An Excerpt From Susie Bantum’s Death

Posted: February 22, 2017 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , , , , ,

Good afternoon Faithful Readers,

Today I want to give you a taste of my newest story. This is the beginning of Susie Bantum’s Death.

I hope you enjoy.

***

She smoked the cigarette like it was the last thing she would ever do. Within three minutes of lighting it and a dozen or so steady puffs, she had dwindled it down to the filter. She flipped the butt away. It landed just by the shoreline of the flowing river. What remained of the red cherry was nothing more than a smoldering black pit with gray smoke pluming up from it.

It wasn’t the last thing she did. No, that thing was the run and jump into the raging river head first. That was odd for a couple of reasons. One, the river had swollen and had risen up the banks over the last three days, thanks to the week of rain the state had received. It was just a reprieve, a lull in the constant downpour that allowed her to take the walk to the river from her little home just up the hill from it in the village. Two, she was fully clothed and what most people would call sound of mind. The papers would say that was not a sound of mind thing to do, jumping in the water, fully clothed during what would be a flood just the next day.

They would be right. It was not what sound of mind folks did. But then again, Susie Bantum was a nobody and nobodies don’t matter to the somebodies of the world.

There were two witnesses who saw Susie take the leap to her death. The first of these was an old man, Marcel Declerque. He had been walking his dog when Susie went by him, her head up, eyes focused forward.

“She looked intense,” he would tell the police, but that wasn’t quite true. Sure, she was focused, but what was taken as intense was nothing more than Susie’s determination to get to the river, to … end it all.

“I only noticed her because Jerry barked at her,” Declerque told the police. Jerry was his fourteen year old German Schnauzer with bad hearing and bad eyesight. For Jerry to even notice her told his owner the woman was ‘just bad news.’

“She kept talking to herself, as if there was someone with her, but there wasn’t. I thought she was a couple laughs away from the funny farm until she jumped into the water.”

The other witness was a kid, aged ten, who had gone down to the river to skip rocks, but he couldn’t find any stones because the water had risen so high.

“I’ve been stuck inside for six days,” Bartholomew Winslow said. “You can’t watch but so many episodes of Spongebob before you get bored. It’s the same thing over and over. Spongebob is annoying, Patrick is dumb, Squidward is, well, he’s Squidward. It gets annoying after a while, you know? And that woman made them all look sane. She walked by me, carrying on a conversation as if she were with someone.”

The police weren’t interested in Winslow’s cartoon stories or Declerque’s dog tales. They only wanted facts and those were Susie smoked a cigarette and then jumped into the river, “where she was swept away like a trailer home during a tornado,” as Declerque put it.  And if it was true that Susie was talking to herself, having a conversation, as the kid put it, then maybe she really had been a few laughs away from the funny farm.

It was Henry Killmander who investigated the case. Not that he was a cop or a detective, or really anyone other than someone who had read about the case in the paper and seen the reports on the nightly news. Henry Killmander lived three houses down from Susie Bantum, and “she wouldn’t just up and kill herself like that,” he told the police. As with events of this nature, “it’s an open and shut case,” the detective said to Killmander before he folded his little black notebook up and tucked it in his pocket. He left with a wave and a “good day, Mr. Killmander.”

And that was that. Case closed. End of story. Move along little doggie, nothing to see here. But that was not good enough for Henry. No, Henry knew Susie and he knew she wouldn’t have just jumped into the river and taken her own life.

***

If you enjoyed the first two pages of Susie Bantum’s Death, please let me know in the comments section below.

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

A.J.

Baseball and Life

Posted: February 12, 2017 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , , , , , ,

I went for a walk by myself this morning. The sky was overcast and there was a breeze blowing in. It was nice enough out that the chill from the breeze didn’t make it too cool to where shorts and a t-shirt. The birds chirped madly and flew about from tree to tree and power line to power line.

A storm was coming. Or so it seemed.

This much is almost certain. When the birds act as they do right then, a storm is coming. My grandfather taught me that one day while standing on his back porch when I was a teenager and he was still around and life had yet to slap me in the face a few times.

Back to this morning. As I always do when I am by myself and want to walk, I drove the two miles to the middle school my daughter went to and my son now attends. Behind it is a baseball park. A walking path circles the park. This is where where I walk.

When I go on these walks I tend to pray for the first half of it. I don’t look at it as prayer though. I look at it as a conversation, though one sided, with God. It’s not a ‘hey I need something’ type of thing, or a ‘hey I screwed up type’ of thing. For me, these mornings are a ‘hey, I just want to talk,’ type of thing. They are good for me, good for my soul.

The second half of these walks is when I think about writing, but mostly, I just think about baseball. Seriously. At the end of these walks and before I go to my car, I walk to the baseball complex. There are four fields in the main section and a fifth field off to the side (this is where the younger kids play tee ball). In the center of the main section is the concessions and bathrooms. There are metal bleachers on each side of each field.

Today I walked to one of the fields and stared through the fencing surrounding it. The grass was freshly cut, the field newly raked. There were perfect chalk lines marking the first and third base lines, the batters boxes and the on deck circles. The pitcher’s mound had been recently formed, with the rubber in the center of it.

12734126_10208347032850778_986475889973690833_nThis is going to sound crazy, but for the first time since I was a kid, I didn’t miss playing the game. What I did miss—do miss—is coaching. I miss watching the lights turn on for a kid once he or she ‘got it’. I miss cheering the kids on or throwing batting practice. I miss those tougher teaching moments that is difficult for the kid, but what they don’t realize is it is difficult for the coaches as well. We want to make them better, teach them the game, but a good coach teaches them not only the game, but to have fun and to carry that over into life.

That brings me to my point today. Baseball is a unifying sport. You may not like the game and that is okay. But for those who do play it and for their families, it is unifying.

One season I was fortunate enough to coach a special needs child. It was one of the most rewarding things I have ever been a part of. Another season, our head coach had heart issues and ended up missing most of the season because of heart surgery. I met kids and parents and grandparents. I saw kids with two parents in the household and kids with just the one. I also met kids whose parents were absent and grandparents had taken them in. Baseball, for these kids, meant a couple of hours away from the reality of no mom and no dad.

Baseball is life. No, I don’t mean that baseball should be lived and breathed like oxygen. I mean baseball is life.

In a typical game there are nine innings with a break between each half inning as the teams switch sides. Batters go into the field and fielders come up to bat. Each team gets three outs an inning to score as many times as they can. There are hits and walks and strikeouts and pop outs and ground outs and long fly ball outs. This is much like life.

Let’s just say each inning is equivalent to ten years of life. That would make the first inning the growing years of childhood. The second inning, the learning who you are years. The third inning would be the years of establishing who you are as an adult. And the next three innings would be the working years. I know, that sounds absurd, but it’s not. Not really. The last three innings are the golden years, and if you are fortunate enough to make it further than the age of ninety then you go into extra innings.

There are times we do things well and get hits. Sometimes we do great things and those amount to doubles and triples. Then we do a couple of things that are fantastic or amazing or awesome or whatever you wish to call it. Those are home runs. There are times we succeed in a venture. Each one of those is a run scored. Sometimes we help someone succeed. Those are runs batted in. And yes, just like in baseball, those folks with the many runs, rbi’s and home runs are generally the stars.

Then there are the outs. Sometimes we strike out. These are the times when we just don’t try all that hard at something. Then you have pop outs and fly outs and ground outs. Those are the efforts we put in, but we still don’t succeed at something. The average batting average in major league baseball is between .260 and .275. That means the average player gets a hit only 26% to 27.5% of the time. That equals one out of every four plate appearances. This means failures are easier to achieve than successes.

