The Definition of You

Dear Women,

Come in a little closer. I want to talk to you. You men can read this as well, and maybe you should.

For every single woman out there, I want to say: don’t let any man or any standard define you. Yes, that is a two part statement and I will explain. If you have a moment to give me, please continue on.

First, don’t let a man define you. YOU are a person. You don’t need a man to make you whole. You need to believe in you, who you are, what you look like, and what you can achieve. YOUR value is not in the opposite sex. YOUR value is in how you view yourself. YOUR value should never be determined by someone else. 

Female outlines with different figuresWhen you look in the mirror, don’t think about what a man wants you to be. Think about what you want to be. Think about what you can do to make you feel great about yourself. Here’s the thing: if you can’t love yourself when it is just you, then how are you going to love yourself if you get with someone and then they leave?

Some men can make you a better person by building you up when you are down, complimenting you when you need one, and pushing you to be a better person, to take care of who you are. But let’s be honest, a lot of men aren’t going to do that. A lot of men aren’t going to put your needs and your feelings before theirs. (Please note: I said a lot of men, not all men, so for you fellas getting all bent out of shape right now, cool your jets. It will be okay.)

On the same coin, but the opposite side, some men can make you a far worse person because they will tear you down and insult you; some will even beat you down and do horrible things to you. They don’t have a gentle touch and their end goal is to control you. Don’t be with that man. Please, don’t be with that man. If you are with that man, leave him. Yes, I said leave him. You don’t need that in your life.

Second, don’t let a standard define you. Don’t let the standard Hollywood and beauty magazines have set be what defines you. You don’t have to look like any of those models in any of those magazines to love yourself. You don’t have to look like a Barbie doll to be beautiful. The Barbie figure is not attractive at all, in my opinion. You don’t have to be a Kardashian or Jennifer Lopez or Ashley Judd to be beautiful. You have to be you, and you have to love you and you have to have confidence in who you are.

Speaking of confidence: Confidence is the sexiest thing a person can have. When a person is confident, she holds her head high, she smiles, she is not afraid to make eye contact with the opposite sex (or the same sex if that is what she is attracted to). When a person is confident, she wears clothes that make her feel good. And here’s the thing about confidence: you don’t have to be five foot four and weigh a hundred and ten pounds to be confident. You can be six foot ten or four foot ten and three quarters, or weigh three hundred pounds. It doesn’t matter. Confidence is sexy.

Girls, young ladies and women, please don’t look at the magazines or Hollywood actresses and say ‘I wish I looked like that.’ Don’t do it. When you say that, you put yourself down. When you say that, you demean yourself. Don’t do it. Love you. Love every inch of who you are. Love every smooth or blemished part of you. Don’t put yourself down by comparing yourself to someone else. Don’t be someone else. Be you. Love you. Respect you.

I have a beautiful wife, both physically and in personality. She is smart and caring. She is sarcastic and loving. She is attractive and sexy. She is determined and stubborn. She is everything I want and more in a woman. And she doesn’t need me. She doesn’t. She can do everything I can and in many cases, she does them better than I do. 

Over the last six weeks, she has been working hard to lose weight. During that time period, I have watched her confidence in herself grow, and that has nothing to do with me. She wanted to do something for her own benefit. She wanted to do something good for herself. Again, that has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with her loving herself. I listen to her when she talks about what she is doing. It makes me happy to see her happy, so I listen and ask questions. Her confidence is sexy to me. Her confidence makes me smile. It also makes her smile. And that is what matters. 

She doesn’t need me. I’m fortunate she wants me. My point is you don’t need another person to make you love you. You have to love yourself. You have to believe in yourself. You have to have confidence in who you are. It doesn’t matter how tall or short, thin or big you are, what color your hair, your eyes or your skin is. You have to define who you are. No one else can define you unless you let them. Please, love, love, LOVE yourself. 

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

A.J. 

Who Do You See?

On some mornings I go to the post office for my job. It is less than two blocks away and I walk; rain, shine, hot, cold. It’s what you do when your family has one car and you don’t drive to work. I usually get there a couple of minutes before the post office opens.

There are ten people who I would consider regulars at eight in the morning at the post office. They are: Six men. Four women. We all get our mail and go about our business. On the average day, these ten people spend less than five minutes around each other; most of the time, maybe two minutes, tops. 

DiversityI could leave it at six men and four women and it wouldn’t matter to you or really anyone else. But I’m not going to do that. Here is a breakdown of those regulars: three white men, three black men, one white woman, one Asian woman, two black women. No, race doesn’t matter, nor does their gender, but I’m going to try and make a point here. Now you know a little bit about the ten people who show up at the post office at the same time every morning. 

Let’s take it a step further. One of the white men is an older gentleman at almost seventy. He is former military and his voice is monotone. He always wears a VFW hat and he always says ‘good morning,’ and ‘have a great day.’ Another white man is probably around sixty, maybe a tad older and always parks his car in the wrong direction. His hair is jet black (probably dyed) and slicked back with hair gel. He is thin and tall and his shoes always clop hard against the tiled floor of the post office. He rarely speaks. The third white guy, well, that would be me. I guess I am middle-aged now at just under fifty.

The Asian woman is thin and short and wears long skirts and black boots. Occasionally, she wears a pair of black pleated slacks. Her hair is long and black and she is probably a little younger than I am. She is pretty when she smiles, plain when she doesn’t. 

One of the black women drives a white van and is nearing sixty. She has had shoulder surgery and heel surgery within the last year. She always says ‘God bless,’ and she always brings a little hand cart when she comes in. The other black woman is young and pretty and seems to be put together (as in her attitude and how she carries herself). She always wears red lipstick and her eyes are big and brown—one of her best features. She is polite. She also knows she is attractive, but she doesn’t flaunt it. 

