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I want to talk today about not worrying about what people think of you and or what you do. No, I’m not going to preach. I’m going to tell you a short story.

Today my wife, kids and myself went to a park here in Columbia. The kids wanted to climb on the rocks that spanned part of the stream that runs through the park. My wife and I wanted to get the kids to take pictures holding one of my books for promotional purposes.

We let the kids do their climbing, and yes, The Boy slipped and got his shoes wet in the water. We saw that coming and had prepared for it by making him wear an old pair of sneakers. When it came time to take a picture of the kids holding a book, neither of them wanted to. We had a feeling that would be the case as well—it is what it is.

Here is where I want to talk about not worrying about what people think. When we asked the kids to sit at a table and hold a book so Cate could get a quick picture, they both looked around, checking to see if there was anyone else around. There was, but not the way you would think. More on that in a minute. One of the children took the book and hid behind it with the cover facing out. I say ‘children,’ but you have to understand both of my kids are in their teens. My wife took the picture, then tried to get him or her to lower the book to make it look less like she or he was hiding behind it. (Yes, I am conveniently not saying which child it was.)

Both of our children seemed embarrassed by their mom wanting to take a picture with them holding a book. I get it.

Earlier I stated my children looked around to see if anyone was in the vicinity. There was. Walking toward us were three individuals, two young ladies and a dinosaur. Yes, I said dinosaur. Stick with me and I will explain.

DinosaurRight about the time my wife tried to get pictures of my children, these three individuals walked by us. I glanced to my left and saw them. The two young ladies were in their late teens or very early twenties. They had their phones out and were talking to the dinosaur. When the dinosaur responded, I realized the dinosaur was female. None of them looked our way. They went about their business as if we weren’t around. I looked to my wife, extended my hand for one of my books and took off after them. I’m not quite sure what my kids said, but I got the distinct impression they were embarrassed that I would go talk to these total strangers.

I hit the path they were on and came up on them close to the short bridge that crosses a stream. The dinosaur stood, posing next to the bridge.

“That is so awesome,” I said when I walked up to them. I was still a good fifteen feet away when I stopped.

The girl in the dinosaur suit said, “Thank you,” and smiled. “I wanted to be a dinosaur.”

“What made you want to be a dinosaur?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I just wanted to be a dinosaur, so I went online and today I am a dinosaur.””
“That is awesome,” I said again, then added. “Can you do me a favor? I’m an author. Would you mind taking a picture holding my book?”

Her eyes widened, as did her smile. “Sure. I can do that.”

I handed her Cory’s Way. She turned slightly so her face wouldn’t be in the image. Cate took the picture and we both told her thank you. We talked for a moment longer and then the two young ladies and the female dinosaur went on their way.

A few minutes later we walked along the trail, heading toward the car. We ran into the two young women plus one. The dinosaur had taken off her fake skin and was now a regular young lady. I thanked her again and said she was awesome for being a dinosaur. I started to walk away, then I stopped. I turned around and asked the three young women if they liked to read. It turns out, they do. I got one of their emails and will be sending them free copies of a couple of my books as a thank you for the three minutes of their time they gave me to take a picture.

Here is my point. The dinosaur girl didn’t care what anyone thought about her. She bought a plastic dinosaur suit, put it on and went to a very popular park in downtown Lexington, South Carolina. She walked around where many kids and adults were and didn’t bat an eye. She took a picture for a total stranger and it didn’t phase her. She wanted to be a dinosaur, so she became a dinosaur. To heck with what anyone thought. This is what she wanted and she went after it. She was secure enough in who she is to do something most people wouldn’t because they would be too concerned about what people might say or think.

I wish I could be that carefree. I wish I could just throw on a dinosaur suit and be a dinosaur. I wish my kids could be dinosaurs. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we all could just love the life we have and not worry about what others think of us or what we do? It’s something worth thinking about.

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



I’m fortunate enough to be able to work with a lot of great writers who are also great people. I’ve done hundreds of interviews over the last fifteen years, many of which were very fun and informative. Yes, I have my favorites, both types of interviews and people I’ve interviewed.

One of the things I want to do in 2018 is more of those interviews. The first of these you will read shortly, but for now, let me say, The 5 and 3 is dedicated to authors under the Stitched Smile Publications umbrella. There will be others outside of The 5 and 3, but I want to dedicate an entire series to the wonderful authors at SSP.

Here is what the 5 and 3 is: Five writing/publishing related questions, three non-business related questions and one bonus question. Unlike many of my interviews where I tailer the questions to the individual, these interviews will have the same questions for each author. Yes, it sounds generic, but the answers are always so different, sometimes startlingly so.

