August Blues

Happy September to everyone out there in TAJN land. For those who are wondering, yes, I took a month off from the website. Yes, it was intentional. I will briefly explain. 

Going into the year, we had a plan to release five books to the masses. We had it scheduled out and spaced so a new book would come out every eight weeks starting at the beginning of March. Each year my wife and I set up events (festivals, conventions, book clubs) where I can promote my books in person. I find I do better face to face or in a group setting than I do through online connections. Personally, I hate promoting through the various social medias. It feels like I am screaming into the void and no one hears me because everyone else is screaming, too. But face to face, I get to meet you, see your personality, hear your voice and you get to see me, learn my personality (which is humorous and sometimes intelligent) and hear my voice. Face to face is, in my opinion, a better way to connect to you, the readers. 

Back in March, we did a book club, signed books, had a fun time with about a dozen women who enjoyed Cory’s Way, my first novel. The day before the book signing, we released My Summer Vacation by Jimmy Lambert, my fourth novel. I was excited to see how people received it. The next week the world began shutting down, people started getting sick. By the beginning of April, stores and businesses began shutting down. One by one, the events for April were cancelled. I was still hopeful we would get in the two we had schedule for May. Nope. By mid-April, they had been cancelled. 

During that month of April I kept myself busy with several writing projects and I made sure to post stories daily on TAJN for the duration of the month. I updated the blog and turned it into the website you are currently visiting. (Have a look around. There are many stories you can read, book links, reviews and other stuff.)

As the months rolled by with no end in sight to this pandemic more and more events were cancelled. We pushed back the book releases, dropping them from five this year to four to three to two … to just the one. I know I could have released the books anyway and stayed on schedule, but without events to go to and only social media to promote, it didn’t strike me as cost effective. In order to purchase books to sell to y’all, I had to be able to sell the ones I already had. I don’t make money in online purchases—Amazon gets almost all of that cash. I make money face to face. The revenue wasn’t there, so the books didn’t get published. 

At the end of July, I received a phone call from one of my favorite events. It was scheduled for October. They were cancelling the event and were letting their vendors know by phone call instead of email or social media.

~Sigh~

This is where I got disheartened. I like being behind a vendor table or in front of a group of people discussing books or answering questions. With nowhere to really go and nowhere to really meet new readers and socialize with them, I sunk into a kind of mini depression. I couldn’t write. The very thought of writing frustrated me. I got angry and I couldn’t sleep. I talked to my wife and my editor, both of whom usually can help me get out of my funk. Nothing helped.

So, I decided to take a break to try and recharge the batteries. I don’t think I needed a break, but inspiration. One of the things Cate and I did a lot of before the pandemic set in were day trips, even ones that were only half an hour or an hour away just so we could get out of the house. I didn’t realize how important those little trips were for us, and especially my writing, 

In late August, we took a drive to North Carolina to try and find a waterfall that wasn’t all that popular among touristy types. We eventually found it after hiking through the woods, going down the wrong trail and almost giving up. It was fun and hot and we were tired when we finished, but it was good to be out and about and in my element—seriously, I love wooded areas and mountains. 

On the way home I sat with my notepad on my lap as Cate drove and I began penning a story in purple ink (don’t judge—that pen is smooth). For the first time in several months I knew where a story could go. I only wrote five pages before stopping—the bumpetty bump of the car on South Carolina roads makes it difficult to write. I will share with you the first couple of paragraphs:

Kane Linthrop died on a Wednesday in late summer in the south. He was beaten to death by Eddie Strohm for a piece of meat from a rabbit Kane had killed. Food was scarce and fresh meat was a luxury many couldn’t attain.

Eddie came across Kane, not entirely by accident, but he would play it as if he had. He first noticed the smoke from as far away as the riverside where a concrete path had been laid, presumably in place of a natural one that had been worn in by feet—both by men and animal. Eddie had chased a rat into the tall brush and cursed the day for being long when the rodent escaped. His stomach grumbled and he placed a hand to it, hoping to silence it and hold the hunger pangs at bay. It didn’t work. 

 It’s kind of rough, but it’s a start. When we got home that night I started writing on another piece—typing this one. A couple of days later, the story was done. Finally, I had written my first new story since April. It was a relief more than anything. I’ve started several other stories and have worked quite a bit on the handwritten one—yes, still writing it in purple ink. I’m not entirely sure I am over the hump, but I think I am on my way. That’s a good thing.

I’ve started developing a plan for 2021, both for pandemic and non pandemic situations. I hope to release five books next year, maybe even six, since the plan was to do five this year and four next year. I don’t know yet, but I know it feels good to have written something and to be able to update all of you. I didn’t need a break. I needed inspiration. 

Thank you for following along and not leaving me during this break. As always, until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J. 

Thank You

Now that April has passed and May is here, I wanted to take a minute (or five) to thank y’all for stopping by during the past month of stories. It means a lot to me that you all came by, checked out my website, read my stories and subscribed, liked, commented and shared my work with others. 

Reading 1At the end of last year, Cate and I sat down and figured out a game plan for 2020. We discussed events, signings, book clubs, speaking engagements and new releases. In order to really do well at any of those events, we needed new books to promote. We planned to release five books in 2020, two of them in March, one in April, one in June and one in October. Well, here it is, May 1st, and none of the books have been officially released.

That was completely my decision. 

With the current state of affairs in the world today, I just didn’t feel good about releasing books at a time when people are losing jobs and money is tight for so many. My moral side said, “Don’t do it, A.J.” My business side said, “Release those books.” Morality won out, for the most part. 

At the time this pandemic began to spread in America, We were days away from releasing My Summer Vacation by Jimmy Lambert. Books were purchased and we had been promoting it through social media in anticipation of its release the next weekend. Two days earlier, we had participated in a book club discussion of my first novel, Cory’s Way. We didn’t know then that all the events we had scheduled for March, April and May would be cancelled.

