Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Real Life (Revisiting the Past)

Posted: June 22, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized

One of the good and bad things about being a writer is we often have an avenue to share things about our lives that some folks don’t.  Some of these things are great.  Others, not so much.  This was originally written on March 2, 2010.  Recent events bring this back to the forefront of my mind, and it is as true today as it was when I originally wrote it.  This appeared on my original blog, The Odd Ramblings of A.J. Brown.


I want to talk about real life for a minute, not this game we call writing, this world of make believe that many of us writers live in. I want to talk about real life. Can you bear with me for a few minutes and let me ramble about something that’s on my mind?

In his collection, Just After Sunset, Stephen King writes in the story, Rest Stop, these words (and I hope this is not copyright infringement since I am not selling this to a publication or making any money off of it.  I’m just making a point.):

“Had he thought there was no place for the Dog out in the big empty of the American heartland? That was narrow thinking wasn’t it? Because, under the right circumstances, anyone could end up anywhere, doing anything.”

This brings me to reality. I read that Friday evening, after leaving the courthouse where a married couple in their sixties was in a hearing to adopt one of their children’s children. Let me see if I can paint a picture for you.

The courtroom was small, with the viewing gallery just as you enter the wooden double doors. The gallery itself was made up of long benches, much like church pews but not as comfortable. The plaintiff’s and defendant’s tables sat up front, near the judge’s chair, or throne, as I like to call it. To the left was a table where the Guardian Ad Litem sat, a nice young woman, blond hair, cut short, dressed in one of those nice dress suits that women wear to such gatherings. The court reporter was an elderly woman, who moved a little faster than a turtle, but not much. To her, this was probably a mundane, everyday process, a ho-hum experience, if you will.

At the plaintiff’s table sat the grandparents of the children in question, he with the silver hair and worried eyes, she with the dyed brown hair with hints of gray peeking through. She wore nice slacks and a top, maybe a church outfit at one time, which she may not wear again because of the association with the event at hand. An attorney—an older gentleman, who I later found out is blind—sat to their immediate right. Behind those three were three other folks, a woman, who was the attorney’s wife and eternal right hand woman, and two other folks, younger, maybe even a couple. I have no idea the relationship between attorney and the couple but I’m gathering they were part of the same practice.

The defendants’ seats were empty. The parents weren’t there. There was no attorney. There was nobody at all in those seats. If there were ever a chance for tumbleweeds to roll by, this was it.

In the viewing gallery behind the six folks at the plaintiff’s table, sat a slew of folks, maybe twelve, maybe fifteen. Maybe less. I was smack dab in the middle of these folks of mostly older church goers, a family of God there to support and bear witness for the grandparents if need be.

The judge, a gray-haired gentleman with glasses hanging off the bridge of his nose, sat in his chair (remember, I like to call it his throne). He shuffled some papers and then began with the proceedings, going through the same old same old for him.  But every word he said was critical to the plaintiffs, to their case for adoption of their three grandchildren. His voice was easily a southern drawl, laced in monotone dryness. He seemed like he was in no hurry, and for all involved, I’m not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. I guess it just depends on how you are looking at it. Me, I like to look at things with my eyes open. To the plaintiffs every word probably echoed in their ears, every ticking second probably like hours.

At one point the judge stated, maybe not so clearly at first, that the parents had signed away their parental rights to the children.

Stop there for a second.

As a person with two kids of my own, this struck me. Hard. My stomach sank. But me and my writer’s mind could picture the couple, the mom and dad of three children, sitting there, a shark of an attorney by their side, maybe a slick talker with a way with words and an ace up his sleeve. Ah, but again, that was just my writer’s imagination working.

At any rate, the parents had signed away their rights. Why? Does it matter, really? Maybe they didn’t want the kids any longer. Maybe they owed a ton of money in child support and would have been in a world of trouble if they didn’t. Maybe, one or both of the parents realized that the best thing for these three kids, all ten years of age and younger, would be to let someone have them that could take care of them, provide for them, love them. Maybe the father cared about his kids just enough to say, ‘this is what is best for them,’ and maybe he convinced the mother of the same thing and maybe . . . I’m hoping that last part is true. Even if it isn’t, it is my hope that it is.

With my stomach suddenly hanging around my thighs (if this were a story, my stomach would have been hanging around something else in the general vicinity), the judge continued on, asking if the plaintiffs were there. They each acknowledged and he acknowledged their attendance, for the record, I guess.

Then he asked if the mother of the three children were there. He looked up, said ‘No,’ and proceeded to ask the same of the father. Again, he looked up, said, ‘No.” This time, my heart jumped into my throat, my stomach joining it in trying to occupy a place it didn’t belong. I bit my bottom lip and stared, not at the judge or the plaintiffs, but at the empty seats where Mom and Dad Defendant should have been, the parents of these three children. I admit now, this saddened me.

Maybe it was just me, but the judge seemed, I don’t know, disgusted, maybe. Maybe that’s not even the right word. Maybe, he felt disappointed. I know I did. Maybe, and this could be more true than I think it is, maybe the judge was a little disheartened by the lack of the parents being there to defend their actions, to fight for their children. But, then again, they had signed their parental rights away. So, why would they be there? Possibly, to be held accountable for their actions.


I listened as the grandmother was called to answer questions on her behalf. The grandfather was next. The Guardian Ad Litem followed, standing from her seat, her words rehearsed, as if she had done this a thousand times. I venture to think she has.

I’m paraphrasing here, but I think you’ll get the gist of her statements:

“Your honor, I visited the home (I can’t recall the date at the moment, but that doesn’t matter for this) of Mr. and Mrs. Goodparent and what I found was a spacious home where each child had their own beds, plenty of child appropriate toys and child appropriate clothing. The house was clean and, most importantly, your Honor, I saw three happy children. In my opinion, it is in the best interest for these three children to be awarded custody to Mr. and Mrs. Goodparent.”

With that, she sat down, folded her hands one on top of the other.

The judge looked over several more pieces of paper. He spoke some words I didn’t catch, but the ones I did were simple and to the point. “I find it is in the best interest for this adoption to be granted.” He addressed the grandparents, his eyes noticeably softer than they had been for all of the ten minutes it took to hear the case and he said, “Now, go home and do what you’ve been doing and take care of those grandbabies.”

Court was adjourned, but everyone sat still, quiet, possibly not even sure of what had just happened. Was it finally over for them? Were the children, after several years of living with the grandparents, finally a permanent fixture of their home? Yes and yes.

Outside the courtroom, hugs were given, a tear or two shed, out of relief and sadness all the same.

The grandparents went on their way, going to do what the judge told them to do and go take care of them grandbabies. In their early sixties, the time of their life where it should be he and she and the open road to travel, dreams that were put on hold for years while they raised their own children realized, yet once again, they were parents to young children.

It was a bittersweet verdict. I sat at my desk that night, a long day having passed, my children in bed, my feet propped up by the keyboard, the thoughts of the day rumbling, bumbling, stumbling through my head. I had just finished up King’s story, Rest Stop, and that passage ran through my head over and over and over again.

“…under the right circumstances, anyone could end up anywhere, doing anything.”

My mind also kept coming back to the absentee parents at the courthouse. A quick note here and why this is so personal. I grew up with the father of the three children. He was a bright kid, intelligence beyond intelligence. Girls loved him. He rarely cracked a textbook, simply because he absorbed everything. He was the king of BS also. Someone whose charm could make you believe the most outlandish lie, even if you absolutely knew he wasn’t telling you the truth. He should have amounted to just a little more than what he did. I guess, knowing someone for so long, you never see this type of thing coming. And, if you do, you pretend it’s not real or you pretend that things will get better, though, deep down inside, you know they never will.

What can you do? Well, you can pray if you have faith in God. If you don’t, then you harbor those angered feelings until it becomes resentment and then hate and loathing. Not exactly good for you, if you know what I mean. Or, you just let it go.  Chalk it up to life getting the best of someone and move on. That’s just a little tougher to do.