You are in for a treat with the first 5 and 3. Briana Robertson is a young, up and coming author. Her words drip emotions. Her recent collection, Reaper, was released in December by Stitched Smile Publications, and I can tell you, it is an emotional, white-knuckle rollercoaster ride you won’t soon forget.

To go with being a great writer, Briana is also a terrific person with a huge, huge heart.

I hope you enjoy the first of many 5 and 3 interviews. Here is Briana Robertson.


BrianaBriana Robertson excels at taking the natural darkness of reality and bringing it to life on the page. Heavily influenced by her personal experience with depression, anxiety, and the chronic pain of fibromyalgia, Robertson’s dark fiction delves into the emotional and psychological experiences of characters in whom readers will recognize themselves. Her stories horrify while also tugging at heartstrings, muddying the lines of black and white, and staining the genre in multiple shades of grey.

In 2016, Robertson joined the ranks of Stitched Smile Publications. Her solo anthology, “Reaper,” which explores the concept of death being both inevitable and non-discriminatory, debuted in 2017. She also has stories included in several anthologies.

She is currently serving as Head of Dark Persuasions, the dark erotic branch of Stitched Smile Publications.

Robertson is the wife of one, mother of four, and unashamed lover of all things feline. She currently resides on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, with a backyard view of the Saint Louis skyline, and is a member of the Saint Louis Writers Guild.


A.J.: How do you go from idea to finished story?

BR: Ideas usually come to me in one of two ways: they are born from actual personal experience or from the potential emotional response a character would have to a set of given stimuli. For example, the story Lucy, included in my collection, “Reaper,” started as an idea after my own daughter, who was three at the time, suffered a head injury and had to be rushed to the hospital. Luckily, she turned out to be completely fine. But Lucy evolved as I imagined the worst-case scenario; as I asked myself “What if?” and then followed that line of thinking.

On the other hand, Capitulation, also included in “Reaper,” emerged from a huge surge of anger I initially felt. And as Yoda has always told us, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the dark side. In that story, the protagonist’s anger ultimately leads to despair, guilt, self-hatred, and a not-so-happy ending. I simply let the emotion translate into action and followed the actions as they led to an unavoidable outcome.

Reaper CoverA.J.: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

BR: Worrying that my stories will become repetitive. So much of my fiction is inspired by my own experiences, my own emotions, my own psyche, that I tend to doubt whether each story will continue to ring true. Will they all start sounding the same? Will my readers start wanting something different? Will they start hankering for monsters and villains that live outside the main characters’ heads, rather than constantly reading about an inner struggle?

Simply put, self-doubt.

A.J. How do people react when you tell them you’re a writer, specifically a horror writer?

BR: There’s usually an immediate, “Oh, wow! Really? That’s cool.” About half the time it’s followed up with something along the lines of “I always wanted to write a book.” Then there’s usually a question or two about where I come up with ideas, or why do I write what I write. Occasionally I get a request for where they can buy my book.

To be completely honest, I’m an extreme introvert with four kids. I don’t go out much. Most of my socializing is done online, and when I am out in public, I tend to avoid conversing with people at all costs. And when I do converse with them, it’s usually because they’ve made some comment about how cute my kids are—which they are, extremely so. So, I don’t have this experience all that often.

A.J.: If you could meet one of your characters, who would it be and why?

BR: Thana, from the title story, Reaper, of my collection. One, because she’s the Grim-f*cking-Reaper. And secondly, because she’s not based off me. A lot of my characters are, at least in part. They have personality traits or quirks that come directly from me (and no, I’m not going to point out which of those they are). Thana is completely her own character, and I think she’d be fascinating to meet.

Baby Grand CoverA.J.: What qualities make up your ideal readers?

BR: My stories—I like to think—require the reader to be open to an emotional response. They’re not gory horror, they’re not extreme horror, they’re not the kind of horror that makes you jump at shadows. They epitomize the everyday horrors that can catch you completely off-guard and shatter your life, your everyday well-being.

So, my ideal reader has to be willing to experience their worst nightmare. They have to be willing to acknowledge they have a dark side as well, and then be willing to face themselves in the mirror. They have to realize that they themselves may be their worst nightmare.

My ideal reader is intelligent, non-judgmental, and openminded.


A.J.: If you ruled a country and could make one change that couldn’t be revoked, what would it be?

BR: I would abolish exemptions for Congress members from the laws they pass for us common folks.

A.J.: Do you have a guilty pleasure? If so, what is it?