As things progressively got worse around the country, I was sent home for a week because of possible exposure to the virus. Fortunately, I didn’t get sick and I went back to work. However, during that time of quarantine, I thought more and more about the releases that didn’t happen and that were not going to happen. 

Instead of releasing a new book, I decided on a cheaper alternative for you, the readers. I set my mind to putting out one story a day for the month of April on my website. All of them free. I knew it would be a lot of work, but I wanted to give folks who were at home during this time something they could read without shelling money out of their pockets. 

Reading HeartI hope you enjoyed the month of April. I enjoyed bringing you these stories and I hope they brightened your day, week, month a little. There will be more stories in May, including a four part story titled, Because I Can. 

I will also be promoting more of my books in the coming weeks, because the truth is, I’m an author and with all of the events that have been cancelled, book sales are way down.   I’ve added a purchase tab on the website (you can find it in the upper right hand corner) that has information about purchasing autographed print books. I’ve also added a donation button at the bottom of every post, so if you just want to throw a little love to your friendly neighborhood author, he would greatly appreciate it.

I would like to thank you all once more for a wonderful April. I look forward to the coming months and I hope you will stick around, like the posts, share them and comment on them. I would love to hear from you all. Also, if you have any suggestions on what you would like to see, drop me a line.

For now, I hope you have a wonderful day, night, weekend and life. Be safe, and until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

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Creating Shadows

“To cast a shadow, you have to do something.”
–Bill Walton

5dfa6c90a5f9ed88cfe6038fd12a7e7aBefore I get into my blog, let me give you a brief history on Bill Walton. Stick with me for a paragraph here. Bill Walton played basketball for the UCLA Bruins in college, where he was on two national championship teams and was part of one of the greatest dynasties in all of sports. He then went on to play professionally for the Portland Trailblazers, San Diego Clippers and Boston Celtics. He was part of two NBA championship teams. He is currently a commentator of NBA games. Walton, in my opinion, sees the world differently than most people and his seemingly joyous outlook can sometimes be hilarious when he goes on one of his humorous rants.

Okay, now that you know a brief history on Walton, et me give you the context of the comment above. On Saturday, February 2nd, 2019, Walton was on either ESPN’s Sportscenter or one of the various NBA shows the network airs. He was talking about the groundhog and whether or not it saw its shadow. Apparently, he did not see his shadow. This prompted the statement, “To cast a shadow, you have to do something.”

Immediately, I wrote it down. It struck me as something more than just about a groundhog seeing his shadow. It struck me as a giant casting a long shadow over a small town.

So, what is a shadow? For the purposes of this blog, it will be what we all think of as a shadow: a dark area or shape produced by a body coming between rays of light and a surface.

Also for this blog, we will look at this meaning as well: in reference to a position of relative inferiority or obscurity.

These two definitions go hand in hand with my personal interpretation of Bill Walton’s statement. (For the re

cord, I doubt Walton meant his comment to be taken the way I am taking it, but I’ve chosen to see it deeper than it was probably intended.)

1081455_1First, the shadow as a noun. We’ve all seen objects casting long, gray or dark shadows in its wake, especially in the early morning as the sun rises or in the early evening as the sun sets. Trees, buildings, mountains … people casts shadows as the sun’s rays hits them, blocking those rays from reaching the ground. A lot of reference to shadows in fiction are negative. He hid in the shadows. What loomed in the shadows? It lurked in the shadows. All statements that imply dread or something sinister. A shadow in and of itself is not scary at all. It’s what could be in those shadows that terrifies people.

Let’s add the other definition, because that is the one that I think is more powerful, when coupled with the first definition above. How often have you heard something like, ‘he is in the shadow of this great person,’ or ‘His people live in his shadows,’ or something like that?

As I mentioned earlier, when I heard the statement Walton made, I immediately thought of a giant standing on the outskirts of a small town, looking down on the terrified peasants beneath him. He cast such a long and ominous shadow over them, they can’t help but be scared. But what if that shadow was a good thing? What if that shadow was something good that someone has done that everyone else tries to strive for? Take away the doom and gloom and you get something far better.

michael-jordan-dunkMichael Jordan did things in the eighties and nineties on a basketball court that no one else ever had. From that point on, every great player that came into the NBA was compared to him. I don’t know how many times I have heard, Is he the next Michal Jordan? Kobe Bryant came along and did things that Jordan didn’t do. Lebron James followed. Teams built their rosters around the notion of how do we get by Jordan’s Chicago Bulls or Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers or any team James has played for. The standard of excellence keeps getting pushed higher and higher because there was a shadow of greatness left behind by someone who came before them. In order to cast a shadow, you have to do something. In order to be the greatest, you have to do something greater than the person before you.

What about Wal-Mart? Amazon? Apple? The Beatles? Michael Jackson? Prince? Stephen King? Nicholas Sparks? All of them had an idea and all of them became better than what and who came before them. They were innovative. They changed the industries they were in, and in some cases, changed the world. They did something and now they casts long shadows over those who follow. 

There was a man at the place I work. A big man, in size and stature and notoriety. He was known internationally for the great things he had done in the field he chose to excel in. He taught many people great things and he helped others achieve some of the most amazing things in their lives. He not only made his industry sit up and take notice of who he was, but he helped a lot of people along the way. He cast a vast shadow over those in his field of expertise. Many wanted to be like him. He had a little plaque on his desk that read simply: Quality is giving your best every time … with a personal touch. He lived by that quote and he achieved something that allowed for a huge shadow to be left in his wake. He was the giant on the edge of town. 