Occasionally, we get a walk in life, a gift that we don’t have to earn. Those moments don’t come around all that often, so best to relish them while we can.

Sometimes in baseball, as in life, we get a lucky bounce. Sometimes, that bounce isn’t so lucky after all. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail. Hits, outs, walks, runs … it is all life.

Baseball takes effort. You learn how to hit by practicing. You learn how to throw by practicing. Life is the same. You learn how to write by practicing. You learn how to drive by practicing. You learn how to do various things in life by working at it. So many similarities.

In my life I have hit four home runs. Being saved. Marrying my wife and being a father to my two kids. In my life I’ve had quite a few good hits, a couple of walks and a lot of outs. But here is the thing: I’ve worked really hard at life. I’ve lived life and played baseball. I’ve taken my outs in stride with my hits and runs and I will continue to do so as the innings of my life play out. I encourage you to do the same.

As I stood at the baseball field this morning, I listened to the world around me. The wind was blowing and the flag flapped with it. The chord and metal hooks that hold the flag in place clanked against the flag pole. There were crows cawing and other birds chirping and flying about. Somewhere a dog barked. It was a moment to sit in the dugout and reflect on the game of my life so far. Are there things I would like to change? Sure. Are there things I would have liked to succeed at? Absolutely. Would I change anything. No.

Then I walked away, not missing the game I loved, but knowing that I gave both the game and my life to this date all I have. I’m good with that. The bat’s on my shoulder, a glove dangling from it as I leave the dugout and head back into the game. How’s your game coming along? Are you swinging for the fences, or riding the bench? Don’t ride the bench. Get in there and play ball.

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

A.J.

Dear Faithful Readers,

I want to tell you about Hank Walker, the main character of Dredging Up Memories. He’s an everyday average guy who ended up in the not so everyday average zombie apocalypse. He, like anyone dealing with the end of the world as he knew it, struggled to cope with the loss of loved ones and of humanity as a whole. He dealt with the loneliness in the best way he could. Maybe that was the wrong way, but it also may have been the way a lot of folks would have dealt with it. Who knows?

When I created the character of Hank Walker, I wanted to put him in situations that would test his mental fortitude. I wanted to break him and see how he came out on the other side of that. There were things I put him through that bothered me, especially as I got to know Hank and see his personality develop.

Sometimes when we write characters, we have to hurt them in order to make them believable. We have to hurt them in order to make you, the reader, feel something in your heart of hearts and your mind of minds. But by doing that, we also hurt ourselves, we break our hearts. As a writer, I know I have done my job, if I feel the pain of the story as I am writing it.

I’ve been told on several occasions that Dredging Up Memories is like The Walking Dead with more emotion. I take that as a huge compliment.

I can’t go into too much of the actual storyline without giving a ton away. However, I would love to give you part of the story, here in this post. Enjoy:

51xtx8nzwslA middle-aged man groaned as we neared each other. I screamed back at him before taking the top of his head off with the machete. The pistol took out several more, just click and boom and down they went.

I spun and saw another rotter moving toward me. His glasses were still on his face though hanging cock-eyed, just on the tip of his nose. His hair was short, a few cowlicks kicked off the edges. He was thin, and all I could think was Paul Marcum taking a bite out of Lee, essentially ending my oldest brother’s existence. The man looked similar to him.

I backpedaled to the truck, climbed in the bed, and shoved aside part of the tin can alarm system. There were other guns back there, plenty of ammunition, but all I wanted was a vantage point.

The other dead approached, flies swarming around them, their stench filling the air, making my stomach churn. Even after these few months, that smell still makes me want to heave. I plucked them off one by one until only the Paul Marcum lookalike was standing at the tailgate. He was missing three fingers on one hand, and up close, he was a lot worse off than I originally thought. Skin had peeled away from his face, exposing facial muscles as tough as jerky.

“How you doin’, Paul?”

He looked at me, gave a moan, and stretched out his arms.  

“Okay, so you’re not Paul—at least you weren’t in another life. But today… Today, you’re Paul Marcum, and you killed my brother.”

I brought the heel of my boot down on the bridge of his nose. He stumbled backward, let out what sounded like a howl. He was in pain, and I was happy to put him through more of it. I jumped from the truck, landed a few feet from him. A quick whip of the machete on one arm and it separated from his body.

“You think that hurt?” I yelled as he groaned. “You haven’t felt anything yet.”

I circled around him, rage having consumed me entirely. The blade found the other arm. The snap of bone and the rush of fetid blood spilled from a new wound as the arm fell away. Another pain-filled howl left the Marcum lookalike. I pulled the pistol from my waistband and took two shots at his legs—two wasted bullets that I’ll never get back, but at that time…at that time, wounding an innocent man who unfortunately looked like another one was all I cared about. The rotter fell to the ground, lay there with no hands to pull himself along, his legs useless.

With the toe of my boot, I rolled him onto his back. His teeth clattered together as he gnashed at me. His filmed-over eyes held anger in them.

“You’re mad at me? Is that how it is, Paul? You kill my brother, and you’re mad at me?” I laughed. Maybe the wheels had finally come off the car, and my mind had taken the short road to insanity. I don’t know, but at that moment—that frozen, horrible moment in time—I didn’t care about the pain the dead must have been in, the fear that must have been sitting in their undead veins. The only thing that mattered was revenge. Plain and simple. And revenge I would have.

I brought the blade down on the dead man’s chest, yanked it out, and swung it down again. Over and over, I bashed the body of the poor man as black blood spilled from each wound, and dead tissues tore free, bones broke. After several minutes, I finally stopped, my arms aching, my breathing heavy and harsh in my ears. The zombie still stirred, his mouth still opening and closing, his eyes still focused on what could have been a meal.

And the anger was gone from me, all of it unleashed on that poor dead man. I shook from adrenaline and sudden guilt. A hand went to my mouth, and I dropped the machete to the ground. I took several steps back until my back hit the tailgate. The man still moved, still made little groans and moans, and his head turned from side to side like he was saying no no no no over and over again.

I pulled out my pistol, walked the short distance to the mutilated body, and pulled the trigger. The man’s head ruptured, and he stilled. Hands shaking, I got into the truck, closed the door, and locked it. I could feel Humphrey’s eyes on me, sense his disappointment.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered as I stared out the windshield at the carnage around me. The dead were truly dead, their bodies lying where I felled them.

I hope you enjoyed this snippet from Dredging Up Memories. If so, consider bee-bopping over to Amazon and getting a copy. I would truly appreciate it. If you have already read it, would you mind leaving a review if you haven’t done so? That helps me out more than you probably know.

With that said, I leave you all and hope you have a wonderful morning, afternoon and evening.

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

A.J.

Recently, Stitched Smile Publications put a multiple author anthology titled Unleashed: Monsters Vs Zombies. During the release party for this book, I met a lady who brimmed over with excitement. Having talked with her briefly during that party, I thought it might be time that you, Faithful Readers, get to meet her. Welcome G. Marie Merante to my world (and yours).

AJB: Tell me a little bit about you.

51oc1pr0byl-_ux250_GMM: I’ve lived in the same town all my life. Its very rural and if you blink, you miss the center of town. For the past 20 years, I’ve lived six minutes down the road from the house I grew up in, moving after I got married. I’ve been with my husband for 25 years, have three kids…well, men now-ages 31,19 and 18. And I might as well throw in my two dogs, three cats and my bird—an African Grey.

