Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

What It’s All About …

Posted: October 24, 2017 by ajbrown in Writing
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Two things; Growing up I hated the act of writing. On the opposite end of that spectrum, I loved the act of telling a story. Some say they are one and the same. They are not. I present to you my reasoning:

In order to write a story, you must have  a story to tell and the means to tell it (type writer, computer, paper, tissue, yellow sticky notes, etc …). In order to tell a story all you need is the story, a mouth and oxygen. A captive audience helps in both instances, but you don’t need to be able to write in order to tell a story, even a bad one. 

As a kid, I hated the act of writing. It wasn’t so much I hated writing, as a whole, but the fact that at least four times a school year I had to do term papers (like all other kids at my school and probably in countless schools around the state and country). Being forced to write on subjects I didn’t care about soured me on the whole writing ‘thing.’

Only once, in seventh grade, did I actually enjoy writing papers. That was in Mr. Hayes’s English class. Mr. Hayes wasn’t all that old at the time, maybe my age now (mid-forties). Thinking on it now, he reminds me of Rowan Atkinson from the British comedy, Mr. Bean, that aired in the nineties and ran for all of fifteen episodes. He was short and wore brown pants quite often and button down shirts. The one outfit I remember distinctly was the brown pants and the light yellow button down. He wore black rimmed glasses and his dark black hair was thinning.

He may have been a precursor to Mr. Bean as I know him, but he was a good teacher, and the only one who even remotely got me to enjoy the mandatory writing assignments we had to do. Let me see if I can explain this:

Each week he passed out cue cards. They were nothing more than half a sheet of laminated paper with story prompts on them. He would start at the head of each row of students, count out the cards and hand it to the first person on the row. That person would take a card and then pass them to the next person, who would do the same thing. He did this with each row until everyone in the room had a cue card. All the prompts on the cards were different. (If you ended up with a prompt you had already done, then you just raised your hand and he would give you a different one.)

The goal on each Monday was to write a story that was no less than two paragraphs short and no more than a page long. At the end of class, we turned our papers in with only the date and the prompt number on it. That is right, we didn’t put our names on it (at least not until we received the stories back on Friday). The next day Mr. Hayes passed out the stories and the students read them out loud in class. If you got your own story, you still read it. On Friday, he passed the papers back out, but before he did that, he polled the students to see who they thought wrote each story. That was fun and funny, in and of itself, especially given the reaction of the students. Then he called out the numbers of each paper and the authors raised their hands and received their paper back.

We did this the entire year. And I enjoyed it. At the end of the year, we were allowed to take our papers home. Like I said, it was the only time while I was in school that I enjoyed the act of writing. I still have those stories. Well, most of them.

Other than that, I hated writing. I loathed the thought of writing term papers and researching encyclopedias and books with, at best, vague information. With the exception of Mr. Hayes’s seventh grade English class, I did no creative writing the rest of my school career. Not like I did that year.

On the polar opposite side of hate, I enjoyed telling stories. The act of verbalizing a story to someone or a bunch of people thrilled me. I could see their faces and I knew immediately if they were into the story or not. I could be animated, wave my hands like a maniac, run around the room, make noises and faces and sit down and squat and gyrate my hips if I wanted to. I could be quite the clown. The only thing that confined me from telling a good story is the lack of knowledge about some things, but I didn’t tend to tell stories that I had not either experienced or seen first hand.

If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you have probably seen me mention my grandfather and his made story telling skills. He captivated people with his voice, with the inflection in it, with the way he smiled and the gestures he made. He was always in control and every time he told a story, I was on the edge of my seat, rapt with interest. I watched how he moved, his facial expressions, everything about him. Then I tried to tell stories like him.

I have failed miserably.

No one can tell a story the way he did. Well, maybe Morgan Freeman, but that’s it. No one else.

Here, my friends, is where the rubber meets the road: before I ever began writing, I could tell a story. I had a good teacher. My grandfather passed away before I really took to writing. He never got to see me get a story published. He never got to hold one of my books in his hands.

I said all of that because I believe in order to be a good writer you have to be a good storyteller first. I tell you all of that because I believe there is no right or wrong way to write. Sure, there is a way to write, but the act of writing a story is the same as creating a painting or sculpting a statue or any other creative endeavor: for the most part it is personal and solitary, and each person has their ideas on what works and what doesn’t work.

As I mentioned a second ago, telling a story is personal, even if the story itself is not. A writer gives you part of him or herself when they put something out there. It is terrifying. It can be an ego crush. But it can also be exhilarating. Getting a story published is like a drug, and the high is high and the come down from it is difficult. It is addicting. And there is nothing like it.

I’ve done a lot of thinking lately, and the conclusion I have come to is simple and not even remotely close to an epiphany. In order to be a good—no, a great!—writer, you must enjoy what you are doing. When I was a kid, I hated writing. I did not enjoy it at all. So, I did it as little as possible.

When I got older, I started enjoying it. I can’t explain why that happened, but it did. And that is a wonderful thing. I think it is much like the way my grandfather enjoyed telling stories. I think that is why he was so good at it.

If I would have had a chance to ask him what I needed to do to be a good writer, he would probably say, tell a good story. That, Faithful Readers, is what it is all about. And that is why I work so hard to tell you great stories—I have big shoes to fill. Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

 

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So often I feel like writing is a waste of time for me. I do it every day, sometimes very late at night when I can’t sleep or early in the morning when everyone is still in bed. Most days when I sit to write, it feels like an obligation, like something I am required to do—like homework when I was in school. To who am I obligated? To the readers? To the fictional voices in my head who love my work? To the characters, themselves, who wish to have their stories told? To myself?

Maybe it is none of those things. Maybe I am obligated to the words, or to nothing at all. Still, writing often feels like an obligation for me. And I don’t know why.

392550_412747505422764_855367895_nWith that obligation comes the feeling that I am an ancient typewriter, one that is missing all the vowel keys, and with every word I type, I have to go in and hand write in all the missing A’s, E’s, I’s, O’s, and U’s (and sometimes Y’s—let’s not forget the Y’s). The feeling is the keys are sticking and each time the type bar goes up, it does so slower than it should and it strikes the platen weakly, leaving only a faint gray letter on the paper.

It is during those times that writing can be a struggle. The words don’t come out right. The sentences sound off or awkward or just plain weird. That is when the same word gets used over and over and when an hour can pass with only 32 words having been written—do the math, that is one word for almost every two minutes. Though it is a struggle, I continue to write on. After all, bad writing is better than no writing (because, you know, at least I’m writing).

Yes, that is the obligation speaking. Any writing is better than no writing, even if the words I pen are mere shadows of stories I’ve written in the past.

Still, I don’t know what the obligation is or where it came from or why I feel so strongly about it.

Here is a truth as I know it: If I’m not writing, I feel like I am wasting my time. It is a damned if I do, damned if I don’t situation. Again, that obligation to put words to paper or on the screen comes heavily into play. It’s a constant battle of what I should be doing other than writing, and what I should be writing. Here is an example to illustrate things a little better:

I have several books written, but they need to be edited. Editing is not writing. It is part of the process of putting a book out, but it is not the actual act of writing. It needs to be done, but when I am editing, the voices in my head are yelling at me, YOU SHOULD BE WRITING! Unfortunately for me, when the voices start bickering, I can’t cover my ears and walk away. It’s impossible to get away from yourself and what is in your head.

But then when I am writing, some of the other voices (and in many cases, the same ones who bickered at me for not writing) yell, YOU SHOULD BE EDITING THIS STORY! IT’S NOT GOING TO EDIT ITSELF!

AHHHHHHHH!!!!

You see, I can’t win at this, but there is this obligation, this overwhelming feeling that I need to write. And maybe that is the problem. The need to write is so strong, it is almost an obsession. Or maybe it is an obsession.

I’m ripe with things to say. 

The words rot and fall away.

—Blink 182

Stay Together for the Kids

rusty-typewriterThose are powerful lyrics to a powerful song. Those lyrics, quite often, are how I feel when I wake in the morning or before I go to bed. I have all these words spinning around up in my head. They are alive and hungry and waiting for me to send them out through my fingertips. If I don’t write them down they will die and decay and be lost to me forever. It’s like losing thousands of friends a day. Most of them might not be all that close and might just be acquaintances, but some of them … some of them are like extensions of my family, parts of me that I love and cherish and … dammit, I don’t want to lose them all!

At this point it is easy to say, ‘hey, you’re losing it, bro.’ Maybe so. It’s also easy to say, ‘you are your obligation.’ Again, maybe so. Probably so.