If this were a work of fiction we would be nearing what some would consider to be a happy ending. I’ve left out a lot of this—it’s not necessary to dwell on the entirety of this story. Only the plight of the children matters and the resolution to the plot was the adoption by the grandparents. Thus, the story book ending would be the celebration in the courthouse, or maybe the kids running up to the grandparents, jumping in their arms, smiles on their youthful faces. Someone go ahead and stamp The End on the back page for me and close the book.  Leave a review, if you don’t mind.

However, this is no book, but real life. And in real life, there isn’t always a happy ending to the story. No, in real life, there are still struggles and pain and the all too real prospect of time slipping by; slipping through the fingers. The reality of this is simple: In ten, maybe fifteen years when the parents of these three kids are alone, they will want their children to come and see them. Come see your Ma, why don’t yah? Come and pay a visit to your old man, please. Do you know what I believe will happen? Do you even want to know? Probably not, but I’m going to tell you anyway. After all, I’m the one telling this story, aren’t I?

Harry Chapin once sang about Cats and Cradles and Silver Spoons in a song some years ago about a man too busy to spend time with his son. It’s about how the child came into the world and lived his life while the father was away. Each part of the song, one many of you no doubt have heard, is about how the boy grows up while the father is busy tending to his own affairs. In the end, the boy is a man with his own family and he has no time to visit the father who was never around when the boy was a child.

When you comin’ home dad? I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, son You know we’ll have a good time then –Harry Chapin Cats and the Cradle.

Yeah, that’s what’s going to happen. When you think about real life, that is exactly what’s going to happen. This has stayed with me since that day, sitting in the courtroom, a witness for the plaintiffs, if needed. My heart sinks, even to this minute, knowing that on down the line—because in real life, there is always an on down the line—the parents are going to be alone, sad and wishing their children wanted to spend time with them, something they weren’t willing to do for their children.

They say reality is often stranger than fiction. Reality is often times quite a bit sadder than fiction also. And, here we have come to the end of my story, which is not really a story at all, but real life, a reality check, if you will. But I don’t want to end this on a downer. I truly don’t, so I’ll end it with another tidbit from another song.

The Beatles sang some years ago about the sun coming, little darling. I tend to think, to hope that part of those lyrics can hold true to even this story of great sadness.

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,

and I say it’s all right

 Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter

Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun

and I say it’s all right

 Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces

Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun

and I say it’s all right

 Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting

Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,

and I say it’s all right

 It’s all right.


There is a scene in the movie The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, where Gandalf finds a small sword in a cave.  He leaves the cave and gives it to Bilbo Baggins.  If you’ve seen the movie, you probably know what happened next.  If you haven’t, it’s okay.  You don’t need to have seen it to get what Gandalf tells Bilbo a few seconds later.  You don’t even have to know what the movie is about to understand the context of what Gandalf says.

To preface the statement, Bilbo tells Gandalf he had never used a sword in his life, and Gandalf tells him he hopes he never has to and (here’s the statement):

“True courage is about knowing, not when to take a life, but when to spare one.”

I’m not going to tell you what happens, but if you’ve never seen the movie, that particular line comes into play later.

That leads me to my topic today.  I want to talk about courage and compassion for a minute.

True courage.  It takes courage to be a soldier in any military, especially during times of war, which seem to be never ending.  It takes courage to be a firefighter, especially when you have to run into a burning building to save someone.  It takes courage to face something you are afraid of.  Afraid of heights?  Get on a rollercoaster or look over the edge of a high rise building or a mountain.  It takes courage to step outside your comfort zone and do something you’ve never done.  It takes courage to ask that pretty little girl out to the prom knowing she might say no.

It takes courage to be who you are.

The next few lines of what I am about to write may or may not offend some folks, but I’m going to say them anyway.  If you will, just stick with me through the next few lines, and do it with an open mind.

In today’s world it takes courage to be different.  Think I’m wrong?  How many people have come out as gay or lesbian and immediately been scorned by their family or friends or co-workers or local religious group?

How many people have had a differing opinion than those around them and immediately been threatened with hateful words or deeds?  You want an example?  Okay, here you go:

Bruce Jenner, a.k.a. Caitlyn Jenner.  I’m going to be honest with you here.  I have no clue what’s going through his/her mind.  I don’t understand what made him choose to go from being a man to being a woman.  I don’t know.  And here is where I will get completely honest with you:  I don’t care.  What he/she has done is really none of my business.  It doesn’t have a direct effect on my life or my children’s lives.  What he chose to do is between himself, his psyche and his God.  It has nothing to do with me. Do you know what that means?  My opinion on the matter, well, it doesn’t matter.  And it shouldn’t.  As I said up a few sentences, I don’t care what he does.  It is his life and the only person/people this really effects is him and his family.  End of story.

You wanted an example.  I gave you one.

Here’s what I do know:  people are quick to criticize others.  They are quick to point out everything they have done (or are doing) wrong.  They are quick to try and change those they feel are doing all these wrong things.  They are quick to judge.  Do you know how many times I’ve heard otherwise good people make comments like ‘that person’s going to hell’ or ‘this country’s going to hell in a handbasket’?  Maybe it is, but does it do any good for someone to criticize others for things they have done that do not affect the person doing the criticizing?  I don’t think so.

People are critical because they don’t understand a person’s motives or a situation.  They don’t know what’s going through someone’s head when they decide to do something.

Okay, I guess it’s time to anger some folks.  Criticizing something or someone because you don’t understand it or them is weak and narrow-minded.

If you haven’t clicked off the page, yet, I appreciate it.

The human mind is a very defensive thing.  When it doesn’t understand something, it makes excuses for not trying to understand it.  It allows the fear mechanism to kick in.  I’ve stated it here before, but F.E.A.R. stands for False Evidence Appearing Real.  I learned that a few years ago at work.  (It’s a long story I won’t go into now.  If you want to know about it, drop me a line and I’ll explain to you where I got it from.)  When our defenses kick in we are quick to judge, to react, and to criticize.  Sometimes that leads us to talking bad about people.  Other times the defenses are so strong that we would rather break someone down, cuss at them, lie about them, beat them or bend the truth to fit out needs.  We’ve seen it happen a lot over the last few years.

Fear makes people do stupid things.  We’ve seen all the horror movies and the display of stupidity that takes place in most of them.  Funny thing about real life, sometimes the movies aren’t too far off.  Fear is a critical part of our psyche.  If we fear something we will get away from it and avoid it as much as we possibly can.  I am absolutely terrified of snakes, so I stay away from them.  If I see one in the woods, I back away slowly while keeping it in sight.

A buddy of mine used to have a couple of snakes and he went to take one of them out of its cage and asked me if I wanted to hold it.

‘If you want that thing to stay alive, you might want to put it back in its cage.’

I was not kidding.  It would have been very bad for me, the snake and my friend if he wouldn’t have put it back in its cage.

On the other hand, if we don’t run from the thing that scares us, we attack it, which I mentioned several ways how above.  Criticism and hatred are two of the biggest ways to attack someone you don’t like or understand.

What is the opposite of Fear?  I believe it is Courage.

Courage.  It’s what the cowardly lion wanted in The Wizard of Oz.  It’s what we all want.

It takes courage to be different.  Even more so, it takes courage to defend someone different than you, even if everyone else disagrees with you.  It takes courage to show compassion to someone who wouldn’t show you the same compassion.  It takes courage to do the right thing.  In this day and age, in the world we live in, very few people want to do the right thing.  They want to do their thing.  If it can benefit them, even if it’s not necessarily right or fair, then there’s a chance people will do it.  Like I said, it takes courage to do the right thing.  None of us are always courageous in our decision making.  None.  Of.  Us.

Let’s go back to that quote from The Hobbit and let’s change it up a little.

“Courage is knowing, not when to criticize others, but when to show compassion to them.”

Compassion is concern for others.  It’s helping someone shorter than you reach something on the top shelf.  It’s helping someone struggling to carry something heavy by taking part of the load.  It’s seeing a need and trying to address it, but without stipulations.  None of the ‘I’ll do this, but you have to do this’ nonsense.  No, that’s not compassion.  Compassion comes with no strings attached.  It’s a genuine feeling of concern for someone to the point that you want to help them without expecting anything else in return.  It’s a woman giving a young couple 20 bucks so they can buy a kiddie pool for their young son because they couldn’t afford to do it themselves.

