So often I feel like writing is a waste of time for me. I do it every day, sometimes very late at night when I can’t sleep or early in the morning when everyone is still in bed. Most days when I sit to write, it feels like an obligation, like something I am required to do—like homework when I was in school. To who am I obligated? To the readers? To the fictional voices in my head who love my work? To the characters, themselves, who wish to have their stories told? To myself?

Maybe it is none of those things. Maybe I am obligated to the words, or to nothing at all. Still, writing often feels like an obligation for me. And I don’t know why.

392550_412747505422764_855367895_nWith that obligation comes the feeling that I am an ancient typewriter, one that is missing all the vowel keys, and with every word I type, I have to go in and hand write in all the missing A’s, E’s, I’s, O’s, and U’s (and sometimes Y’s—let’s not forget the Y’s). The feeling is the keys are sticking and each time the type bar goes up, it does so slower than it should and it strikes the platen weakly, leaving only a faint gray letter on the paper.

It is during those times that writing can be a struggle. The words don’t come out right. The sentences sound off or awkward or just plain weird. That is when the same word gets used over and over and when an hour can pass with only 32 words having been written—do the math, that is one word for almost every two minutes. Though it is a struggle, I continue to write on. After all, bad writing is better than no writing (because, you know, at least I’m writing).

Yes, that is the obligation speaking. Any writing is better than no writing, even if the words I pen are mere shadows of stories I’ve written in the past.

Still, I don’t know what the obligation is or where it came from or why I feel so strongly about it.

Here is a truth as I know it: If I’m not writing, I feel like I am wasting my time. It is a damned if I do, damned if I don’t situation. Again, that obligation to put words to paper or on the screen comes heavily into play. It’s a constant battle of what I should be doing other than writing, and what I should be writing. Here is an example to illustrate things a little better:

I have several books written, but they need to be edited. Editing is not writing. It is part of the process of putting a book out, but it is not the actual act of writing. It needs to be done, but when I am editing, the voices in my head are yelling at me, YOU SHOULD BE WRITING! Unfortunately for me, when the voices start bickering, I can’t cover my ears and walk away. It’s impossible to get away from yourself and what is in your head.

But then when I am writing, some of the other voices (and in many cases, the same ones who bickered at me for not writing) yell, YOU SHOULD BE EDITING THIS STORY! IT’S NOT GOING TO EDIT ITSELF!

AHHHHHHHH!!!!

You see, I can’t win at this, but there is this obligation, this overwhelming feeling that I need to write. And maybe that is the problem. The need to write is so strong, it is almost an obsession. Or maybe it is an obsession.

I’m ripe with things to say. 

The words rot and fall away.

—Blink 182

Stay Together for the Kids

rusty-typewriterThose are powerful lyrics to a powerful song. Those lyrics, quite often, are how I feel when I wake in the morning or before I go to bed. I have all these words spinning around up in my head. They are alive and hungry and waiting for me to send them out through my fingertips. If I don’t write them down they will die and decay and be lost to me forever. It’s like losing thousands of friends a day. Most of them might not be all that close and might just be acquaintances, but some of them … some of them are like extensions of my family, parts of me that I love and cherish and … dammit, I don’t want to lose them all!

At this point it is easy to say, ‘hey, you’re losing it, bro.’ Maybe so. It’s also easy to say, ‘you are your obligation.’ Again, maybe so. Probably so.

I honestly think the obligation is tied to fear. Fear is a horrible feeling. Fear of losing a loved one, a job or getting hurt by someone or killed or whatever. Maybe your fear is of picking up kitty cats. Hey, it could be a real thing. Don’t judge! The fear is something so simple, so easy to see and dismiss, but so real: what if I take a break from writing—a week, two tops—and when I return to it, I won’t be able to write?

Sounds crazy, I know, but I think that is the problem I have when it comes to writing. I have tried to take breaks from time to time. The longest such break in the last couple of years has been four days. At the end of that four days, I had the hardest time sitting down and putting two words together, much less two hundred or two thousand. My fingers itched to put anything on the screen. When that didn’t work, I pulled out a notepad and pen and dated the top of the page (as I always do), but nothing came out. Nothing came out.