What does this have to do with me and you? Some artists—writers, painters, sculptors, musicians, craft makers, anyone who takes on an artistic endeavor—have this innate desire to be seen, to be heard, to be noticed, to be read, to be listened to. They are, in one way or another, exhibitionists waiting to happen. But it’s not enough to be seen, heard, read, noticed, listened to. They have to be felt. They need you, the fans of the various forms of artistic fields out there, to feel what you read, feel what you hear, feel what you notice, feel what you see, feel what you listen to. They need to touch you on a higher level. They need to move you to tears, to laughter, to anger, to something, to anything, but they need you to be impacted by what they do and how they do it. 

imagesArtists, such as Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper and Kiss created music and songs that were different from the norm of their day. They either disturbed the listeners, disgusted them, or excited them. Either way, people noticed, people listened, people heard, people saw and people felt their impact. They casts shadows, no matter how large or small they may have been. 

That’s what I want to do with my writing. I’ve always done things my own way. I’ve always said I don’t want to be a cookie cutter writer or word whore. I want to pull on your heart strings. I want you to remember Hank Walker and Cory Maddox and Humphrey. I want you to remember the Claires and Danes and Charlies of my stories. I want you to feel the heart ache of Art as he stands on top of the Seth Building looking at a painting he did right before his son died. I want you to feel the pain of the scars on Nothing’s body. I want you to feel the distrust and dislike Cassidy has for Cap’s former girlfriend. I want you to understand Mickie and why she makes stick figure dolls. I want you to feel the needle pricks as Irene sews herself together. I want you to smell the grapes. I want you to have the sense of loss and confusion at the end of Homer’s days. I want you to feel the desperation of Liam as he deals with the death of … himself. 

I want you to feel something when you read one of my stories. I want it to touch you deeply, so deep that you have to share it with others. 

To cast a shadow, you must do something. 

You don’t have to be Michael Jordan to cast a shadow. Or Prince. Or some big corporation. You just have to be willing to work at it, and work hard. You also need help and you have to know when to ask for that help. Nobody gets anywhere without help. Anyone who says they got to the top without help is probably not telling the entire truth. So, that is what I am doing. 

Help me cast a shadow. 

If you’ve read my work and I have touched you in any way, tell someone about it. Leave a review on Amazon or post one to my author page. Share this blog with people. Share my Amazon author page with people. Purchase books. If you share my work on social media, use my hashtag, #horrorwithheart. 

If you’ve never read anything I’ve written, other than the blog posts on here, get one of my books. Start with Cory’s Way and go from there. Here’s what I know: you won’t be disappointed. 

I work hard at this business, but right now I’m the groundhog who doesn’t see his shadow. That will change. I’m as sure of that as you are reading these words. So, let’s go casts shadows together. 

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

Two Young Ladies and a Dinosaur

I want to talk today about not worrying about what people think of you and or what you do. No, I’m not going to preach. I’m going to tell you a short story.

Today my wife, kids and myself went to a park here in Columbia. The kids wanted to climb on the rocks that spanned part of the stream that runs through the park. My wife and I wanted to get the kids to take pictures holding one of my books for promotional purposes.

We let the kids do their climbing, and yes, The Boy slipped and got his shoes wet in the water. We saw that coming and had prepared for it by making him wear an old pair of sneakers. When it came time to take a picture of the kids holding a book, neither of them wanted to. We had a feeling that would be the case as well—it is what it is.

Here is where I want to talk about not worrying about what people think. When we asked the kids to sit at a table and hold a book so Cate could get a quick picture, they both looked around, checking to see if there was anyone else around. There was, but not the way you would think. More on that in a minute. One of the children took the book and hid behind it with the cover facing out. I say ‘children,’ but you have to understand both of my kids are in their teens. My wife took the picture, then tried to get him or her to lower the book to make it look less like she or he was hiding behind it. (Yes, I am conveniently not saying which child it was.)

Both of our children seemed embarrassed by their mom wanting to take a picture with them holding a book. I get it.

Earlier I stated my children looked around to see if anyone was in the vicinity. There was. Walking toward us were three individuals, two young ladies and a dinosaur. Yes, I said dinosaur. Stick with me and I will explain.

DinosaurRight about the time my wife tried to get pictures of my children, these three individuals walked by us. I glanced to my left and saw them. The two young ladies were in their late teens or very early twenties. They had their phones out and were talking to the dinosaur. When the dinosaur responded, I realized the dinosaur was female. None of them looked our way. They went about their business as if we weren’t around. I looked to my wife, extended my hand for one of my books and took off after them. I’m not quite sure what my kids said, but I got the distinct impression they were embarrassed that I would go talk to these total strangers.

I hit the path they were on and came up on them close to the short bridge that crosses a stream. The dinosaur stood, posing next to the bridge.

“That is so awesome,” I said when I walked up to them. I was still a good fifteen feet away when I stopped.

The girl in the dinosaur suit said, “Thank you,” and smiled. “I wanted to be a dinosaur.”

“What made you want to be a dinosaur?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I just wanted to be a dinosaur, so I went online and today I am a dinosaur.””
“That is awesome,” I said again, then added. “Can you do me a favor? I’m an author. Would you mind taking a picture holding my book?”

Her eyes widened, as did her smile. “Sure. I can do that.”

I handed her Cory’s Way. She turned slightly so her face wouldn’t be in the image. Cate took the picture and we both told her thank you. We talked for a moment longer and then the two young ladies and the female dinosaur went on their way.

A few minutes later we walked along the trail, heading toward the car. We ran into the two young women plus one. The dinosaur had taken off her fake skin and was now a regular young lady. I thanked her again and said she was awesome for being a dinosaur. I started to walk away, then I stopped. I turned around and asked the three young women if they liked to read. It turns out, they do. I got one of their emails and will be sending them free copies of a couple of my books as a thank you for the three minutes of their time they gave me to take a picture.

Here is my point. The dinosaur girl didn’t care what anyone thought about her. She bought a plastic dinosaur suit, put it on and went to a very popular park in downtown Lexington, South Carolina. She walked around where many kids and adults were and didn’t bat an eye. She took a picture for a total stranger and it didn’t phase her. She wanted to be a dinosaur, so she became a dinosaur. To heck with what anyone thought. This is what she wanted and she went after it. She was secure enough in who she is to do something most people wouldn’t because they would be too concerned about what people might say or think.