Compassion.  There’s not enough of it in this world.  There needs to be more.  Much, much more.  Courage.  The cowardly lion wanted it, but it wasn’t given to him.  He developed it when he did the right thing and tried to save Dorothy and his friends from the wicked witch.  It takes courage these days to show compassion and understanding, even in the face of things we may not understand.  But it takes neither courage, nor compassion to criticize and break people down because they think differently or choose differently or believe differently or look differently than we do or if they make decisions for their lives that hurts no one that we don’t agree with.

Everyone is different.  Everyone has their own idea of how things should be.  Why should it matter to someone if someone else doesn’t have those same beliefs?  It shouldn’t, but for some reason, it does.  I’ll never understand it.

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

It Takes Teamwork

Posted: June 8, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Almost every job I’ve ever had has ended in some sort of leadership role.  The role may not be a managerial type, but there is always some sort of leadership responsibility taken on.  This happens whether I want it to or not.  Most of the time this happens without much discussion.  It just happens.

Sometimes these roles require a bit of a ra ra ra mentality, and sometimes a bit of tough love, though I’m not sure it’s love being doled out.  Sometimes it requires a kid gloves type of mentality, where you just have to be gentle with someone (like it or not).  It’s easy to say, but it’s difficult to do.

Most of the times these leadership roles take on a form of team building, whether it’s actually finding the right people for the team, or building the people up that are already on it.  It’s this team building that I want to focus on today.

I have had some great teams, but one in particular makes me proud.  There were four members on this team, including myself.  Two of them were easy to train and easy to get on board when we came together.  The third one was a bit of work.  He had come into the team later than the others, but he came in with experience, having done this particular job for eight years somewhere else.  Minimal training was needed, or so I was told.

Before we go on, let’s give this team member a name.  I will call him Z from here on.

Z didn’t buy into our philosophy of teamwork and stepping up when other team members needed help.  He didn’t buy into our communications system.  He rarely asked for help.

Still, he was productive and did his job.  Minimal training, remember?

The first few months went well.  Then things began happening that Z didn’t tell me about.  Then I started hearing whispers from our customer base.  I investigated into this and found a few things I didn’t like.  But before I could say anything about what I had found out, the bosses called me in for a meeting.

‘We have a problem.’

This is not what you want to hear to start a meeting.

Turned out Z had some issues, and a few of them could have cost him his job.  I set out to keep that from happening and worked with Z, retraining him on things I thought he already knew and understood.  Minimal training?  There is no such thing.

Fortunately, Z kept his job and became a very reliable team member who learned to ask questions and ask for help when he didn’t understand something.

Writing is kind of the same.

Yeah, I knew I would get a few crinkled noses and confused expressions on that one.  Let me see if I can explain this the way I see it in my head.

Writing is all about world building, character building, plot and resolution.  There are so many ingredients that go into telling a good, readable story, that if one ingredient is off, then so is the entire story.  It’s kind of like one team member not doing his/her job.  Yeah, the whole team suffers.

To be a successful team at anything, you need all of the team members on board with the game plan.  If you have four team members and one of them isn’t on the same page as the other three, then it will be harder for the team as a whole to succeed.  For example:  In football if the quarterback and receiver aren’t on the same page as far as the play they are going to run, then the quarterback could end up throwing the ball to a spot the receiver isn’t at.  This could lead to an incompletion (not so bad) or an interception of the pass (very bad).  That means they didn’t communicate well enough to be on the same page, to know the same play and get the outcome they wanted.

Got that?

Good.  Now, let me relate this back to writing.

In order to be a good writer, you have to know, first of all, how to put a sentence together.  Let’s call that Sentence Structure.  Then you need to also have a sense of Grammar.  You need to know a lot of words.  We’ll call this Vocabulary.  These are three key team members to the act of writing.  If you don’t know these three things, writing a story that is readable is pretty much impossible.  These three team members have to work together to tell the story.  If one of them is off, then so is the story.

But, wait.  Vocabulary has its own team of members.  Synonyms, Pronouns, Nouns, Verbs, Adverbs, Adjectives, Antonyms, Conjunctions and so many others.  They are all members of the Vocabulary Team, and they don’t always get along.  Especially when choosing what type of word to use, such as Passive as opposed to Active words.  The use of the wrong team member when putting together a sentence will make the entire sentence (or team) weaker.

There’s other members you need on your team:








Point of View





And a bunch of others.

You don’t need just any of these members.  You need the right ones for the right stories.  If you don’t have the right ones, then the story will suffer.  You see?  The wrong words at the wrong time is like running the wrong play and having the quarterback throw an interception.

This is where the writer has to do a little training.

I used to suck at dialogue.  I didn’t quite grasp the concept that dialogue needed to further a story along, not just be there.  Dialogue that is just ‘there’ is like a loiterer just standing around.  Neither one of them do much at all, and they are both kind of a hindrance.  Bad dialogue is the couch potato of writing.  It just sits there and eats up precious words and space while ruining the story it appears in.

One day someone told something quite profound, and I have held tight to it ever since.  I was told that dialogue is the oxygen of a story.  Without oxygen, you will die.  Bad dialogue is like carbon monoxide–it’s a killer.  However, good dialogue breathes life into the lungs of a story, allowing it to live and to have a purpose; to further along the story.

After hearing this I stopped writing stories for a while.  Instead, I wrote scenes using only dialogue.  I wanted to see if someone could tell what was going on by reading dialogue alone.  At first, I couldn’t even tell what was going on in the scenes I wrote.  Then, slowly, I began to see an improvement.  I began understanding that if a piece of dialogue doesn’t make sense to me, the writer, then it’s not going to make sense to you, the reader.

I taught myself how to write better dialogue by listening to people talk.  I essentially trained my Dialogue to be good.  I trained that particular team member to do his job, and do it well.  It was a lot of work, but it paid off.  Now, I write dialogue well.  Do I do it great every single time?  No.  Nobody does.  But when I go back and read what I’ve written, I can spot the bad Dialogue and fix it.

There are areas of writing I still struggle with.  Some words still throw me off and I have to stop and think about which word I really want to use.  Sometimes I struggle with a description or being too wordy or not wordy enough (yes, it is possible).  But when that happens, I stop and create a ‘lesson’ for myself.  I will write something in several different ways to see how each one sounds.  Sometimes that requires rewriting entire passages just to change one sentence.  It is often not easy, but when a breakthrough happens and I realize what I am doing wrong, it is always worth the extra time spent.

Writing is not always easy.  Many times it can kick your butt.  However, if you are writing and learning, then you are going to get better.  If you struggle with an area of writing, then don’t just brush it off.  It will affect every other area of writing that you may or may not be good at.  It’s like a slack team mate.  Address it, work on it, learn from it, and then move on to the next issue.

I’m currently working on an area of my writing that I have loathed ever since trying to make a name for myself in this business:  marketing.  Yes, marketing is an area of writing that we must deal with.  It may not have anything to do with the actual writing, but it has everything to do with people buying the work.  I hate doing it, and I am not good at it.  But I’m working on it.  I have been for the last year.  I’ve developed a little bit of a following, but I have a long way to go.  I’m still trying to get people interested in my writing.  This, probably more so than anything else, will probably take me the longest to learn and to incorporate into my team.  Right now Marketing is not such a good team mate, and it isn’t doing its job all that well.  But hopefully, I can train it (and myself) to do better, to think of all the other team mates who put in the time and energy to do their parts right, and it will hop on the bandwagon.

I know this blog is a little odd, but I hope you see the similarities I tried to make for you (and me).

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

Love. Care. Shine.

Posted: May 30, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized

Cate and I worked our second festival today.  It was the Kaleidoscope Cultural Arts Festival in Kannapolis, North Carolina.  Though we didn’t sell a lot, we still enjoyed it.  We met a lot of folks, and had some very good conversations.  One of those conversations led to two thoughts that go hand in hand.  I would like to share them with you now.