BR: Oh, so many. Binge-watching shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Dance Academy. Musicals. Belting songs from musicals at the top of my lungs while driving. Animals. Gushing over animals I’ve seen a million times at the zoo. Crazy socks. Disney movies. Belting Disney songs at the top of my lungs while driving. Click-bait. Hollywood award shows.

A.J.: Can you give us one memory from your childhood that helped to shape you into the person you are now?

Unleashing Briana CoverBR: When I was twelve, a close friend of the same age committed suicide. He attended the public school, and I attended a parochial school in the next town over, so we only saw each other after school or on weekends. We got to be close because neither of us had too many friends at our respective schools; we were both teased and picked on fairly relentlessly. The difference was, I had supportive parents who paid attention. His dad was an alcoholic, and his mom had eyes only for his little sister. So, one day, when the teasing had been especially bad, he took a final ride around the neighborhood on his skateboard, and then went home and hanged himself in the garage.

I saw him that day. He came by to see me while he was riding around town. Two hours later he was dead. I had known something was wrong, but I was way too young to understand the signs I was seeing, or to know what they might lead to. He didn’t want to talk about it, and I did all I knew how to do. I gave him a hug, told him the other kids weren’t worth it, and I’d see him that weekend.

When I found out he was gone, I swore even at that young age, that I would 1) make an effort to not be purposely cruel to other kids (I haven’t always succeeded) and 2) I would try like hell to always be attentive to my kids, that I would pay attention and know when there was a problem, so that, God forbid, any of them ever decided to take their own life, I wouldn’t stand there afterward, like his mom had, and say “I didn’t know anything was wrong.”


A.J.: How does your spouse feel about your writing? Does he support your pursuit of writing/publishing?

BR: I’m going to be completely uncooperative here and refuse to speak for him. My writing, just like his job, our kids, housecleaning, etc., is a drain on time we get to spend together, and it, just like the others, can sometimes garner negativity. But that’s an issue between him and me; it’s one we’ve discussed at length between ourselves, and it’s nobody else’s business.

That being said, he tells me often how proud he is of me and my writing. That’s enough for me.

You can find Briana at:

Her Website

On Facebook

On Twitter:  @Briana_R_Author

On Amazon

On Instagram: @wyfnmmarbrtsn


They’re all dead. The whole town. Not a living person to be found.

Hank leaned against the truck, a cigarette between his lips. He wasn’t much of a smoker, but he might not see another day, so why not? The first cigarette he had ever smoked made him lightheaded. It gave him one hell of a coughing fit, as well. The second wasn’t much better, but at least it didn’t take his breath away.

Strike that off the bucket list, he thought and flicked the cigarette away. It tumbled end over end and landed in the snow with a hiss and a light plume of gray smoke and white steam.

He coughed again, but not from smoking. No, this was from the infection. He was sweating from the fever and his eyes watered. Scratches were on his arms, neck and face. Blood had dried on a few of the deeper wounds. His leg throbbed, but at that point, he no longer cared. What he did care about was taking out the biters shambling along the dirt road.

They didn’t seem to notice him. He blamed the infection for that. If he weren’t dying, not being noticed by the dead would be a good thing, but now, as his body threatened to shut down and turn him into one of those creatures, he wanted to be noticed by them. He wanted them to see him coming.

A biter lurched passed him, her grayed hair disheveled, skin sagging from either old age or decay … or both. What Jeanette would have called a housedress barely hung from her shoulders, the flower print speckled with crusted blood.

“Hey lady,” Hank said and reached for the axe next to someone else’s truck he had been leaning against. She turned, not just her head, but her entire body, and seemed to look through Hank. If she would have actually noticed him, she would have seen the stocking cap on his head, the fuzzy white ball hanging from it. She may have even wondered why he wore such a thing if it wasn’t Christmas. Hank didn’t know if it was actually Christmas. Again, he didn’t care.

He hefted the axe in both hands and took a few quick, almost lunging steps. He swung it as hard as his weakening muscles allowed. The top of the woman’s head shattered beneath the blade and she crumpled to the ground. A halo of brownish red blood formed beneath what remained of her head.

“Merry Christmas, lady.”

Hank wiped a spatter of thick blood from his face and then reached into the pick-up truck. He mashed the horn and held it for several seconds. The biters along the streets and in the yards of the small community where he thought he would die turned and began their awkward trundle toward him.

Hank coughed hard, the action tearing at his chest. His stomach cramped and released and then he spat out a string of yellow phlegm, streaked red with blood. It was time and he was tired. Beyond that, he was pissed. He tapped the front fender with the bloodied blade and gave a sickly smile. As the first of the dead approached him, he raised the axe and began to sing.