I work part time in an amazing bookstore, as well as have the day job, and of course the writing, which I’m always thinking about, or working on in between.

To add more about the me … besides writing, I study martial arts.

AJB: You’ve lived in the same town your entire life? I ask that like it is shocking, but I have mostly lived in the same town my entire life as well, only moving out of it for about a year.

GMM: Well … I moved here when I was seven, but since I have zero memory of anything before I was five, its basically all my life..lol

AJB: I shift gears a lot, so let’s talk about working in a bookstore. Do you enjoy it?

GMM: Its pretty amazing. The bookstore is iconic. Its well known in the world of Indie bookstores and it draws incredible authors. In the past I have met Neil Gaiman there, and this past year, Buzz Aldrin, Kate Hudson ( who I almost knocked over) and Lindsey Vonn. The list of authors is immense, so the store has amazing history and a great vibe, almost a Hogwarts feeling when you walk in. And to be around piles and piles of books, there is a weird coziness to it, a very peaceful feeling.

AJB: Oh wow. I would love to work in a small bookstore like that, one where I could get lost in the pages every chance I got.

GMM: Unfortunately, there is not much time to read while working, between helping customers, or shelving. I wish I could just absorb each book just by touching them.

AJB: That would be awesome, but then you would lose the experience of reading and feeling the characters and seeing their lives through their eyes.

GMM: Very true. I do most of my ‘reading’ on audio. Fortunately, my day job allows me to listen all day, so I’m constantly going from one book to another. I have about 260 books in my Audio library.

AJB: 260 audio books? Holy cow. I have to be honest here: I have only listened to two audio books in my entire life and they are both for my books.

51jmndlm9dl-_uy250_GMM: That’s a great way to do final edits on your own work. Reading out loud has never worked for me, so downloading your own pages to an audio file is always my last phase of edits before putting a book to bed and querying.

AJB: Well, I didn’t do the audio for them–I listened to the audio versions that were put out by my publisher and voiced by John Malone. He captured my writing wonderfully.

GMM: Ahh. That’s awesome!! Well … editing tip for you..lol

AJB: I’ll keep that in mind.

GMM: Oh … and THANK GOD for audio books … I would go crazy with my day job.

I go through 3-4 books a week, depending on their length. Harry Potter, thats taking a bit more than a week each.

AJB:
I’m curious, who is the nicest celebrity you have met there?

GMM:  They’ve all been very nice, but Neil Gaiman was just amazing. Stardust is one of my favorite movies, and I told him that. He shook my hand and said most American’s have never even seen the movie. He signed my book and told me to DREAM. Which I do.

AJB: I have heard Gaiman is a truly nice person, which is something you always hope to hear about celebrities.

GMM: Its completely true. If you ever listen to any of the audio books that he narrates, what he sounds like on the audio is exactly his personality. The nicest guy ever.

AJB: That is awesome to hear.

Let’s shift gears again. You also mentioned you study martial arts.

GMM: Yes.

AJB: How did you come to that?

GMM: My husband was studying when we met, but then we got away from it. About five years ago, we decided to take classes with our two youngest boys who were still in middle school then (both are graduated from High School now.)

We believe in self defense, and I especially believe women should learn to defend themselves.

AJB: I’ve never taken martial arts. It is as much about discipline as it is self defense, right?

GMM: It is. In the school I go to that is instilled in the younger kids more. Respect. Listen to you parents, Do your homework. No testing for your next belt if your teachers don’t sign off agreeing the kids are well behaved and doing their work.

As adults, you should really have that down already … lol.

AJB: Maybe I should get my children into it.

GMM: Absolutely!! Its great for self esteem and its not at all about fighting. If you are at the right school, you are told to avoid confrontation, respect the art.

You learn to defend yourself, but with that comes responsibility. Ok … I sound like Spiderman now.

AJB: Hahahaha … Spiderman is okay in my book. But I hate his outfit from the earlier comics.

GMM: Spiderman has a very special place in my heart.

AJB: He does know how to weave a tangled web.

Let’s switch gears again and talk about writing.

GMM: Ok.

AJB: When did you get an inkling you may want to be a writer?

51xswnz8vl-_uy250_GMM: High school. English class. The teacher recommended I submit my creative writing projects to a high school literary magazine (Its been so long, I’ve forgotten the name of it). I wrote many short stories and poems. When I was about 23, I wrote my first book, a children’s book, and even typed it up on my typewriter. But it wasn’t until I was taking a college course in my thirties—a creative writing course—that the teacher told me I should be doing nothing else but writing children’s stories.

That was when I decided to write seriously

I wrote my first novel length book after that, then rewrote it about 10 times over 8 years.

I can’t even call it revising, they were total rewrites.

After I finally put that book to bed, did a bit of querying—maybe five queries and all rejections, I started another book. By this time, I had discovered Twitter, which was still pretty new at that point. There were agents and authors on there and I found out about Nanowrimo, so I decided it was the perfect time to start a new book. I wrote 30k of a vampire book before deciding I needed to do too much research to continue (Virgo … perfectionist). So I put that book aside, and started a new one—a dystopian and won Nano, writing 50k words in two weeks (don’t ask..I have zero idea how I pulled it off).

I finished the book in April, revisions and all. By September, I was querying the agents I had met on Twitter. A year later, I signed with the first agent I queried. But we didn’t go out to publishers for another seven months. By that time, dystopians were out. The book did not sell because the market was flooded.

I parted ways with her about a year and half later.

Since then, I’ve written two more books, one which I’ve been working on for four years and I’m querying for now. I also have  two fulls out at this time. The other I’m working on revisions again.

I also have about four new books on the burner … no idea which I’m going to write next.

AJB: The life and trials of a writer.

GMM: Yup. And two shorts, one with Stitched Smile Publications, and another that was picked up last April.

AJB: Let’s backtrack a little bit here. Tell me a little about that teacher who encouraged you to write in high school. Was he a cool teacher? Influential? Did you like him?

GMM: He was my favorite teacher, the kind that brings out the creativity in you. The class was small, maybe 20-25 people, so he read and graded the stories right in front of the students. That was when he told me I should be doing nothing else but writing for a living. He told me he has not seen a student writing like mine in many years.

I was stunned. At that  point, it had been several years since I wrote anything.

He started me on my journey. Planted the seed. And today, the short I wrote that day is still in the works. I’m revamping it, possibly turning it in a full length novel. (When I was young, 7-10yrs old,  when we visited my Nana, I used to go on witch hunts in the woods with my cousins and a boy who was my Nana’s neighbor. The story is based on those hunts.)

AJB: I love teachers like that. I wish there were more of them. Isn’t it interesting how one person can set the course for someone else by having a belief in that person?

GMM: Absolutely. His words still wring in my ears anytime I doubt my self, which is often. He was amazing. He obviously had passion that ebbed over into his students.

AJB: Writers have a habit of losing belief in themselves. Sometimes we need a push and a memory can often serve as that push. I’m glad to hear you had a teacher who can push you now, all these years after his encouragement.

Now, let’s talk about the two short stories you currently have out.

GMM: Sure!

45b45f94c1fe8fa41859dbf0ecfa9a4eAJB: First let’s discuss the one with SSP. Crystal Blue Waters, am I correct?

GMM: You are correct.

AJB: Tell me about Crystal Blue Waters.