I honestly think the obligation is tied to fear. Fear is a horrible feeling. Fear of losing a loved one, a job or getting hurt by someone or killed or whatever. Maybe your fear is of picking up kitty cats. Hey, it could be a real thing. Don’t judge! The fear is something so simple, so easy to see and dismiss, but so real: what if I take a break from writing—a week, two tops—and when I return to it, I won’t be able to write?

Sounds crazy, I know, but I think that is the problem I have when it comes to writing. I have tried to take breaks from time to time. The longest such break in the last couple of years has been four days. At the end of that four days, I had the hardest time sitting down and putting two words together, much less two hundred or two thousand. My fingers itched to put anything on the screen. When that didn’t work, I pulled out a notepad and pen and dated the top of the page (as I always do), but nothing came out. Nothing came out.

I forced myself to write on a story I knew I would never finish, but I still wrote some words—all of about three hundred of them. They sucked. We’re talking being stuck in a sewage drain up to your chest and you just dropped your phone and you need to retrieve it in order to save yourself suckage. It took another three days before I felt really comfortable with the words I wrote. That was after just four days of not writing.

I thought my head would explode from the frustration. Obligation fueled by fear.

But there is another fear that goes with it. It is something I was concerned with when I stopped putting The Brown Bags out in print form: if readers don’t see my words, they lose interest in me. If I don’t market, readers lose interest in me. If I am not constantly out there, readers lose interest in me. It’s just reality. Out of sight, out of mind. Obligation is still there.

Then there is this happy little contradiction: sometimes my mind screams in all of its many voices, WHAT ARE YOU WRITING FOR WHEN NO ONE IS READING YOUR WORDS? 

Okay, I may be able to count on both hands and maybe one of someone else’s hands, how many fans I really have out there, but there are still folks reading my words. It is hard to know who the fans are or if folks are reading your work. I can honestly say that these (non-writer) folks follow my work regularly: Joan Macleod and Mary Cooper and Frank Knox and Greg Crump. I didn’t count my wife in there, but with her and possibly my brother-in-law, Stephen, that puts my straight up, legit fan base at six people. (If you are a straight up, legit fan and I am not aware of this, drop me a note in the comments, just don’t throw a brick at my head. The brick will break and I will not get the hint.)

But what if I never had work published? Would I still feel this way? Would I still feel the obligation to write. I think so, but maybe it would be directed somewhere else. When I was a kid I had a need to constantly play or practice at basketball. As I got older, I began to draw and I had the need to constantly put a pencil to paper. But that was different. I didn’t feel I absolutely had to do those things. I didn’t feel that if I didn’t shoot five hundred free throws in a day I would forget how to do it, or if I didn’t draw a picture every day I would forget how to. I didn’t feel obligated to do it. And when I thought about quitting those things, they didn’t scare me.

With the exception of the last paragraph, I feel a lot of writers—probably far more than will admit—have the same issues. They have that obligation.  They have that need to write, that fear of not only not being able to write, but of failure, driving them to do so every day. They have a desire to be read, to know they are being read, and to know that  what they are writing is reaching people. They stress over writing time and having enough work out there. They stress over editing and marketing and putting themselves out there. Many of them also feel it is a waste of time, and quite a few of those folks quit all together.

Writers rarely reach superstar celebrity status like rock stars or movie stars do. Sure, we have Stephen King and James Patterson and J.K. Rowling, but the majority of writers (and I’m talking a fictional percentage such as 98%) don’t ever reach half of that climb to the top of Mt. Success.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if writers were treated like rock stars when it comes to our fan base? We could release a single (short story) and then another later on, and by George, if you like them, go get the entire collection at your favorite brick and mortar store or online. You could tell your friends how awesome the writer is that you are reading. I find this interesting: we listen to songs over and over, trying to learn all the lyrics (including those pesky background lyrics that are so hard to decipher sometimes) and we try to learn how to sing them and even play them, again, over and over. But when it comes to a story, we read it once and put it down. ‘I know how the story is going to end now.’ Yes, this is true, but don’t we know how the song is going to end, too?

I apologize for going slightly off the beaten path here. The point to that last part is writers don’t often reach very high heights. That can be frustrating, as well.

Musicwriter June 5 2014 031Still, there is obligation. As real or in our heads as it may be, writers, authors, storytellers, struggle with this obligation. Whether it is to the readers or themselves or some other weird issue, it is there. It is immense pressure, especially when the writers don’t know anyone is reading their words, when they feel like a rundown typewriter in a field, the letters of each type bar fading, fading, faded.

I know only a handful of people will read this, and I’m okay with that. But for you handful, this is what you can do: turn your favorite authors into rock stars. Talk about them the way you would your favorite television show or actor/actress or band. Buy their books, but don’t stop there. Actually read them. Still, don’t stop there. Leave a book review on Amazon or on a blog or Goodreads (or all of them). Look them up, contact them and say, ‘hey, you did good.’ Find them on social media and follow them (but not in that stalkerish kind of way). Tell your friends about them with the same enthusiasm you have about Grey’s Anatomy, The Walking Dead, or Game of Thrones. And, no, that is not an obligation you have.

Now, to close this longer than usual post. For me, the obligation comes, not only from fear, but from chasing a dream. I’ve been chasing the rabbit down the hole of words for a lot longer than I realized until recently (I started writing in 1993). That’s a long time to see only a tiny bit of that dream become reality. Still, I’m obligated, and that rabbit hole seems to be getting smaller while the obligation seems to be getting larger.

Do you want to know why the typewriter is so beat up now? The typewriter is really symbolic. It is our hearts and our souls and our struggles. It is our doubts and confidence, our dreams and our reality, and they aren’t meant to go through rabbit holes.

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

A.J.

For those of you who enjoyed the struggles of Hank Walker in Dredging Up Memories, I give you this short story.

[[SPOILER ALERT: The next part of this introduction may contain a spoiler about Dredging Up Memories. If you plan on reading it, I would skip this introduction. If you have read it, then continue on. END SPOILER ALERT]]

This piece takes place during one of the moments of Dredging Up Memories where Hank has been drinking. This is after he finds out Jeanette has died and he has lost Humphrey. This also takes place before he meets Hetch, during one of the many black out moments where Hank loses time and all memory of what happened.

I do ask two favors: if you know someone who would like this addition to Hank’s story, please share it with them. Second, please leave me a comment and let me know if you would like more of these ‘forgotten moments’ of Hank’s life.

Enough talk. I hope you enjoy No Saving Grace.

No Saving Grace

Ay A.J. Brown

He wanted to save them. He wanted to save all of them. In the end, he couldn’t even save himself.

***

They approached in a stumbling heap of rotting bodies, their groans like cries of pain. They appeared listless, as if following some unseen force, drawing them up the dirt path and toward the man standing in the opening at the mouth of that path. Hank had his weapons of choice, a machete slung on his back and a Smith & Wesson .357 in his hand. It held eight shots. It wasn’t enough, but that’s what the machete was for. He also had a bottle of whiskey in the van. Right then, he wished he had taken a swig before he left stepped out of the vehicle, but he hadn’t. His mouth was dry, as if he had been chewing on cotton balls for a few days.

The sun was just coming up in the horizon, painting the world with purples, pinks and oranges. He could see it peeking out from behind the dead. He thought it fortunate he could see them through the encroaching daylight. If he wasn’t able to see them, the chances of taking them out slimmed greatly. It was somewhat oddly beautiful, the way the bodies seemed to have an orange aura around them. If they didn’t mean to eat him, he could have stood there until the sun was fully in the sky and enjoyed the odd beauty of the dead in its rising glory.

“Come on,” he whispered as they came.

Though the Smith & Wesson held eight shots, it only had seven bullets. He had fired one off into the pack to get their attention moments earlier.

Their attention?

Sure. There was only one reason a bunch of deadbeats surrounded anything these days: a living person (or people, if the dead were so lucky, which they often were). He had heard the screams. Whoever was in the car was still alive, but may not have been for long—the dead, they had a way of piling on to the point of windows shattering inward. The constant pressure of weight on glass was like a boiler—eventually things would blow and the living in the vehicle would be dead soon enough, become food for the biters.

He waited, his gun held tight, one hand over the other.

And they grew closer and closer by the second. From where he stood, he watched them lurch forward. Their moans became louder. He squinted, focusing in on the closest of the dead. At that moment he didn’t see them in the color of life. The brilliance of the sun faded and he saw them in gritty grays and whites and blacks, the blood on their skin and clothes like dark shadows. The circles beneath their eyes were like black hollows. The hair on their heads were various shades of grays with the blondes being the lightest. He thought maybe the rising sun aided in the gray tones, but that was probably just in his head. The same as he wished this whole mess was just in his head and he would wake up in the morning and everything would be okay.

Everything would be okay.

His family wouldn’t be dead. His friends wouldn’t be dead. His neighborhood wouldn’t be … wouldn’t be what? Overrun by the dead?

“That’s not going to happen,” he whispered. “This is real life.”

He steadied the gun.

Seven shots. That’s all you have before it’s machete time.

A deep breath taken and released slowly through slightly parted lips. The nod was imperceivable, but it steadied his nerves.

“You want to see the sun rise,” he said and pulled the trigger. The boom of the .357 was loud, the kickback powerful. The face of the biter closest to him exploded—a woman at one time, probably in her early thirties. He could have been wrong. The dead decomposed faster than people aged and she could have been in her twenties or maybe in her sixties, though he doubted that. The back of her head blew out. The force of the bullet sent her backwards, her feet coming off the ground and her hands flying up as she fell.

At the beginning of The End Times, Hank Walker would have probably felt guilty for what he had just done. He may have even apologized. He certainly would have taken the time to bury the dead after ending their ‘second lives.’ Not anymore. Not now. Not after everything that had happened. Now, he took aim at another biter, this one another woman of indiscernible age. Her head disappeared with the blast. She spun around, striking a tree just off the path before falling to the ground.

He took the next four shots, one right after the other, each one finding its home splitting open the skulls of the dead. He slid the gun into the back of his pants. The barrel was hot. He felt that heat through his underwear, but he didn’t pull the gun free. There was only one bullet left … just in case …

Hank pulled the machete free and started down the path to the few remaining biters. He swung the machete at their gray, gaunt faces, severing their heads and splintering their skulls. As he did so, he thought of his wife and son and brothers and father and his best friend. And he swung the machete harder, slicing through bone and skin and brains, his anger rising with each of the dead he took down.

Until they were no more.

He spun in a slow circle, his arms weakened, his legs tired, his breath labored, his chest heaving. There were tears in his eyes as he looked at the bodies on the ground. The dead … he shook his head.

“No.” Hank closed his eyes, opened them to his dead family littering the path, missing most of their skulls. Over there was Davey Blaylock. Down the center of the path was Lee. By the tree was Karen. The two bodies lying together, one on top of the other were Pop and Bobby. Jake was not too far from them, his hand missing three fingers, as if he had tried to ward off the machete. At the beginning of the slew of bodies was Jeanette, her head turned into a canoe, her long blonde hair stained with dark blood verging on brown and bits of brain and skull. There were others—so many others—but they didn’t matter.

Hank’s head spun. His stomach churned. He dropped the machete and fell to his hands and knees. Though there was little in his stomach, he vomited it up. It spattered on the ground in front of him and onto his hands. Some of it splashed back onto his face. Sweat spilled off of him. His face and neck were flushed red with heat. Hank coughed and closed his eyes. He shook his head, almost violently as the tears spilled from beneath his eyelids. He dropped onto his bottom and scooted away from the dead. HIs back struck a tree. He sat there for several long minutes, his heart shattered, his mind confused, his chest hurting. He could use a drink—maybe even the entire bottle back in the van.

When he looked up, his eyes were blurry. He wiped the tears away and reluctantly looked back at the bodies. He frowned, the confusion sinking its claws in deeper. The dead were still there, but they were no longer his family. They were no-name corpses that had one time been someone’s brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and children. Though that should have relieved him from the guilt of feeling like he had killed his entire family, it didn’t. It did nothing to alleviate the fact that he was all that was left of the Walker clan.

He used the tree to pull himself up from the ground. It was rough, but it was real. It was tangible. Once standing, he held onto the tree, feeling its bark beneath his hands. It grounded him, bringing him back to the reality of his world.

Hank took the few steps to his machete and picked it up. He was thankful it hadn’t landed in the vomit. He slid it back into the sheath hanging on his back. Then he remembered what he had been there for: to save whoever was in the car from the biters.

He turned around and headed up the path.

“Hey, it’s okay,” he called. “The coast is clear. The biters are dead.”

He reached the side of the car and looked in. Three of the windows had been busted out, either from the weight of the dead pushing in or the car already had broken windows. A biter leaned half in, the car, but it didn’t move. There was a hole in its back. Hank pulled the biter from the broken window and dropped it to the ground. A piece of hanger wire jutted from one eye socket. Blood had ran onto it from the ruptured eye.

He looked back at the car. The door had a hole in it—one created by a Smith & Wesson .357. His shoulder sagged. The man that had been screaming inside the car was dead. Blood oozed from between fingers that had clutched at the wound in his chest.

I must have hit him when I …

He shook his head again. The man in the car was dead. He had been young, probably not even thirty. He had been young …

A finger twitched.

Young or not didn’t matter then. Hank wasn’t sure if he even saw the finger spasm, but part of him believed he had. He watched, concentrating on the fingers of the man’s right hand. He realized with an almost certainty that the man shouldn’t turn if he hadn’t been bit. But did he truly know this? Had he seen someone who hadn’t been bitten or sick become a biter?

The index finger moved again. Then his hand jerked, followed by his arm. His eyes opened and his head moved from side to side, as if trying to figure out where he was. Hank believed he was doing just that, trying to figure out where he was, what had happened to him.

A moan came from the man and he seemed to sniff the air. He turned his head toward Hank and bared his teeth. He tried to sit up in his seat.

Hank pulled out the gun. He check the chamber. Yup, one left.

“I’m sorry,” Hank said and put the gun through the window. He pulled the trigger. The sound was deafening. The kickback caused his hand to jerk hard enough it struck a piece of broken glass. Blood instantly spilled from a wound that was deeper than he realized at first. But Hank didn’t really notice it—he stared at the dead man in the car, a good chunk of the top of his head missing. Splattered against the interior of the car were his brains, some hair and a lot of blood. But more than that, he saw the wound on his hand—a clear piece of flesh was missing between his thumb and first finger on the opposite hand that had twitched earlier.

Hank thought to pull the guy from the car, to bury him right beside it, maybe along the path where that car had stopped. It was the least he could do. Hank rounded the car, but stopped at the driver’s side door.

“What does it matter?” he asked. “He’s dead—he’ll never know he wasn’t buried.”

Besides, he thought, he was dead anyway. I just put him out of his misery.

He turned and walked away from the car. His heart sank as he went up the path. It opened to a cottage where three of the dead stumbled around. He didn’t bother being quiet. He unsheathed the machete and split the skulls of the two men and one boy near the open door. Then he stepped inside.

Hank looked around the cottage. He found a few cans of beans and a half empty bottle of water. He also found the bodies of one woman and a baby. They were in a bed and a crib. A bullet to the head ended their lives. On the end table next to the bed where the woman lay dead, was a picture. The couple had been happy. The baby had been asleep in the woman’s arms.

The man had been the guy from the car.

Hank’s shoulders slumped. He wiped his dry lips with the back of one shaking hand. He stared at the picture for what seemed like minutes, but had really been over an hour. When he finally set the picture down, he left the cottage and went back up the path. There was a biter near the car, standing at the front of it as if waiting to see if the man was going to try and run. Any movement would send the biter into motion. Hank didn’t give the old man a chance—he brought the machete down on the top of his gray and dirty head. The biter collapsed to the ground.

It took him a few minutes to get the man from the car and over his shoulder, and it took him over an hour to get back to the cottage. In the house, he laid the man’s body next to what he assumed was his wife. He went to the crib and gently lifted the dead baby from it. He placed the child between Mom and Dad and pulled the sheet up over their heads.

Hank Walker left the house, locking and closing the door behind him. He took with him the beans and the water, and slowly made his way back up the path again. He passed the car on the path and the biters he had slaughtered. Eventually, he came to his van, crawled in and closed the door. He didn’t turn the key in the ignition right away. Instead, he stared out the dirty windshield.

The baby had been a boy. The woman had been a blonde. The man had dark hair, and at one point blue eyes. The house had been nice, but not too big for a family of three. It had been practical. All of it reminded him of his own family, of his own home. But all that was gone. Jeanette was dead. Bobby … he had no clue if he were alive.

Hank reached over to the passenger’s seat. He plucked up the bottle of whiskey, took the cap off and took a deep drink. The alcohol burned his throat and warmed his chest and stomach. He looked at the bottle. It still had over two thirds of the light brown liquid in it.

I shouldn’t drink this, he said. I’ve drank too much lately already.

In the end, he turned the bottle up again, forgetting what he shouldn’t do and doing what he thought he would regret. He wanted to save them. He wanted to save them all. In the end, he couldn’t even save himself.

Normally, I don’t place reviews as posts on Type AJ Negative, but this one totally made my day. This is from DSJM Reviews and appears on Goodreads. I was totally blown away when I read it. It is humbling to have someone say this about my work.

Inside our minds there is darkness that sometimes forces a reality to those who think it might exist, bringing you into the world of being mad- full force with illusion; therefore, causing the state of mind to become unstable. Meaning numbness, deception, paranoia, just a cocktail of madness that is somewhere in between chaos and having a dream. The boundaries of going mad is a well thought process, quite genius if I may add. Scientists and doctors will say that madness or becoming psychotic happens in many different ways though I am only going to list a couple: abuse during child life, triggers (meaning something touched that right nerve mixed with emotional problems) cross-bred with other abusive like natures which creates the perfect recipe for chaos. It enriches the lucidity of dreams in an atmospheric way, manipulating them into your worst nightmares. Some may say it is only a nightmare but what if those dreams or nightmares become your reality in the depths of your brain, statically charging the mayhem within?

A.J Brown brings us not just one incredible short story but three amazing, bizarre, and mind altering stories- perfect in my thoughts. Every once in awhile you hear voices in your head, as you turn the pages with frigid, clammy hands and spine chilling nerves causing you to react irrationally. While you go on with word by word, they soak into you as it trickles through your processors in your mind. Slowly succumbing to the insanity within it officially makes your mind alternate between paranoia and its normal stance. In my opinion, Brown- who is the master mind behind this madness- is powerful in his words and builds the ultimate character strength with a vivid and lucid imagination of slowly making you feel like you are becoming psychotic and paranoid, that the insanity is slowly overtaking your reality.

A.J. Brown is an excellent story teller, his ability to think like this is honestly just quite maddening. I rejoice to have the chance to read this fantastic and amazing soul tearing tales that almost make you want to shake your head at the realism and connection you feel for each character. A Stitch of Madness reminds me of Stephen King, the articulate detail bringing forth to your mind that makes you question is this reality or not, that alone brings you into A.J. Brown’s personal nightmares. Anyone who would spend a little time and read this will forever become a fan of A.J. Brown. I look forward to reading more from Brown, perhaps seeing more- and longer- novels in the future. Thank you for creating a few more nightmares in my mind for sleep at night.

And now for the shameless plug: if you haven’t read A Stitch of Madness and you would like to, please go to Amazon and check it out. If you have read ASOM, I thank you, and also ask would you mind doing a review? I totally appreciate it.

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

A.J.

“The man who says he can, and the man who says he can not … are both correct.”

—Confucius

Some people will always believe they can do anything. Others, however, will always believe they can’t do anything. The difference between the two is one word: Belief. One type of person believes he can and one type of person believes he cannot. Both beliefs are correct.

The person who believes he can do something will try and try and try until he accomplishes his goal. He has confidence in himself, in his abilities. He has absolute faith that he will succeed. He believes himself. Though he may fail, he won’t give up. Determination is a strong suit.

(Huh … this reads like a horoscope.)

The person who believes he can’t do something might still try to do it and might even try earnestly. He might fail, maybe even spectacularly. It is in failing where he loses steam, where he thinks ‘why did I even try this?’ He may not even try at all. “I can’t do that,” more than likely will come from his lips and once he has spoken it aloud, it is cemented in his psyche. His resolution is fairly strong, not in his ability to do something, but in his inability.

Let me stop here and switch gears. When I was coming up there was a television show called The Facts of Life. I loved this show (actually, I was totally in love with Blaire Warner). I’m not going to go into details about what this show was about, because that is not the point. One actress, outside the main cast, who made several appearances on the show was Geri Jewell. This lady has cerebral palsy.

As described by CerbralPalsy.org: Cerebral Palsy is caused by brain damage. The brain damage is caused by brain injury or abnormal development of the brain that occurs while a child’s brain is still developing — before birth, during birth, or immediately after birth. Cerebral Palsy affects body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance. It can also impact fine motor skills, gross motor skills and oral motor functioning.

Geri Jewell went on to become an actress and a stand up comedian.

I tell you all of that so I can tell you this: there is a video on Youtube (which I hope you will watch) where Jewell does a standup routine. In this particular video she talks about how she was asked to do celebrity sports events, but never got to actually play a sport. She goes on to say how she approached the producer about it and then maybe, possibly told a small lie that she could play tennis. She then states this:

“One of the reasons I have accomplished what I have accomplished in my life is I’ve always seen where I want to go in my mind and I go there. I always create the vision …”

She continues through her routine, then at the end she states after a nice story about how she got a role on Deadwood:

“Life has ebbs and flows, yings and yangs. Life can be very difficult sometimes, but we think we can’t go on. And you know what? You gotta always, always believe in yourself. Because even when I busted my neck and had to start all over, I always had a little pilot light inside of me that I never let out. Don’t ever let your pilot light go out and don’t let somebody put it out. Reach your dreams. Do what my mom always said: you have to try. You never know what you can do unless you try, and never give up on reaching your dreams and never underestimate the power of the human spirit.”

Geri Jewell absolutely refused to let her disability deter her from her dreams. She went after what she wanted. She knew where she wanted to go and she created a vision and she went after it. She tried.

I admit, there have been times I have said, ‘I can’t do that.’ I admit the moment I stated this out loud, or even silently in the vault that is my head, I immediately took the possibility of trying off the table. The moment I refused to try these things I failed, maybe not at the thing I didn’t attempt, but for not even trying, for not even seeing if it was possible.

Things I said I couldn’t do:

  • Write a story
  • Get a story published
  • Write a novel
  • Have a publisher put out one of my books
  • Self publish a book
  • Do a convention/festival
  • Do a live reading
  • Do a video

Those are just a handful of things I told myself I couldn’t do. Because of that mindset, it took me a long time to do any of those things. Here is what was accomplished once the mindset changed:

  • Write a story—Wrote first story on June 29, 1993, titled Chuckie. It was bad.
  • Get a story published—published first story on House-of-Pain website in December, 2002.
  • Write a novel—wrote first novel in 1996, titled Reaper’s Run. It is not very good.
  • Have a publisher put out one of my books—Along the Splintered Path was released by Dark Continents Publishing in January, 2012.
  • Self Publish a book—Southern Bones was released in October 2012. Not many copies sold, but it was a great accomplishment for me.
  • Do a convention/festival—First convention was in April, 2015, at the Cayce Festival of the Arts.
  • Do a live reading—First live reading was in April of 2017 at the Cayce Festival of the Arts. The story was titled, Wilson’s Last Walk.
  • Do a video—First video was of Wilson’s Last Walk at the Cayce Festival of the Arts. My brother in law filmed it.

These things may seem small, but they were huge for me. They were breakthroughs. They were also moments of truth. These were moments where I realized I could do something I previously thought was impossible; they were things I told myself I could never do, so why try? I was wrong.

And here is the point to all of this: if you think you can’t do something and you never try, then you will never be able to do it. You automatically take the ability to do something out of your hands when you say ‘I can’t.’ Negativity will always breed negativity. ‘I can’t’ is one of the worst negatives you can impose on yourself.

Go after your dreams. Don’t let self doubt get in the way of you accomplishing something great. Believe in yourself. If it helps, take baby steps and build your confidence. It’s like climbing a ladder. In order to climb it you have to place one foot on the bottom rung, then the next foot on the second rung. Then you pull yourself up with your hands on the rungs above your head and push with your feet on the rungs below. The more you climb, the higher you go.

There are things I regret never doing because I didn’t believe I could do it, or I was afraid what others might think. Or maybe I was just afraid of failing. This has been steadily going by the wayside with me as I realize I am the obstacle I have been trying to hurdle my entire life.

One more thing and I will let you go. Geri Jewell hit on something I think is very important. It goes right along with believing in yourself. She stated that she had a pilot light on. Never, ever let anyone extinguish that fire, that desire to do something. Those people are not you. Those people do not share in your ambition. Those people who tell you that you can’t accomplish something don’t believe in you … and quite possibly, they don’t believe in themselves. Many people who tell you that you can’t accomplish something also don’t think they can do that very thing either. Their mindset is if they can’t do it, then how can you?

It’s like a mirror. You look in it and you see your reflection. When naysayers look at you and put you down or discourage you from chasing your dream, that accomplishment, they are just looking in the mirror and seeing themselves. And who they see in that mirror is someone who can’t—maybe even won’t—try to do what you want to do.

Don’t let them put out your pilot light.

I’ve struggled my entire writing career with what I should or should not do. Should I change this? Should I listen to this person? Should I try this? Should I submit to this place? Should I be concerned with what others think of me? Should I even continue with this gig? I’m at the point in my life where none of that should matter anymore. A lot of it doesn’t matter. What matters is am I happy? If I am happy with where I am at in life, then what others think really doesn’t matter. If I’m not happy, then it is up to me to make myself happy. It’s my pilot light. How much I turn up the heat in the stove is up to me.

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

A.J.

On July 8, 2017, The Monster was found.