“Oh come all you biters, come and get your head split …”


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.

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.


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.


Here is my interview with A.J. Brown

Posted: April 6, 2017 by ajbrown in Uncategorized

My interview with Fiona McVie.


Name: A.J. Brown

Age: 46. Crazy, eh?

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

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

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

Fiona: Tell us your latest news?

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

View original post 1,685 more words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you build it, they will come.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The experience is life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AJ: And that novel would be?

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

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

But … I want you to do it in prose.

JMB: No problem!

The story takes a different form,

Converging from the simple norm.

Reworked in such a metered beat

As measured out poetic feet-

Iambs of syllables of eight

In structure carrying the weight

Of speed and action in its hold.

I’d like to call that poet’s gold.

As Beowulf is known abroad,

I went a route that some deemed odd-

The Midgard Epic has two tales-

The Wanderer to tip the scales

And end the story in a bang-

I wanted such a place to hang

The unknown tale, connecting them-

As sure as Beowulf can swim,

So, too, now Wiglaf has his place-

A hero to a dying race.

Accessible, my prudent goal-

To make this epic rich and whole-

I chose iambs and deeper still-

Tetrameter completes the bill.

I used translations—many books-

I gave the Anglo-Saxon looks-

And researched much until the day

I conquered Grendel; words would slay

Even dragons as I found

To this story, I was bound.

Like a scop or skald of old,

The story here had to be told.

Across the whale-road to the hall,

As Beowulf adhered the call,

Arriving to beat beast and more-

He conquered Grendel on the shore

And took his mother’s head as well.

It took a dragon’s flaming hell

To send the Geat to his death,

But as he breathed his final breath,

Perhaps there’s more of him, you see …

I leave a clue for you from me …

AJ: Bravo! That was awesome.

JMB: Awwwww … Thanks, kind sir!

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

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

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

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

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

JMB: Absolutely! Here are my contacts:

Find James Matthew Byers at:

James Matthew Byers on Twitter

James Matthew Byers on Facebook

James Matthew Byers on Wattpad

James Matthew Byers on WordPress

James Matthew Byers on Prose

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

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








We have so much time and so little to do. Strike that. Reverse it. —Roald Dahl

So often on this blog, and really all of my social media, I forget to do one very important thing. Well, okay, maybe a couple of very important things, like update this blog more regularly. Bad A.J.. Bad. That’s not it, though. The one thing I forget to do on a regular basis is promote my own work (I’ll prove it in a minute).

Go ahead and nod in agreement.

I can blame it on not having enough time if I want to, but that would be a lie, or at least a partial one.

I have never been all that savvy at marketing. I don’t enjoy doing it. I tend to want to write and write and write. But there is so much more to this business than writing. That is something else I tend to forget: publishing is a business. If you have ever had your own business or worked at any job then you have been somewhere that has needed to market themselves in order to get more clients. Without marketing, there are no clients, and without clients, there is no business.

For writers, we want readers. You, Faithful Reader, the person with your eyes on these words as you, well, read them, you are our client. Without you, then every time we put out a book, it will languish in obscurity. Now for the proof:

INTERACTIVE QUESTION #1: How many of you have heard of Ball Four? This is a small collection of dark baseball stories. (Please, if you don’t mind, leave a comment below. I would love to know if you have heard of the collection.)

I don’t think many folks have heard of Ball Four. It has sold one book since its release on August 20th of 2016. One sale in almost four and a half months. Why is this? Simple: I haven’t marketed it. Sure, I’ve posted a few things on Facebook about it, but beyond that, nothing. So, why (or how) would you have heard about Ball Four? You wouldn’t have unless you have gone to my Amazon author page on a regular basis. The proof is in the pudding.

To go with having a more interactive blog, one of my goals this year is to promote my work more. As I stated earlier, I haven’t been all that great about it.

So, would you like to hear more about Ball Four? Sure you would:

ball-four-front-image-onlyThere’s nothing like the sound of a little league ball park. From the dugout chants to the ping of the bat on ball or the heavy smack of a glove making a catch, nothing quite compares to kids playing America’s pastime. It’s the true innocence of the game on display, it’s the real effort to win as a team. Its kids being kids.

Though America’s game is at its best in the Little Leagues, it is also at its most tragic. There’s nothing like losing when your heart is all in. There’s nothing like failure when the game is on the line. But what if winning and losing didn’t matter?

What if it’s a bully getting what he deserves? What if it’s an old ballpark where dreams were once lived out, but now no one plays on? What if it’s a bad pitch or a base not stolen? Or what if it’s just a run short of glory? What if it’s the memory of a game many years in the past? 

