It’s true. It’s true. Recently, Michelle Garren Flye turned the tables on me, strapped me down and had Herbie stick a needle in my arm. The results are as follows:
MGF: Who is A.J. Brown?
That Clown: Herbie must have put you up to this. Yes, I’m certain that needle toting, arm pricking little psychopath put you up to this.
Who am I? I often ask myself that very question. To be honest, I have no clue who AJ Brown is. I think he is one of my personalities. Maybe he’s real. Who knows for certain?
At any rate, the AJ Brown that most folks know is a writer of dark fiction and cheesy blogs. He’s also somewhat bullheaded, cynical and very, very, very opinionated. He often angers folks with his bluntness and he lives by several mottos, not the least of these is: If you want to know something, ask me, but make sure you want the answer, you may not like it. Thus, angry people abound in his life.
Nothing comes easy for AJ. His mind doesn’t always see things the way others do, which often makes things difficult for him. He has to study something for a while to completely grasp it but when he does finally get it, he doesn’t forget.
AJ enjoys watching people and their mannerisms and how they react to situations thrown at them. He uses a lot of this in his tales.
AJ likes talking about himself in the third person. If he could just keep from doing his Rock impersonations all would be well, jabroni.
I guess the best and truest answer to this question is AJ Brown is a southern boy trying to get along in this life. He is married with two children who try to kill him on a daily basis. He is a willing helper and likes working with young writers. If he believes in you, he will do all he can for you. If he doesn’t believe in you, hang it up… He’s a sports fanatic and loves strawberry kool-aid and legos. Yes, AJ is a legomaniac…
MGF: Don’t blame Herbie for this. You’ve had it coming for a while now.
Huh. There’s a lot to work with here. Legomania and Rock delusions are a little out there, but working with young writers makes sense. Always looking for new blood, so to speak? But I know you’ve seen some of those partnerships through to successful projects. Tell us about that and also about your own writing.
The One Who Is Coo Coo For Cocoa Puffs: Partnerships… there’s a term not really associated with writing, which, for the most part is a solitary endeavor. However, if you pay attention you see something or someone and immediately can tell that the person–the writer–wants to become something, that they take the writing business seriously.
I’ve worked with several folks, but I think I’ve only partnered with one for a major project. Most of the projects have been done with groups of people. Cutting Block Press, Dark Recesses, Liquid Imagination, The (now defunct) Lightning Journal—all groups of energetic folks who have a terrific concept of what they want and all of which put out quality works.
The one individual I partnered with was Kevin Wallis, during the creation of his short story collection, Beneath the Surface of Things. Kevin was easy to work with and we never really argued about what should be included or excluded, but discussed it rationally with our fists and a few knives. Kevin’s the type of person that any editor would want to work with: he has a vision of what he wants, yet he is willing to hear you out when you offer suggestions/advice.
As far as working with young writers goes, it’s not so much young writers, but new writers that I work with. There are so many things to learn, so many do’s and don’ts within the publishing world, it’s enough to make a fledgling writer’s head spin. I just try and point them in the right direction and toward the right people.
It’s kind of like coaching–if you have a kid who wants to learn and a coach who wants to teach, then there is a good chance for success on down the road. I like helping those writers who want to help themselves. I’m not going to hold your hand and more times than not, I’m probably going to piss someone off—it’s what I do best (the pissing people off thing)—but I’ll work with someone as long as they are willing to work as well.
MGF: Well, as one of your former “victims”, I can definitely say I’m glad you don’t exclude us older writers. I’ve often thought that no matter how long you’re in this business, there will always be more to learn, and it’s great to know there are people like you out there. That said, we all have to fly solo sooner or later. What does that mean to you? Tell us about your writing.
The Crash Test Dummy: Michelle, I won’t exclude anyone from the ranks of helping them—unless I absolutely have to. Like you, I think I learn new things every time I sit down to write. How does this work? How did that fit in there? How did this character do this? WHY did this character do this? I am of the belief that when you stop learning, you may as well quit.
As far as my writing, I tend to get aggravated sometimes with it. I started taking writing seriously at the end of 2004 and I have seen growth in each year that has followed. But, with that growth came impatience.