The first of these, I think, should go without saying, but I’ve found more and more that people don’t do this as much as they should.  That thing? Care about your art. It’s quite simple.  Care about what you are doing.  I used the term ‘art’ because, truthfully, writing is art, whether good or bad is up to the writer.

It’s like coloring within the lines when you were a kid.  Think about it for a second.  When I was a kid I was told over and over to try and stay within the lines while coloring pictures.  I got to where I worked really hard at it because, well, first I got tired of hearing that I was doing it wrong (even if in my eyes I was doing it right), and second I wanted so bad to finally succeed at keeping all the colors within the picture with no blob over the line.  I grew to care about coloring the way my teachers said to.

This is the way writing is.  Though I would never say you need to write between the lines and follow all the rules, you should still care about the stories you tell, the characters you create, the settings you put them in, the details you give their lives, the situations they deal with, the solutions to those situations and which way their lives go or end.  Those are important items that shouldn’t be neglected.  By caring about the story, you pay attention to those details, and in doing so, you stay between the lines.  [[For the record, I believe some rules no longer apply to writing done in this day and age.  However, know them, because, though they can be broken, break them at the right times.]]

Here’s a truth:  readers can usually tell when an author doesn’t care about the story they’ve told.  And if you don’t care about your stories, why should they?

Point two:  If you care about your craft, the person you are will shine through in your work.  I’m not talking about the person you want the world to see.  I’m talking about the real person on the inside.  That person will shine through.  It will shine through in your style.  It will shine through in your voice.  It will shine through in the words you choose or do not choose.  It’s.  Just.  That.  Simple.

Let me share a third point, and yes, I’m improvising here. If you love what you are doing you are going to care about it. If you are just doing it to make a buck, well, you might make some money, but you won’t tell great stories, things that stick with people years after they read it.  You can write all you want, but caring about your stories will make more than a little difference in whether the readers care about your stories or not.

Quick recap:

  1. Care about your craft.
  2. If you care, the person in you will shine through.
  3. Love what you are doing.

They are all connected.  If you love, if you care, you will shine through.  And if you love and if you care, the readers will know and they will love and care, as well.

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

Today I want to talk about paying it forward. Okay, I heard the collective groans out there, but stick with me. Don’t I always take you on a little journey that sometimes goes around my hand to get to my thumb just to make a point?

We’ve all heard the term ‘paying it forward.’ You hear about it happening a lot at Starbucks. I’m not sure why it happens so often there, maybe it’s because Starbucks is a coffee-type place, and for some reason, folks need their coffee in order to keep from killing people. I don’t know, but that is a possibility. Before I continue, let me clarify: Starbucks is not a coffee shop. You see, coffee shops sell, well, coffee. I don’t know what that stuff is that Starbucks sells, and just because they use coffee in a lot of it does not make the items they sell actual coffee. My blog. My two cents.

At any rate, you often hear that people will pay for the frappe-crappo-cino-latte-vanillo-grande-caramello-drink-o for the car behind them. Then the next person does the same and so on and so on until someone finally says, ‘Cool, I get a free frappe-crappo-cino-latte-vanillo-grande-caramello-drink-o.’ Most people don’t want to be the one who breaks that chain, but there are those who will. I’m not sure if that’s a good for you or a shame on you.

Paying it forward is simply you do something nice for someone without wanting anything in return, and hopefully, that person will do the same for someone else, and so on and so on. In the end, paying it forward is kind of like rumors—they come back around, and usually not in the same manner as when it started. In the case of rumors, that sucks. In the case of paying it forward, well, it’s often a good thing.

So often in today’s society, paying it forward or just being kind to one another, isn’t such a popular concept. It’s all about me, me, me, me, and giving someone money or buying something for a total stranger is considered crazy and somewhat stupid by many folks.

Not one person, at least.

Let me tell you a story real quickly:

I was perusing Facebook this morning. Yeah, that great worldwide killer of time. I wasn’t feeling all that well and was debating on going back to bed. After all, it wasn’t even seven a.m. at this point and I really didn’t need to get up earlier than eight. I was about to click off when I saw a post from an author friend of mine. The post was about his wife, Linda.

Let’s break this up or we’re going to have one really long paragraph here.

Linda had been at the Wally World (Wal-Mart, for those who don’t know that term) and she overheard a young couple talking about wanting to buy their son a kiddie pool. It wasn’t one of those ginormous fifteen foot in circumference, four feet deep ones. No, it was your standard plastic kiddie pool with little fish designs on it.

The pool was eighteen dollars and the young couple couldn’t afford it. Having been a young couple at one time with my wife, Cate, and wanting to buy something for my children and not being able to, it’s a bad feeling. As the parent, you feel guilty and sad and like a bad parent who needs to be put in the corner or spanked (no, not that type of spanking). It sucks.

So what did Linda do? She walked off, ignoring them.

No. No. I’m just kidding.

Linda pulled out a twenty dollar bill and gave it to them and told the young couple, and I quote, “Get the pool for your son.”

Wait, it gets better. You see, their son was with them, and the mother was holding another child. So, the son saw this act of kindness. They thanked her profusely and Linda watched as they went and paid for the pool.

She cried as she told her husband this story.

Okay, did you picture any of that? Can you see the young couple? They wanted to do something for their son, but they couldn’t. I can see the kid—probably somewhere between the ages of two and five, maybe six, his eyes turned down and sad. I can almost hear his thoughts. Summer’s coming, Ma, and all we got is an old radio flyer wagon for a pool. Or something like that.

I can hear the man’s voice as he says, ‘We can’t afford it.’

I can almost hear the collective of three hearts breaking after that statement. I can almost feel the boy’s tears, and probably the momma’s, too.

But then, out of nowhere, like a knight in shiny armor on a white steed, a woman walked up holding the magical green paper that makes everyone happy. Okay, that was a little too much, but you get the picture. Linda walked up. Let’s just assume Linda is like any other woman, doing her shopping, minding her own business when she overheard this conversation. Instead of walking off, she showed compassion to the young couple, and more importantly, for the young boy. She gave them the money to buy the pool. No, she didn’t give them eighteen dollars, but a full twenty, which would cover the taxes as well.

This woman—Linda—gave money to total strangers so they could do something for their kid. Here’s something to think about: Obviously, the young couple were overjoyed at the sudden act of kindness. They were probably overwhelmed a little. The boy was probably excited—he was going to get his pool and not have to play in a rusty old radio flyer wagon. Okay, sorry—flashback, 1978. There’s no rusty radio flyer wagon.

Now, as much as Linda touched the lives of three—possibly four—members of a family, she also touched her own life. What? How? Simple: she cried when she told the story. Her own compassion moved her in such a way it made her cry. Why? She was probably happier than the parents and the child combined. Seeing their joy probably lifted her heart more than her giving that money to them lifted theirs.

I’ve learned that by doing things like what Linda did it can have a positive impact on others, but it also can have a positive impact on you. It can be uplifting for the person doing the giving. It can change how you feel about life and people and money and things that we take for granted, like how mindlessly we blow twenty bucks. We don’t think about it, we just do it. I don’t have a lot of money. I barely get from paycheck to paycheck, but guess what? I’ve blown more than twenty bucks at a time without thinking about it. I’m sure many of you have, as well. There’s nothing wrong with that. You earned the money, you get to spend it, right? Absolutely.

Linda paid it forward. Do you think she will ever get that money back? I don’t. And I don’t think she cares if she does, either. What she received in return was the joy of seeing how much happiness her compassionate deed brought to that young family. And there is nothing like that feeling. Having done something similar, I can honestly say the joy of seeing someone’s face light up and hope surface in a set of eyes, it’s a better rush than any drug and it last longer because it hits you right in the heart—and that’s where it matters.

Here’s the clincher: Linda wasn’t going to tell anyone else. She was going to let her good deed be known to her husband and no one else. Not only was she compassionate, she was humble. She didn’t shout to the world, ‘hey, look what I’ve done.’ No, she whispered it to her husband and she cried while doing so.