Let me give you some context. The Anatomy of Monsters anthology was released on this date. We here at Stitched Smile Publications hosted an online release party, complete with author takeovers and live readings. It was a blast.

At the end of the party, four of us Stitchers got together and did a ‘live write.’ This is where we took a predetermined topic and wrote a story. We gave ourselves 300 words each and only 15 minutes to write each part. Here’s the kicker: Each writer had to wait for the one before them to write their part so they could start. Oh, and the 15 minutes included reading the previous parts.

In honor of The Anatomy of Monsters release, we wanted to do a piece involving a monster of some sort. After a bit of brainstorming, the topic was decided on. A descendant of Frankenstein had discovered the location of the Frankenstein Monster. It just happens to be in the possession of one, Ichabod Crane (he of the Headless Horseman fame). The descendant wanted the Monster back. This is how he goes about acquiring the family’s monster.

Those participating in the live write, in order of who wrote what parts: Lisa Vasquez, Nick Paschall, Donelle Pardee Whiting and myself, A.J. Brown.

Please make not of two things. 1) I have separated each person’s section with ***. 2) This is completely unedited. When you only have 15 minutes to write, you have no time to edit. So, in keeping with the live write concept, we have not edited this 1200 + word story.

I hope you enjoy this piece. Please leave comments and let us know how we did.

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

The Monster

By: Lisa Vasquez, Nick Paschall, Donelle Pardee Whiting, A.J. Brown

Victor sat in the library where the smell of books took over the room mingling with the smell of the burning logs in the fireplace. Since he was a child, this room held a mixture of emotions for him whenever he entered. Now, at the age of 81, the shadows crept over his features and deepened the lines of time as he stared at his reflection in the glass he was holding. ~A lifetime~ he thought to himself, ~A lifetime of searching, only to come up with baubles of the strange and macabre.~

Releasing a sigh, Victor stood up and downed the rest of his drink, letting the fiery liquid warm his throat and chest. He walked over to a display in the center of the room, the protective, glass casing illuminated by the overhead spotlight.

UnknownHe studied the diary of his great-great-great grandfather, handed down through the generations, until he knew every single word. ~At least, the ones not written in code.~

The breakthrough came when he stumbled across a man who used to work as a cryptographer in the military as a young man, and happened to have an old 16th Century French encryption book from the court of Henry II. He’d been trying to wheel and deal with Victor for pieces of his other collections for years to no avail. Seeing this as an opportunity, the other man could not contain his excitement.

“If I break this code for you,” Jacquis said looking over his bifocals at Victor, “you sell me the Coronation Charter of Henry I.”

Victor let out a single laugh, keeping his gaze fixed on Jacquis,

“You’re paying with money you do not have yet. Crack the code, and we’ll deal.”

Three months later, Victor had the identity of the man who possessed what he desired … the body of the “Family’s Monster.”

***

Entering the ancient woods of New England in Northern New York, Victor pulled his coat tighter to his frame as his carriage bumped along the road. Pulling a pocket watch, he stared at the hands and tapped the glass once or twice, just to make sure the damnable thing was working correctly!

“Hurry up you fool!” Victor shouted, leaning out the window to breathe in the clean air of the New World, the woods of Sleepy Hollow filling his lungs as a small herd of sheep moved down from a close by hill.

“We’re almost their sire,” Gris said, the low-born child stammered, his imperfect form of speech landing him as a hand servant to the Frankenstein family instead of an orator,

“We’re pulling in now.”

“Good,” Victor said, leaning back to pat the satchel of gold he’d brought along with him.

The man who owned the body of his great-grandfather’s experiment was none other than the detective Ichabod Crane, an elusive sort that’d gone missing after reporting to Sleepy Hollow. It had taken three lawyers to find him, and two more after that to arrange this meeting, but they were finally meeting in the Crowsreach Tavern in Sleepy Hollow, at Dusk on the 8th of July.

It would go flawlessly.

When the carriage pulled to a stop, Victor waited a minute before his door was opened, Gris standing beside it with his mop of blonde hair glistening with sweat.

“Clean yourself up boy and be sure to bring in the payment when I call for you,” Victor said.

Gris nodded, walking behind Victor to go and set up the horses for feeding and bedding down for the night.

Opening the door, Victor scanned the crowd and was instantly attracted to a pair of dark eyes.

Ichabod Crane.

***

Ichabod Crane locked eyes with Victor, daring the older man to look away. He knew why he was there. He wanted Ichabod’s prize. He needed the monster. Victor doesn’t need it, Crane thought.

Maintaining a casual appearance, Crane walked over to greet his guest. He only invited the foreigner to his home because his letter said he had something of great interest to offer.

“You must be the detective, Ichabod Crane I heard so much about,” Victor said, presenting his hand in greeting.

i_640x503_361846397Crane glanced at Victor’s hand before offering his own. “I am. And you must be Victor Frankenstein. I heard a lot about your work.” Crane looked over Victor’s shoulder to see Gris standing there bouncing from one foot to other. “Your … man … can wait with the horses. I don’t expect this to take long.”

With a backward flick of his eyes, Victor tilted his head to tell Gris to move out of Crane’s line of sight.

“Of course. But I do think this will interest you.” The aged collector bent down to pick up the bundle at his feet. “Where should we go to discuss this rare find?”

Crane led Victor the library to the right of the entry hall. As they entered, Victor looked around at the deep mahogany floor with a quality Oriental rug in front of the fireplace between two deep cushioned pub chairs. The table between the chairs was empty.

“I moved the decanter to the side board. You can put … whatever it is there.”

Crane walked casually to the sideboard. Would you care for a sherry? Or a brandy? I am afraid I do not have anything stronger.”

“A brandy would be welcome on a cold night like this.” Victor moved to the empty table and set the bundle down. He turned his heavy ruby ring as he watched Crane pour the dark amber liquid into snifters.

***

It wasn’t long before they discussed the deal.

“You have the Monster,” Victor said.

“I do.”

“It belongs to my family.”

“It belongs to me.”

“I’m offering you a thousand gold coins, Mr. Crane, for the Monster.”

Ichabod let out a humorless laugh. “Not even a million gold coins will get you the monster.”

“Let’s be fair, Crane.”

“Let’s be leaving, Victor.”

With that Victor flashed him an angry glance, nodded and turned to leave.

“Nice doing business with you, Frankenstein.”

Victor said nothing, as he left, leaving the gold coins behind.

At the carriage, he motioned for Gris. “I thought this would happen. You know what you must do?”

“Yes, Master,” Gris said. A crooked smile crossed his face.

Victor climbed atop the carriage to the driver’s seat and snapped the reigns. The horses started forward.

Gris walked away, with papers in hand. As he passed strangers on the street, he handed the papers to them.

“The Horseman’s Head?” One man asked. “You’ve found then Horseman’s Head?”

Ichabod heard the clamor and went outside.

“Excuse me, Boy? Come here.”

Gris did as he was told.

“What is this about the Horseman’s Head?”

Gris extended one of the papers to Ichabod, who snatched it and stared wearily at the odd boy. He read the few words on it.

“Where is this?” he asked.

“At the manor across the way.” He pointed down the road.

Ichabod turned and went back inside.

Barely ten minutes passed and Crane was on his horse and heading to the manor a few miles away. As he did so, he passed a darkened carriage hiding in the woods.

Victor smiled, lashed the horses into motion and made his way back to Ichabod’s home. There, in the basement, he found the monster.

“It’s time to come home, my child,” he said as he opened the cage the monster was in.

Have you ever listened to an older person talk? I don’t mean someone older than you by a year or two or even ten? I’m talking about someone in their sixties and seventies and eighties (and if they are lucky, further up in years). I’m talking about people with a life history.

I’ve heard it said when a child gives you something they think highly of you. It’s the same with older people telling you stories. If one sits down and opens up his or her past to you, it is because they want to share that part of their lives with you.

People don’t talk about the past anymore. Well, they do, but not the history of their lives. They talk about the immediate past. What happened an hour ago or a day ago or last week, maybe even a year or so ago. That’s all well and good, but tell me what happened forty years ago, during the height of the seventies or sixty years ago when teenagers went to drive ins and made out.

Tell me a story about your childhood, how you had to walk to school barefoot every day, up hill both ways, with your books slung over your shoulder in a cloth sack you had to hold with both your hands. Tell me how you had to get up in the morning to make breakfast for your siblings or how after school you would come home and do chores and homework before going outside to climb trees, walk on railroad tracks or fish out at a pond on someone’s land. Tell me about the war. Tell me about segregation. Tell me how you met grandma at church or at a work picnic or how she was your high school sweetheart who you went to the prom with. Tell me about your friends you used to hang out with, the trouble y’all got into, the fun y’all had. Tell me about the first time you kissed someone not related to you. Tell me about the greatest moment, day, summer of your life.

