I’m Not That Important

If you’re a writer, I want you to say something for me. You may not want to say it, but I want you to. Okay? Will you say it? I’m trusting you to do this for me. It is important.

Are you ready?

Are you sure?

Okay, say this:

“I am not important.”

How many of you saw that line and refused to say it? How many of you said, “I’m important” instead of those four words I asked you to say? 

So, let’s try this again.

Are you ready?

Go:

“I am not important.”

Come on. Really? There is a point to this. It’s not to make you feel lesser as a person. It’s about ego. 

I am a writer. I am a damn good writer. But I’m not important in the grand scheme of writing. 

You see, writing is only part of the equation. Being the writer, you are the vessel for words. You are the creator of sentences. You are the artist whose vision is the story. But you are not important. 

“If I’m not important, then who or what is?”

What’s important? Well, that’s simple. The story. 

Let me explain before everyone gets all bent out of shape with me.

47772c5da4e7eb8cd5204da5ae580bccYou can be the best writer in the history of writing, but if you can’t tell a good story, being a good writer means nothing. As a writer, you should take pride in penning a great story, but you have to be careful of making the story secondary to you. Yes, you wrote it. Yes, it’s great, but put that ego aside when talking about it. Because, well, it’s not about the writer, it’s about the story. But we make it about us, us, us. It’s like we’re all a bunch of Daffy Ducks running around going, “Mine! Mine! Mine!”

“I wrote this book. I had this idea. I created these characters. I connected this dot to that one and this is the result. I am great. This book is mine, mine, mine! Buy my book.”

Many writers have massive egos and they make everything about themselves, not about the stories they write. Sure, we need them to write their stories, because without them, we don’t have those stories. But hearing an author talk about how great he or she is, is a major turnoff for me. 

You penned the next great novel, but while you were penning it, did you know it was the next great novel? Did you know it would sell so well it shot up the New York Times and USA Today Best Seller Lists? Did you have any clue someone might read it and want to turn it into a movie? Sure, you might have hoped for these things, but did you know the story was destined for greatness? I doubt it. 

Great writers don’t always write great stories. However, a great story can make a writer great overnight, even if that writer never puts out another story. A writer doesn’t make a story great, but a story sure can make a writer popular. 

I feel like, as authors, we get in the way far too often, and we make this business about us, about all the great words we have written. What we fail to do so often is talk about the actual story. No, I don’t mean we don’t talk about the book. We do that in every promotional meme or flyer or social media post we put out there. It’s a buy, buy, buy my book world and we talk about that—about buying the book—more than we ever talk about the actual story that is the book.

There is a difference between promoting your book and talking about the story. 

Promoting a book usually talks a little about the book in a manner to entice you to buy it. Counting The Days Summer VacationOn social media, it usually involves a meme of an image that is directly related to the story and usually a quote from the book or the synopsis from it. The image here is a promotional for My Summer Vacation by Jimmy Lambert. It comes complete with an image, a blurb from the book, the title and who it is by and a coming soon tag. It’s purely promotional and is not meant to be about the actual book, but about selling the book. It’s about catching your eye in hopes of you finding it appealing enough to, at least, make you think about the book, because if you’re thinking about it, the chance of you buying it increases. It doesn’t necessarily mean you will buy the book right away, but it is there, in your mind, even if deep within the recesses of it.  

Now, let me tell you about this story. I love the storyline that follows Jimmy Lambert from young kid with his entire summer in front of him, to a beaten and battered and broken child who survives a horrifying series of events. So many bad things happen to Jimmy, and I wasn’t really sure how he would bounce back from them. I mean, was it too much? Did these events do irreparable harm to him, both mentally and physically. I cringed in Chapter 18 when something happened out of desperation—something I don’t think I could ever do. This story, it has a touch of so many realistic elements, from bullying, to friendship, to the horrors of being wrongly accused of something, to being placed in a criminal youth facility, to revenge, to sorrow and guilt, to a touch of love and hope. It’s heart wrenching at points. 

When you consider Jimmy is twelve in this story, he’s not very big and he’s kind of a wimp, all the things that happen from beginning to end, I could only shake my head and think, ‘how is he going to survive this? Is he going to survive this?’

That’s talking about your story. It’s not selling it. It’s talking about it with a passion for people to know the story is emotionally charged. It’s not saying, hey, buy my book. It’s saying, hey, this is a great story, a story I love. The book is just how it is presented. And that’s really what a book is, isn’t it? A presentation in words. Kind of like a movie is a presentation in moving pictures, and a song is a presentation of music and words.

