Good morning Type AJ Negativites. Negativites? Really? That’s the best you can do, Mr. Writer Dude? Yeah, it’s lame.
This is going to be a short post.
There are two things on the agenda today: Five Deaths and a poll.
First, after months of pushing back the release of my latest novel, Five Deaths, we are going to go forward with the release on January 12th, 2021. More to come in the near future. Stay tuned.
Second, we all know why y’all come here. For the free beer. What? We don’t serve beer here? Really? Hmmm … that might be why attendance is down. How about for the stories? Y’all come here for stories, right? With it being October, I wanted to do a little poll. Who wants a Halloween story this year on Type AJ Negative? Click a response on the poll below. I will leave it up until October 20th.
That’s all I have for today. See, I told you it would be short. Seriously. That’s it. Stop scrolling. The post is done. Go vote. Seriously.
Until we meet again, be kind to one another.
Stop scrolling … vote on the poll. Seriously, this is the end of the post.
I talk about writing a LOT. I talk to anyone who will listen. However, I usually don’t talk about my work, my stories, what I am working on unless I am asked. Most people don’t want to hear about it, so no need to bore them with the things I find exciting in my work. Unless you are my wife, my editor or my publisher, you won’t hear me start a conversation about my writing.
Writing has brought me a lot of joy over the years. It’s been therapeutic. I’ve been able to express my sadness, anger, jealousy and resentment in stories. I’ve also been able to express my happiness, love and humor. I’ve been able to creep people out, make them cry, make them smile, make them feel. Having someone feel something after reading one of my stories is one of those things that drives me to get better, to learn how to write better with each story I tell.
Learning. That’s the ticket, as my old friend, Chris, would say.
The entire sentence is important, but that one word … that one word makes the sentence and, for lack of a better term, the story.
Learning is one of the most important aspects of life, and not just as a child, but as an adult as well.
As a child, you learn how to roll over and get onto your stomach. Then you learn how to crawl. Eventually, you learn how to pull yourself up to a standing position. This is followed by many attempts to walk the way you see your parents or older siblings or anybody else in the world who, well, walks. You learn the most important word of your childhood by hearing your mother repeat, “Say Mommy.” Interestingly enough, saying Mommy or Da-da is like a competition for the parents, with each one hoping their child will say their moniker for parent first.
You learn by watching what others do, by listening to what they say. I find it interesting that as children under the age of two, we are/were at our most attentive, listening, seeing and learning selves. Little ones soak up everything you say, everything you do. Then they try these things, like walking and talking. It’s amazing. Don’t believe me? Cuss one time in front of your child and see what happens. At such a young age, we train ourselves to do things we see others do. Yes, I said train. I’ll come back to this in a second, so stick with me for the next couple to few paragraphs.
At some point, most children want to learn how to ride a bike. Most first bikes come with training wheels. They’re called training wheels for a reason: they help you stay upright on a bike as you learn to peddle and steer, as you train. You get on the bike and Mom or Dad gives you a gentle push, maybe even walking right alongside you as you first put foot to peddle and make the bike go. By doing this, you, the bike rider, are both learning and training yourself on how to do something. The learning is mental. The training is physical. Your brain tells you, push down on the peddle with this foot, then push down on the peddle with the other foot. With conscious effort, you put your foot on the peddle and push down. The peddle turns the gears with the bike chain wrapped around them. The bike goes forward.
The effort is the training. When you actually physically do what your brain tells you to do, you are training your body how to do it and your brain how to remember it. In this case, your brain tells you how to peddle and you physically attempt it. You’ve seen someone do it, so you are already learning what you are supposed to do. The first few times are usually awkward and difficult, but eventually, the muscles in your legs and feet and hips all work together and you begin to ride the bike with less difficulty.
Then the training wheels come off and you get that push or that parent running alongside you and the front wheel wobbles as you try to steer while looking down at your feet, at the peddles that don’t want to do what you want them to do. You probably crashed a few times as you trained your legs to peddle and your body to balance and your hands to steer the handlebar straight so you don’t tip over or crash into something.
Eventually, though … eventually, what you learned in your mind, you trained your body to do and you rode that bike. You got excited and probably screamed at the top of your lungs in happiness and exhilaration because, by God, you rode the bike. And you probably crashed. But for a moment, you rode that bike and you were the king of the world as Jack said in Titanic.
You learned, mentally, what to do. You trained, physically, to be able to do what you learned.
So far: learning is mental and intellectual, and training is the continued attempts to do what you learned.
Life isn’t only about learning things and training is not just physical. It’s also about training your mind and your body to do things.
Early in life, I was not all that great at math. Two plus two equaled four like it is supposed to, but multiplication and division and algebra were struggles to learn. Being told four multiplied by four is sixteen is great but being shown was better. Being shown was great but given problems to solve was better. I also hated it. The higher the numbers got, the more difficult it was for me to learn their totals. You want me to multiply eight by nine? Are you serious? Are you some sort of math psycho who relishes the struggles of us non-mathites?
