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.

Feel free to read this in the form of any action movie promo you’ve ever seen or heard:

COMING SOON TO A DIGITAL DEVICE IN YOUR HAND:

All We See is the End

runfortheflame_cover_feb19_2017From the minds of A.J. Brown and M.F. Wahl comes two horrific tales of struggle and loss you won’t soon forget.

Run 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.

Available soon on Amazon, but you can get it free by subscribing to my newsletter at:  http://eepurl.com/cDEh9v

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

Through the Lens

Posted: February 27, 2017 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I’ve always felt like I’ve lived my life on the outside looking in. It’s as if I see myself and my actions through a camera lens. There is a crack that runs down the center of that lens. On the left side everything is clear and easy to see and understand. On the right side everything is blurry and odd and I struggle at everything. Very rarely do I see through the crack where everything makes sense.

It sounds crazy. I know.

dscn1629This is the way it has always been for me. It’s as if I am watching myself through that lens, whether on the left side or the right side, and sometimes in the middle. It is through that lens that I bring you this story.

[[The lens zooms in on him, possibly starting with one blue eye and then panning out, showing the blemishes of age on his face and the gray in his dark hair. It would show a kitchen, the light on, and he would be letting the dog out for the morning.]]

He has been awake far longer than he wants. His face is unshaven. He wants coffee. He wants the almost bitter taste of it, sprinkled with a bit of sugar and some cream. He wants the first hot sip and then the last deep warm swallow. He wants the aftertaste that will stay with him for an hour or so, at least until he either drinks another cup or brushes his teeth.

He can’t have coffee—not the real stuff, at least. Decaf is okay (and yes, he knows it has a touch of caffeine in it anyway). Though he wants the coffee, he wants a drive as well. He wants to take to the road and follow the nose of the car to wherever it leads. He doesn’t care where he ends up, as long as he takes the journey. For him, that’s really what it is about, what it is always about: the journey.

It’s unusually warm for February—already in the upper sixties by eight in the morning. A crispness hangs in the air. Dew dampens the ground and has fallen on the car, and covers the windshield. He dons shorts and a T-shirt, socks and sneakers and he is out the door, leaving the family to sleep in on that Saturday morning.

The car is fairly new and comfortable. Behind the wheel reminds him of all those Saturday mornings before he and his better half had child number one and then three and a half years later, child number two. On those mornings he would be up before six and out the door half an hour later. And he drove with no particular place to go, just him, the car and music. Sitting there he recalls how he ended up in Spartanburg one morning and Newberry another and Charleston another. Sometimes the drive was all he wanted, maybe even needed.

And so it is that he pulls from the yard and drives away. At the stop sign he makes a right and shortly after that, he turns the radio on, finds the grunge channel and follows the road.

dscn1683[[The score for this scene and several that would follow with him driving would begin as he makes that right turn. We wouldn’t necessarily see him, but we would hear the music. He likes the grunge from the nineties, so chances are the song that would play would be something from Nirvana or Bush or Alice in Chains or Pearl Jam. Maybe Temple of the Dog would say hello to Heaven or maybe they will go hungry.]]

Song after song plays as mile after mile disappears beneath his tires. Small roads lead to larger ones and larger ones lead to longer ones. Those longer ones lead back to smaller ones, until he is moving along a country road, passing country houses and fields.

The sign catches his eye. At first he just glimpses it. He’s not even sure he saw it after he passed it. He slows, checks the rearview mirror and sees the reverse side of it is the same as the front. A smile forms on his face and he turns the car around. Heading in the opposite direction he slows and reads the sign: WARRIOR BASEBALL. An arrow points in the direction of a street on his right. He turns, follows the road as it winds through a small neighborhood with nice cars in driveways of even nicer homes. The houses thin out. The road ends in the parking lot of a baseball complex. It’s not as new as the neighborhood, but it still stands in what he takes is the heart of the area.

A moment passes as he sits in his car in the middle of the parking lot, the motor purring. The beating of his heart matches the smile on his face. He parks between two faded white lines, flips the music off (currently Pearl Jam is singing Wish List. Eddie Vedder’s voice is cut off as he wishes he were a brake peddle you depended on). He is out of the car and popping the trunk even as the door closes and locks.