I wish I could be that carefree. I wish I could just throw on a dinosaur suit and be a dinosaur. I wish my kids could be dinosaurs. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we all could just love the life we have and not worry about what others think of us or what we do? It’s something worth thinking about.

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

A.J.

Cory’s Way, An Excerpt

Good evening Faithful Readers.

I am ashamed to admit something. It’s not something like a crime or an addiction or even something as simple as a desire to eat all the donuts at the donut shop (though that part is true, and would probably be considered an addiction). It’s something I can’t believe I haven’t actually done here on Type AJ Negative. So often I talk of writing and life here. So often I promote other writers’ works. So often I do interviews for other writers here. But, not so often, I promote my own work. And, as far as I can tell, I’ve never actually posted a passage from my novel here.

I.

Can’t.

Believe.

It.

I have some great work out there. Two short story collections and a novel, and over the last year or so, I have done very little promoting of my own work. I’m sitting here shaking my head as I think about this.

Well, that changes right now with an excerpt from Cory’s Way, my novel. Are you ready for this? Good. Hop in the car with me. It’s okay. Just open the door, get in and strap on your seatbelt (it is the law, after all) and we’ll go for a ride. We’ll take a short journey into the world of Corey Maddox. If you’re ready, let’s ride:

***

On the day Cory Maddox met George Washington—not the first president, but a black man whose skin was as dark as tomorrow night—he was running for his life. Or so it seemed. Behind him, followed the Burnette brothers, their feet thumping on the blacktop like a couple of galloping horses. They yelled for him to stop running, that sooner or later they would catch him and when they did he would regret making them chase him. Obscenities followed. His Sanity screamed, begging for Cory to heed his warning.

(Run! Run! Run! They’re going to kill you!)

Cory’s side burned; a stitch stabbed straight through from front to back. His legs ached and threatened to send him to the ground if he didn’t, at least, stop for a second and catch his wind. His breaths came out in labored gasps through an open mouth. His book bag jostled on his back, bouncing from side to side, occasionally knocking him off balance. It wasn’t enough to really slow him down, but he held onto the straps tighter, making the running more awkward. At one point, Cory thought of tossing it to the ground, just let the Burnette brothers have it. He could run faster and it might appease them long enough for him to make it home alive.

His mind scrambled to make sense of everything, tried to figure out why they were chasing him. Just what had he done to anger them?

Snippets of thoughts danced in his mind. ‘Hey, new kid…What do yah have for lunch…’ Someone shoved him. His lunch tray clattered on the cafeteria floor, his hands out in front to try and break the fall. There were bruises on his palms. He was certain there were bruises on his knees as well. A teacher, tall and lanky, hair the color of a storm cloud, eyes full with lightning, appeared. Her voice silenced the laughter of the other kids. An ‘oh shit,’ was trailed by a ‘we’ll get you later, new kid.’

Cory’s legs screamed, his calves joining his thighs in protests. The stitch in his left side was united with the one in his right. Tears seeped from his eyes, partially from fear, but more from the ache of his weakening body. It was only a matter of time before it finally gave up and dropped him to the concrete.

“Look out,” Cory yelled just before passing an old man, his cane out in front of him, thick-lensed glasses hanging on the bridge of his nose. Somehow he managed not to crash into the old man. That would have been bad. If anything, it would have slowed him down enough for the Burnette brothers to catch up to him. They didn’t seem like the type that would worry about an old man who had fallen and probably had no way of getting up. If, by a very small chance, they did stop and head the other way, the old man would have probably been hurt, and that may have been worse than a beating.

Neither of those things came to pass. Cory skirted by the old man, stumbled, righted himself, and ran on.

(Almost took the Nestea plunge, there, Cory.)

He darted across the street, barely looking both ways before doing so. Cory tripped as he hopped onto the sidewalk, planted his hand in front of him and almost ended up sprawled out on the concrete. Instead, he caught himself and ran on.

A stone zipped overhead, landing a few feet in front of him.

Rocks?! his mind screamed.

(What else could it be, dimwit?)

Fear pushed him harder.

They gained ground, their voices louder. They were laughing.

Home was four blocks away along the street. It was less than two if he went beneath the underpass just ahead.

(Yeah, that’s what we want to do. Run into the darkness where rats and spiders and other creepy crawlies are, and maybe even a mad man or two…)

***

I hope you enjoyed the short ride around the block and the little peek into Cory’s world. If you enjoyed it, you can pick up a digital copy at that well-known Kindle book provider, Amazon, HERE.

As always, I thank you, Faithful Readers, for sticking with me through my travels in the world of writing and publishing. Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another…

 

 

 

Common Threads Part 2

Everybody has their own path. Every path has many forks in the road. If you take the one to the left it takes you to a different place than if you take the one to the right. One path is going to be tougher than the other. That’s truth. Pure and simple.

Let me give you a little example.

Years ago when Cate and I were still dating we took a trip to the mountains with my family. On that trip I proposed to her. At that point she could have said no, but she said yes. Here’s where our paths forever changed. We were young and in love and I knew I was going to marry her after our first date a year or so earlier. But that’s not the point. Cate could have said no, and things would have drastically changed between us. Honestly, I don’t think we would be together—her saying no probably would have been a major deal breaker.

But she said yes, and on that day our lives went from being on our own separate paths to, a year later, us joining in marriage and creating a path together.

There is another one to this story. While Cate and I were on this trip we went hiking in the Black Mountains of North Carolina. There were three different paths we could have taken: the easy, the intermediate or the hard. Cate had never really done much hiking so we opted for easy. At one point we came to a fork in the path. If we went one way we continued on the easy path. If we went another direction we went on the intermediate path.