As a writer, you should want to tell people about your story. You know that story better than anyone else. You know the characters and the settings and all the events that take place within it better than anyone else. Why not talk about the story? By talking about the story, we show potential readers how passionate we are about the story. 

It’s not about selling. It’s about that passion the story brings us. It’s all about the story. Not the book. Not the writer. The story is what matters. The story is important. The writer may be important in one way, but in the end, it is always about the story. Always.

Now, can you say it with me?

“I’m not that important.”

Now add this: “But the story is.”

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

A.J.

 

Like Cotton Candy?

Occasionally, I get to talk books with people who don’t write. Recently, I had an interesting conversation with someone about memorable books. She said often books are not memorable. They are like Cotton Candy. You eat it, you enjoy it, but then it is gone and it really doesn’t leave you wanting more. You don’t remember the story, you don’t remember the names of the characters, but while you read the book it entertained you enough that you continued reading until reaching the end. Then, like cotton candy, it’s over, done, gone, the sweetness of it nothing but a memory and one you quickly forget. 

This bothers me. No, not in a ‘this is so sad’ way or in an ‘I think I need a hard drink’ way. It bothers me because I look at writing as a highly criticized art form where hearts and souls are often poured into each word. It bothers me because, at the core of telling a story, you should want the reader to feel something, not just forget what he or she has read. You want them to laugh, cry, cringe, say “what the heck?” You want them to remember your words—not all of them, but the ones that have impact. You want them to say, “Dang, I need a cigarette.” You don’t want them to say, “eh, that was okay, but not enough so that I remember something about it.”

cotton-candy-497209_1920I hate the idea that someone can pick up a book, read it and just be done with it without so much as a thought given to what he or she just read. It’s like a passing moment in your life, like walking down the street and looking straight ahead, not turning your head to see what is on your right or left. Your eyes stay straight. You don’t turn to look at the person walking by you, or the car accident on the corner of Main Street or the homeless man asking for change, sir, can you spare a quarter? You don’t see the storefronts so you would never know there was a barber shop with a pole out in front covered in red, white and blue stripes, or a jewelry store with big wooden doors that appear uninviting, or the little coffee shop with the four tables set out along the edge of the sidewalk like a cafe, or the fact that there might be an adult store next to a Christian bookstore, and on the bookstore’s other side is a bar with all the finest liquors you can find. It’s a mindless walk that means nothing in the grand scheme of things. 

I think back to all the times I walked to school as a kid, first to the elementary school six blocks away, then the middle school that was about ten blocks away, then just up to the top of the hill where the bus came to take us to the high school. From first through fifth grade, I would make a left; from sixth through eight grade, I went straight for three blocks then made a right and went straight for about another six blocks or so; from ninth to twelfth grade, I stopped a the top of the block, leaned against the Hagins’ fence or the stop sign and read whatever book I had, unless someone was there with me. I remember these things because they were part of my life back then. But do I remember these things because I was attentive to my surroundings, or was it because I walked them every day of the school week? Was each day nothing but a bit of cotton candy that I regurgitated up the next day and ate it all over again? Of course not. I paid attention to my surroundings, to the mean dog six houses up from ours, to the pretty woman with the dark hair and green eyes who always waved, to the cop who lived three house from the top of the block. I paid attention. I absorbed my surroundings and I remember them, even to this day.

I reckon this bothers me so much because, as a writer I tell stories I want you to feel and I know how hard it is to do that, to move someone’s heart in any direction. 

I guess the concept of a story being like cotton candy, enjoyable for a second but then forgotten, is tantamount to someone saying ‘meh,’ or shrugging to anything. Was it good? Meh. Did you like the story? Shrug. What did you think of it? Meh. Would you like some cotton candy? Shrug. I guess. 

I guess? Meh. Shrug.

I can only shake my head to this. 

Maybe I’m reading too much into this. Maybe I’m so close to the subject of writing being an art form that hearing someone say they read a book through to the end but couldn’t tell you anything about it, not even one of the characters’ names, is disturbing. 

Then I really started thinking about it. How many books have I not finished in my lifetime? A few. How many books have I started reading, gotten bored with, then put them away? Yes, a few. How many of these books do I remember? Umm … not many. Are those books like meals I didn’t like, so I didn’t finish them? Those books didn’t even make it to cotton candy status. Does that mean the cotton candy books are better? At least with those, you actually finish the meal, right? You were entertained for a minute, right?

