story, that I just wasn’t good at it and never would be. It was an insult—and solely his opinion.

I have also mentioned how I queried a publisher once in hopes of having a short story collection put out by them and received a response something like, ‘Are you the A.J. Brown who has stories published here, here and here?’ My response was, ‘Yes, I am.’ To which I never heard back from the publisher.

I’m not going to rehash all of that in detail here, but I will say, just like when I was learning how to play basketball, I stopped writing after both of those interactions, but not because I was giving up. Oh no. It was because I needed to learn more. I needed to become a better writer. In order to do that, I had to get quiet, pay attention, and become passionate about the craft of writing.

I know it is cliche to say writing is a craft, but it really is an art form. I often say writing stories is like writing songs that have no music accompanying them. Again, that is for later.

For now, I need to stress passion. I pour myself into my stories. I don’t write anything I feel is going to suck. If I don’t enjoy writing it, then I stop. Why? Because if I don’t enjoy writing the story, what are the chances you, the readers, will enjoy reading the story? Pretty slim, folks. Pretty slim.

I have a desire. No, it is not a dream, but a desire. That desire is to have readers—and a LOT of them. That desire is to have people want my stories. That’s not a dream. It’s a desire. With that desire comes passion. I am so passionate about writing stories that I don’t do things the way everyone else does. No, that does not make me eccentric. I just don’t think a lot of writing is good these days because everyone is writing the same thing, in the same voice, and in the same way as everyone else.

My passion for writing and getting my name out there is so strong it hurts sometimes. No, that doesn’t mean I am suffering for my craft. That means I want this so bad I can taste it. It means, like when I was a kid and playing basketball in a gym of older, more experienced men, I will not be outworked on this.

Will I ever make millions at writing? Probably not. Making a living writing is one of the hardest things to accomplish. But I bet it would be so rewarding. If I want to make a living doing this or if I want more than the readers I have now, then I have to work at it, and work hard. I am just passionate enough about the written word that I can tell you without doubt, no one will outwork me. My desire, though it is a mountain to climb, is a desire like no dream ever was. My passion…there is no rival to it.

One more thing: it is because of that passion and belief in myself that you should pick up one (or all) of my books. I believe you can read that passion and desire in my words. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so. Don’t you want to find out for yourself? If so, follow this LINK. You won’t be sorry.

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

D is for Determination

Posted: June 4, 2016 by ajbrown in Uncategorized

I have this saying: If you believe you are destined for greatness, then how can you fail? 

I believe that I am destined to be a great writer. I also believe I am getting close to where I want to be with my writing, just not with the success I still believe can and will happen one day.

Having said that, how can I fail? Easy: if I do nothing to pursue greatness then I will never become great. Does that make sense? Let me repeat it. If I do nothing to pursue greatness then I will never become great.

Have you ever wanted something so bad it hurt? Maybe it was the love of another person. Maybe it was a job. Maybe you wanted to win at something. Maybe you wanted to accomplish something you didn’t think you could, and after you tried, failing hurt as bad or worse than that desire for accomplishment.

Did you give up when things didn’t quite go the way you wanted it to that first time? What if that person you really liked didn’t seem to notice you? Did you say, ‘that person is out of my league?’ Did you admire from afar and never truly try to win that person over? What about the job you wanted? Did you put in an application and a resume for it? Did you follow up after putting in the application and submitting the resume? Or did you just cross your fingers and hope they liked you enough to call you back for an interview? What about competition? What if you lost that first time you played a game and gave up? Would you accomplish anything by quitting? What about that thing you wanted to accomplish but didn’t succeed in doing so the first time? Did you say, ‘it’s not worth it?’

If you did any of the above, then that is how you can go about not achieving greatness. Here is a little secret that so many people close their eyes to (and I apologize if I offend anyone with this statement): So many people get an idea in their head that if they do something then they will be great, but then they don’t think about how to actually go about doing it and becoming great in and of itself. They get delusional about how things work and then wonder why greatness hasn’t been achieved when the effort to achieve it is not put in. Truth: In order to create, do something, or become great you will suffer. By suffer, I don’t mean fires of Hell suffering or putting a sack cloth on and sitting in the road as a tornado looms. What I mean is if you work hard enough at something you will have setbacks. It is just part of the business. Even when things go well at first, you will have setbacks. And those setbacks hurt.

Since I am a writer, let me use this as an opportunity to state: writing is difficult when done right. No, I don’t mean just the writing aspect of it, but the entire package. Writing, editing, proofing, researching publishers, submitting, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting, did I say waiting? Yeah, waiting. Then rejections, researching some more, submitting again, waiting (X12). Then acceptance at some point! Yay! Then comes more editing, marketing, more editing, more marketing, and all that other stuff that comes after a book is released.

1e71d66cb15dd173639294182c885ab8IT IS HARD WORK.

This brings me to today’s title: D is for Determination.

Determination is what leads to greatness. No one who failed and quit became great. No one. Doctor Seuss became great after he had been rejected time after time. Henry Ford failed miserably before forming Ford Motor Company. Michael Jordan didn’t win a championship until his eighth year in the NBA.

Failure is inevitable. It is what you do after you fail that defines how great…or not…you become.

How about a little story about me and when I first started trying to get published? When I set out to get my work published I was kind of stupid about it. I had these grand notions that I was a pretty good writer. I had great concepts. I had great vision. One problem: my writing sucked. I hated writing growing up, so I didn’t really pay attention in school when it came to that particular subject. Naturally, I wrote like a third grader with the way I put sentences together. Oh, wait. I’m sorry. Third graders could write better than I could.

Still, I set out to get published. Here is a truth that would have made most folks give up: Before I received my first acceptance letter I was rejected exactly one hundred times. Take that number in. One hundred rejections. I was determined. I didn’t want to give up until I had gotten at least one acceptance. It was frustrating and at the time I didn’t have many stories I could put out there, so I would read the rejections in hopes of gleaming something from them that could help me figure out why my stories weren’t accepted. Most of them were form letters that didn’t help.

Then it happened. A little place on the web called House-of-Pain.com picked up my story, Diane’s a Whore and Simeon’s Payback. It was a vampire story and up to that point, the best thing I had written. I had done it. I had gotten my first publication and it felt awesome. I was excited. I was thrilled. I was bitten by the bug that comes with acceptance. It’s like a drug and I wanted more of it.

Then something else occurred, and I will keep this short. A while later I received a rejection from an editor, who in his letter said, ‘Stop writing. You are not good at it. You should never write another story.’

Ouch. Burn. As the kids these days like to say, ‘You got roasted.’ That stung. That hurt. That made me sit back and ponder if it was even worth pursuing anymore. Then I got mad and determined to prove this guy wrong. I spent several years working on various things I needed to do to become a better writer. I paid attention when other writers talked about how to do something and then I asked questions. Then I worked for months on each thing I needed to learn to make myself better. When I felt I was better at one thing, I switched gears and worked on something else.

I was determined.

Was it fun? Not particularly. But did I need to do it? Yup. Am I better for it now? Absolutely.

When you want something—and I mean really want something—then go after it. I would rather try and fail over and over again, than to never know if I could have succeeded because I didn’t try. And where has this gotten me? Well, with reviews like this one (for A Stitch of Madness):

The stories, oh, the stories. I can’t write anything about each one that hasn’t been so eloquently written in these other reviews. So I’ll tell you about the writer, A.J. Brown, in my own words and from my own perspective; I am a horror fan who is also a writer. Brown is a writer’s writer (emphasis added: boldface type that’s also italicized and underlined). Stepping back from the stories themselves, here’s a thing: Brown can write in a feminine point of view. Is that rare for a male writer? Well, Stephen King mastered it in “Carrie” but I don’t think he’s done anything since that had what I am talking about (sorry Uncle Stevie). It’s that subtle sense of mixing the testosterone-laden hard-driving spinning of a tale with the softly-whispered voice of an innocent. This art is at its most beautiful and horrible in the story “Stitch”. It is an art that Brown has mastered. (1) I want Brown to keep writing for the rest of his life, and (2) I hope he outlives me.

The reviewer wants me to continue writing and she wants me to do so while outliving her. I’m to assume she means she doesn’t want me to pass before her because she wants to keep reading my work. That, to me, is high praise. That also speaks of determination paying off.

Never give up on your dreams. Never quit because something is hard and you failed at it. As Alfred told Batman, ‘Why do we fall sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.’

That is determination at its heart: picking ourselves up.

Just my thoughts.