I also found math boring.
Then I started watching sports. Sports is all about math. The scores are done in numbers. The statistics are all numbers. The records are numbers. Numbers. Numbers. Numbers.
In order to understand statistics, I sat down in my room with a pencil and paper and wrote out the multiplication table, starting with one and going to twelve. I struggled with it until I realized that each number was simply added by the number of its multiplier (something the teacher could have explained and I probably would have understood a lot quicker). For example: six multiplied by seven is six added up seven times. 6+6+6+6+6+6+6= 42. I then wrote out every problem as I did in that example in the last sentence. I added them as if they were simple addition problems.
By doing it that way, I trained my brain to add quickly. So, if someone said, ‘Hey, add this up for me,’ then tossed out a few numbers, I was/am able to tell them the answer fairly quickly.
Learning the multiplication table wasn’t difficult, but it took training my brain to process those numbers for me to learn math. Now, math is second nature to me, and I can usually spout the answers off without much thought.
Training is mental as well as physical.
As we get older, learning and training become more difficult, not because it is, but because we make it difficult. I’m too old to learn new things. We make excuses as to why we can’t do something. For most of us the truth is we don’t want to learn something new, we don’t want to train our brains or our bodies to do something new. And that’s where we fail, not just in learning, but in becoming better at something … anything. It’s arrogance. It’s ignorance. It’s laziness.
Are you still with me? I hope so.
I have a friend. Yes, just one. His name is Dameion. We both write and we both have our own viewpoints about writing and storytelling. (For the record, Dameion is one of those writers I am envious of. His words just spill off the paper.) He’s like a brother to me, one I never see, but talk to when we are both available. We were talking recently about writing. You learn how to write in school—or at least you used to. You learn basic sentence structure and punctuation but that’s pretty much it. Most of this stuff you forget. Why? Because you are told about it, not shown how to do it. When you are shown, you’re only given a handful of assignments or opportunities to actually practice it. You take a test, pass or fail, then move on to something else, so it doesn’t stick.
What sticks is when you physically do something. By physically doing something repeatedly, you train your brain and your body to remember how to do those things. It becomes muscle memory and you do it without thinking once you’ve practiced it. For example: they say once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget. You might get rusty, but if you learned how to ride a bike at six and you stopped riding a bike at sixteen, at fifty-three you will be able to get on a bike and ride it. Muscle memory.
Telling a story, orally, is easy. If you’ve ever told a good joke, then you have told a story. Why did the chicken cross the road doesn’t count. Okay, fine, we’ll let it count, but only if you told it to someone who had never heard the joke. Good luck with that.
When you verbally tell a story, you get into it. You add little things to show the person (or people) listening something about where you were or what was going on. You can become animated with hand gestures and tone of voice and facial expressions. By doing all of this, you show your listener(s) the story. If you are really good at it, you can be a comedian.
You learned how to tell a story by listening to others tell stories. If they were good at it (as my grandfather was), then you will pick up some good pointers by watching them. If they were bad at it, then the lessons you pick up will not be the ones that help you tell a good story. When you’ve seen someone who can speak, either in public or private, it doesn’t mean you can become a great speaker. It just means you have seen someone else do it right. It is up to you to gleam what you can from it and practice what you learned. The practice aspect is part of the training. It’s where you train your mind to think, your voice to have tone, your facial expressions and hand gestures to be coordinated with your words.
Writing is the same. A lot of your learning comes from reading. You learn neat turns of phrases, styles, descriptors, pacing, dialogue, and plenty more from reading. The trick is to not just learn these things, but to practice them.
When I wanted to become a better writer, I picked the brains of other writers. I asked questions and read stories that were suggested to me. If I wanted to know about dialogue, I asked questions about it, then I wrote stories that were dialogue heavy to see if I could move the story along using conversations. If I wanted to learn descriptions, I asked questions about it, then wrote stories heavy on descriptions, then flipped the script and wrote stories light on descriptions in order to try and find the sweet spot for descriptions. The talking to writers and gathering information was the learning part. The putting words to paper and writing was the training part.
Then came the practicing.
Are you still with me? Hang on a little longer. We’re nearing an end to this (probably) confusing topic.
Practice is honing what you have learned and trained yourself to do.
I was a good basketball player. When I was a kid I loved Len Bias, who played for the University of Maryland. He was smooth and fascinating to watch. He was, in my opinion, the greatest basketball player to never play in the NBA (he died of a drug overdose the day after being drafted by the Boston Celtics—I cried). Though I wasn’t a fan of the University of Maryland, I watched their games when they came on television just so I could see Bias play. I paid close attention to the way he shot the ball, the way he played defense, the way he moved up and down the court. Then I would go outside and try to teach myself what I saw him do. After a while, I moved on to other players who did things that interested me. Jeff Lebo played for the University of North Carolina and was a great outside shooter. Michael Jordan (come on, do I need to say who he played for?) was a phenomenal defender and a better passer than most people give him credit for.