Cotton candy is pretty much air and sugar, nothing of substance. Is that what you want in a book? A bunch of air and sugar and nothing of substance? I can’t get behind that thought. I do not want a cotton candy story. I don’t want to write one. I don’t want to read one. I want to read a story with some substance, something that will leave a taste in my mouth, good or bad, just not indifferent. I want a four course meal that I can tell others, hey, you need to try this four course meal. Don’t settle for cotton candy. Don’t settle for a meal you don’t like, and either throw it out or finish it anyway. You deserve better. 

Now, I ask you, my faithful readers, have you ever read a story that was like cotton candy to you? If so, how do you feel about it? Thank you for answering and I look forward to hearing from you. Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J. 

Out of Sight

So often when a new year begins we reflect on the one that has passed. We take a moment to highlight the goods and some of the bads that transpired over the previous 365 days. It’s a bit of reminiscing, but quite often it is more regret than anything. I’m not doing that this year. There are two things I want to state in this piece, both of which have to do with my writing. 

Media Booklet Butterflies and BookFirst, I know I haven’t posted much in the last three or so months. I realized something last year, something I did for a long time because, well, honestly I didn’t want to lose the few readers I have here on Type AJ Negative. Sometimes I posted things just to post them, just to keep my name in your minds and on your lips. 

The way social media works is a simple concept I think we all understand: out of sight, out of mind. The belief of many people in the business of business is if you are not constantly putting out content you will become irrelevant and disappear from the view of customers. With that in mind, I wrote blogs and posted them, sometimes a few times a week, in hopes that you, the reader, will not forget me, the writer with the handful of followers. It’s almost like panicking. ‘If I don’t put out content now I will lose readers. Put it out. Put it out. PUT IT OUT!!’

It gets to the point where putting out content is not fun. One of the reasons I write blogs and books and funny things on social media is because I want to have fun doing it. I want to enjoy the process of growing a fan base. But when I put pressure on myself, what I put out isn’t all that great. That includes blog posts.

When I realized some of the content I was putting out was meaningless, I got aggravated with myself. That is not what I set out to do. I set out to inform and entertain, not to put out mindless drivel. So, I stopped writing blogs for a while, putting out only one, I think, in the last ten weeks, and that one was important to me. That’s why I wrote it and shared it with you.

Here is the deal: I’m not going to put out things that don’t matter or that don’t inform or entertain you in some way. I want to reach you, the reader, but I don’t want to do so out of worry that if I don’t write one or two pieces each week you will leave. I will write my blogs when I have something to say. Yes, I know that means my numbers will go down. It is what it is. For those of you who stay, I thank you.

Now, the second thing is much better than the first. Though I haven’t written many blogs in the last few months, I have been writing and I have been editing and I have been working on quite a few projects. That means real content will be coming to y’all in the form of books this year. Here are a few things coming your way in the next year or so:

Interrogations, a Hank Walker novella, is in the process of going to print. It should be ready to put in your hands any day now. 

Five Deaths, a novel about ghosts, revenge and love. Oh yeah, this is one you’re going to want to get your hands on.

The One Left Behind, a novella about love, death and determination. I’m starting to see a theme here.

My Summer Vacation by Jimmy Lambert. This is another novel, not put out by Jimmy Lambert, but by me. The story is about Jimmy Lambert, a twelve-year-old boy who should have enjoyed his summer with two good friends, only to have his entire world pulled out from under him by a drunk driver, a crooked legal system and Doctor William English, the head of a boys institute who takes an instant dislike to our hero, Jimmy. Recently, I asked someone to read it. She sent me back a note stating: This story broke my heart.

Other possibilities for 2020:

Simply Put, my thoughts on telling stories and the business of it. No, this is not a how to book, but kind of an anti-how to book. It has quite a few of my philosophies, not on writing, but on storytelling, including what I call The Primary Colors of Writing. Oh, and this book has quite a few short stories laced throughout its pages.

Suzie Bantum’s Death, a novella about a woman who committed suicide by jumping into a swollen river. What caused her to take her life this way? One man sets out to find answers and he may have bitten off more than he bargained for.

Southern Darkness, The Collection. This one I’m not sure about yet. Last year I did a subscription similar to The Brown Bag Stories. There are four editions, meaning four stories. Folks paid for the subscription and I have sent out the stories on a quarterly basis. However, I’m thinking of adding one or two stories to the original four and putting out a collection. If I do this, the readers who did the subscription will get a significant discount if they purchase the print book with the extra stories in it. This is one I still haven’t decided on yet.

Okay, I guess I have said all I have to say for now. No need to drag it out, right?