I forced myself to write on a story I knew I would never finish, but I still wrote some words—all of about three hundred of them. They sucked. We’re talking being stuck in a sewage drain up to your chest and you just dropped your phone and you need to retrieve it in order to save yourself suckage. It took another three days before I felt really comfortable with the words I wrote. That was after just four days of not writing.

I thought my head would explode from the frustration. Obligation fueled by fear.

But there is another fear that goes with it. It is something I was concerned with when I stopped putting The Brown Bags out in print form: if readers don’t see my words, they lose interest in me. If I don’t market, readers lose interest in me. If I am not constantly out there, readers lose interest in me. It’s just reality. Out of sight, out of mind. Obligation is still there.

Then there is this happy little contradiction: sometimes my mind screams in all of its many voices, WHAT ARE YOU WRITING FOR WHEN NO ONE IS READING YOUR WORDS? 

Okay, I may be able to count on both hands and maybe one of someone else’s hands, how many fans I really have out there, but there are still folks reading my words. It is hard to know who the fans are or if folks are reading your work. I can honestly say that these (non-writer) folks follow my work regularly: Joan Macleod and Mary Cooper and Frank Knox and Greg Crump. I didn’t count my wife in there, but with her and possibly my brother-in-law, Stephen, that puts my straight up, legit fan base at six people. (If you are a straight up, legit fan and I am not aware of this, drop me a note in the comments, just don’t throw a brick at my head. The brick will break and I will not get the hint.)

But what if I never had work published? Would I still feel this way? Would I still feel the obligation to write. I think so, but maybe it would be directed somewhere else. When I was a kid I had a need to constantly play or practice at basketball. As I got older, I began to draw and I had the need to constantly put a pencil to paper. But that was different. I didn’t feel I absolutely had to do those things. I didn’t feel that if I didn’t shoot five hundred free throws in a day I would forget how to do it, or if I didn’t draw a picture every day I would forget how to. I didn’t feel obligated to do it. And when I thought about quitting those things, they didn’t scare me.

With the exception of the last paragraph, I feel a lot of writers—probably far more than will admit—have the same issues. They have that obligation.  They have that need to write, that fear of not only not being able to write, but of failure, driving them to do so every day. They have a desire to be read, to know they are being read, and to know that  what they are writing is reaching people. They stress over writing time and having enough work out there. They stress over editing and marketing and putting themselves out there. Many of them also feel it is a waste of time, and quite a few of those folks quit all together.

Writers rarely reach superstar celebrity status like rock stars or movie stars do. Sure, we have Stephen King and James Patterson and J.K. Rowling, but the majority of writers (and I’m talking a fictional percentage such as 98%) don’t ever reach half of that climb to the top of Mt. Success.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if writers were treated like rock stars when it comes to our fan base? We could release a single (short story) and then another later on, and by George, if you like them, go get the entire collection at your favorite brick and mortar store or online. You could tell your friends how awesome the writer is that you are reading. I find this interesting: we listen to songs over and over, trying to learn all the lyrics (including those pesky background lyrics that are so hard to decipher sometimes) and we try to learn how to sing them and even play them, again, over and over. But when it comes to a story, we read it once and put it down. ‘I know how the story is going to end now.’ Yes, this is true, but don’t we know how the song is going to end, too?

I apologize for going slightly off the beaten path here. The point to that last part is writers don’t often reach very high heights. That can be frustrating, as well.

Musicwriter June 5 2014 031Still, there is obligation. As real or in our heads as it may be, writers, authors, storytellers, struggle with this obligation. Whether it is to the readers or themselves or some other weird issue, it is there. It is immense pressure, especially when the writers don’t know anyone is reading their words, when they feel like a rundown typewriter in a field, the letters of each type bar fading, fading, faded.

I know only a handful of people will read this, and I’m okay with that. But for you handful, this is what you can do: turn your favorite authors into rock stars. Talk about them the way you would your favorite television show or actor/actress or band. Buy their books, but don’t stop there. Actually read them. Still, don’t stop there. Leave a book review on Amazon or on a blog or Goodreads (or all of them). Look them up, contact them and say, ‘hey, you did good.’ Find them on social media and follow them (but not in that stalkerish kind of way). Tell your friends about them with the same enthusiasm you have about Grey’s Anatomy, The Walking Dead, or Game of Thrones. And, no, that is not an obligation you have.

Now, to close this longer than usual post. For me, the obligation comes, not only from fear, but from chasing a dream. I’ve been chasing the rabbit down the hole of words for a lot longer than I realized until recently (I started writing in 1993). That’s a long time to see only a tiny bit of that dream become reality. Still, I’m obligated, and that rabbit hole seems to be getting smaller while the obligation seems to be getting larger.

Do you want to know why the typewriter is so beat up now? The typewriter is really symbolic. It is our hearts and our souls and our struggles. It is our doubts and confidence, our dreams and our reality, and they aren’t meant to go through rabbit holes.

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

A.J.

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For those of you who enjoyed the struggles of Hank Walker in Dredging Up Memories, I give you this short story.

[[SPOILER ALERT: The next part of this introduction may contain a spoiler about Dredging Up Memories. If you plan on reading it, I would skip this introduction. If you have read it, then continue on. END SPOILER ALERT]]

This piece takes place during one of the moments of Dredging Up Memories where Hank has been drinking. This is after he finds out Jeanette has died and he has lost Humphrey. This also takes place before he meets Hetch, during one of the many black out moments where Hank loses time and all memory of what happened.

I do ask two favors: if you know someone who would like this addition to Hank’s story, please share it with them. Second, please leave me a comment and let me know if you would like more of these ‘forgotten moments’ of Hank’s life.

Enough talk. I hope you enjoy No Saving Grace.

No Saving Grace

Ay A.J. Brown

He wanted to save them. He wanted to save all of them. In the end, he couldn’t even save himself.

***

They approached in a stumbling heap of rotting bodies, their groans like cries of pain. They appeared listless, as if following some unseen force, drawing them up the dirt path and toward the man standing in the opening at the mouth of that path. Hank had his weapons of choice, a machete slung on his back and a Smith & Wesson .357 in his hand. It held eight shots. It wasn’t enough, but that’s what the machete was for. He also had a bottle of whiskey in the van. Right then, he wished he had taken a swig before he left stepped out of the vehicle, but he hadn’t. His mouth was dry, as if he had been chewing on cotton balls for a few days.

The sun was just coming up in the horizon, painting the world with purples, pinks and oranges. He could see it peeking out from behind the dead. He thought it fortunate he could see them through the encroaching daylight. If he wasn’t able to see them, the chances of taking them out slimmed greatly. It was somewhat oddly beautiful, the way the bodies seemed to have an orange aura around them. If they didn’t mean to eat him, he could have stood there until the sun was fully in the sky and enjoyed the odd beauty of the dead in its rising glory.

“Come on,” he whispered as they came.

Though the Smith & Wesson held eight shots, it only had seven bullets. He had fired one off into the pack to get their attention moments earlier.

Their attention?

Sure. There was only one reason a bunch of deadbeats surrounded anything these days: a living person (or people, if the dead were so lucky, which they often were). He had heard the screams. Whoever was in the car was still alive, but may not have been for long—the dead, they had a way of piling on to the point of windows shattering inward. The constant pressure of weight on glass was like a boiler—eventually things would blow and the living in the vehicle would be dead soon enough, become food for the biters.

He waited, his gun held tight, one hand over the other.

And they grew closer and closer by the second. From where he stood, he watched them lurch forward. Their moans became louder. He squinted, focusing in on the closest of the dead. At that moment he didn’t see them in the color of life. The brilliance of the sun faded and he saw them in gritty grays and whites and blacks, the blood on their skin and clothes like dark shadows. The circles beneath their eyes were like black hollows. The hair on their heads were various shades of grays with the blondes being the lightest. He thought maybe the rising sun aided in the gray tones, but that was probably just in his head. The same as he wished this whole mess was just in his head and he would wake up in the morning and everything would be okay.

Everything would be okay.

His family wouldn’t be dead. His friends wouldn’t be dead. His neighborhood wouldn’t be … wouldn’t be what? Overrun by the dead?

“That’s not going to happen,” he whispered. “This is real life.”