I watched them to learn what they did. I trained myself by trying different ways of doing what they did. I practiced daily.
Practicing something you have learned and trained on will only make you better.
All of this points to one thing in particular: training your brain. When you train your brain, it becomes muscle memory after your body is trained to do it. All of us have something we are good at, but we didn’t get good at just by saying we were going to be good at it. We became good at it after we learned, trained, and practiced. All of that starts with your brain, with a thought your brain has, with you putting forth the effort to learn, then applying what you learned.
The bottom line to the previous 2300 words is this: if you ever want to be good at something (you know, like writing), you need to learn it, train yourself to do it, then practice at it. Hmm … I probably could have just said that to start with …
Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.
Mike sits in the dark. He always does on this day. It doesn’t matter hlong its been or how long it will continue to be. It doesn’t matter how many years have passed—19 as of today—the pain is still there, like a fresh wound, always open and no amount of bandages or medication can help it heal. He knows. He’s tried several remedies since that Tuesday morning 19 years ago. Alcohol didn’t work. Neither did cocaine. All those did was cause him to lose his job for a brief period of time, at least until he got out of rehab clean and sober.
On the television a plane crashes into the South Tower in lower Manhattan. He’s seen this image a thousand—no, a million—times. It’s 9:02 by his watch. He pauses the video, wipes his nose with the back of one hand. In his lap is an old cell phone, one he can’t bare to let go of.
Mike closes his eyes to the still image of glass shattering and a fireball erupting in that once tall building. He takes several deep breaths as he stares into the darkness behind his eyelids.
So often people say, I remember where I was when the towers were struck by planes, or I remember where I was when the towers collapsed. Like everyone else, he remembers in clear detail where he was, but not when the towers collapsed. He knew exactly where he was when he received the voicemail on his phone, though he didn’t have his phone on him. It was sitting in his car, accidentally left behind on the passenger’s seat. He, however, was underneath a car in the shop he worked at, having just got off vacation the day before.
He slid out from under an old Buick with a leaky transmission and looked around. The garage, though full of cars that needed work done, was empty of mechanics. Earlier, the place was full of men chattering about the game the previous night. He even hard Hal McDaniels mention to Jim Brookings that one of “those Broncos receivers broke his leg.”
Where’s everyone? he wondered as he grabbed a rag from his shop rack and wiped his hands of transmission fluid. He had found the problem and the owner wasn’t going to be too thrilled. He was certain of this. He reached into his back pocket for his cell phone and frowned. It wasn’t there. Mike looked around his bay and on the floor and didn’t find it.
“I must have left it in the car.”
Mike headed for the office, a little unnerved by the silence of the usually busy, loud shop. He rounded the corner and left the garage. It was 9:49 when he entered the shop’s office. Where’s everyone turned out to be in the office around a flat screen television mounted on the wall.
The room was a silence so loud it was deafening.
“What’s going on?” he asked Jim.
“A couple planes crashed.”
“Shhh …” Brock Charmine gave the universal get quiet gesture of his finger to his lips.
“I’m going to get my cell phone out of my car, okay?”
Jim nodded but didn’t look back. It was 9:51.
From the office to his car and back took him seven minutes. Seven ho hum minutes that he—and no one—would ever get back. He didn’t know why the phone was off when he plucked it from the seat. He pressed the button on the side and walked back to the office as the phone booted up.
He clicked on the voice message icon and pressed play. As Kimberly’s voice came through the phone, he looked at the television.
“Is that the World Trade Towers?” he asked aloud, not meaning to.
“Yeah,” Jim said without turning around.
Over the phone, the message played Kimberly’s calm voice.
Mike, listen to me. Mike, I don’t know if this is the last time I will ever speak to you, but please just listen. I’m stuck on my floor. The building’s on fire and … and I can’t get to the stairwell from here. Just know I love you. I will always love you and for the brief time I’ve been married to you, I’ve been the happiest woman on the planet. I love you, Mike. I love you. I love you. I love you.
By the end of the call she was crying and the South Tower collapsed on the television screen.
“No,” he whispers. “No.” Tears form in his eyes. He swallows a lump in his throat and stares at the television. Other mechanics speak or cry out in horror and sadness, but he doesn’t see them or hear them or feel anything in the world but the certainty his wife just died and he wasn’t there for her. He wasn’t even there when she called him and … and she died alone without him with her or without hearing his voice.
Mike Johnson sits in the dark. From the bedroom comes the sound of his alarm clock. It is 9:58. He picks up the old cell phone and clicks the voicemail icon. He puts the phone to his ear and listens to his wife of nine days, the woman he had just come home from a honeymoon with, the woman he kissed goodbye that morning and whispered I love you in her ear before heading in.
“Mike, listen to me. Mike, I don’t know if this is the last time I will ever speak to you, but please just listen. I’m stuck on my floor. The building’s on fire and … and I can’t get to the stairwell from here. Just know I love you. I will always love you and for the brief time I’ve been married to you, I’ve been the happiest woman on the planet. I love you, Mike. I love you. I love you. I love you.”