The lone white woman is probably my age, maybe a tad younger. She is tall, has brown hair and frowns as if she probably wishes she were a little trimmer. She doesn’t smile often, but just in the last few weeks she has started saying ‘good morning’ to everyone.

One of the black men is slightly built and soft spoken. He is a Christian who always shakes my hand when we cross paths. The second black man works for the Supreme Court and drives a black SUV. He wears a gun on one hip and looks like he could have played defensive end for the Chicago Bears at one time. He always checks out the pretty black lady when she comes in. The last of the group is a black man in his late sixties who works part time in the building attached to the post office. He wears a blue uniform shirt and dark pants every day. He is missing most of his teeth and some folks might say his elevator doesn’t quite go all the way to the top. He always says ‘hey,’ and he laughs a lot. 

Does any of that really matter? Probably not to most people, because, let’s be honest, most people don’t care. Here’s a few questions for you: when you look at someone you don’t know, what do you see? Do you see the color of the person’s skin? The gender? Is your first impression based on the person’s appearance? Here’s an even bigger question: do you take the time to actually see the person? Not their skin color or their gender or the clothes they wear. Do you actually see their faces? Do you actually take the time to see the up or down turn of the lips? Do you see the eyes, if they dazzle or have been dulled by life’s burdens?

Do you see people. 

ALONE.jpgOne of the issues I feel we, as human beings, have, is we don’t see people outside of our own little world. Sure, we see someone, but we don’t take a second or two to consider that the person you see is someone’s child, maybe a brother or sister, mom or dad. That person has feelings and hopes and dreams. That person may be going through something terrible right then. That person may be thinking of someone he or she loves. That person might be just trying to get through a crappy day and all they want is to be home so they can rest. 

One thing I know is this: you can make or break someone’s day. How? Well, saying ‘hello,’ and giving someone a smile. That’s not obligating you to carry on a conversation, but showing someone that you see that person, that that person is not invisible, and so many of us feel invisible, like no one cares. 

You can break a person’s day by ignoring them if they say ‘hey,’ and smile at you, or by saying something bad about them (whether you know them or not). A mean word goes further than a good word. Negativity always overrides positivity. And yeah, it is easier to break someone down than to build someone up. 

[[Side Note: I know the world is a bad place these days and strangers can be dangerous. I’m not saying engage in conversations with strangers. I’m saying, don’t be mean. Don’t be rude. Don’t give a stranger a ride, either, but you can be a good person, a good samaritan, so to speak, by just being nice. End Side Note]]

If you think I am wrong about making and breaking someone’s day, then let me ask you two questions. You can feel free to answer them or not. Have you ever been in a great mood and someone did or said something negative that ruined your entire day? On the flip side, have you been sad or down or in a bad mood and someone did something or said something that cheered you up and brightened your day? 

YOU have the power to make a difference in people’s lives. All you have to do is actually see them. It doesn’t matter what race, religion, gender, sexual preference your they are—what matters is do you see them? I think—thinking here!—that if we, as human beings, would take the time to actually see others for what they are (other human beings), then maybe we’ll be slower to react negatively or say something derogatory or just be rude. Maybe, just maybe, the world can be a kinder place … if we would all just see each other.

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

A.J.

Musings And Such

Musings from the week of 1/13/19-1/19/19 that may interest only me.

On Tuesday I discovered you can hear yourself brushing your teeth. It’s not quite disturbing, but this type of epiphany startled me. I’ve been brushing my teeth my entire life and I never noticed the sound of brush on teeth. What makes it even more interesting is the difference in the sound depending on what part of your teeth you are brushing. For me, when I’m brushing my upper back teeth, the sound is so much louder than when I am brushing the lower back teeth. It’s also a little more hollow than when I brush the front teeth. I know, right?

My dislike for Amazon keeps growing and growing. 

On Thursday, I turned on the turntable and listened to the soundtrack for Grease on vinyl. It was a glorious sound. The next day I could not stop singing, You’re the One That I Want, getting particularly animated at the Oo oo oo parts. 

screen shot 2019-01-20 at 5.51.43 pmHere is a picture I took on one of the photo filter thingies. 

My son has a weird dance he does that makes me laugh every time. Sometimes, though, I’m not sure if his dance is funny or lewd. Either way, it is entertaining

I’ve been complaining about customer service a lot lately. I just don’t feel that most people in customer service understand that the easiest way to diffuse the temper of an angry customer is to actually act like you care about their problem. 

Speaking of customer service, there is so much more of it now than ever before. What? Am I serious? After complaining about bad customer service, how can I possibly say there is more customer service out there than ever before? It’s simple: self checkout. Customers are servicing themselves more and more these days. I guess bad human interaction will do that for yah.

Every time I shave, I look in the mirror for several seconds. That’s not too unusual, until you consider I do it as if I am Steve Perry from Journey in the video Faithfully just before he shaves off his mustache. Sadly, I can’t sing like him and the closest I can come to actually growing facial hair is akin to mimicking a porcupine’s bristles. 

1 DUM COVERAs much as I loathe Amazon, another author made a very good point in a discussion on social media. She said having your books on Amazon gives you credibility with the reading populace. I thought about this and I believe she is right. How many times have I been asked if my books were on Amazon or available for Kindle? A ton. So, I may not care much for Amazon, but it has become a necessary evil for the authors on the lower to middle of the totem pole. With that in mind, I shamelessly plug my Amazon Author Page. Check it out, purchase a couple of books, read them, leave a review. Please.

I think there needs to be a new law passed concerning elevator etiquette. I believe if you are a violator of certain unwritten rules (which I will write here for you) of elevator etiquette, you should get crotch punched by everyone on or waiting for the elevator. 

