Just Coming Along…

Over the last few months I’ve been putting together a short story collection titled, Southern Bones. It’s tedious work. The selection of the stories took almost two full months. I never thought I would read as many of my own stories as I did just to choose thirteen pieces. With a name like Southern Bones the stories kind of needed to either take place in the south or have a country flavor to them.

This cut out over two-thirds of the stories I read.

Sure, there were some good ones in there that were left out that just didn’t seem to fit. There were some others that fit the theme, but didn’t fit the feel of the collection.

The feel, you ask?

Yes. It’s like when you are in a room, just you and your romantic partner. You’re staring into each other’s eyes with silly smiles on your faces. Your heart is all fluttering, and the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Then someone else walks into the room, says your name or something like, ‘Yo, Dawg, what up?’ You make that disgusted face with your brows forming points toward your nose, and the edges of your lips pull down. You might even shake your head and curse under your breath, before mumbling something like, ‘Dude, get lost.’ You motion toward your romantic partner with a tip of the head and those same brows that were furrowed a second earlier, hoping Homey gets the picture. Luckily for you, he does. By then, it’s too late. The mood is ruined. No matter what you do, you can’t get the feeling of that moment back—at least not on this day.

That’s what having a story in a collection that doesn’t fit is like. A romantic interlude dashed by your buddy.

After selecting the stories, my good friend, Kevin Wallis, looked over them for me. I originally just wanted him to read them. Instead, he edited them, so guess who gets a nod in the collection? Here’s the thing about that: No writer can edit their own work and catch everything—or even half of everything. I can edit others and spot things a mile away, but throw my own story at me and I lose the objectiveness I need to have to tell what’s wrong and what’s really wrong with the story—yes, those two wrongs do end up making a right. I think that is the case with EVERY writer.

Wallis pointed out that two of the stories were similar. No, not completely alike at all, just similarly themed. Though the paths and the end results are different, the theme was the same. I had to scrap one of them. I was down to twelve stories and began looking for that unlucky number thirteen.

Then I had my wife, Cate, rate the stories that were left from one to twelve, with one being her favorite and the strongest, and twelve being her least favorite and the weakest. Interestingly enough, we both had the same top two stories (though in different orders) and the last story the same. With the obvious like-mindedness on that number twelve piece, we agreed to pull it from the collection.

I was down to eleven stories.

Back to searching. I finally found a twelfth story. It fits. I like it.

After going through the stories a second time—of course, after getting Wallis’s edits back—I had Cate read over them again. Now, I’m on the third round of edits. If you’re a writer, you can imagine my eyes are bleeding right now. After reading over these same pieces several times in the last three or so months, some of the lines have blurred. I think I saw a tiny man trying to crawl between two of them.

Then there are all the other things that go into this. Author bio, acknowledgments, title page, dedication—most of these are fairly easy. The cover art has been the bane of my existence. Cate and I have tried several different images, researched, researched some more, downloaded some fonts that we thought were cool, went to the store and bought certain props that we were going to use in a photograph (yeah, that didn’t pan out so well, but I got a cool Mason jar out of the deal that I like to drink milk out of… yeah, I’m bad like that). All that and we still had no cover art.

It hit me one day as I sat at a picnic table at a park on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The kids were on the play set and I had a pad in front of me. I wrote the name of the collection, then started to sketch. When I was done, I liked what I had come up with. I think you all will, too.

What? What’s that? Tell you what the cover looks like? Oh no, I can’t do that. Not until I’ve created it and not until I’ve ran it by a few friends to see what they think.

As the deadline looms and I grow nearer to completing Southern Bones, my nerves are starting to get to me. I decided at the outset not to go the traditional route with this and to place it on Amazon. However, I have my doubts now. Everyone—ANYONE—can write a book and put it on Amazon. There is no quality control, which makes it that much more difficult to find folks willing to pay any amount for a book. Many folks say doing this without a publisher is vane, if you have to go this route, then you are just taking the easy way out.

Maybe they’re right.

Maybe they’re wrong.

What do I know?

I know this: there are few good markets out there anymore that will take a no name like me. One place did, back at the beginning of the year. For that, I am grateful. I learned some stuff, both what to do and not to do. I was so earnest and enthusiastic that I may have been too much of both. I marketed my tail off, and I’m not one that likes to say, ‘hey, buy my book.’ Again, I learned some things.

Like I said earlier, I’m nervous. I have my doubts. I’m not going to lie. Putting myself out there is a daunting task for me, but to do it in such a big way, and by myself, makes it tougher. This could fail miserably. Then again, it could be successful, for all I know.

I can only hope and try. Because if I don’t at least give this a shot, I will never know and not knowing is worse than failing. Why? Because that means I didn’t try, and not trying is not acceptable.

Until we meet again, my friends…

3 thoughts on “Just Coming Along…

  1. A.J. this is exciting. I can’t wait to read this collection. And I really, really like your motivation, to go a different route for you. Don’t think in terms of success or failure, however — what constitutes success? Sales? Reviews? Or just knowing you put the best work out there that you had in you? Okay, that might sound a little lame, but this’ll do fine, and I’m excited you’re doing this.


    1. Thanks John. I’m excited, as well, still a little nervous though. Until I started writing I absolutely didn’t care what people thought about me (and in some respects, I still don’t), but after I began putting my work out, I discovered I want folks to like, not only my work, but me as well. It’s a contradiction to how I’ve been since I was a teenager.

      And I think that is my problem. I am, by most standards, an outspoken person, sometimes abrasive. But when I became a writer, things quickly changed. I became a LOT nicer and that desire to have folks like my work carried over into having them like me as well.

      I think once I have the entire thing together, I’ll feel more confident about it, but for now, let the wringing of the fingers continue.


      1. AJ, you’re one of the genuinely nicest guys I know…hard to believe you were abrasive. I’ll keep an eye out, but drop me a line when the collection is ready to go, I’ll tweet it and post it on my blog.


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