Oh, one more thing: if you have read any of my books and you have not written a review for them, would you mind doing so? I would greatly appreciate it.

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

A.J. 

#everythingislifeeverythingisastory

#horrorwithheart

A Toast To A Friend

If you’ve read my novella, Closing the Wound, then you know it is about the real events of the death of a teenage boy on Halloween night in 1995 here in South Carolina. Our friend, Chris, loved Halloween. It was his favorite day of the year. 

So, in honor of our friend, on Halloween, Cate and I will go visit his grave. We will take candy bars with us and we will toast his life and his love for Halloween, then we will eat the candy. It’s our way of paying tribute to a young man who died far too soon. It’s our way of remembering him. 

Cate and I went for coffee this evening and as we sat and drank our drinks at an awesome place in Cayce called Piecewise (it’s on State Street, down the road from B.C. High School if you want to pay them a visit), we talked about Chris and something we would like to do, or rather, something we would like you to do. At some point during the month of October, please take a couple of hours and visit the grave of a family member or a friend (or even a stranger). Take with you some candy, toast that person, talk about that person, eat your candy. 

So often when someone dies, we go to the funeral, maybe go to the burial, then … we forget about them. Life is too precious to forget someone that was a part of our lives. Instead of forgetting them, let them live on in our lives. Remember them by taking a moment, here in October, the month of Halloween, my friend’s favorite day of the year, and celebrate them. 

Yes, I am probably going to post this here and there and everywhere over the next few weeks as Halloween grows closer. Yes, you will also see more posts about Closing the Wound this month than before. I think his story is one that should be told, should be read. It was my way to cope with his death and a way for him to live on through the written word. 

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

Happy Halloween.

A.J.

18

A young man walks along a path in a small town cemetery. In his right hand is a paper bag, the open end folded shut. He wears a pare of black Converse sneakers with his initials printed on the heel end, and blue jeans, ones with holes that run up and down both legs. His hair is a little long and there is stubble on his face. It’s young stubble, the type that only males in that in-between stage of life of being a kid and becoming an adult can grow. He is seventeen and he has made this same walk every year since he can remember.

He parked his car outside the rusted steel gates of the graveyard, preferring to walk the distance to the marker he intends to visit. It’s that walk that allows him to prepare him for his emotions, the ones surely to come on this day. 

The young man veers off the path and across the lush green lawn. In some places, the grass hasn’t been cut and it grows higher than in others. But where he walks today, the lawn may not be freshly cut, but someone had gone over it in the last week or two. Though the morning was a little warmer than most for this time of year, there is still a little dew left on the grass that hasn’t burned off with the rise of the sun, or in this case, the hiding of the sun behind tinted gray clouds. 

He lifts his arm and looks at the watch on his wrist. 

10:20.

He nods and continues along the headstones of the deceased, paying no attention to the names or the years of life etched in them, or the epitaphs so eloquently written by loved ones who no longer visit those they wish to never forget. There is a lump in his throat and every breath he takes is a little shaky and getting shakier as he goes. 

No, he’s not sick or afraid or running from anything. This young man is going forward, running toward something, facing a truth. 

A bird lands on the ground fifteen feet in front of him, cocks its head to the side and looks at him with its curiously beady black eyes. It flaps its wings once, twice, then flies away. He continues forward, the lump in his throat seemingly getting larger, his breaths harder to take. He looks back at his watch.

10:24.

Then the young man stops in front of a headstone that is nothing special in shape or size or expense, but it is everything special to him, for who it belongs to. He opens the bag and pulls out a Mountain Dew and a Snickers candy bar. He set the bag down and reaches into his back pocket for the folded piece of paper there.

His watch now reads 10:26.

The young man sits down in front of the stone. He reads the name there, reads the date of birth, and more importantly, the date of death: 9-11-2001. The lump in his throat is a heavy rock and the tears he had held back now begin to flow. His breaths are raspy and his hands shake as he unfolds the paper and sets it on the ground in front of him. He then opens one end of the candy bar and follows that by popping the top on his soda and sets them both on the ground. 

He glances at his watch one final time.

10:28.

He picks up the letter. It is short and written in his stick-like scrawl. With the grief of a child who lost a parent, he reads the words he wrote.

Dear Dad,

Eighteen years ago today you died. You never got to hold me. You never even got to meet me. Mom gave birth to me three days later as she mourned you—as the nation mourned. 

He takes a deep breath, releases it and tries hard not to think about the truth his mother told him about his father, that he’s not buried there, that his body is not in the ground where he sits, that only one shoe—a black Converse with his initials on the back—was ever found in the rubble of the collapsed building he had been in that day.