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

The other day I was walking down the hall at work when someone called me from behind. I turned to see a woman coming toward me. She asked me a question, one that I didn’t have the answer to immediately. I said to her, ‘follow me, walk this way.’ Then I pretended to be Igor from the movie, Young Frankenstein, with his short cane. In the movie he goes down some steps, using a cane he pulls from his boot, and then he hands it to Mr. Frankenstein, to which Mr. Frankenstein goes down the steps in the same manner as Igor. Whew, I hope that made sense. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here is the clip.

0At the end of the clip did you notice how Frankenstein’s face changed, like he couldn’t believe he had just done exactly what Igor had told him to do and in the manner igor had done it? I think a lot of folks are like Frankenstein in the respect that they will do things without thinking about it to ‘fit in.’ Sometimes they do things knowingly to fit in, things they wouldn’t normally do or that they said they would never do.

This brings us to my topic: Conformity. You all know how much I like the definitions of words so you should be used to this by now:

Conformity: compliance with standards, rules, or laws. Behavior in accordance with socially accepted conventions or standards.

Ahem.

I think compliance to most things are okay, like at the job by following the rules or by obeying the laws of the road when driving, or not cheating on your spouse. Things like that. Those aren’t bad things. But what I want to hit on isn’t necessarily compliance, but conformity or changing who you are for someone(s) else or to fit in.

If you know me at all, then you know I am a T-shirt wearing, jeans loving guy. I do not compromise on that when I get home and I slip out of the work garb. I’m not one of those guys you will see wearing sandals or pastel colored golf shirts. I don’t primp before I go out. I loathe ties and nice, dressy clothes. I dress comfortably and I’ve never cared if other folks like it or not. I am not willing to conform to someone else’s standards.

I won’t change who I am to fit in with a group of people either. I believe you like me for who I am or you hate me for who I am. At the end of the day I have to go to bed with me and the person in my head. You don’t. I admit I have mellowed over the years, but that comes with having a great wife who has put up with me and my issues and attitudes. But that is not conformity or compliance. That is a man with limited intelligence using what God gave him.

I’m also that way with my writing. I do not conform to all the rules or what is expected. Sure, there are rules you need to follow. You need to have an actual story to tell. You need to have a reason to tell that story. You need characters and you need resolution to the problem the character faces.

Honestly, though, that is all I care about. Let me explain.

I don’t like most books because I truly feel you can take the name of an author off of one book and put it on another book and no one would realize the same author didn’t write both books. So many books are written to a formula these days, and though that formula may work for pounding out book after book, it doesn’t work for separating who wrote what. It also doesn’t engage me at all.

We are cranking out books at a crazy rate. What once took years for one book to be released now takes months (thanks to the digital book world). We have inundated the readers with so many choices, which is good, but a lot of those choices are poorly written and the stories are weak at best, which is bad. It’s quantity over quality these days, when it should be the other way around.

Part of the issue falls right into conformity. I stated there are rules that need to be followed and I also stated that there are only a few that I think are set in stone. The others, I believe are guidelines and some of them are outdated guidelines. For instance, perfect grammar.

Raise your hand if you use perfect grammar in your every day life? I do not see any hands.

I’m not a fan of perfect grammar. Have you ever noticed how people talk? Most of them do not speak with perfect grammar. They speak with accents and flawed enunciations of words. Perfect grammar is boring. I write like I talk. I am from the south and I have a southern accent. The grammar in my writing—or the incorrect grammar—is intentional. I’m not saying grammar is a bad thing, but I think, like everything else, if it doesn’t fit what you are writing, then don’t use it. (Yes, I am sure I will hear about this, but this is what I believe.) I will not comply or conform on this.

I believe dialogue is important, both external with another character and internal with the main character. But I also believe the dialogue needs to sound real and the timing and placing of the dialogue is important. I want characters to sound like they are real people, not one dimensional words on paper. That will never change and it is something that I pick apart when I edit. People hate me because of that. I’m okay with it. I will not comply or conform on this.

I’m not an all action all the time writer. I like build ups. I like learning about the characters and peppering the story with important details and emotions. I like evoking ‘the feels’ of a story onto the reader. If I can get them to feel what the character is going through then I have succeeded. I don’t know how many times I have had stories rejected because they weren’t all action all the time, even though the stories were well written and engaging. Yeah, go figure. Still, I’m not changing my voice or style to get published. I believe in my work and I know it is good. I will not comply and I will not conform on this.

