Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Being Kind

Posted: January 30, 2016 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
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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.

A.J.

 

 

 

 

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.

A.J.

 

 

 

The Average Joe

Posted: November 10, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

A few years ago I wrote the forward to a short story collection by an author I admire and respect.  I want to share with you the first few paragraphs of this.  Stick with me here.  There is a reason for this.

Picture this:

He looks like any other person, hair a dirty brown, eyes of blue, maybe a Texas Longhorns cap on his head, some shadowed whiskers on his chin.  He may even look like the guy next door or that Kiefer Sutherland fellow, but without the intense stare.  He sits at a table on the patio of some barbecue joint or coffee house, beverage of choice in front of him (I’m willing to bet it’s the barbecue joint, and the beverage of choice is an ale called Arrogant Bastard, which is somewhat of a contradiction if you know him).

A lady sits across from him, dark-haired, olive-complexioned, eyes a soft brown.  They chit and chat about life, the day behind them and the one before them, kids and animals and work and money and probably the Astros.  Craig Biggio may come up in the conversation.  Yeah, if he were still with the Astros then just maybe…

They look like the average couple in America.  And they are.  But then she asks one question, her voice like music to his ears, and the conversation becomes less like the average couple in America and more like two business partners discussing strategy.  In this case, they discuss storylines. 

“So, what are you working on?” she asks, sipping her tea (or maybe she likes that Arrogant Bastard as well).

He shakes his head, smiles.  There is mischief in the gleam in his eyes, in the upturn of his lips.  He ponders for a moment before speaking.  Is this something she really wants to hear?  Is this something that’s going to make her gawk at him, her eyes wide, jaw open and ask, “What the hell is wrong with you?”

He shrugs and puts his hands out as if he is going to tell about the largest fish ever caught.  “There’s this guy and he’s kind of a jerk to his kids and wife and he kicks the crap out of them just because he can.  He’s a real douchebag.  But, what he doesn’t know is that there is this creature…this thing…watching him from the mirror and…”

And the story, which was nothing more than an idea moments earlier, begins to form as he talks, his voice growing more and more excited.  He wipes his lips with one hand.  “Hold on, Babe,” he says and pulls a notepad from his back pocket and a pen from his shirt.  “I need to write this down.”

This is the way it is for Kevin Wallis, the average man with above average dreams; a man who pens his darkness onto paper… 

I wrote this introduction for Kevin Wallis for his collection, Beneath the Surface of Things.  It’s a fabulous book of stories and I was honored to get to work with him on it, and blown away when he asked me to write the intro.  When I sat down to write this, I wanted to relay something to the readers that I felt was important, and that was that Mr. Wallis was an average Joe with a wife and a job and a life.  He’s just like you and just like me and just like that person sitting in Starbucks with his red cup and reading Stephen King.  He’s a person with dreams and ambitions and fears and likes and dislikes.  He loves someone and she loves him back.  He works hard.  He raises his kids the best he can.  He’s the average Joe, like you and I.

What’s the point?

At some point in life, we were all the average Joe or the average Jane.  We started out simple enough, most of us with the innocence of youth blinding us from the realities of this world.  Then we started making our way in life, following paths chosen for us at first and then that we chose later on.  We found our niche and that’s the direction we go.  Some of us stay average.   Some of us go above or below and some of us just excel so far beyond average.

But what’s the difference between average and above average and phenomenal?  Well, I believe one of those things is determination.  Another one is desire.  But I think the glue that holds determination and desire together and sparks the engine that runs the car to success is expectation.  The higher the expectation the higher you can soar (and, yes, the harder life can crash back down).

Expectation is a mindset.  That’s the best way I can put it.  If you have low expectations for yourself, don’t think you’re going to go very far.  But if you believe in yourself and your abilities, your expectations are going to be at a higher level.  They will also be harder to achieve, but that just fuels the determination and desire to keep working and reaching for those lofty expectations.