He swallows hard, trying to get the lump in his throat to go away, then reads more of his letter.

I never got to throw a baseball with you. We never got to have father and son time. You never got to tell me dirty jokes and I’ll never be able to ask you for advice about women. 

He wipes his eyes with the palm of one hand, then continues.

Though I never knew you, I love you. Mom has told me a lot about you and I know you would have been a great father, just as you were a great husband to her. I hope I can be half the man you were, and I hope, wherever you are, you are proud of me. 

As tears stream down his face, the young man, soon to be eighteen years of age, says the final words of his letter.

I love you, Dad. I love you. 

  

I love you.

The young man sets the letter on the ground and puts his face in his hands. He sobs, letting the grief of a love never felt from a man he never met, flow from him. After several minutes, he wipes his eyes again, then his nose. He takes a deep, shuddering breath, lets it go and picks up the candy bar—his dad’s favorite—pulls the wrapper completely off and takes a bite of it. Then he raises the Mountain Dew—his dad’s favorite drink—to the air and taps the headstone with it. He only drinks a couple of sips, then sets the drink and the half eaten candy bar on his father’s headstone.

Heart broken, the young man picks up the paper bag and the candy wrapper and stands. He walks away, leaving the letter by the marker, his head down. Tomorrow will be better, but today … today will always be difficult.

AJB

9/11/2019

18

Book Reviews, Book Reviews, Book Reviews

Here on Type AJ Negative, I often talk about things other than my books and writing. I like to tell stories about life. I talk about things that mean something to me and that I hope can mean something to you. 

I deal in words and in the importance of using them to tell stories. Sometimes, however, other folks deal in words and say good things about my work. Though I have a page here dedicated to book reviews, what I want to do is start posting those reviews here on the main page. 

Is this a way for me to interest you in purchasing one of my books? Well, yes, it is. I have a saying: Bet on me. Bet on my writing. You won’t regret it. I hope you will consider purchasing one of my books, either from me directly (for print books and I will sign each one) or through Amazon for digital books. Also, if you’ve read one of my books, will you consider leaving a review if you haven’t already done so? Or, drop me a note here, on my page or at my email, 1horrorwithheart@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you.

The following are reviews that were recently left on some of my books. 

From Amazon, a review of Interrogations:

Interrogations CoverYet another emotionally charged, character driven story from the mind of A.J. Brown. This author writes characters that you feel you know and you worry about them. Hank Walker wakes up in a survivor camp that is not what it seems. The leader should not be in charge and Hank makes it his mission to let the other survivors realize this. Hank is going through changes and he knows he must leave. I won’t say more except you must read Brown’s books if you love amazing stories with down to earth characters.

From Dark Bites, a review of Closing the Wound:

Closing the Wound is a story about ghosts, both living and long since deceased. It’s a story about the type of scars which, while faded over time, remain a stark reminder of what’s been lost and what may never be fully understood. It acts as a brief history of sadness about a life cut far too short and the kind of questions which can only be answered by those no longer here.

coverClosing the Wound doesn’t come across so much as a coming of age story as it does a coming to terms story. The story clearly provides a cathartic path on which the author has set himself upon while simultaneously creating a outlet for honoring a childhood friend murdered on Halloween night several years past. This story seems to be for both the writer, and his lost friend and is sure to hit several emotional chords for readers along the way.

A.J. Brown recalls the painful memories of his past in the same vein as any classic ghost story best told around a campfire long after the kids have gone to sleep when scary monsters get to play with our conscience mind a while. Except, in this case, the monsters are as real as the story told and everything you’re about to read happened as recollected by the author in a bare-bones, journalistic style.

As much as this story of about 15,000 words was written as a method for healing, it’s hard not to relate with at least some of the author’s mournful experiences which speak volumes to anyone who’s ever lost something they cared deeply for at some point in their life. As the author warns up front, don’t expect a happy ending. Happy endings don’t often belong in the real world.

While Closing the Wound may leave readers with more questions than answers, I feel it will also imbed within its readers a sense that it’s okay to not understand everything we think we need to no matter how desperate that need may so often feel. If A.J.’s book has taught at least this reader anything, it’s to remember that while it seems ideal to find answers as a way of closure, it may be important to find a way to accept what little we’re willing and able to remember – and understand – of a painful experience from even the most haunting moments of our lives.

And with that I urge you to do yourself a favour and grab a copy of Closing the Wound for yourself and put aside a few hours of reflective reading. You’ll be glad you did because there’s a lot more where that came from.