Pay it forward. It isn’t all that hard.

I’m not going to give the name of the writer. I don’t think that is necessary. But, he and I chatted on Facebook briefly about this today and he was gracious enough to let me use this story for this particular piece. I learned a lot about him and his wife in that brief conversation, and in the post that he shared with the world. They’re my type of people.

I mentioned he is an author, didn’t I? Yup, right there and there and, yup, there, as well. I like to get to know writers before I purchase anything from them. I like to get to know if they are cool or jerks just out for a buck. I don’t want to support writers who are jerks. It’s just that simple. But this dude and his wife are not jerks. So, now…now I want to purchase one of his books to see if I like his style. He has several books to choose from, so when I head over to Amazon I will have to choose carefully. No, I’m not paying it forward by doing so. I’m doing what I always do: buy books from someone I would hang out with if we knew each other in person, from someone who would do the right thing when the right thing needs to be done. My type of people.

Before I go, I want to say one more thing: Thank you, Linda, for being a light in that family’s life, and an inspiration to others.

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



I love Ellen Degeneres.  There I said it.  I’m a guy and I love Ellen Degeneres.  My wife loves her, too.  So does The Boy and The Girl.  I’m willing to wager that the Hell Spawn (better known as Mia, the cat) and The Dog like her as well.  I don’t have proof of this, but I’m going to say they do.

I know her show is geared toward women.  Most talk-type shows are.  But hers is different.  First of all, she’s funny.  That gives her a leg up on all daytime shows.  Second, and this is more important than being funny, she is compassionate.

I’m just going to stop here for a moment.  Compassion is defined as:  sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

I don’t particularly care much for the term ‘pity’ in there, but I firmly believe compassion is, indeed, concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.  If there were ever a celebrity who has concerns for the sufferings and misfortunes of others, it is Ellen.  If you think I am wrong, watch her show for a few days and you will see, not only humor and other celebrities, but you will see compassion.  You will see a person who truly believes in helping others and who uses her star power for the betterment of people.

Cate watches Ellen every day.  It is set to record every morning, and in the evening, usually around supper time, she sits on the couch and flips on Ellen.  Sometimes when I am not in there with her, I hear Cate laughing and I can’t help but smile.  Laughter makes the heart lighter, even on bad days.  I’m good at making jokes and wisecracks and saying things to make people laugh, but Ellen is different.  Her humor makes herself laugh, and why shouldn’t it?  If you can’t laugh at yourself, then you’ll be the only one not in on the jokes.  I love hearing Cate laugh when she is watching Ellen.

Back to the compassion thing.  As I said earlier, if you don’t believe me, watch her show for a few days—a week, tops—and you will see someone who truly believes in helping people.  She gives.  She gives.  Do you understand that?  She gives.  Not just money, but time.  She gives hope to folks who might not have had it before.  She gives money where there is a need, but she doesn’t just say, ‘here is a few thousand bucks, have a good life.’  No, she goes back and checks on some of the people she has helped, to see how they are progressing, to see if they are okay.  She’s a huge celebrity who acts just like the average person.

How refreshing is that?

I know that at the end of an hour of Ellen, whatever bad day Cate may have been having just got better.  To me, that is a person who makes an impact on others’ lives in a positive way.

And there’s one other thing that Ellen does that I think is awesome.  As a matter of fact, I’ve adopted it—well, partially.  At the end of each show, Ellen says, to me, the most important words anyone can say to each other: Be kind to one another. Do you understand the importance of those words?  In a world where there is so much violence and hate and selfishness and me, me, me mentality, being kind to one another has kind of gone out the window.  We don’t hold the doors for others.  We don’t say ‘thank you’ anymore.  We let others negative opinions and attitudes rub off on us.  We have road rage and shopping rage and whatever we feel like rage.

In a society where most everything on the news is negative, to hear ‘be kind to one another’ is such a radical thing, it’s almost unheard of.  And every time I hear it, I smile.

Back in January I made it a point to try and be as upbeat as possible; to try and be as positive as I can be.  Sometimes it’s extremely difficult.  Sometimes I want to just pack it up and say ‘I can’t do this anymore.’  Sometimes things happen and my nerves become frayed and my temper has a short fuse.  But the power of positive thinking is real.  Being kind to one another really does have a positive effect on people.  Just like being rude or mean to others has a negative effect.  If just hearing ‘be kind to one another’ can make people smile, imagine what actually doing it can do.

This is my challenge to you—all eight of you:  Go out and do something nice for someone. Do this every day.  Be nice to someone every day and see if your attitude doesn’t change over time; see if you, as a person, doesn’t have a better outlook on life.

To Ellen Degeneres, thank you.  Thank you for being a positive influence and role model in a society where there are few of these.  Thank you for your concern for others, and your desire to help them.  Thank you for making my wife laugh.  It’s the most beautiful sound.

As I’ve done in every blog since January, I leave you with my modified closing:  Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…

It’s a Human Issue

Posted: April 19, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

One good thing about having my own blog is that I can talk about any topic I want to. I don’t have to ask for permission to state my opinion. It’s my platform. It’s my voice.

Go back and look at the 250 or so posts that appear on Type AJ Negative and you will see most of them are writing/publishing related. Being a storyteller, that is where a lot of my interests are. But there are other things that appear on here, most of them attempts at humor or life stories.

Today, I want to talk about something that bothers me.

Let me see if I can paint the picture for you:

There’s this guy and he’s taking this kid home. The kid is a little girl who is the friend of one of the guy’s children. You follow me so far? Guy taking little girl home. The girl is eleven.

In the middle of the conversation the girl says something that makes the guy asks a few questions. What is that thing?

“I’ve lost friends before because I’m different.”

“What do you mean?”

“This girl (she said the girl’s name, which I omit here) told this boy (again, omitted name) to try and change my religion.”


She repeated the statement.

“Why would she do that?”

“I don’t believe in God.”

That caught my attention. I am a spiritual person. I believe in God. I believe in Jesus. I don’t believe in religion. Believing in God and believing in religion are two entirely different things, in my honest opinion.

“You don’t believe in God?” I asked.

“No. My family is atheists.”

“You’re atheists?”

“Yeah. I’ve never been to church. My family has never been to church.”

“And that girl wanted you to not be atheist?”

“Yeah. I’ve never been to church, but I want to go one day. I may not believe in God now, but I might later.”

There was a lull of silence before I said anything else.

“Well, I tell you what, if you ever want to go to church, let us know, and if your parents are okay with it, we’ll take you with us one day. Okay?”


So later that night I told Cate about it. Then she said something that really bothered me. Again, no names will be used here.

I told her the story and this is what she said:

“I heard her and the kids talking in there, and some of the kids at school said she worships the devil.”

Let’s stop here. I am going to get on my soapbox for a minute.

I know the little girl who said the things about the other little girl. I know some members of her family, and sadly, I can see them saying something like, ‘if they are atheists then they worship the devil.’

The problem with this thought is it is not true. I know plenty of atheists, and I haven’t known any of them to worship the devil. If they did worship the devil, they would no longer be atheists, but Satanists. See how that works?

The real problem here is that a ten year old said this about an eleven year old and now several of the kids in their class are saying this little girl worships the devil. What? Really?

I am a follower of Christ. I believe He died on the cross for my sins. But—and this is a HUGE BUT—I don’t believe it is my place to condemn someone else for his or her beliefs (or lack of beliefs). Jesus preached love your neighbor, not hate them because they are different. Jesus ate with the sinners of his time and walked with those same sinners and helped those same sinners. He looked on all people with compassion, even the criminal hanging on the cross next to His. He loved people.

He didn’t care if you were Jew or Gentile. He didn’t care if you were black or white or red or brown or yellow or zebra print. He didn’t think less of women or children. He treated them well. He even said, ‘Do unto the least of these and you do unto me.’ (Matthew 25:45)

He loved everyone.