If you don’t believe you can do something, then guess what?  You’re right.  I’ve never met anyone who didn’t think they could do something achieve what they think they can’t do.  The average Joe can have an above average expectation for himself.  Every single person who has succeeded in the world had expectations for themselves, and most of them were high, expectations that weren’t necessarily within reach.  They didn’t settle for average.

There’s this group out there who sings this song.  You may have heard of them: the X Ambassadors.  The song? Renegades. I love the lyrics, but I especially dig this part:

All hail the underdogs All hail the new kids All hail the outlaws Spielberg’s and Kubrick’s

It’s our time to make a move It’s our time to make amends It’s our time to break the rules Let’s begin

If you ask me, the song is about determination and doing something to change the way things are done.  I’m probably wrong, but that’s what I get from it.

Expectations dictate what you do and how you do it.  If you don’t believe in yourself, then your expectations are terribly low.  If you want to achieve something great, you have to change your mindset, you have to change your expectations, you have to be willing to reach higher.

Before I go, let me tell you a little bit about someone else.

There’s this guy.  He doesn’t sleep all that well.  He loves his coffee and his wife and kids, not necessarily in that order.  He believes in Christ.  He has dark hair and blue eyes and a constantly dislocated thumb.  He works hard for a living at a job he sometimes likes.  He loves milk.  He loves strawberry Kool-Aid.  His favorite big music group is Pearl Jam.  His favorite local groups are Prettier Than Matt and Deleveled.  He’s a huge University of Michigan fan.  He likes to laugh and often tells corny jokes.  He has regrets and pains.  He is currently typing this blog, but by the time you read it he will be on to something else.  He—I—am the average Joe and I’m an underdog and I break the rules and for the longest time I had average expectations, and my results have been average, at best.

I no longer expect average of myself.  My expectations are higher, and sometimes that makes working a daytime job more difficult.  It makes not being where I want to be a little more frustrating.  It also makes me work harder to get better and better with each story I put out.  I expect phenomenal things and they are coming.  Please, come along with me.  Hop in the car.  Let’s take this ride together.  I’ve already put the key in the ignition and the engine is rumbling.  It’s time to put this baby in gear and get rolling.  Buckle up.  It’s going to be fun.  Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

 

SC Strong…

Posted: October 14, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

I live in South Carolina. In case you haven’t heard, my state hasn’t necessarily had a good year. To be honest, my state hasn’t had the best reputation for years. According to statistics (and who made these statistics up, I don’t know) we are one of the worst in driving, one of the worst in education and have one of the highest domestic abuse rates in the nation. Sometimes I feel like we are viewed as the armpit of the nation.

Sometimes perception isn’t reality.

Let me tell you about the year we have had in four points:

  1. At the beginning of April a black man was shot and killed by a white cop in Charleston.
  2. Just a little over two months later, in the middle of June, a young man walks into a church in Charleston, prays with the worshippers there and then kills nine of them.
  3. The Confederate Flag, having flown on the state house grounds for years, comes down in July.
  4. Here, at the beginning of October, quite possibly the worst natural disaster strikes in the rains and floods that devastated parts of the state. It was termed the 1000 Year Rains.

Yup, it’s been a sucky year for a state that most folks kind of, well, look down on. But let me fill you in on something you may not know, and I’ll use those same four points to tell you.

Point 1: At the beginning of April a black man was shot and killed by a white cop in Charleston. In case you missed it, the whole thing was caught on video by a passerby who witnessed it. Do you know what happened? The cop lost his job and was immediately arrested. Currently he is in jail and probably will be for a long time.

But wait, there is more. Do you know what happened next? Of course you do. The city of Charleston rioted and looted and destroyed the very place they lived. People died and they had to call in the National Guard and…Oh wait. That actually didn’t happen. No, it didn’t. There were no riots. There was no looting. There was no uprising demanding justice. Why? Because the Charleston police were swift in acting and they did the right thing. They didn’t make excuses like so many other departments.