Screen Shot 2019-01-01 at 4.52.16 PMFrom Amazon, a review of Zombie:

I love anthologies! Being busy, they give you a chance to actually finish a story in a short period of time. Zombie gives you 14 well written shorts with that A. J. Brown twist and emotional pull. I love that Hank and Humphrey, from Dredging Up Memories, make an appearance in Bonobo. I would have to say, French Dressing was my favorite. It’s great when a story can make you LOL. Thank you again, A. J., for another wonderful book.

From Amazon, a review of Dredging Up Memories:

A.J. Brown has done with his zombie apocalypse novel “Dredging Up Memories” what Shakespeare always strived to do with his plays and characters, to hold a mirror up to nature. Brown, in achieving this, has breathed new life into an often overdone premise. 1 DUM COVERMore often than not, the zombies in such horror novels are mindless drones that serve as nothing more than bullet cushions or slow-moving targets. Brown’s protagonist, Hank Walker, displays his human nature through trying time and time again in the novel to perceive or draw out some hint of human residue in the zombies he encounters. Who they were in life? He takes no pleasure in killing and apologizes to those he is forced to put down. He buries his dead. This, to me, is how I truly believe a good man would react to such a situation as a zombie apocalypse. He is a complex character and one worth following and sympathizing with throughout this powerful novel. Brown has written an intricately-crafted novel and his voice is authentic as it is familiar. We all know the people in Brown’s novel. And Hank Walker could be the guy on the barstool next to yours. I loved this book and didn’t want it to end. And when a book gives me this kind of charge and evokes this type of emotion, I want to read everything by that author. 12 ASOM CoverBrown is such an author. Great, great read!

From Amazon, a review of A Stitch of Madness

I’m 63 years old and I’ve been a horror fan all my life. It takes a LOT to creep me out, anymore. I can’t wait to read another book by this author. In the meantime, I’m going to read this one again.

From Amazon, a review of Beautiful Minds:

A.J. Brown truly has a beautiful mind. His way with words in these 61 stories captivates you as they remind of us what it is to be human, to have feelings and emotions. The stories pull you in as he takes true to life events that make you recall bits and pieces of your own life, with a twist. He makes you feel pain and sorrow, wonder and awe, and fear at what would happen if … At times you will laugh out loud as I did. He has a way with words that make you feel at times you are living within the story, feeling and seeing as the character(s) do. Do I have favorites in the book? Most definitely. Did I mark each on the contents page? I did, and I encourage other readers to do so. You will find, as I did, a row of stars which I will reread again, like other favorite books on my shelves. Thank you, A.J., for giving your audience another purely captivating book to treasure.

Screen Shot 2019-01-01 at 4.50.55 PM***

Well, that’s all for now. As always, thank you for spending your time with me. I hope we can build on this and I hope to hear from you in the future.

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

A.J.

A Conversation With Pete Molnar

Writing horror is not easy. Sure, it sounds like it should be, but good horror is difficult. It’s not about shock and gore and gimmicks. It’s not about grossing people out with a million different ways to kill someone. True horror, at its core, is not even about monsters that go bump in the night. It’s about making people feel something. Something like dread, fear or uneasiness about what they are reading. Its the squirming sensation you get when you think of getting a shot at the doctor’s office or when a bug crawls onto your foot.It’s the heebee jeebies, baby.

PeteI guess you could say life, in and of itself, is horror. After all, some of the things people do to each other is far worse than anything a writer can conjure up. One such story is Broken Birds, by Pete Molnar. In his debut novel, Molnar delivers punch after punch in a story that feels all too real. 

I had a chance to meet Pete at Scares That Cares 6 over the first weekend in August. He is too humble and often doesn’t give himself the credit he deserves. I also got to listen to him do a reading from Broken Birds. That reading was powerful, engaging and cringe-worthy in all the right ways. 

I sat down to talk with Pete recently. Here is what he had to say.

A.J.: First things first: why horror?

Pete: I read Pet Sematary when I was twelve while on vacation in Disneyworld with my family. The book scared me so much I don’t remember much of the trip because I was so preoccupied with holding myself together. Mickey Mouse didn’t phase me, but reading that book changed the trajectory of my life. I knew I wanted to evoke the same kind of fear and terror in another person with something I’d write and I’ve been striving towards that ever since. Then, there is the fact I have been battling depression and social anxiety for much of my adult life. I greatly fear death and dread losing the ones I love, almost on an irrational level. Confronting my own fears and phobias (and they are Legion) through writing horror stories is therapeutic and when its is going well, quite cathartic.