(DISCLAIMER: this is all in good fun. Please, don’t take any of it seriously. It’s a joke. Laugh a little.)

Here we go:

If you are a man and you step in front of a woman to get on the elevator instead of holding the door open for her, you should get crotch punched. Don’t tell me your defense to that bit of douche baggery is because of women’s rights. It’s called respect. If you can’t show it for a woman, then you deserve to get your junk punched.

To go with that, if someone is already in the lobby when you walk up and the elevator door opens and you step in front of the person (or people) who were there first, you get a swift jab to the boys and then you get dragged off the elevator so you can wait your turn. 

If you get on the elevator and then hold the door open for fifteen other people who aren’t even close to the elevator, you should get your crotch punched. Speaking for myself, I don’t do well in small, cramped places with a lot of people. I’m not claustrophobic at all. I just don’t like people that much to stand arm to arm, butt to crotch close to people. It’s one thing if there is someone right behind you. It would be rude if you closed the door on them, but for those people who are off in the distance, let the door close.

On the same token, but the other side, if you are the person who hits the CLOSE DOOR button several times once you get in the elevator, you should get your crotch punched. No, I don’t want you holding the door for every Tom, Dick and Harry off in the distance, but dang, how about just letting the door close on its own, Mr. Impatient.

If you fart on the elevator, you need your junk punched several times. Period. 

If you fart and then get off the elevator, everyone on there with you should be allowed to go back to the floor you got off on, hunt you down, pin you to the floor and punch you in the crotch. We don’t want your dust cropping, thank you very much.

If you get on the elevator and do not move to the back of the car so others can get on, yeah, you get your junk punched. On the same hand, if you stand by the buttons that people need to press and don’t move or, at the very least, offer to push the button for the floor they need, you get punched in the family jewels. 

If you can’t say excuse me when you bump someone with your hand cart, briefcase, shopping bags, box or whatever, yup, you guessed it, a good old crotch punch is in your future. 

If someone holds the door for you and you don’t have the courtesy to say, “Thank you,” get ready to double over. 

If someone says ‘hello’ to you on the elevator, please don’t be rude and say nothing or grunt or roll your eyes. It’s a ‘hello.’ There is nothing committal in responding in kind. Yeah, I know some folks might say they don’t have to talk to anyone if they don’t want to. You are correct, but I reserve the right to junk punch you if you are rude when someone greets you. 

If you try to get on the elevator before everyone has had a chance to get off, you need your crotch smacked. It’s simple: Don’t get on until everyone else is off.

There are others, but these are the ones I experienced in the past week. I’m sure I will amend this by the end of next week. 

My favorite Metallica song is I Disappear. 

map_img_1013283_1487183286One last thing: if you are receiving snow, make me a snowman. I live in South Carolina and in the half of the state that never gets snow, so I live vicariously through you.

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

A.J.

(Now, go and brush your teeth. You know you want to.)

He Said, “I’ve Had A Good Life.”

1/15/2018

Let me tell you a quick story for context’s sake:

Back in August of 2017, a longtime friend of mine went to the hospital for heart surgery. During surgery, he had a stroke and went into a coma. I saw this on his social media page. His lady friend (my buddy never married) posted about it and then updated everyone on his condition over the course of three days. I contacted her directly, seeing how I had known this guy since I was six-years-old. She and I PM’d back and forth for the next several days with her giving me more detailed information than what she posted on social media. 

Three days after my friend had his stroke, he passed away. His lady friend sent me a message before she posted it on social media stating simply, He’s Gone. One of the friends I had had for over forty years of my life was now gone from it forever. 

A couple days passed and I contacted the lady, wanting to see how she was, how she was handling the death of our mutual friend. She was struggling, but she said something that has stuck with me: “He said before he went into surgery, ‘If I don’t make it, I had a good life.’”

My friend did have a good life. He did well for himself, having gone into the military and then being successful when he got out of the military. He had a good life. He did the things he wanted to do with his life. He enjoyed his life. 

a-good-life-is-whenI. Had. A. Good. Life.

Recently, I talked to another friend of mine. I asked him how he was.

“I want a do over,” he said.

“Today’s been that bad?”

“No. I want a do over and go back to high school. I would have paid more attention in class. I wouldn’t have given up on what I wanted to do with my life.”

“What did you want to do with your life?”

“I wanted to be a graphic designer.”

“My friend, just because you are older now doesn’t mean you can’t still be what you want to be.”

He shrugged his shoulders at this. “I wish I had the discipline back then to just pursue it.”

“That was then. Who says you don’t have the discipline now?”

My best friend went to college at forty-five (the same age as the friend I talked to recently) and graduated in October of 2018 with a Masters in Business. I know a woman who went to law school at forty because she wanted a change in careers. She became a very successful attorney.

My friend shrugged several times during our conversation. That has always struck me as the universal sign for ‘I give up,’ or ‘I can’t do that.’ It’s the sign for ‘I don’t want to put the effort into it.’ (Let me state that this is a generalization and this is my observation. You may not see things the same way.)

I relayed the story to him of my deceased friend, going into a little more detail than I have here. I looked him in the eyes and stated, “He had a good life. We have one shot at this game called life. For me, I want no regrets. When I get to the end, I want to say, I had a good life.”

Isn’t that what we all want? To say we had a good life? To say I lived the best I could? To say I experienced life?

I’ve been known to say to people when they say “I can’t do something” the following: “You can’t or you won’t?”

Wait. Before you get offended, understand something. There is a vast difference between can’t and won’t. Some people physically can’t do things. They may want to do something, but it is an impossibility because of a physical or mental limitation. That is not a won’t, but an actual can’t. What I mean is there are folks out there who will say ‘I can’t’ because they don’t want to try or they feel like they won’t succeed, so why bother? Can’t verses Won’t. 