Point 2: Just a little over two months later, in the middle of June, a young man walks into a church in Charleston, prays with the worshippers there and then kills nine of them. The young man’s name is Dylan Roof and he lived just a few miles from where I do in a place I know well. After he was caught the next day he reportedly said he thought about not going through with the shootings, that the church members had been so nice to him.

Hate is a powerful thing and it drove him to follow through with his plans.

Guess what? The riots started then. It was insane. Oh wait. No, they didn’t. Do you want to know what happened next? The families of those killed stood up and said, ‘We forgive him.’ Did you catch that? Instead of spouting hate, they spoke forgiveness. They spoke love. Crazy concept, this forgiveness.

Point 3: The Confederate Flag, having flown on the state house grounds for years, comes down in July. I’m going to be honest with you, this one had me worried. There was a lot of folks for it coming down and a lot of folks opposed to it. And those opposite view points were vocal and vehement. The weeks leading up to the flag coming down were tense. From the office building I work in I can see the state house—it’s less than two blocks away. If I walk outside the front doors and look to my left, I can see the front steps of the capital building where several rallies took place. I’m not going to lie, I was concerned that there would be some fireworks, and I don’t mean the ooohhhh and aaaahhhh type either.

Then it finally happened. Yeah, you guessed it, riots. And a lot of them. There was even bloo—wait, that’s not right. Sure there were some folks that were disgruntled over it, but there was no violence. Nobody was hurt in the taking down of the flag. Well, some were butt hurt, but that’s about it. As a matter of fact, when the KKK and the Black Panthers from OTHER states decided they wanted to come down and make trouble, the state and the Columbia Police Department made no bones about it: if you come here to cause trouble, you will be arrested and you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

No violence occurred. No bloodshed. One KKK member became overheated and the image that was plastered all over social media was nothing short of amazing: a black state trooper helping the KKK member. It didn’t matter that this man was part of a hate group, one that hated the trooper’s race.

You see, a lot of us here don’t necessarily see the color of the skin.

Point 4: Here, at the beginning of October, quite possibly the worst natural disaster strikes in the rains and floods that devastated parts of the state. It was termed the 1000 Year Rains.

A buddy of mine, his name is Greg, and he is an amateur weatherman. The entire week leading up to the rains that fell (in some places as much as 20 inches in less than 24 hours), Greg was sending out text bulletins to people on his weather list. He constantly said things were shaping up to be historic. Greg, you are awesome, and thank you for the warnings. All week long I got to see weather maps and hear his thoughts on what could happen. But this is South Carolina. How often do weathermen, professional or otherwise, get it right?

Then it actually happened.

The rains came. The floods followed. Roads were wiped out. Bridges were damaged. Houses were destroyed. Devastation is the only word I can use for what happened. Maybe catastrophic is a better word.

It was crazy. There was mass looting. There were people panicking. There was pillaging. Ummm…no, there wasn’t. But let me tell you what there was: there were men in john boats going down streets that just hours before cars would have traveled along, searching for people in need, pulling people from houses or from their roofs. Police and firefighters and EMS workers and civilians alike were doing their best to save people from harm.

In the aftermath, many people had lost so much, and yes, over a dozen folks lost their lives. But then the most awesome thing happened. Even while it still rained, people began donating money and food and basic items to churches and charities and Harvest Hope. Money donations were given to aid in the recovery. Above all of that, the people of South Carolina banded together. Volunteers came from every walk of life to help those with flood damage, to help them gather up what was left of their stuff and help them move away or help them begin the clean-up. They were there to give hugs and comfort and to say prayers and offer up whatever help they could give. Hundreds of thousands of bottles of water were given out to people who had no water.

It didn’t matter what color you were or what your religious beliefs were or which political party you associated yourself with or even what status you held in the community. What mattered was, do you need help? If so, we’re here for you.

An entire state came together and it was brother and sister and nothing else mattered.

There wasn’t much by the way of looting. From my understanding there were six people arrested for looting. Six. And the government has already said that those six folks will be prosecuted and given the maximum sentence possible. Six people. That’s all.