We thought we had taken the easy path. No. No, we didn’t. Though we didn’t take the hardest one, we still took one much more difficult than the easy. You see, we had a choice on which path to take: the easy or the not so easy. We took the wrong path and it led us to a harder, much longer hike. By the time we reached the end, I was pulling Cate up steep hills and using tree limbs to pull myself along as well. We were exhausted, but we had conquered the path and made it to the end. We had taken the wrong path, but somehow managed to navigate it, even though it was tougher than the one we meant to take.

Do you get what I’m saying? Life is all about the paths we choose. I’ve always said each decision we make takes us on a different path. If we choose to do drugs that decision takes us on a different, much more difficult path than if we choose not to. Are you married? Great. If you cheat on your spouse, that path just became rocky, at best. If you take this job as oppose to that one your life will forever be changed. Which college you go to changes your path. Everything you do in life, every decision you make takes you on a different path.

As a story teller it is my job to tell a story that has paths throughout it. If a character makes a decision it could alter the direction his/her life goes in.

Paths. That is a Common Thread we can all relate to. Everyone takes them, whether they know it or not. Every decision is a new path.

Let’s talk Cory’s Way and paths.

(If you have not read Cory’s Way, the next few paragraphs contain possible spoilers, all of which are related to the first chapter of the book.)

If Cory’s father doesn’t leave his mother, then Cory doesn’t end up in Century Falls and Gina doesn’t end up working insane hours at a restaurant to try to make ends meet. If the bullies don’t chase him, then he doesn’t run under the overpass and meet Mr. Washington, who, in turn, decides to help Cory get rid of those bullies.

All of these things (decisions) changed the paths for all of the characters involved. How, you ask? Let’s take a closer look at them.

For whatever reason, Cory’s father made a decision to leave the family, which forces Gina to move them away, creating a new, somewhat unpleasant path for Gina and Cory. And, incidentally, the father’s decision also changes his own life (something we don’t see in Cory’s Way). This one decision made by Cory’s father changed the lives of everyone involved in the story, which are quite a few paths. It set the stage for the story itself.

Gina’s absence because she works so much sends Cory on a completely different path than if she were around more. Sure, it’s the only real move she can make to ensure they have food and a roof over their heads, but with his father already gone, he probably could have used having Mom around more often.

We talked about bullying in the first Common Threads post. Well, let’s talk about it again. The Burnette brothers play a huge role in Cory’s Way. We are introduced to them in the third sentence of the first chapter. They make a decision early on (like Dad leaving, we don’t actually see this decision—we just know it by the way the first few paragraphs unfold) that they don’t like Cory and making his life miserable becomes a goal of theirs. That decision changes the entire trajectory and lives of every main character of the story right off the bat.

Cory had a bunch of decisions (paths) he could have made during this opening paragraph. Run from the bullies or fight them? Take the short way beneath the overpass or the long way around it? Toss his book bag or hang onto it? Give up halfway home and let them beat the crap out of him or keep running? Try to fight back. Hide beneath the overpass or keep on trucking? Can you see how any of those decisions could have changed the course of Cory’s life, and by the same token, every major character in the book?

Mr. Washington really only made one significant decision: leave the overpass and run off the Burnette brothers or give Cory away and let them know where he was or force Cory to continue running away. His decision was one of the most important path changers in the entire book. Without it, there is no Cory’s Way.

I’m not going to go beyond the first chapter here, but every single chapter has a path changing decision, just like every single day we, as real people and not make believe ones, make decisions that alter our lives and the trajectory our lives are on.

If you haven’t read Cory’s Way, well I’m going to encourage you to do so. Here’s the thing: I’ve said since day one that everyone will be able to relate to something in this novel. When I say everyone, I mean EVERYONE. I relate to it on many levels, but the one way I truly connect to it is that the story of Cory Maddox was the first such story I wrote in this conversational style. It was the story where I truly found my voice. It’s the story that deepened my love of story telling. It was the story that changed the path of my writing. It’s THE story.

As a writer it is my job to give you something to enjoy, to relate to, to connect to, a common thread that links you to the story. One common thread are paths and the ones we choose in life. Every decision is a fork in the road. Choose one thing and go one way. Choose the other option(s) and go in a different direction(s) all together. Either way, the path is yours to take. Which way will you go?

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

 

 

Common Threads, Part 1

Being able to relate to a story is important for writers and readers alike. We’ll start reading a book in hopes that the story will be intriguing and that it will hold our attention. While we want those things, what we really want is to be able to relate to a character or a situation. If we can connect to the character, then we can connect to the character’s plight. And if we can connect to those two things, then we will care about what is happening to the character and we won’t want to put the book down.

As a storyteller, the goal is to find that connection. I call this the Common Thread. This is when the writer and the reader can relate to the same thing, there is a common thread between them that links them through the story.

The Common Thread starts with the character, building him/her, making him/her either sympathetic enough to love or evil enough to hate. It’s not easy, but with the right amount of back story, emotion and trials it can be done.

When I sit to write a story I do so to create a character I like (or don’t like, depending on the topic). I give that character flawed traits on purpose. I give that person thoughts and feelings that I believe are real and that people can relate to. Relating to the character equals the common thread. I try not to say, ‘he felt sick.’ Instead, I try to tell you how he feels—the cool of the skin from sweating, the aching of joints from a fever, the itchy nose from a cold, the sore ribs and throat and chest from vomiting. If the character has a broken bone, it’s a sharp, instant, to the core feeling that ‘he broke his leg’ just doesn’t quite tell the story.

But feelings, both physical and emotional, aren’t the only things that make a story or what solely connects the character to the reader. The character has to have an obstacle to overcome or to fail trying. There is always an obstacle. Always.

If you’ve read any amount of my work, then you know there are some common themes: Abuse, both physical and emotional, childhood, homelessness, broken people and solitary souls. These are all subjects that most of us, if not all of us can relate to. These are, in many ways, our common threads.