What if it’s lost innocence?


I truly believe baseball, at its core, is the most innocent of games for little kids. It was the one I fell in love with first as a child. It’s also the one that seems the most tragic to me. The stories (and poems—yes, I said poems) in Ball Four look at, not just the innocence of the game, but also the tragedy.

For the one book that was purchased there was a review left behind:

If you love baseball, little league or softball. The clink of a bat or the sound of cleats in the brick dirt then this is the book for you. Imagine if you will sitting in the bleachers, hearing the cheer of the crowd and the smell of popcorn in the air. The sound of the crack of a bat as a batter hits a home run. The excitement in the stands. If all of that makes your heart beat faster then you must read this book. The stories are amazing and so well told. This author knows what he is doing and does it well. I have loved baseball since I was little and when I got this book I read Dreams of a Poor Child first. It touched me so that I read it to my father who sat in my living room and bawled. We were both crying by the time I finished the story. Not because it was sad but because it brought back childhood memories for both of us. AJ Brown is a fantastic story teller. I can’t stress enough that you want to read this book and that you will absolutely love it and the rest of the books that Mr. Brown has written. Simply put….AWESOME!


Do I have your attention? I hope so. If you would like to purchase the digital version of Ball Four, head on over to Amazon and grab you a copy. If you would like the print version, you can contact me and I’ll get a copy to you. And please, leave a review—they do help.

But wait, I’m not going to leave you here with just the blurb and a review, but also a glimpse at one of the stories. I called this one The Boys of Yesteryear and this is the very beginning of it:

Gravel cracked and crumbled beneath the tires of the old beat up Chevy. The head lamps cut two beams through the darkness, shining bright on the red clay field in front of it. The car came to a shuddering stop, the engine skipping as it idled hard. Harvey shut the car off and opened the door. A cane touched ground, followed by a brown slippered foot. Harvey pushed himself out of the car, holding onto the door for leverage. He closed it. The sound of metal on metal was loud in the quiet night. He hobbled to the front of the vehicle

Even though he wore a belt, his jeans hung loose on his thin hips; his shoulders were like a hanger his shirt was draped over. Harvey slid a white cap out of his back pocket and placed it on his head, the “B” logo faded but still stitched in place. He took a deep breath—something that was hard for him to do these days—and let the crisp fall air fill his lungs.

The field still had the wood fence around it, though many of the slats had fallen away or rotted out through the years. Weeds grew in the grass of the outfield, some of it encroaching on the infield that still looked like a rough diamond. The two dugouts were mostly gone—a wooden wall still stood along one of them but not the other.

Harvey made his way to the trunk and opened it. Inside sat a bat, ball and glove, all aged and well used. He picked the baseball up and stared at it for a long while, taking in each name scrawled in black pen along its surface, some overlapping, some faded to near illegible. He set it in the glove and then lifted both out, followed by the bat, a wooden model, not one of those aluminum atrocities the kids used these days. Harvey placed the items in a bag and put it over one shoulder, just as he had done so many times as a kid. No, it wasn’t a baseball gear bag like they have today, but a bag his dad had made out of an old rifle sheathing. The brown leather was worn and cracked in some places and the stitching that held it together was frayed throughout. The zipper was broke, leaving the bag permanently open. The strap dad had attached to it had been fixed twice. Harvey thought he should have probably had it restitched before…

Leaving the trunk open, he walked back to the front of the car and reached into the passenger’s side window.

“Come on,” he said as he lifted the old glass milk jug from the car, the cork still in place. He held it close to him as he shuffled toward the field, his cane going out in front of him with each pained step. Prickles of fire ran up his left leg from ankle to hip. He winced, gritted his teeth and continued toward the dugout he had shared with eight others all those years ago …


Enticed yet? I hope so.

One more thing: my good friend, Justin Dunne, asked me one time what music should he listen to while reading a story of mine. I had to think about it for a moment or eight—I had never been asked that question before. Since then I have taken to hearing the music the stories should be read to. With that in mind I’m going to go with a couple of songs: Centerfield by John Fogerty and There Used To Be A Ballpark, by Frank Sinatra. Enjoy the stories. Enjoy the songs.

I leave you for now, Faithful Reader, and I hope you have a wonderful day. Please like, share and comment if you have a moment or two. Thank you, as always for reading.

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


You can find me at these awesome places:

A.J. Brown Facebook Fan Club

A.J. Brown Facebook Author Page

A.J. Brown Amazon Author Page

A.J. Brown Storyteller Website

@ajbrown36 on Twitter