You know, South Carolina may not be known for much more than our Famously Hot Summers and a few statistics that may or may not matter, but when the chips are down, well, let’s just say other states can take notes on how this fine state that I live in acted swiftly for justice, forgave the brutality of a mass killing, kept the possible uproars and riots at bay and came together when disaster struck.

We’re still recovering. It’s a long road. People are hurting.

I think my buddy, Keith, put it best when we talked about this the other night. “This could be God’s way of unifying us.”

Maybe, my friend.

South Carolina. I was born and raised here. I lay my head down every night here. I met my wife here. I work and contribute to society here. I’m proud to be a South Carolinian.

This is South Carolina. We are SC Strong and that’s something to be proud of.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes we meet people and become friends with them over the briefest of moments. Though that friend is not around often, you find that even after years pass it’s only like yesterday since you were in contact with that friend last. This the case in real life, but also in the writing world. Recently, I was fortunate to reconnect with a writer friend and we had us a nice sit down, albeit through FB Messenger. So, sit back, relax and This Is Erin MacCallum.

AJ: Erin, it has been a long time since we last chatted. I believe that was for Zombie Killer Bill.

EM: Thank you for the chance to be here again, Jeff! Last time we chatted would have been back in 2010. Wow, time flies when you’re having fun.

AJ: 2010 seems like yesterday. How have you been since then?

EM: I’ve been doing well! I’ve started working on a few projects and living life as well as anyone can.

AJ: Can you tell me about some of the projects?

EM: The usual writing projects and I’ve started two webpages. One is my Author’s Page and the other is a book blog called The Reader’s Hollow, where I feature and review everything from bestsellers to indies.

AJ: Two webpages? I have a hard time keeping up with one. Before we getting to the writing projects, tell me about The Reader’s Hollow.

EM: I started The Reader’s Hollow in 2012 because I felt detached from the writing community and what was coming out on the indie scene. This seemed like a great way to connect, and it went from a once a week hobby to almost every day. It’s been a lot of fun so far.

AJ: Detached from the writing community? How?

EM: I just didn’t know what was going on or really all that was out there and wanted to find ways of doing it online. I live out in the boonies so local gatherings like at the library weren’t always easy to do.

AJ: So this is a way for you to connect, not only with the writing community, but the reading community as well?

EM: Nail on the head, Jeff.

AJ: I’d like to come back to this later, but for now, let’s talk writing and publishing. You have a series of books out right now. Tell me about those.

The Demons Grave ImageEM: I do! It’s The Demon’s Grave trilogy which is a dark urban fantasy about a group of college kids who find themselves trespassing in an alternative universe and must face their secrets and fears in order to get home.

AJ: Interesting concept. Where did the idea for The Demon’s Grave come from?

EM: I wrote it originally when I was 13. To be honest, I cannot remember. At the time I was an organic writer. I had a chapter and just let it take me places. Then over the years I’ve added and subtracted until I just couldn’t anymore.

AJ: That’s interesting. Then your love for writing started at a very early age?

EM: Oh yes, around eight years old. I wrote a trilogy back then and bound it in duct tape to make it fit in the shelf. After that I became a bit obsessed with telling stories.

AJ: Ahhh, I think you just hit it on the head this time. Telling stories. Stephen King has said time and time again that it is always about the story. Nothing else matters but the story. It’s not about the writing. I think a lot of writers miss that. With that in mind, do you consider yourself a writer who tells stories or a story teller who writes?

EM: I think I’m trying to figure that out right now. I complicated a lot of my stories by overthinking, and you won’t believe how many unfinished manuscripts I’ve collected. Recently, I’ve been trying to adopt being a storyteller again. It hasn’t been easy but I find I do better if I get the story out and ask questions later.

AJ: The struggle is real!

EM: Haha, yes the struggle never ends.

AJ: I think the really good writers excel in storytelling. They don’t just write the action and the scenes, but they tell the entire story as the story tells them to write it.