A.J.: Pete, when you set out to write Broken Birds, did you know exactly where the story was going or did you say a prayer and wing it?

1438845475Pete: I started out writing as a “pantser” because I had read Stephen King writes that way. It was a mistake to have stuck to that approach for so long and for such a simplistic reason. Then I signed up for James Patterson’s Masterclass. Drafting a “flexible outline” had confounded me for the longest time, until Patterson laid it out in plain language and broke it down into something less intimidating for me. I am now a sworn “plotter” after having written three previous novels the other way, and Broken Birds was the first novel I wrote using an outline. I used to think using an outline would rob the writer of the magical experience of telling the story to themselves. Now, I swear by this approach, because even with an outline, characters are still going to do whatever they want and they’re going to surprise you no matter what.

A.J.: Some people love animals more than they love people (understandably so). Are you one of these people? If so, did that make writing certain scenes in Broken Birds difficult?

Pete: At first, I was really concerned that the treatment of animals in Broken Birds would turn readers off. Not to mention, the scenes that feature animal abuse were very difficult to write and I almost abandoned the project as a result. Then I realized I was not merely writing a novel about hurting animals, as much as I was writing a testament to the bond between humans and their pets. Will Bentley sacrifices everything to save his dog, Alberta. This is a guy who demonstrates how much his pet means to him, so much so he is willing to put his own life in danger and turn his seemingly idyllic existence upside down to save his dog from the clutches of two twisted, sociopathic people.  

A.J.: Are any of the characters based (loosely or solely) on people you have met?

Pete: I can tell you Will’s girlfriend, Mina, as she is described, is my wife. Dark hair. Light eyes. A book-lover and a deep-thinker. Karl Tarlick is a composite of Charles Manson and Gary Heidnik, a serial killer who created a “real-life” House of Horrors in his Philadelphia rowhome. Will Bentley is modeled after Tim O’Brien, who wrote the critically-acclaimed war memoir The Things They Carried. I’m thankful I’ve never met a woman like Stella or Jack Post, but they are both sides of the Battered Woman-Battering Man coin. I conducted hours of research on this disconcerting and baffling relationship, as well as the phenomenons of agoraphobia and borderline-disorder to flesh out Stella especially.   

A.J.: After writing Broken Birds, did you intend to get it published or did you have help deciding it was worth the shot?

Pete: This was the book I shared with Lisa Vasquez during my mentorship with her. She offered a great deal of encouragement and guidance during the novel’s early chapters. I really put my heart and soul into this book, because I didn’t want to see another full-length novel doomed to imprisonment on my hard drive. I wanted this one to see the light of day and I wanted it to be worthy of publication. Lisa must have seen something of merit in the early stages of the book because she invited me to become a VIP author at Stitched Smile Publications. Prayers answered!

A.J.: How did you find your publisher, Stitched Smile Publications?

Pete: I signed up for the Horror Writers Association Mentorship Program and Lisa Vasquez reached out to me shortly thereafter. She took me under her wing, teaching me the in’s and out’s of marketing and the business of writing. She also offered me invaluable advice and regular critiques of Broken Birds, chapter by chapter. Stitched Smile scooped me up at a time in my life when I had nearly come to terms with the prospect I would never land a publisher or an agent. I had queried roughly eighty agents to no avail for my previous novel The Clockwork Lazarus. It was a tough time, and SSP delivered me from what might have been a lifetime of regret.

A.J.: What was the publishing process like for you, the writer? On the same token, what was it like for you, the person?

Pete: As a writer, the publishing process was as exciting as it was an education. The editorial staff at Stitched Smile made numerous passes through the book and eliminated the weaknesses I had missed during my own three passes. Inconsistencies and grammar mistakes that I believe would have slipped through at many other presses. Their attention to detail was laser-focused. As a person, the journey from draft to finished, packaged novel was pretty magical, and to this day when I see my book lying on a dresser or see my wife reading it, I have to take a second look. It’s so surreal.    

A.J.: Did I hear correctly, that Broken Birds was not the original title?

Pete: That’s true. Originally, the book was titled Moonshadow after the Cat Stevens song. When I imagined how Karl Tarlick, the main antagonist in the book, would look, for some reason Cat Stevens just popped into my head. Long, black hair in thick ringlets that frame and nearly close over his face like curtains. Then, I researched the lyrics to some of Cat Stevens’ songs and stumbled across the lyrics to Moonshadow. When I read them, they seemed to fit the context of who Karl Tarlick is way too perfectly. The lyrics bore a sinister tone, like the song was written by a stalker. 