Here’s the thing: I’m guilty of this very thing. I’ve said I can’t do something because I thought I would fail at it. So, I didn’t try. I regret those decisions. I don’t want others to regret not trying because they … are afraid they won’t succeed, or maybe they don’t think it is worth the effort. What do you have to lose? An experience you might never forget is one thing. Success at something you never thought you could do, is another. 

I’m at the point in my life where I would rather try and fail than wonder if I would have ever succeeded at something I didn’t attempt. 

Each person has to live their life according to how they see fit. I don’t fault anyone for being how or who they are. You and I have to do what is best for ourselves. For me, the options are simple and there are really only two of them: you go after life like you want it, or you sit by and watch it pass you by. At the end of life, I want to be one who went after it. What if I got to lose? What do you have to lose? 

Go back to school. Chase a dream you let go. Ask that lady or man out that you have had your eye on. Go after life. Go after it and live it and enjoy it.

Until we meet again my friends, have a good life, and be kind to one another.

A.J. 

Closing the Wound

Some stories are harder to write than others. They take on a different meaning, a different feel. The emotional grind of killing off a character or breaking up a relationship between two lovers or two friends or even family members to further a story along, can be taxing on the writer. That grind amps up when the story is either based on real events or are the actual events themselves.

coverThat leads me to my first nonfiction book, Closing the Wound. The people in the book are not just characters, but were, at one point, living, breathing human beings and part of my life in one way or other. The events are not figments of my imagination, but the truth how I remember it. I say as I remember it because time has a way of distorting things. It can turn the eight inch bass a fisherman caught when he was twenty into a six foot marlin at the age of fifty-three. It can take the task of reeling that bass in, feeding it some line, pulling the rod back, reeling, reeling, reeling into an epic battle for survival between man and beast. Time has a way of sneaking up on us and blurring the edges of reality and fiction, sometimes to the point we don’t know which is fact and which is make believe.

When I sat down to write Closing the Wound, I was very careful about those facts and falsehoods. I recounted the events over and over how I remember them. I thought about the people, all of whom the names were changed, and the roles they played in this chapter of, not only my life, but theirs and the main topic of this story, a young boy—no, young man—who died far too soon, taken from this world by another person. I thought about how folks who know about these events might feel about them being rehashed so many years later. I thought about how some of the people are portrayed. 

I thought hard on just who is telling the story. And this was the sticking point for me. Everyone has their versions of events, from as close to factual as you can get to the downright outrageous. For me, these are the facts as I recall them. The key to this entire story is it is my recollection. I didn’t seek out anyone else in the telling of this story. I used the facts and my memory to tell it. If someone else wishes to tell this story in their own manner, from their own perspective, then have at it. But for me—and for you—this is my story. 

Before I go, I want to talk about the cover. It’s a rusty lock on an old door. It symbolizes that this story is over for me. I have closed the doors on it and have locked them. It symbolizes that there is nothing left to tell; I have poured my soul out and I can’t pour anymore.

I hope you will consider coming along with me on the journey to the end of this story. If you do, I hope you will consider leaving a review as well. Those things are important to us little guys.

If you would like to pick up a digital copy of Closing the Wound, you can do so by going here.

If you would like to pick up a physical copy of Closing the Wound, you do so by going here.

As always, thank you for reading, and until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

 

Reflections On the Year Gone By Part 3

If you missed Part 1, you can read it HERE. 

If you missed Part 2, you can read it HERE. 

In January, a review appeared on Amazon for my book, The Forgetful Man’s Disease. The individual who posted the review was a man named Draven Ames. I knew Draven from our mutual dealings with Stitched Smile Publications. He was new to the family that is SSP. We developed a friendship and cultivated it through social media, emails and private messages. He left this review for The Forgetful Man’s Disease:

“Just finished The Forgetful Man’s Disease, a novella by AJ Brown. This isn’t the first story by him that I have read. Each time I read his work, the voice of his characters grab me. This story is about a man who is in the later stages of Alzheimer’s, reliving his past as ghosts torment him. It is a story about love and loss, about grief and sadness, but, most of all, about letting go.

There were twists and turns, sure, but the real power of the story comes in the very real characters AJ Brown brings to life, the emotional journey we go through as we watch a man struggle with confusion and the loss of his memories. At the end of the novella, AJ Brown talks about how this town is based off a SC town he lived in, and the realism is easily seen in his writing.

I’m very happy I picked up this novella and read it. Will be sharing this one with my wife.

As a side note, the love between the MC and his wife was very beautiful and touching. 5/5.”

Fast forward to the first week of April. I’m on vacation and sitting at a local restaurant and pub with Cate. My favorite local band, Prettier Than Matt, is playing. It’s a Wednesday evening. I’ve had my cell phone for maybe a month and it was still new to me. It buzzes and makes its little text message sound. Not really thinking much of it, I don’t look at the phone. I’m on a date with Cate and watching PTM. The text can wait. Then the phone buzzes and dings again. And again. And again.

“You might want to check that,” Cate said.

I picked up the phone. As I did so, it buzzed and dinged again. I clicked on the message and stopped breathing. 

“What’s wrong?” Cate asked. I turned the phone toward her, too stunned to speak. The message simply said, Draven’s gone.

Most of you who read that line just now understood that didn’t mean he got up and walked out of the room and out of the house and rode off into the sunset. You understood immediately that Draven, my friend and fellow author, had died. I knew Draven struggled with PTSD and depression, but all of my interactions leading up to his death gave me no indication he was struggling. The night before I had spent three hours chatting with him about his novel and working on ways to make it better. We had planned to chat again that weekend to look at some issues within the story he was working on. We said our goodbyes and that was the last time I interacted with him. 