I’d like to touch on this for a minute in relation to Cory’s Way, my novel. If you’ve read it, then you know there are several themes throughout. But I want to touch on just one of them for now: bullying.

When I was a kid—pre age of ten—I had a problem with a couple of bullies. Those two boys were brothers, one of which was a bigger guy and one of which wasn’t so big. Still, they were mean and roamed the Mill Village like they owned the neighborhood. All the other kids, myself included, were terrified of them. They were bad by themselves, but together, they were a nightmare.

My brother and I had to run from them on more than one occasion. Other times…well, I learned how to fight much like Cory did against Alan and Jeffery in Cory’s Way. The kids in the Mill Village were more than happy when the brothers’ moved away. It was a great time, one that was very short lived. You see, once one bully moves on, another one tends to come in and take his/her place. The Mill Village was no different. One of the boys that had been bullied by the brothers decided he was next in line to rule the roost. Though he didn’t use his fist, he used his words, and words can be so much worse when the right ones are spoken to the right people. His abuse was more mental than anything else. We learned how to deal with him, but only after time. Ignore him and he’ll go away. And that’s what happened.

It doesn’t always happen that way.

Fast forward a couple of years to my freshman year in High School. Yeah, you guessed it: another bully. What was I? A bully magnet? Sure, I was small, but by then, I had become tired of folks who thought they could push me around. And one of the class bullies had taunted me throughout the year. I was in an English class where I didn’t fit in and it seemed the teacher didn’t like me. And the bully was one of the IN crowd and so nothing much was done to stop him. At least, nothing much was done until I had had enough.

It was only one shove (by him) and one punch (by me) and several stunned tears (by him), but it was enough to get the message across: I was not going to be bullied by anyone.

Life is not always that simple. Don’t get me wrong, I had to endure a lot from the bully and his friends before I finally got to the point where I had had enough. But a lot of times it doesn’t end with someone standing up for themselves. There is the revenge factor you have to be aware of, especially in today’s world. When I was a kid, if you got in a fight, the dispute was over when the fight was over. There wasn’t anyone going home to get a gun because they were angrier than they were before the fight. You fought. You either won or lost. End of issue.

Being bullied is a terrible feeling. You feel trapped. You feel like at any moment your tormentor could jump from behind a building and beat you down. Sometimes you feel ashamed for not standing up against the bully or bullies because you are afraid to get hurt, or you are afraid they will do something that will be worse than a beat down, but so embarrassing you would feel you can’t show your face in public ever again. Sometimes you feel ashamed to speak up, to tell an adult or a friend because you are worried they might think you are weak, or that they may call you names (which, in its own right is kind of bullying, isn’t it?).

Being bullied is paralyzing. Did you get that? Let me say it again: Being bullied is paralyzing. And once you get paralyzed with that fear, the bully will know and then it tends to escalate.

In Cory’s Way, the main character, ahem, Cory, is bullied by the Burnette Brothers. He constantly looks over his shoulder, constantly hides when he can, and when his mom says she will take care of things, then Cory begs her not to. Yes, this is what bullying does to someone.

One of the Common Threads in Cory’s Way that connects you, the reader, to Cory, the character, is bullying. It’s one of those things that makes Cory’s story so endearing. How does he deal with these boys? Does he stand up to them or does he run away? Does he get beat up or does he do the beating? Does he take care of it himself or tell an adult and let him/her handle things? How would you handle it?

Common Threads are the links that connect readers to characters. Every time you connect to a character think about the common threads between you and that character. What you find may surprise you. Everyone—and, yes, I do mean EVERYONE—has either been bullied or done the bullying or known someone from either extreme.

One more thing: If you are being bullied or if you know someone who is, please, let someone know. You don’t have to face this alone. You don’t have to fear the bully/bullies. You don’t have to be ashamed that someone will find out and they will think less of you. You don’t have to hide it. Bullies rely on you to do nothing. Tell someone. A parent. A guidance counselor. Your best friend. Anyone. You don’t have to face it alone.

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

 

 

 

 

To Swear Or Not To Swear

My first book, Along the Splintered Path, was released at the beginning of 2012 by Dark Continents Publishing. Up to that point I had never been more excited in my writing ‘career’, as it is. A lot of work went into the collection. Two stories were completely rewritten while one of them was a brand new piece.

At the time of its release I was in a phase of my writing process where I sought to make my stories sound authentic. In order to do that I would have to make all of the dialogue sound as real and believable and accurate as possible, as if someone would actually say the words I had the characters saying. Not that I didn’t already have realistic sounding dialogue, but I generally steered away from swear words. Having characters using foul language equaled authenticity. Or so I told myself.

The book was released and I was immensely proud of it. It received a few good reviews and it sold right out of the gate. I couldn’t have been happier, especially with it being a first book (even if it was a collection).

Then something happened, something that made me less proud of what I had accomplished.

Someone I knew wanted to read the book. This someone didn’t care much for bad language. Suddenly I was uncomfortable with the book, with letting someone read it. Suddenly I wished I had not put so much ‘authentic language’ in it.

Let’s stop here for a second. Not too long ago (well, maybe long enough ago that it was before Along the Splintered Path came out) I wrote a blog about using strong language in writing. I argued for the language, stating quite simply that some words don’t have the same oomph as others.

I view swear words as emphasis words. When someone says a swear word you notice it, you hear it. Immediately you understand the impact of the word in the context of the sentence. Almost always, even in joking around, the swear word stands out. Let me give you an example:

Damn it! As opposed to, Dang it!

You just read those two statements. Admit it, you said the first one more emphatically. Even if you only said the words in your mind, chances are the first one was stronger than the second one.