GMM: Violene is a vampire forced out of Miami by the zombie out break, and back to her birthplace, a remote island in the Caribbean, in order to survive, only the tropical waters are not as safe as she thought, and its up to her to save her island.

AJB: Having read this, I thought it was a neat concept I think readers will enjoy. I might be wrong here, but is this your first publication?

GMM: It is.

AJB: Well, let me congratulate you on your first publication and make a toast to many, many more in the future.

GMM: Thank you!! Its very exciting. I have my contract with SSP framed. Its in my bookcase.

AJB:
You do? That is awesome. I am happy for you.

Marie, do you have a favorite genre to write in?

GMM: Not particularly, though I tend to write dark. The book I am querying now is a YA historical/magical realism. I am revising a dark YA contemporary romance. I have two zombie books slated. Another one that I think would be classified as Literary fiction. Its what ever comes to me.

AJB: Diversity is a good thing.

Earlier you said you have ideas for other books. Do you find it difficult to focus on one idea or to choose which idea to write on when you have multiple ones in your head?

GMM: Its horrific. When ideas come to me, I get like little snippets of movies that just appear. Then they are stuck in my head. I carry a pile of notebooks with me because I’m constantly jumping from one to the other, constantly writing notes. I’ve had a particularly hard time trying to figure out which new book to work on. I have a few chapters for two of them, plot notes for the others. I’ve decided to wait on those while I revise the YA contemporary romance. That story is most prominent in my mind right now.

AJB: Then I would go with the one that is at the forefront of your thoughts.

GMM: Exactly. I’m adding a secondary story line that is going to parallel the existing story, so its is new writing, not all revising. Which makes it a bit more satisfying.

AJB: Just a couple of more questions and I’ll let you go. You said you have another short story out. Can you tell me about it?

GMM: Sure. Its with Dead Silent Publishing out of the UK, that is also a production company, focused solely on zombies. My short is called All Dressed in White, which takes place about a year after the zombie outbreak. A bride who was scratched and wakes up the morning of her wedding realizes she only has hours to live before she turns. So its a countdown of her preparing for the wedding, because its the last thing she wants to do, and a countdown to her becoming a zombie.

AJB:
Oh cool. That is something I think I would like to read.

GMM: Awesome! It has a twist at the end..

AJB: Okay, Marie, I just have one more question for you: where can readers find you?

GMM: G. Marie Merante on Facebook

G. Marie Merante on Twitter

G. Marie Merante’s Amazon Author Page

For story boards: Pinterest

I used to have a website, but took it down to make changes and well … I need to work on it.

AJB: Thank you for your time Marie, it has been nice talking with you.

GMM: Thank you so much!

AJB: You are welcome.

Check out G. Marie Merante in both Monsters Vs Zombies and Zombie Chunks and look for more from her in the future.

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

 

On a dead end road off of East Church Street sits a baseball field—or maybe what is left of it. You don’t see it from East Church, and you may not even think anything of it. What probably draws you in is what looks like an entrance to a building that is no longer there; the brick and concrete doorway looks somewhat out of place. It is as if you can step up on the platform and step through the structure with the green vines growing up one side, and maybe you would step into another world. Or maybe another time.

dscn1515As you turn from off one street and onto another (East Church onto North Means Street) and drive toward the odd doorway, you not only notice the doorway, but you notice the aluminum bleachers and four tall pine trees that stand in front of those bleachers. A little further down the road you see the top of a fence that would be considered a backstop. It is tall enough to keep balls from flying backward toward anyone in those stands behind that fence.

dscn1518Drive a little further and park your car, truck, motorcycle or super trike. Get out and walk toward the field. It is a marvel as old as the day is long. There is a set of bleachers along the first and third base sides. These bleachers serve as the team’s dugouts. Yes, that’s right, there are no dugouts for the teams to sit in when they are not in the field.

A closer look shows the outfield grass is creeping in on the infield, but that isn’t the only thing that catches your eye. On the infield, right into the first twenty or so feet of the outfield, are deep grooves in the form of circles. Someone has driven onto the field with a truck and has done donuts. It is also clear that this happened a while back—the grooves are hard, even though it has rained within the last three days.

dscn1525The outfield grass holds many sparkling spiderwebs, the dew of the early morning like glassy diamonds shimmer, even on this gray, overcast day. Try to ignore the glassy spiderwebs and keep walking toward this wooden post, old style cyclone outfield wall, which is barely three feet tall and looks more like it belongs around a farm than on a baseball field. Just before that fence is a blacktop path that could be considered the warning track. More than likely it is a walking trail, and if you look to your right and left, you will see this is exactly what it is. The path leads outside the field and behind an old house in one direction and dead-ending at the road in the other.
Just beyond the outfield fence is a tree line that dips into a valley. Many of those trees have been downed over the years, either felled by age or weather, or maybe even axe and chainsaw. There are a couple of structures back there, houses maybe, but it is kind of hard to tell through all the trees.

If you walk from centerfield to home plate, you will find it is 291 feet, and for little kids, it would take a hard swidscn1526ng, and a long fly ball to hit a home run.

Before you leave the dilapidated field, touch one of the bags, first, second or third. Go ahead. It won’t bite you. Though the exterior is slightly hard, the base is soft. You can push on it with a couple of fingers and the base gives. Yeah, old school bases are the best.

As you go to leave, don’t just look at the doorway to a building that is no longer there. Walk up to it, pull yourself up on it. Touch the cold clay brick and the smooth concrete arch. Now, step through it. Go ahead. Just do it.

What do you see on the other side? What do you hear?

The sky is no longer gray, but the sun is out and shining down. The cool of the air when you arrived is now warm and that coat you are wearing feels like too much. The road to the left is no longer paved, but red clay, just like the field that is surrounded by the short fences. Take a look now. There are folks in those bleachers. Maybe they are from the fifties or the sixties or seventies. Maybe they are from last year—does it matter what time period the ghosts of games passed are from?

dscn1523The kids on the field aren’t wearing fancy uniforms. Most of them are in jeans and t-shirts and raggedy shoes (not cleats, folks). They wear their favorite teams’ hats and those, like the rest of their clothes, are fairly dirty, some because of superstitions, some because they don’t want those hats washed—it gives them character, you know?

They toss the ball around after every out. They tap their cleats with the bats on every plate appearance. The catchers talk trash behind the plate. It doesn’t bother most of the kids, but every once in a while, one of them takes offense. The only kids sitting on the bleachers down either of the base lines are the ones who are not playing. The others walk around and talk or toss the ball back and forth to keep their shoulders from getting stiff.

There is a pitch and a swing. The crack of a bat and the ball is airborne. It comes down in the right fielder’s glove with a loud smack. He tosses the ball to the shortstop. In turn, he tosses it to the first baseman and then it goes to the pitcher. The game has just started and the fans sitting on the home side bleachers cheer the out and yell their ‘at a boys’, while those on the visitor’s side clap at the effort of the batter and yell their ‘get ‘em next times’.

dscn1528It’s mesmerizing, this game I so love (though maybe you don’t), and no, this history is not in black and white, but full on technicolor.

Don’t go back through the doorway just yet. Don’t go to your super trike or moped or your Porsche. Instead, hop down from the landing of the doorway and stroll to one of the bleachers. Grab a seat and sit. Enjoy the game. As I said, it’s just getting started and the old field you drove up on that no one plays on anymore is awake and alive and about to put on a show for you.