Draven’s death reminded me (and in return, I now remind you) that life is fleeting. There are many people out there dealing with things. We may not know what they are or how serious they are, but they are there. And sometimes those things become overwhelming and there is no light at the end of the tunnel, or so it is perceived. The only option for some—really, many—is to take their own life, just as my friend had. I think about his death often, and wonder if there was anything I could have done to help him.

I want to leave this section with the national crisis hotline: 1-800-273-8255. This line is answered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you feel like there is no hope and no way out, please call this number. You are not alone, even if it feels like you are.

***

Before Draven passed away, he mentioned The Forgetful Man’s Disease to a Twitter follower of his. The day after his passing, I noticed a post on Twitter that I was tagged in. I clicked on the notification and read the tweet. It said something to the effect of: In honor of Draven Ames, I am going to read The Forgetful Man’s Disease by @ajbrown36. 

I remember sitting outside a little restaurant in downtown Columbia called Michael’s, Cate sitting across from me and Prettier Than Matt was about to play again, when I read the tweet. Even in death, Draven had done something nice for someone. What does that tell you about his character? Yeah. He was a great person. 

I contacted the individual and we talked quite a bit over the next few days to weeks. His name is George Ranson and we struck up a solid connection from the very start. I talk to him from time to time through Twitter and I follow his goings on in the Twitterverse. He’s a truly good guy and a voracious reader. 

George let me know he was finished with The Forgetful Man’s Disease and he wrote a review for it:

“If you enjoy intelligent, well-written horror stories filled with rich, complex characters then A.J. Brown is the author for you. And The Forgetful Man’s Disease is a perfect introduction to this extremely talented writer. This novella is a short enough to be read in a couple of sittings but packs the punch of a full-length novel & will leave you thinking about what you’ve read long after you’ve finished reading it.

The story centers around Homer Grigsby, an elderly widower who’s final days are fast approaching. As Homer deals with the frustrations common with advanced age, most notably his increasingly untrustworthy memory, he is also continually confronted by things that are decidedly less common: the ghosts of long dead friends, neighbors & loved ones. The story unfolds in frequent transitions between two points in time, the nightmare-like present and a period from decades earlier during which a tragic event would have a painful and enduring effect upon Homer’s life. These shifts in time are done seamlessly and add to a sense of foreboding that builds continually from the first page to the last. The story is beautifully written with a conclusion that is as emotional as it is stunning.

The brilliance in A.J.’s writing is in the way he effortlessly blends the inhuman aspects of horror that readers of the genre crave (the spirits of the dead in this case) and the simple human emotion that readers of ANY genre crave.

In a nutshell…If you’re a fan of horror or simply a fan of beautifully told stories you will LOVE The Forgetful Man’s Disease.”

HORROR WITH HEART BLACK LOGO FINALThat’s a cool review, but it was what he said in a conversation that described my writing in a way I never could. George called it horror with heart. Horror. With. Heart. I thought about that a lot, discussed it with Cate and then asked George if I could use his words as my new hashtag for social media. With his blessing #horrorwithheart was born.

But what exactly is horror with heart? I will answer it like this: 

In today’s world, horror is all about shock and blood and guts. No one is trying to tug on the readers’ (or viewers’) heartstrings. The goal to Horror With Heart is to touch you emotionally, to make you feel something besides disgust. I want you to hurt when my characters hurt. I want you to be in love when my characters are in love. I want to shatter you when I shatter my characters. It’s all about feelings instead of shock and gore.

My thanks goes to Draven for sharing one of my books with someone in his social media circle. It also goes to George for the encouragement and the kind words and, of course, the hashtag. 

***

I might do something drastic in 2019. No, not might, but will. My relationship with the behemoth, Amazon, is on shaky ground. She is not a nice companion and she certainly isn’t a good business partner. She reminds me of Ebenezer Scrooge before he gets visited by all the ghosts of Christmases gone wrong. 

Over the last year I’ve seen nearly thirty reviews, most of which were verified purchases, removed from my books. When I realized this was happening, I went to Amazon and copied all of the reviews remaining and posted them on my website. I also contacted them and didn’t receive a satisfactory reason as to why the reviews were pulled. 

I’ve also had quite a few issues since Amazon decided that print books needed to go through KDP instead of Createspace. One of those issues is how long it takes to get books from Amazon and that they take the print cost of the books out of the author’s royalties. 

amazonThere are other issues with Amazon that I won’t go into here. At the end of the day, I’m tired of dealing with them and their lousy customer service. If I can work it out—and I’ve been researching this—I will sell all of my self-published books directly from my website. I wanted to pull all the books from Amazon. I didn’t want them to have any of my books, but as it was pointed out to me by another author, many readers equate Amazon with a writer’s credibility. Essentially, if your books are on Amazon, readers take you more seriously.

With that in mind, I posed this question on my Facebook page and in a Facebook group: Do you purchase books on Amazon? If so, how often?

Every person who responded purchases books off of Amazon (mostly digital). Every. Single. Person. And most of those folks purchase their books from Amazon only. 

Sigh. Instead of pulling all of my books from Amazon, I am going to leave them on the site, but I am also going to put them on my website (yes, both digital and print). I honestly didn’t want to stay with Amazon. It’s like being in a bad relationship and sticking around because you have nothing better in store. But she is a necessary evil. 

For the record, I’m not taking on Amazon. They are a juggernaut who can do whatever they want. I’m just tired of them changing the rules every year or so, but still making a crap load of money off of the authors. I’ve always been one to do things my way, so I guess this will be another step in that direction with my writing. If what I’m planning to do works, I will spread the news everywhere I can. Stay tuned and let’s see what happens.