I think Mahatma Gandhi said it best when he said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

There lies the problem with many Christians: the majority of them don’t love everyone. Many of them think they are better than others, that if someone isn’t like them, then they are going to Hell. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. They think being a Christian is a bunch of don’ts and if you mess up once, then you aren’t worthy of Heaven. Many Christians just aren’t very loving. Many of them are not Christ-like to the point of being judgmental. Many don’t teach their children to love one another. That is something that can be taught regardless of your religious or non-religious beliefs.

As a Christian I try to set the example, not with my words, but my actions. You can say you are a Christian all you want, but if your actions and your words present a different image, then it doesn’t matter what you say or do—no one is going to believe you. And if people do believe you, then they are probably going to say something like, ‘if that’s what being a Christian is, I want nothing to do with it.’ By spreading hate, you push people away. By preaching love, you bring people closer.

It’s not just Christians though. The majority of people don’t love others outside of their circle. Many people think they are better than others, and if they don’t look like they do, or make the money they do or drive the cars they do or vote for the politicians they do, then they’re not good enough for them. Many people think they are always right and everyone else is always wrong. It’s a society issue.

The thing with ten and eleven year olds is that most of what they believe they learn from their parents or other adults in their lives. Abusive fathers generally breed children who grow up to be abusive fathers themselves. Racists parents generally raise kids who become racist themselves. It really is a monkey see, monkey do type of thing. Sure, there are plenty of cases where kids made good, even though the parents were kind of crappy to them. My dad is an example of a person who broke the cycle to be a better person than his parents ever were.

Back to the girl. As she said, her family members are atheists, so she is atheist. This is what she has learned, based on how she has been raised. The other girl who started the devil worshipper rumor learned that from someone as well. She may have been misinformed on the topic at some point or drew her own conclusions based on, what? I don’t know. What I do know is she is wrong.

We are all quick to judge what we do not understand. We all have done it. I have. You have. Part of that judgmental attitude comes from fear. FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. We let our minds or others tell us what we should believe or say or do. We don’t understand it so we either don’t accept it or we are afraid of it. But something we don’t do that we should do more of is learn about what we don’t understand and make educated decisions based on that education. Don’t just have an opinion. Know the facts.

People, I want to make this clear: I don’t care what religion you are. I don’t care if you worship a god or are an atheist. I don’t care where you are from. I don’t care what your skin color is. I don’t care if you are rich or poor or somewhere in between. I don’t care what your job is. I don’t care if you are single or married or divorced. I don’t care about your political views. I don’t care if you are a woman or a man. I don’t care if you are attractive or unattractive. I don’t care if you are gay or straight. I don’t care if you agree with me or disagree with me. I don’t care.

Do I have to say it again?

But I do care about people. I care about how we treat one another. I care about how we judge one another. I care about respect. I care about whether someone is hurting and if I caused it, how do I fix it. I care about our world and I see it crumbling every day with the self-serving and entitled attitude of so many people. I care about how people lump other people into a category because they are of a certain skin color or religion or political party or income bracket. I care about people.

I will say that again: I care about people.

We are all human. We were all born in the same way. We all have feelings and desires and passions and we all need the same things to live: food, water, a place to live and air. Companionship helps, too. We all have loved at one time and we all want love. Go ahead and deny it if you want, but it’s true.

Honestly, this world makes me sad, and hearing what ten and eleven year old children say about another one because that one doesn’t believe in God saddens me deeply. Where did we forget how to love one another?

This isn’t a Christian or non-Christian issue. This is a human issue. And we have lost a good chunk of our humanity.

Stop fearing and judging what we don’t understand. Don’t just have an opinion. Educate ourselves. Teach our children to be better than we are. And love.

What we forget is we are not the people we are judging—we don’t know what is going on in their lives. We don’t know their situations. One well-placed kind word could make their day better. And one mean-spirited word could crush them.

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





Nonsense on A Friday

Posted: April 17, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Have you ever noticed how much we love Fridays? It’s the one day of the week that almost everyone looks forward to. People do happy dances on Friday. There was a cheesy song written about it. Have you ever heard someone say T.G.I.F.? That does not mean Toes Go In First. You hear it because most everyone says it: Thank God It’s Friday. People constantly say, ‘I wish it were Friday.’ It’s the end of the ‘work week’ and signals that brief respite called ‘The Weekend.’

Everyone loves Friday. Friday is the person on television shows that when they appear everyone in the ‘studio audience’ cheers. You know, like the Fonz from Happy Days:

And, for some (Melissa), it’s like Justin Timberlake instead of the Fonz. I don’t understand it, but hey, whatever floats your boat, right?

We all love Fridays. And if you don’t, well, sorry.

But what about the other six days of the week? Let’s take a look at them for a moment.

Monday. Oooo, just typing that made me cringe. I’m sure many of you had the same reaction from reading it. Monday is like the villain in the movies, the one that every time you see him/her you know something bad is going to happen. It’s the Governor from The Walking Dead or Darth Vader from Star Wars, or maybe even that twisted baddie from your favorite soap opera who thinks aloud though his mouth never moves, who also makes great thoughtful expressions while doing that thinking aloud. Monday shows up and you instantly say, ‘Ahh crap. It’s Monday again.’ And yes, the Bangals did sing a song about it being manic.

Wednesday is the middle of the week, and I’m sure you’ve seen some of the Geico commercials with the camel professing it to be, come on say it with me: HUMP DAY!

Wednesday is the friend you like to see when he arrives, but somehow overstays his welcome. You know, that friend who comes by your house at two in the afternoon and you’re like, ‘hey, how you doin’? It’s so good to see you.’ But by midnight that person is still there and you’ve missed your favorite television show and you haven’t eaten anything because you don’t have enough food to feed him so you’re selfish, even though your stomach is threatening to sue you for malnutrition, and you’re tired and sleepy and you have to get up for work the next morning, but you still have to take a shower and eat, again because you were selfish and chose not to make an extra plate for him. Yeah that’s Wednesday.

Tuesday and Thursday are those annoying friends or people in your life who just kind of make things miserable for you. They are the office guy who knows it all or the person who gives you more work so they can go home early or even that person who has more money and better looks than you and likes to flaunt it. Tuesdays and Thursdays we just want to kill.

I know some folks will say Saturday is their favorite day of the week because many people don’t have to work on that day. ‘I can sleep in,’ they say. ‘I can do whatever I want,’ they say. They’re lying. It’s not their favorite day. Friday is. Don’t argue with me. I’m right on this one. Saturday is like the girls and guys that go to parties. They are fun and exciting, unless of course you have to schedule to do something on that day, and we all know that Saturdays are really the day we spend doing stuff we can’t do during the week. It’s the worker in all of us. So, how Saturday is anyone’s favorite is beyond me. Second favorite, sure. But favorite? Please…

That brings us to Sunday, or the day of repentance. Sunday is best known for church and NFL football. It is like a choir girl in the morning and like a linebacker in the afternoon. Sunday is our split personality friend. We all have them and we never know what to expect from them. Sunday is also the day before Monday and as Sunday night approaches the dread of Monday morning begins to take over, and all too often as we crawl into bed, we state with great disdain in our voices, ‘Tomorrow’s Monday.’ Yes, this is Sunday. On a positive note, the Cranberries recorded a great song with Sunday as the title.

So, in order, now:

Monday: Bad guy in movie.
Tuesday: Annoying friend.
Wednesday: Friend who overstays welcome.
Thursday: See Tuesday.
Friday: The Fonz.
Saturday: Party Girl/Boy or Hard worker.
Sunday: A.M. Choir Girl/Boy, P.M. Linebacker, Prequel to Monday

So, as you can see, Friday really is the favored day for roughly 9.87 out of every 10 people in the United States (statistic completely pulled out of nowhere with no scientific proof whatsoever to back up my claim). Come back some other time when I talk about other nonsense and some writing related stuff as well.

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

This may or may not be a short blog tonight. It has been a long day and I am tired. I also cannot guarantee the quality of this piece. Again: long day and tired. Continue on at your own risk.