On the television is the still image of the South Tower right after the plane struck it.
Mike feels his heart break all over again. In the dark, he weeps.
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.
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.
Quarantine was only supposed to last fourteen days. Fourteen.
The world went on lockdown on June 17th. The virus, worse than any ever seen before, had spread quickly in the previous twenty or so days, starting somewhere not here, with an incubation period of fourteen days at most, three at the least. Symptoms are basic sniffles and sore throat at first. No real cough or sneezing. Then … then the headaches start, the eyes swell and muscles cramp. Finally, the Infected, as they have been dubbed by some jerk on CNN, become violent.
The only cure right now … well, there is no cure other than ending the life of an Infected, either before or after they reach the violent stage.
At the beginning, Kaycee and I had plenty of supplies—she saw it coming, having watched her town and world get disrupted a few years ago, thanks to another infectious disease no one knew much about. We played board games and binge watched some of our favorite shows. We had sex a few times—I never knew boredom could lead to that, but I took what I could in times such as these.
Through three days, we both felt fine. No symptoms. Not even a hint of one. On the fourth day, Kaycee woke with the sniffles.
“It’s just allergies,” she told me as she wiped her nose of the steady faucet drip.
My first mistake was believing her. Why wouldn’t I? She had allergies more in the summer when things are dryer than in the spring months when the pollen is everywhere. Knowing that, what reason did I have to disbelieve her? She took her allergy medicine and we thought nothing else about it.
That’s not entirely true. I did think about it, especially when she kissed me and … other things. I thought about it even more on the sixth day when she woke, not just with a bad case of the running nose, but also with a voice that sounded like she gargled with a handful of razors.
“Kaycee, are you okay?”
She sniffled, shook her head and swallowed hard. Her throat seemed to expand and she grimaced. It was hard to watch. “I don’t feel too good, Cole,” she said. Her eyes held tears in them. I think we both knew what was happening, but neither of us wanted to admit it, at least not out loud.
Kaycee laid down on the couch and turned the television on. She clutched herself in a tight hug as she shivered uncontrollably. I covered her in a blanket and went to the kitchen. With tears in my eyes, I stood at the counter, knowing it was only a matter of time—a little more than a week, or a little less—before … The deep breath I took rumbled in my chest. I wiped my eyes and made her an old fashioned hot toddy, heavy on the whiskey. By the time I got it back to her, she had fallen asleep on the couch.
The next two days, Kaycee mostly slept. Occasionally she would wake and I would give her medicine I knew would do no good. Then she slept again. I sat on the love seat across from her, my knees pulled up to my chin, my arms wrapped around my shins. I rocked as I sat, alone, though Kaycee was no more than fifteen feet from me.
Kaycee woke with a headache on the ninth day. She clutched the sides of her head as if her hands were clamps. She cried and snot ran from her nose. Hot compresses did nothing to soothe the pain. Neither did the bit of high dose drugs I still had from the surgery on my back seven months earlier.
On the tenth day, her eyes bulged. Her eyelids had swollen and when she opened them, her eyes looked as if they would pop right out of their sockets. It was then that she made her request.
“Kill me, Cole.”
She shielded her eyes from me when she said this, as if she didn’t want me to see her with blood dripping from her sockets. I shook my head.
“If you love me, you will not let me suffer through this.”
“Don’t you understand?” she yelled. She moved her hands from her face. Her once green eyes had become darker and tinted red. They pulled at their lids as if they were too big to be contained behind them. Blood trickle from the corners where skin had torn. The most beautiful person I had ever known was now one of the Infected and she was asking me to kill her. “I’m going to die, Cole. I’m going to die, but before I do, I’m going to get worse, and I am going to try to kill you in the process. People get violent from this. They lose themselves, Cole. They lose themselves.”
Kaycee plopped onto the sofa and put her face in her hands. She looked up at me a minute later. Tears, mingled with blood, fell down her face. “I don’t want to lose myself.”
I nodded. “Okay.” There was nothing more I could say.
She took a deep breath and tried to smile, but it came out as a sneer that I wish I could forget.
“Take some of your sleeping pills,” I said. “When you’re asleep …”
Kaycee nodded, stood and walked over to me. She put her arms around me and cried into my shoulder. She said ‘thank you,’ and kissed my cheek. I said nothing when she walked away. Half an hour later, she lay in bed, sleep about to claim her one last time.
“I love you, Cole,” she said.
“I love you, too, Baby,” I responded and held her in my arms until she fell asleep.
I left the room and went into the living room. I pulled the curtain aside and peered out the window trying to work up the nerve to kill my girlfriend, my best friend, my lover. What I saw made my heart sink. What I saw …
A man ran down the street. He wore a pair of dark blue warmup bottoms and nothing else. He was bare foot and shirtless and his eyes were so huge they wobbled with each step he took. His feet were bloody, as were his arms and hands and mouth. He looked like a man who had just ripped the flesh from a person’s body with his teeth. His hair was disheveled and he didn’t seem to focus on anything or run in any direction. He zigged and zagged and stumbled along until he crashed into a parked car not more than forty feet from our house. His head hit the back window. His legs snapped at his knees and he fell to the ground, leaving a smear of blood on the trunk. I wasn’t positive but I believed he was dead.