EM: I like that point of view. I’m going to have to pocket that for those low moments of self-doubt.

AJ: We all have those moments, but I think once we gain our confidence, telling the stories becomes easier and easier.

EM: Thanks! That’s what I’m aiming for.

AJ: You said the series is a trilogy, right? Have they all come out already?EM:

EM: Yes! Book 2: Midnight Ruling & Book 3: The Haunting are both out and available. I was really lucky to have gotten a few amazing editors (Matthew Baugh, Jessica Meigs & Lori Titus) and graphic artist (Amygdala Designs) to help me get these all out so close together.

AJ: I don’t know Baugh or Meigs, but I know Lori and she is an awesome person.

EM: Yes, she is! I really liked working with her.

AJ: Tell me about your process for writing.

EM: The writing process, this last year, has been a rough outline and I write the scenes I’m excited about, then I start to pull it all together and try to follow the outline, but it doesn’t always go that way. I always try to keep Pixar in mind, haha. I’ve yet to predict one of those awesome cartoons. The writers are brilliant at misleading and scratching out the most obvious storylines.

AJ: That’s actually a really good way to look at things. Pixar really does tend to throw curve balls at the audience. That’s definitely something to think about.

How did you go from Zombies to demons?

EM: I don’t think I can stick with just one kind of monster. There’s so many good stories to spin and the more I’ve ignored an idea, the more it’s haunted me. Next it might be ghosts, or witches, or vampires. Do you find you can stick with just one genre when those voices come calling?

AJ: Honestly, I don’t have a genre anymore. I stopped writing for a genre about four or five years ago. For me, I didn’t like the restrictions of genre writing or even labeling myself as a horror writer.

EM: Smart

AJ: So, tell me, zombies, demons, ghosts, vampires maybe. What about the human monster? That is the monster I like to tackle. As you evolve as a writer, do you think you could lean toward writing about the very real horrors of humanity?

EM: Ha! Funny you should say that. My current WIP is a historical about a serial killer’s daughter. I got the idea from reading about H.H. Holmes and how he had a public execution, and then it’s revealed that he had wives and children. I couldn’t imagine the discrimination that would come with a last name that’s attached to a human monster, especially back then.

AJ: Now that’s my type of storyline.

EM: Hopefully it works out. Haha.

I bought Cory’s Way a while back but have yet to crack it. If that’s your type of storyline I should move that book further up the TBR list! I’m really digging dark thrillers lately.

AJ: Cory’s Way is kind of along the lines of The Body (or so I’ve been told). It has a few unique twists in it. I think anyone would love it. I think I just plugged my book during your interview.

EM: I was hoping you would. I hear it’s good. More people might want to check it out, you never know!

AJ: Thank you, Erin. I believe the story is good, and according to the readers I’ve heard from, so do they.

Let me throw something out to you. I have always been a big Stephen King fan and I find a lot of wisdom in his words. One of those nuggets of wisdom came from his book On Writing. In it he said that the writer is the story’s first reader. With that in mind, when I sit to write, I sit to learn about the story as well. I know a story is good when it takes unexpected turns and leaves me nodding, smiling, in tears or on the verge of cussing.

When you write, do you look at it anything like that?

EM: Oh yes, sometimes it can leave me frustrated, but in the end it benefits the overall story more often than not. And that’s a good book, On Writing, my husband got it for me for Christmas last year. It has a lot of those nuggets you mentioned. I’m not completely done as I find I have to stew over some of the points he makes but I’m leaning a lot!

AJ:  On Writing is the only book, well, on writing, which I have read. I found a lot of what King had to say about writing was practical and not a book of do’s and don’ts.

EM: Absolutely, I also find there’s no sure-fire way for everyone. That’s the awesome thing about writing, no two writers have the same journey.

AJ: Exactly, Erin. What works for me may not work for you and what works for you may not work for someone else. That is the beauty of it. There is only the story and how it is told.

Okay, Erin, let’s rewind for a minute and go back to The Reader’s Hollow. Do you do the book reviews for it, and if so, how would other writers be able to take advantage of this?