***

I’m also making a change to Type AJ Negative. In March or early April, I will convert my blog into a full blown website. I will stick with WordPress because I enjoy the user friendly controls and I’ve never had a bad experience with their customer service.

Don’t worry. The blog will remain, but it will get a massive upgrade and I will add a lot of things to it that are not on there now, like BUY buttons, videos, pictures, schedule of events, new short stories, all of the book reviews, maybe even a facelift in its appearance as well. Like converting the book files to digital and reformatting for print files, setting up the website will take time, but I’m determined to give you all a better landing page and make it easier to find my work. I also want to get back to more of the humorous posts I used to put on here. I hope you will like it and come back on a regular basis.

***

I met a dinosaur at the park at the beginning of the year. I got her to take a picture with one of my books.

Dinosaur

***

I leave 2018 behind with this thought.

You can be passive and watch life pass you by. Or you can be aggressive and go after life and live it. 

Yesterday I was ten and learning how to play baseball for the first time with my dad throwing Nolan Ryan fastballs to me. Twenty hours ago I was seventeen and walking across the stage during graduation from high school. fifteen hours ago I was twenty-seven and getting married. twelve hours ago I was in the delivery room with Cate as she gave birth to The Girl. Ten hours ago, I was in another delivery room as Cate gave birth to The Boy. Five hours ago I turned forty. Three hours from now, I’ll be fifty …

Do you see what I am getting at. Time waits for no one. You have to live your life or you will wonder what happened to it when you get older. Then you will wish you had done more. Don’t wish. Go live. 

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

A.J.

Reflections On the Year Gone By Part 2

If you missed Part 1, you can read it HERE.

Two things happened in my little acre of the writing world this past year. In March I sat in on my first panel. It was about Indie authors and the struggles of being one. I can honestly say it was interesting and informative. I made a few friends who I have stayed in contact with. There is a video somewhere out there of it. 

In September, I stood in front of a crowd of people as the guest speaker for Chris Maw’s Words and Wine event. I was nervous for all of fifteen seconds. In the video you can see I flub over a couple of my words, but once I got my bearing and the train began to roll forward, I feel I entertained the group (even getting a few laughs here and there). I took questions and gave answers. I had a blast. I want to do it again. I want to speak in front of people again. That was as thrilling to me as a roller coaster ride or bungee jumping or sky diving might be for others.  You can see the video below.

 

So, if you want a Southern Gothic, horror story telling, rebel with somewhat of a cause to speak at an event, drop me a line at ajbrown36@bellsouth.net. 

Did I really just plug that? I guess I did.

***

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This year Cate and I made several long road trips—more than we have any other time in our marriage. Actually, we made more instate and out of state road trips than we ever had in our over twenty years of marriage.

We took the kids to St. Augustine, Florida at the beginning of April. I’m not entirely sure the kids had a great time, but Cate and I did. It was our first trip to Florida together and the first time in a while that we got a hotel. Cate and I even rode an outdoor carousel, though the kids didn’t get on it. I think they were embarrassed by our actions.

In August we went to Virginia for Scares That Care. We left on a Thursday and arrived back home the following Monday. It was a blast and a half, one of the single best weekends of my life. More on that later.

At the end of October, we made a trip to Bradford, Pennsylvania, to see our two friends, Tara and Larissa. Oh my goodness, the donuts at The Cider Mill were amazing, as they were at the Amish house we visited. In Pennsylvania they have this place called Tim Horton’s. I hear this is a Canadian alternative to Starbucks. And I will say they are far better than Starbucks … and cheaper. We need one down here in South Carolina. Do you hear that Tim Horton’s? Come down south. I’ll love you forever.

Florida was great fun with the kids. Pennsylvania was great fun with two terrific people. Virginia … Virginia was an entirely different ball game. 

Let me tell you about Williamsburg, Virginia and Scares That Care. This trip would not have been possible without Lisa Vasquez and Stitched Smile Publications. I’m not going to go into the why of it, but Lisa is a great and generous individual. The planning for this trip began before the calendar turned to 2018. When August rolled around, Cate and I left our little home in South Carolina and drove the seven hours to Williamsburg, stopping only to eat lunch and gas up the car.

We arrived at this beautiful gated complex and were greeted in the parking lot of the place we would spend the next four days and nights by Larissa and Tara. For the next three hours we sat in the living room talking. During those three hours, the four of us became instant friends. It turned out we had a lot in common including where our relationships were concerned. The similarities were eerie.

Night would come and the rest of the group hadn’t arrived yet, and wouldn’t until the next morning. We crashed and the next morning the four of us greeted Lisa, Donelle, Chris and Veronica to the house. Later in the day one of the most upbeat and enjoyable to be around people arrived: James. 

That afternoon we made our way to the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel to where the Scares That Care convention was held. The Stitched Smile Publications booth was right next to the All Things Zombie booth, ran by Jeffrey Clare, which was a treat in and of itself. Friday evening, all day Saturday and Sunday morning to early afternoon, we took turns manning the booth, selling books, meeting people and having an all around great time. 

Saturday evening, after the convention ended for the day, we were treated to the wedding of Jeffrey Clare and Shannon Walters. It wasn’t just any wedding, though. It was a zombie themed wedding. It was awesome.

That Saturday night we all sat around the table and many of us bared our souls. We learned a lot about each other. We laughed. We laughed so hard some of us cried. And a bond was created that feels as strong as any from any other group I’ve been associated with. It was a magical weekend, one of the best.

***

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PMLet’s talk books for a minute here. My collection, Voices, came out on Friday, April 13th. It is dark, disturbing and awesome. The book contains 15 short stories that deal with the darker and very real subjects of life, such as cutting, neglect, sexual assault, prison, murder, loneliness, love gone awry, demons, bullying and betrayal. It’s not a book for the squeamish. 