I love going to festivals and conventions. Usually we go to check out what is being sold or to see what all is going on. Sometimes you can see some neat stuff and meet some cool people. Today my wife, Cate, and I set up a booth at the Cayce Festival of the Arts. There were fifty booths in all with people selling everything from wooden toys to glass etchings to jewelry to paintings to pottery and so many other things, including three or four booths where people were selling books.

Ahhhh…kindred souls.

Before I really get into this, I must say if not for Cate this thing would not have gone nearly as well or been half as fun for me. She had her checklist of things we needed to do and have in order for this to go as smoothly as possible. And she worked her magic on the set up of the booth. To be completely honest, without her I would not have went. She thought this would be a good way to get my name more out there in the community.

After today’s experience, I believe she was right.

The morning started with a light rain. Yes. Rain. We were worried. Though the event was a rain or shine deal, water and paper don’t tend to mix all that well. There had been a big storm the night before, so we were expecting the ground to be a little wet, but not for it to still be raining.

A good thing happened, though. The rain didn’t last long.

We got our tent set up, but not the way we had originally planned. Again, rain and paper are not fond of one another.

**Blink. Blink.**

Ummm…guess what? I was so tired last night that I crawled in bed and didn’t finish this blog. So, let me try and finish this today.

So we got the tables set up. I think that’s where I left off. Yeah, that’s it. Nice blue tent and tablecloths, the books where they need to be, The Brown Bag Stories in the coffin… The coffin? I didn’t mention that, did I? My brother-in-law, Chris, made us a coffin bookshelf as a display. It is totally cool and rough looking. We set it up near the front of the tent. It definitely attracted a few raised eyebrows and brought people over to our booth. It even startled a few folks, one woman in particular whose son pointed it out to her after she had walked by it. He laughed. The man she was with laughed. I laughed, as did the person at the booth with me.

But I’m a little ahead of myself here.

The rain stopped and the festival began, and right off the bat, we sold a copy of Cory’s Way. The couple that bought it was super nice and it felt really good signing the book and handing it to them. Then nothing for a while. It was early and wet, so people just weren’t coming out at first. But once the rain was gone and the clouds started to move on, folks arrived, and business picked up.

I met some really nice people and had some really great conversations. One woman asked me, ‘Tell me about you.’ She didn’t want to know about my books. She wanted to know about me, the person. I told her. It was a much different conversation than I expected. I met one person on the committee who immediately related to Cory’s Way because of the bullying aspect of the story. We talked for a few minutes about how he had been bullied growing up. He is a good guy and I hate that he was bullied growing up.

I met a couple of other authors, one with whom I traded books with. Her name was Jan Hull and she wrote the book Ceres Exley. We talked for a few minutes several times throughout the day. Very nice woman.

I also met Jack Gannon from J & C Wordsmiths. He listened to me talk to a woman purchasing a book, and then he introduced himself. He said some nice things about my presentation. He had a warm feel about him—a truly nice, genuine feel about him. We talked and he said something that gave me more confidence as the day went on. He said, ‘You’re doing it right. You’re telling them what they want to know and you have a great display in that coffin.’ Unfortunately our talk was cut short, but it was still a very nice and pleasant conversation.

We met another woman, a free spirited woman, who told us of other conventions and other things we could do to put out my work. She’s a poet and, like so many of us other small writers, she tries to help out in whatever way she can. She was a lot of fun to talk with.

There were others through the course of the day, coming and going. Some people bought books, a lot of people took The Brown Bag Stories, and why wouldn’t they—they were free.

By the end of the day we were tired, but had managed to do pretty good for our first ever festival/convention. We were about to tear down and pack up when someone walked up to the booth and asked if I were there. I was, but I was also about thirty feet away, throwing out some trash. I turned around to see this woman at the back of the tent and walking toward me. I recognized her immediately. Her name is Mary and she lives in Easley, South Carolina. She was with her fiancé, a very nice guy by the name of Brad. She had found one of my Brown Bag Stories a while back in a Starbucks. She contacted me and from there we chatted a little and I sent her more of the booklets.

Seeing her at the festival was a nice cherry on top to a good day. She made me feel really good about my work. Some of the things she said about the stories she had read lifted my spirits. Of course, her turning to her fiancé and saying, ‘he doesn’t look like a psychopath,’ made us all burst into laughter. No, I do not look like a psychopath. But really, what does a psychopath look like these days? We spent almost an hour talking with Mary and Brad and we even took a few pictures. It was a great end to a wonderful day.

The festival organizers were also terrific. Everyone was nice and helpful and constantly walking around checking on the vendors, offering us water and to sit at our booth if we needed to get some food or go to the bathroom. This may have been their first time doing this, but they did a great job of making the vendors feel welcome and wanted. Aubrey, Pamme, Clift and all the organizers and volunteers made the event so worthwhile and enjoyable. I didn’t get to tell them thank you before we left, but if they read this, I hope they know how much all the work they put into the festival was appreciated and not just by Cate and myself, but other vendors as well.

We eventually packed up and made our way home. I unloaded the car, and just like that, the event was over. We learned a few things about what we should do next time and figured out a few things that we did right.

But that’s not the point to this blog.

What is, you ask?

Did you notice the underlying theme throughout? People were nice. They were willing to listen to me talk about my work and myself and they weren’t rude. They asked questions and seemed to be truly interested in the answers. They were nice. I can’t stress that enough. They were nice. Of all the things that happened yesterday, it is the people who came up and talked and who were just genuinely nice folks that I will take away as one of the best experiences.

The Cayce Festival of the Arts, in my opinion, was a success. I don’t know how other vendors did, and I don’t know what festival committees consider a success, but in my opinion, when vendors leave with a good feeling and when they feel like they truly were wanted there, then, to me, that is success.

Because of this experience, I want to do this again. I want to go to other festivals and conventions and have this type of interaction with people. Do I think they all will be this well done? No. But I do know that the standard has been set for me, and it happened right in my home town.

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

Coffin and Brown Bags Corys Way Table Southern Bones Table

It seems writers are more and more vulnerable now than ever before. With most things being done through e-mail and online these days, and with so many smaller presses popping up around the world, it’s hard to tell which ones are there for the writers and which ones are there for themselves.

Let’s not kid ourselves for even a minute here: businesses are designed to make money. If they’re not making money, then they are losing money, and if they’re losing money, they won’t be around for long. The publishing business is just that: a business. And publishing companies, large and small, want to turn a profit like any other business out there.

Things are a little different with publishers. They have two sets of clientele. The first set of clientele is the readers, the people who will purchase the books from the publisher. Without the readers spending their money, books don’t move and when books don’t move, the publisher takes a loss. The other set of clientele? The writer. As important as the reader is, without the writers there is nothing for the publisher to sell. The writer is vital to the publisher. Without them, publishers close shop, go home, do not pass go and do not collect two hundred dollars.

So, why is it that so many publishers don’t do right by their authors? I’m not going to get into all of the Permuted stuff today. That’s a dog that’s snapped its chain and bit the mailman quite a few times over the last couple of years. But what I am going to get into is a blog post by Angela Meadon. You can find the blog post here: I encourage you to go check it out, before or after you read the following interview with Mrs. Meadon.

Here’s the set-up for you: Mrs. Meadon’s book A Taste of You was published in December of 2012 by Damnation Books (DB going forward). At the tail end of 2013 she receives a royalty check from DB (instead of having the money deposited into her PayPal account, per the contract). She receives three more checks at one time. The problem? For her to cash the checks it would cost her money. A back and forth takes place between DB and Meadon and to make a long story short, she hasn’t received some of the royalties due her. If you want all the information, please read her blog, as linked above.

If you need to go ahead and read Meadon’s blog, do so now. We can wait.

Let’s get started.

AJ: At the beginning of your blog post, Go To Hell: My Experience with Damnation Books, you state “I want to break this down for you though, so that you can see how an author can do all the right things and still make bad decisions that end up hurting her in the long run.”

During this experience, where do you feel you made bad decisions that ended up hurting you?

AM: My biggest mistake was signing with Damnation Books in the first place, but I’ll go into that in detail in response to your next question.