This man had lost himself. Kaycee would do the same soon.
On the morning of the eleventh day, I went into our bedroom. It was still dark out and would be for several more hours. Kaycee lay on her side, her eyelids barely closed because of the swelling of her eyes. I looked at her, my heart broken. In one hand I held a pistol. In the other, a pillow from the couch. I thought I would hesitate, maybe even turn around and walk away, unable to end her misery.
I put the pillow over her head and pulled the trigger. The sound of the gun made me jump. I left the pillow in place and walked out of the room. I closed the door, locking it from the inside.
The last two days—numbers twelve and thirteen for me—I’ve stood at the window, staring out at the dead man who had crashed into the car. Flies buzz around him. I can’t help but wish I could go close his eyes, but that is impossible. They stare blankly at the sky day and night.
Day fourteen, the last day of quarantine if you have shown no symptoms. I woke to a runny nose. I wiped at it with my hand. The smear of snot doesn’t scare me like I thought it would. It could just be a cold. Maybe it’s allergies. Maybe I’m one of the Infected now.
Outside the front window, no more than forty feet from my house, a man lay dead, one of the Infected who lost himself.
I don’t want to lose myself. I don’t want to be like him. I don’t want to go that way. I guess … I guess there is only one thing left for me to do …
I wrote this at the beginning of the Covid 19 mess we are all currently dealing with. I now realize it could be so much larger, but I’m not sure that is a story I want to tackle.
Getting older is a process. We all experience it every day of our lives. We either get older or we stop aging.
I turned 50 last week. It was just like any other day, any other birthday. But it wasn’t. It was a big deal. In sports the number 50 is a big deal. You hit that many home runs or throw that many touchdown passes or score that many points in a basketball game or score that many goals in a season and you have had a monster year. It is celebrated and often rewarded. In sales, 50 is a big deal. You reach 50 in a given time period and you’ve done well for yourself.
When I turned 50 there were a lot of jokes made about being old or over the hill. A couple of ‘Hey, you qualify for AARP now,’ comments were made. It was in good fun, but it is also telling of how we see that number in relation to age. I joked with someone when they said I was over the hill that “I’m not over the hill. I just reached the top of it and now I’m holding on to the tree up there to keep from tumbling down it.”
Go ahead. Picture that. I’ll wait.
Are you done laughing?
Here’s the thing about 50 as an age: it should be celebrated (and mine certainly was), but not for ‘getting old,’ but for the possibilities that are ahead of you when you turn that age. If you make it to 50, then you have lived and experienced things. You have, hopefully, become wiser and smarter and learned from your mistakes. You’ve also had the opportunity to earn a living and possibly been successful at a few things.
Life doesn’t end at 50. It is a chapter—just like the other 49 you went through—and it should be experienced with the same wonder and excitement as ages 7, 13, 16 and 21. Don’t buy into the belief that you are over the hill. Buy into something more important: that great things were achieved by people over the age of 50. Here are some examples:
Laura Ingalls Wilder began writing the Little House books at age 65. Harland Sanders (better known as Colonel) had developed his fried chicken recipe and sold his Kentucky Fried Chicken around the country at the age of 65. Grandma Moses started painting at age 77. Jack Cover created the taser after he turned 50. Bram Stoker’s Dracula wasn’t published until after he turned 50, and let’s be honest here: how many people know of him beyond Dracula?
Here I am at that age where folks believe you are over the hill, that you should begin your ride off into the sunset. I’ve climbed the hill and I’ve had a rocky go at it over the years. But I’m not done. And neither should you be. Life doesn’t end at this age. For some, it is just the beginning.
I’ve tried making my way in the writing world. I’ve garnered a handful of fans along the way. Maybe you’re one of them. Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree. Maybe I’ve not found my stride. Maybe I should focus on doing something different. Whatever I choose to do, it will be done after having lived five decades. I don’t know what will happen, but I know I’ve got a lot of miles left on me, and I’m not holding onto a tree at the top of the hill. I don’t need to, and I think I will enjoy the view up here for a while.
Until we meet again my friends, be kind to on another.
In today’s post we answer another question from a reader. I say ‘we’ because these videos are done by Cate and I, not just me. She puts a lot of time and effort and thought into where we record these videos and how to introduce them.
Today’s question is from Tara in upstate New York. First, Hey, Tara in upstate New York.
Tara asked, “Do you have a ritual when you finish a book?”
This is something I have never been asked, so thank you for the question, Tara.
Before you watch the video and get my response, I know a lot of authors who do have a ritual. Some of them smoke cigars—they literally purchase cigars specifically for smoking at the end of a book—some of them have a glass of wine or go out to eat at a fancy restaurant. Some folks quietly reflect. This is what I do:
Again, thank you, Tara, for your question. If you have a question you would like me to answer, drop me a line and we’ll answer it. Please, no boxers or briefs questions.
Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.
July is my birthday month. Normally, I’m not big on birthdays. To me, they are just another number. This one is different. I turn 50 on July 8th. That is a big deal birthday. I want to celebrate this one. And I will. All. Month. Long.
I want you, my readers, to come celebrate as well. To do that, we are having two contests during the month of July. They are big contests.
The first one is called 50 Years & 50 Books. Here is how it works:
If we sell 50 print books in the month of July, then we will give away a complete set of my print books to one person. That is 15 books, including a bonus book that has not been released yet, that is slated to come out in August. That is a $157.00 value. The books will be signed, but not personalized. The reason for this is if you purchase a print book, even if you only have that one, you will get another one in the complete set. If you want to give that book away, then I want you to be able to do so without having your name inscribed in it.
Now, here is the important stuff: 1) The books have to be purchased directly through myself or Cate, either on our social media pages or through my website. AMAZON PURCHASES DO NOT COUNT.Please understand that last sentence. If you purchase a print book through Amazon, thank you, but it will not count toward this contest. 2) I hate doing this, but I can’t ship a big box of books internationally. It sucks. I wish I could afford to. That means I can only ship within the United States. I apologize to my international friends and fans. I just can’t afford to do that. 3) 49 books is not 50. 28 books is not 50. The goal is 50, in honor of the age I will turn this month. If we don’t reach 50 or higher, then there is no drawing for the complete set of print books. That sounds pretty crappy, but it really isn’t. The contest is 50 Years and 50 Books. 4) All book orders will be sent out in mid-August, AFTER the contest is over. This will allow us time to package and mail out the books.
I hope this sounds good to y’all and I hope we sell enough books to be able to send out a full set to one person.
The second contest doesn’t cost any money (unless you want to spend some, then by all means, spend away). It is called. 50 Years & 50 Reviews.
If we receive 50 book reviews in the month of July, then we will give away one complete set of my digital books. That’s 15 books, including one yet to be released.
Now, here is the important information: 1) Book reviews need to be sent to me or Cate, either on our social media pages or through PM’s or through my website, Type AJ Negative. We would also like you to post the review on your social media page (or blog if you have one). AMAZON REVIEWS DO NOT COUNT. If you place a review on Amazon, thank you, but it doesn’t go toward the contest. 2) Book reviews must be new. They cannot be reviews already left somewhere else. 3) Book reviews can be of any of my books. 4) Like with the 50 Years & 50 Books contest, the goal is 50 reviews here. Not 49. If we don’t reach the goal of 50 reviews, there is no drawing.
You can leave reviews at the following places (as well as your personal social media pages, websites and blogs):
Or by sending me or Cate a PM through our various social media pages.
I realize I did not post Cate’s information here. Those who know my wife also know her social media pages and they are set to private, so I will not be adding it here. Those who know Cate, please feel free to contact her directly.
There you have it: two great contests in honor of my birthday. I don’t do these things too often, so I hope you will participate.
As always, until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.
She was on her last legs, my beautiful Ava. The steady clop clop of her hooves had been a constant companion in the silence of the dead world around us. It was the rhythm of my heart, clop, clop, thump, thump, and it slowed more and more as we travelled.
“Just a little longer, girl,” I said. I hadn’t heard my own voice in so long it sounded odd in my ears, weak. I leaned forward and patted her neck. She whinnied and jerked her head away from my hand. “I understand, Ava.”
And I did.
Other than the ghouls, we hadn’t come across anything living in weeks, maybe months. I didn’t know. Time ceased to exist a while back. Though my hand should have been a comfort to her, all it did was make her uneasy. I thank the ghouls for that—Ava knew to be touched by one of them would bring the end to animal and man alike.
Still, we road on, me on her back for the most part, but sometimes walking beside her, holding the reigns and guiding her along the trickier trails where thorns hid in mud puddles … and sometimes the ghouls would be there, too. This is where my blade came in handy. It wasn’t much, just an axe blade bolted to an old shovel handle.
We only had one setback and it came as we crossed one of those muddy rivers. The thorns, thistles and weeds were like hands that groped at us and tried to pull us under. Ava trudged on, me beside her in the waist high muck. We had reached the upslope toward dry land when Ava’s front legs rose up. She let out a shrill shriek and brought her hooves down on the emaciated ghoul. It had come up out of the mud, its hands grabbing for her leg, long nails on each finger that were like rusty needles.
I slapped Ava on her hind quarters and she bolted for dry ground. Then I drove my blade into the creature with white skin and pale blue eyes and a body void of any hair. It opened its mouth in a howl that echoed in the valley. From the sludge I stood in, rose a dozen more of the dead creatures.
