Do You Have A Ritual?

In today’s post we answer another question from a reader. I say ‘we’ because these videos are done by Cate and I, not just me. She puts a lot of time and effort and thought into where we record these videos and how to introduce them. 

Today’s question is from Tara in upstate New York. First, Hey, Tara in upstate New York.

Tara asked, “Do you have a ritual when you finish a book?”

This is something I have never been asked, so thank you for the question, Tara. 


Before you watch the video and get my response, I know a lot of authors who do have a ritual. Some of them smoke cigars—they literally purchase cigars specifically for smoking at the end of a book—some of them have a glass of wine or go out to eat at a fancy restaurant. Some folks quietly reflect. This is what I do:

Again, thank you, Tara, for your question. If you have a question you would like me to answer, drop me a line and we’ll answer it. Please, no boxers or briefs questions. 

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

A.J.

I’m Not That Important

If you’re a writer, I want you to say something for me. You may not want to say it, but I want you to. Okay? Will you say it? I’m trusting you to do this for me. It is important.

Are you ready?

Are you sure?

Okay, say this:

“I am not important.”

How many of you saw that line and refused to say it? How many of you said, “I’m important” instead of those four words I asked you to say? 

So, let’s try this again.

Are you ready?

Go:

“I am not important.”

Come on. Really? There is a point to this. It’s not to make you feel lesser as a person. It’s about ego. 

I am a writer. I am a damn good writer. But I’m not important in the grand scheme of writing. 

You see, writing is only part of the equation. Being the writer, you are the vessel for words. You are the creator of sentences. You are the artist whose vision is the story. But you are not important. 

“If I’m not important, then who or what is?”

What’s important? Well, that’s simple. The story. 

Let me explain before everyone gets all bent out of shape with me.

47772c5da4e7eb8cd5204da5ae580bccYou can be the best writer in the history of writing, but if you can’t tell a good story, being a good writer means nothing. As a writer, you should take pride in penning a great story, but you have to be careful of making the story secondary to you. Yes, you wrote it. Yes, it’s great, but put that ego aside when talking about it. Because, well, it’s not about the writer, it’s about the story. But we make it about us, us, us. It’s like we’re all a bunch of Daffy Ducks running around going, “Mine! Mine! Mine!”

“I wrote this book. I had this idea. I created these characters. I connected this dot to that one and this is the result. I am great. This book is mine, mine, mine! Buy my book.”

Many writers have massive egos and they make everything about themselves, not about the stories they write. Sure, we need them to write their stories, because without them, we don’t have those stories. But hearing an author talk about how great he or she is, is a major turnoff for me. 

You penned the next great novel, but while you were penning it, did you know it was the next great novel? Did you know it would sell so well it shot up the New York Times and USA Today Best Seller Lists? Did you have any clue someone might read it and want to turn it into a movie? Sure, you might have hoped for these things, but did you know the story was destined for greatness? I doubt it. 

Great writers don’t always write great stories. However, a great story can make a writer great overnight, even if that writer never puts out another story. A writer doesn’t make a story great, but a story sure can make a writer popular. 

I feel like, as authors, we get in the way far too often, and we make this business about us, about all the great words we have written. What we fail to do so often is talk about the actual story. No, I don’t mean we don’t talk about the book. We do that in every promotional meme or flyer or social media post we put out there. It’s a buy, buy, buy my book world and we talk about that—about buying the book—more than we ever talk about the actual story that is the book.

There is a difference between promoting your book and talking about the story. 

Promoting a book usually talks a little about the book in a manner to entice you to buy it. Counting The Days Summer VacationOn social media, it usually involves a meme of an image that is directly related to the story and usually a quote from the book or the synopsis from it. The image here is a promotional for My Summer Vacation by Jimmy Lambert. It comes complete with an image, a blurb from the book, the title and who it is by and a coming soon tag. It’s purely promotional and is not meant to be about the actual book, but about selling the book. It’s about catching your eye in hopes of you finding it appealing enough to, at least, make you think about the book, because if you’re thinking about it, the chance of you buying it increases. It doesn’t necessarily mean you will buy the book right away, but it is there, in your mind, even if deep within the recesses of it.  

Now, let me tell you about this story. I love the storyline that follows Jimmy Lambert from young kid with his entire summer in front of him, to a beaten and battered and broken child who survives a horrifying series of events. So many bad things happen to Jimmy, and I wasn’t really sure how he would bounce back from them. I mean, was it too much? Did these events do irreparable harm to him, both mentally and physically. I cringed in Chapter 18 when something happened out of desperation—something I don’t think I could ever do. This story, it has a touch of so many realistic elements, from bullying, to friendship, to the horrors of being wrongly accused of something, to being placed in a criminal youth facility, to revenge, to sorrow and guilt, to a touch of love and hope. It’s heart wrenching at points. 

When you consider Jimmy is twelve in this story, he’s not very big and he’s kind of a wimp, all the things that happen from beginning to end, I could only shake my head and think, ‘how is he going to survive this? Is he going to survive this?’

That’s talking about your story. It’s not selling it. It’s talking about it with a passion for people to know the story is emotionally charged. It’s not saying, hey, buy my book. It’s saying, hey, this is a great story, a story I love. The book is just how it is presented. And that’s really what a book is, isn’t it? A presentation in words. Kind of like a movie is a presentation in moving pictures, and a song is a presentation of music and words.

As a writer, you should want to tell people about your story. You know that story better than anyone else. You know the characters and the settings and all the events that take place within it better than anyone else. Why not talk about the story? By talking about the story, we show potential readers how passionate we are about the story. 

It’s not about selling. It’s about that passion the story brings us. It’s all about the story. Not the book. Not the writer. The story is what matters. The story is important. The writer may be important in one way, but in the end, it is always about the story. Always.