At the back of the car, his smile grows wider when he sees his wife’s back pack. If he is right, one of her cameras is in there. He unzips the front pouch and there the camera sits in its own case. He pulls it out and opens the case. He presses a small button and the camera turns on. The lens extends and he unfolds the view finder. The battery has a full charge.

[[If this were a movie, the scene would pan out and away from him. We would hear the trunk close and possibly the sounds of pebbles crunching under his sneakers. Then we would see him walking toward the baseball field, the camera in hand.]]

He approaches the field. Though it is old, it has recently been graded and then smoothed. The grass has been cut. Chalk lines run down the first and third base lines and form the batter’s boxes, the pitcher’s circle and the on deck circles just outside of each dugout. The lines aren’t crisp and clean—the field has been played on.

dscn1707He walks through the dugout gate. A metal bench stretches the length of the dugout. He leans down, sets the camera on one end so the view finder shows the entire bench. He presses a silver button and the camera clicks twice. In the view finder he sees the bench. On it are three little boys, each one wearing a red and white uniform with the team name, Warriors, written in cursive script across the front. One of them is blowing a bubble from the gum in his mouth. The other two are laughing at some unknown joke. It’s probably something to do with passing gas.

As he looks at the image, he thinks, oh yes, passing gas.

[[The scene would go from the image on the camera to the bench in front of him. One would show the ghosts of children’s past, while the other just shows a metal bench.]]

Outside the dugout and on the field, he looks around. Just beyond the infield is a dirty ball. No, it’s not a baseball and not a softball, but one that is in between. It is yellow and dirty and looks as if part of the rawhide has been scorched. He smiles.

[[Again, the film would show his feet, the sneakers crossing the hard packed orange ground. We would see the backs of his legs as he steadily approaches the ball. Then we would see the ball between his feet and his hand pick it up. He brings it to his face, where we see his blue eye again.]]

The ball gets placed by first base. He sets the camera on the ground, presses the button and waits for the click. Then he looks in the view finder. It’s almost perfect. He backs up fifteen or so feet and takes another picture, this one of the first base bag from a standing position. In the view finder, a little boy with blond hair and a gray uniform with no words on the front, but the number 3 on the left side in red. He is bending down to pick up the ball.

He nods, walks over and plucks the ball from the ground. He tosses it into the outfield. Before the ball can fall to the ground, he has the camera up and snaps several shots. In those images, a young child with skin the color of smooth chocolate has his glove up, his eyes on the ball. He thinks the boy calls ‘mine’ before the ball reaches him.

He takes a snapshot of the pitcher’s mound next. The boy standing there is caught in full wind up, his leg kicked up, arm back and ready to throw the ball.

[[In the movie about the man, we see him turn and take pictures and we see the boys of yesteryear in them. They may be just in his head, but they are there, none the less. We would hear music, maybe Centerfield by John Fogerty or even the Eddie Vedder tribute song to the Chicago Cubs for finally winning a World Series.]]

The sun is now overhead, but it is still comfortable outside. He checks his watch. It is after eleven.

dscn1703I should get back, he thinks. He makes his way toward the dugout and stops. He’s still holding the ball in one hand. He turns and cocks his arm back to throw it. He stops, looks at the ball and lets out a laugh. Instead of throwing it, he tosses it in the air, catches it and leaves the field, a hum on his lips.

[[Here we fade to black or maybe we just pan out as he walks away, the camera in one hand, the ball in the other and that hum … that hum is probably a song he likes, maybe Boys of Summer by Don Henley. We see him get in his car, and we hear the car’s engine come to life. Then it pulls out of the spot and he drives away. Like all good films, we would hear the lyrics of the song, the music, he had hummed on his way to his car. Then, the car would be out of sight and the credits would roll. And yes, there would be a fade to black …]]

As I said earlier: I’ve always felt like I’ve lived my life on the outside looking in. It’s as if I see myself and my actions through a camera lens. There is a crack that runs down the center of that lens. On the left side everything is clear and easy to see and understand. On the right side everything is blurry and odd and I struggle at everything. Very rarely do I see through the crack where everything makes sense.

For me, baseball is one of the things in that center. When I find a new field, I see myself, my actions, and my thoughts, not as if I am living them, but as if I am watching them. Sometimes, that is not a bad thing.

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

A.J.

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