Unfortunately, too many people just go with what everyone else is doing. The book world is becoming like so many other facets of the rest of he world: it is becoming fad oriented. What is the latest rage? Vampire and werewolf love stories? That’s what we should write on. Dinosaur Erotica? Sure, let’s do that. (seriously, that is a thing and it saddens me) I get it. I want to sell books, too. But I have no desires to write on those topics, no matter how well they are doing. I will write on the topics I wish to write on. And I will not write on the topics I do not wish to write on.

But that is me. What about you? What do you want to write on? Don’t be afraid to write about what you want to because it isn’t mainstream or because you don’t think others will like it. You have to write for yourself and enjoy doing so in other for others to enjoy your work.

I view a lot of conformity as fear-based. We change something about ourselves because we are afraid if we don’t someone may not like us or we may not get something we want. It is one thing to change a destructive behavior to better yourselves and those around you, but it is another thing to change something you don’t want to in order to fit in. In this day and age, why do we still need to fit in to groups of people who may or may not like us?

Go back up to that video clip. Take a look at Igor (who was played by Marty Feldman). Clearly, he did not fit in with anyone else and he did not conform at all during the movie. Now, go back and look at Frankenstein, played by Gene Wilder. Just that one instance in the movie shows that even those certain of themselves can conform just for a moment or two. He didn’t know Igor at all at that point, so what did he do? Without thinking he did as Igor told him to. It made for a funny moment in the movie. (For the record, I am certain most folks don’t see what Frankenstein did was conformity. It is only an illustration to the way we, as people, think from moment to moment. To be socially or professionally accepted we conform to the norm instead of just be who we are.)

Image-Of-Popeye-In-Smiling-FaceI’m a firm believer in be who you are and don’t let anyone change that in you. If you change something about yourself, then it needs to be something you want to change. As Popeye boldly states, “I am what I am.”

You are what you are. And you should stay who you are, right down to how you write the words you write.

I want to change the face of writing as we know it. That can never happen if I conform and write what everyone else writes. I want to be like a great musician with my words and bring about that change. It will not happen by writing like someone else.

Just my thoughts…

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

13106731_10209260504770741_700376366_o-2.jpgSometimes I get so busy doing other things and writing other things that I often forget that I need to focus on things that are happening right now or have already happened. Like my newest book, Dredging Up Memories.

Let’s talk about this book for a second. Dredging Up Memories is the story of Hank Walker and his downward spiral into depression during the zombie apocalypse.

Zombie apocalypse? Seriously?

Yes, seriously. Before you go and judge a book by its zombies, let me put a few fears to rest:

  • The zombie apocalypse thing has been done to death! Yes, it has, but this isn’t the typical zombie story. The dead don’t play the biggest role in this book. A stuffed animal does.
  • There is no hope in zombie stories. Well, you might be right there, but how do you know if you don’t read the book?
  • Zombie stories are all about zombies rending people from limb to limb. Yes, most are, but not Dredging Up Memories.
  • There is nothing new you can do with the overdone genre. I disagree. I believe Dredging Up Memories is original. Again, the main theme is Hank Walker’s descent into depression, not the gnashing of teeth.
  • Brains. Okay, I have to bark at this for a second. Have you ever seen a zombie in any movie actually try to get to a person’s brain? No. You see them tearing into their stomachs and faces and arms and legs and necks, but you never see them actually going for brains. Besides, how would they get to it?

Here’s the thing about Dredging Up Memories: it’s human. It’s real. It has a certain mood to it that is not like other zombie stories. It doesn’t focus solely on the swarming dead and their insatiable hunger for flesh.

It is, in my opinion, a breath of fresh air from all of the action only, blood and gore zombie stories that are all pretty much the same with the exception of location and character names. It is different.

If you don’t mind I would love to share a couple of reviews with you.

The first one:

Honestly, I don’t like reading zombie books.  This book however, was SO much more than your typical “zombies attack” story. This book was about the main character, Hank Walker, and his journey to survive.  It’s not just about a bunch of zombies eating people. This story is well written, with just the right amount of detail.  The story has emotions, in the characters and emotions that you yourself will feel.  I also like that there are actual towns mentioned in the book that are familiar to residents of South Carolina.  It’s easy to feel like you are there, in the town with Hank.  For me, Dredging Up Memories was a book that once I started reading, I didn’t want to stop.  I just had to know what was going to happen next.  For me, I despise reading a book all the way through just to finish with a terrible ending.  I know books don’t always have the ending that we want, but it still needs to finish well.  This book I’m happy to say has a complete ending.  I won’t spoil it for you and say it was happy or sad, just complete and well finished, and I’m happy with that.  I like that this story can be a stand alone book, but I’m excited that A.J. is planning to continue Hank Walkers journey.  I definitely look forward to reading more works by the incredible author A.J. Brown.