Now, can you say it with me?

“I’m not that important.”

Now add this: “But the story is.”

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

A.J.

 

The Obligation of Words (and the Symbolism of Typewriters)

So often I feel like writing is a waste of time for me. I do it every day, sometimes very late at night when I can’t sleep or early in the morning when everyone is still in bed. Most days when I sit to write, it feels like an obligation, like something I am required to do—like homework when I was in school. To who am I obligated? To the readers? To the fictional voices in my head who love my work? To the characters, themselves, who wish to have their stories told? To myself?

Maybe it is none of those things. Maybe I am obligated to the words, or to nothing at all. Still, writing often feels like an obligation for me. And I don’t know why.

392550_412747505422764_855367895_nWith that obligation comes the feeling that I am an ancient typewriter, one that is missing all the vowel keys, and with every word I type, I have to go in and hand write in all the missing A’s, E’s, I’s, O’s, and U’s (and sometimes Y’s—let’s not forget the Y’s). The feeling is the keys are sticking and each time the type bar goes up, it does so slower than it should and it strikes the platen weakly, leaving only a faint gray letter on the paper.

It is during those times that writing can be a struggle. The words don’t come out right. The sentences sound off or awkward or just plain weird. That is when the same word gets used over and over and when an hour can pass with only 32 words having been written—do the math, that is one word for almost every two minutes. Though it is a struggle, I continue to write on. After all, bad writing is better than no writing (because, you know, at least I’m writing).

Yes, that is the obligation speaking. Any writing is better than no writing, even if the words I pen are mere shadows of stories I’ve written in the past.

Still, I don’t know what the obligation is or where it came from or why I feel so strongly about it.

Here is a truth as I know it: If I’m not writing, I feel like I am wasting my time. It is a damned if I do, damned if I don’t situation. Again, that obligation to put words to paper or on the screen comes heavily into play. It’s a constant battle of what I should be doing other than writing, and what I should be writing. Here is an example to illustrate things a little better:

I have several books written, but they need to be edited. Editing is not writing. It is part of the process of putting a book out, but it is not the actual act of writing. It needs to be done, but when I am editing, the voices in my head are yelling at me, YOU SHOULD BE WRITING! Unfortunately for me, when the voices start bickering, I can’t cover my ears and walk away. It’s impossible to get away from yourself and what is in your head.

But then when I am writing, some of the other voices (and in many cases, the same ones who bickered at me for not writing) yell, YOU SHOULD BE EDITING THIS STORY! IT’S NOT GOING TO EDIT ITSELF!

AHHHHHHHH!!!!

You see, I can’t win at this, but there is this obligation, this overwhelming feeling that I need to write. And maybe that is the problem. The need to write is so strong, it is almost an obsession. Or maybe it is an obsession.

I’m ripe with things to say. 

The words rot and fall away.

—Blink 182

Stay Together for the Kids

rusty-typewriterThose are powerful lyrics to a powerful song. Those lyrics, quite often, are how I feel when I wake in the morning or before I go to bed. I have all these words spinning around up in my head. They are alive and hungry and waiting for me to send them out through my fingertips. If I don’t write them down they will die and decay and be lost to me forever. It’s like losing thousands of friends a day. Most of them might not be all that close and might just be acquaintances, but some of them … some of them are like extensions of my family, parts of me that I love and cherish and … dammit, I don’t want to lose them all!

At this point it is easy to say, ‘hey, you’re losing it, bro.’ Maybe so. It’s also easy to say, ‘you are your obligation.’ Again, maybe so. Probably so.

I honestly think the obligation is tied to fear. Fear is a horrible feeling. Fear of losing a loved one, a job or getting hurt by someone or killed or whatever. Maybe your fear is of picking up kitty cats. Hey, it could be a real thing. Don’t judge! The fear is something so simple, so easy to see and dismiss, but so real: what if I take a break from writing—a week, two tops—and when I return to it, I won’t be able to write?

Sounds crazy, I know, but I think that is the problem I have when it comes to writing. I have tried to take breaks from time to time. The longest such break in the last couple of years has been four days. At the end of that four days, I had the hardest time sitting down and putting two words together, much less two hundred or two thousand. My fingers itched to put anything on the screen. When that didn’t work, I pulled out a notepad and pen and dated the top of the page (as I always do), but nothing came out. Nothing came out.

I forced myself to write on a story I knew I would never finish, but I still wrote some words—all of about three hundred of them. They sucked. We’re talking being stuck in a sewage drain up to your chest and you just dropped your phone and you need to retrieve it in order to save yourself suckage. It took another three days before I felt really comfortable with the words I wrote. That was after just four days of not writing.

I thought my head would explode from the frustration. Obligation fueled by fear.

But there is another fear that goes with it. It is something I was concerned with when I stopped putting The Brown Bags out in print form: if readers don’t see my words, they lose interest in me. If I don’t market, readers lose interest in me. If I am not constantly out there, readers lose interest in me. It’s just reality. Out of sight, out of mind. Obligation is still there.

Then there is this happy little contradiction: sometimes my mind screams in all of its many voices, WHAT ARE YOU WRITING FOR WHEN NO ONE IS READING YOUR WORDS? 

Okay, I may be able to count on both hands and maybe one of someone else’s hands, how many fans I really have out there, but there are still folks reading my words. It is hard to know who the fans are or if folks are reading your work. I can honestly say that these (non-writer) folks follow my work regularly: Joan Macleod and Mary Cooper and Frank Knox and Greg Crump. I didn’t count my wife in there, but with her and possibly my brother-in-law, Stephen, that puts my straight up, legit fan base at six people. (If you are a straight up, legit fan and I am not aware of this, drop me a note in the comments, just don’t throw a brick at my head. The brick will break and I will not get the hint.)

But what if I never had work published? Would I still feel this way? Would I still feel the obligation to write. I think so, but maybe it would be directed somewhere else. When I was a kid I had a need to constantly play or practice at basketball. As I got older, I began to draw and I had the need to constantly put a pencil to paper. But that was different. I didn’t feel I absolutely had to do those things. I didn’t feel that if I didn’t shoot five hundred free throws in a day I would forget how to do it, or if I didn’t draw a picture every day I would forget how to. I didn’t feel obligated to do it. And when I thought about quitting those things, they didn’t scare me.

With the exception of the last paragraph, I feel a lot of writers—probably far more than will admit—have the same issues. They have that obligation.  They have that need to write, that fear of not only not being able to write, but of failure, driving them to do so every day. They have a desire to be read, to know they are being read, and to know that  what they are writing is reaching people. They stress over writing time and having enough work out there. They stress over editing and marketing and putting themselves out there. Many of them also feel it is a waste of time, and quite a few of those folks quit all together.

Writers rarely reach superstar celebrity status like rock stars or movie stars do. Sure, we have Stephen King and James Patterson and J.K. Rowling, but the majority of writers (and I’m talking a fictional percentage such as 98%) don’t ever reach half of that climb to the top of Mt. Success.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if writers were treated like rock stars when it comes to our fan base? We could release a single (short story) and then another later on, and by George, if you like them, go get the entire collection at your favorite brick and mortar store or online. You could tell your friends how awesome the writer is that you are reading. I find this interesting: we listen to songs over and over, trying to learn all the lyrics (including those pesky background lyrics that are so hard to decipher sometimes) and we try to learn how to sing them and even play them, again, over and over. But when it comes to a story, we read it once and put it down. ‘I know how the story is going to end now.’ Yes, this is true, but don’t we know how the song is going to end, too?

I apologize for going slightly off the beaten path here. The point to that last part is writers don’t often reach very high heights. That can be frustrating, as well.

Musicwriter June 5 2014 031Still, there is obligation. As real or in our heads as it may be, writers, authors, storytellers, struggle with this obligation. Whether it is to the readers or themselves or some other weird issue, it is there. It is immense pressure, especially when the writers don’t know anyone is reading their words, when they feel like a rundown typewriter in a field, the letters of each type bar fading, fading, faded.

I know only a handful of people will read this, and I’m okay with that. But for you handful, this is what you can do: turn your favorite authors into rock stars. Talk about them the way you would your favorite television show or actor/actress or band. Buy their books, but don’t stop there. Actually read them. Still, don’t stop there. Leave a book review on Amazon or on a blog or Goodreads (or all of them). Look them up, contact them and say, ‘hey, you did good.’ Find them on social media and follow them (but not in that stalkerish kind of way). Tell your friends about them with the same enthusiasm you have about Grey’s Anatomy, The Walking Dead, or Game of Thrones. And, no, that is not an obligation you have.

Now, to close this longer than usual post. For me, the obligation comes, not only from fear, but from chasing a dream. I’ve been chasing the rabbit down the hole of words for a lot longer than I realized until recently (I started writing in 1993). That’s a long time to see only a tiny bit of that dream become reality. Still, I’m obligated, and that rabbit hole seems to be getting smaller while the obligation seems to be getting larger.

Do you want to know why the typewriter is so beat up now? The typewriter is really symbolic. It is our hearts and our souls and our struggles. It is our doubts and confidence, our dreams and our reality, and they aren’t meant to go through rabbit holes.

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

A.J.

Conversing With Pembroke Sinclair

Recently, Stitched Smile Publications put out a novel by the talented Pembroke Sinclair. The novel, Humanity’s Hope, is about seventeen year old Caleb, who survived the zombie apocalypse and his struggles there after. I had an opportunity to sit down with Pembroke and talk to her about writing, Humanity’s Hope and where her totally cool pen name came from. Please, sit back, grab a beverage and join me in my conversation with Pembroke Sinclair.

A.J.: Let’s just jump in here. Tell me, who is Pembroke Sinclair?

PS: Well, there are several answers I could give you. The funny “I’m an editor by day, zombie killer by night” response. Or the incredibly long response that explains why I started writing and how I came up with my pen name. Or I could tell you there is no Pembroke, only Zoul.

A.J.: I think I would like to hear the longer version. Why did you start writing?

PS: I’ve always been a writer. I remember as early as 3rd grade I wrote a story about a horse named Charlie that my teacher laminated. When we went back to Iowa every summer, my grandma had an electric typewriter that I would create stories on. None of those were laminated, and they should probably be completely forgotten. When I was in high school, I had a spiral notebook I wrote stories in, but I made sure it looked like I was taking notes. When I got to college, things got a little weird, and I had some professors who tore down my self-confidence and made it so I didn’t write for a very long time. I picked it up again after grad school while working at an environmental consulting firm. One of my friends convinced me it was worth trying again, so I started with a few short stories. I got addicted to getting published, but decided I didn’t like short stories, so I worked on novels.

A.J.: It never fails. Someone will tear down another person, and usually because they can, but I am glad you started writing again.

Since you bring up that tearing down and losing confidence, what was that like?

Pembroke SinclairPS: It was tough, especially considering I was taking a writing class and they were supposed to be helping me get better at writing.  Instead, they found every opportunity to inform me (and probably other students) that they would never amount to anything. One professor was a literary writer, and since I was a genre writer, she said she wouldn’t be able to fairly critique my writing. Isn’t good writing good writing no matter what genre? Either way, it cut deep.

Years later, I found out these professors (one in particular) had a habit of tearing down writers’ self-confidence—perhaps because they viewed us as competition. I don’t know. But it did give me a good view into what the publishing world would be like, and after getting over my initial hurt feelings, it helped me grow some thick skin.

I’m no longer angry at the professors for what they did. Was it mean spirited and ridiculous? Of course. But me still being angry won’t change anything. The only thing I can do is move forward and write.

A.J.: Pembroke, how did you move forward?

PS: Having encouragement from a friend really helped, and then getting some stories published really pushed that along. To be honest, getting a lot of rejections throughout my career helped, too, because I’m one of those people who loves to show others that I CAN do what you say I can’t, and I’ll prove it.

A.J.: You sound like me—I say the same thing. One thing I have learned is those who have been told can’t—or shouldn’t—do this business, are the ones who want it more and try the hardest.

PS: I think it’s because we think we have something to prove.  I absolutely question my ability to write every single day, but at the same time, I’m not going to let anyone tell me I shouldn’t be doing it.  That’s my choice, not theirs.

A.J.: You said you got addicted to publishing. Can you explain what you mean by that?

PS: If you’re an author, and you’ve ever received a slew of “NO’s” for your submissions, you know that it only takes one “YES!” to completely turn everything around. I love getting yeses—I think it goes back to my desire to prove I can and should be writing. And it’s just an amazing feeling to know my work is going to be available for people to read.

A.J.: I get that, completely. I, literally, received 100 rejections before my first acceptance, including one where the editor said I should never write another story again.

PS: I received a rejection for a YA story I wrote because a reviewer gave me a mediocre review on one of my middle grade books. I wasn’t even pitching anything to do with that particular story.

A.J.: You absolutely have to hate it when that happens.

PS: I was pissed. I did the thing you’re not supposed to do: I replied to the agent (I’m pretty sure it was an agent) and asked him what the hell he was talking about. He never responded.

A.J.: Oh my—I understand your anger, but you are right, never respond in that manner. In this day of social media, that is akin to literary suicide.

PS: I phrased it nicely, but that was the gist of it.

A.J.: Earlier, you mentioned possibly telling me where you got your pen name. Do you mind telling me now?

PS: When I was first setting out to get published, I knew I couldn’t use my real name because it’s pretty common and when you Google it, a country singer shows up. I needed a pen name so I could be found.

I was pregnant with my first child at the time, and we were looking for names for him. I thought, “Pembroke Sinclair Robinson. That kid would be destined to be a writer.” When I suggested it to my husband, his response was, “You want our kid to get beat up on the playground, don’t you?” My friend suggested I take it for myself, so I did.

Side note, Pembroke’s middle name is Alloicious.

A.J.: That is a great story—and your first child probably thanks you for not naming him that.

PS: He’s never really said …

A.J.: Let’s go back a little here. I want to touch on two things. First, why genre fiction.

PS: I’ve always been a huge fan of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I’m an English major, so I’ve read my fair share of literary—and I don’t think anything is wrong with literary—but I don’t enjoy writing it. I’ve tried, and it feels weird to me. I have a much easier time imagining myself in another world or surrounded by monsters, and I prefer to be in those worlds. Writing is an escape from reality for me, and I want to get as far away as I can.

A.J.: Before I go to the second part of this, what do you consider literary fiction?

PS: I would say literary fiction are the classics you read that are based in reality. The ones that focus on craft and language, such as Toni Morrison, Faulkner (although I would argue some of his stuff is fantasy), Hemingway, etc. Does that help?

No, wait, Faulkner is literary. I was thinking Vonnegut Jr.!

A.J.: It does help, but literary fiction is still considered, by many, to be real writing, where as genre fiction is considered for hacks. What do you feel is the difference? Or is there a difference?

PS: Oh, I’m fully aware of the distinctions between literary and genre and how literary is soooooo much better. I think the distinction comes from how people want to be labeled. If they want to seem “smarter” and more high brow, they will be “literary.” If they want to appeal to the masses, they’ll be genre. Personally, both can be incredibly intelligent and complicated (have you read Dune or the Foundation series?) and, conversely, both genres can have their crap. It’s all in what a person wants to read/write.

A.J.: Great thoughts in there, Pembroke. I agree. You seem to have some strong feelings on literary fiction—just as I do. I can totally appreciate that. Is that, maybe because of the way those who write literary fiction frown on those who write genre?

PS: Absolutely. And of course, it’s not all of them. There are always those authors who support and encourage other authors and those who are just poops–in all mediums of writing. Again, I’m an English major so I enjoy literary works. I just don’t like writing them.

A.J.: I don’t like writing them either.

Let’s switch gears. You recently had a book released. Humanity’s Hope. Can you tell me about this?

PS: I’m a huge zombie fan. I love zombies in all their mediums, and I really enjoy writing about how people survive the apocalypse—especially teens.

In most zombie stories, the heroes have no quarrels about filling the role of savior and fighting for what’s left of the world.  But when writing Humanity’s Hope, I wanted to look at a character who was reluctant about that role; who didn’t want to be in that position and who has a lot of issues with surviving when others have died.

While I truly believe there will be those people who fight hard to defeat an undead threat, I also believe there will be those who only survive.  But I don’t believe any of us will come out of the zombie apocalypse unscathed.

On top of that, I also wanted to give my main character something to set him even further apart from his fellow humans, so he’s immune from becoming a zombie.

A.J.: I’m not going to ask how he is immune—that is for you to reveal in your work. I will say I love the zombie sub-genre as well. But I also find that so many people have written the same things over and over and there is little variation. What sets Humanity’s Hope apart from other books?

PS: Of course the same things have been written over and over. The same can be said about films. That’s what works and makes money!

You know, I was typing how Hope is different from other stories, and it’s not really. There are certain elements that exist in stories, and they are portrayed through different characters and settings, but they are always there.

I guess I can say it’ s not the same because I have zombies that are different. Other than that, it’s a story about someone trying to come to terms with losing his friends and family and struggling through his day to day exist with PTSD while the living dead roam the earth.

A.J.: Fair enough. Do you mind sharing an excerpt with the readers at the end of this interview?

PS: Not at all.

A.J.: Awesome. Okay, if you have a few more minutes, I would like to ask a couple more questions. What do you enjoy most about writing and publishing?

PS: I enjoy being able to escape. I enjoy exploring the question of what it means to be human (I haven’t found an answer yet). I enjoy sharing my stories with others and seeing readers enjoy them.

A.J.: Okay, on the flip side, what do you dislike about writing and publishing?

PS: The length of time it takes me to get a story on the page. It would be so much easier if I could plug the computer into my head and THINK my story onto the page. When it comes to publishing, I wish there could be more camaraderie and support among authors. We’re all in this together. Let’s build each other up instead of tearing each other down. Not that everyone does this, but those that do need to stop.

A.J.: I absolutely agree, we are in this together. I’ve always viewed this as a family, even though there are some family members we want to just stay away.

Now, other than Humanity’s Hope, you have some other works out, correct?

PS: I do. Several fiction stories and nonfiction works.

I write the nonfiction under my real name. Just to make it nice and confusing.

A.J.: Okay, treat me like a writer just starting out. What would you tell me?

PS: Have fun. Publishing is full of rejection and others who want to see you fail, but if you write because you enjoy writing and have fun creating your stories, you’ve already shown the world you can be successful.

A.J.: I like that. I like that a lot. Sound advice.

Okay, before I let you go, is there anything else you would like to say to the readers?

PS: Thank you for reading my work.  Without you, there’d be no reason to do what I do.

A.J.: One more thing: where can readers find you?

PS: You can find me on Facebook, Goodreads, and Amazon.

A.J.: Pembroke Sinclair, thank you for taking time out of your schedule to chat with me. It was nice to get to know you.

PS: Thank you!  I appreciate you taking the time also!

I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Pembroke Sinclair. Now, here is a sneak peak at Humanity’s Hope:

1906894769Caleb sprinted across the dirt road. His leg muscles burned. He was barely able to get his feet off the ground. The backpack slammed into his lower back with every step—the straps dug into his shoulders. As he approached the low wall, he slid into a crouch, turning so his back would contact the stones first. The pressure of the backpack pressed into his ribcage—squeezing the air out of his lungs. He pressed his lips together and let the stream flow out of his nose. He tried his best to keep it silent—a task that proved difficult with every pant. His lungs screamed for air. He wanted to draw in large, gasping breaths, but they would be too loud and attract unwanted attention. The undead were just on the other side of the wall, unaware of his presence, and he intended to keep it that way.

Caleb’s gaze drifted back to the road and fell on his sister, Nina, and Len, his chemistry partner from school. They ran toward him as fast as they could with their heavy backpacks that hunched them over. Or perhaps it was an attempt to make themselves smaller so they were less noticeable—Caleb couldn’t tell. They slid up to the wall on either side of Caleb and attempted to control their breathing.

This was a terrible place to hide—they all knew it. It was too open, too exposed, but there weren’t any other choices. The squat wall was right at the edge of a fallow field, across the dirt road they had been traversing in the hopes of finding civilization. They found the wall in a vast, rural landscape. The three of them were lucky there was something. They had come around a bend in the road and up a small hill, and there they were—zombies—shuffling aimlessly through the countryside. Caleb had to suppress his shocked gasp. They came out here because the urban areas had become too dangerous. There were too many zombies. The supplies had either been pillaged or were too difficult to get to. The country was supposed to be their hope, their salvation. So far, it wasn’t. The farmhouse was still ways away, about 50 yards. At least that was what Caleb assumed. He was horrible at judging distances. It didn’t matter anyway. With the zombies in front of them, the house was as accessible as another planet. But they couldn’t stay out in the open, either.

The look on Len’s face reflected the turmoil Caleb felt inside. His eyes were wide, his face red from exertion. His head was cocked to the side, his jaw muscles tight. The look asked: “What do we do now?” Caleb had no answer.

When they set out that morning to look for food, they had told themselves the zombies had been confined to the cities. Why? Because they had to believe something. They had to think there was still a chance.

Caleb lowered his gaze to the ground. There was no way to respond to Len’s silent question. They just had to wait it out—make their move when they got the opportunity. Caleb glanced over his shoulder at his sister. She slumped against the wall, her legs sprawled out in front of her, her chin resting on her chest. His stomach tightened as he took in her pose. She wasn’t going to be able to move quickly from that position. She needed to be ready. Yet, he felt for her. What was the point of being ready if it meant they had to keep running? His legs shook underneath him as he held his crouch. It would have been such a relief to plop onto his butt and take the weight off his legs. He could’ve placed his arms around Nina’s shoulders and pulled her close. They could have relaxed in their misery. Instead, he gently backhanded her arm. When she looked at him, he thrust his thumb into the air. With an eye roll and deliberate movements, Nina moved into a crouch, removing the gun from the back of her waistband.

Caleb focused on the weapon in his hands. It was there so often, it was like an appendage. He rarely noticed it anymore. But neither of the guns would do them much good; there weren’t enough bullets to take out the threat. Even if they fired their remaining rounds, all it would do was draw more zombies to their location.

Caleb turned his attention away from his gun and stretched up to look over the wall. As soon as his eyes broke the surface, he scanned the area before sinking back down. His heart pounded against his ribs, his throat tightened. An undead lumbered close to the wall—too close. One wrong move or sound and they were spotted. He licked his lips and felt the sweat slide down his spine. If they stayed quiet, the zombies would keep moving. They just had to wait it out.

A low, soft grumbling filled the air. At first, Caleb wasn’t convinced he’d heard it. It was so low, he could have imagined it. He had hoped he’d imagined it. But then Len wrapped his arms around his midsection and squeezed. The rumbling grew louder. It was hard to hide the sounds of hunger. Caleb’s eyes grew wide. He shifted his stance so he could explode onto his feet.

The rotted hand reached over the wall and swiped the air between Caleb and Len. There were no other options. All of them sprang to their feet. The crowd of rotting flesh was converging on their position. Caleb extended his arms and lined up his sights. The crack of the gun echoed loudly in the country air; the corpse slumped onto the wall. All three of them jumped over the wall and ran toward the house. The path took them directly toward the zombies; they had to be fast enough to get by them.

Caleb’s extremities tingled with adrenaline, his footsteps thumped rhythmically on the hard, dry ground. He sucked in long gasps of air, but his lungs still burned for oxygen. He caught glimpses of the other two out of the corner of his eyes. The undead drew nearer. Their arms outstretched, waiting to snag their prey. Caleb zig-zagged across the field. He ducked under a pair of arms, then shouldered a zombie out of the way. Its bones crunched against his shoulder, teeth gnashed close to his ear, driving him forward with more urgency. The house grew larger with every step he took. Almost there.

A short yip followed by a grunt sounded behind him. He risked a glance over his shoulder. Len stumbled then fell. Caleb’s heart leapt into his throat. He skidded to a stop, turning to help his friend. Caleb was about to step toward Len, but he was stopped in his tracks. The action caused him to lose his balance. His arms flailed through the air to keep Caleb from falling over. An incessant, strong tugging kept him from moving forward. He turned to see Nina jerking on his backpack. Her eyes were wide and glistening with tears. She bit her bottom lip and shook her head violently. Caleb glanced again at Len, who reached for Caleb, his mouth open in a silent plea, tears running down his cheeks. Caleb reached toward him. Len’s plea turned into a scream as a zombie bit into his calf. A dark ring of blood stained his jeans and grew larger. Another zombie latched onto the fingers of his extended hand. The crunch as it bit through his bones rattled in Caleb’s skull. He pulled his hand into his chest.

Caleb turned at that point. There was nothing more he could do. His sister grabbed his wrist, and they ran into the house. They took the stairs two at a time and headed into a bedroom on the right. After closing the door, they scanned the area, checking under the bed and in the closet. Clear. His sister collapsed face first onto the bed. From the way her body shook, Caleb could tell she was crying. He leaned back until his pack connected with the door. His legs gave out, and he slid to the floor. Pulling his knees to his chest, he wrapped his arms around his head and tried to disappear into himself.

And then there were two.

Sewing It Up with Christy Thornbrugh

If you have followed this space for any length of time, then you know I enjoy doing interviews with folks I like. Most of those folks are writers or publishers. Some of them, like Christy Thornbrugh, is neither. However, she is linked to the writing world that I am a part of. You see, back in January, my book A Stitch of Madness was published by Stitched Smile Publications. A couple of weeks later I received a very unique gift in the mail. It was a patch and it is so totally cool.

After receiving the patch, I wanted to get to know Christy a little better. I found out she is a genuinely nice person who truly enjoys helping people. One evening, we sat, she in her world, me in mine, and we chatted.

ASOM PatchEnjoy.

AJ: Christy, let’s start with a little bit about you. Tell me who is Christy Thornbrugh?

CT: She is a Wife and a mother. She is family oriented. A horror and zombie lover. I love to read and watch all horror and zombie movies. On Facebook I am admin of Zombie Book of the Month and the Mike Evans Fan Club.

I enjoy helping others when i can.

AJ: You enjoy helping others where you can? How do you help others?

CT: I volunteer at the school once a week for the teachers. I do what I can to help the author community by sharing and talking and buying books. A lot of my daughters’ friends’ moms cannot sew so I am always helping them with things they need fixed. I just volunteer my time when its needed. I baby sit for a friend of mine in the summer so she does not have to pay someone. She is a single mom who needs that money for her family.

AJ: Those are all great things, things that a lot of folks don’t do for others. Sadly, we live in a time where people are only concerned about themselves, so it is refreshing to see someone offer their time and services to others. If you don’t mind, I would like to focus on one of them.

CT: Yes, sir

AJ: You said “I do what I can to help the author community by sharing and talking and buying books.” It’s pretty important for authors to have folks who will do that. Why is it important for you to do it?

CT: I review as well. I did not realize how hard it was for authors to get people to find and buy their work, and then also leave a review. I really thought reviews were not a big deal, until I became friends with a lot of authors and I started to see how important it is for fans and friends to help them by getting the word out and let them know how important it is, as well as to share and review.

AJ: You are absolutely correct–reviews are crucial, and so is telling others about the books, Word of mouth can go a long way. But you do something that I have never seen before. You also incorporate your sewing into promotional items for these authors, correct?

CT: Yes, it is. I started to make embroidery patches as author swag. I made some patches for a friend of mine that he wanted of his grandpa and all his grandkids’ names. Then I got emailed and asked ‘what do you think you can do to make a patch for my book?’ It’s a blast working with everyone on them and working on ideas to create the best patch we can to represent their book. And the fans have loved it.

Embroidery by Christy LogoAJ: Do you get author input on the patches or do you come up with them on your own and run with it?

CT: I like to get author input on them. There have been some that say ‘I trust you. Let me see what you can do.’ They will say zombie something or another and ‘I work my magic.’ If i get a blank and cannot think of anything I will ask them what a major factor is in their book or what the fans love the most. If I had not read it have them tell me a little on it.

AJ: And you have become quite popular with this talent. People want these. Not just the fans but the authors, too. Am I right?

CT: Yes, sir. It seems in the last few months word of mouth has been doing wonders for me. I had a few others say ‘I have heard all about your awesome patches, tell me more.’ I just love it.

AJ: How does it make you feel to hear all this? I know you said you love it, but how does it really make you feel about your work?

CT: Honestly, I get scared and worried with every order that something is not right or it does not look good and that they will hate it. I think it’s an artist thing. But once they get it and say they love it I feel relieved and great. It’s a good feeling that I am making something people love and it makes them happy, so that makes me happy. I have patches now in the UK, Romania and Sweden. I tease my kids and say your mom is worldwide with her patches.

AJ: Worldwide is a great thing. You also just hit on something that I think every author (or artist, for that matter) struggles through: fear that something will not be right and people will not like it. Tell me, for you, what is that like?

CT: It’s a scary feeling, I guess I see imperfections on everything, but everyone else says they are perfect. I think it’s having people judge you and wondering if your work will be accepted

AJ: It is good to see someone who is not a writer understand that aspect. That is what we go through every single time we put something out for someone to read. It is scary. It really is.

Tell me about your favorite patch you made for an author.

Mark Tufo Patch Image for CT InterviewCT: That is mean. That’s like asking what your favorite book is that you wrote. Seems like I will make one and it will be my new favorite, and not saying to suck up but i truly loved your patch. I will have to go with the one I made for Mark Tufo, as his was the first author patch that I made.

AJ: Now, you make these for publishers as well, right?

CT: Yes. I already have. I made some for Stitched Smile Publications.

AJ: So, this has become kind of like a side business for you, then?

CT: For some reason I still see it as a working hobby. I do it out of my house. I wanted something to help my family so I can stay home with my kids

AJ: A working hobby is a good thing, as long as you continue to enjoy the hobby.

CT: I do enjoy it a lot.

AJ: Since this is a working hobby, do you take orders?

CT: Yes. I take small or big orders. It does not matter to me. As long as it’s something I can do I will. There is a T-shirt shop in our town and I do embroidery for them. Also here in town, friends or people who hear about me will bring things for me to embroidery for them. I have a Facebook page and a Etsy shop.

I get orders from FB friends as well. They want something special on a hat or shirt or their own patch of some kind.

AJ: What is the largest order you have ever had?

CT: The largest order from Facebook was 100 patches. The largest order from a business in town was about 75 hats and 20 shirts

AJ: Wow. With orders that large, it probably takes a while to do. How long does it take you to do one patch and does it go faster after you’ve done a certain patch a few times?

CT: With it just being me both those took 4 or 5 days each. I am lucky to have understanding customers with things like that. Depending on the size and detail in a patch it can take about 30 mins or so to do one. But if the order is more than one I use a larger hoop and my machine can do more than one. Most of the time I can fit 6 patches in one hoop so that takes out the set up time for it.

I set up stabilizer, get the patch material in in the hoop, then stitch it out. Then I add the iron on backing to it and trim and seal (burn) the edges of each patch so they don’t fray or fall apart.

AJ: That is a lot to do (or it seems like a lot).

CT: It does seem like a lot. it’s steps that need to be done. Just like with your writing. You need your editor and betas and I am sure other steps but it just takes time to make each one great.

AJ: How long have you been doing this and what got you into it?

CT: I have been making patches for authors for a couple of years, but I have been embroidering for twelve. I started sewing when I had my first daughter, who is thirteen now. I started making her clothes and things and I wanted to add more detail so got a small cheap machine. And grew from there

AJ: And you have been doing it ever since.

CT: Yes, I have. I’ve been teaching my girls to sew now.

AJ: And do they enjoy it as much as their mom?

CT: No not really. LOL. But they like the fact that they can make something their selves with help. It was funny, though, when my teen had a home economics class, they did a sewing project this year. Everyone asked her questions and how to do things when the teacher was busy, since she knew how to sew already

AJ: Nice. Christy, we’re going to wrap up here soon, but would you mind telling me how and where we can order your work?

CT: Embroidery by Christy Facebook Page

My Etsy page.

Email -tigger15623@hotmail.com

AJ: Outstanding, Christy. Before we go, is there anything else you would like to tell everyone about your working hobby?

CT: I would just like everyone to know that I do my best to make what they want. Each item is made by me. I do my best to keep prices affordable. And that they should feel good when ordering for me as it’s not going to a huge company that needs to pay for their three houses. It helps pay for my kid’s lunches, school supplies, clothes they need and things for them.

AJ: Very nice. A small business with small business needs.

CT: Very true

AJ: Thank you, Christy, for your time. I’m going to let you get back to doing what you love to do.

CT: You are welcome. Thank you for your time and allowing me to share my embroidery.

Y’all, give Christy a shout out, a hello, an order or ten. She’s a classy lady with a big heart.

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

 

 

Selling Yourself, A Necessary Part of the Business

These days I rarely buy books written by big name authors. Other than Stephen King, I haven’t bought a book by a well-known author in years. I tend to purchase books written by lesser-known authors (small press and Indie, for the most part). Most of these writers I have never heard of.

So, why would I purchase books from a bunch of unknown writers?

Well, the main reason is simple: I am one of those unknown writers. I’m starting to garner a little bit of a following, but I am nowhere near Stephen King status. I am, for the most part, an unknown trying to get my name out there to the reading population. By putting my work out there I am asking you, the readers, to take a chance with me, to trust that I won’t let you down when you listen to me tell a tale.

Anyone who works in the arts will tell you that this takes a lot of trust on the artist’s behalf as well. Everyone is a critic and artists get blasted hard and often, not just by the consumer, but other artists. Writing is an art. For those of us who no one knows about it’s often frustrating, especially if we believe in our work.

So, what do we do? We go onto social media and say ‘hey, here is my book, buy it, please.’ Every once in a while someone will see that bit of pleading and consider buying the book. But that’s not enough.

We do blogs or vlogs or other forms of communicating to people we try to connect with. And, like the social media thing, someone might see the blog and consider purchasing a book. [[Yes, I know a blog is social media, but when I say social media I mean Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and those types of things.]]  

Hmmm…but that’s not enough. Even if you have a potential best seller, unless you have a big publishing house behind you helping you with marketing, doing these things will only help so much.

Then there are conventions and festivals.

Back in April I participated in The Cayce Festival of the Arts as a vendor. It was the first time I had been on the other side of the table. Instead of buying from someone, I was there for folks to buy from. At first it was daunting and I was nervous. What if no one bought my books? What if no one came to my table? What if no one talked to me at all? Oh, the anxiety.

I can say that my fears were unfounded, at least for that festival. People did come to my table and talk with me and purchase books. It was a very successful event. And very enjoyable. I got to talk to a lot of nice folks.

One particular woman came to my table about halfway through the day. She was older than me. She was also an editor. She came to my table and asked a question I had never been asked before: ‘Tell me about you.’ Yeah, I know it’s not technically a question, but in essence, it really was.

I replied, ‘Me, the person, or me, the writer?’

‘You, the person.’

Up to that point I had heard the term, ‘sell yourself,’ but never really thought about it. This woman—and I wish I would have gotten her name—was asking me to sell myself to her right then and there. And I did. I told her who I was and a little about my family and where I was from—which just happened to be a hop, skip and a jump from where we stood talking.

She gave a quick nod and pointed at one of my books. ‘I’ll take one of those,’ she said and handed me cash. I signed her book and gave it to her and off she went. She never asked me about the book, only about me, the person.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. As a writer, I’m not just selling my books, but I’m selling myself, my personality. Who I am. The term ‘sell yourself’ suddenly clicked with me. Again, I had heard the term, but never really thought about it. So, if I never thought about it, then how could I actually do it?

Fast forward to today. I went to the South Carolina Book Festival this morning. I was there for almost four hours. I talked to a lot of authors, both traditional and indie published. They were all trying to get people to buy their books. They were all selling their books. But not all of them were selling themselves.

I went to one table and the vendor said nothing. He looked at me and then turned around to tend to something else. I walked away. He wasn’t interested in me or my money. He also wasn’t interested in selling his books or even making an attempt. There were other folks sitting at their booths on their tablets or phones, seemingly oblivious to the many readers there to buy books.

One person stuck to his sales pitch and whenever I asked him questions, he didn’t seem to want to answer them. But he constantly tried to put a book in my hand and asked for the cost of the book, even though I didn’t say I wanted to purchase one. He was somewhat pushy.

Then there were those who said ‘Hello’ to everyone as they passed. I stopped at every single table where the person/people genuinely seemed to want to talk to the readers. They were there to sell their books. They were there to network with the readers and other authors. Many of them constantly had smiles on their faces and talked excitedly about their books.

And then there were those writers who were more interested in me, the reader. I spent the most time with them, getting to know them, the person, not the writer. They smiled. They talked. They asked me questions. I asked them questions and they answered them. They told me stories, not about their books, but about them. Those are the ones that I would purchase books from, even if I had zero interest in their books.

One woman said to me, ‘You don’t have to buy a book. I just want to talk to the readers.’ She was selling herself—and I really liked her and what she, as a person, was all about. I spent the most time with her.

This business—and really, any business—is never just about the product. It’s also about who sells the product, or who created the product. Sure, if the product is good it could sell on its own, but if no one knows about it, then it is up to the person who is selling it to do the best he/she can to do so. And in order to sell that product, the salesperson has to have the type of personality that could help convince someone to buy it.

One of the keys to selling anything is personality. If your personality is sour or pushy, then your sells may not be all that great and you could leave a bad taste in the mouth of the customer. However, if your personality is sunny and you treat your customer with respect and try to make them feel comfortable, not with just the product, but with yourself, then your chances of making a sell go up. Even if you don’t get a purchase out of it, you gave the customer something to remember you by and they may just come back to you on down the road.

Part of selling yourself is not about making the sell, but making a connection with the reader/customer. If you make a connection, most of the time you are going to make a sell. It might not be right away, but it will happen.

A lot of the books I have purchased over the last few years, I have done so after meeting the author online, usually through Facebook. Those authors I either had conversations with and came away liking them, or the things they posted on their walls showed me some of their character, showed me a little about who they are. Even through a Facebook connection, you can sell yourself, and so often we forget that.

One more thing before I go: don’t sell yourself short. What I mean is have confidence in your work and your abilities…and in yourself.

For the longest time I had difficulties talking about my writing. I’m not sure I was comfortable with people knowing I liked to write. I certainly wasn’t comfortable with people reading what I wrote. Talking about what I had accomplished as a writer always felt like bragging and I’ve never been one for bragging. It took me a long time and a lot of encouragement from Cate and other writers to start truly believing in who I was as a writer.

When it comes to selling your work and yourself, confidence is extremely important. If you are not confident in yourself, your abilities or your work, the customer (reader) will immediately pick up on that and your chances of making a sell diminish. I have confidence now that I was lacking four or five years ago. I believe in my abilities and my stories and I believe the readers will, as well.

In this business of publishing, the writing and editing and proofing and publishing is only part of the gig. The marketing is a huge part as well. Part of that marketing is selling yourself as well as your books. It’s making a connection with the people you want to read your books. I hope along the way I’ve connected with you at some point. And I hope you were happy, not just with the product you received, but in whom you received it from.

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