Now, before you say anything, let me clarify. It’s not so much impatience for me with the submission process or even getting my name out there. My problem stems from the way short stories are viewed in general. Let me explain: Most folks want a story to start at the action, keep the action going through the middle and end with action, which is fine and dandy, but a lot of times those stories sacrifice atmosphere, character development and scenery. So many stories that are wham bam, thank you ma’am, lack important elements that you would have never seen the likes of Poe, King, Barker, Lovecraft, Perkins and a whole host of other writers omit. It’s absolutely absurd, in my opinion, that some publications only take stories up to three and four thousand words, when many stories can’t be told in ten thousand, but aren’t going to run into the full fledged novella or novel length.
I lose my patience with places when they say my stories are good, but it takes too long to get into the action, but they loved the characters and the mood and the setting and… you know? For me, if I jump right into the action I sacrifice too much of who I am as a writer. If that means I have less publications, then I’ll deal with that—as long as I am true to the story and as long as I let it tell its tale, ‘let it breathe’ as I like to say.
And, let’s be honest, you and I both have worked on publications, and it comes down to time and how much of it the slush readers have to devote to a story. When I read for someone, I read the entire piece, even if it bores me to tears—you never know what the outcome will be if you don’t read all the way through. Many folks don’t do that—not because they can’t or won’t, but because they don’t have the time to.
MGF: Impatience and aggravation are very mild words for a writer of your type of fiction, A.J.
But let’s move on to your blog(s). Those of us who have seen our blood spattered on the walls of this one are very curious. How many of these things do you have and what purpose do they serve?
Senor Blogmaster: Hahaha… the blood tends to seep from the walls. That’s mostly Herbie’s doing… He’s a sadistic little dude, that’s for certain.
At the moment I have three blogs, two of them are currently active: Type AJ Negative and the brand new blog, The White Trash Diaries.
I wanted to create a web presence other than my Odd Ramblings of AJ Brown blog where posts tend to disappear off the main page after a few others are added. Type AJ Negative was born in July to be my online voice, a place where folks can read about my publications and read free stories as well. It’s also used to pimp others by either promoting something they have in the works or by doing interviews. Herbie likes the interview process. I think it has a lot to do with the needles.
So far it’s served its purpose for promoting myself and others, though I haven’t had much published recently. I think October will be a much more active month for that category with several things coming out then.
I also use my blog to run my mouth. I can be very long winded and my thoughts tend to be that way as well. I’ll write about just about anything from my children to thoughts on writing to things that have happened in my life. Often I try to make these humorous, but sometimes life is too heavy and it shows through in the articles.
I think the best thing about Type AJ Negative is that it is ME. It is who I am, sometimes serious, sometimes all business and other times silly.
As far as The White Trash Diaries is concerned, I have always wanted to write a novel loosely based on my life. Not a memoir, per say, but a humorous take on life in the South as seen through my eyes…
MGF: The blood really does seep, doesn’t it? That’s a lot of blood, too. You’ve only been doing this interview thing for a little over a month or so (as of this interview); I know since I had the honor of being your second victim. But you’ve done seven interviews so far. That’s a pretty grueling pace. Did you intend to do that many?
McAJ the Serious: Yes and no. I want to do more than that, and unfortunately, I have only a couple left to post. I didn’t realize it had been seven already.
Here’s the thing about this series: it’s so much easier than my former interview series, NiNE QuestioNs. NQ required a ton of research and then putting together the entire interview ahead of time. With the Blood Donors series, there is still some research, but not as much and the first question, though generic, sets the tone for each interview. I’m able to asks questions based on answers and it segues more fluently, which makes the series more enjoyable.
I go into each interview with two basic guidelines: The first is to make sure and hit on something that the interviewee is involved in. For instance, your book, Secrets of the Lotus, is the one thing that we needed to bring attention to so I tried to steer the interview toward it. In the process we all learned about how you went about getting it published.
The second thing is to let the personality of the interviewee show through their words. No need to put on airs here. Be true to yourself. If the interviewee is a funny person, I want that to show. If he or she is a serious person I want that to show. If they are an alien from the planet Zebulon… well, just don’t zap me, okay?