I’d say another way I went wrong was in not sending those checks back to Damnation immediately. I didn’t trust DB to pay my royalties correctly after I received those checks. So I hung onto them for too long in the hopes that they would serve as a backup plan. I was wrong. They are worthless scraps of paper to me. I couldn’t deposit them because of the fees to do so. I should have sent them back.

My other big mistake, I think, was not seeking legal counsel for this matter. I felt like the case was fairly obvious, that DB was clearly in breach of contract, and that Kim Richards would do the right thing. I was wrong. But, legal advice costs money and how much are you prepared to spend to recover $50?

AJ: I asked that question first because, upon doing a bit of research, it appears DB doesn’t necessarily have the cleanest resume out there. It appears they have a bit of history with not treating their authors well. They had a spotty history up to that point and you considered that history before making your decision to go with them. At any point before signing the contract did the thought come up that maybe you shouldn’t go forward with them?

AM: Absolutely.

I saw a call for submissions from their “Submissions Editor” on Linked in and knew that A Taste of You fit the bill, I read up on them in all the usual places; Absolute Write, Preditors & Editors, Writer Beware. It seemed to me, at the time, that DB’s biggest problem was enforcing kill fees in their contracts and releasing books with bad covers.

However, from the responses that DB had given in these forums, it seemed like they had gotten their house in order. The complaints were more than 3 years old, and there was nothing recent that was cause for worry (that I could find). I decided that I would submit and see what happened. I wouldn’t be committed until I signed the contract, and if I wasn’t happy with the contract I wouldn’t sign. Simple, right?

The contract I have with DB is a solid, fair contract. I didn’t see any problems with it when I signed it, and I still don’t.

AJ: Let’s switch gears for just a second. DB stated they would market A Taste of You, but I’m guessing by what you wrote in your blog that they’ve done very little, if any, marketing. In your opinion, have they done any marketing for your book?

AM: They have listed it in a bunch of online book stores, and have sold a few copies at conventions they attend.

There was a poster at some point, which I think they used at a con, that had a whole lot of books by their lady authors on it.

I am not aware of any reviews they secured, or any other marketing they may have done.

AJ: The full basis of the argument between you and DB revolves around the royalty payment and how some of the payments were delivered. Instead of going into your PayPal account, according to contract, you were sent a check. I know you had a lot going on at the time and you didn’t think about it, but then you received three more royalty checks. Did this throw up a red flag for you? Or was it after you realized it would cost you about ten dollars a check to cash that you became concerned?

AM: I was concerned as soon as I received that first check, but I figured it would make a cute memento of my first ever published book.

Then there was radio silence for a long time, and I finally received all the checks in one go in the middle of 2014. I must point out that DB was never the best with timely royalty payments or statements. It would cost me $10 per check to cash them here. My bank can’t cash them all together. Cashing or depositing them would eat 80% of the value of the royalties.

Furthermore, I was concerned that cashing them would be tacit consent of receiving royalties by check. That was something I definitely did not want.

AJ: DB asked you to send the checks back and they would put the money in your PayPal account. Why did you hold the checks at first?

AM: As I mentioned in Q1, I mistakenly thought that having the checks might be a backup for me, in case Kim didn’t pay the royalties she owes me. I didn’t realize that Kim would withhold the royalties while she waited for the checks until she explicitly said so on the 12th of August. By that time our postal service was on strike.

AJ: Throughout the process DB asked you to send the checks back. You held onto them. Some folks might look at that as you being difficult, as if you held the checks ransom. Others, including yourself, would say you held onto them for leverage to make sure you received payment.

Eventually, you did send them back (around January 7th). Two questions here: Do you believe DB received those checks and are just denying it to keep from paying you what they owe you? Do you wish you had kept the paper checks, even though they were pretty much useless to you?

AM: I can’t speculate about what Kim is doing. I wouldn’t be surprised if she has received them, but I don’t know.

Actually, I wish I’d sent them back right at the beginning. All things being equal, that’s where I made my biggest mistake in this matter.

AJ: Do you think if you would have sent those checks back when DB first said to, would things have been any different? If so or if not, why?

AM: Again, I don’t like to speculate. In my heart-of-hearts I’d like to believe that Kim would have paid the checks to me, but my brain tells me she wouldn’t have.

She said she would pay the royalties all to me at the end of June. She didn’t. It took her until the end of October to pay royalties that were due in June, and September

I can’t believe that Kim is withholding these royalties simply for the paper checks. That doesn’t make sense when you consider that she could have cancelled them (I understand this would have cost her money, but she made the mistake and the onus is on her to rectify it) and I offered to void them and send her photographic proof.

AJ: At what point did you consider DB to be in breach of your contract?

AM: The minute she sent me royalties in check form without my mutual agreement in writing, which is the requirement in our contract.

AJ: In light of the issues a few years ago where authors were told they would have to pay a termination fee of up to a thousand dollars, did you consider trying to get out of your contract or were the possibility of termination fees in the back of your mind?

AM: That termination fee is in the front of my mind. I would rather wait out my contract than try and buy my way out of it.

AJ: You were accused of cyber bullying by DB. That’s a pretty heavy accusation. Do you think this was actually reversed, that DB was doing the cyber bullying?

AM: I don’t think that anybody was doing any cyber-bullying. I think that’s a buzz-word that DB threw in to the conversation to try and scare me into silence.

Since I released our email conversation, however, I know of at least one person who has emailed Kim to insult her and that makes me very unhappy. That was not my intention. I know I left her email address in the emails, but that address is publicly available on their website.

AJ: You brought this out into public with your blog. What do you hope to accomplish by doing this?

AM: I want people to see how DB flaunts contracts. The contract between an author and her publisher is the only thing regulating the relationship when all other avenues break down. If either party is unwilling to honor the contract, all kinds of abuse can take place.

DB has a long and sordid history of this kind of abuse. I want it to stop. I want other aspiring authors like myself to see how their excitement for their first sale can cloud their judgment. I want authors to know what they are getting into if they sign with DB, or any other publisher with a similar track record.

AJ: Are you concerned that by bringing this situation out into the public domain like this that you could be labeled as a difficult author to deal with?

AM: Of course I am, and I would absolutely hate for that to happen. I have learned from my mistakes here. I know what I’ve done wrong.

I think the fact that there are many other authors with similar stories about DB may stand in my favor though. DB doesn’t respond to politeness, or legally worded letters, or anything really.

AJ: We’ve seen this type of question before, but in light of your experience with DB, what advice would you give other authors when pursuing a publisher for their work?

AM: Besides the obvious (Google them and look at what Absolute Write, Preditor & Editors, and Writer Beware have to say), I’d say trust your instincts and don’t sign with somebody you don’t like and trust. Don’t let excitement cloud your judgment. I knew DB was a little off right from the start, but I was so thrilled at being offered publication that I rationalized my way into a deep hole of disappointment.

Don’t do that. If one agent/publisher is interested in your book, another one will be.

AJ: After this experience, would you consider working with other small presses again, and if so, how would you go about selecting one to publish with?

AM: I would, of course, if they would consider working with me.

I would follow my own advice: Research, and relationships, and a solid contract.

AJ: Is there anything else you would like to add?

AM: I’d like to thank everybody who has shown me support in this matter; your kind words have helped me keep my head up through it all.

Thank you Jeff, for this opportunity.

If anybody has any questions, you know where to find me.

Publishers and writers should be in this business for the same reasons: to give the readers a good product. Yes, we want to make money, but taking advantage of writers isn’t the way to go about it. Sadly, there are quite a few publishers who act like the writers need them, when in truth, they need us just as much as we need them. It’s a relationship built on trust and when that trust is gone, such as the situation Angela Meadon is dealing with, well, it’s difficult to gain it back.

As writers we have to remember that not all publishing companies do business this way. We just have to find the ones that do it the right way. Also, as writers, sometimes we make mistakes in this process as well. We have to recognize our mistakes, as Angela has done and as DB should, and move forward from there. As I said earlier, this business is all about relationships, as are most businesses. How we do business is how we will be known.

As always, until me meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…