Reminisce for a little while.

People don’t do that anymore. And when they do, does anyone listen?

Older people know how to tell stories. They’re never in a hurry. They want you to sit down in a rocking chair next to them on the front porch (possibly with a tea, some water, a lemonade, maybe a coffee or possibly even a beer or some whiskey). Often times you will hear them say something like, ‘Come sit for a spell. I’d like to tell you a story.’ They might even pat the seat where they want you to plant your bottom.

They want you to see the pictures they paint with their words, so they tell their stories deliberately. They meander along, giving you great descriptions, both about the scenes and the people who take part in them. They give you wonderfully vivid details, sometimes laughing or letting out a ‘whoo wee’ when they reach certain parts. Occasionally, they might slap their knee (or even yours). They spare nothing in the telling of their stories.

You won’t get to the end of their stories in a couple of minutes. You have to sit and listen, sometimes for half an hour. Sometimes longer.

One of the things I know about older folks telling their stories: they want someone to talk to. They want an audience, even if it is just one person. That one person means the world to them. Because at their age, few people are listening.

Like I said earlier, older people know how to tell stories. They know how to engage their audience, and it doesn’t matter how small or how large. It’s an art form that is going away. It’s dying with each one of those older folks who leaves us.

My grandfather was great at telling stories. Sometimes those stories lasted minutes. Sometimes significantly longer. The one thing that rang true with them all was my grandfather took his time with them. He meandered. He said, ‘Come sit for a spell. I want to tell you a story.’ He didn’t care if I was in a hurry, because he wasn’t. He also knew how to capture my attention and he knew the best way to tell a story was by making it relatable.

Fast forward to today. Everyone is in a hurry. Everyone wants things on the surface. They don’t want depth. We have the fast food mentality of our way, right away. Come on. Hurry up. I don’t have time for this. Our story telling has gone that way as well. Everyone wants a fast story. They don’t want to sit for a while as an old man tells the story of how his and a long lost lover’s initials ended up on an oak tree near city hall.  I realize not everyone is that way, but it sure does feel like the majority is.

All that brings us to me. A lot of my ‘style’ as it is came from my grandfather. Though the subject matter is nothing like he would tell, the voice, the way I like to take my time to get into a story, the way I try to pull you in and make my words relatable, is definitely all him. I guess you can say I meander. I don’t hurry. I ask you to come, sit with me for a while.

I’m not as good of a story teller as he was. I doubt I ever will be. To be honest, I’m okay with that. Because I am me. I may have been influenced largely by my grandfather, but I am me and my style is my style. I unpack my stories carefully. Is it for everyone? No. If you are one who wants a quick story that hits you hard with action from beginning to end, then my writing just isn’t going to cut it for you. If you want perfect grammar, yeah, I’m probably not the writer you want to read. If you are someone who expects a lot of cussing and sex and gore in your stories, you won’t find that in my words. If you are looking for technically sound writing, you might not find it in my stories. After all, i tend to write my stories like I’m talking to someone face to face … as if I have an audience of one. Those are the types of stories I enjoy reading, so they are the stories I enjoy telling.

I guess that means I write stories like an older man tells them. I’m okay with that. Because older folks know how to tell a good story.

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

AJ

P.S.: If you know an older person, especially one that spends a lot of time alone, go sit with them, go listen to them tell their stories. There is history in their words. If there is one thing I know, everyone wants to live on after they are gone. By telling stories to the younger generation, that is what these older folks are doing. Go sit for a while. You won’t regret it. And you just might make someone’s day.

 

 

It was a short trip. One that could only be taken while the kids were in school. They were sometimes fun suckers—the kids, not the man and woman in the white car driving along 176 through the small town of Whitmire—and would have complained from the beginning of the trip until the end of it. Husband—or Dad, to the kids—didn’t do well with the complaining and whining, and often had a hard time letting things go when the fun was ruined by running mouths and attitudes. Wife—or Mom, to the kids—had the travel bug since coming home from over seas seven months earlier. The day trips kept her sane, but didn’t do much for ridding her of her traveling shoes.

He knew she took several short trips on her days off, while they were in school and he was at work. it was something she needed, and something he wouldn’t hold her back from doing. There was a serenity to it that always seemed to center her and put her at peace.

Today it was him and her, her and him. She drove along 176, leaving Whitmire behind and coming up on Union County. Not much further down the road was the town of Union. Here is where they made their grand discovery, after a few turns they came across what they gathered was downtown. It looked as if it could have come off of a sixties postcard, with the buildings along each block appearing to all be connected.

“I think they like jewelry here,” he said as she drove slowly down what they thought was the main street of town.

“Why do you say that?”

“I’ve seen four jewelry stores in two blocks.”

“Maybe.”

That was her form of an eye roll. It was the equivalent of an ‘interesting,’ from most others who really didn’t find these types of things interesting.

Then it happened. He glanced away from the road and saw the sign in the shop window. It read Friends of the Library in green hand written letters on a piece of cardboard.

“Bookstore!” he all but yelled.

“Where?”

“Right back there.” He tried turning in his seat, but it was already out of sight and they had passed through an intersection.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m positive. It’s a bookstore.”

17039263_10212341562718915_2909203469636739807_oOne of the common bonds of she and he was their love for books. She read more than he did, but he enjoyed a good book just as much. It was something neither of their kids cared much about.

For him, it was escaping into someone else’s world for a while and letting the imagination run with the written words that drew him to books. He thought she was much the same in that respect.

She pulled the car over after passing through another intersection, and parked along the curb. They got out, she putting her purse around her neck and shoulders, and began the walk up the steadily inclining road. They passed a jewelry store on their left, and right across the street three stores down, was another one. He pointed them both out to her as they went. They crossed the street at one intersection then another, passing a bank (which was probably the most modern building in the town) and another jewelry store. As quickly as they had passed the bookstore a minute earlier, they arrived at it.

The sign did say Friends of the Library in an almost looping script, but it also said Book Store. Beside the signs were three pieces of white copy paper taped to the window. They read: Hardbacks = 1.00, Soft Backs = .50, Children’s Books = .50, in the same green looping script as the name of the store.

They looked at each other. “Book store,” he said just outside the opened door.

“But are they open?” she asked.

When he looked inside, he saw why she asked. There were no lights on. The store was cast in gray. But there were people inside. He poked his head in. There was an older woman standing ten feet away. She wore a blue top and pants and her hair was white and cut short. She held several hardback books in her hands.

“Are you open?” Wife asked.

“Oh yes. Come on in.”

They did.

The store was long and wide. The floor was concrete and in need of a good sweeping, and probably a good mopping as well. And, just as he thought while standing outside, there weren’t just no lights on, there were no lights at all. The ceiling was a standard drop style, but there were no light fixtures anywhere to be seen. In spots there were pails and even a blue kiddie pool, all of which had a little bit of water in them. When he looked at the ceiling above them, there were brown spots on the tiles.

Those tiles are going to collapse one day, he thought.

None of that really mattered at that moment. What did were the dozen or so tables to the left and right of the entrance, all of which held boxes of books. Each box had a letter on it, written in black marker and in the same script as the signs on the window. Beyond the tables were thirty or forty folded chairs, each holding more boxes on them, all marked with letters. Some of the chairs even held two or three boxes, one on top of the other. Beyond those were still more boxes on the floor and two doorways, one to the left and one to the right, that led even further back into the building.

“The boxes are alphabetical by author,” Mrs. White Hair said.

“Thank you,” Husband replied.

“Hey, there is a box of Stephen King books over here.” This was Wife. She pointed down beside one of the tables.

He walked over, bent down and started pulling books from the box. Though they weren’t all Stephen King, a handful of them were. He plucked out three. Sure, he had them already, but these covers looked like first prints. Whether they were or not didn’t matter—he would purchase them.

“The hardbacks are a dollar, “ Mrs. White Hair said from over his shoulder. “The soft backs are fifty cent.”

He gave her a courteous nod and a ‘thank you,’ and turned back to the books. In his hand were the two hardbacks and one ‘soft back.’ He smiled at the thought. It wasn’t a paperback, but a soft back. He had seen it on one of the signs on the dusty window before walking in, but it didn’t register with him until he heard the term spoken.

Husband went from the box of ‘King’ books and made his way along the tables around him. Most of the books were older—nothing within the last five or six years—and they were mostly in good shape. He made his way from the tables to the first row of chairs. There were some Harry Potter books on one chair. Kellerman was a little further down. There were a couple of Lee Child’s Jake Reacher series, but he had both of those books. There were no Barkers or Campbells but there were a few Straubs. Still, nothing he had to have and nothing he hadn’t read. He came across three chairs that had Pattersons. He passed them up without giving it much thought—not really his cup of tea.