Bibliophilia Templum had this to say about Voices:  “These stories darkly and boldly illustrate the harsh realities of life when there are no safe places, not even in your own head.”

Scream Horror Magazine reviewed Voices and said:

“Few things are as terrifying or powerful as the human mind. It’s where our darkest secrets, phobias and most troubling thoughts reside, which could spell harm to ourselves or others if they’re allowed to fester for too long, unattended. While the mind motivates us to achieve our goals and form our greatest ideas, it’s also capable of inspiring dark deeds and taking advantage of our paranoias and fears when we’re at our most vulnerable. Every horrible atrocity in human history started with a sister thought or an impulse stemming from a damaged psyche after all. As such, the complexities of the mind has always lent itself perfectly to horror tales.

Screen Shot 2019-01-01 at 9.48.14 PMA.J. Brown’s latest. Voices, is a collection of short stories rooted in psychological torment and the horrors that can unfold as a result. Each story is rooted in the darkest elements of humanity that, when broken down, don’t seem too far fetched at all. These tales are inspired by domestic, sexual and mental abuse, as well as neglect, bullying, death, sorrow and the harm the can cause. It’s not a light collection by any means, but it’s certainly effective and deserves your attention if you’re willing to confront horror rooted in reality.

 The first story, “In the Shadows They Hide” taps into a socially awkward teenager’s fear of shadows, coupled with the anxieties that arise from being bullied and unable to fit in with your peer group.

 “The Scarring”, meanwhile, is concerned with child abuse and the harrowing effects which follows in its wake. “A Memory Best Left Alone” is about a woman who self-harms … you get the idea of the type of subject matter Brown is fascinated with. This isn’t poolside reading. 

 That said, the author handles each story with sensitivity and respect to difficult topics and themes while simultaneously mining the real horror humanity experiences to craft bold and devastating scare fare. In lesser hands, this anthology could be exploitative or schlocky, but Brown’s exploration is nuanced and all the better for it. By no means will this book be for everyone, but those who dare open its pages may find it rewarding.”

 

But there is more to Voices than just the book. Over the last eight months, the characters of the stories have been interviewed by Lisa Lee Tone of Bibliophilia Templum. Those interviews can be seen by following the links below. Also, when the series of interviews are complete, they will be compiled into a companion book for Voices. That book will also have an interview with Lisa Lee Tone and a couple of extra things that will only appear in that book.

(To read the interviews to date, click on the name of the character.)

Part 1: Spencer from In the Shadows They Hide       

Part 2: Mr. Worrywort from Chet and Kay’s Not So Marvelous Adventure      

Part 3: Lena and Nothing from The Scarring        

Part 4: Claire from Claire, The Movie         

Part 5: Jeddy from Black Storms      

Part 6: B from Anymore    

Part 7: Dave from Crisp Sounds      

Part 8: Dane from  Numbers                

Part 9: The Angel from To Bleed     

Part 10: Brian from Not Like You  

Part 11: Lewis from The Sad Woes of the Trash Man  

A couple of other books were put out, as well. The first of these is titled, ZOMBIE, and yes, it is a collection of stories involving the rotting corpses we have all come to love or loathe. There is a touch of humor in this book, and a collaboration with my good friend, Justin Dunne, titled, Bonobo.

The second of these books is titled, Beautiful Minds, a collection of 61 short stories that encompasses the four years The Brown Bag Stories were in existence. What were The Brown Bag Stories, you ask? Good question. 

The Brown Bag Stories was a monthly booklet Cate and I put out, starting in May of 2014. Each booklet had a short story in it (yes, a different story in every one), a dedication, a cover, the letter to you, my Faithful Readers, and advertisements for my other books. In the four years TBBS existed, we put out 64 total stories. As I stated, 61 of those appear in Beautiful Minds, with the only ones not in the massive book being two stories that are also in Voices and one story I hope to publish with a pro paying magazine  in 2019. 

I admit a simple truth here: I was saddened to bring The Brown Bag Stories to an end, but to be completely honest, it wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do. I wanted it to generate potential readers for my books. It might have generated a handful of readers, and I am grateful for that, but at the end of the day, all the work and costs going into putting them out just wasn’t generating sells for my books. I hate putting it that way, but that is the truth. 

There is one more book that I put out, but not to the general public. It was a Christmas present for my sister-in-law and it’s titled, Closing the Wound. It is based on the true events of the death of a sixteen-year-old young man on Halloween night of 1995. Amazon and I went ten rounds in our arguments over their service with the delivery of this book, but it finally showed up in the nick of time. Seeing the expression on my sister-in-law’s face made all the effort well worth it.

To Be Continued …

Reflections On the Year Gone By Part 1

I don’t usually do a year in review type of thing. I leave that to others because sometimes reflecting can be good, while other times it can be a nightmare or a heart wrenching episode that makes you want to crawl in a hole and hide from the rest of the world. Maybe the point of reflection is so you see things the way they truly were, in perspective to how you thought they were when they were happening. Maybe some events were happier than you originally thought. Maybe they were worse than you originally thought. Maybe, just maybe, they weren’t anything near what you thought they were. 

 

I guess that’s the point of this post. Reflecting on the past year, just as I would if I looked in the mirror and saw the age creeping up in my hair and around my eyes and lips. Sometimes objects in the mirror in front of you are closer than they appear.

Where do I begin? With the good? The bad? The ugly? Okay, maybe not the ugly—you can call me pretty. Go ahead. Do it. It’s not like I will hear you. Do I start with January and work my way through the year chronologically? Do I bounce, bounce, bounce around, touching on this point or that point or those points? I don’t know, but I think the next sentence will give me some direction.

