Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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

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

Zombie apocalypse? Seriously?

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

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

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

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

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

The first one:

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

The second one:

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

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

The World Smelled CleanHere is something else: Humphrey.

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

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

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

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

The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth

Posted: March 23, 2016 by ajbrown in Uncategorized

Here we are, you and I, on this page, me writing, you reading. It’s a good combination if you ask me. We both get what we want, right? I get to write something cool. You get to read something cool. Does that sound good to you? I hope so, because it sure does to me.

Let me make a confession: I didn’t start out enjoying writing fiction. As a matter of fact, I hated it. In school I wrote the bare minimum to get a passing grade. I did enjoy writing songs and jokes and things like that, but fiction…meh.

Let me be even more honest with you. When I began enjoying the act of writing fiction, I did it solely for me. I wasn’t any good at it, though I thought I was. The key word here is thought. I believed, like so many other writers, that I could be the next Stephen King. And why not? He was (and still is) my favorite author, and up to that point I had read everything he had written, and it didn’t seem that difficult, so why couldn’t I be as good, if not better, than he is?

Ummm…because I sucked. That’s why. And, worse than that, I wasn’t really trying to get better. I was just putting words in front of words. Do you want proof of how bad I wrote when I first started? I apologize now for what you are about to read.

[[“How are you doing, other than being pissed at Bryan?” Chris asked.

“I’m okay, I guess . . .“ she started to say.

“Don’t you have work to do?” Bryan questioned as he came around the corner.

“Go screw yourself!” Lindsey exclaimed.

“I’d rather screw you.”

“Enough, Bryan!” Chris intervened.

“Yeah, go ahead and take up for your piece of meat . . .“

“Bryan, I said that’s enough,” Chris said without raising his voice.

“What’s wrong, Chris? Don’t like the way I act toward your whore?” Bryan yelled.

Stepping toward Bryan, Chris grabbed his shirt and put a finger in his face. He got close enough to kiss Bryan if that was what he wanted to do.  Fortunately, that was not his intentions.]]

This was written way back when I first started, nearly 20 years ago. It is amateurish, at best, second grade level, at worst. Or maybe it’s the other way around. It’s from a piece titled, Mirror Mirror and it really, really sucked. But at the time, I wasn’t trying to get published. I was just writing and enjoying it and not getting any better.

Then I was asked, ‘why don’t you try to get published?’

I said, ‘why not? I’m pretty good.’

Delusional. That’s what I was.

Still, I managed to get something published. It took exactly one hundred rejections, but it finally happened. I will tell you this: getting published is like a drug. Once it happens, you want it to happen again and again and again. And it did happen again and again and again, and I really thought I would be rolling in the dough once people knew who I was.

I am the next Stephen King, baby. That was my mindset.

Then reality happened. I subbed a story to a publisher and he responded with a curt letter that said, and I’m paraphrasing here because the sting from it was bad: you should never write another story again.

I was brought down by one rejection letter. Forget all the other ones. They didn’t matter. They were mostly form rejections that didn’t really mean anything to me. However, that one was personal. It was an insult to my abilities. I stewed for quite a while on that one, even ranting and raving to my wife about it.

Do you want some more honesty? I got mad. I still didn’t write for the readers. I wrote to prove that editor wrong. For the next several years I wrote angry, but I still didn’t get any better. That only happened much later when I joined an online writing group. I met some great folks who taught me quite a bit about writing and about patience. I learned.

Though I became a better writer, I still wasn’t all that great. I was lazy. I didn’t want to work to make myself better. I was in a hurry to write crappy story after crappy story. Here is where rubber meets the road: I had a lot of people telling me I was good, and a lot of people publishing my work, so I thought I was good. But I wasn’t. If I was, then those people would have paid me for the work and I would have had the courage to submit more to paying markets. As it stood, I was comfortable in those non-paying markets. They stroked my weak ego. And I wrote, not because I enjoyed it or because of the art of it or even because I wanted to entertain the readers. Nope. I wrote because I wanted my ego stroked. I wanted to feel like I was good at something I truly wasn’t. Believe me I felt good about it for a while.

Then Reality Check #2 happened. Remember, I thought I was good. I thought I was great. I still thought I was the next Stephen King. I just hadn’t been discovered yet. What an idiot. I thought wrong.

I began inquiring about putting out a short story collection. I had a bunch of publications under my belt and I was good. No. I was great. Everyone wanted my work. Are you ready for the sting? I submitted my query to a publishing company I respected. They put out good books and the owner was fairly well known. I enquired about doing a collection with them. The following is the exchange in e-mails that took place after my enquiry:

Are you the A.J. Brown who has stories published in this anthology and that anthology and this anthology? (names of publications withheld on purpose)

My instant thought was, he has heard of me. So I responded. Yes, I am.

I waited.

And waited.

And never heard back from him.

You may say, that’s rude. You may say, maybe his e-mail response got lost in the ether. You may say, maybe he never received your reply to his question. That is well and good, but I am almost certain none of that occurred. What I believe happened is this: he knew who I was, but not for anything good, so when I responded with a proud, yes, I am, he already knew he wasn’t going to work with me. There’s no need for him to respond, after all, I’d get the message after a while, right?

Well, yeah, actually, I did. Though he never responded, I heard him loud and clear. After allowing myself a bit of a pity party, I stopped and looked at everything I had ever done up to that point. Most of it was just okay. Some of it was bad. There were a handful of pieces that were actually good.

That was in 2010.

It was then that I decided to take a hard look at my writing style and voice. Everything I had written up to that point was void of emotion, void of any real character development, void of good dialogue, void of good writing. A lot of what I wrote was the same regurgitated crap that everyone else was putting out. It was then that I made the conscious effort to become a better writer. It was then that I decided I was not going to do what everyone else was doing. It was then that I decided to be my own writer.

It was then that I began to get better. I developed the style and voice I use now. I stopped believing in plot and formulaic writing and said, ‘hey, I’m just going to write and not worry about everyone else.’ I’m going to tell stories I want to hear.

Are you okay for one more truth? I hope so, because this is somewhat of a confession that I think most writers will not make, though I believe it to be true for the majority of us.

I do not write for you, the readers.

If you did not click the little X in the upper right corner, then that means you want to hear the rest of this. For that, I am thankful. If you have just a couple more minutes, let me explain my statement, which comes after having thought a ton on the subject.

I do not write for you, the readers. I write for me, the reader. I write what I want to read. I write the things that I enjoy reading. I don’t write like everyone else on purpose. And here is the truth within the truth: if I do not like what I write, then how can I expect you, the readers, to like what I write? That’s the bottom line.