“There’s another room in the back,” another woman said. She was short and thin and looked frail. Her skin was almost tanned and her wrinkles were deep valleys on her face. Her fingers were together in the form of a teepee.

“Another room?” he repeated.

“Yes,” she responded. Her voice was soft and sweet and she smiled a grandmotherly smile. “Back there.”

She pointed to the back right corner where a door stood open. Unlike the room they were in, there was a light coming from it and shining through the doorway, cutting an extended rectangle into the darker portion of the open floor plan of the main room.

Husband and Wife exchanged looks. She smiled. He did, as well, but maybe not as wide as she did. There was a second or two when he looked back at the light and the elongated rectangle of yellow cut into the dark of that corner where the room was, and he thought of any number of horror movies he had seen.

‘Come, little children, come into my house of candy.’

He could almost see a witch at the doorway, one finger beckoning to them.

‘Come, crawl into my oven, little children.’

There was no witch beckoning. Wife was.

“Do you want to take a look back there?”

“Sure,” Husband said.

“Go ahead and have a look,” the short, thin woman said with a smile.

Again, that witch appeared in his mind and he wondered if they were walking into a trap. He glanced back at the open front door of the Friends of the Library book store. Part of him hoped it wouldn’t be the last time he saw daylight.

Wife walked into the room, clearly with no trepidation. He followed, with just a little. And there was no wicked witch and no oven and they didn’t get stuffed in bags and carried off for dinner one day.

“Ooo … Nora Roberts,” Wife said with excitement in her voice. She began going through the boxes on the floor and pulled out several paperbacks by Roberts.

Husband looked around the room. There were a couple of tables in there, as well as a handful of shelves. Many of the books in what he thought of as the Oven Room were older than the ones in the main room. Sitting on top of a tall stack of books in front of one of the bookshelves was one with a red cover and what looked like an obscure eye with a moon behind it.

Deathman, Do Not Follow Me?” Husband said. He picked it up and thumbed through its yellowed pages. The book was short—144 pages from front to back, title page included. He flipped it over and read the enlarged yellow font:

He heard the scream float up, up, up and the screeching of the anguished brakes … and he heard the silence. Then he saw the black limousine streak away and disappear …

“Find something you like?” Wife asked.

“I believe so,” Husband responded. “You?”

She held out two Nora Roberts books. “Oh yeah.”

They made their way out of the Oven Room and into the main room. They walked up to where Mrs. White Hair stood by a table.

“Did you find a few books?” she asked.

“Yes,” Wife responded and handed her the Norah Roberts books. Husband handed over the three Kings and Deathman, Do Not Follow Me. On the table was a book titled, Vampyres. “Is this one for sale, too?”

Mrs. White Hair looked at it. “Absolutely.”

“Awesome, I’ll take it.”

They paid for the books—just under nine dollars for all of them, most of which were hardbacks, not soft backs—and left the Friends of the Library to the tune of “Come again.”

“We will,” Wife said. Husband had no doubt they would be back.

“I love book stores,” he said as they walked away, the books in a bag in one hand, her hand in the other.

AJB

 

For the better part of the last seventeen months I’ve gotten to work with Lisa Vasquez, owner of Stitched Smile Publications, graphic designer and author. She’s witty and funny and believes in shenanigans. She is also hard working, dedicated and determined. I think this is why we get along, even though our personalities should clash.

Back in January, Lisa released her novel, The Unfleshed. Recently, I sat down to talk with Lisa about the new novel, among other things.

AJ: Before we get into the nitty gritty, tell us a little bit about Lisa Vasquez, the person.

LV: That’s the question I dread the most when doing interviews. I often put myself into separate boxes.

Lisa, the author, has been writing since she was in the 4th grade. My debut book, The Unsaintly, was released a few years ago and is my favorite work because it was my first published accomplishment. I just released my new novel, The Unfleshed this year and I’m currently working on my next novel as well as a few short stories.

Lisa, the book cover designer, has been doing covers for three years and it’s one of my favorite hobbies-turned-professions.

Lisa, the publisher, began her company in January of 2016 and is proud to say we have doubled our growth since then. We have amazing staff and authors. I love what the company stands for and how we support indie authors and help them learn to improve their craft and build their business.

AJ: That is a lot of Lisa! I would actually like to talk about Lisa, the author, for now. You said you started writing in the fourth grade? How did that come about?

LV: I had this teacher who was awesome. She engaged us and did all she could to spark a real love of reading. We did fun activities like completing stories when given the opening paragraph, doing stories from pictures (what’s going on here?) and then sometimes we did skits. I was in love with the whole process and in seeing what my fellow budding authors came up with.

So a shout out, if she ever sees it, to Mrs. Reese!

AJ: Do you remember the first story you wrote?

LV: Unfortunately, I don’t. I couldn’t even tell you what it was about.

AJ: Boy do I know that. I can’t recall the first story I wrote in school either, but that was because I hated writing back then. Now I wish I had been a better student.

Let’s talk The Unfleshed. What was the inspiration for this story?

51m6V9lTKQLLV: The Unfleshed was inspired by a few things. One of the important influences was Frankenstein (which led into Bride of Frankenstein). In the front of the book, I go into the story of how my father and I sat watching it after he had become ill with renal failure. They added him onto the transplant list and it suddenly became this dark blanket over our family.

Back then we had no internet so it was a time of reading thick medical books. We were pretty young at the time, I think I was about 13 (I’m the oldest).

My dad always used opportunities like this to talk to us about things. Comparing situations from movies or songs to real life scenarios. It was a cool way to open doors of discussion that might have been awkward or avoided otherwise. So we’re there and we’re watching, and he says, “Who would’ve thought when Mary Shelley wrote this, that one day taking body parts from people who died would give life to someone else? And that someday this wouldn’t be science fiction, but reality?” And it stayed with me every single day until today. It probably always will.

AJ: Parental lessons, especially given in this manner, always seem to stick the most. Having read The Unfleshed, I really want to know where Angus Wulfe came from.

LV: Angus came from a dark place. All my characters come from my head but this was me vs me. I tackled some heavy issues I won’t go into publicly. He also came from my love of Thomas Harris’ character, Hannibal Lecter. Somehow, this vile human was loved as much as he was hated. I wanted to be able to expose that in this story. The psychology of how we can empathize, even with monsters.

AJ: You put Angus through a hellacious childhood that we only get to see a glimpse of. I know this is part of character building, but at any point did you look at young Angus as a little boy and wonder, ‘why the heck am I doing this to him?’

LV: No, because that is reality. In order for the reader to relate, I have to make it real.

AJ: Oh absolutely. I have to ask this since you brought up Frankenstein: when The Unfleshed was published, did you scream, “It’s Alive! It’s Alive!”?

LV: Damn right! haha!

AJ: Hahahahahaha. Did you enjoy the … umm … how do I put this … the scenes where Angus inflicted his doctorly will on his patients?

LV: Actually, I did. I have to admit there was a tiny, evil giggle during those scenes. I might have some issues. That’s between us, though.

AJ: Us and all the readers out there. My favorite character in the book was actually a secondary character. Marshall. Tell me a little about him and where he came from.

LV: Oh yes, poor Marshall. Marshall is the balance in the story. No one is “all bad” and no one is “all good” in life. Some may come close, but to me, I feel like life puts us in situations and really tests our moral compass. If Angus hadn’t gone through his childhood, he might be Marshall, and vice versa. I like having a complex but balanced story that explores human nature. Marshall is “the conscience” in the story.

AJ: Marshall reminded me of Renfield from Dracula, but a little more tragic.

LV: He does kind of remind me of him in a way.

AJ: How long did you work on The Unfleshed?

LV: Hmm … well I wrote The Unfleshed as a short story back in early 2000. It was much different then. I changed it around because I wanted to change up the “zombie” craze a little. I mean technically, Frankenstein could be a zombie! I liked the idea of it and ran with it. Instead of zombies walking around, we had Frankensteins. It took a year to rewrite and about a year to polish it up.

AJ: A lot of The Unfleshed is steeped in history and in the medical field. Is that a direct relation to what went on with your father during your childhood?

LV: It did, but it didn’t seem realistic to have like … say a baker bringing people back to life. It had to be something believable. Since it’s set back in the 1300’s, there wasn’t education like there is today. When you were old enough to walk, you were old enough to work. But having the experience of my dad being sick and having an education in the sciences, it directly influenced the story.

AJ: Speaking of the setting, why did you set it back in the 1300s?

LV: Well it was the time of the plague for one. And secondly, I love time pieces. I love anything medieval or historical. They’re very interesting times.

AJ: Speaking of historical, you have another book titled, Unsaintly, that is somewhat historical as well. Tell us a little about this one.