In December of 2017, I got sick one Friday evening. It carried over into Saturday. Cate and I and the kids

were heading to Rock Hill that morning for Christmasville in Rock Hill. I had been looking forward to it for a couple of months, but when we left, I had a slight fever, hadn’t slept much the night before and a blister had formed on the roof of my mouth. By lunchtime, I told Cate, “Babe, we need to go home.” I was hurting. My throat was on fire. My mouth hurt. I had a fever and the chills and my body ached. I remember getting in the back seat of the car and vaguely laying on the couch when we got home. The one thing I was aware of through it all was the blister on the roof of my mouth had tripled in size. 

I woke the next morning feeling better. The blister was mostly gone, as was the fever and the chills, though the aches still remained. 

A couple of days passed and the blister and all of the sickness was gone. However, I noticed a knot in my mouth. After a couple of weeks of it being there, I went to the doctor. 

“I’m going to send you to a specialist,” she said.

“What for?” I asked.

“I think it’s cancer.”

Wha … what?

The following week, I

Before

went to see the specialist, but not before spending the duration between doctor visits in stunned wakefulness—I slept very little. Oral cancer. Two people I knew had died of the very thing in the previous year. 

I was asked the typical questions: Do you smoke or have you ever smoked? Do you chew tobacco or have you ever chewed tobacco? Do you drink or have you ever drank? I answered ‘no’ to all of those questions. 

The doctor visit came and went. “You have a tumor,” the specialist said. “It’s rare that it is in the hard palette of the mouth, but it is there.”

The good thing is it was operable. 

Cate and I kept quiet for the most part. I only told a couple of people at work and neither of us told our families about it until the week before the surgery was to happen. Sure, our friends and family could have showed support for us, but we didn’t want them worrying, especially our kids or my father, who had his own health issues (and I didn’t want to add stress to his life).

The operation was set for March 9th. I will not lie and say I wasn’t nervous and somewhat scared as we made our way to the facility where the surgery would take place. When I got there, all the nerves faded and the fear left me. I was ready to have this thing out of my mouth and to start recovery (hopefully with no cancerous lumps anywhere in my mouth).

I got mostly naked and put on their napkin thin gown and crawled up on the gurney they would take me back to the operating room on. The nurses did their thing and poked me with needles. The anesthesiologist came in and said he wasn’t sure what type of anesthesia I was supposed to get (you know, the one that knocks me completely out or the one that puts me under but only far enough not to feel anything) and he would wait for the doctor to inform him before he doped me up.

The doctor came in and started feeling around in my mouth. 

“Hmmm,” he said and left the room. 

I looked at Cate. She looked at me. The worry and nerves that had gone away earlier came back in all of its hated glory. 

A couple of minutes later, the surgeon came back into the room with a coal miner’s light on his head. He flicked it on—yes, it was bright—and shone it into my mouth. He felt around some more, looked again, then flicked off his light. He stood straight, pulled the gloves off his hands and said, “I guess I won’t be buying that Jaguar today.”

Cate and I looked at him with what had to be obvious confusion on our faces.

“I hate when my patients heal themselves.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“The tumor is gone,” he said.

“What?”

“It’s gone. It’s no longer there. You don’t need surgery.”

“Are you serious?”

After“Yup. It’s gone. There’s not even a mark where it had been.” There had been a purple lesion where the tumor had been and from December until the night before the surgery was to take place, I could feel it with my tongue. I ran my tongue along the top of my mouth and … I couldn’t feel it. 

They discharged me and I left the hospital floating about three feet off the ground and with happy tears in my eyes. 

I thank the Lord for the major miracle He had worked. Then my wife made me get a cell phone. Yeah, I know they aren’t connected, but they really are. I had resisted cell phones for the most part during my 48 years of life. But after dealing with the doctors on her phone, she thought it best for me to have my own. To recap: there was no surgery on March 9th, but there was the purchase of a cell phone.

That afternoon, I posted on social media about it for the first time along with two pictures Cate had taken: one before I was to go into surgery and the other after we found out there would be none. 

***

Going into 2018, Cate and I decided we wanted to do more book related events, meaning more festivals and conventions. We went into 2018 treating my writing more like a business than a hobby. 

One of our two goals for the year was to break even with the amount of money we started with, or do better. We didn’t want to go into 2019 in the hole. If we were losing money then that would make putting out books an expensive hobby instead of something more sustainable. I can honestly say we did better than break even by $128. I’ll take it. That means we sold more than we spent. 

Cayce Setup 2The second goal was to do at least twelve events. We surpassed that easily, appearing at 24 events on the year (even though we had none in January, February, July or December). It was exhausting, but we learned a lot. We met a lot of good people and made some great connections. We also heard this more than we thought we would: “I don’t read.”

I don’t read. 

This is sad. I’ve said for the last several years, the reading populace is dwindling and the pieces of the pie (readership) are getting smaller and smaller. Still, hearing so many people say they don’t read is bothersome. I had one woman lament for about ten minutes how people should read more and that it is a shame that they don’t. Then when I said, “Well, can I interest you in one of the books on the table?” There were eleven books on our table that day. She promptly said, “Oh, well, I don’t read.”

I could only stare at her in disbelief as she walked away.

ReadingThis is the world authors live in today. Its not like it was fifty years ago, or even twenty years ago before the internet exploded and smart phones gave you access to everything around the world in your back pocket and at your fingertips. People do actually read, they just don’t read books anymore. They read on tablets and from websites and through apps, but many of those people aren’t reading books on those devices. Twenty years ago, or maybe even ten years ago, the world still liked its printed stories. 

This also leads me to believe that without a huge following, you can’t make a living in this business. That is terribly sad. 

I don’t read. It’s a mantra I will surely hear in this upcoming year, but I hope less and less so.

To be continued …