Do I want to entertain the readers? Sure. Do I want them to like my stories? Absolutely. Do I write for them? No. I don’t. I’m sorry. I’m just telling you truth. It sounds nice to say ‘I write for the reader.’ It sounds noble. It is endearing to hear. It’s just not true.

Don’t miss this, though. As I said a couple of paragraphs up, I write for myself, I write what I like. Don’t miss this: if I don’t enjoy the story I write, how can I expect you to enjoy it? If we are honest with ourselves and you, then we will all admit that we write for ourselves, for our enjoyment, because we know if we believe it is good and if we truly enjoy it, then you will, as well. I repeat, don’t miss this, don’t miss how important it is for us, the writers, to write what we like and enjoy. By doing it that way the end product is so much better for you, the readers. If we do it the other way; if we write for anyone but ourselves to start with, then you get the same crap I put out for the first 10 or so years of me pursuing publishing.

Bottom line? I write for myself so you don’t crap in the end.

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

A Chat With Jennifer Miller

Posted: March 6, 2016 by ajbrown in Uncategorized

This year I have received the honor of being invited into the 2016 edition of The Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror. This anthology is put together by the very nice Jennifer Miller. She and I sat down, computer screen to computer screen, and had a chat one evening in late February.

A.J.: Jenna Miller, tell me a little about you.

J.M.: Well, I’m 38 years old. I live in the Rocky Mountains. I have three gorgeous kids (my inspiration). I love the outdoors, video games, various crafts, writing and helping other writers.

A.J.: Video games? A woman after my own heart. Which video games do you like to play?

J.M.: LOL – Oh, you know, they change. I’m a huge fan of MMOs, so currently that’s Lord of the Rings Online (so fun). I love Magic the Gathering, so I’m really into that new Magic: Puzzle Quest (for mobile), and those two are all I’ve really been playing lately.

A.J.: I have never played Magic the Gathering—I hear it is addictive.

J.M.: To say there are a few decks around here is an understatement. We all like to play (the kids too), but I almost prefer digital versions to real cards.

A.J.: I love Munchkin. Have you ever played that one?

J.M.: No. I’ve heard it’s fun though.

A.J.: It’s ridiculously fun. It’s like a goofy version of Magic.

Let’s see, you write?

J.M.: Sometimes.

A.J.: What do you like to write?

J.M.: I’m drawn to dark fiction, mostly horror, though I do like to do darker fantasy and sci-fi as well.

A.J.: How long have you been writing, Jenna?

LGOH CoverJ.M.: I’ve been writing forever, but only more seriously since 2005, after my daughter was born.

A.J.: Was she part of your inspiration to write seriously?

J.M.: Not really. Though I did write a lot of my first novel while holding (feeding) her. A lot of it was that I had always wanted to. Then a buddy of mine had been published, and that was like a kick in the pants. I knew that if he could do it, I could do it.

A.J.: So it became proving ground for you? Did you have to prove to yourself that you could do it?

J.M.: In a lot of ways, yes. As you probably know, a lot of writers, or any artists really, are not often all that confident in what they are capable of. I’m no different, though I’m a wee bit more confident now than I was back then.

A.J.: Did the publishing help you get your confidence?

J.M.: It did, and it didn’t. It did, because I did it! It didn’t, because the publisher I went with (my mistake for not doing research on them beforehand) was a total scam.

But, because of that, I met people who read my stuff and liked it, and published it. I made friends who encouraged me. THAT gave me the confidence to really write and also made me want to do that for others. A lot of the time, all it takes is one person to believe in you. I have people who did that for me, and I like to do it for others.

A.J.: I know exactly what you mean. All it takes is one person to believe in you. So you help other writers now? What do you do to help them?

J.M.: Well, I run a writer’s group through Facebook called, Word Weavers. I try to post things that encourage creative writing. I invite other writers to ask questions, seek advice, start discussions, etc.

I work with a few writers behind the scenes with their editing and writing skills (mainly new writers who have come to the group or through my anthologies).

And that brings me to the anthologies I do. Though, it hasn’t been plural in a couple years. I run two anthologies, The Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror and The Ladies and Gentlemen of Fantasy. In both I encourage, both old hats and new writers, to contribute, hone their craft, and challenge them to a unique writing experience.

A.J.: Word Weavers? Tell me about that. How did that come to be?

J.M.: It was actually a few of us who all had that first scam publisher – and we wanted to start a group for writers by writers that would help fight against things like that. It evolved from there to doing weekly spotlights to promote our authors, we made trading cards (like MTG cards, but for writers we used them like virtual business cards), we encouraged folks to social network, make writer buddies, share publications that were accepting subs, give and seek advice, ask and answer questions, etc. etc.

That was all on MySpace. Once we migrated here, the group kind of died, but we still post things weekly, and I still even offer to make trading cards now and again.

We even did a few anthologies through the group – which is what got me started on my own.

A.J.: Do you have this group on FB also?

J.M.: We do – though we don’t do near as much with it now as we used to. Mainly it’s me posting weekly writing prompts and challenges, as well as a thread for folks to promote themselves each week. Word Weavers Facebook Page

A.J.: Let’s talk about LGOH. How did that come about?

J.M.: Well in 2007 I wanted to start an anthology series that would feature women in horror. I wanted to have photos and more in-depth biographies so that people could learn more about the writers behind the stories. I wanted to call it Ladies of Horror.

At the time, a few of our guy friends thought I should do one for men as well, The Gentlemen of Horror.

I did one in 2008, and started another, then I had life hit pretty hard, so I handed it off to an indie publisher, who put out the 2009 edition. I got the rights back at the end of 2010 and started again in 2013.

I feature seven men and seven women in each edition. They are each allowed 10k words of horror fiction used how they see fit (though it is less if flash or poetry). Each contributor gets an in-depth bio and photos.

It gets better every year, and I’ve worked with some amazing writers and artists over the last three years, and I hope that I’ll get to work with many more over many more years.

A.J.: What makes LGOH different from the other anthologies out there?

J.M.: I feel there’s two things that make it different. One is how I run it. I do “invite only” in which writers must query beforehand with sample writing and reasons for wanting to do the anthology. Then I decide who to invite. Then I invite, and then we work on the writing, the bios, the photos.

And that is the second thing. The bios. They are longer than the norm at around 700 words. They contain more information than most “little blurb” bios. And, they are written by other contributors. I pair up the writers in male/female teams and they write the biographies for their partners (not their own), so that is unique. Then I ask for four photos to lace in, to show more of who they are.