They surrounded me. I swung my blade, striking as many as I could. At some point a pain formed in my shoulder, sharp and dull all at the same time. I struck another ghoul, one that had tried to sneak up on me, and drove my blade through its throat. Then I trudged through the mud, feeling like I was getting nowhere until my feet found solid ground. I ran. Ava hadn’t waited for me. I didn’t blame her. I looked back. The ghouls crawled to the edge of the mud pit. There were more than just the handful I thought I had seen. I ran through the trees until I came upon Ava. She stood in an open area, her head down, sniffing at her front leg.
“Hey girl,” I said, put my hand out to her. Cautiously, I inched my way up closer. She snorted a couple of times and backed away from me. Eventually, she stilled and let me run my hand along her neck. I whispered lies to her, even as I stood beside her, trying to get her to relax. “It’s okay, Ava. It’s okay. They’re gone. You’re okay.”
It’s the last part that was a lie. She was not okay. The wound on her left leg was big and already scabbing over. It would close within half an hour and all the infection of the wound would start coursing through her body.
My shoulders slumped. I think she knew how sad I was—she nudged me with her nose, as if she was saying, ‘It will be okay, Jules.’
I think she knew her end was near.
Still, we continued on, me not riding her for a while. And somewhere behind us, came the shuffle of a thousand ghouls.
Three days ago, I saw the huge castle that loomed way off in the distance. With my eyes on that structure, we rode on, rider and horse, horse and rider. She stumbled a few times yesterday and I finally dismounted her for the last time. This morning I noticed the pale blue appear in her normally brown eyes.
The clopping of her hooves had slowed considerably, but the structure—it was never a castle after all—loomed not more than a hundred yards from us. The shamble of ghouls had disappeared at some point during the last three days. I wanted to believe they were gone, had maybe found someone else to stalk and trail, hoping for a kill and a meal.
“Come on, girl. We can make it, then we can get you some help.” I patted her neck, then ran my hand along her once flowing mane. Long strands came off in my hands in a large clump. I stared at the hair in dismay. Time wasn’t on her side. My heart crumbled and its steady beat slowed right along with Ava’s barely trundling gait.
My shoulder hurt to move it. It had grown stiff since the sludge ghouls attacked us. I let it dangle by my side and tried to move it as little as possible.
What I had thought was a castle three days ago, then just a building earlier in the day turned out to be the remnants of an old train station, one Mother Nature had taken over since the fall of man. The tracks had rusted out and weeds and grass grew up along the wooden cross ties. Intermingled with the foliage were bones, mostly bleached gray by the beating sun. The entrance to the station had been closed off with a giant gate. In front of the gate stood two men, both holding axes, both staring me down.
“Whoa, Ava,” I said and we stopped about thirty or so yards away.
“Who are you?” one of the guards called.
“What do you want?” the other one asked.
“I need a place to stay. My horse is hurt and I don’t think she will make it much longer without medical attention.”
“How did your horse get hurt?” the first guard asked. He had a long black beard, speckled with gray.
This was not a question I wanted to hear. Answering it could mean I don’t get in. Worse, it could mean they try to kill Ava and I don’t get in. Lying was out of the question. From that distance, they could probably see the wound tracing up her leg, the hardened scab, the splotches of skin where hair had fallen out.
“Back in a mud pit a few days ago.”
“Were there ghouls?”
My heart crumbled a little more. “Yes.”
“What about you? Have you received any wounds from a ghoul?”
Black Beard approached, taking long, purposeful strides, his axe in both hands. “Move away from the horse.”
I pulled my blade free and prepared for a fight. “No.”
“The horse is as good as dead.”
“She’s not, at least not yet.”
“The horse dies or you move along.”
I let out a long breath, one that rattled in my chest and sent slivers of pain into my shoulder. “Then I’ll move along. You keep your sanctuary.”
I pulled Ava’s reigns. Her head didn’t move. It had grown stiff, just as her legs had. She shed what little was left of her mane.
“It’s okay, girl,” I whispered, even as tears filled my eyes.
Ava’s legs buckled beneath her and she collapsed to the ground. The pop of bones breaking made my skin crawl and my stomach turn. I knelt beside her and stroked her face. Her once brown eyes, now the pale blue of a ghoul, looked at me.
“It’s okay,” I repeated. “You can let go now.”
Ava closed her eyes. The rise and fall of her ribs slowed, then ceased all together. I shook my head. My heart no longer crumbled. It had shattered completely. Somewhere in the distance I heard the sound of shuffling feet. The ghouls were coming. They had followed us, brought by the scent of a dying animal … and a wounded man. I rubbed the spot on my shoulder, felt the claw marks I knew had been there all along. I looked back at the guards. They held their axes in front of them, trying to look fierce and intimidating. I smiled. And the shuffling grew louder in my ears.
My wife is an amazing woman. I can go on for hours and days about how amazing she is. I, honestly, do not deserve a woman like her. We’ve been together 25 years and she constantly shows me what true love is.
I can’t say that I have always shown her the same. However, I can go back to one time in particular where I showed my wife how much I loved her … and then some.
We were still young newlyweds with no kids at the time. It was a Sunday morning and we were getting ready for church. She came out of the bedroom with a frustrated look on her face. If you don’t know what that is, don’t clean up after yourself for a day or two and you will see it from your significant other.