LV: Unsaintly is a book about good and evil and everything in between. It’s spiritual, fantastical, and horror altogether.

AJ: Now, that one took you a little longer to write than The Unfleshed, right?

LV: Unsaintly took me ten years to write! Haha, so yes, a little longer

AJ: Ten years? Wow, that is a long time.

LV: Most of it was self doubt. The other part consisted of research and computer crashes

AJ: Computer crashes suck. So, Lisa, tell me, if you can, what do you want the readers to come away with from The Unfleshed?

LV: I’d like them to love the characters and enjoy the story. I hope they understand the complexities of the characters while getting a good old fashioned horror story. And finally, I hope I gave readers who enjoy the classics (Frankenstein, Dracula, etc.) something special.

AJ: Fair enough. Before I let you go, tell me what does the future hold for Lisa Vasquez, writer?

LV: More writing. As long as there is a story to be told I’ll be letting the demons out. I have a female assassin who’s getting antsy to be heard. She’s been in there longer than Unsaintly. And my Viking Werewolves are pacing their cages.

AJ: Very nice, Lisa. Very nice. I’m going to let you go now, but do you mind telling the readers where they can find you and your work?

LV: Sure!

Twitter: unsaintly

Instagram: unsaintly

Lisa Vasquez on Facebook

Unsaintly Website

And of course  Stitched Smile Publications Website

You can find The Unfleshed on Amazon here.

Recently I read an article titled, Dear Writers: Stop Releasing So Many Novels. If you haven’t read it, you can find it here: https://ryanlanz.com/2017/02/26/dear-writer-stop-releasing-so-many-novels/.

I think the author of this blog had some fairly valid points. I also saw where quite a few of the comments on his post were negative and contradictory to what he stated. I think one of the key aspects to this piece is the author clearly stating it was his opinion. A lot of folks missed that before pulling out the whips, chains and knives.

I am a fairly prolific writer. It doesn’t take me long to pound out a thousand words or more. If I really wanted to, I could easily write 6 or 7 novels in a year. No, that is not bragging, just stating an honest fact. However, I have no desires to put out that many books in one year.

I am a plodder. What I mean is I plod along in my stories, often reading what I wrote previously before I write the next day. I am methodical in that approach, which allows me to get into the mindset (even if for just ten minutes at a time) of my current WIP(s). This allows me to pound out those thousand words a day with relative ease.

Just because I can write a bunch of words doesn’t mean they are all good words or that they should all see the light of day. In truth, over half the stories I write I would never show the world. I could probably put out 8 or 9 volumes titled Crap I’ve Written with the amount of stories I’ve completed that should NEVER be read by any reader.

So often in marketing, the idea is to hit the customer with catch phrases and logos over and over again. Repetition is the key to people remembering who we are or what product we are selling. People making sales pitches will often say the same thing three times, with each one having more emphasis than the last. Again, this tactic is often used to get you to remember what is being said (or sold).

This same mindset seems to have taken hold here in the business of publishing. It is one thing to have your advertisements and logos in front of people. It is another thing to write a novel and put it out as quickly as possible. And then do it again. And again. And again.

The argument here isn’t necessarily about how many words someone can put out in a day, week, month, year. The argument isn’t even about putting out one novel as opposed to six. The argument is how many quality works can someone put out in any given time period?

I know, from experience, that I can put out a lot of good work in a short amount of time. Does that mean it is my best work? Not necessarily. Does that mean it needs to go from concept to written to published in a couple of months? Not necessarily. There are no real facts supporting time from start to finish equating to poor or good quality. I say that as someone who believes in taking my time in getting from one project to another. I don’t rush them, no matter how bad I want them to be done and out the door for people to read. If it is not ready, it is not ready.

But that is me. I plod along. Some people race along at breakneck speeds. We are all different.

I don’t believe I could ever put out six or seven novels in one year. I could write a ton of short stories, but novels? Nope. I just don’t see that happening. But some folks can. And of those some folks, some of them probably put out quality book after quality book. My question: how many of them can do it?

Something at the end of that article really stuck with me, though, and I believe it is somewhat accurate: Drafting a novel quickly is not the problem; rather, the problem is releasing everything that touches a Word document within six months of conception in an attempt to inflate the number of works attached to your name.

I think a lot of folks took offense to this. I know writers who do this very thing, who have said they do this very thing. This amounts to the whole marketing concept of hit them hard and continuously with ads about you and your product. In our case, put out as many titles as you can in a short amount of time to keep your name in front of the readers. Eventually, someone is going to see your name enough to think ‘hey, I should read something this person put out.’ This is subliminal advertising at its best, kind of like the theaters showing us people with food and drinks in their hands going into the movies. Doesn’t that just make you want to go get the jumbo popcorn soaked in heart attack butter and the mega-bladder buster soda?

The mindset seems to be ‘the more I have out there, the better chance I have of making sells.’ While that may be true in many cases, I go back to should you or I do that? I know I can put out a ton of work in a year. That doesn’t mean I will put out a ton of work in a year. I’m not going to pad my catalogue with inferior stories just because I can. It’s not fair to me and it is not fair to the reader.

What it boils down to is the reader. Without them there are no books being bought and read and no need for us to publish. The writer is not the person who is important here. It is the reader. It’s not just about getting readers, but getting them and making sure they are happy with what you put out time and time again.

I want to give readers an experience, and not just any experience, but one they won’t forget. It’s like buying a burger. I’m not going to pay six or seven bucks for a burger at McDonald’s. Two bucks tops, and that would be because I am hungry and their burgers are relatively inexpensive, though friendly service seems to always be lacking. However, if I go to Fuddruckers, I expect to pay between six and eight dollars for one of their burgers. The quality of the food is great and the service is always friendly, therefore I would pay a higher price for it. I also come away more satisfied with the money I spent based on the quality of the food I ate and the service I received. My experience is worth more money at one establishment than at the other.

It’s the same with reading. I want you to have a great experience when reading my stories. I want you to feel you received the value out of them that you paid for. I want you to say, ‘that story was so good I would buy it again.’ Not that you would buy the same story, but hopefully, you would try something else on the menu. That menu would be the catalogue of books you can choose from. You read Dredging Up Memories and liked it? Why not read Cory’s Way? Hey, Along the Splintered Path was good? Why not curl up on your couch with A Stitch of Madness? I believe in the menu I present to you. I believe in its quality. It’s not McDonald’s.

If you paid five or ten or even fifteen dollars for something I wrote, I want you to feel you got your money’s worth. I want you to feel like you received Fuddruckers, not McDonalds. But I’ll be honest with you, if I put out five or six books in a year, you would be getting the Quickie Mart on the corner of Not Good Street and This Sucks Avenue, and that’s not what I want.

I know some folks might not like some of what I wrote here. It’s not meant to be offensive and it is not angst driven. Sure, there are some folks who can put out quality work every single time they sit to write. Sure, there are some folks—some being the key word here—who can put out three, four, seven books in a year and they are professionally done and are quality stories. I absolutely believe that. But most people can’t.

I’m never going to say you should do this or you should do that or you shouldn’t do something. Each person does things their own way. If you can put out six quality novels in one year, I say, ‘wow’ and ‘congratulations’ to you. It’s not easy to put out one or two quality works in a year, so it is amazing when someone can put out many quality titles over a twelve month period.

For me, and for you, the readers, I want you to have a great experience with my stories. If that means I only put out one book or two tops over a year period, then so be it. I would rather do it that way, than to bombard you with mediocre stories that do nothing for you.

The article I read was hit or miss. Some would agree with the author. Others would not and that is okay. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on my thoughts, and the writer of that article should probably not expect a one hundred percent approval rating, either. But he hit on some things I have griped about over the years and he made me think, and that is always a good thing. And I hope I made you think, even if it was just about burgers.

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

A.J.

__________

All We See is the End

From the minds of A.J. Brown and M.F. Wahl comes two horrific tales of struggle and loss you won’t soon forget.

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 2.35.48 PM.pngRun For the Flame takes us into a world where an ice age has engulfed everything, driving life underground. The Sanctuary holds the last vestiges of humanity, but its walls are cracking and the ice is slowly encroaching. In their last grasp at survival, the community is forced to send their boys on an all important run for the flame … none have ever returned.

In Purple Haze, a crash landing on an uninhabited planet strands Adira and the surviving members of her crew. Surrounded by a quiet world of blue grass and purple skies, danger lurks within the beauty. Without contact to Earth and light years from home, they encounter a treacherous enemy that threatens to destroy them from the inside out.

Wahl, a #1 Wattpad featured author, and Brown, whose stories have appeared in over 200 publications, use their easy styles to draw you in and hold you close. Welcome to their nightmares.

Get the ebook on Amazon today.