He steadied the gun.

Seven shots. That’s all you have before it’s machete time.

A deep breath taken and released slowly through slightly parted lips. The nod was imperceivable, but it steadied his nerves.

“You want to see the sun rise,” he said and pulled the trigger. The boom of the .357 was loud, the kickback powerful. The face of the biter closest to him exploded—a woman at one time, probably in her early thirties. He could have been wrong. The dead decomposed faster than people aged and she could have been in her twenties or maybe in her sixties, though he doubted that. The back of her head blew out. The force of the bullet sent her backwards, her feet coming off the ground and her hands flying up as she fell.

At the beginning of The End Times, Hank Walker would have probably felt guilty for what he had just done. He may have even apologized. He certainly would have taken the time to bury the dead after ending their ‘second lives.’ Not anymore. Not now. Not after everything that had happened. Now, he took aim at another biter, this one another woman of indiscernible age. Her head disappeared with the blast. She spun around, striking a tree just off the path before falling to the ground.

He took the next four shots, one right after the other, each one finding its home splitting open the skulls of the dead. He slid the gun into the back of his pants. The barrel was hot. He felt that heat through his underwear, but he didn’t pull the gun free. There was only one bullet left … just in case …

Hank pulled the machete free and started down the path to the few remaining biters. He swung the machete at their gray, gaunt faces, severing their heads and splintering their skulls. As he did so, he thought of his wife and son and brothers and father and his best friend. And he swung the machete harder, slicing through bone and skin and brains, his anger rising with each of the dead he took down.

Until they were no more.

He spun in a slow circle, his arms weakened, his legs tired, his breath labored, his chest heaving. There were tears in his eyes as he looked at the bodies on the ground. The dead … he shook his head.

“No.” Hank closed his eyes, opened them to his dead family littering the path, missing most of their skulls. Over there was Davey Blaylock. Down the center of the path was Lee. By the tree was Karen. The two bodies lying together, one on top of the other were Pop and Bobby. Jake was not too far from them, his hand missing three fingers, as if he had tried to ward off the machete. At the beginning of the slew of bodies was Jeanette, her head turned into a canoe, her long blonde hair stained with dark blood verging on brown and bits of brain and skull. There were others—so many others—but they didn’t matter.

Hank’s head spun. His stomach churned. He dropped the machete and fell to his hands and knees. Though there was little in his stomach, he vomited it up. It spattered on the ground in front of him and onto his hands. Some of it splashed back onto his face. Sweat spilled off of him. His face and neck were flushed red with heat. Hank coughed and closed his eyes. He shook his head, almost violently as the tears spilled from beneath his eyelids. He dropped onto his bottom and scooted away from the dead. HIs back struck a tree. He sat there for several long minutes, his heart shattered, his mind confused, his chest hurting. He could use a drink—maybe even the entire bottle back in the van.

When he looked up, his eyes were blurry. He wiped the tears away and reluctantly looked back at the bodies. He frowned, the confusion sinking its claws in deeper. The dead were still there, but they were no longer his family. They were no-name corpses that had one time been someone’s brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and children. Though that should have relieved him from the guilt of feeling like he had killed his entire family, it didn’t. It did nothing to alleviate the fact that he was all that was left of the Walker clan.

He used the tree to pull himself up from the ground. It was rough, but it was real. It was tangible. Once standing, he held onto the tree, feeling its bark beneath his hands. It grounded him, bringing him back to the reality of his world.

Hank took the few steps to his machete and picked it up. He was thankful it hadn’t landed in the vomit. He slid it back into the sheath hanging on his back. Then he remembered what he had been there for: to save whoever was in the car from the biters.

He turned around and headed up the path.

“Hey, it’s okay,” he called. “The coast is clear. The biters are dead.”

He reached the side of the car and looked in. Three of the windows had been busted out, either from the weight of the dead pushing in or the car already had broken windows. A biter leaned half in, the car, but it didn’t move. There was a hole in its back. Hank pulled the biter from the broken window and dropped it to the ground. A piece of hanger wire jutted from one eye socket. Blood had ran onto it from the ruptured eye.