Plus, these interviews are fun for me. Not only do I learn new things about folks, but I’m able to promote them in as much as I possibly can. I’ve always been better about promoting other folks than myself, so this is comfortable for me.
By the way, I’m running out of folks to interview. Have any leads for me?
MGF: Yes, it was very difficult to get me to discuss my novel, so good job there. Speaking of which, if anyone would care to find out more about said novel, you can check out my blog http://michellegflye.wordpress.com BREATHE. Okay, no more self-promoting plugs… ahem.
Seriously, I can’t believe you don’t have folks lined up. I’ll have to see who I can “scare” up for you and Herbie.
And speaking of scares, you mentioned earlier that October should be a good month to find new A.J. Brown material. You really can’t just leave us hanging on that. Details, pretty please?
The Underwriter: Feel free to self promote at any time throughout. It keeps Herbie from poking folks so hard with those needles…
And as for October, I have (that I know of for certain) three new stories coming out. The first of these is the editor’s choice story in Necrotic Tissue. It’s titled Picket Fences and it was an experiment for me in a different writing tense. You see, there is your past and present and the other variations of those two, but I had never seen anyone necessarily try the future tense. So, Picket Fences was written in a manner that I thought future tense would sound. It is one of those stories I am really proud of.
The second one is in Andrea Dean Van Scoyoc’s Twisted Dreams Magazine. I really like Andrea’s work and her no nonsense approach to things and getting in her publication is something I’ve wanted to do for about a year now.
The third one is a very short piece about Vlad Dracul that will appear in 52 Stitches, which is a weekly e-mail publication, kind of along the same lines as Everyday Fiction.
There is a fourth one, but I’m not sure when it is coming out, sometime between now and Halloween and it’s in Kerry Morgan’s Pandora’s Imagination.
Hopefully, there will be more down the road.
MGF: October is going to be a good month for horror. So with all these stories and all the ones I know you’ve had published in the past, is there any chance of a collection? Or, dare I to suggest a novel?
The Scratcher of Heads: A collection? Well, truth be told, I have submitted a proposal for a collection to a publisher recently. Who knows what will come of it? Before I go onto the answer the novel part, I want to state something about short stories:
If done right, a short story is a true work of art. Sadly, with the market today, the ‘art’ of the short story is being pushed aside. Short stories should sing. They should be pleasing to read. They should not be a struggle to meet or to not excede a word count. The best short stories are not short at all. They are fairly long, but for the sake of time and space, I’ll only point out a couple.
My favorite short story is The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It’s over six thousand words–too long for most markets today. Poe’s The Murders at the Rue Morgue is nearly fourteen thousand words long. In today’s market he would have been hard pressed to get that story published. Many of Barker’s or King’s short stories are far too long for the markets today (yeah, they are Barker and King and anyone would accept their work, but for the average Joe, those stories wouldn’t get looked at).
I have a desire to change the way folks view the short story, to get them to enjoy the longer works without having to commit to a novel or novella. If the proposal for a short story collection is rejected, then I’m planning on pursuing a different route with it and going with stories that are over the six and seven thousand word marks and more into the ten and fifteen thousand range. I want the long stories to come back, to bring back with it the art of the short story.
Now, to answer the possibility of a novel: I don’t know. I’ve actually written three of them and only one of them is any good, in my opinion. I have started and stopped on a fourth one and here recently started working on a new one. But, really, is a novel the true measure of a writer’s worth? It seems to be these days. To be completely honest, I don’t know if I’m ready to put out a novel. I think if I sat down and wrote one and only worked on it, it would probably be a glorified short story with a lot of padding–and I don’t like a lot of fluff in my novels. I want my stories to breathe, to live, not to be a pillow…
MGF: I’m glad to hear you are pursuing the short story collection. You’re passionate enough about that writing form so a collection from you would be well worth while. Why do you think short stories have declined in popularity over the years? It seems with the digital age and people’s attention spans decreasing, short stories would be more popular than ever, doesn’t it?