I can add a third in that each contributor section is unique and can have anywhere from one epic yarn to ten pieces of poetry and flash and anything you can think of in between.

A.J.: And you try to make it fun?

J.M.: I do. I also try to encourage each group to social network, make friends, expand their “groups,” so to speak, as each year I do get writers from all over, new and old, and some who have worked together, and some who never have at all.

I add them all to a little FB group and try to keep them as in the loop as I can about what I’m doing (editing, formatting, herding cats, promo stuff, whatever) and how things are going at each stage of the anthology.

A.J.: Am I correct in saying all the profits go to charity?

J.M.: Yes, everything that we get in royalties from both KDP and Createspace I send to The American Cancer Society. I do this in May and October (which is, just before each anthology comes out, on Halloween for Horror and April fools for the fantasy (but, there has not been a fantasy last year or this year – next year’s is in the planning stages, woot!)). I don’t recoup any costs. Every penny that comes in from sales goes to them.

A.J.: That is awesome. How has your experience been with the authors of LGOH?

J.M.: I have worked with some of the most amazing and wonderful people. The writers who contribute to the LGOH are really dedicated, caring and fantastic people to work with and have fun with. I love getting to know them and their work each year.

A.J.: So, what is slated for you, the writer, in the future?

J.M.: This year I am a Lady of Horror, so I’m working on one big story for that. Then I am re-doing my personal anthology, Ceremony of Chaos. And lastly, my son and I are working on a project (slowly) that will be a web based choose your own (dark) adventure kind of thing in which we’ve got a couple other writers on hand who will be helping us with.

“Who will be helping”? That reads funny.

A.J.: Yeah, it reads funny, but that’s okay.

I have a couple more questions, one of which revolves around your son. He has taken up writing, right?

J.M.: Yes, he has – fairly diligently as well.

A.J.: Is he following in his mom’s footsteps?

J.M.: Gods, I hope not! I hope he does better than I do. But in all seriousness, yeah, I think that’s part of his reasoning behind wanting to write in the first place. However, now that he’s done it, like the rest of us, he finds he wants and needs to.

A.J.: That is an awesome influence to have on your child. I bet that felt good the first time he told you he wanted to give it a try.

J.M.: It really did. I was hard on him though, which made me feel awful, but I knew I needed to be.

A.J.: Wow!. Crack the whip.

Okay, Jenna, one more thing, and I’ll let you go. Where can readers find you?

J.M.: My website is probably the best place and that is: Jennifer Miller’s Dark Fiction

A.J.: Jenna, thank you so much for your time.

J.M.: You rock. Thank you.

A.J.: Any time, any time.

You guys, please check Jenna out. She’s a great person and I have been fortunate to have known her for a while and to see her vision with the LGOH anthology. Also, all the proceeds go to The American Cancer Society, so not only can you get a great book, but you can also help a worthwhile cause.

Thank you for reading, and as always, until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror 2015

In the short time Stitched Smile Publications has been around, they have put out three separate works of fiction. One of those was released on February 17th. It is by David Owain Hughes and Alice J. Black. The novella is titled, Granville. Here is the synopsis for the book:

Stanley is a typical high school student trying to find his way through the hierarchy of study and popularity. Nobody wants to spend time with him and even his crush turned him down nine times. He spends most of his time alone in the house, cursing his mother and blaming her for driving his father away. He has a preoccupation with all things horror and his love goes beyond just watching the movies; he wants to be the star of the show.

Making masks started as a hobby that soon becomes a practiced ritual and finally, when he has the right mask and slips it on over his head, he realizes that he is transformed. He is no longer Stanley but Granville, a masked warrior who intends to get payback for all the wrongs done to him and he will hold no punches.

The town is on lock down, the people terrified of this hideous killer, all the while he waits and plans his final masterpiece before taking off.

On the day of the release, SSP threw an online Release Party. I was only able to attend the last half of the event, but in that time, I got to know Alice and David and we talked a little about Granville.

(Side Note: Being an online party, there were a few interjections into our conversation.)

AJ: Alice, David, tell me about Granville. I read the description for it, and it sounds right up my alley.

Alice: Stanley is a loner, a young boy who is pushed too far one day and snaps. He takes things into his own hands and as his degradations get worse, so do his masks…

AJ: Let’s talk concepts: David, Alice, where did the concept for this story come from?

David: I think it first started with myself – I had this idea about a hapless teen who wanted to be a serial killer. I was looking to co-write a second project with Alice.

AJ: So, then you two have worked together before?

David: Yes, this is actually our second novella.

Alice: Yeah we wrote a novella length creature feature…#

David: The first is currently in the hands of a publisher, but we can’t release details.

AJ: Nice. Tell me about Stanley?

David: He’s your typical horror geek, who has a crush on a girl at school he can’t get.

AJ: Is he somewhat of an outcast?

David: Oh, very much so. He’s pretty much tortured by his peers. He’s a ghost to the tutors. Faceless, nameless.

AJ: Bullied?

David: Yes, mentally and physically.

AJ: So, he is essentially there, but no one likes him or takes the time to get to know him? They just kind of push him around.

David: Yes, spot on. Nobody cares about Stanley – he’s a punch bag.

AJ: That’s sad.

AJ: So, Granville. That is WHO he becomes, correct?

David: Yes, that’s right.

Jennifer H: I read it and it was an excellent book. Very twisted and dark. Twists and turns you wouldn’t expect

AJ: If David had anything to do with it, I know it is dark and probably somewhat disturbing.

Jennifer H: Have you read any of his others and which ones?

AJ: I’ve read some of David’s work. Not a ton, but enough to know that his mind is a bit dark.

Jennifer H: Great I will have to look up his stuff.

AJ: Alice, when you two sat to write this, did you write one part and David write another one and you mashed it together in the end? How did the collaboration of this story go?

Alice: When we wrote, we wrote a section each, maybe 1-2k words and then emailed it across and the next person started from there until we hashed it all out. We did the same with editing.

AJ: Very nice. A true collaboration. Did either of you, at any point, not like something the other one had written and discuss it with each other to make sure it came out right?

Alice: I have to be honest and say no. It all flowed so well. We obviously changed a few bits during editing but that’s natural.

AJ: At any point during the writing of Granville, did either of you say, eh, maybe we should scale back on this scene? And did you scale back if that were the case?

Alice: I don’t think that ever came up! If anything it was pouring more on.

David: I always go out guns blazing! I don’t like holding anything back.

AJ: David, I expect nothing less from you.

David: Have you picked up something of mine prior to this?

AJ: David, I’ve read a few of your pieces online. Something for Horror Geeks I think was the last thing I read.

David: Cool. I’ve written a lot of dark, twisted stuff. I can’t get enough of it!

AJ: You also have a book with BWP, right?

David: Two, one novel and one collection of short stories.

AJ: Very nice

AJ: Of the two of you, which do you think has the darker side?

Alice: Um I think it’s hard to say. We both have dark sides. I think David is a little more explicit with his while I tend to stay a little more somber but in our own ways, we’re both very dark.

David: I think our difference in dark styles very much suit our co-writing team.

AJ: David, in what way? That intrigues me.

David: One will do something different to the other – subtly and brute force mix well.

Alice: I found I learned a lot from David. I often shy away from the more explicit side of horror, and working with him made me consider why and branch out in my own writing.

David: Alice, that’s nice of you to say.

AJ: So playing off of each other’s strengths also strengthened your own styles?

David: Oh, definitely.

AJ: Then your styles fit well together. That is good to hear. I have only done a couple of collaborations, and it has been a LONG time since I did my last one, but I loved trying to fit our styles together.

David: Alice and I get on so well – she’s like my little sister.

AJ: I’m jealous. I don’t have a writing partner like that.

David: I’m lucky in that respect. I think she only keeps me around for the laughs.

AJ: Most women keep men around for the laughs. They don’t need us.

Alice: That’s not true!

David: Which part?

Alice: We don’t just keep men around for the laughs.

AJ: You mean there are other reasons? I need to talk to my wife about this.

Alice: Haha. Maybe you should.

AJ: Alice, I think you and I are going to get along quite well.

Alice: Me too!

AJ: I know when I finish a particularly good story, I want to celebrate. When you finished Granville, did you smoke a cigarette or drink a beer?

Alice: I’m not sure I did! I was very excited about it but it wasn’t until we were accepted for publication that I really celebrated.

AJ: Tell me about the process of getting Granville published.

Alice: David could probably tell you more because he did a lot of leg work on this one

David: It was luck, I guess. I’d done some work for Lisa Vasquez and saw she was taking submissions.

AJ: So you subbed and she accepted, eh?

David: Yeah, she knew of me and my work.

AJ: Alice, tell me a little about YOU?

Alice: Um…I write mostly horror but I like to write other stuff to. I have a novel out which is a YA supernatural. That one is my baby! But I’ve got a lot of shorts out in anthologies and a novel series in the works

AJ: Tell me about the novel, if you don’t mind.

Alice: The novel is called The Doors. It’s about a young girl called Amanda who is made to move down the country when her dad gets a new job. They move into Godfrey Hall but from the get go, she doesn’t like it. There are a set of mosaic doors in the dining room that she can’t stop staring at and whenever her parents are out, the little man in the mosaic seems to move. Amanda has to figure out the mystery of the mosaic doors before it drives her insane.

AJ: Alice, you said YA? What is the age range?

Alice: I suppose for anyone who likes reading YA. I like YA but I know that some adults don’t so probably around 16-20

AJ: My daughter is almost 15. Would it be appropriate for her?

Alice: I would think so. There’s a little romance but it’s nothing heavy, more of an attraction really. Other than that it’s more than suitable. It’s available on kindle. Would you like the link?

AJ: Well, yes, I would.

Alice: The Doors on Amazon

Donelle: I think you will like this book.

AJ: I plan on getting it, Donelle. I like David’s work and Alice seems like my type of person.

Donelle: I am about halfway through.

AJ: Nice.

AJ: Is there anything else, Alice and David would like to say before I let you all go. I know it is late (or very early) where they are at.

Alice: Not that I can think of, except thank you for your support!

AJ: No problem.

If you would like to find out more about David and Alice, follow these links:

Alice J Black (Blog)

The Doors Facebook Page

Alice J Black Amazon Author Page



David Owain Hughes, Horror Writer (Website)

David Owain Hughes Amazon Author Page

David Owain Hughes Facebook Author Page

Being Kind

Posted: January 30, 2016 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

This blog is probably going to be shorter than most. Read on, Faithful Readers.

At the end of her show, Ellen DeGeneres always says, “Be kind to one another.” This is coming from a woman who doesn’t just say to do something, but one who leads by example, by constantly helping people she doesn’t even know. She doesn’t have to do the cool things she does for people. She does them because she truly believes in kindness and loving your neighbor.

I met a person not too long ago who believes the same things, to do right by others, even when those people don’t appreciate your efforts, to be kind to one another, to help where you can and without seeking compensation, rewards, or notoriety. We were discussing this very aspect and she made an interesting statement that puts everything in perspective: I also learned that people not stuff are much more important.

People are important. No, not just your friends and family, but ALL people, including (and not excluding anyone at all) the homeless person on the street, the co-worker you can’t stand, the neighbor who comes in at three in the morning with his radio blaring, the woman with the two screaming children in the restaurant you are trying to eat at, the person on the other side of the counter at McDonald’s, your brothers, your sisters, folks of different color, sex, sexual orientation and religion and political views than yours.

This is not a matter of being kind to one another so others can see you do it. No, this is much deeper. It’s doing something good and not bragging about it, and not seeking recognition.

And here’s the great thing: you don’t have to let the person you are doing something nice for know that you are doing it. Yes, it is like the paying it forward at Starbucks (you know, when someone buys the drinks for the person behind them in the drive thru window). I don’t know of anyone who has ever paid for someone else’s coffee and then waited for that person to get it and said, ‘Hey, look at me, I bought you that drink. Praise me.’

You know that mom in the restaurant with the two bad kids that are getting on your nerves? What if she were a single mom, but not by choice? What if her husband was in the military and deployed overseas? Worse, what if her husband (or boyfriend) passed away? What if she just lost her job or a relative or her house just got repossessed? You see, we don’t know what is going on in people’s lives. We don’t know their circumstances. And you never know when something nice that you do for them could be the one thing that keeps them from teetering on the brink of depression. It may be the point that helps them have a good day. You could be their sun during the storm.

This person I was talking to did something very nice for me, well really two somethings. And she asked me not to make a big deal about it, not to tell folks who did this awesome thing. Sure, I could tell people that someone did something nice for me, but she didn’t want folks to know it was her. I also told her there was no way I could thank her enough for her kindness. Do you know what she said? ‘A thank you is all I need.’

A thank you is all I need…

How often do people say that after doing something for someone? She didn’t want anyone to know she had done this kind thing and she only wanted a thank you. Let’s go back to her statement: I also learned that people not stuff are much more important. She didn’t just say people are important, she showed it and she wanted nothing in return.

People, this is something we need to learn. Be nice, be kind and don’t expect something in return. How awesome would our world be if more people would adopt that mindset?

And there is one more thing: when you do something nice, the person who benefits the most isn’t the recipient of your kind deed. It is the person doing the kind deed. Yes, that’s right. When you do something nice for someone, it gives you a boost, just as much as it gives the other person one.

Like this person, and like Ellen always says, be kind to one another.

Dreams of a Poor Child

Posted: January 17, 2016 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

I was once asked where story ideas come from. Well, it didn’t happen just once, but many times. I always say, ‘they come from everywhere and everything.’ Yeah, it sounds lame, but it is true. Story ideas really come from anything I see, anything I hear, anything someone says.

Today, we took a road trip out to Hartsville. It was just a little day trip to get out of the house. On the way home, we drove through Bishopville and did a bit of exploring. We came upon an old baseball field…and the story you are about to read is directly inspired from it. Enjoy.

Dreams of a Poor Child

Picture this:

A long country road, cotton fields on one side, separated by slat board houses, open fields on the other side for as far as the eye can see. Cotton may have grown on that side as well, but now it’s mostly weeds and trash tossed from cars passing by (mostly bottles and cans and faded chip wrappers). Not too far away and left behind in the rearview mirror sits a prison, big, impressive and as out of place in that space of country just between two little towns. The prison isn’t important for this story, but it is part of the area, and now it is an afterthought.

What does matter for this story is on the left hand side of the road (as you go away from the prison and head south). There’s a park, complete with a large playground that has several slides, ladders and monkey bars. There are swings, both for able-bodied kids and the disabled ones. There are benches for the attentive (or unattentive) parents or adults that aren’t parents at all or maybe the teenagers who begrudgingly take their siblings there. It’s a respite for them; an opportunity for peace from the whining and nagging rug rats their parents don’t want to take care of.

A kid is on the playground. He’s maybe eight and his red shirt has a hole in it, as does both the knees in his faded blue jeans. He’s swinging, swinging, swinging and dreaming of jumping out and flying away from there.

Like the prison, the playground isn’t all that important either, but it’s part of the scenery in this low-income part of the world. What is important sits just beyond the playground. It’s a place where dreams are formed, but so few of them come to fruition.

The ballfield is closed in with cyclone fencing that has rust spots throughout its length and on all sides. It forms a cone around the field. The dugouts are to the left and right of where a cracked home plate is forever embedded into the ground. Each dugout holds a wooden bench, which at one time had been smooth wood painted blue, but now is bare of any paint and splintered throughout its length. The outside of the dugout is nothing more than painted plywood that has warped over the years, Mother Nature having done a number on the untreated lumber.

An opening where a gate should have been at the dugout’s entrance leads to the field, which had once been taken good care of. Now, after the unusually wet fall and early winter, the infield is an orange clay mud pit. The bases, which were never soft to begin with, are hard as rock. Stepping on one of those the wrong way could lead to a broken ankle or worse. Yes, there are worse things than a broken ankle.

The outfield grass had long since encroached upon the infield, covering the base path with what amounts to thick patches of moss. The outfield, itself, is deep to center and left, but shallow out to the right. The outfield fence stands eight feet high, a black rubber pad along the top having begun to crumble beneath Mother Nature’s watchful eye—yes, Mother Nature and her vengeful eye had her way with that part of the field as well. There’s a gate in left center. One would assume it was there to make it easy to retrieve balls hit out of the park. Or maybe it was a shortcut to a neighborhood that once existed nearby.

Beyond the ballpark is a football field, minus the goal posts, and a basketball court with no goals and a cracked concrete surface. Like the prison and the playground, none of those things matter. Neither does the wooden bleachers on either side of the baseball field or the concession stand with its boarded windows that is near a dirt road that leads to the parking lot.

Pay attention here. You can’t see this, and even if you can, just listen.

That’s the sound of young boys and girls on the field, playing baseball or softball. It doesn’t matter which. You can hear them screaming from the dugouts, we need a pitcher, not a belly itcher. That’s the sound of a wooden bat on the rawhide of a baseball, a thwack that is distinct and easily recognized.

Keep listening. A young boy just called out, ‘I got it,’ or ‘mine, mine,’ the universal language for I’ll catch it. Someone calls the out. One. Two. Three. Change sides. Batters head to the field. Fielders head to the dugouts.

Still, listen. Is that the sound of a ball slapping a mitt? Is that a called strike? Maybe it was a ball, just a little off the plate.

Strike three, you’re out!

Ball four, son, take your base.

In this impoverished area where stomach grumble after a meal of half a bowl of rice and no water to wash it down, where shoes so tight feet are cramped and blistered and damaged for life, where gloves are stitched together with shoe laces or wire or maybe there’s no gloves at all, but a milk carton tied to a hand to protect the palms from the sting of a hot shot from a bat; yeah, in this place the game—the dream—is the escape. And it’s the dream that often goes unrealized once life invades and washes away the innocence.

But if you listen carefully you can hear the game being played by those young boys (and girls, let’s not forget them). Close your eyes and listen.

Just listen. Open your mind. Open your heart. Listen.

And when you do open your eyes, look to the field, to its dilapidated dugouts and mud caked field. And what do you see? Yeah, there’s a little boy—the same one who earlier had been swinging on the playground dreaming of some place besides there. He stands on the pitcher’s mound, the rubber long gone. He is slightly hunched over, one hand behind his back, an imaginary ball spinning with the movement of his fingers. He stares in at a batter who is only there in his mind.

He straightens. Both hands come out in front of him, coming together in front of his chest as if he is in prayer (and he just may be).

His arm goes back.

His front leg kicks out in front of him.

And he fires the ball toward home plate…

Thank you for reading, and until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.



A Publishing Experience

Posted: January 9, 2016 by ajbrown in Uncategorized

Let me preface this particular blog before I get into it and before you spend the next few minutes reading it. This is purely a promotional blog. I’m just being honest. I hope that doesn’t turn you off from reading on, but if it does, I get it. Who wants to read about some small time writer’s accomplishments? Well, you, I hope. Before you click that X in the top right hand corner of your browser, let me say this: I’m not just going to promote my work in this. I mean, yeah, I’ll mention my work, but I want to talk about my experience.

Life is an experience, whether good or bad largely depends on situations and attitudes, and in many cases, in what others around us do, say and think. We can be as negative as we want to be when things go wrong. On the flip side of that we can have only positive things to say when things are going right.

This is the flip side of the coin.

On January 6th, my three novella collection, A Stitch of Madness, came out. The book was put out by Stitched Smile Publications, a newer company, one that states they are dedicated to putting the writer in the spotlight. Yeah, yeah, I know. Other publishers have said that. It’s an overused ruse to get writers to send their hard work to certain publishers who aren’t in it to help the writer. For a lack of a better phrase, it’s a tired trope that needs to be put to bed.

Sadly, many publishers have fallen down on this aspect. This is partially due to the fact that publishing books is a business. If you’re not making money you won’t be in the business of publishing very long. That’s the bottom line. Unless you have a bottomless wallet of greenbacks. Unfortunately, finding a happy medium between making money and promoting authors is difficult and few publishers find it.

When I was researching Stitched Smile Publications I went to their website and did a little reading up about them. This particular sentence intrigued me: We strive to bring the standard of Indie Publishing to a higher level of expectation.

That is a bold statement.

I read further on and came across this particular sentence:

For us, it’s all about a support system.

Hmmm…I was intrigued.

Then came this line on another page of the website:

If you’ve ever looked around for a publisher and thought that it was overwhelming, we invite you stop and take a look at us.

And that’s when I thought, why not? I had a book completely put together, one that I was going to self-publish and give away at festivals as prizes.

To make this long story a little shorter, I contacted them, sent them the submission (completely formatted), and not too long after, they sent me an e-mail, one stating they wanted to publish the work.

No lie here, I almost did the happy dance. If I had been standing, I probably would have. As it were, I said, “YES!”

Not too long after, a contract was sent, some discussion took place about it, and once both sides had a mutual agreement, it was signed and it was a done deal.

Okay, let’s stop here for a moment. This is where so many things often go wrong in the publishing world. At this point, the publisher could have sat on the manuscript or not had much contact with me for a while about it. It could have been a sit and wait situation. It could have been one of those situations where ‘we need to make a lot of changes on this,’ and where the publisher tried to make it their own style of work or make changes without my consent.

It was none of those.

Instead, they began the editing phase almost immediately. Then a meme appeared on Facebook about the book. Then a video trailer appeared. Yes, a video trailer. All of this happened within the first week of signing the contract. That brings us to that first quote:

We strive to bring the standard of Indie Publishing to a higher level of expectation.

 Let me continue to be honest here. One of the reasons two of my three published books were self-published is I had seen on many occasions how writers had been, again, for a lack of better term, screwed over by small presses and big ones, too. Though my first book was put out by a small press and the experience was good, I wanted to try it myself and not try to find another publisher who would try to put forth the effort, especially after the one I pubbed with went out of business. Several well-known small presses also lost their minds along the way and put their writers in a bad place, thanks to a bit of greed and overextending of themselves. The more I read about them, the less I wanted to do business with them.

Stitched Smile Publications jumped in feet first to publish my book. I talked with someone on their staff every day from the middle of October through the book release. Let me repeat that: I talked with someone on their staff EVERY DAY from the middle of October through the book release.

Then the cover art came. I had a quibble about part of it, then a quabble about something else. The changes were made. When my wife said, ‘Wow’ I knew we had a winner.

But wait. It didn’t stop there. Next came an online cover release party, which generated interest, not only in the book, but in me and my other work. Then came the book release party. Holy cow. I couldn’t keep up. Still, there was more. The day A Stitch of Madness came out another trailer appeared out on the interwebs. It was all sorts of creepy goodness.

Still, there is more. I appeared on Zombiepalooza Radio, a show I have listened to several times in the past. That was nothing short of awesome and fun.

That leads me to quote number two from above:

For us, it’s all about a support system.

 Yes, yes it is. So far, from what I have seen and experienced, I can’t argue with that statement.

So, that brings me to the third and final quote I pulled from the website (all with permission):

If you’ve ever looked around for a publisher and thought that it was overwhelming, we invite you stop and take a look at us.

I’ve often felt this way. It’s paralyzing. It’s difficult. It’s also discouraging. You see, writers tend to pour themselves into their work. Sure, some of them just pound on the keys and vomit up whatever is in their heads (and sometimes that regurgitation is actually pretty good). But many writers put so much into the writing and storytelling that it physically hurts when something bad happens to their work, whether it is being rejected over and over again, or being accepted only to be treated like a number (or a dollar sign) or being put on the back burner and not seeing anything happen with their work for months or years. To put it nicely, that sucks.

Here is the thing that I think many publishers forget: without the writers, they have nothing to publish. Taking care of the writers should be the most important aspect of their endeavors. Yeah, make money. By all means. Like I said, if you don’t make money, you don’t last as a publisher for long.

Here’s a couple of secrets about writers and what we want in a publisher:

  • We want them to respect our work and our ideas, to listen when we have a suggestion, and to offer thoughts and advice if they think we are wrong (in other words: don’t just shoot us down without considering what we want).
  • We want a publisher who will work as hard as we do on putting out a good product, not just for themselves, but for us and the readers, as well (in other words, we want someone who will partner with us to put out brilliance).
  • We want someone who will help us market our work, not expect us to do it ourselves.
  • We want a publisher we can trust.

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

We want an experience that we won’t forget, and we want it to be a good one. So far, that is what I have received with my partnership with Stitched Smile Publications. Does it sound like I’m tooting their horns for them? Well, I am. I am happy with all of their efforts, for the communications we have had. I’m happy that they worked as hard as I have to get this book out and make it as good as we could make it. I’m happy with my publishing experience.

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

[[END NOTE (and yes, this is pimping my work shamelessly): If you would like to get your hands on a copy of A Stitch of Madness, you can find it on Amazon, both for the Kindle and in print by following this LINK. END OF END NOTE]]


Dear Faithful Readers,

Happy New Year. Really. Happy New Year. I hope you are well and let’s all look forward to a better year in 2016 than we had in 2015 (even if you had a good 2015). There are a few things I set out to do each year. No, they are not resolutions, they are goals. Last year I wanted to create an author page on Facebook and get at least 100 likes. I wanted to put out at least two books. I wanted to create a better fan base. I wanted to be further along at the end of 2015 than I was at the beginning of it. These were goals I had. For the most part, I achieved them.

I did create an author page on Facebook. At the end of 2015 it had 190 likes. I only put one book out, but if I include Cory’s Way, which was put out at the end of 2014, I kind of achieved that goal. I created a bigger fan base (and even got some Roadies in the mix). I am further along now than I was at the beginning of last year.

Here is where I have to be honest with you all: as much as I’m happy about those things, I’m not happy with where I am at in the publishing world. I was hoping for a more publishers would look at my work (and a couple have) and want to put some of it out. Two publishers for certain are putting out books in 2016 and there is a third interested in a particular storyline, but that one is not concrete yet. And now, I need to be even more honest: I am to blame for not getting the attention I want. Yes, I worked at it a lot over the last few years, (the last two in particular), but not as hard as I could have. This falls on me to do better.

This year I have a couple of loftier goals. They will take a lot of work, but I’m up for the challenge. Are you ready to see the list? Here we go:

  • Promote my work better than I do (very important goal).
  • Write a blog at least once a week.
  • To go with the writing blogs, to get more viewership than 2015. Last year I had 3042 views (or 8.33 views per day) to Type AJ Negative.
  • Double the amount of likes on my FB author page (from 190 to 380).
  • Put out five books this year. Yes, I said five.
  • Write another novel.
  • Finish the Hank Walker Novella, Interrogations (yeah, this is going to be cool).
  • Attend five book promotion functions (festivals, conventions, etc…).

All of those are attainable goals. With a bit of work, they are all doable.

Since one of those is to promote my work better, I think I will go ahead and start that right here, right now with this:

Coming to a device near you (preferably in your hand where you can read it), A Stitch of Madness, a three story collection being released by Stitched Smile Publications on January 6th 2016.

Stitch Cover 3Madness: extremely foolish behavior.

Imprisoned for the murder of his best friend, Johnny Cleary sets out to tell what happened on the day Bobby “Buster” Lennon died, but are the words he writes true or does the deception run deeper.

Madness: the state of being mentally ill, especially severely.

There is something wrong with Irene. Momma’s dead and a ragdoll speaks to her in a voice that is hauntingly familiar. And what about the stitches, the very things that just might hold Irene together?

Madness: a state of frenzied or chaotic activity.

After an odd stranger pays Robert Wallenger a visit, his world begins to unravel and the past comes rushing back, along with a sickly sweet scent.

There is madness in everyone. For most, the madness never surfaces. For others, all it takes is one thing, big or small, for them to spiral out of control.

This is the first of several books I hope to put out this year. If you like my other work, you’ll enjoy A Stitch of Madness.

There is also a Facebook release party, taking place on the 6th. Please come by, enjoy the festivities and contests and interaction with others at A Stitch of Madness Release Party.

Hmmm…that wasn’t so painful. Okay, maybe it was a little painful, simply because it feels weird trying to promote my work. This year is going to be a good year. I hope you come along for the ride and let’s make this the best year ever. Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.






Back in October, Cate and I attended a festival in Beaufort (South Carolina). Though it was only a one day affair, Cate and I made it a weekend get-away with no children. After the festival we went to the house we were staying in and settled in for the evening. Before I went to bed that night I checked the good old Facebook (don’t judge me, you do it, too). While scrolling through posts about politics, religion, kittens, memes and some book-related things, I came across one that simply read something about someone’s book being published by Stitched Smile Publications.

I had never heard of that publisher before. I took out a pen and wrote these words: Research Stitched Smile Publications.

After arriving home the next afternoon, I sat at the computer and started researching. I found a Facebook page and a website that was in the process of being built.

During the information gathering, I came to realize Lisa Vasquez was associated with SSP. I contacted her, and guess what I found out? She wasn’t just associated with SSP, she was the founder. Being that I know Lisa works very hard at everything she does, I wanted to interview her and learn a little bit more about Stitched Smile Publications.

Let’s hop right in, why don’t we?

AJ: Lisa, not too long ago you made a decision to open a publishing house. What led you to do this?

LV: I’ve been sitting on the idea for quite some time but I think the fact that I didn’t know the ins-and-outs sort of held me back. Which is a good thing, I think, because I sat back and learned and did my time behind the scenes. As an author, I understand the pain of wanting to put your work out and having more control over what happens to it. An author’s choices are:
1. Submit to a “Big House” Publisher and hope for the best.
2. Submit to an indie publisher and hope they don’t get screwed over.
3. Publish it themselves.
The problem with publishing it yourself is not having the skills to wear all the hats necessary. I used my own book as a guinea pig, helped and volunteered whenever I could, and then finally felt confident that I could do it. That’s when Stitched Smile was born!

AJ: When you say you sat back and learned, what do you mean?

LV: I have a background in graphics and have been doing it for about 20 years for various industries. Printing, however, is so much different. If you don’t know about dpi and bleeds, you kind of spend a lot of time tossing things out that you spent hours on. So that was the first thing I tackled, because let’s face it, people do judge a book by its cover.

The second thing was learning about the industry itself. What publishers were doing that were good, and what they were doing that left room for improvement. What I found was a lack of author focus and development. The author ended up losing their identity in a lot of cases or just became a “new release”. Fans love to know things about the author and engage with them. There were other things like contracts, distribution, and marketing. I did a lot of promotional work but the book world is its own animal. Same basic concepts but different language.

AJ: How did you go about learning the things you needed to in order to feel confident in starting Stitched Smile Publications?

LV: I asked a lot of questions, trial and error, talking to others in the industry with more experience, and then I took on a position with another publisher (Burning Willow Press) as their Design Manager and got to see firsthand how it was done in real time. I applied what I knew, added what I didn’t, did a lot of trial and error with my own book, which I still continue to do, and then realized my approach was definitely unique and had some good results. I set money aside and then dove into it.

I think you just come to that moment where you feel like the only way you’re going to know if you got it is if you try it. I love what I do, and I love helping people and that added the final touch to my decision. If you don’t love what you do, you’ll never give 100%. That’s how I decided to just put my ducks in a row and start the process. I had the support of my amazing staff who got the word out, and then Jackie Chin teamed up with me and things rolled without much effort. We all knew we had a winning formula.

AJ: Sounds like you’ve done your homework. Where did the name Stitched Smile Publication come from?

LV: I wanted to branch out from my normal “persona”. I had Darque Halo Designs, and I always used wings or a halo as a brand. I wanted something that was reflective of this other side of me. It’s dark, it’s scary. It was a smile…with the darker element added to it. I don’t think there’s anything more unsettling than a maniacal grin. Since the publishing company specializes in dark content, I wanted something that appealed to both men and women. And one that would appeal to the reader. So I sat there and thought, ‘what would be the epitome of this?’ Well, one of my favorite characters is The Joker. His most memorable feature is his grin. It hit me right then that this is what I was looking for.

AJ: My favorite bad guy of all time is The Joker, and his smile is what people remember about him. I like the name and the logo. I think it fits.

LV: Thank you!

AJ: How did Jackie Chin come to be on your staff?

LV: Jackie and I were friends previous to this. I designed her new logo for her. We bonded rather quickly and she had me on her show, Zombiepalooza Radio. From there we just kept talking and when I told her what I was doing she sat back and watched me. One day she grilled the HECK out of me—which I loved because it showed me that I was really ready for this.

Then she asked, “I want to be involved, what can I do?” Now see, this was a scary decision because I love that woman and I respect her, so now the stakes were high because I didn’t want to let anyone down but least of all her because she’d done a lot for me and I know others had taken what she’d done for granted. Slowly, we began formulating an approach for marketing and I just let her run with it. Since that first day, she’s really put her heart into it and I’m happy to say she feels like it’s her home, as well. I couldn’t be more excited that she believes in us.

AJ: I’ve listened and watched Zombiepalooza Radio and I think she does a great job. She’s also quite intimidating, but she seems to have a heart of gold.

LV: Jackie is a go-getter. She’s a strong woman and knows her stuff. She comes off as hard, but she is focused and knows exactly where she wants to go.

AJ: One or two more questions and I’ll let you get back to work. I’m a writer. What do you have to offer me that other small presses (or even larger ones) cannot?

LV: What Stitched Smile Publications offers is a personalized plan for each author. We find out what they are great at and what they aren’t so great at and we build up the weaknesses so that they are a well-rounded author. Let’s face it, you have got to sell your book. It’s a product. Some people don’t think they can sell anything but in reality, anyone can sell.

What we do is take away the “car salesman” selling and teach them how to just do what they love. Work their personality into the marketing and put it out there. We also allow authors that have the skills to format their books, or design their own covers, a higher portion of the royalties. Finally, we have Jackie’s radio show. So now we’re reaching a global network with numbers that are nearly unattainable in the conventional way. We aren’t spamming the link to amazon on every Facebook group we can join, we’re inviting the readers to come to us.

Other than that, we have a badass team who are loyal and sincere in their intentions. We hold weekly meetings and allow the authors to attend. Everyone is an equal and every person’s ideas are considered when we brainstorm. There’s no one more important than the author. If the author isn’t happy, you aren’t going to have a productive relationship. It’s like a marriage. If one person isn’t happy they’re going to be looking for a way out. When we put a ring on it, we try to keep the honeymoon going!

AJ: That is an awesome way to go at it, one I am not sure I have seen or heard from any other publisher.

One last thing: Lisa, where can writers and readers find out more about SSP?

LV: We have a couple websites. The first one is the Stitched Smiles Publication Website. This is our landing site and a good place to start. In addition to that we have our SSP on Word Press where every staff member is allowed to post, including the authors! So potential readers get a place to learn about the authors, what they’re like and what’s in the future for them. And finally, we are on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

AJ: Lisa Vasquez, thank you for your time. I’m sure you and your staff are going places

LV: Thank you, Jeff, for talking with me. It’s been fun!

AJ: Yes, it has.


When I was a teenager I was part of a youth group at a Presbyterian church. I started going there because a girl had asked me to go several times and I got tired of her doing so. Then, once I went, I started going for a girl (no, not the one who invited me, but she wasn’t all that into me in the first place, but that’s another story). I became friends with the other youth in the group, and though I felt out of place for the longest time, eventually I came to realize they accepted me, an outsider, as one of their own.

I would stay there throughout my teen years. Eventually I left, but for the sake of this blog, just remember I was still there.

It was around this time of year, when there is a chill in the air and Christmas trees were in most houses, lights on the eaves and gutters and stockings hung with care wherever they could be hung. Presents would soon be exchanged and many Christmas carols would be sung. One of them by me.

One night our youth group, which consisted of more girls than boys, went to what we referred to as an old folk’s home back then. Now, I believe they are called assisted living facilities. We split into groups of twos and threes. I was in a group of two. Beth was the name of the girl with me. She was a couple of years younger than me. She was really cute with gorgeous blue eyes and blond hair. She also had a beautiful singing voice.

Beth and I went into a couple of rooms and talked to several older folk who were on the tail end of life. They were frail and many of them were alone, their relatives not caring all that much about them, just that they were out of their hair. It was sad being there. Then we reached this one room where a woman lay in the bed, her white hair like a vale that had fell away and now lay beneath her head. Her cheeks and eye sockets were sunken in and her skin was shiny and looked too tight. A sheet was pulled up to her chest and tucked under her arm pits. Her eyes were closed. I thought she was asleep and started to back out of the room as quietly as I could.

Then her eyes opened and she looked right at me. She asked who we were. We told her our names and that we were there visiting. The woman smiled—a small smile that held very little happiness in them. We talked for another minute and then said our goodbyes. Before we could leave, she stopped us.

“Can you sing me a song?”

Beth, the one with the beautiful voice, spoke up and said, yes. I looked at her like she had lost her mind. I wasn’t a singer. My voice and carrying tunes were not compatible. She looked back at me, her big blue eyes dancing.

“What song would you like us to sing?” she asked.

“Silent Night. It’s my favorite.”

“We can do that,” she said.

“I can’t sing,” I whispered to Beth.

“It’s okay. I’ll help you.”

“Seriously, I can’t sing, Beth.”

She smiled. This one had joy in it. I was hooked. If I am honest with myself, at that moment I would have ran through a wall for her. I think, if I would have let myself, I might have fell for her right then.

“Just follow me. It will be okay.”

“Okay,” I said with an unsure nod.

Then she started singing and I sang with her. Her voice was angelic, mine not so much. But we sang the song together—just the first verse, which is the only part most people know.

And the woman smiled as she closed her eyes. When we were finished, she opened them and clapped twice with weak hands that held the knobby knuckles of arthritis. “That was beautiful,” she said, and then added, “Thank you.”

We whispered a “you’re welcome,” and “Merry Christmas,” and then exited. Beth took my arm after we left the room and gave me something similar to a hug. Though we had nailed the song and made the woman smile, part of me (the not so tough part) wanted to cry because I knew that this was probably her last Christmas on Earth. I was certain she would pass before the next Christmas would arise.

I was quiet for a while—a few days, I guess—as I thought about that five or six minutes of my life and what we had done for a dying older lady who had no family there to love her. I was sad during that time.

All these years later I think about that night around this time of year. But this year, I finally understood why Beth wanted to sing the song, and why she didn’t let me back out. We had given that woman something she wanted, something she needed, something that lifted her spirit. It was something so small to us, but so significant to her. It was the difference between her going to sleep sad and alone or going to sleep with the joy of hearing her favorite song one last time. It was a little thing, but it was such a huge thing.

It’s one of my fondest memories of Christmas and it reminds me, now, that it is not always the big things that mean the most, but the little things that can make a world of difference to someone else.

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