A.J.: Why did you change the title?

Pete: As I kept writing, I realized the title should be changed to Broken Birds. This was for  two reasons. The first being the psychological phenomenon of “broken bird syndrome” is front and center in the novel’s plot line. But also, I noticed a symbolic thread running through the story itself. That all the main characters are broken in some way. Psychologically damaged and dealing with it as only they know how. In a productive way, or, well, not so productive. I’ll say that. 

A.J.: You went to Scares That Cares 6 this year. What was that experience like for you?

Pete: My first night there, my head was on a swivel. One minute, I’m walking past Sid Haig, and the next I see Josh Malerman a few feet away signing books. Paul Tremblay. Jonathan Maberry. Then there was the fact I was finally able to meet my Stitched family in person. Up until that event, I’d only ever communicated with Lisa, Donelle, Larissa, Deanna, Tara, and yourself through group chat, DM, or Hangouts. I was so thrilled to meet everyone in person and the click was immediate.  

A.J.: If I’m correct, you sold out of your books. How did that make you feel?

Pete: Pleasantly surprised doesn’t even cover it. I had expected to be bringing many of them home with me to sell around my neck of the woods. But Sunday rolled around and they just went and I couldn’t believe it. So cool! 

A.J.: What was it like to sign that first book?

Pete: Another unreal experience. I felt like I’d finally come full circle. My 8th grade yearbook had a section in it where all the students were asked where they saw themselves in ten years. I wrote “Autographing my novel or touring the nation.” I wanted to be a writer or a rockstar. But really, writing was always my first love. Took longer than ten years to get there. It took thirty years, but there it was. Dream fulfilled!

A.J.: You did a reading at Scares That Cares 6. Being there to witness it, I think you knocked it out of the park. Were you nervous at all before reading?

Pete: Not at all. Being an English teacher, I read entire novels to my classes. And if I really want to hold the attention of a bunch of fifteen-year-old kids in 2019, a dramatic reading is required. Voices. Acting out Shakespeare. Playing Macbeth. Otherwise, the words are dead on the page for them. I have no problem making a fool out of myself or stepping out of a comfort zone in order to evoke emotion through live reading. Also, having been a singer in bands for fifteen years, I’m quite at home in front of an audience. It’s a lot of fun!

A.J.: How did you feel after you finished the reading?

Pete: It was exhilarating. But I was a little worried about alienating the audience with the particular scene I had chosen to read. That’s why I did a little disclaimer beforehand. It turned out to be okay after all. I think people enjoyed it. 

A.J.: Writing is such a solitary endeavor and authors often spend hundreds of hours alone with the characters in the worlds they create. But who would you like to thank—someone outside of your head—for helping you along the way?

Pete: My wife, Dana, and my daughter, Ani, gave me the time and the space I needed to do the work. Writing takes you away from your family for periods of time each day, but they both were extremely supportive and understanding. They continue to be, and I’m grateful for their love and for believing in this guy. 

A.J.: Before I let you go, Broken Birds is a great debut novel, but is there more from Pete Molnar? What can we expect from you in the future?

Pete: I’ve got a few irons in the fire as far as short stories go. A short story called Swipe-right about a twenty-something girl who stumbles across a different kind of dating site where if she swipes left on a guy’s picture she doesn’t like, the poor guy just winks out of existence. The guys she swipes right on become obsessed with her to the point of becoming dangerous, sociopathic stalkers. Having a good time writing that one! Then there’s my novel-in-progress titled Undiscovered Countries, which centers around a phenomenon known as “coffin-birth” where a dead woman’s body can be scientifically manipulated into birthing a viable child. This one I’m really excited about. It’s already mapped out and outlined. And it’s going to take on a lot more than just the horrific scenario of a “coffin-birth.” It’s going to tackle the twenty-four hour news cycle, religious fundamentalist groups, as well as the persistent scourges of hate, intolerance, and bias in this country. I really think it’s going to be something special for my readers.  

A.J.: Any final words, Pete?

Pete: A.J., this has been a lot of fun! Thank you so much! For my readers, present and future, I extend the deepest gratitude to all of you. Thanks for taking a chance on a new writer!

For those of you who have not heard of Pete Molnar, get ready to. Broken Birds is just the beginning for this talented writer. Beyond the writing, Pete is also a good guy with a big heart and great pipes for singing. Check Pete out at the following links.

www.petermolnarauthor.com

www.facebook.com/petermolnarauthor

@PMolnarAuthor

http://www.instagram.com/petermolnarauthor