EM: Yes, we do reviews, interviews, guest posts and Spotlight posts for us and book tours. If any author wants to apply they can see our review policy.

AJ: Very nice.

With writing, what goals do you have for yourself?

EM: To never stop and to always get better and learn what I can. I stopped writing back when I was 18-25ish and as much as I needed an experience in the outside world, I was lost without this outlet.

AJ: Yes, this outlet can be a sanity saver.

Do you find it difficult to market, not just your books, but you?

EM: I did at first, but opportunity is everywhere to market a book. It was just a bit scary at first, and it’s a slow process, but it’s never ending and new ideas are out there every day. As for marketing myself, it was deciding to just be myself and if people like me, cool, if not, well that’s life.

AJ: Okay, here’s the scenario: we are, face to face at a convention. I am a reader and you are the writer. I come up to your booth. You want me to buy your book. Sell it to me.

EM: Hi! What brings you to the con today?

AJ: I just thought it would be a good way to spend my day. What are you selling?

EM: Books! This bunch would be my urban fantasy trilogy called The Demon’s Grave. It’s my latest pride and joy. Are you a reader? Writer?

AJ: I am a reader. I like dark books with good character development.

EM: This might be right up your alley. I’ve been working on these characters for over ten years. Ha! That doesn’t keep them very safe though. It’s in a demonic world and there are some dark scenes, but it’s all to build up the ending.

AJ: Demonic? I don’t know if I would be into that. (How do you react to someone saying that?)

EM: That’s alright! There’s also zombies, doppelgängers and nightmares. The demon is an overlord and it’s where he’s trapped. We each like different things though. Most of my favorite horror elements are in the trilogy, like some of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Are you a classic monster fan at all?

AJ: I do like the classics.

EM: I tried to keep it true with evil vampires and even have less supernatural moments like facing old bullies. As an adult I always thought that would be an experience.

AJ: I’m sold. I like the classic monsters, not the sparkly ones.

EM: Yea!

Usually here I’m also asking them about what books they really enjoyed and if I know any, I like to talk about them. If not its movies or I let them go if they’re still browsing. I always welcome people wandering back to visit, too. Cons can be so much stress and so much fun.

AJ: Selling yourself can be daunting, but it looks like you have a handle on that.

Before we go, is there anything you would like to add? Anything you would like to tell the readers?

EM: Just to keep supporting Indies. There are some gems out there and I want to thank you, Jeff, for taking the time to interview me and having one of the funnest methods for doing them!

AJ: It was truly my pleasure, Erin.

***

About The Demon’s Grave:

When strange shadows and messages plague Nora’s daily life she fears for her sanity. To escape questions from her family, Nora joins her friends on a weekend getaway. Despite not liking Aidan Birket, Nora finds his remote, Victorian house charming. Until they discover the marble doorway on the third floor and, against Nora’s better judgment, they open it.

Trespassing into an unfamiliar world called the Demon’s Grave, the group face a charismatic demon and six nightmarish Challenges as punishment. Those that make it to the end can go home, but those that don’t will be his forever. Friendships are tested, secrets revealed and sacrifices will be made.

Nora battles zombies, doppelgängers, eyeless bikers, and the demon—whose interests are more than just a game of cat and mouse. If it’s all in her head, then it should be easy. But, if not, it means the demon knows about her sticky past, and the death of her twin sister.

Excerpt from The Demon’s Grave:

“Aidan,” I insisted in a whisper.

A few car lengths north of the Chevy a stereo crackled to life. An echoing voice sang followed by a choir of voices that doo de doo’ed in the background. The slow song sounded like something from the 1950’s.

Read and I exchanged a curious glance as the echoing main voice mentioned a game. Read pulled his hand from mine and we both wiped our slick palms on our jeans.

“What is it?” I asked Aidan. “What should we be looking for?”

He didn’t answer, his eyes kept wandering to the cars then down the street and to the motorbikes.

