Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

SC Strong…

Posted: October 14, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
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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…

Remembering…

Posted: September 10, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized

9/11

NEVER FORGET

The World Trade Center south tower (L) bursts into flames after being struck by hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 as the north tower burns following an earlier attack by a hijacked airliner in New York City in this September 11, 2001 file photo. REUTERS/Sean Adair/Files (UNITED STATES DISASTER POLITICS)

 

9-11remember(1)

In this comic strip image released by King Features Syndicate, a scene commemorating Sept. 11, is shown in the Pajama Diaries comic strip. With the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks falling on a Sunday, more than 90 cartoonists with five different syndicates have banded together to dedicate their strips on Sept. 11 to those whose lives were lost in the attacks. (AP Photo/King Features Syndicate)

Sometimes pictures speak louder than words…

Plotting Kills My Creativity

Posted: September 2, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

I’m not a plotter.  There.  I said it.

I know there are a lot of writers out there who will say I should plot my work, that I should outline my stories or even think some of them out.  I do think a lot of my stories out, but I don’t believe in plotting.

Wait.  Wait!  Put down those torches and pitchforks.  No need to burn me at the stake.  Yeah, it’s dark outside, but lynching is not the way to go here.

Let me explain.  I’ve always thought that plotting out stories restricts the actual storytelling.  I kills the creative process.  I’m not entirely sure some of the greatest writers in the history of literature plotted out there stories.  I’m almost certain many of them didn’t sit at their wooden tables, an oil lamp on just a few inches from their parchment and plume.

‘Hmmm…maybe I should put her in this situation.  Oh, but wait.  What if I do this to her?  Ohhh, yeah, this would be awesome.  I think, maybe, if she did this, then he would do that, and they would do this…oh yeah.  Brilliant stuff.  And we can end it like this.  Amazing.’

Seriously, folks, do we really think Twain and Poe and Hemingway outlined everything they wrote?  What about Dickens?  Sure, they may have jotted down some things they didn’t want to forget, but to completely outline the story?  I don’t believe it.

I’m a fan of flying by my seat.  Not literally.  I don’t have buttwings so stop looking.  Most of my stories come from seeing something or hearing something and the immediate image or thought that comes to mind is generally what I start writing.  I like to get in the car and ride along with the characters.  Sometimes we will poke along, while other times we speed at a breakneck pace that threatens to cave the windshield in and cause us to wreck and splinter our bodies along the roadside.  For me, being in the car with those characters is where the thrill is.  I don’t know what’s going to happen, and they do.  And that’s what makes it exciting.

I won’t sit here and lie and say I don’t actually jot down notes, especially if I am somewhere that I can’t actually write.  But outlining kills the story for me.  Why is that?  Why does outlining kill the story?  Well, the answer is simple:  when I complete an outline I already know the entire story, and therefore, I no longer have the desire to write it.  I know what’s going to happen, so there is no thrill.  I can no longer go along for the ride.  I can no longer watch as the story plays out, the characters doing their thing and me writing it down like an ancient scribe.

It’s a total bummer.

For me, it is always about the story.  It’s always about the entertainment I get out of writing the stories.  It’s also about the entertainment I hope you get when reading the stories I write.  If I lose interest in the story, how do I expect you to keep interest in it?  So, you see, plotting is a bad thing for me.

I do believe in situations.  You want to put your characters in situations where they either get out of it alive or they don’t, and if they do get out of it, they either change for the better or for the worse.  Situations.  Not plot.

Stephen King said in his introduction to Salem’s Lot, that storytelling is as natural as breathing and that plotting is the literary equivalent to artificial respiration (not an exact quote, mind you), and I believe he is correct.  Storytelling should feel natural.  Not stifled.  Not rushed.  Not necessarily grammatically correct, either.  Storytelling should be as natural as having a conversation with someone you are close to.  Plotting doesn’t have that natural feel.

So, I don’t plot.  I don’t enjoy it.  I lose interest in stories when I do plot them out.  And to prove it, I can look in my notebooks and see hundreds of ideas for stories.  Many of the idea stories were written.  But then I can see twenty-five pages of plotting—from beginning to end with the guts all there in the middle—and none of those stories have ever been written.

I don’t fault those who plot.  If it works for you, then do it.  It just doesn’t work for me.  So, if you want to come along with me, take a ride with me and my characters, then just know I’m going for that ride as well.  And maybe we can all enjoy it as the stories unfold.

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

This Is…Lisa Vasquez

Posted: August 16, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized

Recently, Lisa Vasquez’s novel, The Unsaintly Chronicles, The Anti-God came out.  I had followed the pre-release buzz around it and thought I might just have to give it a read.  I caught up with Lisa shortly after the release. We sat down for a little chat that Sunday afternoon.  Folks, this is Lisa Vasquez.

AJ:  You’ve been on vacation the last week or so? How was it?

LV:   My vacation was amazing. I needed to decompress after the previous month’s events.

Unsaintly ImageAJ:  Good to hear you had a great vacation. If I’m correct, the day you left for vacation was the day The Anti-God came out.  Is that correct?

LV:  It was the day before. Right up to the very minute.  Seems like I’m always burning the candle at both ends.

AJ:  Sometimes publishing can be like that, right down to the last minute with all the fine details that need to get worked out.

Can you tell me about the book?

LV:  Sure! The book is about the journey of Isabel. She’s pretty oblivious to the fact that there’s this plane where God and his “family” of angels (Lucifer, included, of course) walk alongside the humans. So God and Lucifer are talking, enjoying the weather…a game of chess and discussing things. Isabel is pretty Renaissance for the times. She has decided that she doesn’t want to marry and that her duty will be to serve God and her people. She convinces the Pope to grant her permission to pursue this path and not marry her intended. This obviously puts her in God’s favor. Lucifer gets pissed (again) and decides to wage war and corrupt Isabel. With these two distracted, the audience is introduced to a new nemesis, Heresy.  And she’s the “Void” that has been there since the beginning of time.

The book is a true tug at someone’s faith…I mean we always ask ourselves…am I doing the right thing? What happens if this isn’t the right path? What if the other religion is right and we’re wrong?

AJ:  Interesting concept. What type of research did you do for this story?

LV:  Well when I started, I was already on a journey to finding my peace. What I mean is, I was born Catholic, I went to a Baptist Church.  I then shifted around a bit to a Lutheran church and I never felt “at home”. I didn’t feel the “rapture” and I didn’t feel my soul was at rest. So my research was honestly me sitting down and studying religion. Then as I got through part of it, my father died and then my grandmother, who was my best friend, followed by my step-father, who I was also very close to. I was angry. I was closed off. And then I met a woman, whose name I credited at the end of the book, and she was a former nun. How cool is that?? And she told me all kinds of things about her time on that path.

AJ:  I’m going to ask this because I think you bring up a good point here. I believe everyone asks themselves (at one point or other) if they are on that right path or if they are going to Heaven or Hell (even those who I believe would deny such thoughts). I know I have wondered this before–plenty of times. Was there any time before, during or after, writing The Anti-God that you thought this?

LV:  Always. But to be frank…

AJ:  I would prefer you being Lisa, but if you want to be Frank, go right ahead. I hear he’s a good guy. (and the drummer goes, bah dum dum dum).

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

LV:  Ha! There was a Lisa Frank! She was the sticker lady…Wait, scratch that! That’ll give away my age!

AJ:  Too late. I’m so researching that!  You were saying?

LV:  I don’t believe in God or Heaven or Evil in the same way as I did. I think I relate more to a spiritual path…maybe even a Taoist …but not the poly-deity worshipping kind. I know…It’s confusing.

AJ:  Do you consider The Unsaintly Chronicles, The Anti-God, a journey into the spiritual world?

LV:  I consider The Unsaintly a Dark Fantasy, based on a real life person’s (Isabel) spiritual journey.

With a twist of horror.  I’m making my own genre.  Dark Horror Fantasy

AJ:  That’s a great description.  Dark Horror Fantasy? That sounds like a great genre mashup.

LV:  I think so too!

AJ:  This isn’t your first foray into the publishing world, right?

LV:  No, I actually published just the prologue to this story before because I felt it was so different from the rest of the story that maybe folks would “get me” if I took them in baby steps on the journey. Turns out, it wasn’t that bad! I did very well. But then when I took a look at the finished product… I kind worked it out that I could put it back in. I experimented. So now anyone that has the first The Unsaintly book, has a collector’s item because I am no longer selling it that way. I also did a short story that was published. I have had several poems published (years back) and I’m working with Burning Willow Press, helping them out.

AJ:  If I’m correct, one of your stories appears alongside one of mine in the anthology The Gathering Hoarde.

LV:  You’re correct! Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down.

AJ:  Tell me about Burning Willow Press and what you do with them.

LV:  Ah, yes. Burning Willow is a publisher that is very much about its authors. They have a lot of say in the end result of their stories. So in essence, they’re selling themselves, and have the power to do so, rather than the publisher creating who they are. We are very close knit. My position with them is Cover Designer Head uh..Person or some such. Haha! I dunno my official title, I just know I fix, create, and help design the covers. I also did their logo.

AJ:  I’ve seen your work.  It’s well done.

LV:  Thank you! I think practice makes perfect and I’m learning a lot as I go.

AJ:  Speaking of your designs, am I correct in saying you have (or will have) your own design business?

LV:  I do have my own. Darque Halo Designs. I’ve been doing graphics for a pretty long time, but book covers are a new thing. Started with my own and people really liked my style, so I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work on other covers from amazing authors.

AJ:  Did you do the work on Unsaintly?

LV:  I did. For both of them, yes.

AJ:  If those are examples of your work, then they are great examples for the public to see.

LV:  Thank you! I appreciate that, very much.

AJ:  How did you end up working with BWP?

LV:  I ended up working for Burning Willow when I did Kindra Sowder’s cover for her Executioner Series, Follow the Ashes (book 1).

I think they had seen some of my other work and really wanted me on the project.  Then it seemed a natural progression to work for their company

AJ:  It’s always interesting how people meet one another and then help one another and that leads to working together.

Along with your writing and design work for BWP, you are also Editor-in-Chief of Inked Muse Press Magazine.

LV:  Yes that’s correct. I wanted a magazine that didn’t follow the imprint of other horror magazines. I wanted a magazine that addressed horror but also focused on the writing.

AJ:  With that in mind, is IMPM taking submissions from writers?

LV:  Always. I want big house authors and small press authors alike.

AJ:  What types of work does IMPM accept?

LV:  We take short stories, editorials, interviews, reviews, just about anything related to the horror genre

AJ:  Do you have a link to the website, so if writers would like to look into IMPM they could find it?

LV:  http://www.inkedmuse.com/

Anyone that wants to submit something for consideration is welcome to. Right now the magazine is quarterly but if the demand calls for it, we may change the frequency.

AJ:  Sounds good to me. Thank you for that information.

LV:  Sure!

AJ:  I want to change gears for just a second and ask a couple of short questions.  Why horror, as opposed to other genres?

LV:  I love the thrill of horror. I believe that without embracing darkness we cannot embrace the light. I was raised on horror, my father and my step father were very big fans and I learned to appreciate the genre from them. Also, growing up, I had friends that had the same interest. One of whom is still my best friend and partner to this day, Paul McVay.

AJ:  This is awesome: I believe that without embracing darkness we cannot embrace the light.

Favorite horror author?

LV:  Ohhh that’s hard. I change with my moods.  I’m such a Libra. I mean there’s the standard, Stephen King. But I love Thomas Harris, Joe McKinney, Jonathan Maberry, Mark Tufo.  OK, I can’t decide.

AJ:  Fair enough. How about your favorite horror movie?

LV: The Exorcist, Silence of the Lambs, and Dawn of the Dead (the newer version)

AJ:  Nice. Great choices.

Okay, just a couple of more questions and I’ll let you go rest up from your vacation.

You said you’re creating your own genre: Dark Horror Fantasy. Ideally, what type of story would that encompass?

LV:  First, I want horror to be epic. A mix of real experiences and things that “could” happen. But I love epic stories, real fables.  I’m part Greek so I embrace that whole theatrical, tragedy, Clash of the Titans type of story. Things that make your imagination stretch. Things that you never WANT to see if they exist. I have entire worlds inside my head. I love developing them and the people. And that’s part of the inspiration for The Unsaintly. I mean what’s scarier than Revelations?

AJ:  Nothing is scarier than Revelations if you are a spiritual person (other than Hell).

LV:  I’d probably bang on Hell’s door if I saw a dragon and riders in the sky

AJ:  How can readers get ahold of Lisa Vasquez?

LV:  I’m pretty accessible through my website: www.unsaintly.com, on twitter @unsaintly, on Facebook.com/unsaintlyhalo and just about everything else.

AJ:  Where can readers find your work?

LV:  My books are on Kindle and Amazon. I believe online I have global distribution. And if they want signed copies, they can order them off my website.  Also, they can find me through the Horror Writers Association. They’ve been a huge help to me as well. So I’ve been giving back time to them and the genre

AJ:  You brought up the HWA.  I have been reluctant to join the HWA. What made you join them and, if you don’t mind, tell me about your experience with the HWA?

LV:  HWA went through a rough year. They lost an integral part of their organization with the passing of their president. Lisa Morton stepped up to the plate along with the other officers. I came to the HWA because I read that you should join writers groups for support and to learn about your trade. Joe McKinney is part of the HWA, Jonathan Maberry is also a part of the HWA. People forget that it is entirely volunteer, so they criticize the sometimes lengthy wait in replies, etc… Hey these guys work hard, they work full time jobs, and they are writers too.  They have to balance all of that and then keep answering the questions of all of us fledgling, aspiring writers. They offer free help. They offer mentorships, they help with contract questions and back up authors being taken advantage of. I’d say it’s a pretty good deal.

AJ:  Thank you for that information. I knew Rocky Woods had passed away after a brave fight with ALS and I knew he had been working hard with HWA for a while.  And I saw where Lisa Morton had stepped in.

I’m a reader. Convince me to buy your work

LV:  Convince you? I think you or anyone who wants something different should buy my books. If you want to be drawn into the world, if you want to think and have your ideas tested. I’m all about pushing the line and experimenting.  People who give my books a read usually end up loving what they read.

AJ:  I love that type of confidence. You have me convinced.

One more thing. As a writer, what do you wish to accomplish with your work?

LV:  I’d love it if people read my books, as simple as that sounds. And I’d like to bridge the gap of men vs. women in this genre. I don’t want to write romance, so please read, share, and review! My readers are everything to me. I love hearing their thoughts. I love the fact that a few people have said they have had crazy dreams after reading my work. Most of all, I would love to keep hearing “I can’t wait for your next book”.

AJ:  I am the same way with wanting folks to read and enjoy and want my work.

LV:  If you’re in it for the money, you’re not in it at all.

AJ:  Is there anything else you would like to say, Lisa?

LV:  If you’re interested in finding out what was really in the beginning, or what happens when you cannot enter Heaven or Hell, then check out The Unsaintly Chronicles: The Anti-God, the first book of a series.

I can almost assure you, that if you love stories about angels, demons, and other frightening creatures, without the same ole stories told a different way, you’ll love this book.

AJ:  Lisa Vasquez, thank you for hanging out with me for a little while. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have.

LV:  Thank you very much for taking the time to have me!

Dog Pile on the Rabbit

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


 
There’s an old cartoon starring Bugs Bunny called, ‘A Hare Grows in Manhattan.’  If you’ve never seen a Bugs Bunny cartoon, then you are probably significantly younger than me or were very sheltered as a child.  I am going to lean toward younger than me.  Either way, you need to look him up.

In this particular cartoon, Bugs tells a story of his younger days and how he got cornered by a bunch of dogs.  Early in the cartoon the dogs decide they want to bully Bugs.  They play a game called ‘Dog Pile on the Rabbit.’  The activity is just as it sounds: the dogs pile on the rabbit in an attempt to hurt him.

Can you see that?  Can you see Bugs in his nice little blue blazer (he had a hat, as well) being pounded on by one, two, three, four, five, six, seven dogs, all of them wearing heavy sweaters and derbies? All of them on top of him, trying to crush him under their weight?

Do you have that image?  It’s kind of mean, isn’t it?  It’s the typical bully mentality: see someone you believe is weaker than you and push them around.  If that’s not bad enough, have all your buddies push them around, as well.

Dog.  Pile.  On.  The.  Rabbit.

This morning I was perusing Facebook just before heading to work.  I came across a post in a group I was a member of.  I use the word WAS on purpose here.  This group was a book review group.  As a writer, these are the types of groups I like.  At some point last night someone took exception to another person asking them to review the individual’s book.  From what I gather, based on the person’s post, the person downloaded the samples of two books and…

…went off on the requesting individual.  When I say ‘went off’ I’m talking ballistic here.  The individual asked for an honest review of his self-published book.  Apparently, the reviewer decided to give an honest review, but also post it to Facebook because…because…honestly, I don’t know why.  Maybe the reviewer was a little pissed off because of the quality of the writing.  Fine.  If you’re mad about that, then tell the requestor, don’t tell the rest of the world.

I’m not going to mention the reviewer’s name, but here are a few little tidbits from the post in the group on Facebook.  Are you ready for this?  Here goes:

You reek of amateurism.  (That’s not too bad, right?  There’s a chance the reviewer is right.)

You’re a deluded narcissist… (Not very nice.  Name calling.)

Either way, you will never get read by anyone who matters.  (EVERY reader MATTERS.  Every single one of them.)

You’re an embarrassment who deserves to fail.  (WTH?  Really?  Deserves to fail?)

Okay, I have to stop here.  A lot of the comments made in this post bothered me, but this one lingered on my mind long after I read this.  No one deserves to fail.  No one.  I don’t care how bad the book (oh, wait, I mean, the sample of the book) was, but to say someone deserves to fail is totally wrong.  The person did something many others didn’t do: he tried.

Let me throw out a thought:  What if this person, the requestor who wrote the book that reeks of amateurism, is a special needs person?  What if this is the best he could do, based on being a special needs person?  What if this is someone who always wanted to try to write, but never did because he thought people would laugh at him.  Or worse yet, bash him?  What if this is a person who lacked the confidence to try anything like this?  And what if this person worried and struggled to even ask anyone to read it?  We don’t know these things, but what if?  Just throwing it out there.

How dare you think you’re good enough?  What dues have you paid?  What makes you think for one minute you deserve to be called a writer…?  (Ummm…Stephanie Meyers anyone?  My point?  She’s not the greatest writer, but millions have bought her books and millions have watched her movies.  Why?  Because she connected with the readers.  No, she’s not that great at it, but she succeeded where most of us want to, and the fact that she didn’t give up is what made her a writer, at least for a while.  Was she good enough?  What dues did she pay?  Does it matter to the millions who love Twilight?  I doubt it.)

There was a lot more, but most of it was general mouth running, though I still think it was aimed at the individual.

Here’s the problem with this whole post: this is NOT how you review someone’s book.  If you think someone wasted your time, fine.  If you think someone can’t write, fine.  If you think that the book should be burned in a ceremony in a temple, fine.  But—BUT!—you don’t attack the individual.  The moment you attack the individual you have lost all credibility.  You have become a bully.

There are tactful ways to leave negative reviews, be it privately or publicly.  This…this is not the way to do it.  Zero encouragement.  Zero positivity.  Don’t say that sometimes you can’t say something good about something or someone.  That’s a lie.  If you can’t, then you don’t want to.

This was mean-spirited.  This was hurtful, and I feel bad for the person it was directed at.  It’s public shaming, even if the reviewer didn’t post the requestor’s name or title of the book.  I’m certain that individual saw it.  I wonder how crushed he may have felt after reading it.

But wait.  Remember the first few paragraphs about Bugs Bunny?  Did you see the title of this piece?  That’s right.  Dog Pile on the Rabbit.

The public humiliation was one thing, but the comments that followed were worse.  People piled it on, echoing the reviewer’s thoughts and words (even though they didn’t know who the writer was or read his book).  That individual who wrote a book or two was the rabbit and the reviewer was Butch, the leader of the dog gang, and all those that got in line and jumped on top were the other dogs piling it on.  Just piling it on.

Now, before you think I’m a sensitive, whiny individual, I’m not.  I’ve never read anything by the reviewer (who may or may not be a writer, as well.  I don’t know).  But, I do know he’s not Stephen King.  He’s not James Patterson.  He’s not Dean Koontz.  He’s not Clive Barker.  He’s not J.K. Rowling.  He’s not Dan Simmons.  He’s not even Stephanie Meyer.

I also know that he was wrong.  Period.  He was wrong.  I don’t care who you are, your efforts should never be bashed by anyone.  Yes, the person asked for an honest review, and yes, this is about as honest as one can get in expressing how bad the reviewer thought the book was.  But this was the wrong way to do it.

Maybe I wouldn’t have taken exception to it, if it hadn’t been made public for anyone in that group to read.  I wouldn’t have known about it, so I’m certain I wouldn’t be writing this now.  Maybe, if he had just kept it between himself and the writer…No.  Who am I kidding?  It’s still wrong.  There is this thing called tact.  I have, on more than a lot of occasions, been told I lack it.  However, I’ve never bashed anyone like this reviewer did to this individual.

But really, this isn’t just about the ranting review.  It’s about the public pile on.  Why do we, as people, do this?  Why don’t we stop and think, ‘hey, that could be me?’  Why don’t we, instead of bashing and jumping on the bandwagon, try and put ourselves in others’ shoes.  Maybe then we wouldn’t be so quick to pile on, to jump right into the fray, to judge.

I do have one question about this.  Would the reviewer, if standing face to face with the writer, still say the things he said?  Would he be a little more cautious?  Would he suddenly change his tune because, guess what, the person is right there in front of him?  I don’t know, but I can take a guess.

Let me tell you a little story.  Back when I first started writing, an editor sent me an e-mail asking me about a story I had written that had appeared on a website.  I sent him the story, excited that someone wanted my work.  Not long after, I received an e-mail back from him.  In that e-mail he ranted and blasted me, personally, and my writing—much like the reviewer did to the requestor.  I was told I should never write anything ever again.

That was very early in my writing ‘career.’  It could have been damaging.  At first, I was hurt and angry and I wanted to just wring the editor’s neck.  If he had been standing in front of me when he said those things, well, I just may have done that.  Instead, I chose to prove him wrong.  But most people aren’t going to do that.  Most people who get smacked like that give up.  That’s never a good thing.

So, people, before you pile on the rabbit, put yourself in the other person’s shoes.  Not just in the writing world, but in life.  Just remember, we don’t know what someone else is going through, or even anything about them.  This may be the best a person can do, based on circumstances.  You just never know.

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

 

Those Lying Writers

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

Writers.  We’re the biggest liars in the world.

Let me clarify this.  There are liars and then there are LIARS.  Then there are fibbers and half-truthers.

I would love to explain, but honestly, I can’t.  Okay, I’m lying.  I can.

I’m sure you’ve heard reference to this at some point, that writers are liars and all that jazz.  Many people have said it.  Stephen King did.  As did Neil Gaiman. As a matter of fact, Neil Gaiman wrote these words in Sandman, Vol. 3:

“Writers are liars, my dear, surely you know that by now?”

Yes, you probably know that by now, but let’s get moving.  I’m going to try to keep this short.

I’ve stated before that there is no such thing as real content any longer.  We’ve either seen, heard, done, tasted, said everything there is to see, hear, do, taste, and say.  Now, it’s all about seeing, hearing, doing, tasting, and saying things differently.  That’s where all of the originality is.  With the internet (and its many lies, but that is for a different time) we can go almost anywhere and see almost anything and never leave the confines of our home, so the things we can see, hear, do, taste and say are limitless.

Writers (and really all artistic people) take the things that they have seen, heard, done, tasted and said and put them to words.  They take the black and white and make vibrant colors out of them.  Yes, writers paint pictures with their words.  A lot of our experiences are put into our fiction.  We’ll take the eyes of this person and put it with the hair from that one and the lips from this one and the nose from that person over there and the body type from that person sitting down on the park bench feeding the pigeons, to create our characters.  We’ll give them personality traits from people we know, whether we realize it or not.

We do the same thing with settings.  We may have seen a creepy house along an old dirt road with a door hanging on by one hinge and all but one pane of glass busted out. That becomes a setting for a story.  Or maybe just a scene in a story.  However, we create a history for that creepy house.  It may involve an abusive relationship or the murders of several people, maybe even children.  Maybe their ghosts are still trapped inside that creepy house.  We don’t know the history of the house, so why not make it up?  Why not lie about it?

We do it with plots and we do it with dialogue and we do it with the resolutions of the stories.  We do it throughout our fiction.  But we use real components from our lives as the cornerstones of everything we write.  We use the seen, heard, done, tasted and said that we’ve experienced.

Sometimes writers will tell a story to remember it, but we take those memories and turn them into lies.  Sure, a good chunk of it might be true, but the facts get tweaked and turned and twisted and, will you look at that, what was once a truth is now not so much truth or lie, but life as we told it.  We’ll take something we’ve seen that we can’t unsee or forget and add a little something to keep it from being one hundred percent true.  We’ll take what we’ve heard, the way it was heard, the tones and even the background noises, and change something—a word, a tone, a background sound—and the truth is now a half-truth.  We use the things we’ve done, good or bad, and sometimes we only change one component, but we change it in some way.  You get the picture, right?  Yeah, we do this with taste and said as well.  But we don’t forget.  No, writing is often the big reminder and the act of writing is the therapy that no shrink can provide.

Speaking of therapy, trauma is a huge factor in writing and sometimes we tell these stories to cope with hurt, pain, sadness, depression, illnesses, loneliness, anger and plenty of other emotions.  In this case, the writing is a ‘getting it out’ thing; it’s a cleansing.  Sometimes after the story is written we feel better.  Other times, well the pain is still there, but the story is out and that’s not a bad thing.  Usually these stories are more truth than lies, but the lies are still there.

Now, let’s take a minute to talk about these liars.  Clearly, best-selling authors are great at it.  They are the real LIARS.  They are the ones who have turned lying into an art form.  They also get paid a lot of money for those lies.  Then you have those who are part time liars.  The majority of writers fall in this category.  Those are the ones who have full-time jobs and write when time allows.  Those are the ones who dream of one day becoming one of the real LIARS and quitting their day job to write and get paid to do so.  These are the ones who still have a true passion for writing.  They haven’t reached the pinnacle of success, but they keep trying.  Then there are the fibbers.  These are the people who tell lies, but not very often.  They might want to more than they do, but they don’t, either because of time or dedication or lack of passion.

Finally, there’s the little white-liars (or half-truthers).  Most of us start off here.  It’s that stage at the beginning of a writing career where the individual either decides to pursue writing or not.  It’s where passion is either born or buried.  It is one of the most influential stages for a writer and can grow very fast or can be crushed beneath the weight of criticism or lack of confidence.

I told you I would make it quick.  I need to go now.  I have some dreams to chase and some lies to tell.  Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

Good evening, Faithful Readers.  Today I would like to welcome James Crawford to Type AJ Negative.  Sit down, have a glass of your favorite beverage and enjoy our conversation.

AJ:  First, tell me a little about Manleigh Cheese.

JC:  Manleigh Cheese is the result of friends challenging me to write something other than horror.

AJ:  Where did the concept of Manleigh Cheese come from?

JC:  Since I live in the Washington, DC area, there’s a thriving food truck scene, and whispers of corruption every day. I thought they could be two tastes that taste great together.

I’m a foodie, and this great little cheese place, Cheesetique opened a few years ago, that was the inspiration for a cheese-based food truck.

AJ:  Nice.  What type of writer do you consider yourself to be?

JC:  Dialog-driven.

AJ:  Why dialog-driven as opposed to descriptive or action-based?

JC:  I’m a talker, so my characters tend to be. I’m in love with words and communication.

AJ:  I’m a talker, as well. Some tell me I never shut-up.  As a writer, what do you have to offer the readers?

JC:  Hopefully, well drawn characters who exhibit “real” emotions.

AJ:  As a writer, do you have a hard time focusing on one story at a time or do your thoughts tend to stay on point throughout a story?

JC:  For me, having more than one project running at a time is a pressure valve. I “go there” when I write horror, and a little comedy helps me balance out. A little sci-fi relaxes the humor…and so on.

AJ:  My mind tends to go in a thousand directions at one time. I never have just one project or story going on.  You are also a painter. What do you paint and is painting the same type of outlet as writing?

JC:  Since my living situation changed, I don’t have a workshop for my metal pursuits. Going back to fine art, where I started, is a way to keep that creativity sharp. Yes, it also helps to define a character by drawing him, her, or it.

AJ:  Okay, let’s shift gears, what’s your favorite food truck?

JC:  I’ve…this is a confession…never eaten at one.

AJ:  DOH! I’ve only eaten at three of them and I have loved all of them.

JC:  Yeah. I’m a poseur.

AJ:  Okay, Mr. Poseur, let’s switch gears again and discuss Permuted Press for a minute or three. How was your initial experience with them?

JC:  It was great. I was enthused, and so was Jacob. I felt like I’d succeeded.

AJ:  Truthfully, you had. Getting on with Permuted was something I wanted to do at some point, but never actually attempted.  Now, I’m glad I didn’t.

JC:  I got to watch the crazy up front.

AJ:  When you say watch the crazy up front, what do you mean?

JC:  The new ownership coming on, and their struggle to turn Permuted into (I’m thinking) some sort of cash cow.

AJ:  So, then Permuted switched hands and then things went nuts?

JC:  That’s how it seemed to me. Every six months, some new kerfuffle.

AJ:  How many books did you put out with Permuted?

JC:  My first trilogy is under Permuted, but nothing else will be.

AJ:  You left Permuted, but your trilogy is kind of stuck there, right?

JC:  I am stuck with them for that trilogy, and have to offer them first opportunity on anything else in that series.  Contractual obligation.

AJ:  That is crazy.  If you could do one thing over, what would it be?

JC:  Oooo. Ah. Argh.

AJ:  Yeah, I know.  Sometimes reflecting back is harder than moving forward.

JC:  Aside from voicing my displeasure in a louder voice, and more broadly…not submitting to them in the first place.

AJ:  Let’s move on. Manleigh Cheese came out recently, put out by Burning Willow Press. How did you hear about BWP and what has that experience been like?

JC:  I knew of Kindra and Sheron from Permuted, and I liked the idea of what they wanted to build. I submitted, and they accepted.

AJ:  What was the editorial process like?

JC:  Pretty simple. They handed the manuscript to their editor, she made some comments, I corrected a few things, and we were good to go.

AJ:  Nice.  So, do you prefer your cheese to be mature like in the Cheez-It commercials or immature?

JC:  Does it taste good? That’s my qualifier.

AJ:  Mature cheese it is!

Okay, time to get serious.  I’m a potential reader. Sell me on your book. Why should I buy it?

JC:  Do you like urban fantasy, but are tired of the old Sidhe in America thing? Do you like evil evil? None of the gray area stuff? How about characters you can like, and want to have a drink with?

That’s Manleigh Cheese.

AJ:  Good answer.  Now, sell me on you. If you had to pitch yourself to me (which I’ve had to do with a person face to face before she would buy my books), what would you say?

JC:  Honestly, I do my best to be a genuine person. I have a sense of humor, and really enjoy learning who my potential readers are. That’s the best thing about being a “small time” author.

AJ:  I like that.  I think the person who asked me the same question would like that response.

If you owned a food truck, what would you sell?

JC:  I’d try a zombie theme food truck. The burgers might be named for people. Amanda (avocado and other toppings); Bubba (extra bacon)…Guts on a bun. French fingers.

AJ Nice.  I like that.

JC:  There’s actually a menu for the Manleigh Cheese truck in the book.

AJ: Okay, we need to talk about the Menu a little.  That is a great idea

JC: The Bitch Set Me Up cupcake is based on what former DC Mayor Marion Berry said when they arrested him for cocaine.

AJ:  Hahaha!  That’s great.  What is your favorite item on the menu?

JC:  I’d be really fond of the Political Puffs.

AJ:  That’s the savory cheese puffs made with Manleigh’s own artisan cheddar.  It would be four bucks.  That’s great.

JC:  I had fun with it.

***

James Crawford’s Manleigh Cheese can be purchased on Amazon.  To whet your appetite, enjoy this excerpt:

“Pardon that interruption. My colleague took an interest in your intern.”

A quirk of his perfect lips sent a shiver down Lois Nasen-Hedges’ legs. She hated how gorgeous he was—tall, slim, long black hair, and those piercing emerald eyes—as much as she craved his attention.

“Certainly, Toll. Interruptions happen.” She tried to hide her feelings by smoothing her skirt—if it accidentally enhanced her shapely thighs, so much the better. “Where were we a moment ago?”

“Yes. We were discussing the return of the artifact to me, now that our bargain is completed.” He nodded, each movement carefully measured to increase Ms. Nasen-Hedges’ heartbeat.

“It will take me a few days to retrieve it,” Lois said, ducking her eyes, hoping he wouldn’t catch the lie she was trying to craft.

“A few days will be fine,” Toll crooned, “but I would remind you there are devastating consequences if you decide to break our bargain.”

He smiled at her from the other side of the desk, flashing pointed, pearlescent teeth. The threat was an old one, but effective: cross me, and everyone you hold dear dies, torn limb from limb. As an added bonus, Toll threw in something new (testing threats for effectiveness was his hobby and favorite way to pass the time).

The latest addition to the consequences was how failure to return the artifact would also bring about the destruction of the wall between the spirit world and the material world. Not a small threat—when added to the previously mentioned mayhem involving loved ones—and also a complete and utter lie.

“I don’t believe.” He whispered this time. “The nations you have built would survive the revelation that your reality is not the only one our world supports. We accept that humans exist, but we are myths and nightmares for you—never seen in daylight, or encountered on the street.”

She couldn’t bring herself to get defensive at him for reminding her of the consequences. He was right. Everything would go insane if Joe American had spirits to placate before cracking open a cold one… or if the military’s weapons were outclassed by spells and dark spirits.

It was also enough reason to keep the artifact in the possession of the United States of America. Leverage. Withholding the object of someone’s desire and keeping it beyond their reach was a tried and true method for securing good behavior. Lois Nasen-Hedges didn’t believe herself to be a fool.

Toll might be the sexiest creature in existence, but he was also cunning, manipulative, and powerful enough to break the tenuous balance of power in the normal world. Creatures like this, Lois believed, should to be kept in line through proper management and coercion. Especially when the entity in question was nearly immortal, and a bullet through the brain might not be fatal.

Fairies and supernatural creatures were not what she expected to be dealing with in the halls of government. Little green men were almost to be expected, but she never imagined anything supernatural might be real, or sitting on the other side of her desk.

“I’m pleased we see eye-to-eye on this issue, Toll.” Lois forced a smile, knowing full well she was going to play an incredibly dangerous game. “I would like to propose we meet again a week from today at this address.”

She slid the sheet of paper over the leather surface of her desk. He glanced at it, quirked his lips, and retrieved it with immaculately manicured fingers.

“An old quarry in Marriotsville, Maryland.” He leaned back in the chair, and smiled. “You make interesting choices, Ms. Nasen-Hedges.”

“It is easily secured, and no one will stumble across our transaction,” she paused, “at least, no one who would be missed.”

“As always, I am impressed by your practicality. Next Friday, at the time and location you’ve provided, is satisfactory.”

Toll stood up, bowed, and offered his hand. Lois stood, reached out and placed her hand in his. She gasped when his fingers locked around her palm like slim steel cables. He pulled her over her desk with no effort, leaving only the toes of her expensive loafers touching the floor.

“I want to remind you,” he said, as his honey and briars voice deepened into a growl, “crossing me would go poorly for you. I will skin you alive, and use your flesh to wipe my ass, before I feed you to things you do not wish to imagine.”

She couldn’t speak. His eyes held her attention like his hand held hers: without mercy.

Toll let her hand drop, deftly slitting her palm with the unnaturally sharp edge of his fingernail. Lois Nasen-Hedges gasped as she fell across her desk, eyes focused on the blood dripping from her outstretched hand onto the cream carpet below.

When she looked up, he was already gone, and she was left to wonder if the game she’d begun was worth playing.

Real Life (Revisiting the Past)

Posted: June 22, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
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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.

Onward.

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.