I Contradiction Speaks: Part of it is just as you said: the attention span has shortened. We have become a fast food society of we want it now, we want it fast and we don’t want to have to wait for it. People want—editors want—their action and they want it from the very beginning. In going action, action, action, short stories which used to run over ten thousand words are now cut down to four and three and even two thousand words. Short stories have truly become short and many of the aspects of the great stories done by the great story tellers have been sacrificed.
There’s a problem with this, though. Editors want the action, but then often reject stories because there is little character development or poor settings or no originality. It’s somewhat of a contradiction. With the way the short story is viewed now, it is difficult to write action, action, action and develop the full plot with characters, setting, and emotion. So many stories these days are one dimensional and you don’t either fall in love with or hate the characters like you used to a hundred years ago.
To add to the fast food mentality is the invent of flash fiction, micro fiction and drabbles. Yeah, they’re fun to write–I’ve written a couple of hundred flash stories–but are they complete? Most of the time the answer to that is a resounding no. This has become kind of a specialty type of writing and folks have experimented more and more in the realm of using less and less words to convey the message.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing that folks are using less words, but when they use so few words that storylines can’t be completely developed then it is an issue. If a writer uses less words and tells a story with out all the fluff that we so often see in novels, then I’m fine with that. However, I’ve read hundreds of stories over the last five years as I’ve worked with various publications and more often than not the longer works are the more complete ones and the shorter works are usually the ones where I feel I missed something or the characters weren’t engaging or I was confused about the setting or the motive behind the characters’ actions.
Can you imagine Poe or Lovecraft writing stories in today’s market knowing that they can’t go over a certain word count? They would have hung up their pens and they would have never impacted the world.
I love a story that takes me for a ride and lets me either fall in love with or loathe the main characters. Very few stories do that to me anymore and I find that terribly disheartening. This is why I write the way I do—a lot of my stories are way too long for any market out there…
Then there is the internet. Such a wonderful invention that has both helped and hurt the industry. Now the world can see more ‘short stories,’ meaning pieces generally under three thousand words, with a click of the mouse. That’s a good thing. However, every positive usually has a negative and in this case one of the negatives is since many folks are reading from a monitor instead of paper, well, they want shorter and shorter works to cut down on eye strain.
The internet has also made it possible for people to see what China looks like without leaving the comfort of their chair. Writers no longer feel the need to describe locations and people as much. If you want to know what Haiti looks like, just type it into the browser and voila, fifty million resources at your fingertips. If you want to know about a disaster on the other side of the world, yup, it’s all on the internet. Pictures, articles, you name it, it’s there. It’s generally accepted that people have access to a computer and if they really want to know the locale of a book, they can look it up themselves.
I’m not going to lie and say the short story is fading. It’s not. However, the short stories done like those who came before us a hundred years ago is a dying art form…
MGF: Well, this has been very informative, A.J. And your walls look nice with a bit of your own blood up there, don’t you think? However, Herbie looks restless, and I fear my time here is growing short. A final question: You mention you are running low on new donors. Do you have a set of criteria or can any willing victim apply?
Mr. Blackwords: Michelle, really the only criteria for participating in the Blood Donor series is to be a writer, editor, publisher or someone related to the writing business. I primarily like interviewing folks who write darker works, but I certainly won’t turn down someone who writes comedy or romance or mystery or any other genre/subgenre. If you’re a script writer, that’s fine. Poets are welcome as well. Artists are also welcome–and that can be folks who paint, draw, sculpt, it doesn’t matter.
However, I do reserve the right to say no, which I have never done. I do have a very short list of folks I will not interview and I hope that list doesn’t grow beyond the four names on it.
As any interviewer will tell you, I do have a list of folks I want to interview, but, like the other list, this will remain tucked away in Herbie’s heart…
MGF: Not many people (including me) make that distinction between short stories from a hundred years ago and what we call short stories now. Thank you for that little bit of food for thought, A.J.
And now I must go. Herbie will let you loose in a few minutes… after I have time to get away. Thanks for the time and the blood, A.J.
AJ: Thank you as well—it is always fun to be on the other end of the interviews.
(Herbie’s Note: AJ will not get a cookie and juice, just because I don’t want him to. And you can find out what’s going on in his life by checking out the following web blogs: