An Author’s Gift

Recently, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine. He’s a tremendous person with tons of talent when it comes to both music and the written word. He is humble and engaging. I enjoy our conversations. However, he struggles with confidence when it comes to writing. Man, do I get that? Yes, yes I do.

During the course of our conversation, I made a statement that has stuck with me. It was two sentences and I’m going to give you them one at a time, then put them together.

First: Writing is a gift to yourself.

For many people, writing is an outlet, a hobby, something they do because they feel the words. Sometimes, writing is used as therapy. Writing is also a profession that many, many people attempt to succeed at. 

gift-1420830_1920Whether or not you write for yourself or for publication, writing is an art form. It is like music and painting and sculpting and woodworking and any number of other things out there. Most people don’t pick up a pen, a brush or a guitar and right away know how to use those various instruments to create something good, great or magnificent. For most, our first attempts (and even our hundredth) aren’t all that good and are far from magnificent. Simply put, it takes time to develop the necessary skills to create art.

Like with any other learned skill, it can be frustrating, and so often we give up before we get started because we get discouraged that we can’t do what others do. Let me quote Theodore Roosevelt here:

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

If you know me at all, you have probably heard that statement. I, for the longest time, struggled with comparing myself to other writers. I struggled with comparing myself with their successes and the lack of my own. I struggled with wondering how in the world can someone who isn’t that good of a story teller sell so many books or have so many fans and I couldn’t do or have those things. I struggled with comparing myself to others instead of enjoying what I do and how I do it. It made it difficult to write because I would get so angry that I would rant and rave to my wife (who has always been so patient with me) about my failures and others’ successes. She always said, “You will get there one day,” and little by little, I have.

Back to the point. I learned how much I enjoyed creating stories when I stopped worrying about what others were doing and comparing myself to them. I didn’t say writing stories. I said creating stories. Creating is art, and I create art. But I don’t do it for you, the readers. I have to make that clear, not to you, but to me. I write stories for me. I create art for me. It is the one gift I can give myself every single day.

As of this writing, I have created over 2000 short stories, twelve novels, dozens and dozens of songs, a handful of poems and quite a few haiku.  I have created this art from my brain, my heart and through my fingertips. I have given myself these gifts over the years, and I have kept every single one of them. 

Part of this gift to myself is seeing growth in my abilities. I can go back and say, Man, I wasn’t all that good in 2004, but look at where I was in 2008, then where I was in 2010 and where I am, here and now. I can see growth in everything I write, everything I create. And it excites me and makes me want to create better works with words. That excitement is such a gift. 

Another part of this gift to myself is when I complete a story, when I see it through from beginning to end, I get to see the finished product. I get the self-satisfaction that I succeeded in creating something out of nothing. I get the joy of completion. These are gifts that others can’t give me. I can only give them to myself.

Second: Sharing your writing is a gift to the world.

We all have our favorite authors. They are like the relatives that give us the best gifts at Christmas or for birthdays. They are the aunts or uncles you go to when you need a pick-me-up. They are the people you can rely on to make a gloomy day better. You sit, you open one of their books and you begin to read. Pretty soon, you become engrossed in their words, mesmerized by their stories, and for a few minutes, an hour or two, the world is a little better because you aren’t dwelling in it. You get enjoyment from their stories. You feel because of something they wrote. For a while, you are alive in someone else’s world.

It’s an amazing gift you get to keep forever, either on your bookshelf or on a digital device (or both), but most importantly, in your memories. 

women-4465904_1920I see where people post pictures on social media with the caption, Making Memories. You see pictures of people at the beach and captioned or hashtagged with it is Making Memories (#makingmemories). You see pictures of people out to dinner and you see those words. You see pictures of people on vacation and there are those words, making memories. It’s like pictures we take out of a box from our childhood. If it’s a Polaroid (if y’all don’t know about Polaroids, Google is your friend) there is usually something written in the white space beneath the image. 1982, Tony, Buddy, Me. If it’s a photo that was developed at any fine establishment such as CVS, Walmart, Eckard’s or any other place like those, then most of the time there will be writing on the back of the image. The only difference is we made memories without saying, Making Memories and sharing all those photos with the world. #I’mreallygladwedidn’thavesocialmediawhenIwasakid. 

These pictures are all memories of the past, of when things were better or maybe worse. They’re memories. Some of those memories are the most beautiful gifts you can have. To be fair, some of those memories are like having bad hair on picture day at school. You want to forget that happened, but the picture is there to taunt you for the rest of your life.

Stories are the same. 

When an author shares their work with you, they are giving you a part of their gift to themselves. They are saying, hey, I want to share my gift with you. I want you to partake in my excitement, in my art … in a piece of me. 

Let’s look at that last part for a minute: hey, I want you to have a piece of me. Our stories are our babies. We’ve been with them from conception (the idea), to birth (the writing), to adulthood (completion). We’ve watched them develop and change, sometimes struggling to raise them (use the right words) and correct them (rewrites and edits). Then we let them go and we hope we’ve done our best. Sometimes, before we let them go out into the world, we hug them a little tighter (go over the story one more time), then we say, ‘Okay, child, it’s time for me to let you go.’

Sometimes, it’s terrifying. 

But we’re also ready for that story to go out into the world, to earn a living. They are our children, and by an author saying, hey, here’s my story, he or she is giving you the gift that is a piece of their hearts, their souls, their lives. And those authors want their stories to be accepted, to be loved, to be read and remembered in a positive light. 

My friend and I are both huge Pearl Jam fans. Back in August of 2019, my friend stood in a pub in Wilmington, Virginia, and belted out Once, By Pearl Jam. He dedicated the song to me. I still have the video on my phone. It was a gift to me, a memory I will always have (#makingmemories). It’s also a memory I cherish because it was so much a part of himself that he offered, not only to me, but to everyone there who witnessed it. 

If you’re an author, writing is a gift to yourself. It is a wonderful, beautiful thing to treasure, to look back on, like an old picture. It’s a gift you get to keep to yourself and you’re not being selfish by doing so. It is something nobody can ever take away from you. But if you choose to share your writing, then you are giving the world a piece of that gift, a piece of you and who you are. 

If you’re a reader, you can give a gift back to your favorite author(s). You can buy their books, you can write reviews and you can let the author know you appreciate the gifts they give you with the words they write.

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

A.J.

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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. 

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…

 

 

 

It’s Not Bragging, Kiddo

The one thing I hate about writing is promoting. It’s true. I hate promoting myself. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it feels too much like bragging. I’m not one to brag. Never have been.

You’ve heard the saying, It’s not bragging if you can back it up, kid.

Okay, the kid part isn’t in there, but that’s how I hear it in my head, maybe with a bit of Humphrey Bogart behind it.

It seems to me, and I could be wrong, but a great many people who brag are either very confident in themselves and their abilities or full of some smelly stuff. Maybe it’s half and half.

When I was a kid, I heard a story about Pistol Pete Maravich. For those of you who don’t know who Pistol Pete was, he was one of the greatest scorers in the history of college basketball (he scored 3667 points in his college career, averaging 44.2 points a game). He went on to play in the pros, though his career was cut short, thanks to those little things called injuries. Interesting enough, most people don’t remember Maravich for his scoring, but for his creative passes. He is, essentially, one of the pioneers of the passing guards that we know today, but I’m not going to go into that here.

At any rate, the story goes that Wilt Chamberlain asked Maravich how high he could shoot the basketball. Maravich asked, “How high can you reach?”

Chamberlain then showed him how high he could reach while jumping.

Maravich (most likely with a slight smile on his face) said, “I can shoot one inch above that.”

Arrogance? No, I think not. Maravich was confident in his abilities. Maybe he was bragging a little? But he sure could back it up, kid

Bragging and confidence seem to go together. They are like birds of a feather. They are like peas in a pod. They are like any other cheesy cliché I wish to throw out there.

Confidence and ability can take you far, but it can only take you so far if you aren’t willing to take a few risks and put yourself out there, put your abilities out there. This is where I struggle: putting myself out there.

It just feels like bragging.

But maybe that’s what I need to do. Brag a little. Show some confidence.

Okay. Here goes.

Henceforth, some bragging will occur.

You have been warned.

There’s no turning back once I get started.

Here we go.

Are you ready for this?

I’m stalling, right?

Yeah, I thought so.

No more stalling.

Read the following words and believe them.

I am a good writer. I am a very good writer. No, I am not your typical fast paced all action all the time type of writer, but most of my stories are really good (especially the ones over the last two or so years).

If you don’t believe me, then read one of my collections. Consider it a challenge to the naysayers. Yes, I said naysayers.

I’ve spent a good chunk of my life with very few people who believed in me or my abilities. I’ve constantly had to prove myself, and in many respects, that is why I don’t particularly care to socialize outside of work and the few friends I have. Let me tell you, when it comes to writing, I’ve worked and worked and worked and with each story, my abilities get better. It’s just a fact that I have seen over the years.

I had one editor tell me to quit writing, that I would never be good at it. Umm… dear Mr. Editor Dude, you were wrong, and from what I hear, you went out of business, probably because of the way you treated the writers that made your magazine.

(Oh, sorry. A little bit of soapbox standing for a minute there).

I work hard at writing and I stay true to myself. I enjoy creating characters and scenery and situations for my characters to be in. I also love letting those characters decide how the stories will end and how long they will be.

I’ll tell you one thing you won’t find with my stories: all action and no development. I hate those types of stories and I refuse to write them. Does that mean some of my stories are a little wordy? Absolutely. As Stephen King once said about his work, “sometimes my stories become elephantine.” I’m okay with that. Thankfully, my stories only become little elephants, not 1500 page mammoths. The thing to remember is they are good. Good, I say.

I may be a nobody at the bottom of the totem pole right now, but I won’t be forever. There will come a day when things will break the right way for my writing career and I will take off.

It’s not bragging, kid. Not if you can back it up.

Let me let you in on a little secret. Just in case you haven’t heard: I’m a good writer. Read it again. I’m a good writer. And you will like my work.

That’s not bragging. That’s confidence. It’s not arrogance. It’s learning to believe in myself, in my abilities. It is something I have struggled my entire life with: the confidence to believe in myself.

You tell me: Is it bragging? Is it confidence?

One other thing I need to do is get back to blogging regularly, a couple of times a week. It is the one thing I need to take the time to do. I know I’ve been neglectful of Type AJ Negative at times, and for that, I apologize. But stick with me. I have some things I am working on that you may find interesting (you’re darn right you’ll find it interesting, and don’t you forget it).

If, by chance, I have piqued your interest in one of my two collections (or both of them), here are links to them. Along the Splintered Path came out in January and was released by Dark Continents Publishing. Southern Bones was released in October and was put out by CMB Publishing. Don’t bother looking the name up—it’s my own label.

Here’s a little game for you: What does the CMB stand for? No, a certain wife of mine cannot play.

The links follow, but for now, be safe, keep reading and until we meet again, my friends…

Southern Bones E-Book

Southern Bones Print Version

Along the Splintered Path Print Version

Along the Splintered Path E-book

THEN Moments and Confidence, They Feed Off Each Other

Back in December I mentioned that I wanted to go the Smashwords route with some of my short stories. I was gung ho about it, posted my first story, The Woman Who Loved the Red Stucco House, in January. The next few days I watched as the story received a few hits, then a couple of reviews. Things were going well.

I was happy with the results, even though I posted the short story for free, which meant I made NO money off of it. Several of my friends—writerly and non-writerly (yeah, I know it’s not a word, but if Mike Tyson can do it, so can I)—said I should have sold that piece to one of the big dogs, made some money off of it. I stayed quiet about it, my emotions suddenly mixed on what I had done.

At the same time I had sent out a query for a short story collection, had a good feeling about it. When some of the stories were requested by the editors I was stoked. Happy, happy. Joy, joy.

But, wait, there’s more. I was a very busy person at the time. I had several stories out at reputable publications, fingers crossed, hopes high. Three of the stories had been shortlisted.

Yes!

Then… I say then, because that’s exactly what it was: a THEN moment. A THEN moment is where something is said or happens that changes the course of something else or the actions of others. (Yeah, I made that up and it sounds pretty damn cool). THEN moments usually change the thinking behind something and can squash enthusiasm, leaving it as nothing more than a little grease spot on the ground with its hopes bugging out the sides. It’s pretty messy for the most part.

As I was saying, all was well, though I had a smaller THEN moment with my friends chastising of giving up the story on Smashwords for free as opposed to selling it. The read THEN happened. A slightly negative review came in from a reader/writer who made suggestions as to how to improve the story. This is all fine and dandy and I would have loved the man’s thoughts before I posted the story—I may have incorporated some of his thoughts… Okay, no, I wouldn’t have. Not because they weren’t good thoughts and advice. They were. But, the feel of the story would have been changed and I’m usually uncompromising when it comes to how a story feels. I hope that makes sense. If not, this is going to be one long post.

I apologize for getting sidetracked so easily. All these thoughts run through the old kanuckle head when I’m writing.

With this gentleman’s thoughts—which I do appreciate—came a sudden decrease in the downloads of the story, which to that point had been averaging about ten a day. For a relative unknown such as myself, those are pretty good numbers. The downloads dropped from that ten to about two in less than a day. The next week saw a grand total of thirteen downloads. See, this is a THEN moment. The gentleman’s review may/may not have had a direct result in the downloads, but it appeared to have.

Negative reviews come with the territory and I really didn’t think the review was all that bad. The individual never said he didn’t like the story and didn’t say not to waste your time with it. It was how he honestly felt (I hope) and I appreciate the honest thoughts more so than the hollow, yeah, that’s great fluff your friends and family tend to give you.

Up to that point I had been working on rewriting The Woodshed, the one published story of mine that most folks really liked.

The following week saw the downloads drop to a total of nine for the week. No more reviews came in either.

Direct result of one reader’s thoughts? Maybe. Maybe not. To a writer, though, it felt like it. All of a sudden the wind was taken out of my sails.

THEN… (Yeah, had to be more than one of those in here, right?) I received the very nice letter from the publishing company about my short story collection. Everything that was said in the letter makes sense and I appreciate the time and effort that was taken to even consider my work. They weren’t going to publish the collection.

Like any normal person I was bummed. I kept quiet about it for a couple of days, not wanting to even voice the truth. Finally, I told my wife and accepted it for what it was: a rejection.

THEN… (hehehe. Yeah, there’s more) within five days of hearing back about the collection, I received e-mails from all three places my stories had been short listed. One was a form letter, the other two were well thought out personal notes.

Strike one.
Strike two.
Strike three.

Go sit on the end of the bench kid. You’re out.

Did I say all was going well earlier? Let me see… Yes. Yes, I did. Way back in the first paragraph. Last sentence.

Just like that (imagine me snapping my fingers really loudly) my confidence took a significant hit. Like any other writer who has a run of rejections or close but not good enough moments, I was bummed. Frustrated. Blah blah blah…

I sound like a whiny little bastard, don’t I? Please, let me continue to lament for a moment more.

All of these THEN moments… and I questioned myself, yet again. But, there was one more in there. I decided to push on with the edits to The Woodshed. I was nearly done when disaster struck. I won’t go into the details, but the edits to The Woodshed were somehow deleted—by complete accident. I was only a couple of pages from being done when the disaster happened.

If you’ve ever slowly let the air out of a balloon you will know exactly how I felt. I deflated after that. I’m not going to lie. I cussed, fussed, raised a ruckus. (Yeah, I’m poetically inclined.) My shoulders sagged in defeat. The ball game was over and my team had lost. I stared at the computer for what must have been minutes but seemed like hours.

For the next three weeks I wrote exactly ZERO stories. I stayed quiet about it, not wanting to be bothered with writing or really anything writing related. I stopped posting new things on my official web presence, Type AJ Negative. My desire to write faded like the hopes of a nerdy teen next to the football captain with the homecoming queen about to choose her date for the night. (I apologize to any nerdy teens out there who may read this. May the force be with you and all that jazz.)

Now STOP. Collaborate and listen… (oh boy)

Here in lies a HUGE problem for writers. We tend to lose our confidence fairly quick. What takes months and even years to build up can be dashed in a moment—kind of like the real world. We tend to forget the positive things that have happened along the yellow brick road. (I’ve always wondered why the color yellow was chosen. Just how did that brick road become yellow? Think about it and get back to me.)

So, let me see here. Positives. Positives. Oh, where art thou, Positives? Oh, wait, here they are, in the drawer marked POSITIVES. Wow, kind of dusty looking. Doesn’t appear to have been perused in a while. Hold on. Let me open this bad… boy… up… Seems to be stuck…

Mmm…(okay, this is where you picture me struggling, both hands on the handle, pulling as hard as I can to get the drawer o… pen…) Whoa. Ouch.

Whew. It’s open now. Let’s take a look inside.