He looked back at the car. The door had a hole in it—one created by a Smith & Wesson .357. His shoulder sagged. The man that had been screaming inside the car was dead. Blood oozed from between fingers that had clutched at the wound in his chest.

I must have hit him when I …

He shook his head again. The man in the car was dead. He had been young, probably not even thirty. He had been young …

A finger twitched.

Young or not didn’t matter then. Hank wasn’t sure if he even saw the finger spasm, but part of him believed he had. He watched, concentrating on the fingers of the man’s right hand. He realized with an almost certainty that the man shouldn’t turn if he hadn’t been bit. But did he truly know this? Had he seen someone who hadn’t been bitten or sick become a biter?

The index finger moved again. Then his hand jerked, followed by his arm. His eyes opened and his head moved from side to side, as if trying to figure out where he was. Hank believed he was doing just that, trying to figure out where he was, what had happened to him.

A moan came from the man and he seemed to sniff the air. He turned his head toward Hank and bared his teeth. He tried to sit up in his seat.

Hank pulled out the gun. He check the chamber. Yup, one left.

“I’m sorry,” Hank said and put the gun through the window. He pulled the trigger. The sound was deafening. The kickback caused his hand to jerk hard enough it struck a piece of broken glass. Blood instantly spilled from a wound that was deeper than he realized at first. But Hank didn’t really notice it—he stared at the dead man in the car, a good chunk of the top of his head missing. Splattered against the interior of the car were his brains, some hair and a lot of blood. But more than that, he saw the wound on his hand—a clear piece of flesh was missing between his thumb and first finger on the opposite hand that had twitched earlier.

Hank thought to pull the guy from the car, to bury him right beside it, maybe along the path where that car had stopped. It was the least he could do. Hank rounded the car, but stopped at the driver’s side door.

“What does it matter?” he asked. “He’s dead—he’ll never know he wasn’t buried.”

Besides, he thought, he was dead anyway. I just put him out of his misery.

He turned and walked away from the car. His heart sank as he went up the path. It opened to a cottage where three of the dead stumbled around. He didn’t bother being quiet. He unsheathed the machete and split the skulls of the two men and one boy near the open door. Then he stepped inside.

Hank looked around the cottage. He found a few cans of beans and a half empty bottle of water. He also found the bodies of one woman and a baby. They were in a bed and a crib. A bullet to the head ended their lives. On the end table next to the bed where the woman lay dead, was a picture. The couple had been happy. The baby had been asleep in the woman’s arms.

The man had been the guy from the car.

Hank’s shoulders slumped. He wiped his dry lips with the back of one shaking hand. He stared at the picture for what seemed like minutes, but had really been over an hour. When he finally set the picture down, he left the cottage and went back up the path. There was a biter near the car, standing at the front of it as if waiting to see if the man was going to try and run. Any movement would send the biter into motion. Hank didn’t give the old man a chance—he brought the machete down on the top of his gray and dirty head. The biter collapsed to the ground.

It took him a few minutes to get the man from the car and over his shoulder, and it took him over an hour to get back to the cottage. In the house, he laid the man’s body next to what he assumed was his wife. He went to the crib and gently lifted the dead baby from it. He placed the child between Mom and Dad and pulled the sheet up over their heads.

Hank Walker left the house, locking and closing the door behind him. He took with him the beans and the water, and slowly made his way back up the path again. He passed the car on the path and the biters he had slaughtered. Eventually, he came to his van, crawled in and closed the door. He didn’t turn the key in the ignition right away. Instead, he stared out the dirty windshield.

The baby had been a boy. The woman had been a blonde. The man had dark hair, and at one point blue eyes. The house had been nice, but not too big for a family of three. It had been practical. All of it reminded him of his own family, of his own home. But all that was gone. Jeanette was dead. Bobby … he had no clue if he were alive.

Hank reached over to the passenger’s seat. He plucked up the bottle of whiskey, took the cap off and took a deep drink. The alcohol burned his throat and warmed his chest and stomach. He looked at the bottle. It still had over two thirds of the light brown liquid in it.

I shouldn’t drink this, he said. I’ve drank too much lately already.

In the end, he turned the bottle up again, forgetting what he shouldn’t do and doing what he thought he would regret. He wanted to save them. He wanted to save them all. In the end, he couldn’t even save himself.

Normally, I don’t place reviews as posts on Type AJ Negative, but this one totally made my day. This is from DSJM Reviews and appears on Goodreads. I was totally blown away when I read it. It is humbling to have someone say this about my work.

Inside our minds there is darkness that sometimes forces a reality to those who think it might exist, bringing you into the world of being mad- full force with illusion; therefore, causing the state of mind to become unstable. Meaning numbness, deception, paranoia, just a cocktail of madness that is somewhere in between chaos and having a dream. The boundaries of going mad is a well thought process, quite genius if I may add. Scientists and doctors will say that madness or becoming psychotic happens in many different ways though I am only going to list a couple: abuse during child life, triggers (meaning something touched that right nerve mixed with emotional problems) cross-bred with other abusive like natures which creates the perfect recipe for chaos. It enriches the lucidity of dreams in an atmospheric way, manipulating them into your worst nightmares. Some may say it is only a nightmare but what if those dreams or nightmares become your reality in the depths of your brain, statically charging the mayhem within?

A.J Brown brings us not just one incredible short story but three amazing, bizarre, and mind altering stories- perfect in my thoughts. Every once in awhile you hear voices in your head, as you turn the pages with frigid, clammy hands and spine chilling nerves causing you to react irrationally. While you go on with word by word, they soak into you as it trickles through your processors in your mind. Slowly succumbing to the insanity within it officially makes your mind alternate between paranoia and its normal stance. In my opinion, Brown- who is the master mind behind this madness- is powerful in his words and builds the ultimate character strength with a vivid and lucid imagination of slowly making you feel like you are becoming psychotic and paranoid, that the insanity is slowly overtaking your reality.

A.J. Brown is an excellent story teller, his ability to think like this is honestly just quite maddening. I rejoice to have the chance to read this fantastic and amazing soul tearing tales that almost make you want to shake your head at the realism and connection you feel for each character. A Stitch of Madness reminds me of Stephen King, the articulate detail bringing forth to your mind that makes you question is this reality or not, that alone brings you into A.J. Brown’s personal nightmares. Anyone who would spend a little time and read this will forever become a fan of A.J. Brown. I look forward to reading more from Brown, perhaps seeing more- and longer- novels in the future. Thank you for creating a few more nightmares in my mind for sleep at night.

And now for the shameless plug: if you haven’t read A Stitch of Madness and you would like to, please go to Amazon and check it out. If you have read ASOM, I thank you, and also ask would you mind doing a review? I totally appreciate it.

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

A.J.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Side note, Pembroke’s middle name is Alloicious.

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

PS: He’s never really said …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PS: Not at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there were two.

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

—Confucius

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

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

(Huh … this reads like a horoscope.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things I said I couldn’t do:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t let them put out your pilot light.

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

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

A.J.

On July 8, 2017, The Monster was found.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Monster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

“We’re pulling in now.”

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

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

It would go flawlessly.

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

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

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

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

Ichabod Crane.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

It wasn’t long before they discussed the deal.

“You have the Monster,” Victor said.

“I do.”

“It belongs to my family.”

“It belongs to me.”

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

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

“Let’s be fair, Crane.”

“Let’s be leaving, Victor.”

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

“Nice doing business with you, Frankenstein.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ichabod heard the clamor and went outside.

“Excuse me, Boy? Come here.”

Gris did as he was told.

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

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

“Where is this?” he asked.

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

Ichabod turned and went back inside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She shrugged and said, ‘Sure.’

‘It’s been raining,’ I said.

‘It’s just water,’ she responded.

Off we went.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poor dead baseball.

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

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

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

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

A.J.

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

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

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

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

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

“You should.”

“Why is that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider this the first update.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 19th: Getting more excited about this.

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

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

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

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

A.J.

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

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

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

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

Reminisce for a little while.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AJ

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

 

 

Here is my interview with A.J. Brown

Posted: April 6, 2017 by ajbrown in Uncategorized

My interview with Fiona McVie.

authorsinterviews

Name: A.J. Brown

Age: 46. Crazy, eh?

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

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

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

Fiona: Tell us your latest news?

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

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