“Can you do me a favor?” she asked.
“What kind of favor?” I’ve learned when someone ask you to do them a favor, you should always find out what it is before committing. Some favors are loaded dynamite waiting to explode.
“I’m out of tampons,” she said without smiling. “Can you run to the store and get them for me?”
I’m sure I stared at her for a few seconds in disbelief. She wanted me to go to a store by myself to purchase feminine hygiene products. “Ummm …”
First of all, she should not have had to say please. I had already failed.
I nodded and said, “Okay, but what am I getting?”
Even though we had only been married a short time, she already knew the most important thing she could do was write exactly what she wanted down. A minute later she handed me a piece of paper with the names of the products she needed. I took the paper, read it and looked back at her.
She smiled big and gave me a cute, “I love you.” It was one of those ‘I’ll love you forever if you do this for me’ I love yous.
“I love you, too,” I said and left the house.
Back then, when the dinosaurs were merely dead and not quite fossils, there was still a drugstore chain named Eckard’s, and there just happen to be one five minutes from the house.
I drove to Eckard’s, got out of the car and went inside. I strolled around, not really searching for the aisle I needed, putting off the inevitable for as long as possible. Eventually, I found the feminine hygiene aisle and stared blankly at all of the products. I stood there wondering ‘what have I gotten myself into?’ There were so many different packages with their pinks and purples and blues and greens, and most of them had similar names.
I pulled out the piece of paper, which had been crumpled and shoved into my front pocket. I read the first of the two items and began The Search For That Which Terrifies Me. This was an easy find. It wasn’t quite eye level but close enough to where i didn’t have to bend over or squat to find it. The second one took a little longer to find. I looked at the paper, then at the shelves, then back to the paper. I did this several times. I even picked up what I thought was the right pack, but it didn’t feel right. I looked at her list again. There was one word that was different, so I put it back and the search continued.
“A-ha,” I all but yelled when I found the right package with the exact wording as her note. I cringed—physically, to the point of my shoulders scrunching up and me ducking slightly, then looking around as if I had committed a crime and someone had seen it. I picked the package up and looked at it as if it was a newborn child. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I did have somewhat of a triumphant, ‘ha, I found you,’ feeling going on. It’s almost like I killed the wabbit, and in the next scene I would be wondering what have I done?
I thought that would be the difficult part. I was wrong.
This was a drug store and it was Sunday morning. There shouldn’t have been as many people in it as there were. More importantly, there shouldn’t have been as many attractive women in there as there were. Yeah, yeah, I know, why did I notice the attractive women and blah, blah, blah … It’s definitely not what you think, unless you think, ‘hey, he only noticed they were women because, well, they were women and not men, and if they would have been men, then he would have noticed that, too.’ Bottom line: I’m a writer. I notice things. Stick with the story, people!
I left the famine hygiene aisle, head held high, listening to my internal soundtrack playing We Are the Champions. Of course, the lyrics were slightly different:
I am the champion, my friends.
I found the tampons in the end.
I am a champion
Found the pads and tampons
‘Cause I am the champion … for my girl.
Along with the Weird Al-esque singing in my head, I probably had my Bee Gees Staying Alive strut working. My short hair was probably not blowing in a nonexistent breeze, and I didn’t have a beard but a goatee, and I certainly didn’t wear bell bottoms. But I still thought I was The Fonz when I walked into a room. If you don’t know the reference, Google is your friend. I was young and dumb and didn’t think people noticed. I’m probably right.
As I approached the checkout counter I noticed the pretty young lady behind the counter, and the two pretty young ladies waiting to be checked out. I get in line holding a box of tampons in one hand and a pack of pads in the other. Two more young ladies get in line behind me. See what I mean about too many people in a small drug store on a Sunday morning?
So, here are these five attractive women … and me. The one lady directly behind me glanced at the feminine gifts for my wife and smiled. I don’t know if that was a ‘that is awesome of you,’ smile or a ‘you won’t be getting any anytime soon,’ smile. It was probably a little bit of both. I will be honest and say I was a little uncomfortable.
The first lady in line checked out, and we all moved up a couple of steps. The young lady behind the counter glanced at me and gave me the same smile the one behind me did, but I could see the smile was in her eyes, too. It was as if everyone was in on the joke, except for me.
The second lady paid for her items and walked off. I stepped up, placed my two products on the counter. By then I felt naked and alone and as if I were being laughed at behind my back. The lady behind the counter picked up the tampons and looked at them, then at me. She didn’t smile when she asked, “Are these for you?”
I venture to say a lot of folks would have frozen with that question. Is she serious? is she sarcastic? Not me. I’m usually pretty quick witted.
Without smiling and in my best stoner’s shakiest voice I said, “I have a really bad bleeding problem.”
Her mouth dropped open and her cheeks flushed red, and that is how I showed my wife what true love is.
Y’all, have a good day, stay safe and until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.