Here’s the thing, not all words can be replaced with other words. It’s like medicine. Not all medicines have a generic equivalent. If they did we would all buy the knock-off brand and save us a bit of money. Swear words are the name brand words and their softer, not as offending equivalents are the generic versions. The problem is, though the generic medicines work as good as their name brand counterparts, the generic equivalent of a swear word doesn’t have the same impact.

Again, let’s use ‘damn’ as our name brand word. What are its generic equivalents? Dang. Darn. Dagnabbit. Say them. Go ahead. Say them. I’ll wait. Make sure and say all four of them.

Let’s take a look at it now.

Dagnabbit just sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? It sounds like something Ned Flanders from The Simpsons would say. Many of you just cringed. That’s okay. I did, too.

Darn and Dang, well they’re okay. But they’re not the same as, oh, I don’t know: Damn.

Admit it. When you read that last ‘damn’ just now you felt the emphasis of it, didn’t you?

This was my argument for using swear words in writing.

Let’s go back to what I was saying before. I used a lot of swear words in Along the Splintered Path. Honestly, the dialogue sounded more authentic with them. But there is a problem with this. I don’t use many swear words in real life. I’m not comfortable hearing many of them come out of my mouth. I don’t want my kids to hear me say them. I don’t use them at work because they sound unprofessional. I don’t use them in general discussions because, quite honestly, they are not needed. I can’t say I don’t use them when I’m mad, but even then it is usually only one of four words, none of which starts with a F or a G plus a D. When I hear other people talking and every other word that comes out of their mouth is a swear word I walk away or I turn the channel if I am watching television or I turn off the movie or I stop reading the book. It’s not that I’m a prude, I just don’t think swearing is all that necessary.

If I don’t use swear words in life, why would I use them in my books?

Back to the person I knew who wanted to read the book. I was embarrassed to tell her, ‘I’m not sure you’ll like it. There’s a lot of language in it.’

‘But you wrote it,’ she said.

‘Yes,’ I responded and went on to explain that I wanted the characters to be as realistic as possible and that meant they had to swear because, you know, that’s what people do and I really wanted the characters to be real and…

‘But you don’t swear,’ she responded.

Guess what? She was right. Not all people swear. Not all people care to hear others swearing. Not all people care to read stories where swearing is prevalent throughout.

And I don’t swear a lot.

Here’s the point to all of this, and it doesn’t just pertain to swearing. If you do something that you would be embarrassed to tell someone or to have someone see/read/hear it, maybe you shouldn’t do it. If doing that thing makes you uncomfortable when someone ask you about it, then maybe you shouldn’t do it. Or maybe you shouldn’t have done it.

And then there’s the fact that I had to explain why I had written all the swear words in the first place. If you have to explain your actions, chances are they are actions you should not have taken.

I learned this lesson from that friend. And it embarrassed me. I couldn’t, in good conscious, say, ‘you’ll love this book, but you’re going to have to overlook all the cussing.’ I told the person the truth. ‘You may not like the book.’ And it hurt to say that. I knew the person wouldn’t buy the book, and if they did, they probably would have looked at me differently afterward, maybe even shook their head in disgust at how man F-Bombs I dropped between the front and back cover.

Some of you may say, ‘so what? That person can get over it.’ Yeah, maybe so, but to me, it would be like one of my parents or my wife being disappointed in me. They might get over it, but it would always be in the back of my mind that they had been disappointed in me for something I did.

There’s also this thing called a first impression. This was my first book. Sure, I made a good first impression on a few folks, but what of the ones who may have liked the story, but didn’t care much for all the language? Here’s the thing: I want readers of all ages, male and female. I’m not naïve enough to think I can win over everyone, but I would rather not push away those readers who would otherwise like my work.

Some of you think I’m being ridiculous or over sensitive or maybe even over thinking this. I assure you, I am not.

I went back and reread Along the Splintered Path not too long ago. I cringed with each swear word. Then I took the swear words out and rearranged the sentences and do you know what happened? The stories were just as good without the foul language and the dialogue was just as realistic.

When I rewrote Cory’s Way, my first novel, I specifically targeted swear words to cut. I rewrote sentences in order to take those words out. I even rewrote one entire chapter just so I could take out one word. Are there a couple words in there that are strong? Yeah, but nothing like before I edited it and no actual swear words. I even took out a paragraph that I thought I went overboard with. And guess what? I believe in Cory’s Way, one hundred percent. I believe it’s a great book, one that has very little language in it. I am so confident in this story that I have given books to people with the understanding that: ‘You don’t have to pay me now. Read the book. If you like it, then you give me the money for it. If you don’t, you give me the book back.’ All of them have paid me for the book. Anyone thirteen years of age or older can read Cory’s Way, and they will like it. And I am not ashamed to let anyone read it. As writers, we should never be ashamed to let people read our work. If we are, well, maybe we shouldn’t be writing it.

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

Now Out, Cory’s Way

I’m going to make this quick today. After six years of working on Cory’s Way in one capacity or other, my debut novel has finally been released to the world in e-book format. You can find it on Amazon by clicking HERE.

You can also get it in print by either looking it up on Amazon or by going to my online store HERE. If you buy it through my store, then you save a few bucks and you get it signed by me.

If you haven’t heard about Cory’s Way, then read the next few paragraphs to learn more about it.

After his father leaves in the middle of the night, Cory Maddox and his mom, Gina, are forced to start over. Left alone while Gina tries to work her way out of debt, Cory deals with life as the new kid in school with no friends. Fleeing from the school bullies, Cory ends up under an overpass where an old homeless man lives. After being saved from the bullies, Cory and the homeless man, Mr. Washington, become friends.

But things don’t get any easier for Cory. Children are disappearing from around the state, and the bullies haven’t forgotten his escape the first time they went after him. And there is something wrong with Mr. Washington…something terribly wrong.

Accompanied by his only two friends and the unlikeliest of allies, Cory sets out to keep a promise to the ailing homeless man. Will Cory and his friends find a way to keep the promise, or will the journey prove too difficult for them?