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

How I See It: Greatness

Posted: January 11, 2017 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , , ,

Sometimes the world pulls you down. It does. The hustle and bustle of it all can be exhausting. Trying to live up to everyone’s standards (not to mention your own) is daunting and often times a complete exercise in failing. You work, work, work and feel like you are getting nowhere. You often feel you don’t matter or you don’t make a difference anywhere or you whisper to yourself, ‘there has to be more than this.’

It’s frustrating. Cumbersome, even.

We are so wrapped up in our place in the world we often forget to just stop, and literally, smell the roses. Or, in this instance, see the clouds.

This morning, on the way to work, my wife commented about how beautiful the clouds were. I looked off to my right as we crossed the Jarvis Klapman Bridge. The Gervais Street Bridge was just across the way, cars zooming by, the drivers on their way to their destinations, the Congaree River passing beneath it (and the bridge we were on as well). Off in the distance the clouds hung low in the sky. They were bathed in colors of light purple, pink, orange and gray with the underbelly of them (further off in the distance where the sun was trying to peek through) lined in silver and white. It looked as if those clouds had been painted up there. I felt I could roll down the window and touch them and paint would come away on my fingertips.

It was more than beautiful. It was amazing. It was awesome. It was splendorous. It reminded me of how great God truly is.

As the morning has gone on, I keep thinking about the image of those clouds, of how it looked like a painting—a great, truly majestic painting. It also reminded me that there is greatness in every person. Yes, I said every person, and by every, I mean EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. You can be an athlete and be capable of great things. You can be a musician and be capable of great things. You can be a teacher and be capable of great things. You can be a child and be capable of great things. You can be homeless and be capable of great things.

You can be a writer and be capable of great things.

The thing with greatness is so often it comes from within yourself. It is accompanied by hard work and dedication and a burning desire, but it is in every single one of us, and yes, that includes the homeless person, or those who most would consider lesser people. You can be religious or not and still do great things. You can be rich or poor and do great things. Skin color, sexual orientation and gender does not matter. Neither does political beliefs.

Greatness has nothing to do with who you are but it has everything to do with WHO you are.

Confusing? Yeah, it can be.

Here is how I see it: Greatness has nothing to do with what people think of you, but who you are on the inside and what you think of yourself.

To steal a quote:

A winner is not someone who wins. It’s someone who tries and isn’t afraid to lose.                                     –Nusrat Sultana

Greatness will never be about winning and losing, no matter what society says, but about effort and belief in yourself. It took me a long time to figure that out. Sometimes, I still struggle with the concept.

I’ve worked for years to become a publishable writer. Then I realized it doesn’t matter if I’m publishable—most people can get published or even publish their own work, so it is a subjective term, in my opinion. What matters is that I continue to work on my talents of telling good stories, and for me to take them from good to great. I am going to be honest, I will never be where I want to be as a writer. I feel the greatness I want to achieve is a goal that may never be reached, but I will continue to strive for it. Why? Because I believe in myself and my abilities.

I also believe that you, Faithful Readers, want greatness. This is partially why I strive hard to make each story better than the last. I want you, the readers, to want to read my work and not feel you wasted your time with me and my words. If you feel you have wasted your time, then I have failed both you and me.

We, as a society, associate greatness with money. The more money you have the greater you are. We put our self value in money, money, money. I don’t want my greatness or how I value myself to be associated with the dollar. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to make a lot more money doing this than I do right now. I would love to be able to support my family doing the thing I love to do most: tell stories. But the great writers aren’t just great because they are rich. The great writers—the truly great ones—touch people with their words. This, Faithful Readers, is what I want to do. I want to touch you with my words. I want when you put one of my stories down, for it to linger with you as you walk away.

As I think about those clouds again, I go back to something I say at the beginning of some of my stories or blogs: Picture this, if you will. I like to paint pictures with my words. Whether they are dark and disturbing or soft and encouraging, I always strive to paint the most beautiful of images for you to read through. This, I believe, lends to the effort of trying to become great at the craft I so love.

I hope you enjoy the pictures I paint with the palette of words I use. If I do (or even if I don’t) would you mind leaving a comment below, letting me know. If I can improve on something, please let me know this is well.

Thank you for allowing me to touch you with my words. Thank you also for your time. I hope you have a wonderful day. Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

You can find me at these wonderful places:

A.J. Brown Facebook Fan Club

A.J. Brown Facebook Author Page

A.J. Brown Amazon Author Page

A.J. Brown Storyteller Website

@ajbrown36 on Twitter

Wattpad

Email: ajbrown36@bellsouth.net

 

 

We have so much time and so little to do. Strike that. Reverse it. —Roald Dahl

So often on this blog, and really all of my social media, I forget to do one very important thing. Well, okay, maybe a couple of very important things, like update this blog more regularly. Bad A.J.. Bad. That’s not it, though. The one thing I forget to do on a regular basis is promote my own work (I’ll prove it in a minute).

Go ahead and nod in agreement.

I can blame it on not having enough time if I want to, but that would be a lie, or at least a partial one.

I have never been all that savvy at marketing. I don’t enjoy doing it. I tend to want to write and write and write. But there is so much more to this business than writing. That is something else I tend to forget: publishing is a business. If you have ever had your own business or worked at any job then you have been somewhere that has needed to market themselves in order to get more clients. Without marketing, there are no clients, and without clients, there is no business.

For writers, we want readers. You, Faithful Reader, the person with your eyes on these words as you, well, read them, you are our client. Without you, then every time we put out a book, it will languish in obscurity. Now for the proof:

INTERACTIVE QUESTION #1: How many of you have heard of Ball Four? This is a small collection of dark baseball stories. (Please, if you don’t mind, leave a comment below. I would love to know if you have heard of the collection.)

I don’t think many folks have heard of Ball Four. It has sold one book since its release on August 20th of 2016. One sale in almost four and a half months. Why is this? Simple: I haven’t marketed it. Sure, I’ve posted a few things on Facebook about it, but beyond that, nothing. So, why (or how) would you have heard about Ball Four? You wouldn’t have unless you have gone to my Amazon author page on a regular basis. The proof is in the pudding.

To go with having a more interactive blog, one of my goals this year is to promote my work more. As I stated earlier, I haven’t been all that great about it.

So, would you like to hear more about Ball Four? Sure you would:

ball-four-front-image-onlyThere’s nothing like the sound of a little league ball park. From the dugout chants to the ping of the bat on ball or the heavy smack of a glove making a catch, nothing quite compares to kids playing America’s pastime. It’s the true innocence of the game on display, it’s the real effort to win as a team. Its kids being kids.

Though America’s game is at its best in the Little Leagues, it is also at its most tragic. There’s nothing like losing when your heart is all in. There’s nothing like failure when the game is on the line. But what if winning and losing didn’t matter?

What if it’s a bully getting what he deserves? What if it’s an old ballpark where dreams were once lived out, but now no one plays on? What if it’s a bad pitch or a base not stolen? Or what if it’s just a run short of glory? What if it’s the memory of a game many years in the past? 

What if it’s lost innocence?

***

I truly believe baseball, at its core, is the most innocent of games for little kids. It was the one I fell in love with first as a child. It’s also the one that seems the most tragic to me. The stories (and poems—yes, I said poems) in Ball Four look at, not just the innocence of the game, but also the tragedy.