The second one:

This book is an immersive experience. There is plenty of action, but it really puts you into the mind of a survivor. It goes heavily into the headspace and emotions of navigating a world decimated by monsters.

Those are just two of the reviews that have been written for Dredging Up Memories.

The World Smelled CleanHere is something else: Humphrey.

Who is Humphrey? Well, he is a teddy bear dressed in a bunny pajama outfit. Yes, he is a stuffed toy, but he plays a huge part in this story. How can you not want to find out how a stuffed bear becomes a central figure in a zombie apocalypse story?

So, are you interested in reading it yet? I hope so. I believe you will not be disappointed.

Come on. You know you want it. Go get Dredging Up Memories here.

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

C Is For Competition

Posted: May 17, 2016 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

Today’s blog is brought to you by the letter C as in C is for Competition.

I’m all for competition. I am very competitive, to say the least. I hate losing at anything. You won’t see me let anyone win at something—if I lose, then my opponent beat me. It wasn’t given to him or her. They won. That is important for people to understand. I am not going to let you win.

Having said that, I want you to understand something: if you are a writer, you are not my competition. Let me repeat it just in case you missed it: If you are a writer, you are NOT my competition. If you think I am your competition, then just know your opponent isn’t playing.

Let me explain as briefly as I can: The reader pool is dwindling every day. I actually had someone come to the library where a convention was taking place and say, “I don’t read much.” Seriously? At an author meet and greet. Okay, that is the first problem writers face. The second one is that if a reader doesn’t read in your genre, then that pool shrinks even more. A lot of times this makes writers a little antsy. Why? It’s hard to get readers in a world where there are fewer and fewer of them.

Now, for the third problem: I have noticed over the last few years that some writers view other writers as their competition. It’s as if they say, “If that guy or gal has a nice following, what can I do to get that same following, and if I can’t get that following, how can I take some of it?” They see the dwindling reader pool and think I need to get every one of the readers and no one else can have any. And if they can’t get the reader? Well, they start playing mean.

I’ve seen writers become friends with other writers and then stab them in the back to get ahead, or use a well placed and intentionally misleading sentence on social media and then leave it for everyone else to get outraged over. Then come the flame wars where arguments escalate to personal attacks and downright childish behavior. I’ve seen writers get in good with groups, get what they need or want from them and then disappear from the group. I’ve seen people outright steal from others; their ideas, their titles, their actual words (and those folks, above all else, should be ashamed of themselves). I’ve seen memes directly attacking authors by name (and a good many of those memes are vile in their content).

The mindset is if I can make it look like I am the victim, then the readers will like me and not them. Or worse, if I can make it look like I am the victim, then the other writers will side with me and we can shame him or her out of the business. The less writers there are the better chance I have of getting more readers. That is a bad way to look at things.

It’s also called playing dirty. For a lack of a better term, it’s cheating. But sometimes you just need to cheat, right? Wrong. I’ve always found more satisfaction in doing things the right way, than by cheating your way into something. I have quit teams in sports over their willingness to cheat. I’m a firm believer in if you have to cheat to win, then you were never good enough to compete to start with.

Listen to me. I am not competing for anything in this business. I’m not competing with or against other writers. Period. I’m not competing for readers or for publishers. I’m not going to throw anyone under the bus or try to screw anyone over. To me, it is not worth it. Like I said, I am competitive, but if I have to do something wrong to someone to get ahead, I would rather not get ahead. I’m also not going to glad hand people to get ahead. I want publishers to want my work because my work stands on its own, not because they are friends with me. With that said, I’m not in a competition with you. I will let my writing speak for itself.

I want readers. You do, as well. Why compete against each other? Instead, why not help each other? Why not share each other’s work on social media and with friends? Why not get to know the writers you are trying to compete against? You might be surprised; you might actually like your ‘competition.’

The bottom line is we all want the same thing: readers. Here’s something else you need to understand: readers can enjoy more than one person’s work. It’s true. A reader can like your work and mine. And guess what? If your work is better than mine, then the reader may like your work more, and that’s not about competition. That is about writing a good story. So why not let your work and your ethics speak for themselves instead of trying to one up or cheat someone who probably doesn’t know they are competing with you?

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