Like it? I hope so.

The first two reviews are in as well:

An extraordinary story about a boy who learns that he must follow his heart when it comes to doing the right thing, even against Mom’s wishes. Well written, tense, and engaging, with all the emotional impact I love in a story, I found myself rooting for Cory through his difficult journey to find himself and keep a promise. The story wrapped me in Cory’s world and I didn’t want to put it down, even when finished. Because of the darker aspects of the story, it is best suited to anyone, young or old, over 13 or so. Highly recommended.

And:

Adult or Young Adult? That, friends, is the question. I’ve been accused of being an adult. Im in my early 30’s, so it’s probably a fair accusation. So what does it mean to be in your early 30’s in the year 2014? It means you were a child of the 80’s. What does being a child of the 80’s mean? It means I know what it is to be a Goonie. When I hear someone say they need to phone home, I point a finger in the air and say, ‘Elleee ot.’ Vanilla Ice is not a desert, and cowabunga is a real word. It means movies like Stand by Me and The Sandlot Kids are amongst my favourite of all time. A grown man enjoys watching movies about the hardships of being a kid? Why? Because I was one. As an adult you notice the things you didn’t as a youngster, you reminisce and you saviour. Also, I enjoy them now because I enjoyed them then.

This book, Corys Way, has that instant classic feel of an 80’s movie. You will connect, you will feel, you will know Cory. As an adult you will remember the simple conversations between boys and girls, moms and sons. As a Young Adult, I believe you will relate, but also, enjoy. Such a ride. The real horror, is because you feel like you know these kids, feel like you are one of these kids.

You will smile…but…beware. You will also cringe. You may even put the book down a minute, to catch your breath. Moments of horror and gore, maybe a bit too much for the young…but maybe it’ll hook them. For a young adult, this is the type of book to get you hooked to the horror genre.

So, Adult or Young Adult? Well that’s easy…BOTH! Feel the horror.

Though I don’t classify Cory’s Way as a horror novel, there are a couple of horrific moments within. To me, Cory’s Way is more of a coming of age story with a touch of dark content.

If you want a good read, why don’t you get your copy of Cory’s Way? It’s really only a click away.

Until we meet again, my friends…

The Brown Bag Stories and The Writer’s Voice

Every writer has his or her own voice. No, not the voice they speak with, but the voice they narrate with, the voice they tell stories with. That voice creates the feel of the stories they write. Sometimes, if a writer is particularly lucky, they find their voice quickly. Most of the time, that’s not the case. It’s like a game of Hide and Seek with the writer doing the searching while the voice does the hiding.

It took me years to find my voice. Once I did I knew it was the voice I wanted to write in. But just finding it isn’t good enough. Once I found the voice I had to develop it, I had to hone it, make it mine. That took as long, if not longer, as finding it did.

This became the subject of a conversation between my good friend, Dawn, and myself, recently as we sat in the living room of my house. I sat across from her on one of the kitchen chairs while my wife and her mom talked on the couch. Every once in a while the conversations would cross paths and mingle for a moment or two, but for the most part, they were separate. Dawn made note of something in my writing style, in my voice, something she liked: It’s like the reader is part of the story.

Keep this in mind for a second.

I call my voice ‘conversational,’ because that’s what it is. I like to write in the same tone as if I were having a conversation with someone (or many someones). I like to try and get the reader to feel something while reading my stories. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I don’t. I want you, the reader, to feel like you are part of the story, that you are there.

I write the way I do because I want you to feel something. I want you to feel the sadness or the happiness of the characters. I want you to feel their pain or (gasp) the love. I want you to feel their sickness. I want you to feel. If you feel something from reading one of my stories, then I’ve done my job.

Stephen King wrote in his book On Writing that the author of a story is also its first reader. I agree, and with that in mind I write stories I like and that I think you will, as well. When you pick up one of my books or any of The Brown Bag Stories I mail out each month, it should be like getting in a car with the characters. They’ll take you on a road trip and try to entertain you. If at any point during the trip you lose interest, well, then I failed you, because at that moment all you want is for the trip to be over, and it should never be that way. You should enjoy every second of the trip as you go, not just the destination, but the journey.

I want you to walk away from one of my books satisfied. I’m a conversationalist in my writing voice. I want you to be part of the story. And that’s why I write the way I do.

***

Before I go, I just realized something a couple paragraphs up, it’s something that I don’t think I have ever posted here on my blog. For that, I apologize and feel a little embarrassed over. Let me explain:

Back in April I started creating a booklet called The Brown Bag Stories. This was to be a 12 month long endeavor. It is partially a way to get my stories into hands of readers, but also a way for me to give to those same readers. These booklets are not professionally made magazines, but they are like mini-mags, holding one short story in each one of them, plus my author notes about the stories contained therein. We started putting these out in June, leaving them at coffee shops and comic book stores and anywhere else that allowed us to. I mail a handful of them out each month as well.

Oh, and the good thing about these booklets? They’re free. You don’t have to pay a dime for them. All you have to do is ask.

This is kind of my way of letting you read some of my work for free, to let you determine if you want to take a chance on me and my work, a chance that might one day have you purchase one (or all) of my books and/or tell others about my work. My hope is you like the stories and would want more of them.

At the moment, this is just a 12 month thing. The first seven issues have been released to the world. There are five left, including a Valentine’s Day story that may or may not be more of a lady’s treat. Sorry guys–it’s the one time of year that I get to show a sensitive, somewhat romantic side.

I’ve also thought about possibly making them digital in the end–maybe even creating a TBBS blog or website dedicated solely to the little booklets.

If you would like to receive a copy of The Brown Bag Stories, drop me a line at ajbrown36@bellsouth.net, with your name and address and I’ll send them out to you. If you would like any of the previous editions, let me know and I’ll send those along as well. And remember, they’re free. What more could you ask for?

Until we meet again, my friends…