For the one book that was purchased there was a review left behind:

If you love baseball, little league or softball. The clink of a bat or the sound of cleats in the brick dirt then this is the book for you. Imagine if you will sitting in the bleachers, hearing the cheer of the crowd and the smell of popcorn in the air. The sound of the crack of a bat as a batter hits a home run. The excitement in the stands. If all of that makes your heart beat faster then you must read this book. The stories are amazing and so well told. This author knows what he is doing and does it well. I have loved baseball since I was little and when I got this book I read Dreams of a Poor Child first. It touched me so that I read it to my father who sat in my living room and bawled. We were both crying by the time I finished the story. Not because it was sad but because it brought back childhood memories for both of us. AJ Brown is a fantastic story teller. I can’t stress enough that you want to read this book and that you will absolutely love it and the rest of the books that Mr. Brown has written. Simply put….AWESOME!

***

Do I have your attention? I hope so. If you would like to purchase the digital version of Ball Four, head on over to Amazon and grab you a copy. If you would like the print version, you can contact me and I’ll get a copy to you. And please, leave a review—they do help.

But wait, I’m not going to leave you here with just the blurb and a review, but also a glimpse at one of the stories. I called this one The Boys of Yesteryear and this is the very beginning of it:

Gravel cracked and crumbled beneath the tires of the old beat up Chevy. The head lamps cut two beams through the darkness, shining bright on the red clay field in front of it. The car came to a shuddering stop, the engine skipping as it idled hard. Harvey shut the car off and opened the door. A cane touched ground, followed by a brown slippered foot. Harvey pushed himself out of the car, holding onto the door for leverage. He closed it. The sound of metal on metal was loud in the quiet night. He hobbled to the front of the vehicle

Even though he wore a belt, his jeans hung loose on his thin hips; his shoulders were like a hanger his shirt was draped over. Harvey slid a white cap out of his back pocket and placed it on his head, the “B” logo faded but still stitched in place. He took a deep breath—something that was hard for him to do these days—and let the crisp fall air fill his lungs.

The field still had the wood fence around it, though many of the slats had fallen away or rotted out through the years. Weeds grew in the grass of the outfield, some of it encroaching on the infield that still looked like a rough diamond. The two dugouts were mostly gone—a wooden wall still stood along one of them but not the other.

Harvey made his way to the trunk and opened it. Inside sat a bat, ball and glove, all aged and well used. He picked the baseball up and stared at it for a long while, taking in each name scrawled in black pen along its surface, some overlapping, some faded to near illegible. He set it in the glove and then lifted both out, followed by the bat, a wooden model, not one of those aluminum atrocities the kids used these days. Harvey placed the items in a bag and put it over one shoulder, just as he had done so many times as a kid. No, it wasn’t a baseball gear bag like they have today, but a bag his dad had made out of an old rifle sheathing. The brown leather was worn and cracked in some places and the stitching that held it together was frayed throughout. The zipper was broke, leaving the bag permanently open. The strap dad had attached to it had been fixed twice. Harvey thought he should have probably had it restitched before…

Leaving the trunk open, he walked back to the front of the car and reached into the passenger’s side window.

“Come on,” he said as he lifted the old glass milk jug from the car, the cork still in place. He held it close to him as he shuffled toward the field, his cane going out in front of him with each pained step. Prickles of fire ran up his left leg from ankle to hip. He winced, gritted his teeth and continued toward the dugout he had shared with eight others all those years ago …

***

Enticed yet? I hope so.

One more thing: my good friend, Justin Dunne, asked me one time what music should he listen to while reading a story of mine. I had to think about it for a moment or eight—I had never been asked that question before. Since then I have taken to hearing the music the stories should be read to. With that in mind I’m going to go with a couple of songs: Centerfield by John Fogerty and There Used To Be A Ballpark, by Frank Sinatra. Enjoy the stories. Enjoy the songs.

I leave you for now, Faithful Reader, and I hope you have a wonderful day. Please like, share and comment if you have a moment or two. Thank you, as always for reading.

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

A.J.

You can find me at these awesome places:

A.J. Brown Facebook Fan Club

A.J. Brown Facebook Author Page

A.J. Brown Amazon Author Page

A.J. Brown Storyteller Website

@ajbrown36 on Twitter

Wattpad

Email: ajbrown36@bellsouth.net

 

 

Dear Faithful Readers,

This is going to be a short post.

2016 was crazy. I think we all know there were a lot of meh things to come out of the year. There were a lot of negatives, as well.

Though there were quite a bit of negative things going on in the world, there were a few things that were positive for me. I put out two books this year (a far cry from the five I wanted to put out, but still they were published). The two books were a three story collection titled, A Stitch of Madness. The other was my novel, Dredging Up Memories. Both of these books were put out by Stitched Smile Publications. I also became part of the SSP staff during the year and made some friends, a couple probably for life. So, there are some positives.

In 2016 I bit off a little more than I could chew. Part of this was due to being overzealous and wanting to try and get my name out there more than it was at the time. I added a lot to my plate that wasn’t there the previous two years and also added quite a bit to a marketing campaign I started in 2014. Early on a lot of the things I did looked as if they would pay off. Then June and July came and life happened. My focus shifted for a few months. When that happened, my blog, newsletter and writing suffered in silence.

Year two of The Brown Bag Stories also came to an end. For those who know what The Brown Bag Stories are, I will have an announcement about that soon. For those who don’t, feel free to ask about it and I will gladly let you in on the hubbub.

In October I started gearing up for 2017 in hopes of rekindling the push I started two years ago at the end of 2014. One of the things I would like to do is make this blog more interactive. I would love to hear your voices, Faithful Readers. I would love to hear what you have to say. I’d love to hear what you want to know about me or maybe even about my characters and stories.

So, let’s talk, what would you like to see in 2017 (and beyond)?

See, I told you it would be short. Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

nighthawks-atthemission-king-styleSometimes you meet someone who has a different viewpoint than most folks. The viewpoint can sometimes be bad and sometimes be good. It can also be refreshing. One of those viewpoints I find refreshing belongs to Forbes West, a writer, producer and a podcaster. 

When I sat down to do this interview with Forbes, I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but I quickly learned this is someone I like, someone who shares similar viewpoints as I do about writing. Y’all sit back and have a coffee, soda or brew and let me introduce you to Forbes West.

AJB: Okay, for starters, let’s talk about you. Who is Forbes West, the person?

FW: I’m nobody. I’m a tramp, a bum, a hobo. I’m a boxcar and a jug of wine, and a straight razor if you get too close to me. Or a person who is fond of using Charles Manson quotes to respond to texts.

AJB: Fan of Charles Manson?

FW: Am I a fan of Manson? Nope, but he’s the King Emperor of bat shit crazy things to say. Too bad his musical career never took off because he decided to kill a celebrity or otherwise he’d be the most quotable man on the planet.

AJB: He still could be one of the most quotable men on the planet. He definitely has some unique views.

FW: Unique is a good term. Covers a lot of ground.

I’m just a guy who lives and works in California, who’s been lucky to still be married and I get to live part time here in the USA and Japan. My wife is Japanese, we own a home in Shizouka prefecture, and I write novels and produce films.

AJB: You said you live part time in Japan and USA. I’m sure there are a LOT of differences between the two countries. What, from your experience, are the biggest differences between the two?

FW: Biggest differences is freedom vs community. That’s not to say one is better than the other. They aren’t. There’s pros and cons to both. But in California, which my wife loves, she can do whatever she wishes to be. She can strive for the stars. She can be creative and fun and hang out with people with massively different backgrounds with little to no judgment. You can be whoever you can be. In Japan, there’s a sense of being in a real community, where people ask you how your day has been, where bicycles can be left on the sidewalk without a chain, where your neighbors look out for you and people who know you can’t speak the language take a moment to speak yours. Safety, stability, cleanliness, and order. You can walk down any street and know people are looking out for you and actually care.