Read’s shoulders sagged, exasperated. He looked ready to say something when the roar of an engine smothered the music as well as my yelp. It stopped Read cold.

Aidan jumped and grabbed my arm as if I were the one to save him.

Craning my neck to see if there was a single vehicle taking up the roadway, I saw none. It had been so loud I couldn’t pinpoint the direction it came from.

The music began to take over the street once more, a new song erupting from the crackling speakers.

Between shallow breaths, Aidan said, “come on.”

Before Read or I could question him, Aidan stood up and started in long, purposeful strides, the kind that was harder to stop.

Read nudged me to move, or rather shoved me. Panicked, we hurried to Aidan. Looking to him, our pace quickened to keep up. Aidan stared straight ahead. His lean figure was rigid, but he hadn’t slowed.

Keeping close to the buildings, we passed the occupied car playing music. I could see three teenage boys inside. The muffled vintage music carried through the window.

I felt the scream choke in my throat as we passed. The passengers didn’t have eyes.

Their shapeless pale faces lacked not only the eyes but also mouths. The skin where lips should be had stretched horizontally, sealing any opening. The only portion of their faces that was noticeable was the lump of their nose—without nostrils. Even their hair was all the same color, styled the same, with a part in the middle, and they wore the same collared shirt and slacks.

I thought to myself, It’s just a few of the faceless, nameless people of this city, like any other…right? Maybe the demon had a sense of sick, very sick, humor.

I could hear, the eerie chorus of voices within the car, making it all the more surreal.

The three boys in the car watched us pass, as is if they could see. They turned their heads as we hurried along and I found myself staring back for as long as I could.

 

I’m going to try and make this short, but I can’t promise anything.  If you’ve followed this space, then you have heard the name Michelle Garren Flye.  She has been a good writer friend of mine for at least the last ten years.  Michelle recently wrote a blog titled,  Writers: Don’t Wait. Write A Banned Book Today.  No, it’s not about writing books that get banned, but about writing the story that wants to come out.  It’s about not writing what others think will sell, but writing what you want to write, how you want to write it.  You can read the blog by following the link above.  It’s a good read.  You should check it out when you are done here.

I agree with Michelle’s thoughts.  Writers have gone away from the art of writing and have settled for the formula for what publishers think will sell.  It may not be a great story, but it followed the formula, therefore it is publishable.  I disagree, but that is for another blog.  A good many writers are enjoying success by using the formula of write a lot of action, few descriptions and lots of language and sex (hey, sex sells).  There is a little more to the formula, but one of the keys is a publisher has to believe they can make money off the story.  Whether the book is good or not, if it is sellable, it will get published.

The problem?  Everyone is writing in the same manner and writing the same subjects.  They are (and you have heard this before from me) cookie cutter writers.  Sure, there are those that are doing well writing like everyone else, so why change?  Well, you change because you want to give the readers the very best you can.  That’s right.  You should write with your readers in mind.  Who would have thought?  You have to tell them the best story you can, not the best book you can.  There is a difference.  Anyone can write a book, but not everyone can tell a story.

So often we forget that it is about the story.  Not the writing, not the marketing, not the selling and not the book reviews.  It is always the story.  Tell the story and tell it in your own, unique style.  Don’t be like everyone else.  Be yourself.  Be the writer the story wants to be told through.

Don’t be a cookie cutter writer.  Don’t be like everyone else.  Develop your own style.  Develop your own voice.  Find that way of writing that makes you happy and makes you want to write.  But, most importantly, write the story that wants to be written.

This is something I strongly believe in.  This is why I write the way I write.  I believe in my way of telling stories.  I believe it is an art form.  I learned a lot of my style from my grandfather.  I loved hearing him tell stories.  I don’t want to be like anyone else.  I don’t want to write the way everyone else does.  I tried it.  I didn’t like it.

If you’re a writer, take a chance and write something that you want to write, not something you think will sell.  If you are a reader, take a chance on someone you’ve never heard of.  That person might become your new favorite writer.

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