Well, what do you know? There’s the file on The Woodshed. Holy cow. It received two recommendations for a Stoker. (Ah, but the negative wants to creep up and say, yeah, but it didn’t receive a nomination. Shut-up, Mr. Negativity.)

Michelle Lee reviewed the anthology, Dark Distortions, in which The Woodshed was published and had this to say:

“The Woodshed” by AJ Brown is one of the best stories of this anthology. Brown delves beyond the mere surface in this tale of a childhood survivor of abuse haunted by his abusers and presents an unflinching look at domestic violence. He refuses to shy away from the worst but also layers deeper effects, making the characters more sympathetic and believable.

There’s a positive. Makes me all warm and fuzzy on the inside.

My story, Mother Weeps, was nominated for a Pushcart Award.

Then there’s that little zombie series I have going on at The Tales of the Zombie War. Folks seem to like it and I hope it continues beyond the first three installments. I have the next three written and ready to go, so yeah, I really hope it continues. Some of the comments are pretty cool and, as a writer, makes me feel better about my abilities:

Excellent, the detail is sharp and I can really feel this guy. Please keep going.

***

I love this series. I had to reread it from the beginning just to get the full effect once more. You write in a manner that makes me feel what the character is feeling. The despair, loneliness, and hurt that this man feels is so well conveyed. Keep writing man. They are incredible.

***

And this one made my head swell just a little:

I love this series! Really great writing. I think this says a lot about your talent. When your reader stops seeing the story through your character’s eyes and starts seeing it through their own, you’ve accomplished something. Good Work.

My first pro sale was to Necrotic Tissue with a short piece titled, Picket Fences.

So, there are some positives here. There are others. These are the things that writers should hold onto when they get a little down in the dumps.

THEN… (Yes, there is another of these things, but this time it’s a good one.) Recently, I received a friend request over on my Facebook page from a young woman. I had never heard her name before, but she put a personal note on there, mentioned The Woman Who Loved the Red Stucco House and that she enjoyed it.

It had been probably a month since I had checked my Smashwords page and I hadn’t thought much about the story since. I had thought it was a mistake to put it up, that no one was reading it. THEN this young lady came along and proved me wrong. A reader liked it.

I have said over and over that writers need to be concerned with one thing: The Readers. If one person genuinely likes something you have written, then you have succeeded as a writer. I’m not talking friends and family either. I’m talking about people you don’t know.

So often we compare ourselves with other writers, where they are as opposed to where we are. That’s not a smart practice. It’s also a quick way to get disappointed with your own efforts. Don’t compare yourself with others. Plug along and do your thing. But most importantly, remember the readers. THEY are the ones that will make or break you. If you compare yourself with others, your THEN moments are going to be more and more depressing as the days pass.

I’d like to quote Joe Konrath here. From his blog, A Newbie’s Guide To Publishing, There’s a word for a writer who never gives up… published.

I won’t sit here and lie and say I haven’t thought about throwing in the towel. I have, quite a bit over the last year. That goes against everything I believe in: quitting is just not my style.

Konrath also talks about self publishing and his believe that you should go that route if you have a book. I have a book that I’ve never considered publishing. I think that is about to change. Also, a new story will go up at Smashwords soon, maybe even as soon as next weekend, after the new computer comes in and things won’t be so painstakingly aggravating to get done.

Right now I’m having a THEN moment. This one is a positive. Hopefully, I can string along a few of those positive THEN moments. We’ll see…

For now, though, I think I need to change the saying on my blog. There are way more A.J. Brown’s out there than I thought there were. Damn you copycats!

***

Shameless self promotion time:

If you would like to read any of the stories mentioned above, you can check a couple of them out by going to these places:

The Woman Who Loved the Red Stucco House at Smashwords

Dredging Up Memories at Tales of the Zombie War

Mother Weeps at Pow Fast Flash Fiction

Hopefully, The Woodshed will be ready to go up on Smashwords in the next month or so. Having to completely re-do the edits is going to take a while.

And Picket Fences appeared in Necrotic Tissue. Unfortunately, they have closed shop and I don’t know if you can still purchase a copy of it.

(Herbie’s Note: I apologize to any of my friends who feel that I should not self publish some of my work. I have nearly a thousand short stories on my hard drive and I would like to share them with readers in hopes that they will be entertained and enjoy a story that I have told.)