AJB: Wow, that sounds the way things used to be here where I live when I was a kid. That is, honestly, the way the world should be. Look out for one another.

Just out of curiosity, which do you prefer?

FW: I honestly don’t prefer either one. I love California and Japan. I think California has the ability to do so many random things. And again, everyone has different backgrounds, different views, and seem to be living in peace. I love the multiculturalism there and seeing people from radically different backgrounds.

AJB: I love that mindset, Forbes.

FW: My wife prefers it as well. Japan has many wonderful things, to be honest. Food, culture, and the most kind people I have ever met. But, its one thing to visit and go around Japan. To live there, it can be very oppressive at times. The companies control everything, and its not unheard of to know people working 80 hours a week, with only 40 hours paid, and to have the most verbally and emotionally abusive bosses overhead. The social pressure is enormous.

AJB: Wow. That’s crazy.

FW: So in a lot of ways, it is like the 1960s of the USA. Sure, there are real communities (which is a terrible thing we’ve lost) but the everyday B.S. can be overwhelming. It’s like California and Japan are opposite ends of the spectrum.

AJB: How did you come to be able to travel back and forth between the two countries?

FW: Well, we’ve been lucky and fortunate that my wife works as a Professor for a college, so she doesn’t have the year long schedule, and my schedule is also flexible. We own a home in Japan so there’s no additional costs besides airplane tickets. So in the winter and in the summer we travel back.

AJB: Man, I think that would be a blast,  and something to look forward to during the year.

Let’s switch gears for a second and talk business.

FW: Sure thing.

AJB: You are a producer of films and a writer and a podcaster. Which of those came first and which one do you find to be the most difficult?

FW: Films. Podcasting is just pure fun but films are incredibly difficult. Even producing and putting together a short film was the most difficult thing I have ever done. It’s a true battle—and on many fronts—accounting, getting people together, finding locations, money, story, etc. etc.

AJB: I would think the films would be the most difficult as well. You said Podcasting is just pure fun. What makes it fun? Is this something that you can say, ‘hey I’m going to do this and we’re going to have a blast?

FW: Pretty much. I’ve met some great people (Jon Frater, Michael Bunker, Rob McClellan, Nick Cole, Christopher Boore, and Todd Barselow) and just getting together with them and shooting the shit has been epic. Authors, editors and publishers getting together, especially with the intellect involved, and everyone has a great sense of humor—its’ been a blast. Interviewing with them, talking about issues, etc, all been great.
Oh and Jason Anspach. He’s a jerk but he knows it, he’s mentioned last on purpose. He knows why.

AJB: Sounds like doing a podcast allows you to be free and easy going and pretty much talk about whatever it is you want to discuss.

FW: Exactly. And thank God we live in a day and age where you can do this and just launch it all in a day

AJB: I’ve always wanted to do a podcast, and from what you have said, I think that desire may amp up a little.

Of the three, producing, podcasts, and writing, which came first?

FW: Writing. Just writing. I taught myself over the years while I was getting my Masters degree in political science. I started trying to write bad screenplays, awful novels, and started to turn it around. Writing to me, has always been like preparing for a marathon. There’s a ton of creative people out there, but you have to learn how to really just keep the energy up to finish what you started.

AJB: That is a very good point. Writing is very much like a marathon, and so many people give up because they get stuck instead of trying to see a way to fix where they became stuck.

You said you taught yourself over the years. Can you explain what you mean by that?

FW: Well, I read a lot of how to write a screenplay books, I read old screenplays (like the original Robocop and others, there’s a few sites out there that have copies and pdfs for you), and I just sort of tried every night to write up something.

I love stories, I love telling stories, and I just wanted to make something up that I would see on tv or on the big screen

After a while, I drifted into writing novels. Due to the freedom of the format—screenplays are somewhat limited in certain senses.

AJB: In what ways are screenplays different than novel writing?

FW: Screenplays have to focus on the visual image- you can’t just “show the thoughts” of a character, it has to play out in realtime in a way an audience can understand. You can’t have true introspection with a character with a screenplay, you don’t have that sense of jumping into someone’s skin. That’s the biggest difference for me

AJB: I can see that. I can definitely see that.

Your first novel is Nighthawks at the Mission?

FW: First one, yes. It was self-published, published with one publisher, and just recently re-published a few days ago with three new short stories.

AJB: So you originally self published Nighthawks at the Mission and then it was picked up by a publisher and re-published?

FW: That’s correct

Originally self published in 2013

AJB: Great. Congratulations on getting picked up.

Since you originally self-published Nighthawks at the Mission, can you tell me what the difference is between self publishing a book and having a publisher publish a book?

FW: Marketing. Really, just the ability to market the product. A person can easily have a great idea, get it well edited, have a kick ass cover. But the ability to market the book itself without real support from those who just know how to market, that’s the rub. Amazon has an amazing system to get your stuff out there, but Amazon doesn’t publicize a single thing. So if you don’t have a full time person working with you to really get your stuff out there, it’s not gonna happen. You could be that person, but the set of skills needed to do so is usually not found with the person who can write. It can happen, but its extremely rare.

AJB: Man, isn’t that the truth?

Okay, I want to shift gears  again. Outside of writing, producing and podcasting do you take yourself more seriously or less seriously than when you are creating?

FW: More seriously. Writing is my life, but it’s a lot of fantasy happening. I feel like when I’m writing or doing what I do, I think its pure fun in the end. The exasperation I get or the stress is the stress of trying to win a ball game or beat a video game. It’s not the same as dealing with office politics b.s. The stress is a much better stress to deal with.

AJB: Agreed. I guess that would make doing the podcasts even more fun—there’s no pressure in it.

You have to be creative to be in these fields. How do you view creativity and the act of creating a movie, a book or a podcast?

FW: I think creativity is something where you basically go with your subconscious. Whatever pops into your head. Whatever odd idea you may have. Whatever just bubbles up. I think most of the time people are actively limiting their creativity—that people worry too much about being embarrassed, or they want to do what is currently popular, and they want to find something that should be “profitable” instead of just letting their imagination run wild. You have to really try to make yourself go into a dream like state to make true creativity happen. You have to shed your ego a bit.

AJB: Well, dang! That is exactly how I feel about creativity.

So, with that in mind, with letting yourself get to that creative place, do you tend to follow the rules or just say ‘screw it’ and do your own thing?

FW: I don’t try to follow the rules. I think that, especially as a writer trying to break out, doing so will just make my work fall to the wayside. We live in a post-modern age; everything under the sun has been done and been read and/or viewed. You have to really try and stretch to do something different. And I think I did that with Nighthawks at the Mission.

AJB: Tell me about Nighthawks at the Mission.

forbes-west-cover-artFW: Nighthawks is my answer to the young adult field. It’s set in a world just like our own, but with one wrinkle—there’s a portal to another planet that opens twice a year in the South Pacific, and that planet has a resource that allows anyone to have paranormal/magical abilities. A young woman, sick of her life in SoCal, decided to become one of the many settlers there after her boyfriend screwed her over. She’s not a hero, she’s not the best person, but she does her best when dealing with the stresses of life on another world and living this post-modern colonial life with an alien species and a growing terrorist threat.  My character, Sarah Orange, reacts to these things realistically and many times badly. The book strips the bark off the usual YA tropes and turns them on their head, and we see a real person in a very fantastical setting prove herself

AJB: That sounds like a great storyline.

FW: Thank you!

AJB: With you stripping the bark off the usual YA tropes, do you feel you accomplished something unique with the book?

FW: I believe so. YA books always have the same protagonist. The story may be different, but the protagonist always is the same. Always trying to be the hero, always tough, always generous, always right, etc. etc. Mine isn’t. She’s a fuckup. She’s greedy. She’s angry. She’s selfish. She numbs her pain with drugs and alcohol. She’s foolish. She accidentally does the right thing. She’s very human. That’s the big difference between her and the others from Twilight, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, etc.  It seems like a real person.

AJB:Twilight…meh…

That is the trick, isn’t it? When the rubber meets the road, the whole thought is to have a believable character and a believable storyline. If you can capture that you have a great chance of capturing the audiences’ attention.

Okay, Forbes, I’ve kept you for a while, and I greatly appreciate your time, but I do have one or two more questions. The first of these is based on something I hear from a lot of authors. Many of them tell me their spouses or significant others do not really care what they do or they don’t support them in their desires to write, tell stories and get published. How does your wife feel about all of your creative endeavors?

FW: She loves it. She’s been the biggest cheerleader. She was the one who got me into it. We were dating at the time and I told her that I sort of liked writing, but really I wanted to do politics (hence my degree). She told me flat out that she wanted to hear more about what I write and that I had a voice and from that point on was always getting me books on writing, and sort of pushing me towards writing. She just flat out said “Writing’s a helluva lot cooler than politics.” I ignored her for a while about that, but in the end, I think she was damn right.

JB: I like your wife. She is definitely right! My wife is the same way, always pushing me to keep doing the one thing I love to do: tell stories.

Okay, where can we find Nighthawk at the Mission?

FW: http://forbeswestbooks.com/nighthawks-at-the-mission/

JB: Well, that was easy.

Normally, folks will ask, what advice do you have for others out there. I want to go in the opposite direction. What would you tell other authors, film makers, or really any artists, NOT to do?

FW: Not to do the same thing everyone else is doing and not to do the most popular thing. Don’t just rehash old material. Take a moment and think it out. Have you seen this idea more than 5 times in different formats? Are you just doing this because the same stuff is out there in the world? Then don’t bother. Your crew, your actors, your readers, and yourself will be bored. And you’re gonna work really hard on something that doesn’t mean a damn thing in the end.

JB: Preach it, Forbes.

Before we go our separate ways for now, is there anything else you would like to add in that we have not discussed?

FW: I don’t think so at the moment.

AJB: Thank you, Forbes. You are one cool dude.

FW: Thanks man! Thanks for having me.

You can check out Forbes at his website here: HERE

 

Grave Stories

Posted: November 5, 2016 by ajbrown in Stories of the Grave
Tags: , , , , ,

There is  a dirt road off of Highway 176 in South Carolina. Like many dirt roads around the country, if you blink you might pass it without realizing it exists. That almost happened to us on Friday as we drove along in search of old cemeteries. If not for Cate’s eagle eyes, we would have never seen the road, and we would have never came across the Tabernacle Cemetery just outside of Cameron.

20161104_084141We backtracked and turned down the dirt road that didn’t look to really be off the beaten path. It was littered with small branches and leaves that scraped along the car’s undercarriage as we drove along. We stopped about halfway down the dirt road. A large tree branch lay in the way, most of it shattered into pieces. There was no moving the core of the branch, so we parked and walked the rest of the way.

As we got out the car, two deer ran from the trees on the right into the trees on the left about seventy yards away. They were quick, and in the blink of an eye, they were gone.

Time to walk.

It only took five or so minutes to reach the cemetery off to our left. Before reaching it, three more deer appeared in the distance, just on the edge of the woods where the road dead-ended.

The cemetery wasn’t quite shrouded by trees and shrubbery, but there was plenty of overgrowth and broken branches. There was a tree down about fifty yards from the road, probably felled by Hurricane Matthew, a storm that skirted the edge of South Carolina, but had the reach of winds and rains that spread beyond the Midlands, some hundred plus miles from the coast.

DSCN1404.JPGThe graves, most of which dated to the early to mid-1800’s, felt as if they had been forgotten over the years. The grass was shin high in places and leaves crunched under foot. Like the road, there were small branches everywhere. Tomb stones leaned forward; others had crumbled over time. A few had broken in half. Many of the graves belonged to Confederate soldiers or to the Dantzler clan…or both. There were some smaller headstones, babies and children who passed much too young.

As we wondered around the open cemetery (which I imagine was last kept up about six years or so ago), the sounds of Mother Nature spoke to us. A wind whistled softly through the trees, leaves rustled and fell all around us in ballet pirouettes, deer walked or ran through the woods not far from us. Out in that grave yard, all those sounds gave the place a somewhat creepy atmosphere.

We had seen the large tree from the road, many of its branches b
roken off and scattered about. As we approached it, high-stepping tall grass and other branches, we saw that none of the tombstones along its length had been damageDSCN1413.JPGd when it fell. It was as if the tree had laid down right between several headstones for a little rest. It was like the tree had a respect for the dead that
most of the living
don’t have.

Where the top of the tree lay were three larger markers, Confederate soldiers, an
d Dantzlers alike. The branches hung above them and around them. Some of them brushed up against the markers, as if patting them gently. It was one of the neatest sights we have seen in an old cemetery.

As we left and headed back up the dirt road to where our car sat (waiting patiently for us, perhaps?), I stopped and looked back. The scene before me was eerily quiet. The wind no longer whistled through the trees. The leaves no longer rustled and fell to the ground in ballet-like pirouettes. The deer had left the area or had just stopped moving about. Could they sense something about to happen?

Now, here is what I want you to picture, and no, this did not happen. But this is where my mind painted a picture oDSCN1408.JPGf three men, all Confederate soldiers in their winter coats and britches. One wore a gray hat and sat on the long trunk of the tree, one foot on the ground, the other firmly planted on the tree, knee bent and his elbow on it. He bit into an apple, that in my mind’s eye, looked too red. I heard the crunch of his teeth sink into the apple.

The second guy was older, a salt and pepper beard on his face, a wooden pipe in his mouth. White smoke billowed up from the pipe. He stood on the other side of the tree, sharpening a knife on a wet stone. In the picture being painted in my mind I sniffed the air, thinking I might be able to catch the rich smell of the tobacco, but couldn’t. I can’t say there wasn’t disappointment on the face of my mind’s version of me.

DSCN1401.JPGThe third soldier—the one that felt the most real to me—was kneeling down a few feet from the base of the fallen tree. There was a white bandage around his midsection in place of the shirt he wasn’t wearing. He reached into the ground, his hands clearly disappearing into the dirt of the grave where a small headstone was. A moment later he stood, a baby in his arms. He turned to me and our eyes met. He was smiling as he snuggled the baby against his chest.

I stood for a few seconds, watching these three men, one eating an apple, one sharpening a knife and one holding a baby. Then they faded away, leaving just the graves and woods behind. And just like that, my mind released me from the image.

I stood a couple of seconds more, and then ran up the road to catch up with Cate. We would leave the grave yard behind. Maybe someone else will come along and the ghosts will plant images in their mind. Or, maybe, it’s the other way around. Maybe their minds will plant images on their surroundings and bring the ghosts alive, if only for a few seconds…